Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Government by flim-flammery

When a hurricane comes, you need to watch out for the snakes after it goes.

They'll be all over, displaced by the storm and by rising water. Usually, folks are careful around tarps or piles of debris, because you never know when you're going to grab hold of a cottonmouth, copperhead or water moccasin -- or, more accurately, when one's going to grab hold of you.

After Hurricane Katrina, at least one Army three-star added the Louisiana capitol to his list of reptilian hiding places.

One day in late September 2005, Lt. Gen Russel Honoré rang up Gov. Kathleen Blanco. The plan was to tell her his men had restored New Orleans' Charity Hospital to working order.

THE PLAN was to get the city's biggest hospital back serving a city where precious little of anything still worked.

What Honoré didn't plan on was falling into a pit of vipers with a plan of its own -- to shake down the federal taxpayer for every possible penny. And now Honoré, retired a year and a half, has a plan of his own -- he's spilling his guts and yelling "rat" . . . uh, "snakes" to The Associated Press:
"'Ma'am, we got the hospital clean, my people report ... if you want to use it,'" Honore recalled telling Blanco. "Her reply to me: 'Well general, we're not going to open it, we're working on a different plan.'"

Honore's revelation raises questions of whether state officials used Katrina as an excuse to leverage federal financing for a new public hospital.

It comes as state and federal officials continue squabbling over how badly the hospital was really damaged and how much federal recovery funding should be allocated to it.

The state wants $492 million for a new hospital to replace the Depression-era building as part of a proposed $1.2 billion medical complex. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has offered $150 million for repairs. The dispute is on appeal at FEMA headquarters.

Blanco said she could not remember the conversation with Honore. She said she didn't know the military had scrubbed Charity until she was contacted by the AP.

But she said Honore's comments struck her as out of context. "I would not have made that statement because I would not have the first idea of having other plans for Charity at that moment," Blanco said.

Honore suggested that money, not medical judgment, was at the heart of the decision.

"This is about business, man," Honore said. "This is about rich people making more money. This is not about providing health care."
AND WHILE LOUISIANA shuttered a perfectly functional teaching hospital and world-class trauma center, FEMA and doctors were stuck trying to turn an abandoned downtown shopping mall into an emergency room. Private hospitals were stuck with a tidal wave of sick, uninsured, poor people.

A city is stuck to this day with a critcal lack of health-care facilities.

One "reform" governor later, Louisianians are stuck -- still -- with the same ol' same ol', complete with all the pathologies and deprivations stemming from that deviant status quo.

And President Obama is stuck dealing with his own private Chechnya . . . a thinly veiled criminal enterprise on his southern flank masquerading as a governmental subdivision. Obama to Putin in Moscow last week: "So, Vlad, how did you squash the bastards again?"

HONORÉ, however, isn't the Army's only star-studded squealer. Gen. William Caldwell of the 82nd Airborne Division had something to tell the AP, too:

About 150 soldiers and a team of medical professionals worked to get the hospital running, Caldwell said.

Meanwhile, a German military team's pumps sucked water out of the basement. Air sampling found no contamination — a concern, considering the flooding and bodies in the flooded morgue, Caldwell said.

Caldwell recalled telling Honore the hospital was nearly ready to receive patients. "We were actually thinking of having a ribbon-cutting ceremony, give a thumbs up and turn it over to the health care professionals," Caldwell said.

But then, Caldwell said a decision came to stop the cleanup.

Dr. James Moises, a former Charity emergency room doctor who helped clean the hospital after Katrina, said Charity was made usable, and the medical staff was eager to see it back in use.

Moises said state officials used Katrina as an excuse to close Charity and ask FEMA for the money to build a new medical complex. Moises said: "It was their orchestrated plan. It was, 'How can we manipulate the disaster for institutional gains?'"
DAT'S LOOSIANA for you! Some of us were loathe to believe that our home state's pols, apparatchiks and business leaders could be that crooked in the wake of its greatest disaster ever.

Stupidly, we thought Charity really had been ruined, and that reopening it wasn't an option.

Naively, we thought that even Louisiana could resist using unspeakable tragedy as just another excuse for a shakedown -- an opportunity to trick unsuspecting American taxpayers into building geegaws to adorn its politicians' résumés.

We thought it was only right that the federal government rebuild what its flood-control negligence destroyed. And, indeed, the Army fixed Charity Hospital within a month.

It was good to go.

But that wasn't good enough for some in the Gret Stet. And officials were perfectly willing to let hapless New Orleanians die rather than go back what they had no problem using previously.

AND NOW Louisiana's new reform governor, Bobby Jindal, is happy to flim-flam the feds in the same manner as the unreformed Blanco.

In the face of state pols and hospital officials so vile -- a state so corrupted that it sacrifices its poor upon the altar of Greed as it seeks to pocket money from the collection plate -- the question suddenly isn't "How much do we pay Louisiana over Charity Hospital?"

Instead, the question Barack Obama and FEMA ought to be asking themselves is "What would Putin do?"

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