October 12, 2005
By Patricia Goldsmith
W. Bush has famously expressed a certain contempt for history: "History?
We'll all be dead." A smirker's philosophy in a nutshell. And
yet he cared enough about history to make Bob Woodward his official
biographer. Shaping opinion, now and if possible for all time, is
a primary focus.
It's only been a little over a month since Hurricane Katrina hit,
but already it is clear that the disaster was a bonanza for those
who are in the self-declared business of bending the world to their
The world has indeed changed. As usual, active efforts are being
made by the Bushitters and the mainstream media to prevent what
we've just experienced from sinking in, while they bury the truly
significant aspects of the story and begin the long tedious process
of editing our memories. So I want to take a minute and look at
three altered or suppressed aspects of what we just witnessed and
provide a memory resource for the future.
Perhaps the most under-reported
aspect of Bush's response relates to a memo written by Michael
Chertoff discussing the creation of a "White House Task Force
on Hurricane Katrina Response," contravening the new 2005 National
Response Plan and previous executive orders by George Bush on the
handling of emergency situations.
According to Knight-Ridder, which reported the story, "the
goal of the National Response Plan is to provide a streamlined framework
for delivering federal assistance when a disaster - caused by terrorists
or Mother Nature - is too big for local officials to handle."
This means that the relief effort was not handled by disaster professionals,
as it should have been, but was run out of the White House.
Here's a synopsis of how FEMA performed, while acting under the
White House's direct supervision (with the exception of the last
item, all the FEMA links were compiled by peabody71
on Democratic Underground):
won't accept Amtrak's help in evacuations
FEMA turns away experienced firefighters
turns back Wal-Mart supply trucks
prevents Coast Guard from delivering diesel fuel
FEMA won't let Red Cross deliver food
bars morticians from entering New Orleans
FEMA blocks 500-boat citizen flotilla from delivering aid
FEMA fails to utilize Navy ship with 600-bed hospital on board
to Chicago: Send just one truck
turns away generators
FEMA: "First Responders Urged Not To Respond"
officials ordered a doctor to stop giving aid to dying people
You can judge from the results what the purpose of the Task Force
might have been.
The second aspect of the story, having to do with graft and profiteering,
is one that has gotten more coverage, but is still being distorted
by Republican noise, beginning with Bush's Katrina do-over
speech given in Jackson Square, New Orleans. Bush almost immediately
alluded to now largely
discredited accounts of black looting and violence, although,
ironically, he adopted en masse economic proposals on reconstruction
put out by the
Heritage Foundation, including the whole idea of a "Gulf
Coast Opportunity Zone."
With an efficiency belying the administration's slowness in responding
to human suffering, Karl
Rove oversaw the awarding of hundreds of millions in no-bid
reconstruction contracts within a few weeks. Maybe he was a little
too successful. Under pressure from Congress, the new director of
FEMA has promised to reopen
all no-bid contracts. Still, the fact that the favored businesses
are already on the scene gives the original contractors an edge
over all other comers.
This is a
method they've successfully employed in the past, which is why
I won't hold my breath waiting for Halliburton, Bechtel, and Fluor
to be replaced by local, cheaper contractors. The overwhelming majority
of these no-bid contracts went to out-of-state
companies, including an Alaskan firm with close ties to Bush.
A lesser known push is for a giant housing project involving the
creation of trailer communities for evacuees, in spite of a
large number of vacancies in available housing. In the past,
housing vouchers have been an efficient way to handle such a situation.
According to Paul
Krugman, the problem with vouchers, as far as Bush & Co. are
concerned, is not that they don't work, but that they do.
FEMA says, "It may not be quite on the scale of building
the pyramids, but it's close. This is big. We've never done anything
Building mobile-home communities also allows the White House to
choose new electoral districts for the displaced. New
Orleans Republican Craig Romero went to Washington immediately
to make the point that his district would go red if the blacks weren't
allowed back. State officials in Louisiana say they are now "virtually
certain" they will lose a congressional seat, due to a
drop in population, with a concomitant drop in federal revenue.
