Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Foxes in the Hen House

At length corruption, like a general flood
(So long by watchful ministers withstood),
Shall deluge all; and avarice, creeping on,
Spread like a low-born mist, and blot the sun.
Author: Alexander Pope
Source: Moral Essays (ep. III, l. 135)

Let no one say that most of a degree in English Literature (with a minor in Luigi's) from the University of New Orleans in shall have gone to waste.

Lost in all of the chocolatly excitment this last week were a few stories that bear even more heavily on our future.

First was this USA Today story on our endemic corruption. Like they used to say, you can't buy publicity like this.

It starts out well enough: "Despite its ragged reputation, Louisiana isn't the worst state when it comes to public scandals. In terms of raw numbers of federal public corruption convictions, California, Florida and Ohio are worse."

Then, as the siren of cliche irresitably calls it toward the rocks , we get this:

...For a small state, Louisiana produces a lot of crooked politicians.

Louisiana's historically cavalier attitude about corruption also sets it apart, says Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

In most jurisdictions, public scandals are considered highly embarrassing events, but in Louisiana, he says, they're practically a point of pride.

All of this wisdom eminates from Fred Smith, president of corporate-funded think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. His sole qualification on the subject is that he is a native of New Orleans. His outfit's main proposition is that global warming is a myth.

Be sure to scroll way down in the above link, and wonder n0te the American Petroleum Insitute, ExxonMobil, Texaco ARCO and Cigna are underwriting this nonsense (along with CSX, Dow Chemical and a lot of other people you would hope would have an interest in the recovery of Louisiana in general).

This isn't intended to excuse the Levee Board, the Orleans Parish School Board, or any other political board whose corruption seems clear. This is a real issue, and one the city must address as part of the recovery, or Katrina will just be the latest and largest event in the city's downward slide.

It's a warning that this is more that just an excuse to withold recovery funds. These ultra-free-market groups have close ties to the Bush Administration, and Louisiana makes a terribly convenient scape goat for the same people who brought you FEMA 2005. This coming Congressional election cycle will be dominated by headlines about official corruption in Washington, and they need a convenient distraction.

"Look" I can already hear the cable pundits saying, "everybody does it, and at least we're not Louisiana."

If they can keep the focus on Louisiana, the corruption and looting by the ruling party, (including deep dips into the Gulf Coast recovery funds) will hopefully go unnoticed. It will be almost irresistable to make us the poster child for political corruption, and the conventional wisdom will make it convenient to not approve the Baker bill, or any other relief.

On that point, here is this tidbit burried at the bottom of an AP story on Yahoo! News this week.
At a hearing in Gulfport, senators grilled [Presidential recovery czar] Don Powell...over whether the federal commitment to the Gulf Coast is enough.

"Hopefully it will be enough," Powell said of the money approved so far.

Powell agreed that debris removal, along with temporary housing for evacuees, remain a top priority in Mississippi.
The WBG has covered this ground before. The debris removal contracts were let without bid at a ridiculous rate to close friends and political allies of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. (Albritt, the company involved, had kicked-back $40,000 in payments to Mr. Barbour's political consulting firm. How nice.)

As the New York Times reported in late September:

AshBritt, which has won the biggest share of those no-bid contracts, is being paid about $15 per cubic yard to collect and process debris, federal officials said. It is also being reimbursed for costs if it has to dispose of material in landfills.

[E]xperts have questioned AshBritt's fees. "Let me put it to you this way: If $15 was my best price, I would rebid it," said Mike Carroll, a municipal official in Orlando, Fla., with experience in hurricane cleanup.
In this context, the remarks of the Homeland Security Committee delegation which visited the region this past week seem, well, clueless.

Sen. Susan Collins R-Maine, who chaired the congressional delegation tour that prompted this story, said of the debris removal process "Mississippi still has 19 million cubic yards of debris to be removed, when we saw the mountains of debris in the (New Orleans) Ninth Ward, it underscores the lack of sufficient progress," Collins said. "And it's not a money problem, so that to me is a major obstacle, and I don't understand why we haven't made more progress."
Perhaps Mr. Powell can explain why there is still so much debris, the no-bid, high-dollar contract to Allbritt, the payment to Governor Barbour. He was selected by our honorable President to prevent our corrupt southern ways from overwhelming the recovery efforts.

Yes, he did say of the funds appropriated to date, "he hoped it would be enough". When a banker starts talking in those terms about your downpayment or credit history, it's time to turn the page back from Homes to Apartments. And Mr. Powell is a banker.

Remind me again why it is we're too corrupt to be responsible for our own recovery?


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