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US and World Aid: Exploiting Katrina for Political and Financial Gain?

by Captain Future Fri Sep 9th, 2005 at 07:00:39 PM EST

As the extent of the Katrina crisis became clear, U.S. officials ignored Cuba's offer of 1100 specially trained doctors with equipment designed for medical needs of hurricane victims, and they've spurned  doctors and cheap gasoline and heating fuel for victims from Venezuela.  

They at first refused trained personnel from Canada, have dragged their feet on UN aid, and didn't respond in a timely way to the offer of a plane load of water purification equipment and a ready-to-go cellular phone system from Sweden.

But they have accepted a one million dollar donation from Bangladesh, among the poorest nations in the world, and $25,000US from  the tsunami-ravaged country of Sri Lanka.

What's going on?

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.

Oh, how humbling for the US...they need help, but can't accept it, because why? Losing face? Bush pride and stubbern-ness. A government should do anything t can to help its people, and in this case, could also show its appreciation for the support offered.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sat Sep 10th, 2005 at 04:36:37 AM EST
I add another one to your list: a German military cargo plane, with 15 tons of food relief on board, was turned back at the landing airport - allegedly because of, now take this, BSE fears... (Link in German to the original story in SPIEGEL)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Sep 10th, 2005 at 08:55:10 AM EST
Below is the automatic translation of the Der Spiegel ("The Mirror") article. Note that the food is standard NATO issue of a day's meals for one in a single pack. Just such rations were sent by Britain where I would have thought the possibility of BSE contamination would have been of more concern for the US administration.

The article raises interesting possibilities. As you will be able to glean, the German rations are being issued to all the coalition forces in Afghanistan, including those from the USA. Apparently (from what I can glean) the German Army speciality "the raisin bomber" was popular with those who have returned to Pensacola. Any information on this confectionery would be gratefully received :-) Now this either means the Bush junta are dreaming up any excuse to save face or they are putting US troops at risk of BSE while on active service. Since they claim to be so concerned that they are the only ones to "support the troops"....well you get the picture.

The Federal Government had to stop the delivery of groceries for the flood victims in the south of the USA end of previous week, at least passing. The reason: the importations of the "one-man packings" (EPa) of the Federal Armed Forces had forbidden the American ministry of agriculture. Also the distribution of need ration out of other countries as well as Great Britain and Russia was prohibited. The US-government feared that with the military food the cows plague BSE could be brought in. A with 15 ton EPa of loaded Airbus of the Air Force no over flight permission recovered in spite of intensive efforts of the Foreign Office for the USA. On Friday morning the German Care-packages in Cologne-delusion were unloaded again and were brought into a depot. At the same time the new US-ambassador William Timken had thanked himself already repeatedly for the first 20,000 EPa, that become" "already of flood sacrifice consumed. Finished courts as well as Hamburger, goulash with potatoes or noodle with Tomatensauce, sausage canned food, jam and drinks powder contain day ration heavy the about two kilos. Military at the US-base Pensacola in Florida where the German "raisin bomber " (Federal Armed Forces landed characteristic) previously of praise, doubt the official establishment of the Americans. In reality, the bush-government wanted avoid further for it embarrassing pictures of groceries deliveries out of Europe. Actually the German EPa are certifies even of NATO as a BSE-freely and are eaten in joint uses - like in Afghanistan - also of US-soldiers. Startled through an inquiry of the MIRROR, declared the US-message on Friday evening, the barrier for EPa would be canceled again. Open remained however whether the auxiliary flights of the Federal Armed Forces may be received again.

by Londonbear on Sat Sep 10th, 2005 at 06:29:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently (from what I can glean) the German Army speciality "the raisin bomber" was popular with those who have returned to Pensacola. Any information on this confectionery would be gratefully received :-)

Sorry to disappoint you, this is a historical rather than confectionery reference :-) When the Soviets put West Berlin under blockade in 1948-49, the US air force made food airlifts to relieve the population - these airplanes were jokingly dubbed "Rosinenbomber" (raisin bomber).

Regarding BSE, the crucial point is: it is not Germany that is still in the phase of denial based on lack of evidence based on lack of comprehensive screening. In Germany, all culled cows have to be screened, in the USA, not yet: local beef is more risky.

Below my attempt to correct the autotranslation:

The Federal Government had to stop the delivery of food for the flood victims in the US South  at the end of previous week, at least preliminarily. The reason: the import of the "one-man rations" (EPa) of the (German) Federal Armed Forces was forbidden by the US Department of Agriculture. The distribution of aid rations from other countries like Great Britain and Russia was prohibited too. The US-government feared that the mad cow disease BSE could be brought in with the military food. An Airbus of the (German) Air Force loaded with 15 tons of EPa received no overflight permission for the USA in spite of intensive efforts by the (German) Foreign Office. On Friday morning the German Care-packages were unloaded again in Cologne-Wahn and were brought into a depot. Even tough the new US-ambassador William Timken had already repeatedly thanked for the first 20,000 EPa, whiche "are already consumed by the flood victims". The daily rations contain about two kilograms of ready-to-eat meals like hamburgers, goulash with potatoes or noodles with tomato sauce, canned sausage, jam and (soluble) drink powder. Military personnell at the US-base Pensacola in Florida, where the German "raisin bombers" ((German) Federal Armed Forces self-praisal) landed previously, doubt the official justification of the American (officials). In reality, the Bush government wanted to avoid further embarrassing pictures of food deliveries from Europe, it is thought. In fact the German EPa are certified even by NATO as BSE-free and are eaten in joint missions - like in Afghanistan - also by US soldiers. Alarmed by an inquiry of SPIEGEL,  the US Embassy declared on Friday evening that the ban on the (German) EPa would be lifted again. It remained unclear however, whether the aid flights can be taken up again by the (German) Federal Armed Forces.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Sep 11th, 2005 at 07:23:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is pretty interesting, despite the quixotic automatic translation (Cologne-delusion and "thanking himself repeatedly" notwithstanding,) I assume "ministry" means Department of Agriculture.  What is that about?  At this point I expect dull- wittedness from FEMA, but the Ag department as well?

I hope there are some reporters on this in Washington. I'd be checking out possibilities like standing regulations, importing something that the big ag interests want to supply themselves, or pure projection---because some people are tempted to foist their contaminated stuff on "foreigners," they suspect this happened in this case?  But then, Halliburton allegedy feeds US troops in Iraq spoiled food, so..  

"The end of all intelligent analysis is to clear the way for synthesis." H.G. Wells "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." Bob Dylan

by Captain Future (captainfuture is at sbcglobal dot net) on Sat Sep 10th, 2005 at 10:00:36 PM EST

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