Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, September 26, 2005

Only the Destitute are Innocent

As a lawyer, I developed what you might call a Niebuhrian notion of fault: that it is complex, of mixed character, and both valuable and destructive. But the law taught me one thing many laypeople prefer to avoid: someone is always responsible. Events, except in rare cases, do not just "happen." We are all more entangled in the web of our own consequences than we like to even imagine.

As an example, spot the contradictions in this statement:

"When you do something like this, you do increase the vulnerability for fraud, plain waste, abuse and mismanagement," said Richard L. Skinner, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, who said 60 members of his staff were examining Hurricane Katrina contracts. "We are very apprehensive about what we are seeing."
That is the point at which the lawyer begins to salivate, or tremble, depending on who he represents. Because that statement, as carefully phrased as it is, is an almost absolute admission of liability. In the immortal words of Otter, from Animal House: "Hey, you fucked up! You trusted us!"

Rules and regulations "got in the way"? Will we tell the same to the families of the 25 people who died needlessly on a highway just outside of Dallas? Rules and regulations would have saved their lives, but panic was the order of the day. Rules and regulations are precisely what is meant to prevent the kind of looting of the public purse that we are seeing, right now, in our own backyard:

Topping the federal government's list of costs related to Hurricane Katrina is the $568 million in contracts for debris removal landed by a Florida company with ties to Mississippi's Republican governor. Near the bottom is an $89.95 bill for a pair of brown steel-toe shoes bought by an Environmental Protection Agency worker in Baton Rouge, La.

The first detailed tally of commitments from federal agencies since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast four weeks ago shows that more than 15 contracts exceed $100 million, including 5 of $500 million or more. Most of those were for clearing away the trees, homes and cars strewn across the region; purchasing trailers and mobile homes; or providing trucks, ships, buses and planes.

More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse.

Already, questions have been raised about the political connections of two major contractors - the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton - that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA.

"When you do something like this, you do increase the vulnerability for fraud, plain waste, abuse and mismanagement," said Richard L. Skinner, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, who said 60 members of his staff were examining Hurricane Katrina contracts. "We are very apprehensive about what we are seeing."

Bills have come in for deals that apparently were clinched with a handshake, with no documentation to back them up, said Mr. Skinner, who declined to provide details.
Haste to rebuild? Or haste to cash in?

FEMA has managed, so far, to spend over $26 billion. The number is so big it's hard to grasp, much less imagine what it was spent on. But here's a sampling:

Some industry and government officials questioned the costs of the debris-removal contracts, saying the Army Corps of Engineers had allowed a rate that was too high. And Congressional investigators are looking into the $568 million awarded to AshBritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company that was a client of the former lobbying firm of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi.

The investigators are asking how much money AshBritt will collect and, in turn, what it will pay subcontractors performing the work, said a House investigator who did not want her name used because she was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

The contracts also show considerable price disparities: travel trailers costing $15,000 to $23,000, housing inspection services that documents suggest could cost $15 to $81 per home, and ferries and ships being used for temporary housing that cost $13 million to $70 million for six months.
One more reason for the reliance on trailers rather than existing or permanent structures. I think we have an answer as to why that route was chosen, and for whom.

But for the moment, consider this: the government is spending $263 million per day on the recovery effort. New Orleans is flooded. Hurricane season is not over. And most of these contracts are "no-bid."

No one of us stands outside the web of the system we benefit from, except the destitute, who are simply used by it. Only the poor are innocent. For the rest of us, someone is always responsible.

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