Browsing the archives for the corruption category.

Black Holes

Bush Administration, Congress, corruption, FEMA, Hurricanes, National Security, Republican Party

Spencer S. Hsu writes for The New York Times,

The Bush administration unconstitutionally denied aid to tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita and must resume payments immediately, a federal judge ordered yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the Federal Emergency Management Agency created a “Kafkaesque” process that began cutting off rental aid in February to victims of the 2005 storms, did not provide clear reasons for the denials, and hindered applicants’ due-process rights to fix errors or appeal government mistakes.

“It is unfortunate, if not incredible, that FEMA and its counsel could not devise a sufficient notice system to spare these beleaguered evacuees the added burden of federal litigation to vindicate their constitutional rights,” Leon, a D.C. federal judge, wrote in a 19-page opinion.

“Free these evacuees from the ‘Kafkaesque’ application process they have had to endure,” he wrote.

With FEMA, it’s hard to know how much of this nonsense is incompetence and how much of it is a deliberate strategy to avoid paying money. Possibly both.

As of June, Congress had allocated more than $107 billion “to provide emergency support and assist in longer-term recovery in the Gulf Coast,” according to the Brookings Institution. If you google for information on what has happened to that money, the words waste, fraud, and Byzantine pop up abundantly. In June, Eric Lipton wrote in the New York Times that

Among the many superlatives associated with Hurricane Katrina can now be added this one: it produced one of the most extraordinary displays of scams, schemes and stupefying bureaucratic bungles in modern history, costing taxpayers up to $2 billion. …

… The estimate of up to $2 billion in fraud and waste represents nearly 11 percent of the $19 billion spent by FEMA on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as of mid-June, or about 6 percent of total money that has been obligated.

Awhile back the Justice Department established a Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force. Browsing through their news releases gives the impression that the task force is focused exclusively on fraudulent claims for assistance, and certainly there’s plenty of that to keep them busy. Fraud on the part of government contractors, however massive, seems not to be a concern. And the Republican-controlled Congress seems to have done little more than go through the motions of providing oversight.

Let’s hope that’s about to change.

Meanwhile, via The Talking Dog, we find that Homeland Security misdirector Michael Chertoff has admitted that maybe Homeland Security funds are not being allocated sensibly.

Remember how this summer, the Department of Homeland Security reduced the amount of anti-terror funding NYC would get? Sure, NYC was still getting most of the funding, but funds were being increased in less risky areas with, well, influential politicians. And then the press had a field day with how Homeland Security didn’t think there were any national monuments or major buildings at risk? And then Homeland Security claimed that NY State and NYC didn’t file their request properly?

That’s pretty much what FEMA said about the people who’d had their rent aid cut off.

Well, now Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has come out and tacitly stated – though not outright admitting – that the DHS was wrong. The Post reports that at a grand-writing [grant-writing?] conference, Chertoff offered a mea culpa:

    “We’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps there was a little too much bean counting and a little less standing back and applying common sense to look at the total picture,” Chertoff told a grant-writing conference.

    “And I’ve heard the complaints about it, looking like we’re playing kind of a pop-quiz type of game with local communities,” he said.

    “They have to try to guess what we’re looking for – and if they guess wrong, they don’t get the money that they think they’re entitled to, and that they may be entitled to.”

The DHS was quick to say that Chertoff isn’t admitting the funding allocation was a mistake, but that “He’s pretty much just saying that this year we will apply some common sense [and] look at the risk in the city.” … Remember, he’s the same man who said that a terrorist attack on a subway is less catastrophic than a terrorist attack on an airplane, because it’s not like subways are connected to large stations or terminals or anything.

From here, it’s hard to know how much tax money given to the DHS (including FEMA) is actually being applied to homeland security, and how much is being sucked into a black hole. It’s also hard to know how much of the bureaucratic “bungling” is really a cover for payoffs, kickbacks, and other less-than-savory uses of taxpayers’ monies.

But I do get a strong impression that a whole lot of that $107 billion meant for Katrina relief and recovery got lost somewhere between Washington DC and the Gulf Coast.

The way the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress budgets and allocates money makes it damn hard to follow that money. The over-use of “emergency” supplemental appropriations has made the official budget something of a joke. Veronique de Rugy writes for Reason Online:

Supplemental spending, “emergency” spending in particular, has become Washington’s tool of choice for evading annual budget limits and increasing spending across the board. Funding predictable, nonemergency needs through supplementals hides skyrocketing military costs and allows Congress to boost regular appropriations for both defense and nondefense programs, thereby enabling the spending explosion of the last five years. …

… The Bush administration has used supplementals to hide the true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three years in, the Iraq war can hardly be called an emergency or an unpredictable event. This is especially true since one of the largest expenditures goes to the salaries and benefits of Army National Guard personnel and reservists called to active duty. Yet each year President Bush leaves out all war costs when he presents his budget to Congress, knowing that he will be able to secure the funding later through the supplemental process. This year Congress will appropriate nearly 20 percent of total military spending via supplementals.

“Emergency” supplemental spending bills have included monies for hurricane relief and recovery. Congress critters hate to vote against hurricane relief and recovery. But we have no way to know how much of that money, if any, is actually being spent on hurricane relief and recovery.

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What Does He Know That We Don’t?

Bush Administration, corruption, elections, Republican Party

Michael Abramowitz writes in today’s Washington Post:

Amid widespread panic in the Republican establishment about the coming midterm elections, there are two people whose confidence about GOP prospects strikes even their closest allies as almost inexplicably upbeat: President Bush and his top political adviser, Karl Rove.

Flashback: As I remember it, on election night 2000 the extended Bush clan watched the train wreck from the Texas governor’s mansion. From time to time they’d appear on television, watching television. And at some point someone told them Florida had been called for Gore, and they shrugged it off. They weren’t worried about Florida. They knew they had Florida, one way or another.

Abramowitz continues,

The official White House line of supreme self-assurance comes from the top down. Bush has publicly and privately banished any talk of losing the GOP majorities, in part to squelch any loss of nerve among his legions. Come January, he said last week, “We’ll have a Republican speaker and a Republican leader of the Senate.”

The question is whether this is a case of justified confidence — based on Bush’s and Rove’s electoral record and knowledge of the money, technology and other assets at their command — or of self-delusion. Even many Republicans suspect the latter. Three GOP strategists with close ties to the White House flatly predicted the loss of the House, though they would not do so on the record for fear of offending senior Bush aides.

After the 2004 election, Maureen Farrell wrote an editorial for Buzzflash that documented Bush’s pattern of supreme confidence before “elections”:

On election night, Peter Jennings looked measurably surprised when he learned that President Bush had provided a tape of himself, sitting in the White House, commenting on his impending victory. It was an unprecedented move. No sitting president had ever addressed the nation while polls were still open. It was just not done. But there was George, exuding confidence, offering an election day reminder of our leader’s legitimacy.

It was all so perfectly Rovian, too. And why not? The Bush family filmed a similar made-for-TV moment in 2000, you might recall, when they assured America that Florida belonged to George. “There was one exact moment, in fact, when I knew for sure that Al Gore would Never be President of the United States, no matter what the experts were saying, and that was when the whole Bush family suddenly appeared on TV and openly scoffed at the idea of Gore winning Florida,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote, two weeks before the Supreme Court’s fateful decision.” Of course Bush would win Florida. Losing was out of the question. Here was the whole bloody Family laughing & hooting & sneering at the dumbness of the whole world on National TV.”

Election night 2004, however, was not punctuated by any such hooting. It was the end of a long and grueling journey for the President of the United States and his supporters. Tales of voter intimidation, computer glitches and “partisan mischief,” were reported during early voting in Florida, but somehow those things usually worked in the President’s favor. (Would anyone have complained, do you suppose, if John Kerry’s brother had been running the show?).

Of course, thanks to the Electoral College, in a close presidential election one has only to steal one or two states to swing the election. To keep the House in Republican hands, BushCo is going to have to pull a “Florida” in several states at once. And when pollsters are predicting a blowout (as Kevin Heyden notes, even much of the Right Blogosphere has written off the House), even the U.S. news media might get suspicious if Republicans win.

Emptywheel reminds us that Rove isn’t always right.

As I’ve been flying around the world, I’ve been reading all the Rove classics, including Bush’s Brain. And what struck me as I was reading it is the failures that never get mentioned. There’s the loser campaign in PA. Rove’s plans to win CA in 2000 and MI in 2004. These were all part of Rove’s grand plan and they didn’t come to fruition. Only Rove’s overconfidence in the 2000 NH primary ever gets mentioned. Underlying it all (particularly the MI loss, with the failed bid to win supporters by imposing a steel tariff, which really decimated the Tool and Die industry in MI) is the real possibility that, eventually, people are going to want results. Eventually, policy does matter. Rovian politics are not enough–not enough to win wars in Iraq, not enough to save jobs in the Midwest, and not enough to ensure seniors get prescription drugs.

Also at The Next Hurrah, DemFromCT provides a list of “Perceived GOP Errors” that includes Terri Schiavo, Harriet Miers, Dubai Ports, and immigration. I don’t know how much of a hand Rove had in those little episodes, but certainly each of these issues showed the White House with its pants down, so to speak, and very much caught off guard by public reaction it didn’t anticipate.

I’ve long believed that Karl Rove is a kind of Idiot Savant who is brilliant at one thing — Assault Politics — but barely competent at anything else. Like his boy Bush, he may finally have waded in over his head.

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Foley Frolics

Bush Administration, Congress, conservatism, corruption, Democratic Party, Republican Party

See if you can spot the flaw in Karen Tumulty’s otherwise spot-on article in Time magazine. It’s in this section:

If you think politicians clinging to power isn’t big news, then you may have forgotten the pure zeal of Gingrich’s original revolutionaries. They swept into Washington on the single promise that they would change Capitol Hill. And for a time, they did. Vowing to finish what Ronald Reagan had started, they stood firm on the three principles that defined conservatism: fiscal responsibility, national security and moral values. Reagan, who had a few scandals in his day, didn’t always follow his own rules. But his doctrine turned out to be a good set of talking points for winning elections in a closely divided country, and the takeover was completed with the inauguration of George W. Bush as President.

But after controlling both houses of Congress and the White House for most of Bush’s six years in office, the party has a governing record that has come unmoored from those Grand Old Party ideals.

Tumulty’s premise (illustrated by the graphic, which is inspired) assumes that Republicans started out as principled and reasonably pure but lost their way. However, if you assume that today’s Right is essentially the same critter Richard Hofstadter identified as pseudo-conservative back in the 1950s, then it follows that the “ideals” and “values” were always a sham.

Hofstadter wrote that pseudo-conservatism was “a kind of punitive reaction” to the New Deal era. Quoting Theodore W. Adorno, Hofstadter wrote in the essay “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt” (1954):

I borrow the term [pseudo-conservative] from The Authoritarian Personality, published in 1950 by Theodore W. Adorno and his associates — because its exponents, although they believe themselves to be conservatives and usually employ the rhetoric of conservatism, show signs of a serious and restless dissatisfaction with American life, traditions, and institutions. They have little in common with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism in the classical sense of the word, and they are far from pleased with the dominant practical conservatism of the moment as it is represented by the Eisenhower administration.

… From clinical interviews and thematic apperception tests, Adorno and his co-workers found that their pseudo-conservative subjects, although given to a form of political expression that combines a curious mixture of largely conservative with occasional radical notions, succeed in concealing from themselves impulsive tendencies that, if released in action, would be very far from conservative. The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, shows “conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness” in his conscious thinking and “violence, anarchic impulses, and chaotic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere… The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

Later in the same essay:

The restlessness, suspicion and fear manifested in various phases of the pseudo-conservative revolt give evidence of the real suffering which the pseudo-conservative experiences in his capacity as a citizen. He believes himself to be living in a world in which he is spied upon, plotted against, betrayed, and very likely destined for total ruin. He feels that his liberties have been arbitrarily and outrageously invaded. He is opposed to almost everything that has happened in American politics in the past twenty years. He hates the very thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He is disturbed deeply by American participation in the United Nations, which he can see only as a sinister organization. He sees his own country as being so weak that is it constantly about to fall victim to subversion; and yet he feels that it is so all-powerful that any failure it may experience in getting its way in the world — for instance, in the Orient — cannot possibly be due to its limitations but must be attributed to its having been betrayed.

Over the years the pseudo-conservatives have managed to erect a facade of political ideology to cover their social pathologies, and I believe at least some movement conservatives came to genuinely believe in that ideology. But in truth it has been their seething, inchoate resentment that has fueled the American Right lo these many years. The Bush cult of personality is just a new manifestation of a long-festering disease. Glenn Greenwald may have wondered at how easily righties could chuck their almighty ideology to stand with Bush, but for most of them it was never about the ideology. In George W. Bush they found the pure distillation of their resentment and ignorance. His smarmy insolence is the one-finger salute they have long desired to give to the world.

Please do read Tumulty’s piece in Time all the way through, as it very good. For now I just want to quote a bit from the end:

… the way the House has operated under Hastert has been anything but humble. He quickly came to be viewed as little more than a genial front for then majority leader Tom DeLay, whose nickname—the Hammer—pretty much summed up his leadership touch.

“There has been no institutional rule, means, norm or tradition that cannot be set aside to advance a partisan political goal,” says Brookings Institution political scientist Thomas Mann, co-author of the recently published book whose title describes Congress as The Broken Branch. In 2003, instead of fashioning a compromise that might woo a few Democrats, Hastert and DeLay held what was supposed to be a 15-min. vote open for three full hours as they squeezed the last Republican votes they needed to pass a bill to provide an expensive prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program. Far more than in the past, they brought bills to the floor with no chance of amendment and allowed the normal appropriations process to be circumvented so that pet projects could be funded without scrutiny. When DeLay faced indictment by a Texas grand jury, Hastert changed the Republican rules so that DeLay could stay on as leader—though in the ensuing outcry, he had to reverse himself. Hastert was successful, however, in purging the ethics committee of its chairman and two Republican members who had reprimanded DeLay for misconduct. Stretching the limits of arcane House rules and shuffling committees around may not seem like earthshaking offenses, but they are the same type of procedural strangleholds and power plays that the G.O.P. had hoped to excise from the body politic 12 years ago.

The Dems were plagued by corruption in 1994, when the GOP took over the House, and the Dems had made use of “procedural strangleholds and power plays,” although I don’t know if they were as ruthless about it as is the current House leadership. The moral is not that one party is intrinsically superior to the other, but that all these politicians need OVERSIGHT. And no party should be able to manipulate Congress so that it can operate in the dark and shut out the opposition entirely. If the Dems do take back the House in November, I think we should lean on them heavily to make some reforms.

Another warning for the Dems comes from rightie blogger Rick Moran:

As it now seems likely that the GOP will be given the boot by voters on election day, America will turn toward the Democrats looking for leadership on budget issues, entitlements, the War on Terror, and other vital issues facing the country.

It says volumes that the American people will not find any new ideas or solutions from Democrats – only the promise that they will “drain the swamp.”

This assumes that Republicans have “new ideas and solutions.” The GOP has been dragging essentially the same mummified ideas around since Goldwater — hell, some of those ideas date back to Coolidge, if not McKinley — and the GOP had a clear shot at putting those ideas into practice. And (once again) they failed. But as I said here, if Dems get a shot they had better hustle to show voters that they can provide better government than the GOP, because otherwise the GOP will come roaring back in 2008. And Dems will have to deliver something tangible that voters can see with their own eyes, so that the mighty rightie media machine can’t spin it away.

At Orcinus, Sara Robinson thinks some right-wing voters have finally come to a moment of reckoning. On the other hand, Margaret Talev and Eric Black of McClatchy Newspapers write that “Polls show little national fallout from page scandal.” This is no time to be complacent.

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The Trashing of America

Bush Administration, corruption

This goes with the last post, on the failures of conservative ideology —

Chuck McCutcheon writes in The Seattle Times:

A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland.

None of these recent events resulted from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but they may as well have, some homeland security experts say. They worry that too little attention is paid to how fast the country’s basic operating systems are deteriorating.

“When I see events like these, I become concerned that we’ve lost focus on the core operational functionality of the nation’s infrastructure and are becoming a fragile nation, which is just as bad — if not worse — as being an insecure nation,” said Christian Beckner, a Washington analyst who runs the respected Web site Homeland Security Watch (

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation “D” for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

“I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm,” said Casey Dinges, the society’s managing director of external affairs.

Maintaining infrastructure is one of the big weaknesses of the rightie “free market” religion. That’s becaue there’s no profit in maintaining infrastructure; it’s all cost. Therefore, private companies want someone else to do it. And I don’t blame them; maintaining infrastructure is a responsibility of government. But conservatives don’t want government to do it, either, unless they can make it part of a nice pork-barrel project or award the contract to a campaign contributor. I’ve ranted about this before.

Our crumbling infrastructure puts citizens’ lives at risk. It also makes us more vulnerable to disaster, both natural and man-made.

The Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a recent report that facilities are deteriorating “at an alarming rate.” …

… “There’s a growing understanding that these programs are at best inefficient and at worst corrupt,” said Everett Ehrlich, executive director of the CSIS public infrastructure commission.

Ehrlich and others cite several reasons for the lack of action:

• The political system is geared to reacting to crises instead of averting them.

• Some politicians don’t see infrastructure as a federal responsibility.

• And many problems are out of sight and — for the public — out of mind.

And, of course, our Republican budget deficit means we don’t have the money to fix what needs fixing. One of these days we’re going to wake up and realize we’re not living in a rich country after all.

See also RJ Eskow on “The Third-World-ization of the USA.”

Unrelated: Digby has your Sunday night reading assignment.

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Where the Fault Lies

Bush Administration, corruption, Hurricanes

In this week’s Newsweek, Jonathan Alter asks how President Bush could have been so inept at handling Katrina recovery:

Not only has the president done much less than he promised on the financing and logistics of Gulf Coast recovery, he has dropped the ball entirely on using the storm and its aftermath as an opportunity to fight poverty. Worker recovery accounts and urban homesteading never got off the ground, and the new enterprise zone is mostly an opportunity for Southern companies owned by GOP campaign contributors to make some money in New Orleans. The mood in Washington continues to be one of not-so-benign neglect of the problems of the poor. …

… If the president was MIA, Congress hasn’t been much better. Consider the estate tax and the minimum wage. The House in June passed a steep reduction of the estate tax (so as to apply only to couples leaving more than $10 million to their heirs) that would cost the Treasury three quarters of a trillion dollars over the next decade. Last time I checked, that was real money. Senate Republicans tried to push it through by linking the bill to an increase in the minimum wage, which has not been raised in nine years. The idea was to get credit for giving crumbs to the working poor—but only if the superrich receive hundreds of billions of dollars. Fortunately, the bill failed. Unfortunately, other tax cuts for the wealthy keep moving through the system, ballooning the deficit and drying up money for everything else. Meanwhile, the GOP wants to make welfare reform (now 10 years old) more punitive, which will increase suffering. …

… After all the heat he took last year, how could Bush have blown the aftermath of Katrina? It’s not as if he lacks confidence in the power of his office. He believes he can fix Iraq and transform the Middle East. He aspires to spread democracy to the far corners of the globe. But the fate of an American city and millions of his impoverished countrymen are apparently beyond his control, or perhaps just his interest.

Gordon commented on the last post that what we’re seeing is the natural result of conservative ideology. Bob Burnett wrote about this recently at Huffington Post. Contemporary conservativism is all about shrinking government and “drowning the beast” in the bathtub. However,

During the last five years, conservatives discovered that while Americans rail against the federal government in the abstract, they actually like the programs it provides, such as Medicare and Social Security. They want their mail delivered on time and levees maintained to guard them from floods.

In Why Conservatives Can’t Govern political scientist Alan Wolfe observes. “Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain… The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.”

Faced with the reality that Americans secretly like the federal government, conservatives had two invidious responses: privatization and patronage. In Federal agency after agency, conservative Bush political appointees privatized jobs that formally had been done by agency employees. This resulted in deterioration of service and massive cost overruns. This can be seen in the Bush Administration’s handling of FEMA, where many of the essential functions were outsourced to corporations–with disastrous results, as was seen in the response to Hurricane Katrina. Privatization has been one of the major problems with the occupation of Iraq; selling Iraqi assets off to multinational corporations is not a substitute for building a civil society.

For years conservatives have been telling each other a fairy tale about government: that government is the problem, not the solution, and if government could just be shoved aside we would all live happily ever after. Without government, the good Market Forces fairy would be freed, and our wishes would be granted as naturally as the rain falls and the sun shines.

Alan Wolfe observes that since the primary objective of conservatives was thwarted–they couldn’t shrink the size of government–they settled for preventing it “from doing any good.” From the Department of Justice to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bush Administration eased federal regulations and reduced oversight responsibilities; the result was an across-the-board abandonment of the public interest. Conservatives abandoned a vital historic role of the federal government: protection of our rights.

Simultaneously, conservatives used the resources of the federal government as a vehicle for unprecedented political patronage; strengthening the Republican Party by securing huge donations from corporations. Conservative control of government unleashed an unprecedented wave of venality, a hybrid form of plutocracy where the interests of corporations where given primacy over the rights of individuals. This bias had many forms: sole-source contracts given in Iraq, bribery of Administration and Congressional officials, heightened influence of lobbyists, and elimination of bipartisanship — creation of an atmosphere where fairness and cooperation are seen as character flaws.

This is not necessarily new. Fred Siegel wrote (scroll down to subhead “American History” to read the entire essay):

… in rapidly industrializing post-Civil War America, the Whig politics of property, organized to protect wealth from the democratic “mob,” underwent an extraordinary transformation. “What it did,” writes Louis Hartz, “was to smash the ‘mob’ into a million bits, so that the fierce acquisitive passion, instead of being expended against property, would be expended against itself in the quest for property.” From roughly the end of the Civil War to the onset of the New Deal, there was a right wing in American politics but nothing, literary tendencies aside, that could be described as “conservative” as the term is commonly understood. The right wing turned against government in the name of that oxymoron laissez-faire conservatism and feared the state as an instrument of majoritarian reform. This came to be called “the American (as opposed to European) Way.”

State action, said social Darwinists like William Graham Sumner, threatened the natural social processes that produced prosperity through inequality. State action to regulate business or protect workers from injury was said to be the equivalent of European socialism and thus a threat to civilization itself. Or as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., explained it, the rise of big business was merely the working out of a law of nature and law of God. In the Gilded Age “the inequalities of nature would be allowed to run their full course.”

The Right sold this nonsense to voters by appealing to “that part of the American individualist psyche that has found all institutions, let alone the state, a suffocating danger.” That’s still true today, but today the Right has the advantage of control of most news media and highly sophisticated propaganda techniques. Bob Burnett wrote in his Huffington Post piece,

In the face of ideological failure, managerial ineptitude, and widespread corruption, why do any Americans support President Bush and his conservative cronies? The answer lies in the skillful use of propaganda by the Bush Administration. On a daily basis, citizens are fed lie after lie; told that Bush and the GOP mean well, have the best interests of the US at heart.

For the most part, Americans have bought these lies. And, they can’t resist the promise of a free lunch. Thus, while Americans didn’t accept the conservative notion of shrinking the size of the Federal government, they willingly supported the foolish notion of paying less for exactly the same services. In many parts of the nation, naïve citizens have been slow to associate deterioration of public services with the conservative Bush ideology, but eventually they will.

Burnett may be optimistic. A big chunk of our citizenry has been so brainwashed with the notion that government doesn’t work that they accept the atrocity of Gulf Coast “reconstruction” as proof.

One difference between then and now is that during the Gilded Age and many years after, the “activist judges” were on the side of the Right.

The post-Civil War Supreme Court led by Justice Stephen Field reshaped the Fourteenth Amendment (designed to ensure due process for the freed slaves) into an instrument of laissez-faire. In the Slaughterhouse cases of 1873, Field suggested that the very idea of economic regulation was un-American. And in the Pollock income tax case of 1895, progressive economic policy was denounced as “socialistic” and “communistic.” The Supreme Court saw itself as fashioning the Constitution into a bulwark “behind which private rights and private property may shelter themselves and be safe” from “the will of the majority.” In short, for conservatives the only good legislature was an adjourned legislature.

Today, the courts mostly have acted as our last shield between individual rights and the totalitarian Right. No wonder the righties hate the judicial branch.

“Laissez-faire conservatism reached its intellectual apogee in the 1920s.,” Siegel writes. The Depression, followed by the New Deal, drove it into disrepute. The Right was also home to rabid isolationists who refused to see the dangers posed by the emergence of Hitler, and many of them remained stubbornly isolationist through World War II. Needless to say, by 1945 the Right was way out of the mainstream. However, during the Cold War righties were able to take credibility on foreign policy away from the Left through a campaign of hysterical charges and brazen lies, as explained in this post.

But how did laissez-faire and free-market ideologies make such a triumphant comeback? I think the chief wedge issue used by the Right to separate voters from progressivism was race. I explained here how the Republicans capitalized on a white backlash against the civil rights movement and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs to lure white voters away from the Democrats. Expanding on that a bit — voters enraged by federally mandated desegregation were voters easily persuaded that the federal government was too powerful and needed to be taken down a few pegs. Voters who resented Ronald Reagan’s apocryphal black welfare queen were voters persuaded that Republicans wouldn’t throw money away on foolishness like entitlement programs, the way those tax-and-spend Democrats do.

And although I haven’t taken a demographic survey, it has struck me for a long time that so many of the loudest drum-beaters for the Right were born in the 1960s and 1970s. They don’t remember the New Deal; they don’t remember the post-World War II economic explansion, which peaked about 1972. They’ve been programmed with rightie beliefs all their lives, however, to the point that the rightie world view is all they know. I fear that younger voters — younger than me, anyway, which is most people — will be very hard to win back to progressivism. They’ve never seen true progressivism at work during their lifetimes, and years of rightie programming will make many of them averse to giving progressivism a try.

But then came Katrina, and I sincerely believe most of the nation is disturbed at how slowly the Gulf is being reconstructed. The first Atlantic hurricane of the year, Ernesto, could reach Florida by Thursday. The nation will be watching.

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“New Orleans was Iraq redux with an all-American cast.”

Bush Administration, corruption, Hurricanes

“We will stay until the job is done,” President Bush said today about the Gulf Coast, which is the same thing he said earlier this week about Iraq. But isn’t it odd that he speaks about a region of the U.S. the same way he speaks about a foreign country? “We” will “stay” in the Gulf Coast until the job is done? The Gulf Coast is home; it’s us. We’re staying whether the “job” gets done or not.

[Update: Josh Marshall noticed the same thing

Commenting on Katrina recovery Saturday in his weekly radio address, the President sounded as if he were reading from one of his Iraq speeches by mistake: “We will stay until the job is done.” Well, it’s not as if the federal government can hightail it out of Louisiana or Mississippi. Where would it go exactly?

The further implication of the President’s remarks is that the federal government was not present before Katrina struck, an absurd and offensive suggestion. New Orleans would not have existed as a modern city if not for the Army Corps of Engineers. The President would have us believe that the federal government came to the rescue after this natural disaster, albeit a bit late. In fact, the Corps and decades of federal flood control policy played a pivotal role in what was a manmade disaster in New Orleans–the failure of the levee system. (No one has done a better job of banging this drum than Harry Shearer, the actor, comedian, author, media critic, and sometime journalist.)

It was a really weird thing to say, even for Bush.]

Frank Rich, behind the New York Times subscription firewall [Update: Here’s the column outside the firewall.]

The ineptitude bared by the storm — no planning for a widely predicted catastrophe, no attempt to secure a city besieged by looting, no strategy for anything except spin — is indelible. New Orleans was Iraq redux with an all-American cast. The discrepancy between Mr. Bush’s “heckuva job” shtick and the reality on the ground induced a Cronkite-in-Vietnam epiphany for news anchors. At long last they and the country demanded answers to the questions about the administration’s competence that had been soft-pedaled two years earlier when the war first went south.

And the same federal contractors that soaked up billions in tax dollars to not reconstruct Iraq are getting more billions to not reconstruct the Gulf Coast.

A year after the storm, the reconstruction of New Orleans echoes our reconstruction of Baghdad. A “truth squad” of House Democrats has cataloged the “waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement” in $8.75 billion worth of contracts, most of which were awarded noncompetitively. Only 60 percent of the city has electricity. Half of the hospitals and three-quarters of the child-care centers remain closed. Violent crime is on the rise. Less than half of the population has returned.

Let the cameras roll:

What’s amazing on Katrina’s first anniversary is how little Mr. Bush seems aware of this change in the political weather. He’s still in a bubble. At last week’s White House press conference, he sounded as petulant as Tom Cruise on the “Today” show when Matt Lauer challenged him about his boorish criticism of Brooke Shields. Asked what Iraq had to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, Mr. Bush testily responded, “Nothing,” adding that “nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks.” Like the emasculated movie star, the president is still so infatuated with his own myth that he believes the public will buy such nonsense. …

… with no plan for salvaging either of the catastrophes on his watch, this president can no sooner recover his credibility by putting on an elaborate show of sermonizing and spin this week than Mr. Cruise could levitate his image by jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch. While the White House’s latest screenplay may have been conceived as “Mission Accomplished II,” what we’re likely to see play out in New Orleans won’t even be a patch on “Mission: Impossible III.”

Ann M. Simmons, Richard Fausset and Stephen Braun write for the Los Angeles Times that the Katrina disaster isn’t something that happened a year ago; it is ongoing.

Despite four emergency spending bills passed by Congress to provide more than $110 billion in aid, federal agencies have spent only $44 billion. Even as President Bush insisted last week that “$110 billion is a strong commitment,” he conceded that the recovery effort was plagued with “bureaucratic hurdles.”

The scale of the catastrophe continues to overwhelm the government’s capacity to respond. Aid agencies only now are contending with the long-term needs of hundreds of thousands of evacuees and with the landscape of shattered houses and public infrastructure that will take years to restore.

Many homeowners and business owners have waited impatiently for promised grants and loans as federal and state officials have spent months dickering over how much and where to spend aid — and officials remain at odds over who bears the blame for the inconsistent flow of Katrina aid. …

… But after a year of fielding constituents’ pleas for help, U.S. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., said, “We’re seeing the same thing going on with the recovery as we did with the immediate response. We’re going through another unfolding disaster.”

Get this:

Until last week, when the White House Office of Management and Budget released an agencywide breakdown of recovery spending, the administration had not provided a clear overview of how the money was being doled out. For much of the year, elected officials, government auditors and outside experts had to rely on fragmentary indicators of the pace of recovery spending, which handicapped efforts to monitor the process.

“It’s not only that we don’t know what’s been spent. We haven’t even had an accurate description of what ‘spent’ means,” said Rob Nabors, Democratic staff director for the House Appropriations Committee. “They talk about ‘commitments’ and ‘obligations’ — they’ve invented new terms for not spending money.”

Somebody better watch ’em to be sure Katrina money isn’t ending up in the Middle East somewhere.

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Life Lessons

Bush Administration, corruption, Hurricanes

In today’s radio address, President Bush delivered a couple of paragraphs about how awful it was and how “Americans responded with heroism and compassion” to last year’s Katrina disaster. And then he said (emphasis added),

Unfortunately, Katrina also revealed that federal, state, and local governments were unprepared to respond to such an extraordinary disaster. And the floodwaters exposed a deep-seated poverty that has cut people off from the opportunities of our country. So last year I made a simple pledge: The federal government would learn the lessons of Katrina, we would do what it takes, and we would stay as long as it takes, to help our brothers and sisters build a new Gulf Coast where every citizen feels part of the great promise of America.

I’d like to know more specifically what lessons he thinks “the federal government” ought to learn, and if he has any clue that “the federal government” has, in fact, learned anything so far.

James Gerstenzang writes in today’s Los Angeles Times that the anniversary of Katrina presents a public relations challenge for Bush’s handlers.

Bush is planning to spend much of Monday and Tuesday in Mississippi and Louisiana, visiting regions that were devastated by the winds and floods that accompanied the storm.

His goal, said White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino, is to “reflect on the many people who died,” as well as on those who rescued others. He will examine “how America opened up its arms and wallets” to care for the survivors.

But in the view of administration officials, their advisors and others, the question of how Bush should approach the anniversary is a difficult one. Speechwriters must craft presidential remarks that recognize devastation and recovery, but that also show an awareness of government failures in responding. Staffers must find locations for his visit that demonstrate progress but do not minimize problems and mistakes.

But electronic and print media are running a flood of feature stories and programs with a unanimous message: The government’s response to Katrina continues to be a bloated, wasteful, inefficient mess. Here are just a few links to stories I found this morning:

Michael Eric Dyson, “Not Much Has Changed,” Newsweek (web exclusive).Blurb: “President Bush made some bold promises to help the Gulf Coast’s poor after Katrina. Too bad he hasn’t kept them.”

Michelle Roberts, “New Orleans awaits billions in fed aid,” Associated Press

William Douglas, “Bush has fallen short in steering recovery, experts say,” McClatchy Newspapers. See also McClatchy’s “Katrina One Year Later” archive.

Eric Lipton, “Despite Steps, Disaster Planning Still Shows Gaps,” New York Times

Stephen Sackur, “One year on: Katrina’s legacy,” BBC. Blurb: “New Orleans sells itself to the world as the Big Easy. But one year after Hurricane Katrina there’s nothing easy about life in New Orleans.”

Ben Macintyre, “Another Katrina and that’s it,” Times (London) Online. Blurb: “The future of New Orleans depends on restoring coastal wetlands. Guess how much has been done.”

Kristin Jenson, “Katrina, One Year Later: A city in ruins, then and today,” Bloomberg. Let’s look at this one:

This is New Orleans a year later:

Fewer than half the city’s hospitals are open.

More than 85 million gallons of drinking water are leaking into the ground each day.

Mangled cars, mounds of debris and broken traffic lights mar a city with half the population that lived there Aug. 29, 2005 — the day Hurricane Katrina struck.

Thousands of homes stand deserted.

That’s just a tiny sampling. If you do a news google for “Katrina” you get hit after hit with the same bleak message. What you don’t get are news stories about how President George W. Bush showed excellent leadership and expedited timely and efficient federal response to the recovery effort. And that’s because he didn’t.

The President’s recent statements on Katrina emphasise the big appropriations made by Congress for Gulf Coast recovery. But this Associated Press story by Michelle Roberts says that, so far, New Orleans has received only “$117 million for largest urban restoration in U.S. history.” This is mostly because of bureaucratic hurdles at the federal level —

For every repair project, city officials must follow a lengthy application process — and spend their own money — before getting a dime of federal aid to fix at least 833 projects such as police stations, courtrooms, baseball fields or auditoriums.

Residents don’t care much what the cause is. They’re just tired of crater-like potholes, sudden drops in water pressure and debris-clogged storm drains.

‘‘We’re not asking for a lot. At this point, we’re just looking for basic services: power, gas, water. Sewer that doesn’t back up into your house would be nice too,’’ said Jeb Bruneau, president of the neighborhood association in the Lakeview area. ‘‘Whatever the snafu was, the result is Joe Blow Citizen isn’t seeing the effect of that federal money.’’

Righties like to whine about the evils of bureaucrats and bureaucracies, but the fact is bureaucracies are as good or bad as their management. Clearly, the management of FEMA continues to be the same morass of incompetence it was a year ago. Early this year there was some noise about reforming FEMA, but as Seth Borenstein reported for Knight Ridder, the “reforms” under discussion amounted to tweaking the morass. Borenstein wrote that the disaster experts he interviewed …

… pointed to a recent Government Accountability Office report and to the upcoming House report, saying the problem is leadership and accountability and that it starts at the Department of Homeland Security.

Penn State University public administration professor Beverly Cigler, who studied the response to Katrina for an association of public administration professionals, said some of the administration’s changes would make matters worse by removing preparedness from FEMA.

“The way it is now, none of these piecemeal things will deal with FEMA being buried in a gigantic bureaucracy,” Cigler said. “I think we are in worse shape now than we were pre-Katrina.”

This summer, Congress was still debating whether to keep FEMA within the Department of Homeland Security or make it separate. Nothing substantive has yet been attempted to untangle the morass. (Do a news google for “FEMA reform” and you’ll get hits guaranteed to raise your blood pressure.)

Back to this Associated Press story

President Bush has acknowledged the problems posed by excessive bureaucracy.

‘‘To the extent that there still are bureaucratic hurdles and the need for the federal government to help eradicate those hurdles, we want to do that,’’ Bush said Wednesday at the White House.

A year has passed. What is he waiting for?

FEMA has signed off on $4.8 billion worth of rebuilding in Louisiana and $1.7 billion in Mississippi so far, said Darryl Madden, a spokesman for FEMA’s Gulf Coast recovery office. … The procedural requirements for local governments to collect federal aid are designed to ensure the money is spent properly, Madden said.

‘‘We are dealing with very, very large dollars. There has to be accountability,’’ he said.

Accountability? That’s rich. As I wrote a couple of days ago, the Bushies refuse to be accountable for anything they do, but they are determined to be sure state and local governments don’t misspend a penny. (For more on why the feds need a bit of watching, see Jordan Green, “Profiting from Disaster,” at CounterPunch.)

What’s stunning about this mess is that President Bush continues to be disengaged from the problems of the Gulf Coast. Sure, he’s flown down to the Gulf to get his picture taken from time to time, but what has he actually accomplished, other than sign some congressional appropriations? What has he even tried to do? Even after he blew the initial response, the Katrina disaster was still a big, fat opportunity for the President to restore his credibility. For example, he could have followed Franklin Roosevelt’s “100 days” example and call a special session of Congress to work out exactly how relief and recovery could be expedited. He could have called in the heads of agencies involved and demand that he be updated regularly on what was being accomplished, not on how much money was appropriated. He could have rattled some cages and demand accountability for ongoing problems months ago.

Yet last December I quoted a Time magazine article (no longer free content) in which the White House seemed at a loss to think of something to do.

The plan is to make January a critical month in what the President’s aides hope will be a turning-point year. The White House expects a quick victory on Bush’s Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, and the State of the Union speech will nod to big goals. But when it comes to fresh and concrete ideas, the list of what Bush will actually try to accomplish in 2006 is so modest that one bewildered Republican adviser calls it “an insult to incrementalism.” …

…White House advisers tell TIME that the agenda for 2006 is in flux and that senior aide Karl Rove is still cooking up ideas. But the initiatives they have settled on sound more like Clinton’s brand of small-bore governance: computerizing medical records; making it easier for workers to take their health benefits with them when they leave a job and–an idea that captured Bush’s imagination in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina–giving a boost to Catholic and other private schools as an alternative for inner-city children.

Karl Rove was the guy in charge of Katrina recovery, remember. It seems to have slipped his mind.

Well, one politician’s screwup is another politician’s opportunity — Jim Kuhnhenn writes for the Associated Press

On the verge of Katrina’s one-year anniversary, Democrats from New Orleans to New Haven, Conn., to New York are launching a coordinated political assault on the Bush administration’s response to the devastation that struck the Gulf Coast.

Democratic lawmakers began arriving in the stricken region Thursday, making a stand that will culminate Monday when about 20 House Democrats convene in Bay St. Louis, Miss., for a town hall meeting. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana plans to deliver the Democratic response to President Bush’s Saturday radio address.

I like this part —

House Democrats on Thursday accused the administration of poorly managing the recovery effort, saying 70 percent of $10 billion in recovery and reconstruction funds were awarded to contractors without competitive bids.

“There is no question that incompetence by the Republican administration and their leaders in Congress, the lack of open government and honest leadership is a campaign issue,” said Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee.

In New Orleans on Thursday, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said after a tour that the city needs a massive public works project to rebuild it physically and economically.

“For as much money as we spend in one week, one week, in Iraq – $3 billion – we would create 150,000 jobs in America,” he said. “If we spend it all along here in New Orleans, that would be 150,000 high-paying jobs. That’s where we have to go.”

That’s a great message. Dems should keep pounding it into the public from now until election day.

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His Majesty to Visit One of the Lesser Colonies

Bush Administration, corruption, Hurricanes

Peter Wallsten and Maura Reynolds write for the Los Angeles Times:

As next week’s anniversary of Hurricane Katrina triggers recollections of rooftop refugees and massive devastation along the Gulf Coast, the White House has begun a public relations blitz to counteract Democrats’ plans to use the government’s tardy response and the region’s slow recovery in the coming congressional elections.

President Bush will visit the area Monday and Tuesday, including an overnight stay in New Orleans. He probably will visit the city’s Lower 9th Ward, the heavily black area that remains mired in debris, and is expected to meet with storm victims. …

What do you want to bet those “storm victims” will be very carefully vetted? If not bused in from somewhere else?

… The White House announced Bush’s visit Tuesday as a phalanx of administration officials stood before reporters to argue that billions of dollars had flowed to the region and millions more was on the way. …

…At Tuesday’s briefing, White House aides passed out folders and fact sheets that painted a picture of aggressive recovery efforts. A packet from the Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for the levees that were breached after the storm, carried the slogan: “One Team: Relevant, Ready, Responsible, Reliable.”

Donald E. Powell, the White House official in charge of recovery plans, declared that Bush was “fulfilling his commitment to rebuild the Gulf Coast better and stronger.”

I like this part:

The plans for the trip were disclosed one day after Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales announced that he was sending additional lawyers and resources to the city to fight fraud and abuse.

He’s sending lawyers and resources to the city to fight fraud and abuse?

Today the House Committee on Government Reform Minority Office (that means Democrats) released a report titled “Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Hurricane Katrina Contracts.” I haven’t had a chance to study it, but here are key findings from a press release:

* Full and Open Competition is the Exception, Not the Rule. As of June 30, 2006, over $10.6 billion has been awarded to private contractors for Gulf Coast recovery and reconstruction. Nearly all of this amount ($10.1 billion) was awarded in 1,237 contracts valued at $500,000 or more. Only 30% of these contracts were awarded with full and open competition.

* Contract Mismanagement Is Widespread. Hurricane Katrina contracts have been accompanied by pervasive mismanagement. Mistakes were made in virtually every step of the contracting process: from pre-contract planning through contract award and oversight. Compounding this problem, there were not enough trained contract officials to oversee contract spending in the Gulf Coast.

* The Costs to the Taxpayer Are Enormous. This report identifies 19 Katrina contracts collectively worth $8.75 billion that have been plagued by waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement. In the case of each of these 19 contracts, reports from the Government Accountability Office, Pentagon auditors, agency inspectors general, or other government investigators have linked the contracts to major problems in administration or performance.

I repeat — Gonzales is sending lawyers and resources to the city to fight fraud and abuse?

According to an Associated Press story by Matt Crenson, “Bush fulfills few promises to Gulf Coast“:

A June report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that FEMA wasted between $600 million and $1.4 billion on “improper and potentially fraudulent individual assistance payments.” …

… More than 100 million cubic yards of debris have been cleared from the region affected by Katrina. So far the government has spent $3.6 billion, a figure that might have been considerably smaller had the contracts for debris removal been subject to competitive bidding.

Can someone who can do arithmetic figure out how much the govenment has spent per cubic yard, assuming $3.6 billion for 100 million cubic yards? My calculator doesn’t go that high.

Working through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA gave each of four companies contracts worth up to $500 million to clear hurricane debris. This spring government inspectors reported that the companies — AshBritt Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla., Phillips and Jordan Inc. of Knoxville Ceres Environmental Services Inc. of Brooklyn Park, Minn., and ECC Operating Services Inc. of Burlingame, Calif. — charged the government as much as four to six times what they paid their subcontractors who actually did the work.

Here’s an oldie but goodie — Justin Park reports for The New Standard:

Taxpayers around the nation who urged the federal government to pay for relief and reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina probably didn’t expect their money to be spent on $279 meals and $2,500 tarps. But according to a newly released report, corporations hired by the federal government have not only inflated costs but committed labor abuses and delayed the reconstruction process, making millions while local companies and workers have been left behind.

The report, released last week by the Oakland-based non-profit CorpWatch, which investigates the private sector, details corporate price gouging, contracting pyramid schemes, labor abuses and unnecessary delays in the wake of last year’s hurricane season. The “disaster profiteers,” as CorpWatch calls them, include Halliburton, Blackwater, Fluor, CH2M Hill and Bechtel – all of which have also received federal contracts for work in Iraq.

“What we found is that rampant disaster profiteering abuses are needlessly slowing down the reconstruction of New Orleans and the rest of the stricken Gulf Coast region after Katrina,” CorpWatch director Pratap Chatterjee told reporters. Chatterjee, who is author of the book Iraq Inc. about contractor abuses in halfway around the world, compared the situation along the Gulf Coast to that of the Middle East.

According to the report, the clearest instances of waste in Gulf Coast reconstruction are the contracting pyramids schemes – layers of subcontracting that turn an easy profit for the many middlemen. This layering creates distance between corporations such as Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) and the subcontractor that ultimately performs the work. It allows KBR, for example, to plead ignorance when labor abuses are uncovered, as happened when a subcontractor was caught employing undocumented immigrants late last year and accused of mistreating them.

And the punch line —

The report also alleges that many workers, both undocumented and otherwise, remain unpaid. As also reported by The NewStandard, immigrant workers – many of them undocumented – were drawn to the disaster zone by promises of high wages and plentiful work. When they arrive, many face hazardous work conditions and often are stiffed out of pay.

But we can’t have Louisiana letting any fraud and abuse slip by, can we?

In his Monday press conference Bush said he wants “local folks” to make decisions about how to proceed with recovery. But along with the fact that most of the big contracts are being made between the feds and their pet contractors, it seems the Bush Administration is overriding state decisions. Back to Crenson:

Despite Bush’s Jackson Square promise to “undertake a close partnership with the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities,” state and local officials had a hard time reaching a deal for federal aid to help residents rebuild their ruined homes.

In January the administration rejected a $30 billion plan for Louisiana as too expensive. The White House also balked at subsidizing the reconstruction of homes in flood plains, a policy that would have excluded all but a small fraction of Louisiana homeowners whose houses were significantly damaged.

The state finally won funding in July for the $9 billion ‘Road Home’ program, which pays homeowners up to $150,000 either to repair their damaged property or rebuild elsewhere in the state. People who leave the state are eligible for a 60 percent buyout. The money, which is being distributed through escrow accounts to prevent fraud, is just becoming available a year after the hurricane.

$9 billion is just about what we’re pissing off about every six weeks in Iraq, is it not? But putting that aside — does the Bush Administration’s treatment of Louisiana just reek of imperialist condescension, or what? His Gloriousness says he wants to be a partner with the states and cities; he says he wants them to make decisions; but then he overrides their decisions and rejects their requests. And while Bush’s courtiers piss off money right and left, the Royal Fart Joke wants to be sure the colonials are being frugal.

I don’t doubt that some of the delays are happening at the state and local level, and the insurance companies’ foot dragging and shirking has added to the general misery. But what the Gulf Coast needed before, during, and after Katrina was competent and coordinated management and oversight of the regional recovery process. And that management and oversight should have come from the federal government.

Crenson of the Associated Press revisits the President’s famous floodlights in Jackson Square speech of last year to see how many of his promises have been kept. So far, one: Storm survivors are no longer living in shelters. Large numbers of them are still camping out in other “temporary” quarters, however, with no clue how long it will be before they have a permanent home. Some other promises have been partly filled, and the rest seem to have dropped off the to-do list without explanation.

You’d think (and I’ve said the same thing about Iraq, many times) that with so much of Bush’s political capital and credibility on the line, the Administration would have been at least paying attention to the Gulf Coast recovery to be sure something was happening. But so far it’s all been meandering along with no direction or oversight, and not much in the way of haste. My impression is that most of what has been accomplished so far was accomplished through private initiative and money, not through anything the Bush Administration did.

So now they’re putting on a spectacle and handing out folders and fact sheets. Do they think they’re going to fool anybody, when people can just drive around the Gulf Coast and notice how much isn’t being done?

By the way, do you remember who Bush named to be in charge of overseeing recovery efforts? Karl Rove. Last September, Dan Froomkin wrote,

All you really need to know about the White House’s post-Katrina strategy — and Bush’s carefully choreographed address on national television tonight — is this little tidbit from the ninth paragraph of Elisabeth Bumiller and Richard W. Stevenson’s story in the New York Times this morning:

“Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush’s chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort.”

Rove’s leadership role suggests quite strikingly that any and all White House decisions and pronouncements regarding the recovery from the storm are being made with their political consequences as the primary consideration. More specifically: With an eye toward increasing the likelihood of Republican political victories in the future, pursuing long-cherished conservative goals, and bolstering Bush’s image.

That is Rove’s hallmark.

Rove’s hallmark is not, however, actually doing stuff. Tangible stuff, that is. Rove is an illusionist. He mounts pageants; he creates spectacles; he builds images. All of his works are as substantial as smoke. Sorta like Hurricane Katrina recovery.

Update: Dr. Ronald Walters writes,

Although what happened in the New Orleans gulf was arguably the worst internal disaster in American history, there has been nothing like the urgent attention the administration gave to New York City after the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Truth is, it was the city and state of New York doing the work. The feds just showed up to get their pictures took.

… one year later, 100 million pounds of debris still lay on the ground in and around New Orleans, tens of thousands of people cannot return to their homes, the infrastructure of public utilities in the city of New Orleans has not been restored, contractors are bringing in immigrant workers who further displace New Orleans’ poor, and the politics and bureaucratic inertia—complicated by the theft and broken promises of private financial agents—form impenetrable barriers that make it difficult for people to surmount to retrieve their lives.

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Bush Administration, corruption, Hurricanes

I watched the first half of Spike Lee’s documentary on Hurricane Katrina last night. Riveting and gut-wrenching. If you get HBO, be sure to see it.

Among many things revealed by the storm was our ambivalence about federalism and the respective roles of state and federal government. You might remember that as people waited for rescue from the flood, the Bush Administration’s attitude was that the hurricane was a state and local problem.

The President was asked about Katrina during yesterday’s press conference. His response, in short, was that a whole lot of money had been allocated, but that it was entirely up to people at state and local levels to figure out how to proceed. And I agree that governors and mayors and people close to the destruction should be determining what needs to be done and making decisions about allocation of resources.

However, something seems to be seriously out of whack, somewhere. Chris Adams, Jack Douglas, and Sharon Schmickle report for McClatchy Newspapers:

Hundreds of thousands of lives are on hold throughout New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. One year after Katrina devastated the area on Aug. 29, huge swaths of the region are barely beyond the basic cleanup stage.

Life for many survivors is still one obstacle after another:

New Orleanians must contend with the loss of public schools (only 29 percent are open), bus routes (only 49 percent are operating) and child-care centers (only 23 percent are open), according to an index of Katrina statistics compiled by the Washington-based Brookings Institution. Everybody has insurance hassles to deal with or FEMA stories to tell.

Many communities remain scattered; some neighborhoods seem irreparable. And it’s been a year. There’s no excuse for this.

One big flaw in the “it’s the states’ problem” theory is that a big chunk of the federally allocated money is going into the pockets of federally contracted businesses. And these people are doing to the Gulf what they did to Iraq. Justin Park reports for The New Standard:

Taxpayers around the nation who urged the federal government to pay for relief and reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina probably didn’t expect their money to be spent on $279 meals and $2,500 tarps. But according to a newly released report, corporations hired by the federal government have not only inflated costs but committed labor abuses and delayed the reconstruction process, making millions while local companies and workers have been left behind.

The report, released last week by the Oakland-based non-profit CorpWatch, which investigates the private sector, details corporate price gouging, contracting pyramid schemes, labor abuses and unnecessary delays in the wake of last year’s hurricane season. The “disaster profiteers,” as CorpWatch calls them, include Halliburton, Blackwater, Fluor, CH2M Hill and Bechtel – all of which have also received federal contracts for work in Iraq.

“What we found is that rampant disaster profiteering abuses are needlessly slowing down the reconstruction of New Orleans and the rest of the stricken Gulf Coast region after Katrina,” CorpWatch director Pratap Chatterjee told reporters. Chatterjee, who is author of the book Iraq Inc. about contractor abuses in halfway around the world, compared the situation along the Gulf Coast to that of the Middle East.

According to the report, the clearest instances of waste in Gulf Coast reconstruction are the contracting pyramids schemes – layers of subcontracting that turn an easy profit for the many middlemen. This layering creates distance between corporations such as Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) and the subcontractor that ultimately performs the work. It allows KBR, for example, to plead ignorance when labor abuses are uncovered, as happened when a subcontractor was caught employing undocumented immigrants late last year and accused of mistreating them.

I like this part:

The report also alleges that many workers, both undocumented and otherwise, remain unpaid. As also reported by The NewStandard, immigrant workers – many of them undocumented – were drawn to the disaster zone by promises of high wages and plentiful work. When they arrive, many face hazardous work conditions and often are stiffed out of pay.

Slavery is the new capitalism.

Let’s look at some of the comments made by the President yesterday:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. As you know, the one-year anniversary of Katrina is coming up. And there are a lot of retrospectives about what went wrong down there last year. Specifically, what has your administration done in the past year to help the folks down there, and what remains to be done?

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks. You know, I went to New Orleans, in Jackson Square, and made a commitment that we would help the people there recover. I also want the people down there to understand that it’s going to take a while to recover. This was a huge storm.

First things — the first thing that’s necessary to help the recovery is money. And our government has committed over $110 billion to help. Of that, a lot of money went to — went out the door to help people adjust from having to be moved because of the storm. And then there’s rental assistance, infrastructure repair, debris removal. Mississippi removed about 97 percent, 98 percent of its — what they call dry debris. We’re now in the process of getting debris from the water removed. Louisiana is slower in terms of getting debris removed. The money is available to help remove that debris. People can get after it, and I would hope they would.

Q What —

THE PRESIDENT: Let me finish. Thank you.

We provided about $1.8 billion for education. That money has gone out the door. We want those schools up and running. As I understand, the schools are running now in New Orleans, a lot of schools are.

Only 29 percent of those schools are open, according to the McClatchy Newspapers report quoted above.

Flood insurance, we’re spending money on flood insurance. There is more work to be done, particularly when it comes to housing. We’ve spent about — appropriated about $16 billion, $17 billion for direct housing grants to people in the Gulf Coast and in Louisiana.

I’m not sure to which “$17 billion for direct housing grants” the President refers. I googled and learned that there is a program called “Road Home” that has $7.5 billion for individual grants to Louisiana homeowners who want to rebuild and repair, and another $1.7 billion for relocation. And as of today, guess how much of the housing grant money has made it into the hands of homeowners?

Zero. However, 42 homeowners should get checks by the end of this week.

The program was delayed at several points. It took Congress ten months to allocate the money, and Governor Kathleen Blanco held it up a couple more months to make sure safeguards were in place to prevent fraudulent claims.

But I bet Franklin Roosevelt wouldn’t have let Congress dither for ten months over an appropriation like this. He would have shoved it through Congress. Personally.

