Monday, September 26, 2005

Who’s playing politics with Katrina now? The cynicism of this administration and its minions should never be underestimated. Hordes of Republican lawmakers gathered in front of the Capitol last week to offer ideas for budget cuts to pay for billions in no-bid contracts awarded to their buddies for hurricane recovery. It goes without saying that none suggested foregoing extending the massive tax cuts for the rich. If it’s up to them (and it is), PBS, Amtrak, and foreign aid will all be down the drain. This is the best thing to happen to the GOP since the War in Iraq. They’re loving it. Slash and burn, baby, burn!

To recap: while Congress contemplates cutting already meager funding for public programs, it’s also preparing to funnel billions in public funds to well-connected, often dubiously qualified private firms. As the New York Times reported Monday, “More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by FEMA [so far] were awarded without bidding or with limited competition”—not surprisingly to Republican contributors and the party faithful. The largest no-bid contract so far was for over half a billion for debris removal going to a buddy of Mississippi’s Republican governor. The Army Corps of Engineers has admitted the undisputed asking price for that contract may have been grossly inflated. Also not surprising: two of the major contractors so far are subsidiaries of Halliburton, represented by a lobbyist who was a former campaign manager for Bush. Hmm. That’s subtle.

Bush was slow in responding to the poor folks down South left stranded in the storm, but he’s been quick to respond to his true constituency, “the haves and have-mores,” as he’s fond of calling them (and they are no doubt fond of being called). Bush himself has been called the CEO president, and like a good CEO he has delivered terrific profits to his shareholders (not the taxpayers, mind you, but his super-rich Republican patrons) and rewarded his executives, while stiffing the rest of us. None of this has been done on the sly—this administration has never been particularly subtle—and there’s no reason to expect Katrina, a human catastrophe, will warrant a new and different approach. In fact, the only difference between Katrina and that other human catastrophe, the war in Iraq, is that the president didn’t have to go to the trouble of floating false intelligence to whip up the latest storm. So much the better.

Because Bush really can’t be bothered. The truth is, watching the president reclining in an easy chair for a briefing on Hurricane Rita at Randolph Air Force Base last weekend, the very picture of perfect lassitude, I was reminded of his performance in the first of his presidential debates with John Kerry, where he struggled to stay awake, sighed, and stifled the occasional yawn. It’s past time to offer our bored CEO-in-chief his golden parachute, and send him back to Crawford, where he would be happier, and we would all be better off.

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