Flag Hucksters

The flag sells. I'm not talking about sales of the Red-White-and-Blue itself, but the use of our Star Spangled Banner to sell everything from cars to toilet paper. Slap a picture of Old Glory on it, and I'll bet some people would buy frozen vials of Mad Cow disease.

These days, the hawking of products in the guise of patriotism has become especially popular... and shameless. Consumer Reports magazine has discovered one such commercial come-on that would gag the most devout flag waver.

It's an email offer that featured a photo of George W and a banner headline asking accusingly, "Do You Support President Bush?" It then made this urgent demand: "With the war overseas and constant threats of terrorism here on our shores, NOW is the time for Americans like you to make your voices heard." To reel in the sucker, the e-mail promotion offered a free "God Bless America" T-shirt (complete with a rippling American flag on its front) if the recipient would only click on and respond to a "National Security Survey."

But -- surprise! -- the survey asked nothing about national security. Instead, it asked: "Do you want service from Sprint?" It also asked nine other commercial questions, including, "Want to earn 10K per month working from home?" and "Need cash but have bad credit?"

The patriotic come-on was a ruse by a marketing corporation called Consumer Value Direct, which, by the way, also asked for all sorts of personal information about the patriots who clicked onto its site, including their home phone numbers and birth dates. In case some real patriots clicked on who might be offended by such a corporate intrusion into their privacy, CVD's website generously admitted that such personal data "remains your property" -- but... it declared, the marketers "have the right to use that information" whenever "necessary or appropriate."

What a crock! These hucksters should be strung up on the nearest flag pole.

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