Sunday, September 18, 2005

Bush's Bungling Busts Budget

The patronage cash machine has been fired up in Washington and is already spewing American taxpayer's dollars along the Gulf Coast. It is hardly a surprise that former FEMA head Joe Allbaugh, arrived in Louisiana before then FEMA head Michael Brown. Allbaugh career since he left FEMA is as a rainmaker for companies and individuals seeking large scale government contracts. His most recent relevant experience was helping spend billions of American dollars in Iraq. And, as a side business, both he and his wife are register lobbyist for KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton.

In a Newsweek article, Howard Fineman, describes George Bush's desperate attempt to buy back his wasted political influence. Where once a few hundred million dollars would have protected
New Orleans from flood, Bush now proposes to spend a hundred billion or more.

"Even as Bush spoke in New Orleans, questions were multiplying—about who would pay for the costs of recovery, and the implications of those costs for the rest of the Bush agenda; about what the federal government could do to ensure that the flood of cash would be well and wisely spent; about the geographical, cultural and even racial politics of what it would be spent on."

There is no question that federal dollars need to be spent to restore the
Gulf Coast and to rebuild one of North America's great, historical cities. But, as with everything the Bush Administration does, no sacrifice is being asked of the American people, because that would be politically difficult.

The Republican Party of George Bush, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney understand that asking people to sacrifice invites them into the process. And, when people are part of the process they tend to pay more attention to the details, ask hard questions and demand results. By simply passing the entire burden of their budget busting spending on to future generations of Americans, impoverishing our children, the Bush Administration deals the American people out of the process.

"The day after his speech, the president ruled out increasing taxes, saying costs could be handled by cutting unspecified "unnecessary spending." He even renewed his pledge to seek new tax cuts in the name of stimulating the economy. His advisers did the follow-up. "We're fortunate that the economy is very, very strong right now; it will continue to be strong," said Al Hubbard, director of Bush's National Economic Council."

It's so incredibly easy for them. Cut taxes for the rich. Ensure massive profits for a select group of corporations. Engage the nation in a war without end, which also enriches their corporate partners. And, pass all the costs and the entire burden on to the future.

It is easy to see what is going to happen in the present, though. The President has no specific plan, just a laundry list of ideas, many of them half-baked leftovers from right wing think tanks. Somewhere between $200 and 300 billion dollars is going to be dumped into the
Gulf Coast and potentially into places as far away as Alaska by a political process, that will be led by Bush's chief political advisor, Karl Rove. A process interested primarily in rewarding corporate contributors and buying off potential voters.

There is not going to be any meaningful oversight by the government. It is going to be free money and the line of recipients with their hands out is going to swamp any potential system of accountability.

"It's hardly reassuring that the two agencies funneling money into Louisiana are the most heavily criticized government entities on the face of the planet: FEMA and the state's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Local officials send their requests to the OHSEP, which forwards them to FEMA, which signs off on them and sends them back down the chain. "It looks like, right now, FEMA is playing the primary role," said Pres Kabacoff, a local developer. "But we're still trying to figure out who is FEMA, who is in charge."

An investigative report that kicks off today in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel makes it abundantly clear that FEMA should not be allowed anywhere near taxpayers money in the aftermath of even the most minor emergency.

"The federal government's mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe is only the latest bungling in a national disaster response system that for years has been fraught with waste and fraud.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation has found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency in five years poured at least $330 million into communities that were spared the devastating effects of fires, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes."

$330 million passed out without even a basic process to determine the validity of the claim. If there is a silver lining to this dole, it is that much of the money has been handed out to the poorest residents in these areas. But, considering the billions for which FEMA is now responsible, it is hard to imagine that money earmarked for reconstruction is not going to just disappear as has so much FEMA aid in the past.

"The newspaper examined 20 of the 313 disasters declared by FEMA from 1999 through 2004, selecting cities where the agency's inspectors said they had encountered large-scale fraud. Of the $1.2 billion FEMA paid in those disasters, 27 percent went to areas where official reports showed only minor damage or none at all, the Sun-Sentinel found.

"It's so disturbing because we have urgent needs to help individuals who truly are the victims of disasters," said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. "I think it erodes public support for disaster assistance when there is a pattern of wasteful and abusive spending."

What is 27% of $200 billion? Of course, much of that $200 billion will be paid out to big international companies like KBR. Companies operating on no-bid, cost+plus contracts with the government. Many of these companies will be the same companies that have done so well financially collecting taxpayer dollars for the reconstruction of

Despite all the bullshit that comes out of President Bush's mouth, the simple facts are these:

1. Hundreds of billions of dollars are going to be spent under the direction of the White House's chief political operative, Karl Rove.

2. The agencies responsible for that money have a history of incompetence in the handling of far smaller sums of money.

3. The corporations brought into the rebuilding effort with be those with the closest political connections to the Republican Party and the Bush Administration.

4. Those corporations will include many of the same companies that have stolen unaccounted billions from the
United States in Iraq.

That is Bush's Four Point Plan for the reconstruction of the
Gulf Coast.