Hurricane Katrina and Davis-Bacon Profiteering

by DAVID PRICE

President Bush stands confused and silent as his geographical base is first hammered by forces of unbridled nature, and then more brutally abused by those corporate profiteers who will emerge to lay claim to the devastated regions’ rebuilding. While the revocation of the Davis-Bacon Act conveniently limits the meager wages of devastated construction workers, we hear nothing about limiting the corporate profits to be made by these disasters.

The timidity of the Democrats is not surprising given their post-Lakoffian commitment to constructing their own Orwellian linguistic frames to counter Republican advances in bold dishonesty. Its too bad they are content to wage slogan wars without substance, because if America had an opposition party, it could rise in power by whipping-up some political outrage over the post-storm unrestrained profiteering for developers and re-building financiers, while local workers’ wages are legally set at substandard levels.

Forget about Kansas. The corruption trailing Katrina and Rita could make Florida, Louisiana, costal Texas and chunks of the southern heartland up for grabs to politicians willing to challenge the corporate strategies that will commodify human misery. But don’t get your hopes up, first we’d need a party interested in supporting workers with more than words.

Any politician interested in class warfare is being handed some pretty easy pickings. Those looking for safe poses could even hearken back to the glories of our past world wars, where beloved presidents castigated those who would profit from American suffering. Even before America entered into the Second World War, President Roosevelt declared that he did not "want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster," and Senator Truman described war profiteering as "treason." It should be easy to convert these sentiments to the current disasters. But today Democratic leaders wait patiently while Bush stammers in confusion, declares a national day of prayer, then acts like a Walmart Manager hurrying to cut workers wages. There is silence concerning the millionaires who will be created by this world disaster.

America must expand discussions of reconstruction cost-limits beyond those of laborers and look to past crises efforts to limit the profits of owners, not workers. Politicians should look beyond the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act, back to the 1917 establishment of the United States General Munitions Board as it limited profits to be made by the American armament industry during the First World War. The Munitions Board, with some success (and some failures) limited the greed and profits to be made by human misery by limiting wartime profits to the modest limit of "cost-plus-ten-percent."

While the First World War cost-plus wartime schemes, and those that followed in the Second World War had some significant problems (most notably involving tax relief schemes and inflated costs) they did limit cost overruns and succeeded in swelling workers wages at record rates. During World War II, federal cost-plus profiteering programs did not wholly eliminate price gouging, but they did limit the extent of war profiteering while simultaneously raising workers’ wages-for obvious reasons given owners’ new motivations to increase costs.

But Democrats and Republicans alike remain loyal to their corporate base, and the risks of changing loyalties from management to workers all but guarantee that no politician will seriously focus (even for purely partisan purposes) on Bush’s suspension of Davis-Bacon as an act of contempt for the working peoples whose lives have been devastated by the storm, and the economic prospects to follow.

DAVID PRICE teaches anthropology at St. Martin’s University in Olympia, Washington. He is the author of Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists (Duke, 2004). His next book is entitled: Weaponizing Anthropology: American Anthropology and the Second World War. He can be reached at: dprice@stmartin.edu



















CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled "A Saudiless Arabia" by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the "Article"), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the "Website").

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005



 

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