A Swamp of Corruption

Wall Street Opinion Journal John Fund Monday, September 26, 2005

In Katrina’s wake, Louisiana’s political culture needs a cleanup too.

Perhaps no footage from Hurricane Katrina was replayed more often than the “Meet the Press” clip of Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, La., telling Tim Russert that bureaucrats had “committed murder” in the storm’s aftermath. He sobbed as he told about a colleague’s mother drowning in her nursing home after begging her son on the phone for four days to save her from the rising waters. Talk show host Don Imus said he had never seen such gripping testimony on TV in his life.

But MSNBC.com later found the story didn’t hold up. Eva Rodrigue, the 92-year-old mother of Thomas Rodrique, the parish’s emergency services director, did drown–but not because federal or state officials failed to rescue her. Mr. Rodrique said his mother died the day of the hurricane because the nursing home’s owners ignored commands to evacuate. The owners are now under indictment for negligent homicide. Mr. Rodrique says his mother never spoke with him, and he can’t explain why his boss, Mr. Broussard, got it so wrong.

Mr. Broussard returned to “Meet the Press” yesterday to punch back at critics of his obviously embellished statement. “What kind of sick mind, what kind of black-hearted people want to nitpick a man’s mother’s death?” he roared. When Mr. Russert continued to point out the discrepancies in his account, Mr. Broussard told him “Man, get out of my face” and then said the bureaucrats and officials who failed his region “should be strung up. Those people should be burned at the stake.”

No state turns out better demagogues than Louisiana–the state that Huey Long ruled with an near-fascistic fist and that inspired the new Sean Penn version of “All the King’s Men” that hits movie theaters this November. While the Bush administration and Congress aren’t in danger of being fried as witches, they better figure out that they and the taxpayers are about to be fleeced like sheep as they ship south $62 billion in emergency aid with few controls or safeguards.

More will be coming. Last week, Louisiana’s two senators didn’t even blink when they asked the feds for an ultimate total of $250 billion in assistance just for their state. “We recognize that it’s a very high number,” Sen. Mary Landrieu admitted. “But this is an unprecedented national tragedy and needs an unprecedented national response.”

Even if the total ends up far short of that figure, the opportunity for fraud and waste will be unprecedented. “We’re getting a lot of calls” on emergency aid abuses, reports Gen. Richard Skinner, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. Last week, police officers found a treasure trove of food, drinks, chainsaws and roof tarps in the home of Cedric Floyd, chief administrative officer for the Jefferson Parish suburb of Kenner. Mr. Floyd is one of several city workers who will likely be charged with pilfering.

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7 thoughts on “A Swamp of Corruption”

  1. Pot calling the Kettle black? Right now there are at least four scandals swirling around the White House:

    1) No-bid contracts: In the Gulf states as in Iraq, the Bush administration is again awarding lucrative, no-bid contracts to politically-connected firms with little or no financial oversight or accountability.

    2) Two-degrees of Jack Abramoff. A number of major Republican officials and advisors have been revealed to have extensive dealings with sleazy lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff’s close contacts include Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed. Abramoff has been implicated in the arm-twisting (polite way of saying “extortion”) of Indian Casinos, the Tyco Corporation and other clients to create a massive GOP slush fund. This week it was revealed that Abramoff paid large amounts of money to two men arrested in the murder of casino owner Gus Boulis.

    Josh Marshall writes, The Republican machine built by DeLay, Norquist, Abramoff, et al. and pulled into high gear after 2001, is a pay-for-play political machine. This is just another part of the operation, like the diktat for trade associations to hire only Republicans. Big political machines need their soldiers taken care of — jobs on K Street which also discipline the trade associations under Hill leadership. Just so, they need big sums of money to move around off the books. How does Rove keep the millions moving to Norquist? To Reed? To all the other operatives whose names you don’t know about?

    Indian tribes bursting with millions who need very focused sorts of legislative intervention — that’s one good source of money. Corrupt Pacific Island governments who need similar help — another good source.”

    3) The Brownie factor: Cronyism and Nepotism. Time magazine revealed that the Bush admistration has staffed scores of important high level government jobs with inexperienced political cronies. “How many more Mike Browns are out there? A TIME inquiry finds that at top positions in some vital government agencies, the Bush Administration is putting connections before experience” http://www.cnn.com/2005/POLITICS/09/26/mike.brown.tm/
    The Bush administration’s top official for procurement policy David Safavian, (previously an assistant to Jack Abramoff) was recently arrested to obstructing obstructing a federal investigation and making false statements under oath.

    4) Punishing the whistle blowers. Dozens of officials have been demoted, fired or forcibly retired for critizing Bush administration policies. These include Lawrence Lindsay, a former economics advisor, General Eric Shinsecki, Bunnatine H. Greenhouse, A top Army contracting official who criticized a large, noncompetitive contract with the Halliburton Company, as well as officials in the FDA and EPA.

    The Justice Department’s inspector general and the F.B.I. are looking into the demotion of a veteran federal prosecutor whose reassignment nearly three years ago shut down a criminal investigation of the Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, current and former department officials report.

