No-Bid Contracts: A Real Chance to 'Loot'
ED GORDON, host:
In the days following Hurricane Katrina, the world watched as looters took advantage of the situation. While some stole food to survive, others simply grabbed whatever they could. But commentator Betty Baye says that wasn't the only robbing to hit the Big Easy. Now that some big businesses have won no-bid contracts to rebuild the Gulf Coast, a new kind of looting has begun.
I, too, was chagrinned and wondered what in the world was that black fellow thinking, carting off a big-screen TV while most of his fellow New Orleanians were focused on surviving, on trying to locate the missing, on getting hold of fresh drinking water, food, shelter, and a safe way out of town after Hurricane Katrina blew through? Now I'm not trying to minimize the looting that took place in the chaos and the flooding that drowned about 80 percent of New Orleans after the levees broke, but I am conditioned to follow the money. And when I follow the money, I'm of the opinion that the serious looting has only just now begun. Matter of fact, I predict that when the value of all the booty stolen by poor folks, like that guy in New Orleans hauling off the big-screen TV, when it's all added up, it'll amount to peanuts--peanuts--compared to the sacking the national Treasury may undergo now that President Bush and Congress have approved the federal government laying out billions to relieve and rebuild New Orleans and all the other communities flooded and flattened by the two recent hurricanes.
Dozens of fat no-bid contracts, a single one worth 568 million, have already been handed out to politically connected private companies. As well, quick and in a hurry, President Bush, with his popularity fading in the polls, relieved these favored contractors of what would be their normal obligations to pay prevailing wages to those providing services in the devastated areas. Now how sweet a deal is that? I can just imagine that it's as sweet as it's been for many of these same contractors who, after the US invaded Iraq, were rushed in to help out and who are being paid yet more billions to clean up and rebuild Iraq.
Of course, we're only just now realizing the extent to which poor planning, sweetheart deals and lax government oversight have seen millions of the billions already allocated for Iraq's reconstruction disappear down into black holes deeper than the one from which a bedraggled Saddam Hussein was plucked. The practice, of course, has been to refer to corporate thieves as white-collar criminals. But I say that it's overdue to cease referring to thieves in business suits, the ones who treat the public Treasury as if it's their personal piggy banks, with such a highfalutin term as white-collar criminals. Let's call these sleazebags what they are. Let's call them what the news reporters called that black guy with the stolen TV in New Orleans and the others who took advantage of the chaos to liberate what wasn't theirs. Let's call them looters.
GORDON: Betty Baye is a columnist for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.
This is NPR News.