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(DV) Fisher: Paying for Katrina







Paying for Katrina
by William Fisher
September 21, 2005

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Advertising gurus Gerald Rafshoon and Doug Bailey, who were on opposing sides during the Jimmy Carter-Gerald Ford campaign in 1976, have come up with a pretty good alternative to financing Katrina reconstruction with taxpayer money.

They propose a 90-day moratorium on fundraising by political parties and members of Congress. That would free up more than enough money to pay for Katrina.

Here’s another:

Instead of closing 22 major military bases and “realigning” others, we should keep those facilities open so that no one has to flee to anything like the New Orleans Astrodome or the Convention Center ever again.

Think about it: Military bases have barracks and apartments, with beds, blankets, drinking water and plumbing that works. They have medical facilities with doctors and nurses, lawyers, PXs, even supermarkets. They have trucks and cars and ships and helicopters and airplanes. And they are located all over the country, within easy reach of just about any site of a natural disaster.

The Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) says doing away with these assets will save the taxpayers $4.2 billion a year.

But there’s another way to save that money, and a lot more: Stop the unconscionable waste at the Department of Defense.

So vast is the Pentagon’s waste, fraud and abuse that the government’s accountants tell us every year that the place simply cannot be audited. If Donald Rumsfeld ran Wal-Mart that way, he’d have been fired long ago.

Just think of it: The DOD, whose profligate and dysfunctional systems allowed it to buy toilet seats for $640 each, is now unable to account for more than a trillion -- that’s trillion with a “T” -- dollars in financial transactions. That’s in addition to the dozens of tanks, missiles and planes that have simply “gone missing.”

Congress gave our military $10 billion for Iraq Reconstruction. A good chunk of that money has simply vanished -- it’s been lost. And there is virtually no reconstruction to show for it.

And, in one more of a long litany of incompetence and malfeasance, the General Accountability Office (GAO) informed us recently that millions of dollars worth of new equipment was being sold as “surplus” for pennies on the dollar. That equipment included Kevlar flak jackets needed by the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, so of course the Pentagon ordered more.

If President Bush is looking for “offsets” to pay for Katrina, he shouldn’t be thinking about cutting back on Medicaid, No Child Left Behind, Social Security, and other programs that directly benefit those most devastated by Katrina.

He should take a look at the “offsets” already in the Pentagon’s appropriations -- if he can find them.

And if, by some miracle, he succeeds there where all others have failed, he should start rummaging through the pork barrel that was used to deliver the Highway and Transportation Bill to the White House for him to sign. The one with the millions earmarked for Alaska to build that bridge to nowhere.

William Fisher writes for Inter Press News Service. He has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area during the Kennedy Administration.

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