A team of political hoaxers fooled New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, and a thousand construction-industry members today.
Posing as fictitious senior HUD official Rene Oswin, Andy Bichlbaum — a member of the Group the Yes Men — promised big (and unlikely) changes in New Orleans to a privately-organized conference in Kenner, Louisiana. Among his expansive promises, according to CNN:
– Energy giants Exxon and Shell would spend $8.6 billion “to finance wetlands rebuilding from $60 billion in profits this year.”
– Wal-Mart would withdraw its stores from poor neighborhoods and “help nurture local businesses to replace them.”
– the federal government would spend $180 million to fund “at least one well-equipped public health clinic for every housing development.”
– the feds would reverse plans to replace public schools with private and charter schools, and instead create a national tax base to supplement local taxes.
HUD quickly confirmed Oswin wasn’t part of their agency. “This announcement is totally false; it’s totally bogus,” spokeswoman Donna White told CNN, who said no one named “Rene Oswin” works for the department. “I’m like, who the heck is that?”
Yes Man Mike Bonanno responded to an email from TPMmuckraker this afternoon asking whether his group was behind Oswin: “yes. Guilty as charged.”
The Yes Men have been responsible for numerous political hoaxes in recent years, including the Halliburton SurvivaBall (to protect managers against rapid climate change), and a hamburger made from human waste (to solve the global hunger crisis). They were the subjects of a 2004 documentary, the Yes Men.
“It’s really a sick, twisted — I don’t even want to refer to it as a joke,” HUD spokeswoman White told CNN. “At this point, it’s not funny.”
Update: An earlier version of this story did was written before the Yes Men’s involvement had been confirmed.
Late Update: CNN belatedly catches on to the joke.