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JIM HIGHTOWER in Washington. e is so unpopular outside the Beltway, though, that the GOP kept him locked away in the basement during the election season. But it’s almost impossible to keep a Twit down, and sure enough he’s been popping up in public lately, carrying an ice bucket. Newt says that his ice bucket is the perfect symbol of what the Republican Congress has achieved in the last two years. It seems that before he became Loudspeaker of the House, bags of ice were routinely delivered to every congressional office each morning, and by gollies, he has stopped this waste of the taxpayers’ money. He even lugged his ice bucket with him for the “Meet The Press” TV show, claiming to have put the chill on this congressional perk and saved taxpayers $400,000 a year. Of course, Newt also increased spending for his own office budget, by $600,000, so he’s not quite the budget slasher he claims to be, but let’s look deeper into his ice bucket. True, there are no more ice deliveries, but that doesn’t mean there is no more free ice for congressional offices. Under Newt’s big ice reform, instead of getting deliveries, each lawmaker can send a staffer trooping to one of five distribution centers Newt has set up, where they can pick up ice twice a day and haul it back to the office. He doesn’t tell us how much of our tax money is wasted on high-paid staffers hauling ice, nor how much is wasted making the ice and carrying it to the five distribution centers. Here’s another secret he doesn’t tell us: while most lawmakers have actually quit taking the ice, Gingrich himself continues to send staffers down to fetch a bag for him on a daily basis. Keep your eye on The Newthe’s a slick little salamander. RICH MAN’S LOTTO They say bamboo can grow more than a yard every day. The only things known to grow faster are loopholes in America’s campaign finance laws. For example, it is flat against the law for foreign businesses and individuals to contribute money in U.S. elections. But there was President Clinton himself, at a Los Angeles fundraiser, as Mr. John Huang delivered a donkey-load of contributions from several Asian corporations and executives. Isn’t this illegal? No, thanks to a loophole big enough to ride a donkey or an elephant through. It allows any foreign citizen who simply gets a legal U.S. residence to play America’s political money game, and it allows subsidiaries of foreign companies to play, too. Using this loophole, Mr. Huang alone raised more than four million dollars for the Democrats this year, bringing foreign influence directly into our politics. Among those whom Mr. Huang brought into the game is the Riady family of Indonesia, which owns a far flung business empire called the Lippo Group. The Riady family and various Lippo executives have put nearly half a million dollars into Clinton and the Democrats so far. And, just like U.S. companies that feed the political machine, the Riadys have cashed in big time. The Wall Street Journal reports that as a result of trade promotion trips by Clinton and his former commerce secretary, Ron Brown, Lippo has signed more than a billion dollars worth of trade deals in Asia with U.S. companies. Also in 1994, the Clinton Administration won a fight to make it easier for foreign banks to operate in the U.S. Think how nice this is for the Riadys, who own LippoBank in Los Angeles. Anyone in the world can play America’s Phantasmagoric, Two-Party, Loop-di-loop Political Money Gameput a couple of hundred thousand in, get a couple of billion backstep right up. POISONOUS LIES War is hell, they say, but peacetime isn’t exactly heavenly eithernot for a lot of war veterans. Consider the 60,000-plus vets of 1991’s “Desert Storm” operation. They came back wracked with mysterious pains, memory loss, cancers and reproductive problems. “Gulf War Syndrome,” it’s called, but the Pentagon callously keeps claiming that whatever is ailing these people was not caused by anything that happened in the war. Tell that to the members of the 24th Naval Mobile Construction Battalion. On the third day of the war, they were in Saudi Arabia when something exploded in the air above their camp. They say a yellowgreen, chemical cloud quickly settled over them and, within minutes, many say, their skin began to burn, their lips turned numb and they could barely breathe. Battalion commanders rushed out to tell the troops not to worry, that what they heard was just “a sonic boom.” But the men knew better, for many of them soon came down with debilitating ailments that they still have not been able to shake. Still, to this day, the Pentagon says it has found no evidence of unusual illnesses among the troops of this battalion. But The New York Times interviewed 152 veterans who were there that morning, and 114 of them suffer from Gulf War Syndrome, including dozens who have been hospitalized repeatedly and are too sick to hold jobs. One of the vets, Harold Edwards, says he knows what happened because, when the boom hit, he quickly broke out three chemical-detection kits that are considered highly precise. Two of the three registered mustard gas, a chemical weapon that causes the very symptoms so many in the 24th Battalion are suffering. Edwards immediately reported this to his superiors, but was told: “Nothing happened, forget it, don’t say anything.” Time for the Pentagon to come clean and stand up for the soldiers who stood up for America. Jim Hightower is a former Observer editor and Texas Agriculture Commissioner. His new nationwide radio show broadcasts daily from the Chat & Chew Cafe in Austin, Texas, where he continues to preach the populist gospel. The Ice Man Melteth Here he comes again: Newt Gingrich, the corrupt, egomaniacal, self-serving, blow-dried Twit who is the chief Republican THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17 AY/,1011. NOVEMBER 22, 1996