Molly Ivins would just love this story: her fellow Texan and journalist, PBS’ Jim Lehrer, reported on the NewsHour that billions are missing in funds allocated for Iraq reconstruction. According to inspector general Stuart Bowen, one item among the rabbit holes this money fell into was one leading straight to—get this—an Olympic-sized swimming pool in Baghdad. I can’t figure out if Baghdad is the Emerald City, Wonderland, or a WETA creation.
How the hell can an Olympic-sized swimming pool be built in Iraq, while New Orleans has to wait for a rebuilt sewer system? Easy! Congress rubber-stamps the money for Dick Cheney’s pals at Halliburton et al., but doesn’t demand accountability. But then again, on further reflection, that big a pool could be a good thing. After all, the plumbing job in one rebuilt police station near Sadr City is so bad that raw sewage runs out of the pipes and onto the floors. You’ve got to have someplace for the new policemen to take a bath. Bowen says he’s got fifty-five inspectors on the ground to go after the fraudsters, but that sounds like an awfully small contingent. Why can’t he have more auditors?
The new equivalent to our FBI which was put into place in Iraq is failing to pursue corruption cases because they are absolutely overwhelmed. There’s simply so much of it that they don’t even know where to start, and who to go after first.
All of the infrastructure projects have suffered from continued hits by the insurgents. What’s the use of building electrical substations when they’re just going to be blown up? Baghdad still can’t get more than six hours worth of electricity per day. And we’ve spent billions on rebuilding Iraq? New Orleans and the entire northern Gulf Coast would LOVE to have half of what we spent in Iraq.
If we’d poured even half this much money into New Orleans, all the displaced could go home—to freshly remodeled or rebuilt houses and apartments. They could have had a jobs program, brand-new schools with brand-new textbooks and properly paid teachers. The hospitals could have been back up and functioning far faster they were. They could have had a real mass transit system. The police, fire and EMT departments could be fully re-equipped, with new state-of-the-art facilities, a new academy, and full mental health benefits to help these embattled professionals (many of whom suffer PTSD from the immediate aftermath of Katrina) regain their inner balance and be more effective at their jobs.
Every resident of the city could have had post-disaster therapy, and maybe, just maybe that would have forestalled the astronomical rise in the New Orleans suicide rate. And even more important than all that—New Orleans could, right now, be seeing a brand-new levee system taking shape, one that even the Dutch would find impressive.
But for me the most important reason for getting out is the thousands of service members—soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines—who are trapped in the middle of a civil war by the terms of their service. What are the odds that they will get the help they need after this is all over?
I went to the march around the Capitol on Jan. 27. I live in Pennsylvania, close enough to drive to the westernmost Metro station, ride in and then go home the same day. I wound up sitting near a young couple from New York City. The husband, who looked to be about my niece’s age, was wearing a gray T-shirt emblazoned with the legend ARMY. He told me he had served in Afghanistan, and then Iraq twice, in the 82nd Airborne. He didn’t have a problem with his service in Afghanistan, but he was so horrified by what he saw in Iraq that he left the Army. He was wounded physically, and suffers from PTSD. He’s not getting his group therapy from the VA, but from a civilian group. His sign read: “I went to Iraq and all I got was PTSD.”
That this young man could go to Mr. Bush’s war of revenge and not receive the care he needs from the government that sent him into that hell enrages me to the point of bitter laughter. Neither he nor his comrades-in-arms nor the embattled and exiled New Orleanians matter a damn to this administration. But their lives are not expendable, and if Messrs. Bush and Cheney just can’t get it, then Congress should just show them the door and make them head on down the road. And then Congress and a new president (dare I say President Pelosi?) should bring home our troops and make New Orleans livable again.