Corporate America Divvies Up The Post-Saddam Spoils

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 economy.

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 Marshall Plan for profit.

"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.

If you have questions or comments, contact Arianna at arianna@ariannaonline.com.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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