Jim Hightower

Health Care Morality

Contrary to the “contrived wisdom” of the Powers That Be, providing health care for everyone is not an economic or even a health issue—it’s a moral issue. Notice that corporate chieftains and the political elites all have the Rolls Royces of health care—while most Americans are trying to make do with a sputtering Yugo, and millions are walking barefoot. This crass inequality on such a basic human need is a moral abomination.

How is it that the richest country in the history of the world has 45 million people with no health coverage and millions more with pathetic coverage? How is it that we pay $1.2 trillion a year to a corporate health-care complex (more than any other people pay) and rank only 37th in the world in the quality of health care we receive? The Powers That Be shrug their shoulders and say America can’t afford a system of good quality coverage for all. But George W. says America can afford $1.2 trillion in tax giveaways for the wealthiest people in our land. He says America can afford the $300 billion in direct costs already shelled out for his war of lies in Iraq. He says America can afford the hundreds of billions of tax dollars being pocketed by drug companies and insurance giants through his boondoggle prescription drug program. Of course, the very politicos who say America can’t afford universal coverage receive full, platinum coverage for their families—courtesy of you and me. No public official should have even a dime’s worth of coverage until every man, woman, and child in America has full coverage.

Ashcroft Cashes In

Years ago, an ethically challenged Texas legislator who had made quite a bit of money in office unabashedly said, “I seen my chances, and I took ’em.” That same enterprising ethic explains the recent good fortunes of John Ashcroft. Known as “Mad Dog” Ashcroft when he was Bush’s attorney general, he maniacally pushed for greater surveillance of the American people, demanding fat budgets and high-tech monitoring programs for federal intelligence operatives. This was tailor-made for corporations with computer systems, software programs, and other spy goodies to sell. Out of this came a new “Security-Industrial Complex” that—like the Military Industrial Complex—has become a defacto branch of government, annually extracting billions of dollars worth of federal contracts. Having helped to build it, Ashcroft seen his chances, and now he’s taking ’em.

Last year, he left the AG’s office and moved just six blocks away, where he morphed into a fat-cat lobbyist. He represents—guess who?—high-tech corporations eager to sell spy goodies to the feds. Naturally, Ashcroft puts an altruistic spin on his new work: “It’s a continuation of the aspiration I have that our nation have access to the best possible resources to fight terror.”

Yeah, not to mention his aspiration for cash. Corporations are throwing millions of dollars at him to turn his insider knowledge and old-boy contacts into lucrative contracts. For example, ChoicePoint Inc., a huge firm that collects and sells your and my private data, is frank about why it hired the former AG, saying that he can connect it with “the right people within the agencies.” Ashcroft helped create a climate of fear and an acceptance of intrusive surveillance in America, and now he’s cashing in on it. He’s even more ethically challenged than that old Texas legislator.

Old Mr. Greed Takes Charge at American

It’s said that the only constant in our fast-paced world is change. But employees at American Airlines have learned that one thing does not change: top-executives’ greed. I’m a very frequent flier on American—a multimillion-miles man. One major reason is that their frontline people (from clerks to flight attendants to pilots) are overwhelmingly competent, courteous—and helpful when you need it. Indeed, it’s this rank and file spirit that saved AMR Corp., the airline’s parent, from the brink of financial ruin after 9/11, putting it on a successful course to recovery. In the dark days, top executives and labor agreed to a revival program called “Pull Together/Win Together.” They put the uniting ethic of the common good to work. Employees took billions of dollars in pay cuts and suffered thousands of job losses, and executives agreed that everyone—including them—would get annual raises of only 1.5 percent.

In July, however, the executive suite unilaterally decided to abandon the common good and separate their own good fortunes from the well-being of the many. The CEO gave himself a 23 percent pay raise and split millions of dollars in bonuses with the other top brass. American Airlines also created a new “Operational Excellence” program to “reward” pilots and others for their sustained sacrifice. How nice. Do the employees get bonuses, too? No, their reward is a nifty lapel pin and some good-performance stickers for their kit bags. A corporate vice president sneered at employees who were aghast that management would grab cash for themselves while stiffing the people who literally make the airline run. He said that common workers get upset only “because they don’t understand management compensation.”

I think they get it better than you do, Mr. V.P. It boils down to a one-syllable word we all know: greed.

Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.

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