The Hightower Report

Why the Homeland Security Department Is So Beloved; and Put Some Bite in Our Financial Watchdogs

Why the Homeland Security Department Is So Beloved

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano is moving to Washington to become head of the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, and I sure hope she's bringing a load of two things this humongous agency totally lacks: common sense and common decency.

Homeland Security is in charge of building the ridiculous and absurdly expensive 40-foot-high wall that our government is erecting along the U.S. border with Mexico. The very idea of this divisive wall is offensive to the people who live in U.S. border towns, but the insufferable arrogance of the agency has made the wall's offensiveness explosive.

The department's charm was on glaring display just before Christmas, when it sued the Nature Conservancy to condemn land near Brownsville for the project. The Nature Conservancy owns and runs a unique 1,000-acre preserve along the Rio Grande, and the federal wall builders wanted to take a 60-foot-wide strip from the preserve – amounting to about 8 acres.

Why fuss over 8 acres? Well, you'd assume that the wall would be going up on the actual border, but no. They want to build this section a mile-and-a-half from the border, thus putting three-fourths of the preserve in a no-man's land between the wall and Mexico. The most critical part of the wildlife habitat, and even the home of the preserve's manager, would be cut off by the wall, effectively destroying the park, which is home to two kinds of endangered wildcats and a rare palm forest.

A decade ago, the Nature Conservancy paid $2.6 million to buy this gem, yet Homeland Security now insists that it should pay only $114,000 as "fair compensation" for the 60-foot stretch it intends to take from the center of the preserve. It's this kind of swaggering lunacy that has made the agency so beloved. Good luck to Napolitano.

Put Some Bite in Our Financial Watchdogs

After Bernard Madoff confessed to looting some $50 billion from investors in a widespread Ponzi scheme, a Democratic member of Congress complained that this huge fraud "fell through the cracks of our regulatory system."

Indeed it did, but let's be honest – there are now more "cracks" than "system" in America's regulatory apparatus.

In the past decade, credible evidence of Madoff's theft had been brought numerous times to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is supposed to be the watchdog against financial fraud. Yet the SEC conducted only one cursory investigation, exonerating him based on data that Madoff himself so helpfully gave to the agency. Indeed, Madoff even served on various SEC advisory committees while he was going about his dirty business!

His case is no anomaly. It's the SEC, after all, that offered not so much as a bark while the biggest firms on Wall Street built their own Ponzi schemes on flimsy subprime mortgage scams, leading to today's economic crash and massive bank bailouts.

None of this is accidental. Under both George Bush and Bill Clinton, there has been a deliberate, fantasy-based defanging of our public watchdog. "Free Wall Street hucksters from the yoke of regulation," was the ridiculous political demand, and Washington meekly complied.

SEC's enforcement budget was slashed, fraud investigators were neutered, and bankers came to be treated as the agency's "customers." In 2000, the once-proud SEC prosecuted 69 cases of securities fraud; in 2007, it prosecuted nine.

Good regulation has to have real bite to it. Barack Obama promises to put some teeth back in our watchdog, but he can't do it alone, for Wall Street lobbyists are already swarming Washington to stop real change. To help push them back, contact OMB Watch at www.ombwatch.org.

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

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More border wall
Lege Lines: Sen. José Menéndez Stands Up for Military Bases, and Against Trump
Lege Lines: Sen. José Menéndez Stands Up for Military Bases, and Against Trump
San Antonio Democrat introduces resolution to protect funds for Texas military being diverted to border wall construction

Mary Tuma, March 22, 2019

Frontera Residents Blast 'Frankenfence'
Frontera Residents Blast 'Frankenfence'
Hatred of feds' planned fence/wall hybrid for region is bipartisan, far-reaching

Cheryl Smith, March 14, 2008

More Securities and Exchange Commission
Paxton Indicted
Paxton Indicted
Paxton expected to plead not guilty to three felony counts

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 7, 2015

More The Hightower Report
The Hightower Report
The Hightower Report
The Donald Show

Jim Hightower, July 10, 2015

The Hightower Report
The Hightower Report
The damning nuttiness of the GOP's "Hell No" faction

Jim Hightower, Aug. 15, 2014

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

border wall, Department of Homeland Security, Nature Conservancy, Bernard Madoff, Securities and Exchange Commission, Janet Napolitano

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle