Disaster is opportunity—though it may sound heartless, it is true.  Though it provides an opportunity for progressives to get a potent message across (which will be the subject of my next entry), right now it is the Bush administration that is using the hurricane Katrina and Rita disasters to propel several insidious proposals to further its destructive agenda.

One is the short-term objective of enriching their friends.  The other two can have ramifications far into the future, and we must be aware of that.

Bush’s ratings and his agenda were deeply wounded by his careless non-response to Katrina and the suffering in New Orleans.  But it’s a staple of capitalist philosophy that when you get lemons, you look first for ways to make lemonade. We need to focus on Bushcorps opportunism in order to see what they’re trying to do.

After all, we are talking about the kind of people who see warfare that kills thousands, including innocent noncombatants, as a business opportunity.

More after the fold.

Bush and Cheney friends have already reaped billions from Iraq and Homeland Security spending.  Now they’re being given no-bid contracts to profit from Katrina.  The New York Times reports today:

The first detailed tally of commitments from federal agencies since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast four weeks ago shows that more than 15 contracts exceed $100 million, including 5 of $500 million or more… 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.

Already, questions have been raised about the political connections of two major contractors – the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton – that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush’s former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA.

“When you do something like this, you do increase the vulnerability for fraud, plain waste, abuse and mismanagement,” said Richard L. Skinner, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, who said 60 members of his staff were examining Hurricane Katrina contracts. “We are very apprehensive about what we are seeing.”

The story also notes that “Congressional investigators are looking into the $568 million awarded to AshBritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company that was a client of the former lobbying firm of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi.”  Barbour is of course the former head of the Republican National Committee, and a Bush buddy who got regular calls during the Katrina disaster from the White House, while the Democratic governor of Louisiana couldn’t get the President on the phone.


 It’s the same financial opportunism that is behind attempts to steer energy policy in ways that will continue to harm the natural environment while refusing to make needed changes to lessen future global heating and develop a sustainable energy future.  

Others, especially Jerome a Paris, write about this with far more expertise and eloquence, so I’ll briefly illustrate the point from today’s news.  While Bush suggested that drivers conserve fuel and federal employees take public transportation, it was all couched as a temporary measure because of possible short-term gasoline shortages, not as an opportunity to make needed long-term changes.  

Bush also proposed relaxing federal regulations on building new oil refineries.  While additional refineries may be needed (or need to be relocated), “relaxing regulations” is mostly code for making it cheaper for his oil industry pals, by ignoring environmental impact and pollution concerns, as well as accountability.  Bushcorp has already used rising gasoline prices as an argument for drilling in the Arctic wilderness sanctuary, even though it will have no significant effect on supply or prices.


But perhaps the most potentially threatening proposal is one that Bush snuck into his New Orleans speech on September 15, and repeated to little comment over the weekend: he wants to give the Pentagon primary responsibility for responding to disasters, natural and man-made.

The AP reports:

Political leaders led by President Bush are considering how and when the military should take greater control of relief efforts during national disasters. And one answer may be to ensure that the president has the authority to bring in the armed forces during extraordinary circumstances…. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the push is “one of the lessons learned” from Hurricane Katrina.


This is the White House that turned the impulse to protect the nation against terrorism into the twin terrors of Homeland Security, now revealed to be an extravagant boondoggle, and the Patriot Act, which is best known for lacerating the civil liberties of all Americans, and giving agencies of the federal government—particularly the Pentagon—vast powers to act against citizens in secret and without accountability.

Among the result have been systematic human rights abuses and torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere, No-Fly lists that are this decade’s equivalent of the Blacklist, and cart blanche for spying on what individuals write in emails, say on the phone, have in their homes or read in library books.

This is the White House that sent American forces, including reserve and National Guard, into Iraq with a series of  impossible and contradictory missions for which they were inadequately trained and improperly led.  The havoc unleashed there every day in incalculable.

There is good reason that the role of the military in domestic interventions has been limited by law.  The military is a blunt instrument, to say the least.  The outcome is evident overseas. Virtually untrained in “peacekeeping” and “nation building,” even with those missions, troops meet most of what they interpret as resistance with violence.  The more insecure the situation, the more potential for abusive violence, as is evidenced by reports from Iraqi civilians.

When military units finally took over the nearly empty streets of New Orleans, several reporters—including NBC anchor Brian Williams—reported alarming incidents of overreaction and threats of violence against reporters and others.

Then there are the mercenaries, the trained killers of Black Water and other such firms, operating in Iraq and in New Orleans under military authority, a potential privatized Secret Police for the right wing Bushcorps of the future.  

Giving the lead to the Pentagon is a stunning admission of failure of civilian agencies, especially at the federal level. FEMA under Bill Clinton and as constituted by Jimmy Carter operated admirably in past disasters by working cooperatively with state and local civilian authorities.

National Guard units trained for domestic emergencies are an important tool for those elected officials responsible for responding to disaster.  Regular armed forces units can also be useful in greater emergencies.  But ceding the lead role to the Pentagon is a recipe for fascism in our time.

This issue is already creating strange political bedfellows.  Supporting Bush’s position are Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman (perhaps not so surprising) who claims that this proposal will receive wide congressional support.

“We’re going to look back at Katrina as a turning point,” Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said Sunday. “We need the military, because of its extraordinary capabilities, to be ready to play a much more active role. I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult from a congressional point of view.”

Opposing the Pentagon takeover are Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, but also Republican Tom DeLay and the libertarian Cato Institute, which issued its warning against Pentagon supremacy right after Bush’s New Orleans speech.

While giving the Pentagon this power may seem sensible to some, the ramifications and potential for abuse are ominous.  What kind of  emergency will result in heavily armed troops in the streets of our cities, invading homes and suppressing dissent?  Even the chilling effect of a military presence is enough to exert control in a way that is completely incompatible with a free society.

This cannot be allowed to become another rushed response to a disaster which we will soon have cause to regret, as we did after 9-11.  With great disasters comes great opportunities.  We would be wise to thwart these right away. Because with great power comes great responsibilities.  

0 0 votes
Article Rating