  2. One more for you.


    “Defunding the Levees: “Lives Very Likely Will Be Lost”
    by Hunter
    Tue Sep 27th, 2005 at 16:38:56 PDT
    David Sirota’s piece in In These Times is out, and looks to be a very solid telling of the tied fates of Bush’s budget-smashing tax cuts and the levees surrounding New Orleans.

    [start quote]This is a reality visible in the numbers. Year after year, the Bush administration insisted on massive tax cuts for the wealthy. And year after year, the White House refused to provide the funding government experts said was needed to strengthen levees, beef up hurricane preparedness and get federal emergency response ready for an onslaught from Mother Nature. America’s budget surplus, built in the ’90s to serve as a rainy day fund, was robbed to provide more and more giveaways to the rich. When the rainiest day of them all came, our country was left totally — and unnecessarily — vulnerable.[end quote]

    Read the rest for the whole tale of tax cuts for the wealthy, fired whistleblowers, and urgent warnings. Sirota builds a good list of specific tax cuts and some of the specific homeland security cuts that went along with them, and retells one of the more damning examples of Bush administration obsession:

    The Bush administration not only refused to heed Army Corps of Engineers warnings about the danger of cutting funding to the New Orleans levees; they fired Army Corps of Engineers head (and former Republican Congressman) Mike Parker mere days after Parker himself testified to Congress about those dangers.”

    Just seems like everyday I read my regulars, and TPM is a top one for me too, something pops up, like the upcoming “Abu Ghraib” of the 82nd Airborn.

  3. Three more GOP scandals:

    1) Karl Rove (President’s top advisor) under investigation by grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame affair and could be indicted by the end of October for exposing the identity of an undecover CIA agent. Rove is already on record telling a reporter “Wilson’s wife is fair game” the week her name first appeared in the press.

    2) GOP House majority leader Tom DeLay indicted today on one count of criminal conspiracy stemming from his role with his political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, a now-defunct organization that already had been indicted on charges of illegally using corporate money during the 2002 legislative elections. Delay just agreed to step down as House majority leader.

    3) GOP Senate majority leader Bill Frist is the subject of an SEC investigation into charges of inside trading, resulting from Frist’s June sale of HCA stock. Frist directed the trustees of his blind trust to sell his shares on June 13, one month before the release of an HCA earnings report that said HCA would fail to meet analyst’s estimates, and a subsequent sharp drop in share prices..

  4. The DailyKos article is an editorial that decries tax relief by arguing Bush is responsible for the Louisianna levee collapse rather than local politicians. The author lays out an argument but doesn’t make his case. Plame’s “Vanity Fair” spread gives credence to the charge they are after their fifteen minutes of fame. The prosecutor indicting DeLay is a liberal activist that has an ethics charge against him for revealing grand jury testimony to the press, among other complaints. Abramoff is corrupt, but so far no evidence points beyond Grover Norquist (Frontpage had a good article yesterday on the relationship). One caution: After “Tailwind,” any investigative reports from CNN ought not be taken at face value.

    So far the allegations are laced with the smell of political opportunism that require some good investigative journalists to dig through the muck. I wouldn’t trust “Time” as a sole source of analysis here either given their bias. The new media will also look into this which should help discern where the truth really lies.

    If the men are guilty of a crime they should be prosecuted. But we also need to determine if and how much prosecutorial and media bias is driving this process.

  5. In defense of Republicans, you could say that lobbyists money has had an increasingly powerful and corrupting influence on decision making in Washington that began long before the current congress and administration.

    Tom(the Hammer)DeLay and Grover(drown government in the bathtub) Norquist may be guilty of raising it up to a whole new level. But if power changed hands tommorow and the Democrats took control of Congress would that culture change, or would the lobbyists find willing legislators waiting for them on the other side of the aisle? I have to suspect they would find at least a few.

  6. Let’s take Tom DeLay’s assertion at face value – this is a politically motivated attack by a rogue prosecutor. Okay, yet this prosecutor is getting away with it. At least this far, anyway. The Republican line seems to be that a local elected prosecutor can indict one of the most powerful men in the country and wreck his career, merely on his own whim. In fact, Trent Lott said that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich before a grand jury if he so chooses.

    Interesting. Republicans admit that prosecutors have inordinate power over almost any citizen. Republicans admit that prosecutors can, with malice, use the criminal justice system to punish their political opponents. Republicans assert that this is even happening, before the eyes of the world, and that the target of this judicial assault is powerless against.

    So the Republican line is – prosecutors are powerful, dangerous, and can be corrupt.

    Gee, and we are supposed to give the government and it’s prosecutors ever more power under the Patriot Act to ‘keep us safe.’ We are also supposed to allow the government to detain citizens as ‘enemy combatants’ and to engage in other kinds of rights violations all under the guise of ‘fighting terrorism.’

    If prosecutors are so dangerous, and can be seduced by the power of their office, why not CURTAIL that discretion? Why not strengthen individual liberty AGAINST the power of the state?

    I’m sorry, I was talking like a conservative there with a natural distrust of state power. I apologize, the Republican Party will never recognize the irony of this situation. Instead, it will pretend that the Democratic prosecutor is a ‘bad apple,’ and then proceed to hand even more power and discretion to like-minded prosecutors all over the country.

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