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Sunday, September 11, 2005

FEMA's Gulag and Administration Opportunism

http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/fema.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/10/politics/10policy.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/10/national/national special/10contracts.html

These three articles together paint a deeply disturbing picture. I see a very chilling future, in which the poor are shipped off to gulags, the tattered remains of the once-vaunted safety net go up in smoke, and war profiteers get richer on the backs of those in the camps.

It sounds alarmingly similar to some of the events during the
German occupation of much of Europe in the 1940s.

The first link is apparently the journal (with photos) of a member of a conservative Southern church who tried to bring supplies in to a refugee camp in Oklahoma--a camp that she knew, because her church had a cabin there. Not only were her supplies refused, but she saw and documented evidence that detainees will not be allowed to leave. And there have been wide reports of help and supplies refused; as one example, our local paper yesterday ran an interview with a local doctor who flew down and had to cool his heels in Baton Rouge while exactly one doctor was trying to handle the entire medical needs of the New Orleans Convention Center evacuees. (To view the story, you'll have to register)

As a journalist, I'm trained to be skeptical, and that this detainee camp journal is posted on a conspiracy site makes me suspicious. But as far as I can tell (I'm no Photoshop expert), the pictures and the narrative are genuine.

If this is really true, it would appear the government is setting up prison camps for the poor and homeless people who were unlucky enough to live in Katrina's path.

This is simply unacceptable. Those who lived near the Soviet Gulags and the Nazi extermination camps claimed they did not protest because they did not know. If this turns out to be true, we must protest loudly and consistently.

The second and third links are stories from the New York Times. First, that some people in the GOP have seen the storm as an opportunity to advance their social policy: tuition vouchers for evacuees attending private schools, an attack on "prevailing wage" laws, and a fast-track green light for industry. Given that we have made no informed decision as a country on how and where to rebuild New Orleans, the other overdeveloped coastal areas, and the wetlands between the city and the Gulf of Mexico, the fast track for new construction is a concern.

Don't get me wrong. Like everyone else, I want to see jobs created, infrastructure rebuilt, and some sense of normalcy restored. But I want to make sure we treat these delicate and storm-prone coastlines and wetlands with respect, and that we think long and hard about how and where to build without just rushing blindly forward to destroy more of the barrier islands and wetlands and places where no sane person would build.

Coming on the heels of what we now know about how first, the Bush administration repeatedly slashed budgets for shoring up the levees, second, stood idly by as the hurricane swept in, and third, completely mismanaged the disaster response (where they do share the blame with local officials), it's particularly scary. Did you know that while the government was doing essentially nothing to get ready, Wal-Mart mobilized a fleet of trucks, filled them with relief supplies, and positioned them close by but outside storm range so they could respond instantly? I am, to put it mildly, not generally a fan of Wal-Mart--but in this case they were terrific. And if they could be so organized, surely the federal, state, and local governments could have done a lot to minimize the catastrophe.

Finally, the article about high-powered well-connected lobbyists lining up to make sure their clients have a place at the trough. The story, by John Broder, says,

Hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts have already been let
and billions more are to flow to the private sector in the weeks and months
to come. Congress has already appropriated more than $62 billion for an
effort that is projected to cost well over $100 billion.

Some experts warn that the crisis atmosphere and the open federal purse are
a bonanza for lobbyists and private companies and are likely to lead to the
contract abuses, cronyism and waste that numerous investigations have
uncovered in post-war Iraq.


Not surprisingly, Halliburton has already pushed to the front of the line; its Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary landed a $500 million contract. Yes, these companies are capable of doing the work. But the ethics questions are, to say the least, troubling given the sordid history of these companies in Iraq and elsewhere, and their close ties to the Bush administration.

All in all, the whole thing--the situation that these three articles each reveal one slice of--is very troubling: a triple attack on America's core values of decency, democracy, and charity.

2 Comments:

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Dee H. said...

Very disturbing indeed.

I have been saying since I heard about the Halliburton contract that while we have to help our neighbors from the South, we have to keep our eyes open to three things: profiteering (which our government is helping along by allowing contractors to not pay prevailing wages), spin doctors whitewashing the whole mess and allowing those responsible to get away with it, and land grabs.

We need to yell long and hard NOW, not later and keep it up in order to protect the people of New Orleans, and possibly other coastal areas as well. With all the people being moved out--and locked away--and all the talk of the unhealthy contamination, conditions are ripe for land to be condemned and handed over to the developers.

Dee Halzack

 
At 5:06 PM, Blogger Dee H. said...

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