Even More Katrina Shame!
By Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 9/22/05
Public relations professionals often advise clients that are clearly guilty of some wrongdoing, to publicly admit to their guilt. The theory is that the public is more likely to forgive someone who admits to their obvious faults, then to forgive someone who insists on compounding their wrongdoing with denials. Hence, last Thursday night, the world was treated to what may be the best performance of George W. Bush’s political career. In the spirit of Richard Nixon’s classic “Checkers” speech, we got Bush’s ‘we could have done better’ speech – an extraordinary piece of understatement.
The speech was good. It was a pure Karl Rove head on attack on reality. New Orleans residents, wealthy and poor alike, will have the right of return. And they’ll have homes, schools, jobs and hospitals when they get there. Endemic poverty, never an issue for this administration, will be addressed. Unemployed workers from the region will be rehired to rebuild the region. Bush even addressed the rationale for affirmative action, explaining that blacks have historically been locked out of economic opportunities in the Gulf region. Liberal stalwart Ted Kennedy couldn’t have given a better speech.
The problem is that while Bush’s performance was superb, it was just that, a superb performance, with the emphasis on performance. Displaced New Orleaners listening to Bush’s speech, told reporters that he spoke great words, but they were just words – the jury is out until there is action. And even then, what action could possibly make up for the depraved indifference to human life demonstrated by federal officials early on as this disaster unfolded.
Screw the Victims
Rather than act on Bush’s rhetorical promises, his administration and his allies in Congress are moving ahead in business-as-usual fashion, continuing to screw hurricane survivors while covering up their own tracks. The day before Bush made his ‘we’ll do everything possible’ speech, Senate Republicans killed an attempt to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the federal government’s handling of the response to Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans levee breaks – this as hundreds of reports are emerging of federal officials preventing thousands of aid workers, boats, and truck loads of donated food and water to enter the region. The Senate’s action came on the same day that Knight Ridder uncovered federal documents showing that it was Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, and not FEMA Chief Michael Brown, who had the authority to dispatch immediate aid to the region. Brown, who was certainly inept, took the fall while Chertoff escaped responsibility – in effect living on to screw up the next disaster. And there will be no investigation.
Also, as Bush delivered his speech about endemic racism, his Education Department was preparing a request to waive the McKinney-Vento Act – the federal law that bans placing homeless children in segregated schools. They’re filing the request so that they can set up “separate but equal” educational facilities for children of the New Orleans Diaspora, instead of integrating them into public schools in Texas, Utah and other states housing large populations of evacuees.
And while Bush promised to hire unemployed victims of Katrina to help in the rebuilding effort, his administration is using the disaster as a rationale for requesting to waive federal laws requiring contractors receiving federal funds to hire workers at prevailing regional wages – this supposedly to “expedite” reconstruction. Democracy Now! reports that one New Orleans hotel chain, owned by a major contributor to the Republican Party, and slated to receive federal contracts to house emergency workers, already moved ahead and brought in Mexican citizens from Texas to work at sub par wages refurbishing their properties.
In the weeks leading up to Bush’s speech, Americans opened up their wallets and broke all previous records for charitable giving, anteing up hundreds of millions of dollars for hurricane relief. And the Bush administration joined suit, promising a $60 billion down payment on what will be at least $100 billion in federal funding for the disaster area. At the same time we were giving, various administration-connected firms were stepping up, like pigs at the feeding trough, putting their hands out to receive.
Foremost among the Katrina profiteers is the Halliburton Corporation, which received a no-bid contract for rebuilding military facilities damaged by the storm. Dick Cheney was Halliburton’s CEO until 2000 when he left that position to run for Vice President. He still receives nearly a quarter million dollars per year in deferred compensation from the corporation. Halliburton also received over $9 billion in federal contracts as a result of the Iraq invasion. A recent Pentagon audit questions over $1.03 billion of those charges, documenting almost a half billion dollars worth of “unsupported” costs. Halliburton is a major donor to the Republican Party – recycling government war, and now disaster relief, funding into Republican campaigns. In essence, the longer the Iraq war goes on, the greater the Gulf coast damage is, the more taxpayer money gets funneled to support Republican campaign ads.
Another early recipient of Katrina funding is the Shaw Group. Like Halliburton, the Shaw Group is represented in Washington by lobbyist Joe Allbaugh, who is Bush’s former campaign manager and his first FEMA chief. Allbaugh stepped down as FEMA chief to begin working for Halliburton when the U.S. invaded Iraq – undoubtedly at the time seeing more payola in war than disaster. If early contracts are any indication, we can expect lots of grubby Republican Party connected fingers helping themselves to relief funds.
At the state level, Louisiana contracted to pay the Kenyon subsidiary of Texas-based Service Corporation International (SCI) $119,000 per day for removing corpses from the New Orleans area. SCI has made headlines previously for dumping hundreds of bodies that they were contracted to bury. SCI paid out over $100 million to settle lawsuits filed by the families of the deceased whose corpses the company desecrated. Another lawsuit charges that three SCI-owned funeral homes contracted with an unregulated crematorium that stockpiled rotting bodies in sheds and outdoor piles instead of cremating them. The Louisiana contract puts Kenyon in charge of counting the dead.
