The Hightower Report

Big Cendant is watching you; and honcho H. Lee Scott Jr.'s tantrum wins recognition


Great news, folks – the humongous Department of Homeland Security, which collects, stores, and routinely pokes through mountains of personal data on practically every one of us U.S. citizens, has appointed a public board to consider how best to protect our privacy rights.

There is, however, one small bit of bad news. The 20-member board is stacked with representatives from the very same corporations that profit from gathering and selling our private information to Homeland Security, as well as to other government agencies, marketing firms, banks, insurance companies, private investigators, your boss, your spouse's divorce lawyer ... whomever.

Two of the members of DHS's spiffy new privacy protection board work directly for these data hawkers, two others work for think tanks funded by the data industry, two others work for companies that get Homeland Security contracts, and others come from the insurance, airline reservation, and database software industries. For example, among the members is the chief lobbyist for Cendant Corporation, a conglomerate that owns Avis and Budget rent-a-car firms, such hotel chains as Days Inn and Ramada, and Century 21 real estate – all with a direct interest in getting as much private info on us as they can.

Trusting such outfits to draw up our privacy protection rules is like putting the fox in charge of designing locks for the henhouse. Yet, the Homeland crew seems clueless about such obvious conflicts of interest. The department's chief privacy officer, who chose the final board members, says, "Who better to educate [the department] than people in the industry?" Hello! How about a panel of independent privacy advocates ... and maybe a few Americans who've had their privacy invaded?

To help yank these personal data traffickers into line with America's privacy rights, call the Center for Democracy and Technology: 202/637-9800.


Time for another Gooberhead Award – presented periodically to those in the news who've got their tongue running 100 miles per hour ... but forgot to put their brains in gear.

Today's Goober is H. Lee Scott Jr. – and boy, he is hot! H. Lee is honcho of the ever-sprawling Wal-Mart empire, and he recently threw a public hissy fit at all of you workers, consumers, neighborhood groups, taxpayers, environmentalists, local businesses, public officials, women's advocates, local newspapers, and – gosh, so many more who've had the audacity to criticize the world's largest corporation.

Wal-Mart never does anything that isn't calculated, so even the honcho's hissy fit was carefully scripted. It came as part of a two-day media event for about 50 journalists who flew to the corporate compound in Bentonville, Ark. This was the kick-off for yet another multimillion-dollar PR blitz to try buffing up Wal-Mart's tarnished image. Indeed, it's image is so tarnished that city after city – from New England to California – has been rejecting Wal-Mart's attempts to bulldoze its way into their communities, specifically rejecting Wal-Mart's low-wage, anti-worker, anti-neighborhood, predatory business practices.

Rather than fix any of these practices, H. Lee lashed out at anyone who dares question how the $288-billion-a-year behemoth treats people and communities. He especially decried those of us who object to the $15,000-a-year poverty pay that workers average there. He wailed that poor Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has such a thin profit margin that it simply can't afford to pay middle-class wages.

Before you weep for Wal-Mart, consider that it raked in more than $10 billion in declared profits last year and that its competitors pay up to three times the Wal-Mart wage – and still make a nice profit. In fairness, though, Wal-Mart is generous to some of its employees. H. Lee, for example, pockets $4.7 million a year.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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Department of Homeland Security, Cendant Corporation, Center for Democracy and Technology, Gooberhead Award, H. Lee Scott, Jr., Wal-Mart

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