Jim Hightower

Department of Homeland Scams


Isn’t it good to know that the humongous department of homeland security is so wisely spending our tax dollars to defend us from terrorists? The slick mass mailing recently put out by DHS urges America’s homeowners to buy flood insurance. In the midst of various color-coded warnings about imminent terrorist attacks on America, our homeland security authorities are spending their time and our money to hawk flood policies on behalf of giant insurance corporations! In a breathless letter mailed to thousands of people, including my friend Susan, Mr. Michael Brown, purporting to be the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response, warns, “Floods can happen anywhere.†He informs us that “Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover you for America’s #1 natural disaster.†In his letter, this homeland czarist shrieks, “Don’t Delay! Get Flood Insurance Today.†He even provides the name and number of “selected agents†in your area who sell these insurance policies, urging you to “Call your agent.â€

Of course, the vast majority of homeowners don’t live in flood plains and have no need whatsoever to waste their hard-earned money on such insurance. Indeed, my friend Susan lives on an upslope that has never, ever come close to being flooded. Also, Susan is not even a homeowner! Yet, in the enclosed brochure, the homeland authorities declare, “Flood insurance is for everyone.†Why is our government shilling for insurance giants, fraudulently peddling policies to people who don’t need them and will never collect on them? If the homeland security department doesn’t have anything better to do than run insurance scams, Congress should yank its $40-billion-a-year budget.


In a nation that’s gone from the simple childhood fibs of “my dog ate my homework†to the far more nefarious lies of a White House that has sent hundreds of people to die in Iraq on the false claims that Saddam Hussein was about to hit us with weapons of mass destruction, we have new technology to extend the culture of lying. Cell phones not only allow you to make calls, keep track of your kid’s whereabouts, and even take photographs, but also to join cells of cellphone liars who’ll help you cheat on your spouse, skip work, etc.

Take the “alibi and excuse club,†a network of some 3,400 subscribers—unknown to each other—who’re willing to lie for you, in exchange for you lying for them when they’re in a pinch. Say you want to slip away for a weekend with a lover. What to tell your spouse? No problem. Just send out a message to the “alibi and excuse†group, and you’re likely to get a volunteer who’ll call your spouse, posing as one of your bosses and explaining that you’ve been dispatched on an emergency sales mission to New York or Paris or Kalamazoo. You pay a fee to join the club, and you’re also under some general obligation to return the favor when other members put out the call for a credible lie.

Jumping on an entrepreneurial opportunity, others have found ways to add value to the lying phone schemes. For $2.99, for example, you can equip your cell phone to play the sounds of a rasping cough to simulate a lung infection—while you’re sitting on the beach sipping a cool one! You can also get honking horns and a screaming ambulance to simulate a traffic jam, thus explaining why you can’t get home—while you’re actually chilling at a bar and watching the game. Of course, there could be glitches—such as if your spouse joins the same alibi club and inadvertently takes your call for help in creating a lie so you can have an affair.


Hell, yes, barks Michael Bloomberg, mayor of the Big Apple. Sounding like a hustler hawking stolen goods on a street corner, the mayor is telling any corporation that’ll listen that he’s willing—even eager—not only to sell the soul of New York City, but sell it on the cheap. His gambit is to peddle the naming rights of such city-owned landmarks as bridges, subway stations, tunnels, and parks, allowing the historic names of these public places to be plastered over with corporate monikers and logos. Halliburton could take the Brooklyn Bridge, Viagra could put its stamp on Central Park, Wal-Mart could take the Grand out of Grand Central Station, Rupert Murdoch could rename the Times Square subway stop for his global empire, Donnie Trump could brand the Tri-borough bridge, and Nike could change Union Square to Global Sweatshop Square. Bloomberg claims that his effort to corporatize the soul of the city is necessary because of severe budget constraints—yet, pathetically, his sell-off will raise only some $78 million—at best. That’s an insignificant fraction of New York’s $45 billion annual budget. The saving grace here might be that Bloomberg’s soul sale could fail for lack of buyers. Take the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. What corporate PR department wants to put the company name on a roadway constantly jammed to a standstill and cursed by thousands of commuters? Bloomberg might know the price of the city’s soul, but he knows nothing about its value. Our public resources ought to be named for the uniqueness of their place or for people we consider heroes or otherwise worthy of our public acclaim—not for faceless, faraway corporations interested only in another space to plaster with ads. To fight corporate intrusion into our civic lives, go to www.commercialalert.org.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country And It’s Time To Take It Back. His latest book is Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush, on sale now from Viking Press.