Jim Hightower

Heartfelt Hucksterism



Four out of five doctors recommend that you not believe advertising that makes claims based on the opinions of four out of five doctors. Or, for that matter, ads based on the opinions of even one well-known doctor.

Take Dr. Robert Jarvik, one of the pioneers in the development of the artificial heart. You might have seen him on TV touting the healing power of Lipitor, a cholesterol drug made by Pfizer Inc. The pharmaceutical giant paid the doctor $1.3 million to shill for the drug in a $250 million ad campaign. One ad depicts Jarvik as an athletic rower skimming in his boat across a mountain lake. The implication is that he’s full of vigor thanks to the cholesterol-clearing power of Lipitor.

Jarvik’s endorsement oozes credibility-until you realize that’s not Jarvik rowing so robustly across the lake. It’s a stuntman posing as the doctor, who apparently doesn’t row at all. Second, while Jarvik touts the cardiovascular benefits of Lipitor, he’s not a cardiologist. Though he has a medical degree, he isn’t licensed to practice medicine. What he is, is a marketable medical name, having been, as the ad put it, the “inventor of the artificial heart.”

That’s the third hickey on Jarvik’s testimonial. He’s not “the inventor.” A large team at the University of Utah worked on the heart device back in the early 1980s, and the team credits two others as deserving of the “inventor” honor-not Jarvik.

A top Pfizer executive says the corporation regrets any “misimpressions.” But that’s exactly what this direct-to-consumer ad campaign was designed to do. Drug companies spend some $5 billion a year on ads to “misimpress” us-and it’s time to rein in their deceit.


Washington is about to mail $600 checks to you, me, and nearly everyone else (unless you’re poor-then you only get half that). The checks are to prompt us to “go shopping,” as George W. so eloquently sums up our chief duty as citizens. This is Washington’s bipartisan plan to stimulate the American economy and avoid a recession.

Well, they’re a bit late for most Americans, since the working-class majority sank deeply into recession long ago. There’s also a basic flaw in Washington’s stimulus strategy: Most of the stuff we’ll buy with our government checks is made in China or other low-wage nations. So our so-called leaders are shipping $168 billion from our public treasury for a “stimulus” program that will effectively stimulate foreign economies. Smart, huh?

Meanwhile, back at Ranchito U.S.A., there’s lots of stimulating that could be done, returning huge benefits to our people and our nation for every dollar spent. Even as Bush and Congress were telling us to go shopping for foreign stuff, a federal commission issued a startling report calculating that we need to be spending $225 billion a year-for the next 50 years-to maintain and upgrade America’s infrastructure of roads, bridges, and other transportation systems. That cost doesn’t cover our decaying water systems, sewage plants, dams, and schools, nor the exciting potential of building a new, green energy infrastructure.

You want stimulation? Let’s invest our public dollars-and leverage trillions of private dollars-in a grassroots recovery program that will put millions of skilled laborers, entrepreneurs, inventors, small businesspeople, and others to work rebuilding America’s future. A good job at good wages doing good work beats a $600 check any day.


The nation’s political pundits have spent weeks trying to predict who will be the presidential nominees. From the Iowa caucuses forward, however, these Beltway prognosticators have been wrong again and again. That’s not stopping them from now turning to the next major political question facing America: Who will the vice presidential nominees be?

Back in the 1930s, Vice President John Nance Garner described the office as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” Since then, though, the No. 2 has shown an ability to be the de facto No. 1. For example, the present incumbent, Buckshot Cheney, not only chose himself as VP after heading up George W.’s search committee, he even asserts that his office is not a part of the executive, legislative, or judicial branches-the vice presidency, he claims, is its own branch of government!

So pundits are on the prowl, trying to be the first to uncover the next Dan Quayle. There are obvious suggestions, such as Huckabee for McCain. But does a McHuck ticket really sing? Probably not harmoniously. What about governors? The problem there is that names like Pawlenty, Sanford, Crist, and Daniels have been run up the flagpole, only to be met with a chorus of “Who?”

On the Democratic side, if Obama is the presidential choice, I suggest a woman VP. No, not that woman. The one who has most impressed me is Michelle Obama-savvy, level-headed, eloquent. “Obama-Obama in ’08” has a lyrical ring to it.

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