Oil and Water: Life in the Bush Imperium

Two stories, same front page of the New York Times, that tell you just about all you need to know about the priorities of American society under the Bush Imperium:

Royalty Plan to Give Windfall to Oil Companies
Hotel Aid Ends; Katrina Evacuees Seek Housing Again

From the oil story: The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years.

New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government.

Based on the administration figures, the government will give up more than $7 billion in payments between now and 2011. The companies are expected to get the largess, known as royalty relief, even though the administration assumes that oil prices will remain above $50 a barrel throughout that period….

[And now, the requisite Big Lie from the Bush Faction]: Administration officials say the issue is out of their hands, adding that they opposed provisions in last year's energy bill that added new royalty relief for deep drilling in shallow waters… But the Bush administration did not put up a big fight. It strongly supported the overall energy bill, and merely noted its opposition to additional royalty relief in its official statement on the bill.

By contrast, the White House bluntly promised to veto the Senate's $60 billion tax cut bill because it contained a one-year tax of $5 billion on profits of major oil companies…

[And then the actual main point of the piece, which the NYT has buried – literally – at the very bottom of a 1,700-word story, a sentence that in a normal world would have been blazing its truth like a signal-fire on the top of the story]: If that view prevails, the government said it would lose a total of nearly $35 billion in royalties to taxpayers by 2011 — about the same amount that Mr. Bush is proposing to cut from Medicare, Medicaid and child support enforcement programs over the same period. [End excerpt.]

Contrast the tender, loving care shown to the oil barons, who are now pocketing the largest profits in corporate history, to the situation of those who were displaced and dispossessed by Hurricane Katrina, and now must suffer the second storm – the disdainful, gale-force incompetence of the Bush Faction, whose "rebuilding" of New Orleans is showing eerie parallels to the "reconstruction" of Iraq: porkfests for the politically connected, shards and splinters for the poor.

From the story: Thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina became transients again on Monday, wheeling their entire lives onto the street on luggage carts or dragging bulging garbage bags through hotel lobbies, when the federal government stopped paying their hotel bills.

In the largest single step in its phaseout of emergency housing assistance for victims of the hurricane, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ended the hotel payments for 12,000 families across the country, including 4,400 now living in New Orleans…

But none of the two dozen or so evacuees losing their hotel benefits who were interviewed in New Orleans in the past two days had a permanent place to go. Even on FEMA's housing Web site, the pickings were slim — only five two-bedroom apartments in the New Orleans area met the agency's budget of less than $800 a month. Several that were listed had been rented long ago, according to the landlords, or would not be ready for weeks.

Mark Smith, the spokesman for the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said 15 families had already checked into an emergency shelter in Shreveport, a five-hour drive from New Orleans, and more than 100 people were on their way there.

"Evacuees shouldn't have to come up with a permanent housing plan," said Bryan Mauldin, president of From the Lake to the River, a FEMA watchdog group that aids victims of Hurricane Katrina. "They already have homes. They need the right to return to their homes. It is FEMA that needs a permanent housing plan…."

[And here's your compassionate conservatism in action]: Donna Lee, 44, said she had also taken an apartment in Houston, but on Christmas Eve someone knocked on the door. Her 28-year-old son, the one who had kicked a hole through the roof to pull her out of rising water in New Orleans East, answered it, and the caller fatally shot him. She returned to New Orleans to bury her son, bringing his children with her. "I just don't want to go back there," Ms. Lee said. But, she said, FEMA had denied her hotel extension. [Yes, isn't that just what Jesus would do?]

Gary Martin, who worked as a waiter for 27 years at the Fairmont Hotel, said his benefits had been denied because, he was told, someone else had used the same phone number as he did. He said he and another man had rented rooms in the same house before the storm. Mr. Martin said he could not seem to get the problem fixed. "I should go to Iraq or Afghanistan, so I could get some government money," he said.

Mr. Martin said that in a few weeks he would have earned enough doing asbestos removal to get an apartment without help from FEMA — he just needed some more time at the hotel. "I'm not asking for a handout," he said.

UPDATE: Not from the same paper [nor from the front page, alas], but another story from the same day too painfully characteristic of Bush's America to pass up: Bush Budget Would Cut Popular Health Programs.

The Bush Faction's naked, brutal contempt toward the well-being of ordinary Americans is truly breathtaking: they literally want to cut off your grandmother's defibrillator and let her die, just to give the crony class another $70 billion in tax breaks – and to goose the obscene, insane level of war-profiteering from the continuing bloodbath in Iraq.  Once again, the true priorities of this rapacious, ruthless gang of moral cretins stand exposed to the world. And once again, such exposure will not make a bit of difference: the media will report briefly, then move on; a few Democrats will bleat briefly, and do nothing; and millions of those whose own loved ones will endure genuine suffering from these cruel cuts will dutifully troop to the polls in 2006 and 2008 to vote for Faction front-men.

From the Washington Post: If enacted, the 2007 budget would eliminate federal programs that support inner-city Indian health clinics, defibrillators in rural areas, an educational campaign about Alzheimer's disease, centers for traumatic brain injuries, and a nationwide registry for Lou Gehrig's disease. It would cut close to $1 billion in health care grants to states and would kill the entire budget of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center.

In a $2.8 trillion budget, the amounts involved may seem minuscule, but proponents argue that the health care projects Bush has singled out are the "ultimate homeland security," as Vinay Nadkarni put it. The spokesman for the American Heart Association said he cannot fathom why the administration has recommended eliminating a $1.5 million program that provides defibrillators to rural communities and trains local personnel on how to use the machines to restart hearts that go into cardiac arrest.

"Coronary heart disease is the number one killer in the United States," Nadkarni said. "This is actually something we can arm ourselves with…"

The 2007 budget would terminate $12 million in state grants for community-based Alzheimer's care and a $1.6 million "Maintain Your Brain" campaign run out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, more than 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, a number expected to rise to 16 million by mid-century, said Stephen McConnell, vice president for public policy at the Alzheimer's Association.

"It costs Medicare three times as much to take care of somebody with Alzheimer's disease than not," he said. "If we could even just slow the progression of this disease, we could reduce the cost substantially…"

After failing last year, the White House is again attempting to eliminate $99 million in preventive health services grants begun under President Ronald Reagan. In recent years, Texas used the money for a cardiovascular program, Mississippi bought child safety seats for poor mothers, Colorado discovered an E. coli outbreak, and New York identified the first cases of West Nile virus, said George E. Hardy Jr., executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

"It's a small dollar amount -- $100 million is nothing in the federal budget -- but they are critical to a state's ability to meet unmet needs," he said. In virtually every case, states have data showing the projects saved lives and money.

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