Bush says he wants “local folks” to be in charge:

I thought it would be best that there be a local plan developed and implemented by local folks. And so there’s now, as I mentioned, $16 billion of direct housing grants. Each state has developed its own plan, how much money goes to each homeowner to help these people rebuild their lives. And so I think the area where people will see the most effect in their lives is when they start getting this individualized CDBG grant money.

And that sounds grand, but if most of the recovery money is going to contractors, and the contracts are being made in Washington, and all these federal contractors are operating without oversight, then seems to me those local folks don’t have much control over what’s getting done. And from what I can tell not much is getting done, except where private capital is available to get it done.

And it also seems to me that there is more to be considered than just rebuilding homes and businesses. IMO there should be a master, multi-state plan that takes meta-issues like flood prevention, wetlands and ecosystems into consideration. Otherwise, decisions made by local officials now might create big problems later. I’m not saying the feds should dictate every detail of the recovery, but they should be providing some general oversight and parameters. A big chunk of the United States was damaged; and the success or failure of the recovery will have long-term effects on the entire country. The feds should have some responsibility beyond allocating money.

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Bad Actors

Congress, corruption, Democratic Party, Republican Party

From time to time I rant about the Left’s stupid proclivity toward single-issue advocacy rather than working through coalitions or the Democratic Party. The most recent such rants are here and here.

Via Digby, Matt Stoller explains why it’s even dumber than I had thought. (emphasis added)

Every bill that comes before the House and Senate faces a clear set of right-wing pressure points. The first and most powerful one is the Republican K-Street Project, which can whip all Republicans very quickly and effectively in the House, and nearly as quickly in the Senate. This is the machine that forces Republicans to obey the wishes of a right-wing leadership class, through the carrot of cushy corporate jobs and the stick of vicious primary challenges from the Club for Growth.

On the Democratic side, the pressure is just as intense, but more subtle. When a bill is introduced, a network of consultants, most of whom have corporate clients, begin to chatter about how taking a liberal position could weaken the Democratic Party. This is supplemented with a strong PR strategy by right-wing temporary coalition groups who put out networks of surrogates and ads to create a powerfully framed environment. Then business lobbyists come and visit Congressional offices, and make threats, attempt legislative bribes, or put out false but extremely persuasive pieces of information. There is often little real counterpressure, because liberal single issue groups have decided not to hold politicians accountable and do not cooperate with each other on issues not directly related to their vertical.

Note to self: Do not donate money to any single-issue group ever again.

Within the Democratic party, resisting a bill is an exercise in holding the caucus together. The long minority status of the Democratic Party has allowed the development of bad faith actors within the caucus, who cut deals with right-wing groups and sabotage any possibility of resistance. Al Wynn is one such actor; Joe Lieberman is another. On key vote after key vote, these actors have sabotaged the progressive position through fake bipartisanship. It’s no surprise that Lieberman’s former chief of staff was a lobbyist for Enron; Lieberman himself is responsible for many of the corporate accounting scandals over the years because of his embrace of various financial lobbies.

Note to self: Volunteer to work for Ned Lamont in the general election.

One irony of the Lieberman race is that all the single-issue groups have endorsed Lieberman, and if you look at donations, so have the lobbyists. Indeed, this isn’t a fight between ‘the left’ and ‘the right’ as it is traditionally defined, since no one would put NARAL on the right or even in the center. This is about creating a disincentive towards bad faith actors and corrupt lobbyists on the left.

Note to self: Make a list of every single-issue group I have ever donated money to. Write them and ask for the money back.

The pervasive lack of accountability among Democrats is a real weakness for progressives, and the fact that there is some measure of accountability in the form of potential primary challenges means that there will be a behavioral change on the part of many members of Congress. No longer will they be able to listen to former staffers turned lobbyists, because they know that Lieberman’s example could be their own. No longer can they take for granted their safety in safe districts, because Donna Edwards isn’t the only principled and connected progressive around. And some of the tools and methodologies we’re developing can be used to effectively damage Republican candidates, as we saw with the internet’s mauling of George Allen after his macaca comments. Accountability works all around.

This, IMO, strengthens my argument that even if it were possible to elect third-party progressive candidates to Congress, they would prove to be just as ineffectual as the Dems have been for the past several years. It also strengthens my argument that single-issue advocacy groups are a big part of the reason why progressivism is dead in Washington.

Digby comments:

The consultants who work for Democrats also work for corporations and they consistently pitch progressive ideas as being “too liberal” not necessarily because they are, but because these consultants have a conflict of interest that either makes them unable to see things clearly — or that makes them corrupt. In any case, they are giving bad advice to the Democratic party and it’s resulted in nice fat paychecks for them. Serving the public, not so much.

Here’s the sad truth about the single-issue groups:

This brings me to the special interests in whom I had placed so much faith to counter such corruption. I had resisted joining in the critique of these groups because I thought they had some basis for playing both sides over the long term. But I thought they knew which side their bread was really buttered on, even so. Apparently not. Stoller describes them as having been co-opted by the corrupt system and lazily enjoying the fruits of the spoils like everyone else. I have to admit that even the most generous view shows they have lost sight of their own goals.

As Digby says, NARAL’s endorsements are evidence that the organization is either corrupted or clueless. NARAL endorses Lieberman; Digby is betting money that, if Lieberman is elected in November, he will change his stance on abortion. That’s not a bet I would take. See also Jane Hamsher’s post from last February on endorsements by NARAL and Planned Parenthood.

Now, I’ve had a problem with NARAL for a long time. This is not because I don’t support reproductive rights; it’s because NARAL has been, IMO, ineffectual in supporting reproductive rights. Back in the 1970s and 1980s I used to send them small donations; I stopped when I got tired of waiting to see anything from NARAL except solicitations for more donations. I’m not talking about results; I’m talking about effort. I couldn’t tell they were doing anything except sitting in their Washington offices with their heads up their butts. I was living in Ohio at the time, and I saw anti-choice propaganda and activity on a daily basis. And I could tell most of this stuff was being coordinated by large organizations, somewhere. But NARAL was invisible.

Planned Parenthood is another matter. They’re on the front lines; I admire them enormously. But they’re not primarily an advocacy group. They actually do stuff.

Here’s an interesting editorial from Buzzflash:

[W]hy are groups like the Sierra Club and Naral continuing to support Chafee, a Republican pawn of the Busheviks in the most Democratic of states?

We’d suggest follow the money.

Advocacy groups need contributions from wealthy “moderate” Republicans, so they need to show that they will support a Republican now and then, even if is counterproductive to achieving the mission of the groups.

It’s not a question of abandoning their “bi-partisan principles” if they were to oppose Chafee. To the contrary, they are abandoning their principles BY supporting him. They are just using a fig leaf of “bi-partisanship” to justify appealing to Republican “moderates,” mostly women, who give money to the organizations.

In other words, they are undermining their own purposes to get more donations, to do what? Undermine their own purposes some more?

See also this recent Paul Krugman column, “Centrism Is for Suckers.” Krugman points out that right-wing groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business engage in knee-jerk support for Republicans even on issues that are counterproductive to their causes. And they do this because in the long run keeping a Republican majority in Congress serves their interests. Krugman continues,

Now compare this with the behavior of advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, the environmental organization, and Naral, the abortion-rights group, both of which have endorsed Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, for re-election. The Sierra Club’s executive director defended the Chafee endorsement by saying, “We choose people, not parties.” And it’s true that Mr. Chafee has usually voted with environmental groups.

But while this principle might once have made sense, it’s just naïve today. Given both the radicalism of the majority party’s leadership and the ruthlessness with which it exercises its control of the Senate, Mr. Chafee’s personal environmentalism is nearly irrelevant when it comes to actual policy outcomes; the only thing that really matters for the issues the Sierra Club cares about is the “R” after his name.

Put it this way: If the Democrats gain only five rather than six Senate seats this November, Senator James Inhofe, who says that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” will remain in his current position as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. And if that happens, the Sierra Club may well bear some of the responsibility.

Soon you’ll be getting fat envelopes full of pretty Christmas stickers and solicitations for money from these groups. Don’t give them any.

And let’s kick Joe Lieberman out of the Senate.

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