Thursday, September 29, 2005


Baghdad on the Bayou

Government Gone Rancid

Creators Syndicate

The Big Whew blew over Texas, leaving Port Arthur underwater and a whole lot of stress across the state.

Stress-sensitive groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous were doing land-office business in Texas this weekend. The refugees trade tales of heroism and generosity, along with reports of the bad and the ugly. That's human nature, but there's nothing forgivable about organized government corruption.

I'm sorry, but there are no exceptions: The first commandment of governing is Thou Shalt Not Steal the People's Money.

The waste of money in Iraq is already into the billions, and the lack of accountability is fed by a Republican Congress that refuses to seriously investigate anything done by the Republican administration. The sums being overtly wasted are already staggering, and because there is no accountability, we can expect that situation not only to continue but deteriorate.

With billions being allocated to clean up after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, you can already smell the corruption -- fat contracts awarded without competitive bidding.

The New York Times reports: "More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse."

"Provoking concerns," eh? Good old Times, eternally blah -- why doesn't it ever run a screaming headline that says, "You're getting ripped off!" "They are Stealing Your Money to Pay Off Their Political Pals!" The trouble with journalism in this country is that it's too polite.

Look, this is rank, nasty business -- corruption, cronyism and competence (the lack thereof) are the issues here. And as we have so recently and so painfully been reminded, when government is run by incompetent cronies, real people pay a real price. There is nothing abstract about swollen bodies floating in flooded streets or dozens of old people dead in nursing homes.

Frankly, it's just a mercy that most of Houston didn't drown in a giant traffic jam last week. Already, the corporate vultures are moving in -- contracts are arranged through people like Joe Allbaugh, the former FEMA director who brought in his old buddy Michael "Heckuva Job, Brownie" Brown to run the agency.

This pattern is not just one rotten agency: The arrest last week of David Safavian, the Bushie who oversaw contracts for the Office of Management and Budget, ties into a whole nest of cronyism. Safavian's friend and former lobbying partner is Jack Abramoff, who in turn is big buddies with U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay.

The corporate clout in this administration is mirrored everywhere, with the same pattern of crony contracts. Allbaugh didn't just start getting contracts for politically connected firms after Katrina. He's been in Iraq, where he has a flourishing lobbying business precisely to help corporations get government contracts.

Already, Homeland Security is flooding what's left of New Orleans with mercenaries from the same private security contractors flourishing in Iraq. The Nation reports that companies such as DynCorp, Intercon Security, American Security Group, Blackwater, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International are all in New Orleans.

"Some, like Blackwater, are under federal contract. Others have been hired by the wealthy elite, like F. Patrick Quinn III, who brought in private security to guard his $3 million private estate and his luxury hotels, which are under consideration for a lucrative federal contract to house FEMA workers."

Baghdad on the Bayou for real.

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