Monday, September 19, 2005

New Oraq and the corrupt class warriors

Democracy Now correspondent Jeremy Scahill as interviewed (or here) by Amy Goodman:

". . . some people are calling it 'New Oraq' instead of New Orleans, because of all of the various forces, the Halliburtons, the KBR's, the Blackwaters that are here now, the connections to Iraq are so incredible. The same looters who have raided the federal funds in Iraq, U.S. funds in Iraq, are looting federal funds here in New Orleans."

I've been meaning to write about the electricity situation in Iraq, an issue that has become more interesting as the Bush Administration, in the ultimate example of blowback, attempts to replicate in New Orleans its program in Iraq. Despite throwing billions of dollars at contractors who are friends of the Bush Administration - you all know them, the usual suspects whose names are now appearing in the New Orleans debacle - the electricity and sewage situation in Iraq is essentially the same as the day Bush declared that the American mission in Iraq was accomplished. In stark contrast to their experience under Saddam, who had the destroyed electrical system functioning normally within a couple months after the Gulf War, the people of Iraq have seen no improvement in the utilities situation in the over two years the Americans have been in occupation. Despite the attempt by the New York Times to blame the whole thing on shifty Iraqi subcontractors, the real reasons for the problem are obvious. No-bid cost-plus contracts given to friends of the Bush Administration with oversight, if any, provided by the cadre of Young Republicans afraid to leave the Green Zone, and no political pressure in the United States for any results, means that the incentives are all on never getting the job done, so the gravy train can be stretched out as long as possible. On top of the insanity of the structure of the contracting is the fact that billions of dollars of reconstruction money has simply disappeared, and what money remains is increasingly being diverted to pay for private security firms (more friends of the Bush Administration). The problem is that the intention was never to fix the electrical system, but only to provide another big conduit for money to flow from American taxpayers to certain rich people.

We are going to see an exact model of the Iraq experience in New Orleans. Indeed, the Bush Administration seems to be using the spectacularly failed program in Iraq as its model for the reconstruction of New Orleans. They don't consider Iraq to be a failure as it has succeeded in its goal of wealth redistribution, which was all it was intended to do in the first place. New Orleans will receive exactly the same treatment. The no-bid cost-plus contracts are already being handed out to friends of the Bush Administration. Hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent, none of it to be funded by tax increases or savings from withdrawal from Iraq, but all to come from reductions in social programs. In other words, the whole reconstruction program is being set up as a method of transferring wealth from poor and middle class Americans to those wealthy friends of the Bush Administration.

To show how obvious this is, Bush has the nerve to put Karl Rove (!) in charge of handing out the contracts. You know the process: in one hand Rove will have a list of all the bidders on the contracts, in the other a list of all those who have given large sums to Bush and the Republican Party. If your name is on both lists, you win the jackpot! It is rare for corruption to be quite this blatant. The bizarrely inappropriate selection of Rove for this job proves that the Republicans have absolutely no fear of the upcoming election cycles, having the results firmly in hand already with the crooked voting machines.

Just like in Iraq, the ideologues will use the New Orleans reconstruction to further their neo-conservative experiments in drowning government in the bathtub of Lake George. Neo-cons actually love big government, as long as it sticks to its main job of redistributing money from poor people to rich people. Gentrification (i. e., rebuilding housing that the former inhabitants can't afford to live in), tax-free zones (for selected people), removal of 'undesirables' (and in particular, those who might vote Democrat), lifting of oppressive government regulations in things like minimum wages and environmental regulations - the whole neo-con ball of wax - is going to be inflicted on the people of New Orleans. The opposition of the people of Iraq has forced them to back off from a lot of this crap over there, but Americans seem to have little stomach for opposition to anything.

The ethnic cleansing is particularly obvious. After dragging their feet for as long as possible, FEMA finally arrived on the scene and, as we have seen over and over, did everything possible to prevent relief from reaching the people. In other words, they did all they could to make people want to leave. The first real response of the Bush Administration was to send in the buses to drive the poor black people as far away from the city as possible, provide them no way to return, and do all they could to permanently reestablish them in their new communities. Now the army has come in, heavy, and is acting like the army in Iraq, with the additional duty of preventing anyone in the wrong group from sneaking back into the city or wanting to. I know people object to my calling this 'ethnic cleansing', but what the hell are you going to call it?

Bush saw a probable disaster coming, let it happen, delayed any response until the city was uninhabitable, sent FEMA in to make it worse, forcibly removed the population, sent the army in to keep them out (and protect private property, and possibly knock down a few levees to clean out selected areas of town), when things were at their worst tried to blackmail Governor Blanco into turning the city over to him and his martial law, and then starts a neo-con ideological reconstruction project involving the corrupt (Karl Rove!) transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars of money to his rich friends. It is very much like the Iraq project, which was started of course by allowing the attack on September 11 to take place. We've speculated a lot about the real reasons for the attack on Iraq, the weapons of mass destruction having been conclusively proved to have been a lie. Israel, oil, geopolitics. Some are speculating that the real reason for New Orleans is the establishment of martial law, or the conditioning of Americans to the FEMA kamps. All of these factors may have roles to play, but the pattern of Iraq-New Orleans reconstruction is starting to suggest that the main reason is the simplest one of all, good old-fashioned corruption. Would Bush destroy an iconic American city for a minimum of $250 billion. You betcha!