Vets, or Lab Rats?


Time for another Gooberhead Award, presented periodically to newsmakers who’ve got their mouths going 100 miles an hour, but forgot to put their brains in gear.

There are so many gooberheads in today’s story it’s hard to tell who’s the gooberest of them all. It’s certainly not James Elliot, an Army veteran who came back from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder. During his treatment by the Veterans Administration, he was recruited by VA doctors for a behavioral study of Chantix, an experimental drug developed by Pfizer Inc. to help people stop smoking.

But no one told Elliott about one detail: A side effect of Chantix is that it can make you suicidal. Sure enough, weeks into the test, Elliot suffered a mental breakdown, got a gun, and ended up tasered and arrested.

Three weeks later, the VA finally notified the other 940 vets in the study that … uh … there could be a … side effect. Unabashed, the lead doctor declared that Elliott’s breakdown was no reason to deprive veterans of “an effective method of treatment to help them stop smoking.”

Then came the goobers in the White House to defend their VA appointees for running a dangerous human experiment on vets without telling them. Bush flack Tony Fratto hailed the “wonderful leadership” of VA Secretary and Gooberhead Award-winner James Peake, who said he saw “no evidence to suggest the study should be stopped.”

Well, not unless you count Elliott’s breakdown.


America might be mired in a Gulf War, but it’s golf that seems to be on the minds of the Bushites. Here’s the three-part story.

First comes George W. himself. A reporter, noting that Bush hasn’t been golfing recently, asked if this important presidential development related to Iraq. “Yes,” Bush solemnly declared, furrowing his brow and dialing up his most sincere tone. “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf. … I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

Well, that’s not much in the way of presidential solidarity with military families who are making the ultimate sacrifice, but hey, it’s a gesture.

Second, here comes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, shouting “Fore!” On July 4, Condi teed up for 18 holes at the Congressional Country Club and told the Golf Channel, “I’ve been playing and playing a lot.” But wait, Condi, what about sending the wrong signal? Oh, posh, she breezily responded, “Cabinet secretaries and the president can all do exactly what they wish.” No sacrifice for her.

Third, look out, it’s George W. again! Mr. Sincere recently joined his parents and brother Jeb at the family compound in Kennebunkport for-guess what?-a golf outing. Apparently this one passes Bush’s ethical test because it’s not just for fun-it’s business. Indeed, for $5,000 a pop, Republican high rollers can enjoy a round of golf on Bush’s home course, with the money going to support John McCain’s presidential run.

So, children, what have we learned? Golfing by the commander-in-chief is disrespectful to our troops-unless its done for purposes of political fundraising.

Yes, they have no potatoes

Corporations commonly try to dodge their tax responsibilities, but it’s unusual for one to diss its own product in order to avoid paying up.

Yet that’s what Procter & Gamble Co. has done with Pringles, the salty spud snack stacked in a tube. When Pringles were introduced, they were pitched as a sort of super potato chip, touted as superior because the tube prevented the terrible tragedy of crumbled chips. Personally, I’ve always liked chip crumbles. But so what? Pringles were a triumph of neatness over nature. Now they’ve triumphed over the tax man, too.

England’s tax office claimed that Pringles were subject to a tax that’s applied to products made from potatoes. P&G lawyers, however, scoffed at the idea that Pringles merited potato status. It doesn’t taste like a chip, they confessed. It gives no crunchy sensation, they demurred. It has a shape that “is not found in nature,” they conceded. Plus, they revealed that while the thing contains some potato flour, it is not made from potato slices.

Still, the tax office argued that a Pringle is a potato “crisp,” the British word for chip. Not so, cried P&G’s lawyers, though the Pringles label declares the product to be “potato crisps.” Forget what the label says, the lawyers countered-labels are designed as consumer come-ons, not as legal proclamations. Look at the ingredients, they said-it’s mostly corn flour, wheat starch, rice flour, fat, emulsifiers, sugar, monosodium glutamate, and such-not potato. Therefore, concluded the defense, it’s more of a biscuit.

The judge, perhaps after tasting a Pringle, agreed, ruling that Pringles are not “made from the potato” as defined by the tax code. Thus, P&G avoided a tax by putting the lie to the product it advertises as potato crisps. Will they now change the label? Nah-that’d be too honest.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit His latest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.