The Nation

Pelosi's Stark Rebuke

It's not suprising that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized 18-term Congressman Pete Stark for his heartfelt and emotional comments about the Republican's failure to override Bush's veto of S-CHIP. In a blog last week, I predicted that Pelosi would do just that.

Still, it's downright disappointing. Maybe the DCCC should bring on board MSNBC's feisty Keith Olbermann to give it some backbone. I think Olbermann got it right when he called Stark's remarks "refreshing."

The way Pelosi turned on Stark is bound to turn people off of politics--which are already so canned and scripted, and devoid of human feeling and emotion. Look what happens to someone decent like Pete Stark, who steps out of the mold to express his anger and passion about what he believes, sincerely, is being doing to harm our kids.

Can't you just see the Democratic consultants going berserk after Stark said what he did--even if it was in the heat of the moment and debate. Trouble alerts issued in DC--someone speaks his heart and mind! Can't you see the consultants telling party chieftains--Distance Yourself: This will hurt you in '08. Then you have the right-wing, anger-fomenting media machine ripping into full gear. Hannity, Limbaugh, Ingraham, Malkin, O'Reilly and ilk salivating and bloviating and distracting attention from the real story.

That is, what is despicable and beneath contempt are not Stark's words but this administration's assault on kids. Speaker Pelosi stated that she was worried about how her longtime congressional ally's words, "distracted from the seriousness of the subject at hand--providing health care for America's children."

With all due respect, I think the Speaker should be more worried about how Republicans' assault on kids' health and wellbeing begins at home and extends to Iraq. I think she might have issued a tough and humane statement, calling on all to stop wasting time on attacking people like Pete Stark-- whose emotional words reflects real concern and care for the future of this nation-- and start providing healthcare for all, including our beloved kids, and ending a war that is killing US men and women, thousands of Iraqis, stretching our military to breaking point and undermining our security.

Rudy, Romney Pray For Acceptance From Religious Right

In a speech before 2,000 "Value Voters" today, Rudy Giuliani decided to cherry-pick from his past instead of entirely ignoring it. Giuliani's decision to draw upon his time as New York Mayor had some success though it was a less crowd-pleasing approach than Mitt Romney, who last night gave little indication he used to be Massachusetts Governor.

The usually bellicose Giuliani spoke in soothing, conciliatory tones to an audience that vehemently disagrees with his pro-choice, gay-rights positions. "We don't lose trust with our political leaders when they're not perfect," Giuliani reasoned. "We lose trust when they're dishonest." And he gave a long explanation of Christianity as a "religion of inclusion."

The characterization was met with silence. Giuliani failed to get the crowd going until he recalled kicking out pornographers in Times Square. Indeed, Giuliani's speech seemed to reveal more about the narrow set of issues of deep importance to summit attendees than the candidate himself. Conservative but not explicitly Christian conservative subjects like welfare reform and law enforcement were met with just polite applause.

Even Giuliani's familiar references to 9/11 and Reagan did not appear to fully satiate the appetite of values voters, though he can't be accused of not trying. "Our goal in the overall terrorists war on us is the same goal that Ronald Reagan had for the Cold War," Giuliani prefaced, before quoting Reagan: "'They lose, we win'"

Romney played better to the crowd. He won over the audience with lines like, "what takes place in your house is more important than what happens in the White House." But "your house," Romney solemnly warned, is under threat by the "modern plague of internet pornography" which the candidate would deal with by giving internet pornographers long prison sentences and "an ankle bracelet if they ever got out."

Romney spoke of broad cultural conservative values and only mentioned his specific religion in passing. "I imagine one or two of you have heard I'm Mormon," he quipped, before giving another paean to American exceptionalism. Romney's pandering may have gotten more applause lines, but Giuliani's speech hardly bombed and he was more consistent with past behavior and rhetoric. In the long run, Rudy may be closer to discovering how to please voters with, and without, values.

Moyers/Scahill Expose Blackwater

Tonight, October 19, at 9:00pm (EST) on PBS, Bill Moyers will interview Nation Institute Fellow Jeremy Scahill, author of the national bestseller Blackwater (Nation Books) on the implications of the use of private contractors to fight alongside the US military in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. Scahill will also discuss the media's response to the recent charm offensive by Erik Prince, the Founder and CEO of Blackwater, who has been accorded extremely generous TV coverage of late, especially on the Charlie Rose Show and Sixty Minutes.

