If Terrorists Had Matches . . .

Once again, DHS-the Department of Homeland Security-is showing why it’s worth the megabillions in tax dollars we pour into it.

DHS has funded an academic study to determine which U.S. cities are most vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Of the 132 urban areas analyzed, which one do you think came up numero uno? Washington, D.C.? No. New York City? Uh-uh. L.A.? Not even close.

Ready for a bombshell? It’s bucolic Boise, Idaho.

Yes, Boise, with 200,000 easygoing residents, an outdoorsy ambience, and a skyline that tops out at 20 stories. As the director of the Boise visitors bureau put it: “Is this a typo or what?”

The four-year study is the work of three professors using a series of mathematical formulas. The researchers examined not whether Osama bin Laden and his allies would choose to attack a particular city, but how well the place could withstand the attack if they did. Boise’s geographical vulnerability to wildfires and floods apparently skewed the standings. Just light one match, said the lead professor, “and you’re all set.”

Still, locals are puzzled by their sudden star turn in the national security game. A salesperson down at the Fancy Pants boutique told the Washington Post, “I’m less scared than I am confused.” Imagine how confused folks are in New York and Washington!

Meanwhile, DHS isn’t saying how much money this terrorism study cost taxpayers. They probably think that information would aid the terrorists.


Oh, ye cynics who decry George W’s debacle in Iraq, let the news go forth that there has been a tremendous breakthrough for civil order in that war-torn society. Yes, the gruesome bombings and kidnappings continue, mass corruption proceeds unimpeded, fractious sectarian divides remain unhealed, and the dysfunctional Iraqi government is still dependent on American largesse. But there’s progress in one important area: Police across the country are cracking down on Iraqis who violate seat belt laws.

Yes, buckle up in Baghdad or be ticketed. As one district traffic commander explained, “It is part of the healing process of this country and of Baghdad to enforce the laws, law by law.” Well, maybe. After five years, 4,000 U.S. deaths, and trillions of American dollars committed to this disastrous occupation, is our measure of progress really that brigades of traffic officers are out looking for seat belt scofflaws?

If traffic is to be the government’s priority, perhaps it would be better to focus on the fact that commuters are continually interrupted by car bombings, that traffic usually crawls so slowly that seat belts are hardly needed, that roads are often blocked, and that people are so spooked by the threat of violence that it’s not uncommon to see drivers zooming the wrong way down one-way streets.

If authorities really want to teach Iraqis proper driving behavior, they might focus first on the outlaw antics of such private security outfits as Blackwater. To clear a path for themselves, these corporate mercenaries sometimes throw water bottles at pedestrians or fire their guns into the air.

If seatbelt enforcement is the best marker of Iraqi “progress,” maybe it’s time for our soldiers to hit the road home.


In 2006, the CEO of Exxon Mobil admitted his corporation was rolling in so much profit he didn’t know how to spend it all.

Well, one worthy investment would have been R&D on alternative fuels to help America break its dependence on ever-more expensive and ever-more polluting oil. Two years later, with oil topping $110 a barrel and Exxon’s profits topping $40 billion a year, the rationale for such investment is even stronger. Yet the oil giant recently rejected a congressional request that it start putting 10 percent of its earnings into alternative energy development.

OK, maybe we don’t even want Big Oil mucking around in solar, wind, hydrogen, and other renewables, since they would probably try to monopolize production and engage in the same kind of gouging they do with oil products. But here’s one small step Congress could take toward developing new energy resources: Repeal the $1.8 billion annual tax subsidy the Bushites gave to the oil industry in the 2004 tax bill. Instead of leaving this freebie in the pockets of Exxon et al, let’s invest these tax dollars in a renewable energy future-$1.8 billion would roughly double what Washington now spends for R&D on alternative energy.

Besides, with $110-a-barrel oil and the top five oil corporations banking $123 billion in yearly profits, why are we subsidizing them at all? We already pay a king’s ransom at the pump.

But never underestimate oil company greed. Industry executives and lobbyists are now whining to Congress that since oil prices might come down someday, they should be able to keep their subsidy as a cushion.

Here’s an idea: Let them build their cushion the old-fashioned way, with their rip-off profits.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com. His newest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.

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Published at 12:00 am CST