Politics is obviously part of it. According to Phyllis Bennis of the US Institute for Policy Studies, US officials claimed they never received the Cuban offer, although it was made quietly, twice, to keep it outside politics.
Bennis described what Cuba offered in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! (transcript available online: http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/09/08/142233)
The President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, offered specifically to send initially 100 and then later another 500 and eventually another 600 doctors, each equipped with a specially designed backpack with 24 kilos of specially designed hurricane relief supplies, medical equipment. The hurricane season, of course, in Cuba is always a very dangerous one, and the Cubans have developed some of the best systems in the world, recognized by the United Nations as being some of the best protection systems, some of the best evacuation systems. And their doctors know how to deal with hurricane victims.
"Venezuela has offered cheap gasoline, as well as heating fuel for hurricane victims, as well as doctors and humanitarian aid workers, prepared to move into the area immediately," Bennis said. But considering that an important Bush supporter, Rev. Pat Robertson, recently called for the assassination of Venezuela's president Chavez, accepting their aid was political crow this administration couldn't digest.
This otherwise inexplicable refusal of badly needed aid is congruent with Bushcorps apparent view that in politics, perception matters more than reality, and that as the governing party, politics is real while governance is manipulating illusion.
Other refusals are even less explainable, such as the offer from Sweden for (in Bennis' words)"a plane load full of water purification equipment and a fully ready-to-go cellular telephone system with the engineers to set it up, who were coming with their own food and water and equipment to put this in place, that would allow 5,000 calls simultaneously..."
The system involved routing calls through Germany.
There is also long list of offers made within the hemisphere, especially from Canada, and even from within the US, that the administration either refused, ignored or belatedly accepted.
Why? Incompetence is a leading possibility, perhaps acknowledged by the appointment of Vice Admiral Thad Allen, chief of staff of the U.S. Coast Guard to take charge of Katrina relief, replacing Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who will concentrate on other disasters.
But there is at least one other possibility, and it would also follow a Bush administration pattern. In comparing its handling of Katrina to its management of Iraq, ," Paul Krugman writes, in his latest column: "All that's missing from the Katrina story is an expensive reconstruction effort, with lucrative deals for politically connected companies, that fails to deliver essential services. But give it time - they're working on that, too."
They seem to have been working on it. When VP Cheney visited the Katrina zone, he started in Mississippi, where Halliburton, the company he used to head and still has a considerable financial stake in, already is starting on contractural reconstruction work.
Another figure involved is Joseph Allbaugh, the Bush-appointed FEMA director before the current one, Michael Brown. Allbaugh is a former campaign manager for GW Bush. After leaving FEMA in the care of Brown, his college roommate, he went into the lobbying business with former national Republican honcho Haley Barbour, now governor of Mississippi. He got his wife a gig in the firm, as well as Neil Bush, the Bush brother the family tries not to talk about.
Allbaugh is putting his disaster experience (gained entirely as head of FEMA, since he had no previous qualifications) to good use. On Democracy Now! Amy Goodman quoted the Washington Post as noting that Allbaugh is helping Louisiana,to `coordinate the private sector response to the storm.'"
In response, Judd Legum, research director for the Center for American Progress, added this:.
"And what's interesting is that Allbaugh actually beat Michael Brown, the current director of FEMA down to Louisiana. He was there far in advance of when Michael Brown came down, in Louisiana, essentially securing private contracts for his clients. And he recently, although the contract was signed before he started representing Halliburton, secured the agreement of the government to tap into that contract to clean up naval bases in the Louisiana area. So, he's already paying dividends for Halliburton, certainly, and probably will for a lot of his other clients as this very large disaster relief effort continues. "
This may not be just an ironic indication of where the Bushcorps priorities are. It may be an indication of why FEMA's response was so apathetic, and why FEMA initially spurned help from so many sources, both within the US and from outside. The whole idea may have been to turn over disaster relief to Bushcorp's corporate partners, like Halliburton. Again, pretty much as they've done in Iraq.
Let's hope that investigative journalists keep their attention on this possibility.
Because there's potential for a lot of cashing-in. Of the $51.8 billion just allocated for Katrina zone relief, the Republican controlled Congress put $50 billion in the hands of Allbaugh's roommate, Mike Brown at FEMA. (Although Brown has just been taken off the Katrina job, he still heads FEMA. It's not clear what his role will be in disperal of funds.)
If Bush-backing corporations cash in on this as they did on all those billions spent on Iraq and Homeland Security, they're likely to make out even better. President Bush issued an executive order that permits federal contractors in the Katrina zone to pay below the prevailing wage. That means less money for workers, and more of that $50 billion for Bush's greedy corporate pals. It is also likely to mean the kind of substandard work that has kept Iraq unreconstructed.
Two Democrats immediately protested. "The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities," Rep. George Miller of California Miller said.
"One of the things the American people are very concerned about is shabby work and that certainly is true about the families whose houses are going to be rebuilt and buildings that are going to be restored," said Senator Ted Kennedy.
But Joe Allbaugh, Halliburton and Dick Cheney (who still profits from his Halliburton stock) aren't complaining. Mike Brown may be a little upset that he's only getting to funnel the money (and may not even get to do that now), but as the revolving door turns, there's a payday ahead for him, too, no doubt.
As for what has been accepted, a UN offer has officially been but, Bennis said, "we don't know whether they have been allowed to actually do anything yet. The Office of Humanitarian Coordination Assistance in the U.N., OCHA, which is the U.N.'s very experienced team of humanitarian workers, have offered to send logisticians, people that are expert in setting up systems, water purification experts and others, all of the people who, clearly, from what our government has been able and unable or unwilling to provide in the hurricane areas, are desperately needed."
Relating all this to Iraq in a different way--though the basic dynamic of politics and corporate profit versus good governance is still central---Phyllis Bennis said this:
What's rather extraordinary is that the offers that have been accepted the most quickly are those that are duplicative of the kind of material that the U.S. military provides all over the world. So, for example, the U.S. has accepted transport planes from Singapore and Canada. They have accepted fully equipped cargo planes from Spain. They have accepted MREs from Germany and Italy. These are the meals ready to eat that the Pentagon provides to countries around the world. That's what they're now accepting here.
And what it says is, while we're fighting a war in Iraq, we have to depend on the charity of other countries, including donations like $25,000 from the tsunami-ravaged country of Sri Lanka or $1 million from Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. Those offers are being accepted because while the U.S. is fighting a war in Iraq that we're being told is designed to make us safer, it makes it impossible for the U.S. to provide even their own citizens with this kind of basic protection....
That's a huge admission of the failure of unilateralism of this country, that what all of the people of this country have been saying, the war in Iraq is not making us safer...
So, the international acknowledgement by the United States that the most powerful, wealthiest country in the world is unable to support its own population in this dramatic moment of crisis for the poor and impoverished and overwhelmingly black community of Louisiana and Mississippi is a very stark reminder of the price we pay in this country, particularly the price being paid by the poorest and the communities of color for a war in Iraq and for the efforts of the United States to prove to the world that it doesn't need the rest of the world. We have seen that proved as a lie.