The show will be re-broadcast on Sunday, October 21 at 7PM (EST). Check the website for Bill Moyer's Journal for more info. Scahill, more any one other individual, has been responsible for raising awareness of the dramatic role of private security contractors in Iraq and beyond. So read Scahill's reporting on Blackwater for The Nation and check out Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army for the back-story of the Bush Administration's Praetorian Guard for the war on terror.

One of the major issues relating to contractors like Blackwater is that their employees remain currently out of the reach of both Iraqi and US law. So they truly operate with impunity. In response to this absurd immunity and the recent violent outbursts by Blackwater contractors in Iraq, the House has overwhelmingly passed a bill that would put contractors hired for overseas missions under the jurisdiction of US law. Now the Senate will vote on the bill. The new progressive social-networking site, Change.org, has put out an alert urging people to implore their Senators to vote in favor of accountability for contractors.

Passage of the bill would improve the situation but at a possibly dangerous cost--that of institutionalizing the use of private military contractors in US conflicts. But I view the bill as a useful band-aid, a first step, and one that may help underscore the dangers of privatizing war.

Click here if you want to contact your Senator on this issue and use the comments fields below to let us know how you feel about these Congressional efforts to impose accountability on private military contractors.

Hillary's Chinatown Express

The Los Angeles Times ran an eyebrow-raising story this morning about how Hillary Clinton is raising money from a highly unlikely source: New York's Chinatown.

"Dishwashers, waiters and others whose jobs and dilapidated home addresses seem to make them unpromising targets for political fundraisers are pouring $1,000 and $2,000 contributions into Clinton's campaign treasury," the paper reports. "In April, a single fundraiser in an area long known for its gritty urban poverty yielded a whopping $380,000."

According to the article, powerful Chinese neighborhood associations pushed residents to donate to the Clinton camp. The source of many of these donations remains a mystery.


The Times examined the cases of more than 150 donors who provided checks to Clinton after fundraising events geared to the Chinese community. One-third of those donors could not be found using property, telephone or business records. Most have not registered to vote, according to public records.



Several dozen were described in financial reports as holding jobs -- including dishwasher, server or chef--that would normally make it difficult to donate amounts ranging from $500 to the legal maximum of $2,300 per election.


The Clinton campaign's response hardly puts the matter to rest. "In this instance, our own compliance process flagged a number of questionable donations and took the appropriate steps to be sure they were legally given," said Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson. "In cases where we couldn't confirm that, the money was returned."

The Edwards campaign was swift to react. "Clinton campaign contributions are raising eyebrows again," said Edward campaign manager David Bonior. "Many of their donors are not even registered to vote, and at least one denied even making any contribution at all."

The article--and the Clinton reaction--raises more questions than answers. Did officials in Chinatown invent the names and identities of campaign donors? If so, why? How involved was Chung Seto, Clinton's liaison to the Asian community and a former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party? How did the Clinton campaign verify the source of these donations? How many potentially illegal donations were eventually returned?

"[Expletive] the Jews. They Didn't Vote for Us Anyway"

Has George Bush ever been to a bar mitzvah or eaten a blintz? Rudy Giuliani has -- dozens of times.

The Bush family has been never been very popular with Jews, but Giuliani won a big majority of the Jewish vote, in the world's biggest Jewish city, both times he ran for mayor. He's the Republican front runner; if he wins the nomination, could the Republican relationship to Jewish voters be transformed? That question lurked in the background when Giuliani and other GOP candidates spoke earlier this week in Washington at a forum sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The traditional Republican stance was expressed eloquently back in 1992, when James Baker, at the time Secretary of State to President George H. W. Bush, said "[Expletive] the Jews. They didn't vote for us anyway."

Baker had his facts right: Bush Senior got only 11 per cent of the Jewish vote that year. Bill Clinton got about 80 per cent of the Jewish vote in both 1992 and 1996. Al Gore got the same in 2000. Even John Kerry got 76 of the Jewish vote in 2004.

But could that pattern change if Giuliani is the candidate in 2008? He got two-thirds of the Jewish vote in New York City when he ran against Democratic David Dinkins. He got three-quarters of the Jewish vote when he ran for reelection against Ruth Messinger, herself Jewish.

