Thursday, August 24, 2006

From Haiti to New Orleans

I had a thoroughly enjoyable discourse with New York's venerable radio host Leonard Lopate on WNYC's Underreported today, discussing my latest trip to Haiti and the country's recent history. Leonard was actually highly informed about Haiti's recent political trajectory and never ceases to amaze with the authority and ease with which he can shift gears from one subject to another without breaking stride.

Before I went on, I sat waiting in the studio and listened to an extended segment about the rebuilding, or lack thereof, in New Orleans, now going on one year after Hurricane Katrina killed over 1,500 people while our president enjoyed a late Texas summer, not wanting to spoil such an excellent retreat with the tawdry, boring business of actually governing the country. The Economist this week has a sober article bemoaning the slow pace of the city's reconstruction, noting that the city's "streetscape still looks largely as it did in November, when the last of the water was pumped out...The poorer sections of town are mostly waiting for the dispersal of $7.5 billion in federal aid to homeowners who did not have enough insurance either to repair or rebuild. The first of the grants, which are capped at $150,000, should be handed out any day. Roughly 100,000 people have applied for them. But Congress took nearly ten months to appropriate the money." Don't worry folks, your elected representatives are on the job.

The Democrats proved themselves good for something, though, by releasing a study today outlining how the Bush government awarded 70 percent of its contracts for Hurricane Katrina with limited or no competitive bidding. That's some $7.4 billion out of $10.6 billion in contracts awarded after the storm last year. FEMA recently opted to award new $400 million temporary future disaster work housing contracts to Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Bechtel National, CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Enterprises Inc. As the AP wryly observes "The Shaw Group Inc.'s lobbyist, Joe Allbaugh, is a former FEMA director and a longtime friend of President Bush, while Bechtel CEO Riley Bechtel served on Bush's Export Council from 2003-2004. CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. have done extensive previous work for the government. The companies have denied that political or government connections played a factor." Any appearance of nepotism is, to paraphrase Henrich Boll, neither intentional nor fortuitous but unavoidable.

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