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Democrats' Top Priority: Stop the Looting

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When Democrats stop celebrating their victory in the mid-term elections and begin to consider their priorities for the 110th Congress, they need look no further than Iraq. The basic issues that plague Iraq-security, infrastructure, and governance-are the same that beset the United States. Due to a devastating combination of managerial ineptitude and ideological inflexibility, the Bush Administration has lost Iraq and severely damaged the US. They couldn't stop the looting there and refuse to stop the looting here. Shortly after American forces occupied Baghdad, on April 9, 2003, widespread pillaging broke out; the first indication the public got that things weren't going to be hunky dory in Iraq. When queried about our troops' failure to stop the looting, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld quipped: "democracy is messy." A remark intended to deflect attention from the fact that the Pentagon hadn't sent enough troops to handle the occupation. But also, a comment that revealed the grim ideology of the Bush Administration: Democracy-in the minds of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others in the White House inner circle-is synonymous with unbridled capitalism. They see the world as a battleground, where individuals engage in a vicious, winner-take-all struggle for existence. From this perspective, Democracy is indeed messy. And looting is a commonplace occurrence, an inevitable consequence of life on the edge of a violent frontier. As a consequence of their philosophy, the Bush Administration did nothing to stop the looting of Baghdad and other cities in Iraq. This shouldn't have surprised the American public; since 2000, the Administration encouraged the ravaging of America. Now it's time for Democrats to put an end to this looting. In both America and Iraq, Republican pillaging followed a pattern: it began with petroleum resources. Next, under the camouflage of "privatization," the Bush Administration gave lucrative contracts to Republican donors. Finally, the White House legalized despoiling the environment, as they consider the environment a free resource to be sold to the highest bidder. In April 2003, one of the only Iraqi public buildings to be guarded by American troops was the oil ministry. No surprise. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, "Iraq contains 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the second largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia)." A recent article described how the Bush Administration conspired with the big-four oil companies-Exxon-Mobile, Chevron-Texaco, BP-Amoco, and Royal Dutch-Shell-to control Iraq's oil. The same energy company executives that encouraged the Bush Administration to invade Iraq, and helped write the Iraqi constitution to ensure the United Stats would control Iraqi oil, were also involved in Dick Cheney's infamous energy task force. They've been favored with billions of dollars of oil subsidies. As a result, their companies enjoyed record profits. The invasion and occupation of Iraq gave the Bush Administration an opportunity to give their biggest supporters thousands of sole-source contracts: in July of 2004 Halliburton had Iraqi contracts worth $11,431,000,000. This war profiteering is documented in Robert Greenwald's Iraq For Sale. Now, the $22 Billion Congress allocated in 2003 has run out and less than half the authorized projects have been completed. "Huge amounts of funds were wasted because of bureaucracy, corruption, incapacity and the spending of money on unimportant projects," reported Ali Baban, planning minister in Iraq's six-month-old government. On August 3rd, the top auditor of the US reconstruction effort complained to Congress about the failed reconstruction. As a consequence, the Republican Congress eliminated the auditor and his Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The Bush Administration doesn't believe in the Federal government. Therefore, they've treated our treasury as an executive expense account, which they use to provide gifts for their supporters. The principal advisers to the Administration typically have been lobbyists: the President's chief environmental adviser was a lobbyist for the Chemical Manufacturers Association. It's not surprising that they've written legislation that favors corporate profits over the common good. What should the priorities of the new Democratic Congress be? First of all, they should publicize the widespread looting condoned by the Bush Administration. Then, they must hold Congressional hearings and press for criminal investigations by the Department of Justice. Third, they should take steps to limit the power of lobbyists over Congress. Last December, Democratic Representatives David Obey, Barney Frank, David Price, and Tom Allen introduced a reform package that would deal with many of the procedural abuses that plagued the Republican Congress. Their 14-point proposal Amending the Rules of the House to Protect the Integrity of the Institution is a good starting place. Finally, what the corruption of the Bush Administration illustrates is the need for fundamental reform in our political system. Democrats must begin to change the rules that govern our elections to reduce the power of big money and big corporations. Democrats must take concrete action to stop the looting of America.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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