Monday, September 26, 2005

Funny money

09/26/05

"Rita leaves a $6 billion mess," reads the banner headline in my morning Boston Globe.

I don't know how to react. That's a lot less than the $200 billion estimate to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina. And that in turn is but a fifth of the $1 trillion plus the war in Iraq will cost over its first three or four years, according to a New York Times graphic some weeks back -- a figure that included "peripheral" costs for things such as new limbs for shattered lives.

But $6 billion still sure sounds like a lot of suffering -- unless, out of sight and out of the headlines, some of it proves to be so much padding for much higher-end looters than those who were stealing food and diapers from deserted New Orleans stores.

In the world of politics, it appears, there's congressionally sanctioned skim and just plain skim. In the first category falls this Administration's tax cuts. It's well-established that the top 1 percent, and especially the top .1 percent, of people on America's economic totem poll, have benefitted disproportionately from President Bush's tax cut. Oh, the conservatives still argue that the rich must be freed from tax bondage for their hard-earned wealth so that the fruits of their entrepreneurship and business acumen can trickle down to the masses. But it's established fact nonetheless that they're getting a lot more back than the rest of us.

In the aftermath of the hurricanes, however, comes a new category of corporate welfare. Having already soaked the rest of us to get their big tax cuts, the President's political and corporate buddies show signs of playing on the pity for the suffering to extend their profits in new and dubious directions. According to today's New York Times, more than 80 percent of the clean-up contracts signed thus far by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, were no-bid contracts, many arrived at by handshake agreements.

And guess whose hand FEMA is shaking? For starters a subsidiary of Halliburton, the all-pervasive giant that's cornered the lion's share of contracts in Iraq and -- surprise -- for which Vice-President Cheney served as chief executive officer before re-entering politics. That company and another major contractor that's cleaning up -- in more ways than one in Katrina's aftermath -- are both represented by Joe M. Albaugh, the president's former campaign manager, the former director of FEMA, and the good fellow who recommended his buddy, Michael D. "Brownie" Brown, to head the agency when he left.

Considering what a mess this Administration made of the federal response to Katrina, it's remarkable how tidy its connections are to the clean-up. Perhaps top officials are figuring nobody will bother looking now that the news has moved on to Rita and the President is everywhere, showing that true leaders never sleep. Perhaps they'll be proven right.

I hope not. As a student in graduate school, my professors gave me one overriding piece of advice: "Follow the money trail." It can be a convoluted trail with few signs. But more and more of them seem pointed in the general direction of Pennsylvania Avenue.

11 Comments:

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September 26, 2005 at 5:18 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Business as usual on K Street.

CorpWatch.org had a very good piece on this September 20.

Army contracts seem like such a bloated mess, one wonders if a change in administration would really make a difference. Seems like an almost unchangeable facet of procurement culture in general.

September 26, 2005 at 10:28 AM  
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The plot thickens.

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