The Bush family was always more pro-Arab, especially pro-Saudi, than they were pro-Israel. Back in 1992, Baker was arguing for a tougher policy with Israel, pressing them to settle with the Palestinians. He reiterated that position last year in the Baker-Hamilton report, also known as the Iraq Study Group report, which argued we could weaken the appeal of Islamic terrorism by creating a viable Palestinian state, returning the Golan Heights to Syria, and negotiating with Iran.

Rudy is emphatically not that kind of Republican. He made that perfectly clear in his pitch at the Republican Jewish Coalition. As Maureen Dowd reported in the New York Times, he reminded listeners that he refused to accept a $10 million check for 9/11 families from the Saudi prince who urged America to "adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause." He reminded listeners that he threw Yasser Arafat out of a Lincoln Center concert held in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

Giuliani's pitch to Jews is all about Israel. "If I'm president," he said this week, "I'm not going to let any man destroy Israel"--just in case you were wondering about that. He draws an analogy between the situation in Iraq and Gaza: if we pull out of Iraq, he says, Iraq will end up looking like Gaza after the Israelis pulled out. It will become another base for terrorists – but one that is much bigger. And of course he talks about Hitler: "If Europe had confronted Hitler at an earlier stage," he said, "there would have been millions and millions of lives saved." That's why he would refuse to negotiate with today's Hitler, located in Iran.

Nevertheless it's unlikely that any Republican candidate, even Giuliani, will win Jewish votes away from the Democrats because of their positions on Israel. First of all, the Democratic candidate will be 100 per cent "pro-Israel" (meaning they support the parties on the Israeli right).

Secondly, only a handful of Jews vote on the basis of candidates' "support for Israel." "Jewish voters look like other voters with high levels of education," says Ira Foreman, co-editor of Jews in American Politics, writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz. The main difference is that they are more liberal: "Jews place more emphasis on civil liberties than their non-Jewish counterparts. Jews support abortion rights at higher levels than other Americans. Jews support the concept of separation of church and state. Jews support gay marriage and civil unions at higher levels than non-Jews."

Finally, when Giuliani won those Jewish majorities in New York City, the city was in a steep economic decline, the South Bronx was burning, the crack epidemic seemed unstoppable. Rudy's tough-guy stance worked in that context, but the country has different concerns today. In 2008, the great majority of Jews once again will vote for the Democrat, even if the Republican is Rudy.

An Assault on Media Diversity and Democracy

President Bush is the lamest of lame-duck chief executives, with no moral authority, no legislative majority and no popular domestic or foreign-policy agendas. So what can he do with the remaining months of a failed presidency? Make his corporate allies rich and destroy the essential underpinnings of American democracy.

To that end, Bush's chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has initiated a scheme to radically rewrite media ownership rules so that one corporation can own the daily newspapers, the weekly "alternative" newspaper, the city magazine, suburban publications, the eight largest radio stations, the dominant broadcast and cable television stations, popular internet news and calendar sites, billboards and concert halls in even the largest American city.

This "company-town" scheme, which would be achieved by lifting current limits on media cross-ownership, is the long-held dream of media moguls such as NewsCorp's Rupert Murdoch and Tribune Company-buyer Sam Zell. With one FCC vote, media billionaires will be able to become media multi-billionaires by controlling the entire communications landscapes of major metropolitan areas -- and by extension whole regions and states.

The mogul's dream is the citizen's nightmare. With this rewrite of the rules, local, state and national democratic processes would be run through the wringer of media monopolies designed to reap massive profits - while comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted in a manner that maintains the political and economic status quo. Basic liberties -- freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom to petition for the redress of grievances -- would exist largely within boundaries established and policied by local media managers.

It's an Orwellian scenario that the American people rejected overwhelming in George Bush's first term, when three millions citizens and activist groups of the left and right united to oppose a similar set of rule changes proposed by Martin and then-FCC chair Michael Powell in 2003. The public outcry influenced an intervention by the federal courts that thwarted the hopes of the Bush Administration to deliver on a big promise to big-media owners.

Now, the FCC is attempting in these waning days of the Bush era to meet the demands of its big-media allies. And Martin, an ambitious Republican who hopes to satisfy media corporations sufficiently to secure the campaign money he will need to launch a political career in his native North Carolina, is more sly than Powell. He's trying to rewrite the rules quickly and quietly.

