RIP, Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger

It never occurred to me that Pete Seeger could die, for I thought of him as a permanent piece of America–like the Bill of Rights. I first met Pete at the Newport Folk Festival in 1969 and it was my good luck to learn from him over the years by joining him in a few of the many grassroots causes he embraced. He genuinely was “of, by, and for the People,” and his exemplary life gives all of us a rich up-tempo, belt-em-out songbook of how common people can team up to battle the bosses, bankers, big shots, bastards, and bull-shitters.


The truth is our Postal System is profitable

When the US Postal Service announced it was eliminating Saturday delivery, our media repeated the myth that our Postal Service was broke.

To use Joe Biden’s phrase: Malarkey.

Our Postal Service hasn’t taken a dime of taxpayer money since 1971. In fact, it’s quite profitable, which is why the privatizers can’t wait to get their hands on it. To learn more, check out the March 2012 issue of the Hightower Lowdown at

Who checks the “fact” checkers?

Wow, so many “facts,” so little insight.

I’ve been factoided! As might be the case with your newspaper, the Austin daily uses a feature that’s quite the fad in revenue-strained papers, especially the chain operations (ours is a Cox product, based in Atlanta). The feature is called PolitiFact, which immodestly claims to be “sorting out the truth in politics.”

Suddenly this week, I found myself under the scrutiny of one of these self-appointed prosecutors, who from the start seemed determined to nail me. My crime? On Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC show, I recently had noted that our Lone Star presidential wannabe, Rick Perry, had lambasted President Obama for not providing enough support to help Texas cope with the eruptions of wildfires we’ve been suffering. I then was rude enough to point out that Perry and his Republican supermajority in the Leg had slashed the state budget for volunteer fire departments this year by 75%, so maybe he shouldn’t be pointing fingers.

Apparently, some Perryites took offense, and my comment was put into the political mulcher. First, the right-wing National Review’s online report checked it out and found a news report from last March that “backs up Hightower’s charge,” adding that “the Perry campaign did not challenge the numbers.” An ABC News report on September 12 subsequently confirmed that Perry was demanding federal help “after slashing state fire budget.”

Then came the FactMan from the Austin paper, who had his mind riveted on the details that — aha! — proved my point about Perry’s budget slashing to be false.

One: The state money to help volunteer firefighters get the equipment and training they need ended up being cut not by 75%, but only by 70% (you can imagine how giddy firefighters must be to learn that they only took a 70% slash in funds).

Two: It was not a budget cut that Perry and his legislature made, but a 70% cut in the grants that the state forest agency makes to volunteer fire departments (again, what a relief to firefighters that the bureaucratic technicality of budget cuts v. grant cuts has been straightened out).

Three: Mr. Factual then asserted that the slashing of the grant money didn’t affect this year’s battling of wildfires, because the grants fund equipment , not firefighters (thus bringing more joy to the volunteers, knowing that only their firefighting tools are being shorted).

This guy really puts the “picky” in picayune!

Worse, the fact-checker deliberately ignored important facts that did not comport with his “False” rating. For example, he asserted in his piece that Perry’s cuts had no effect on those volunteers battling the current wildfires. This statement deliberately ignored several citations of articles sent to him by my office quoting firefighting officials who refuted this, pointing out that some volunteers were having to pay for equipment out of their own pockets.

Nonetheless, he declared my comment to be — TaDa! — “False” (yes, with a capital F). By focusing on minutiae, he ignored the fact that my point remains true — Rick Perry did indeed slash state funds that are needed to support the volunteer firefighters who are the first responders to the vast majority of Texas wildfires.

Someone needs to be checking the “fact” checkers.

Additional links to struggles of volunteer firefighters

“Texas Forest Service grappling with funding cuts,”

“Funding cuts could hurt wildfire fight,”

“Texas Forest Service Grappling With Funding Cuts,”

“Texas fire agencies fight red ink from state budget cuts as they battle blazes,”

Transcript from my appearance on The Last Word.