Jim Hightower

Drug Money

We must leave no one behind,” is the compassionate-conservative mantra of George W. But in his first chance to put his compassionate-conservative rhetoric into action, Bush leaves more than three out of four Americans behind. Since drug companies are grossly gouging American consumers with astronomical prescription prices, even Congress has felt the heat of public anger and is planning to put some sort of salve on the financial pain that drug makers inflict on senior citizens. The major proposal being considered is to put prescription drugs under Medicare and let the federal government bargain with the companies to get the cheapest price. It’s simple, effective, and fair. But President Compassionate mostly feels the pain of the big drug makers, who also happen to have been big contributors to his campaign. So, he has now presented his own prescription drug plan, which makes him appear to be filled with compassion for the 37 million seniors needing medicine–but the Bush proposal completely excludes 25 million of them! Sixty percent of these people have no insurance coverage at all for their medicines.

Worse, Bush leaves it to the states to bargain with the drug giants on prices. Even states with the will to undertake this face-off don’t have the clout, so there’ll be little drop in prices. Even the National Governor’s Association knows that this is a flimflam, and opposes George W’s plan to shift this responsibility to them. Another Bush trick is to make the administration of his plan so befuddling, burdensome, and bureaucratic that even the few who qualify won’t find their way through the swamp.

ROAD HOGS

Sport Utility Vehicles have been steadily expanding in size and silliness, but DaimlerChrysler has now come out with a gargantuan monster of a machine: the Unimog! Unimog is three feet taller than any other SUV. It’s so tall that it takes a three-step ladder to climb up to the driver’s seat. Unimog is more than seven feet wide–so wide that federal rules require it to have truck marker lights across the top of its front and back. Unimog weighs 12,500 pounds–more than four Toyota Camrys weigh.

The promotional material gloats: “You don’t need roads when you can make your own.” What we have here is a ludicrous escalation of the mine-is-bigger-than-yours mentality, a mobile image-builder for the testosterone challenged. While the Unimog is promoted as a rugged, go-anywhere, off-road vehicle, DaimlerChrysler says it will be sold mainly in suburban markets, and one company promoter enthuses that “moms will want to take it to the grocery store. It’s a head turning vehicle.” Well, some moms, maybe, but most might balk at the $84,000 price tag. Despite its tough-guy exterior, the Unimog interior is strictly for softies–cushy leather seats, walnut trim, mood lighting, a high-end stereo system, and a computerized navigation system to keep one from getting lost on the way to the grocery store. “Wanting to conquer the great outdoors,” says a promotional brochure, “is simply not a good reason to give up leather and air-conditioning.” The Unimog road hog will “conquer the great outdoors” in more ways than one–it gets only 10 miles per gallon, burns high-polluting diesel fuel, and is exempt from most air pollution rules.

JUST DON’T DO IT

Nike Inc. made an offer that Jonah Peretti couldn’t refuse. Actually, the offer was made to all Nike customers: Buy a pair of its pricey shoes and, for a fee, the company will personalize them by stitching any name, word, or phrase you want under the Nike swoosh. It’s called the “Nike ID” program, which the company’s website advertises as being “about freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are.”

Peretti sent in his money and the word he wanted–only to get back a form letter stating that his Personal ID had been rejected. The form letter said his word was unacceptable for one or more of the following reasons: (1) it contains someone else’s trademark, (2) it contains the name of an athlete whose name is not licensed to Nike, or (3) it contains profanity or inappropriate slang. Peretti said none of these applied, and resubmitted his choice to Nike. His word was “sweatshop.” He politely pointed out that the word is not a trademark, an athlete’s name, or profanity. In his letter back to Nike, he wrote: “I chose the ID because I wanted to remember the toil of the children who made my shoes. Could you please ship them to me immediately? Thanks and Happy New Year.”

Nike sent another rejection letter, this one asserting that “sweatshop” was inappropriate slang. Undaunted, Peretti wrote back, saying that in Webster’s Dictionary, “I discovered that sweatshop is in fact part of standard English, and not slang. The word means: ‘a shop or factory in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions’.” That’s the very definition of many Nike factories in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere. So, Peretti asked again for his personalized shoes. Once again, Nike said no. This time, it said flatly that you don’t have “freedom to choose” after all, claiming that small print on its website allows it to reject any “material we consider inappropriate or simply do not want to place on our products.”

Jim Hightower’s latest book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com or write [email protected]

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