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Some Jokes Are Too True To Be Funny

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on May 17th, 2006

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson may think he's Steven Colbert, but his blunt brand of "humor" is a little too, er, observational for a laugh.

The secretary was at a forum in Dallas earlier this month and told this hilarious story of an advertising contractor who had just been selected to receive a contract from HUD:

"He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years. He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'

"I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary.'

"He didn't get the contract. Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

Jackson later said the conversation had never happened, that it was a joke, and that political leanings do not figure into the contract award system. Qualifications and competitiveness of bids are the only criteria, he insists.

He needs to work on his delivery.

Damn the Hurricane - Full Lobbying Ahead!

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on May 10th, 2006

More emails to and from former FEMA heavy Michael "Brownie" brown have emerged from the week of Hurricane Katrina's landfall, illustrating just how much non-Katrina business was going down as Brown fluffed his hair and the devil bore down on New Orleans. We checked out The Center for Public Integrity's analysis ...

Among the missives was one -- hours after the hurricane made landfall -- from former Arkansas Senator Tim Hutchinson, brother of GOP Congressional power-broker Asa Hutchinson. It said:

"I am certain you are overwhelmed by the situation regarding Hurricane Katrina. I apologize for bothering you at this critical time and for going directly to you about this," wrote former Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) "I would very much appreciate being able to bring the President of Blu-Med Response Systems, Gerritt Boyle, in to meet with you as soon as your schedule permits."

While Blu-Med indeed supplies emergency health facilities and might have been of use in the immediate crisis, that was not what this urgent meeting was about. It was, instead, scheduled to be a face-to-face whine about the fact one of Blu-Med's competitors had won a non-Katrina contract Blu-Med itself had wanted, and they were using their friendly ties with Hutchinson to push the issue.

How Bush Rolled Back Mine Safety

Posted by CorpWatch on January 6th, 2006

With the same logic that dictates that logging is good for trees, the 5 years of the Bush Administration has rolled back regulations on mine safety at the bidding of mining corporations.

The head of the Mining Healthy and Safety Administration is himself a former mining executive. A New York Times article in August 2004 noted:

In all, the mine safety agency has rescinded more than a half-dozen proposals intended to make coal miners' jobs safer, including steps to limit miners' exposure to toxic chemicals. One rule pushed by the agency would make it easier for companies to use diesel generators underground, which miners say could increase the risk of fire.

The policy of the Bush Administration from the first has been to kowtow to energy interests, allowing them to tinker with the nation's energy policy, labor codes, and environmental protections in exchange for huge financial contributions to campaign coffers. Only today, in the wake of the Sago mine tragedy, we see how such policies can actually kill. And to think that West Virginia is a blood red state; perhaps not for long.

Bechtel Fox in the Nuclear Henhouse

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on December 22nd, 2005

The news today that the federal government had awarded the Los Alamos National Laboratory to the UC-Bechtel team should give us all pause.

After all, as CorpWatch noted when Bechtel was amassing huge no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq (see "Profiting From Destruction"), the company's record with nukes is not exactly sparkling:

San Onofre, California, has a 950-ton radioactive problem: a nuclear reactor built by Bechtel that nobody wants. The unit was shut down over a decade ago in 1992 by its owners, Southern California Edison, who preferred not to spend $125 million in required safety upgrades.

The only place that will accept the reactor is a dump in South Carolina but railway officials refused to transport the cargo across the country. The next suggestion was to ship it via the Panama Canal but the canal operators said no. So did the government of Chile when the power plant owners asked for permission to take it around the Cape of Good Hope.

The only option left is to ship it all the way around the world, although even that is looking unlikely as harbor officials in Charleston, South Carolina, are already suggesting that they may deny the reactor entry. Edison officials are currently desperately looking for a port that might accept the toxic cargo before the dump shuts its doors in 2008. [...]

The local environmental costs continue to mount every day as the plant sucks in huge quantities of plankton, fish and even seals with the water to cool the reactors. It is destroying miles of kelp on the seabed by discharging water that is 25 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than ocean temperature, according to Mark Massara, director of the Sierra Club's coastal program. [...]

Several former employees at the plant who have developed cancer have also sued Bechtel and plant owner Southern California Edison for exposure to radiation. It's a story that has become depressingly familiar for dozens of communities living downwind from nuclear plants that are seeing alarming increases in cancer.

Bechtel was also the contractor responsible for the biggest construction boondoggle in American history: Boston's Big Dig. Errors by Bechtel in planning and execution lead to massive cost overruns. As the Boston Globe observed at the time, "Yet, even as Bechtel's errors helped drive up the Big Dig's cost, the company never paid for any of its mistakes. Instead, it profited."

Is this really the kind of company we want watching over the most sensitive and dangerous of projects?

While the award of the Los Alamos contract to UC and Bechtel surprised some, the company's long record of coziness with those in high government places even outpaces its rival for the contract, Lockheed Martin (which was to partner with the University of Texas to run the lab).

The Presidential Pipeline

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on December 21st, 2005
CorpWatch Blog

The Pultizer Prize-winning and yet still oddly underappreciated Toledo Blade ran a penetrating series this week on how specific Bush fundraisers have seen their investments in the cadidate reap profitable policies. It's worth a read as a primer on exactly how corporate executives and lobbyists buy influence legally ... and sometimes not-so-legally.

For example, Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim is chairman of Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride, the country's second biggest poultry processor, and a Bush "Pioneer" (meaning he has raised over $100,000 for Bush. He freely admits he asked the president directly for a favor in 2002. And quite a favor it was: Pilgrim asked Bush to speak to Russian president Vladimir Putin about dropping that country's ban on chickens imported from the United States. Shortly thereafter, Russia opened its markets to American chickens. Pilgrim's company has also collected $60 million in federal monies since Bush took office for selling his birds to the Department of Agriculture.

And then there's MBNA, the massive credit-card company which eclipsed Enron last year as the largest corporate patron of Bush's entire political career. The company regularly let the Bush campaign use its corporate jet. It was MBNA's generosity in Bush's campaigns that may have persuaded the president to push through a revamping of the nation's personal bankruptcy laws. The result: $380 million a year annually toward MBNA's bottom line. (See CorpWatch coverage of MBNA here.)

Read the whole series:

  1. Presidential Pipeline: Bush's Top Fund-Raisers See Spoils of Victory
  2. Presidential Pipeline: Bush Money Network Rooted in Florida, Texas
  3. Presidential Pipeline: Kerry Backers Still Feel Sting of Losing 2004 Presidential Contest

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