A key problem here is that we’re not only putting one of the most corrupt federal administrations in history in charge of allotting $60 billion in relief funding – they in turn will be allotting much of that money to two of the most corrupt statehouses in the nation. The Washington D.C. based Corporate Crime Reporter compiled a study of state governments, looking at the rates in which officials were convicted of crimes. Their final report ranked Mississippi as the most corrupt state government, and Louisiana as the third most corrupt in the nation. The real looting on the Gulf Coast has barely begun.
Faith Based Rip-Offs
Of course, Bush, in his ‘confronting reality’ speech, addresses the misappropriation of relief funds issue, promising, in essence, that the wolves can be trusted to watch over the henhouse, as he explained that there will be federal oversight monitoring the distribution of our $60 billion. He also spoke highly of “faith-based” relief initiatives. Given Bush’s penchant for head-on crashes with reality, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the first Katrina rip-offs was a “faith-based” initiative aided and abetted by FEMA. Immediately after Katrina struck, FEMA posted a list of charitable organization on their website, highlighting three. One of the three highlighted organization was Christian Jihadist Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing.
Operation Blessing was busted in 1994 after collecting money under the guise of supporting the airlift of Rwandan refugees. According to a report in The Nation, they used their planes to transport diamond-mining equipment for a company that Robertson owned personally in partnership with the military ruler of Zaire, Mobuto Sese Seko. The Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs concluded that Robertson “willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements and other implications,” using the nonprofit Operation Blessing as a front for his profit making ventures. Virginia’s Republican Attorney General, Mark Earley, intervened and thwarted any criminal prosecution of Robertson, who, according to The Nation, in turn donated $35,000 to Earley’s reelection campaign. This made the never-charged swindley, Robertson, Earley’s largest contributor. Earley is now head of his own “faith-based” service agency, providing hurricane relief services in Louisiana.
Meanwhile, on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club television show, correspondent Gary Lane went on the air days after the hurricane and chastised the non-Christian religious beliefs held by some of the evacuees stuck in the Superdome.
Other religious leaders took Robertson’s attack to a higher level, arguing that Katrina, and in turn, the New Orleans levee break, were the wrath of a vengeful god. Michael Marcavage, a former Clinton White House intern, and current director of Repent America, maintaining the high level of accord we’ve come to expect from Clinton White House interns, argues that “God destroyed a wicked city.” The reason Marcavage gave for his demon God’s wrath was that New Orleans was a about to host “Southern Decadence,” a week-long gay pride festival. Marcavage also argued that New Orleans had it coming because of the “Girls Gone Wild” video series, which was shot in New Orleans, and, it seems, viewed very closely by Marcavage. “Let us not forget,” Marcavage implores, “that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city.”
The Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church brings Marcavage’s hate speech to the next level. On their “God Hates America” website, they describe New Orleans as “a putrid, toxic, stinking cesspool of fag fecal matter,” asking followers to “Pray for more dead bodies floating on the fag-semen-rancid waters of New Orleans.”
A host of anti-abortion activists have also joined in the fray, claiming that the satellite shot of Hurricane Katrina, at one moment in time, somehow, with lots of imagination, resembled an eight week old fetus. Though the resemblance was hardly clear, anti-abortion zealots quickly proclaimed the destruction of New Orleans and its five women’s health clinics, to also be an angry God’s wrath.
Then there’s the Zionist crowd. Ultra rightist Israeli Rabbi Ovadia Yosef argues that Katrina was God’s punishment for George Bush’s support of Israel’s Gaza pullout. Israeli Christian columnist Stan Goodenough made the same argument, juxtaposing images of Jewish settlers in Gaza and residents in New Orleans both being forced from their homes. Yosef is a well known wacko in Israel, who once argued that the six million holocaust victims brought their fate on themselves since they were the reincarnations of evil people. Goodenough (yes, that’s his real name) is a relative newcomer on Israel’s crowded wacko scene.
Meanwhile, across the sand flats, there’s a whole different spin, ultimately leading to the same conclusion. Muhammad Yousef Mlaifi (no relation to Rabbi Yosef, of course), director of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowment’s Research Center, wrote in the Arabic daily Al-Siyassa, that “The terrorist Katrina is one of the soldiers of Allah…”
And back in Washington, no surprise, we get even more medievalism from the hallowed halls of Congress. There, Republican Representative Richard Baker of Baton Rouge, explained, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
Of course none of these spiritual Neanderthals quite explained why their angry wrathful gay and abortion hating God chose to smite a score of Bible Belt cities in Mississippi and Alabama, toppling hundreds of church steeples and instantly leveling towns and cities with a direct hit from Katrina.
I also don’t see these death mongers as worshiping the same God that most Americans worship. They describe a wrathful spiteful hateful dark sort of demon – more like a politician than a deity.
Michael I. Niman’s previous columns are archived at www.mediastudy.com
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