Only this week, in the course of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, was it revealed that the FCC chair plans to have the committee vote on his radical rule changes before Christmas. Martin has the votes, as he and two other Republican members of the FCC form a majority that can defeat the committee's two dissident Democrats, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

Only popular and official outcry, of the sort heard in 2003, will stop the Bush Administration from delivering for big media. And Martin's plan is to move so rapidly that there is no time for serious scrutiny of the implications of the rule changes, and, of course, no time for the opposition to organize.

An official facade of proper procedures will be attached to the administration's radical assault on media diversity and local democracy. But whatever hearings and studies may be rushed out in the coming weeks by an FCC establishment that already has been revealed as determined to game the process will be nothing more than window dressing. As Mark Cooper, the veteran director of research at Consumer Federation of America, says of Martin: "The chairman has already decided what rule changes he wants to make -- he is just going through the motions. The FCC hasn't even received all of the public comment in this proceeding, and Martin is already scheduling a vote."

What will stop Martin and Murdoch? The right signals from Capitol Hill must be sent. And they are starting to come. Two key senators, North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan and Mississippi Republican Trent Lott, have written Martin and other FCC members, declaring that, "We do not believe the Commission has adequately studied the impact of media consolidation. The FCC should not rush forward and repeat mistakes of the past. The Commission is under considerable scrutiny with this proceeding. We strongly encourage you to slow down and proceed with caution."

That's the necessary message. But it must be amplified -- in Congress and in the communities across America that will become media "company towns" if Kevin Martin, George Bush and Rupert Murdoch get their way.

Peace Action: In for the Long Haul

If you've been around a long time, as The Nation has (142 years of troublemaking and peacemaking), you know who your friends are. That's why, this week, we celebrate our longtime ally, Peace Action.

For fifty years, since Peace Action's founding, the two of us have shared a commitment to peace and democratic values and provided a home for the expression of dissent in perilous times. Nation editors and staffers marched along (proudly carrying the magazine's banner) with Peace Action and other antinuclear activists in the huge nuclear Freeze campaign demonstration in Central Park 25 years ago. Peace and disarmament correspondent Jonathan Schell's special 1998 issue – like Peace Action's work – gave voice to the continuing need and struggle for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

And this coming week, I am proud to be one of five "Women Peace Makers" – along with Yoko Ono, Cindy Sheehan, Colonel Ann Wright and Vinie Burrows – who will be honored by Peace Action at its 50th anniversary celebration in Harlem. Longtime Nation friend Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal for Peace, will also receive the William Sloane Coffin Jr. Peacemaker Award – named for a man who was not only a central figure in the history of Peace Action, but a tireless advocate for peace, love and justice.

Peace Action was originally founded as SANE, fifty years ago, with a full-page ad in the New York Times signed by 48 prominent Americans including Norman Cousins, Cleveland Amory, John Hersey, Lewis Mumford, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Paul Tillich. The copy was mostly written by Cousins, editor of the Saturday Morning Review, under a headline reading, "We Are Facing a Danger Unlike Any Danger That Has Ever Existed." It called for the immediate suspension of nuclear testing by all nations and noted that there were already enough nuclear weapons to wipe out the entire human race. The signatories urged a commitment to "the human community" that went well beyond the limits of traditional nation-state interests.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Glen Harold Stassen and Lawrence S. Wittner have edited Peace Action: Past, Present, and Future – a collection of essays written by many of the courageous men and women who led the group and whom Schell described in a recent exchange in The Nation as "remain[ing] faithful and active in a cause in the lean years as well as the fat." Homer Jack, one of the founders of SANE, recalls in Peace Action, "Almost overnight, the ad created SANE groups in 15 major cities and informal ones in 41 others." Within about six months there were 130 chapters and 25,000 members holding church meetings, house meetings, rallies, letter-writing and lobbying Congress. But perhaps no one made SANE more visible in the early years than Dr. Benjamin Spock, the world-renowned baby doctor.

