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September 19, 2005, 6:45 P.M.

A Silk Purse From a Sow's Ear: Two recent actions taken by the White House confirm my belief that the White House is motivated by Politics and Politics alone. The first, and most obvious, is the appointment of none other than Karl Rove to head the administrations Gulf Coast reconstruction efforts. The second is the President’s executive order, issued on September 15, suspending the prevailing wage provisions of the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act that requires contractors on federal projects to pay workers no less than the prevailing wage in the area where the work is to be performed.

Karl Rove’s role within the administration is now and always has been Politics and Patronage. The president has sent a clear message about how this reconstruction effort will be run. Karl Rove is the Administration’s chief political operative and the reconstruction effort will be focused more on the reconstruction of the administration’s lousy image than on the lives and infrastructures damaged or destroyed in no small part due to the lack of focus on the potential disaster by the President and his staff. With a 200 billion dollar price tag on reconstruction efforts, there is a lot of political advantage to be bought and this move comes at a time when we ought to be taking the politics out of the reconstruction.

Nothing has changed about this President. Just like in Iraq, the President and his advisors are looking out for themselves and their friends. Halliburton has already been hired to do reconstruction work. With Rove at the helm, there will be many other contractors with the right connections getting the work, at the expense of local contractors who don’t have the right connections. This is not speculation, this is the way Bush and the boys do it and they make no bones about it. The suspension of Davis-Bacon is but another example.

Last Thursday, in a notice to Congress, Bush said the hurricane had caused "a national emergency" that permits him to suspend prevailing wage requirements 1931 Davis-Bacon Act. The edict applies to the storm ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. Bush acted to cut the wages of workers in the region, while the federal government moved to provide hundreds of billions of dollars in aid. The net effect is that contractors can earn bigger profits while paying workers less, and what is more significant is that they will be indebted to Rove, Bush and the boys for their good fortune. And all the while that this is happening, Rove will be around to ensure that everyone remembers the source of their good fortune. Upon learning of the President’s actions, Rep. George Miller of California said; "The administration is using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities," I would only add that they are also using it to line their own pockets.

The initial administration response to the effects of Hurricane Katrina was abysmal. The Administration that has promised a safer society failed miserably in the first test since 9/11. Their first reaction was to deflect blame, to avoid responsibility, and to play politics. They can attempt to spin this any way they want, but that is exactly what they did, subsequent purported apologies notwithstanding. The Republican-dominated Congress is no better. I was interested to hear of the recent appointment of committee charged with investigating the government’s response to Katrina. The capital news letter, Roll Call, reported that,

“On a near party-line vote, the House approved legislation Thursday creating a select committee to investigate the preparation for Hurricane Katrina and subsequent response effort. House lawmakers passed the bill, 224-188, easily defeating Democratic opposition to the proposal, which would create a majority-led 20-seat panel charged with investigating the events surrounding the Category Five storm that decimated much of the Gulf Coast. During Thursday’s debate on the House floor, Democrats reiterated their objections to the panel’s composition —which would include 11 Republicans and nine Democrats, as well as Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as ex officio members — asserting it will not be able to conduct an effective investigation.”

Just so we are clear on this, it passed on a near party line vote, it will be controlled by a majority of Republicans and we are still calling it a “Bipartisan Katrina Review Panel.” I don’t hold out much hope that this will result in a critical look at the administration’s actions (or inactions).

What we are witnessing here is politics at its best (or worst). The President has facilitated the population of the very agencies crated to provide an effective and timely response to natural disasters with political lackeys and patrons. Their failure in the face of this disaster is manifest, yet the President continues to behave in the same way by making cronyism a criterion for getting assistance. His spin-doctor has set out to sew a silk purse from this sow’s ear that is the aftermath of Katrina. This administration needs to be called out, or this reconstruction will mire us in the same fetid soup of graft and corruption that is the Iraq reconstruction.


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