Louisiana could easily go from Blue to Red, statewide and nationally.
Under Karl Rove, the reconstruction effort has become a goldmine
for numerous corporations via a legislative agenda that includes:
Making the rollback
of Davis-Bacon permanent and automatic in a disaster situation.
endangered species act. From now on, the government will
pay corporations for complying with provisions of the act.
Pombo, Republican from California, seized the moment to
relax rules on offshore drilling on both coasts and to encourage
oil-prospecting in the Rocky Mountains.
Texas Republican Joe
Barton is asking that pollution laws be relaxed.
slashed food aid for the poor, both food stamps and farm
supports, and there'll be no
help with energy costs for seniors and the poor this year,
partly because Republican
lawmakers refused to give up their pork.
Bush is calling for entitlements
to be cut to pay for Katrina, at exactly the same time that
taxes are being cut—again—for the wealthiest fraction of one
percent of Americans. This time, billionaires are being "relieved"
of the inheritance tax, one of the last impediments to inter-generational
concentration of wealth.
Finally, to support this radical corporate agenda, the Bushitters
propose to amend the Posse
Comitatus Act prohibiting domestic use of the military.
This, in combination with the packing of the Supreme Court,
may be the most ominous structural change of all.
But the radical right was giddy with what was accomplished even
before the gravy began to flow. Richard
Baker, 10-term Republican from Baton Rouge, enthused, "We
finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do
it, but God did."
Which brings me to the third suppressed aspect of media coverage:
the references to racial (and class) cleansing, both coded and explicit.
For example, Bill
Bennett joined in the high spirits on his radio show, spontaneously
introducing the extremely hypothetical and morally repugnant idea
of aborting black fetuses - all of them, Condi - in order to reduce
the crime rate.
Bush made a reference to the Great Flood in his Jackson Square
speech: "Along this coast, for mile after mile," George
said, talking directly to his base, "the wind and water swept
the land clean." In the Bible story, you'll remember, God sent
a Great Flood to cleanse the land of sinners, who got what they
It all seems eerily reminiscent of a strategy Pat
Robertson laid out all the way back in 1992:
The strategy against the American radical left should be the
same as General Douglas MacArthur employed against the Japanese
in the Pacific ... bypass their strongholds, then surround them,
isolate them, bombard them, then blast the individuals out of
their power bunkers with hand-to-hand combat. The battle for Iwo
Jima was not pleasant, but our troops won it. The battle to regain
the soul of America won't be pleasant either, but we will win
I think Robertson underestimates the pleasure of the task for those
who are performing it. It is by now abundantly clear that "the
American radical left" refers to those who believe in Social
Security and Medicaid every bit as much as gays and abortionists.
(In that regard, it's interesting to note the recent opening of
near Cincinnati that "explains the post-Flood world ... when
dinosaurs lived with man." This "museum" is dedicated
to the idea that "the world and the universe are but 6,000
years old and that baby dinosaurs rode in Noah's ark." There's
more than one way to isolate a liberal.)
So when George W. Bush, fielding a prearranged question, tells
the nation that we may have an
avian flu pandemic that could require quarantines enforced by
the military, I sense another opportunity zone for the fearmongers.
You'd have to stop the planes, so people can't go out, Bush said
in the press conference, and use the military to prevent people
What then? Use your imagination. Perhaps there would be reports
of civil unrest within the secured perimeters: looting, rape, murder.
Unlike the police, soldiers, as Kathleen Blanco so eloquently warned,
shoot to kill. Would armed troops go door to door looking for the
sick? What about food, water, medicine - think all that would arrive
in a timely fashion? How much better are your odds if you live in
a Republican area?
I'm sure you can add to the list. The important thing is that
we don't soften or forget what we have seen.