Bleeding hearts have been calling the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina a systemic failure of government at all levels. Actually, the “system”–at least the Washington sector of it– is up and running quite well, thank you. Like clockwork FEMA awarded cleanup contracts to the usual well-connected companies, including the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, both represented by former FEMA head Joe Allbaugh, a Bush pal. AshBritt, a Florida company tied to former GOP National Committee chair and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, scooped up trash removal contracts worth $568 million. The New York Times reports that of $1.5 billion in contracts awarded by FEMA thus far, 80 percent were no-bidders. On September 26 a Katrina Reconstruction Summit, held in the shadow of the Capitol, drew 200 lobbyists hungrily eying the $200 billion federal disaster prize. Congress has already cleared the way for maximum profits by suspending minimum-wage laws for construction work, handing out tax incentives and gutting environmental regulations. On the charity front, FEMA announced it will directly reimburse churches for Katrina and Rita relief efforts, and the Red Cross said it needs to raise another $1 billion to cover added costs. And the FDA did a bang-up job protecting our shores against mad cow disease by confiscating millions’ worth of British Army MREs, donated to feed evacuees, saying they violated import regulations.


On March 17, 2003, four Catholic peace activists left smears of their blood in the vestibule of an Army recruiting center near Ithaca, New York. The Justice Department tried to slap them with a charge of “conspiracy to impede by force, intimidation and threat” an officer of the US Army, a felony carrying a possible six-year prison term, along with several misdemeanor charges. On September 26 a jury acquitted them of the felony rap–a victory (see Peter Rothberg, “Act Now”).