Corporate America Divvies
Up The Post-Saddam Spoils
by Arianna Huffington
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner
in Iraq. Yes, I know that the first smart bomb has yet to be dropped
on Baghdad. But that's just a formality. The war has already been
won. The conquering heroes are not generals in fatigues but CEOs
in suits, and the shock troops are not an advance guard of commandos
but legions of lobbyists.
The Bush administration is currently in
the process of doling out over $1.5 billion in government contracts
to American 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 United Nations 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 advance planning: 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. Postwar
rebuilding is a solitary bright spot in our own carpet-bombed
To further expedite matters, the war-powers-that-be
invoked "urgent circumstances" clauses that allowed
them to subvert the requisite competitive bidding process -- the
free market be damned -- and invite a select group of companies
to bid on the rebuilding projects. No British companies were included,
which has left many of them seething and meeting with government
officials in London to find out where they stand.
So just which companies were given first
crack at the post-Saddam 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. Between them, the bidders -- a quartet of well-connected
corporate consortiums that includes Bechtel Group, Fluor Corp.,
and, of course, Vice President Cheney's old cronies at Halliburton
-- have donated a combined $2.8 million over the past two election
cycles, 68 percent 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 one-in-four shot at raking in
a $1.5 billion payoff?
And that $1.5 billion is just for starters.
The president is planning to give post-Saddam 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.
"The administration's goal,"
reads one of the reconstruction contracts that are up for bids,
"is to provide tangible evidence to the people of Iraq that
the U.S. will support efforts to bring the country to political
security and economic prosperity."
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 of their own, would love to see the same kind
of "tangible evidence" of President Bush's support.
The same goes for our flatlining 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 couple of plywood drones
with overly long wingspans, some high-strength aluminum tubes,
and a few discarded canisters of chemical gas.
Apparently, that's the only way to get
this administration's attention. ------ Arianna Huffington is
the author of "Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and
Political Corruption are Undermining America." For information
on the book, visit www.PigsAtTheTrough.com