George 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 reality. 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.):
FEMA won't accept Amtrak's help in
FEMA: "First Responders Urged Not To
FEMA 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 like this.”
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.
Gutting the Endangered Species Act. From now on, the government will pay corporations for complying with provisions of the act. Richard 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.
Congress 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 deserved.
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 it.
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 a museum 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 going in.
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.
Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Patricia Goldsmith