AUSTIN, Texas -- Here's a good idea: Consumer groups and progressive congressfolks have joined in an effort to stop hundreds of thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina from being further harmed by the new Bankruptcy Act, scheduled to take effect Oct. 17. This law was notoriously written of, by and for the consumer credit industry, and is particularly onerous for the poor.
The bill was passed with massive support from the Republican leadership in Congress and from a disgusting number of sellout Democrats. While it was being considered in committee earlier this year, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee offered an amendment to protect victims of natural disasters. It was defeated, without debate, on a party-line vote.
Now, Congress has a chance to rethink some of the most punitive parts of the bill. Katrina victims who were planning to file before the new law goes into effect are s.o.l. -- where they gonna find a lawyer, let alone an open courthouse?
Under the new law, anyone whose income is over the state median must file under Chapter 13, a more restrictive category that requires some repayment of debt. The new law grants no exemption for natural disaster, even though it's going to be a little tough for some citizen sitting in the Astrodome who no longer has a home to come up with tax statements, pay stubs, and six months of income and expense data. Let's see if Congress can manage to open its marble heart on this issue.
Meanwhile, it's an ill wind that blows no one good, so we should not be surprised to learn the first winner out of the gate on Katrina is none other than the Halliburton Co., whose deserving subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root has already been granted a $29.8 million contract for cleanup work in the wake of Katrina.
Of course, no one would suggest Halliburton and its subsidiaries get government contracts (more than $9 billion for reconstruction work in Iraq, with Pentagon audits thus far showing $1.03 billion in "questioned" costs and $422 million in "unsupported costs") just because Vice President Cheney is still on the payroll. Heavens no. The veep continues to receive deferred pay from the company he formerly headed -- $194,852 last year.
But Cheney has nothing to do with the Halliburton contracts -- that, friends, goes through none other than the noted lobbyist and former head of -- of all things -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Since Joe Allbaugh, who was Bush's campaign manger in 2000, left FEMA in December 2002, he has been busy making sure reconstruction contracts in Iraq go to companies that give generously to the Republican Party.
Now, aren't you ashamed of yourself for thinking there's something wrong with that? Besides, Allbaugh is now with a big-time Washington lobbying firm, where he also represents Shaw Group Inc., and -- viola -- Shaw Group, too, already has a $100 million emergency contract from FEMA for housing management and construction, and a $100 million order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Katrina repair.
Congress has appropriated over $60 billion in emergency funding for recovery costs, and estimates are the final costs will top $100 billion.
Danielle Brian, director of the Project on Government Oversight, told Reuters, "The government has got to stop stacking senior positions with people who are repeatedly cashing in on the public trust in order to further private commercial interests."
Now, Ms. Brian, get a grip. Not all the money goes to the big, politically connected firms.
Michael ("You're doing a heckuva job") Brown liked to spread federal money around. In fact, Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida was so annoyed by Brownie's distribution of largesse in Miami after Hurricane Frances that he urged the president to fire Ol' Brownie last January. What upset Wexler about the $30 million in FEMA checks to cover new wardrobes, cars, lawnmowers, vacuum cleaners, furniture and appliances was that the hurricane did not affect Miami. It landed 100 miles away.
Some of you may have heard me observe a time or two -- going back to when George W. was still governor of Texas -- that the trouble with the guy is that while he is good at politics, he stinks at governance. It bores him, he's not interested, he thinks government is bad to begin with and everything would be done better if it were contracted out to corporations.
We can now safely assert that W. has stacked much of the federal government with people like himself. And what you get when you put people in charge of government who don't believe in government and who are not interested in running it well is ... what happened after Hurricane Katrina.
Many a time in the past six years I have bit my tongue so I wouldn't annoy people with the always obnoxious observation, "I told you so." But, dammit it all to hell, I did tell you, and I've been telling you since 1994, and I am so sick of this man and everything he represents -- all the sleazy, smug, self-righteous graft and corruption and "Christian" moralizing and cynicism and tax cuts for all his smug, rich buddies.
Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.
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