COMMENTARY I BY JIM HIGHTOWER Toys for the Pentagon Boys MISGUIDED Gosh, it’s sad that the Bushites have not been able to provide protective armor for all of our troops in Iraq, but … well, the Pentagon has other priorities. Such as Star Wars toys. There recently was another test of this boondoggle. The scheme is that the military industry can build a whiz-bang technological wonder that will allow a U.S. missile to be fired at an incoming enemy missile and shoot it out of the air. So far, the Pentagon has shoveled $80 billion into this stunt, with another $50 billion to be thrown at it in the next five years. I say “stunt,” because it doesn’t work and nearly all independent experts say it won’t ever work, and isn’t even needed. Indeed, the Pentagon even rigged its previous testsincluding putting beacons on the target missile so their Star Wars missile can find it easilyyet, it still doesn’t hit the target. The latest test was especially embarrassing. Instead of merely missing the target, this one couldn’t even get off the ground. Pentagon chief Donnie Rumsfeld, however, is undeterred, saying that critics who claim that his pet project doesn’t work are misguided, because “what the definition of `work’ is, is terribly important.” Okay, Donnie, try this small dose of reality: The system is so flawed that it cannot be fired if the weather is bad! Excuse my skepticism, but it’s at least possible that an enemy might not wait for a perfectly clear, calm day to take a shot at us. The main thing that the Bushites’ highly touted missile defense system can be counted on is to hit the federal budget. But they don’t care, for it’s all being deficit-financed, paid in IOUs that our grandchildren will have to pay long after the Bushites are gone and their Star Wars scam has been assigned to the scrap heap of ridiculous waste. PURCHASING A STREAM In the wild and woolly world of unbridled commerce, you’ll often encounter disgusting life forms that can only be described as sleaze or slime. For example, take the roving band of companies that profit by essentially bilking vulnerable military veterans of their pensions. These financial corporations appeal to vets who face some personal crisis and need quick cash. No problemo, say the financial agents, just sign over your military pension payments to us for a while, and we’ll advance you some cash. Only later do the veterans realize that they’ve been robbedto get, say $20,000, they give up $60,000 or more in monthly pension payments, amounting to as high as 75-percent interest. These schemes are illegal, for the law says that future military pensions cannot be signed away by a retiree. Incredibly, though, the Pentagon sides not with our soldiers, but with the profiteering companies that prey on them, even handling the paperwork to divert the retirees’ pay to the corporation. Pentagon officials twist the language of the law, declaring that these are not assignments of retiree pay, which would be illegal, but merely the “collateral” for loans taken by retirees. The companies twist the language further, denying that these are even loans. Rather, they say that these deals are straightforward commercial transactions: “We are just purchasing a stream of payments,” one company lawyer said coldly. Whenever veterans balk at paying the usurious ripoff, company lawyers sue them, usually in courts far away from where the vets live. Financially-strapped retirees cannot afford to challenge these companies, so they are losing the cases by default, and often having to file for personal bankruptcy. What’s bankrupt here is a system that’s robbing veterans. Where’s Bush? Where’s Rumsfeld? Where’s Congress? To help battle this outrage, call the National Consumer Law Center: 202 452-6252. TORT DEFORM It would be funny watching W. running around on his little stick horse, pretending to be a “reformer;’ if it was not so sad, so wrong. He wants to reform so-called tort laws so HMOs, hospitals, doctors, and drug companies can’t be driven out of business by us patients who sue them when their practices harm us. Bush’s handlers sent him to Collinsville, Illinois, just outside of St. Louis, where he held a photo-op and labeled both St. Clair and Madison counties as “judicial hell holes.” He noted that 720 malpractice and wrongful death suits have been filed there against area practitioners in the past seven years, with jury awards causing enormous economic damage to them and curtailing health care in the area. Tort law has long been the prerogative of state governments. George says it must be federalized because “junk lawsuits” are proliferating. Juries, he wails, are handing out such massive judgments that entire hospitals, groups of doctors, and other medical businesses are shutting down. But it just ain’t so. The watchdog group, Public Citizen, found that of the 720 cases George cited, only 14 resulted in jury verdicts. And only seven of those verdicts sided with the patients. Excuse me, but that’s hardly a federal crisis. Moreover, Bush’s proposed remedy is to cap pain-and-suffering damages at $250,000 per case. Yet, in the two counties cited by George as judicial hell holes, only one caseone!resulted in a jury award that exceeded this cap. Hardly a matter for federal intervention. To help defend your legal right to hold bad medical practitioners accountable for their damages, call Public Citizen: 202-588-7741. Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com . To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900. FEBRUARY 4, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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