Jim Hightower

From bad to worse

AUSTIN IS THE BOMB

People here in my hometown of Austin are not merely excited-we’re ecstatic. From every corner of our city come shouts of hip-hip hooray and hallelujah because-Oh Sweet Jesus-Austin has made “the list.”

At long last, our fair city has been designated by the Homeland Security czar as one of 60 in the nation considered to be at “high risk” of a terrorist attack. This means we’ve made it; we’re an A-list city. Austin is now in the big leagues alongside New York and Washington D.C., officially worthy of a terrorist attack.

Not every wide spot in the road gets on this prestigious list, and Austin has not heretofore been known as a dangerous place. We’re best known for our music, laid-back attitude, and fun spirit, but making the list proves that we’ve also got a raw edge-so walk warily and stay vigilant if you come here, because … well, you know … the terrorists hate us.

We’re not the only newbies on the list this year. Such terrorist hot spots as Rochester, N.Y., Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Toledo, Ohio, were also added. Now our city halls get to draw up dramatic anti-terrorism schemes that can be funded from a $350 million pool of federal grant money. I know! We’ll build a 10-foot-high, 10-foot-thick wall of jalapeño peppers around Austin. Let Osama bin Laden’s fanatical disciples try to eat their way through that.

You might consider such creative defensive thinking frivolous, but we Austinites are just doing our patriotic duty in Bush’s “war on terror.” Remember, right after 9/11, George W. was asked what ordinary Americans could do. “Go shopping,” he told us. Well, that’s what we’re going to do. Thanks to Bush, Congress, and homeland hysteria, select cities like ours can now get federal financing for our shopping spree.

A NOT-SO-GRAND SCHEME

What a special joy it is to visit the Grand Canyon. It’s awe-inspiring to view the majestic gorge, the powerful river, the gorgeous sunsets … and the uranium mines.

Say what?

They’re not there yet, but our Bushified National Forest Service has ever-so-quietly issued a permit allowing a British mining company to explore for uranium adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park. Vane Minerals Corp. will be allowed to drill seven exploratory shafts in the Kaibab National Forest, which abuts the canyon.

This dirty deal was a sneak attack on local residents, environmental groups, tribal officials, and park supporters-all of whom oppose the effort to pock public lands with uranium mines. In addition to the sheer inappropriateness of the plan, locals recall the cancers suffered by those who worked in previous uranium mines on nearby reservations. They also have concerns about uranium trucks highballing through the area and about contamination of the region’s scarce water supplies.

The Forest Service ignored these realities and gave the corporation a green light without conducting an environmental review and, worse yet, without holding a public hearing. The agency arbitrarily ruled that Vane could be “categorically excluded” from the normal review process because its exploratory drilling would take less than a year. Never mind that mining companies can do some serious damage in a year.

Meanwhile, Congress has been dillydallying with an overdue reform of the 1872 mining law that lets corporations run roughshod over public land, putting their profiteering interests above the public interest. To learn more about this reform effort and to see a report on the impact of uranium mining in this unique region, connect with the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org.

NO FEAR OF FAILING

When it comes to his war in Iraq, George W. keeps telling us that failure is not an option.

However, when it comes to the privatized army of Halliburtons, Blackwaters, and other corporations that Bush has hired at great national expense to run operations in Iraq, not only is failure an option-it’s the norm. The latest in a long line of corporate failures is an outfit called ITT Federal Services International Corp., a Pentagon contractor hired to keep our troops’ battle gear in good working order.

ITT Federal, it turns out, often certifies battlefield equipment as repaired, but it subsequently flunks inspection, which sends it back for more repairs. Under ITT Federal’s Pentagon contract, the corporation collects payment a second time for fixing what it failed to repair the first time. Rather than being fired, contractors are rewarded. For example, ITT Federal had a $33 million contract to overhaul 150 Humvees a month. It never came close to that number, but it still got the money and continues to be awarded new Pentagon contracts. Despite its sorry record, ITT Federal has received $638 million from taxpayers since 2004.

Even the Pentagon admits there is a disastrous shortage of federal employees to watch over this ballooning corporate force, and that the system is rife with fraud, kickbacks, waste, and theft.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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