After resisting a public stand on the nuclear issue, Spock was persuaded by a letter from Jack, who was a practicing minister. Jack suggested that Spock was in a position similar to that of Albert Einstein, who eventually decided to speak out on issues of human suffering because he knew "he could command public attention" and "he was not afraid, if necessary, to stake his reputation…." Spock joined as a national sponsor of SANE and on April 16, 1962, the most famous ad in Peace Action history ran in the New York Times. The headline read "Dr. Spock is Worried," with a photo of Spock in a business suit looking down concerned over a child at play. Spock drafted the copy of the ad as a response to President Kennedy's resumption of nuclear testing, and his words still ring true today: "Some citizens would leave all the thinking to the government. They forget the catastrophic blunders that governments have made throughout history…. They scorn those who believe in a just cause…. In a moral issue, I believe that every citizen has not only the right but the responsibility to make his own feelings known and felt."

Jack writes, "By June, the public was so wrought up over nuclear testing… that columnist Drew Pearson wrote that President Kennedy's resumption of testing was the most unpopular thing he had ever done.... Dr. Spock's public appeal… must be regarded as a turning point in awakening the conscience of the world to the effects of nuclear testing and the imperative of ending the arms race."

Kennedy then solicited the help of SANE's own Cousins to assure Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev that the president was sincere in his desire for a test ban treaty. In June 1963, Kennedy delivered his famous speech at American University – partially written by Cousins – that announced new test ban negotiations. That same summer the US, British, and Soviet governments signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, banning tests in the atmosphere, space, and underwater. Wittner writes that Kennedy administration officials would later recognize the "key roles" played by SANE and Cousins in reaching this first nuclear arms control treaty.

It was a great and early victory for a grassroots movement that called out the insanity of the arms race. Over the years the organization would broaden, not only through its merger with the Freeze campaign to create SANE/Freeze – which strengthened the antinuclear movement and as Schell wrote "powerfully undercut public support for Reagan's nuclear buildup" – but as Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair, Representative Barbara Lee, notes in a spirited introduction to Peace Action, "…the organization… was able to harness people's spirit and idealism and the incredible disgust with certain US policies – whether with the war in Vietnam, nuclear proliferation, arms sales, Pentagon pork, or the war in Iraq – and channel it, not simply into acts of protest, but into effective action geared toward changing the way our government works by involving people in the process."

The interest in the peace movement over these 50 years has had a distinct ebb and flow. With President Reagan's militarist agenda and talk of nuclear war, SANE membership exceeded 100,000 and its weekly radio show, Consider the Alternatives, ran on 140 stations. The one million-person demonstration in Central Park – "Freeze the Arms Race--Fund Human Needs" – was the biggest political demonstration in American history. And with William Sloane Coffin Jr. at the helm, the SANE/Freeze merger in 1987 resulted in a membership of more than 200,000 members with chapters across the nation. In contrast, membership declined after the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the Vietnam War, and at the end of the Cold War. As Schell pointed out, "The end of the cold war, seemingly the greatest opportunity to lift nuclear danger since 1946, was wasted. Instead, the whole issue fell into a shocking state of neglect, as if people believed that a mortal illness could be dealt with by forgetting about it."

But if George W. Bush has achieved little else, he has unwittingly demonstrated to the public why we need a vibrant and vigilant peace movement to chart sane alternatives. With his administration's shredding of long negotiated bipartisan arms control agreements, including withdrawal from the ABM treaty; the deploying of a national missile defense system (Bush's Star Wars); blocking treaties on biological and chemical weapons; refusing to support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the treaty to ban land mines; unilaterally invading and occupying Iraq under false or manufactured pretenses; halting nuclear disarmament talks and supporting the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons. All in all, the Bush administration's unilateral militarism and new arms race has been a disaster for world peace. As Schell summarized, "The nuclear danger is ripe and overripe for public rediscovery, which has in fact already begun."

Signs of that rediscovery are clear as Peace Action celebrates its 50th anniversary with a membership that has once again reached 100,000; a Student Peace Action Network that brings antiwar activism to campuses across the nation; a Campaign for a New Foreign Policy based on supporting human rights and democracy, reducing the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and cooperating with the world community. Perhaps The Reverend Dr. Andrea Ayvazian – who helped forge the merger of SANE and Freeze – put it best in writing in Peace Action, "Although movements are full of eager activists who want to see significant, permanent change happen quickly, we must remember that real social change takes decades. If we… remember the years that movements from the 19th and 20th centuries struggled until they achieved their goals, we can settle in for the long haul…."

