Big Businesses with Cozy Federal Deals Will Rebuild Iraq As Needs at Home go Begging

LA Times
March, 2003

Big Businesses with Cozy Federal Deals Will Rebuild Iraq
as Needs at Home Go Begging

by Arianna Huffington

We finally have a winner in Iraq. Yes, I know that the first laser-guided smart bomb has yet to be dropped on Baghdad. But that's just a formality. The war has already been won. So who's the big winner? Corporate America, that's who.

The Bush administration is currently in the process of doling out more than $1.5 billion in government contracts to U.S. companies lining up to cash in on the rebuilding of postwar Iraq. So bombs away! The more destruction the better — at least for the lucky few in the rebuilding business.

The U.N. has traditionally overseen the reconstruction of war zones like Afghanistan or Kosovo. But in keeping with its unilateral, the-world-is-our-sandbox approach to this invasion, the White House has decided to nail a "Made in the USA" sign on this Iraqi fixer-upper. Postwar Iraq will be rebuilt using red, white and blueprints.

Talk about efficiency: Even as the people of Iraq are girding themselves for the thousands of bombs expected to rain down on them during the first 24 hours of the attack, the administration is already picking and choosing who will be given the lucrative job of cleaning up the rubble. It's the hottest auction of the season.

To further expedite matters, the war powers that be invoked "urgent circumstances" clauses that allow them to subvert the requisite competitive bidding process — the free market be damned — and, instead, invited a select group of companies to bid on the rebuilding projects.

And just which companies were given first crack at the post-Hussein spoils? Well, given Team Bush's track record, it will probably not fill you with "shock and awe" to learn that the common denominator among the chosen few is a proven willingness to make large campaign donations to the Grand Old Party. Among them, the bidders — a quartet of well-connected corporate consortiums that includes Bechtel Group, Fluor Corp. and, of course, Vice President Dick Cheney's old cronies at Halliburton — have donated a combined $2.8 million over the last two election cycles, 68% of which went to Republicans.

The insider track given these fat-cat donors proves afresh that splurging on a politician is one of the soundest and safest investments you can make. Where else will a $2.8-million ante offer you a shot at raking in a $1.5-billion payoff?

And that's just for starters. The president is planning to give post-Hussein Iraq an extreme makeover — a wide-ranging overhaul that will include the transformation of the country's educational, health care and banking systems — all funded by taxpayer dollars and administered by private U.S. contractors. Think of it as a for-profit Marshall Plan.

As a first step toward Iraqi prosperity, the president's ambitious postwar plan earmarks $100 million to ensure that Iraq's 25,000 schools have all the supplies and support necessary to "function at a standard level of quality" — including books and supplies for 4.1 million Iraqi schoolchildren.

I'm sure those schools in Oregon that are being forced to shut down a month early due to inadequate funding, or the low-income students in California who are suing the state in a desperate effort to obtain adequate textbooks and qualified teachers, would love to see the same kind of tangible evidence of President Bush's support.

The same goes for our flat-lining public health-care system. While more than a million poor Americans are about to lose their access to publicly funded medical care, the president is in the market for a corporate contractor to oversee a $100-million upgrade of Iraq's hospitals and clinics.

And the White House has announced its intention to redesign Iraq's financial rules and banking system after it bombs the country halfway to oblivion. Too bad the administration keeps watering down reforms for the financial rules and banking system here at home.

That's another way corporate America is profiting from the looming war. With all eyes on Iraq, few are paying attention to how little is being done to reform and redesign our own financial rules.

The new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, for instance, is getting away with an enforcement regime every bit as limp as that of his predecessor, the supremely spineless Harvey Pitt. Last week, in his first congressional testimony since assuming control of the watchdog agency, William Donaldson made it clear that, despite a massive increase in the SEC's budget, we shouldn't expect too much in the way of fundamental reform — stressing that one of his top priorities would be boosting the morale of the agency.

I don't know about you, but I would feel a whole lot better if he'd made boosting the morale of a badly burned public Job No. 1. Tossing a slew of corporate crooks in the slammer would be a good start.

Maybe America's beleaguered investors should band together with this country's "left behind" schoolchildren and start stockpiling a few drones with overly long wingspans, some high-strength aluminum tubes and a few discarded canisters of gaseous chemicals. Apparently that's the only way to get this administration's attention.

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