There is no doubt Peace Action is in this fight for the long haul, and we are a better Nation and nation for it.

Stop the FCC's Gift to Big Media Conglomerates

"This is a big deal because we have way too much concentration of media ownership in the United States," Senator Byron Dorgan (ND, Dem.) said at a hearing on Wednesday. "If the [FCC] chairman intends to do something by the end of the year," Dorgan boomed, " then there will be a firestorm of protest and I'm going to be carrying the wood."

In 2003, millions of people--across partisan lines--from the NRA to CodePink stood tall to reclaim the airwaves for democracy--telling Congress and the FCC that they did not want to live in informational company towns where one media conglomerate might own all the media. The backlash hit the FCC like a tidal wave--and it seemed, for once, that the forces of democracy and diversity were winning. It is that force that needs to recreate itself--and grow in this perilous period--in order to stop the FCC's anti-democratic and destructive step.

Good citizens are not alone. They have, in FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a stalwart ally who has stated his adamant opposition to this move. In a letter published in the Washington Post last month, Copps wrote eloquently of the importance of fighting media consolidation in the context of media minority ownership and, specifically, how it related to the Jena 6 case. Referring to Eugene Robinson's invaluable column, "Drive Time for the Jena 6," which rightly concluded that black radio hosts played a vital role in bringing attention to what happened in Jena, La., Copps write that "these radio hosts are to be commended. But I worry, " he added, " that as the media grow ever more consolidated, they are doing less and less to serve people of color.

He went on: "Last week in Chicago, I heard passionate testimony during an eight-hour Federal Communications Commission hearing on minority media ownership. Many people of color are tired of big media ignoring their concerns, distorting their contributions to society and caricaturing them as individuals. One reason is the lack of minority media onwership. A Free Press study says that while racial and ethnic minorities are more than 30 percent of the US population, they own just 3.26 percent of all commerical broadcast television stations and 7.7 percent of full -power radio stations, This is a national disgrace." Copps is right. Instead of the FCC allowing huge media conglomerates to grow even bigger--which this deregulatory step would lead to--it should act on proposals to increase minority ownership.

Privatizing a Cut of the Public Sector

The privatization of the federal government during the Bush administration has snowballed to the point that the work of private contractors is evaluated by other private contractors. A report released today by the Government Accountability Office shows that the Department of Homeland Security [DHS], for example, is contracting out what GAO official John Hutton calls "inherently government functions" such as deciding the Department's policies and regulations and monitoring its effectiveness.

But according to Senate testimony by Hutton and Steven Schooner, the Co-Director of the Government Procurement Law Program at George Washington University, the Department of Homeland Security is not the only case of a privatized public sector. "The government currently has no short-term choice but to rely upon contractors for every conceivable task that it is understaffed to fulfill," Schooner told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

These tasks, Schooner said, vary from Hairston Construction building the houses for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina to Blackwater patrolling Iraq. Schooner argued that either there has to be a "massive expansion of the federal workforce or we constrain the very ambitions of government." Committee chair Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said Schooner's testimony was on the money. He then gave his own examples of contracting waste and fraud in the U.S. Air Forces like having the contractor Commonwealth Research Institute arrange a no-show job for a senior officer.

Maine Republican Susan Collins added that government needs to stop "awarding, huge non-competitive contracts every time a disaster strikes."

Government's independent watchdog group, a private contracting expert and two centrist Senators say contracting has spiraled out of control and harmed government competence. But do the agencies themselves defend what they're doing?

Not really. Elaine Duke, the Chief Procurement Officer at DHS, said she generally agreed with the GAO's damning report. Duke admitted to Collins that handing out no-bid contracts to deal with post-Katrina housing and then immediately extending those contracts was a mistake. And she promised to reduce the percent of no-bid contracts the agency gives to zero. It is currently 35 percent.

But the hearing made clear that the government lacks the money or political will to reverse the privatizing trend accelerated by the Bush administration. At some point, Schooner argued, Congress needs to do more than grill the DHS. "Congress has been quick to get more GAO and Inspector General reports," he said. "They need to devote more resources to hire civil servants."

Schooner predicted this will only happen when Congress and the public give contractors the same bad rap they give "big government." Such a development could be well on its way.