Saturday, September 17, 2011

Privatizing disaster

By Capt. Fogg

I suspected there must be something afoot when talk at the Tea table began about killing FEMA. I'm more than suspicious now. It seems our former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who according to The Maritime Executive, is announcing a 'strategic partnership' with O’Brien’s Response Management, a wholly owned subsidiary of SEACOR Holdings Inc. Bush's company, Old Rhodes Holdings now looks forward to
"helping a broader array of organizations and communities become more resilient through preparation, response, communication and recovery”
says Bush, whom Floridians will remember was the governor through the disastrous hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. How they will remember him is hard to tell and probably depends on whose house and car and boat and livelihood was demolished and how long it was before he got any significant help. As I recall, my neighbors and I felt pretty much on our own, despite Bush's alleged leadership, although FEMA certainly was here with food, water and some generators.

I played a small part in delivering food to those who had no means of getting to a FEMA distribution center -- and there are many such people here -- and also used my amateur radio license to good effect, facilitating communications between Red Cross shelters and government agencies until commercial communications and electric power were restored. The interface between need and help was public and public spirited. It was not corporate, it was neighbor to neighbor working through non profit organizations. It was restaurants sending food to police and firefighters, carpenters and roofers and others helping those who needed it.

The only time we heard from Governor Jeb and his brother, the Commander Guy was when they showed up at Red Cross headquarters for a photo op, disrupting operations for half a day, and when they posed for the cameras handing out a bag of ice for a few minutes before escaping into an air conditioned limo and the Presidential helicopter to fly off to a party in Miami Beach while we sweltered in the dark for weeks and weeks.
"Governor Bush has unparalleled experience in crisis management, as he helped guide Florida through some of the most significant natural disasters in its history"

said Charles Fabrikant, executive chairman of SEACOR Holdings. Unparalleled, of course isn't quite the same as unequaled.

Jeb is a Bush, however and the "strategic partnership" may be about a further strategy than to provide "emergency planning, disaster response, preparedness consulting, crisis communications and regulatory compliance services to corporations and governments" which is what O’Brien’s Response Management, the SEACOR subsidiary in question does. O'Brien's has been picking up people like former Coast Guard Captain Ed Stanton, who was the Incident Commander during hurricane Katrina and the recent BP oil spill. It's funny how oil and the Bush family float to the top. O'Brien Oil Pollution Service being part of the O'Brien family.

So do we have the same people who were so heavily criticized for mishandling that Gulf oil spill soon to be handling more disasters for profit while FEMA goes the way of Social Security and Medicare and the FAA and all those agencies being overwhelmed by the tidal wave of tea?

I don't mean to say that FEMA has always been what it should be or done as well as it should have done, but FEMA sits at the end of a chain of responsibility that leads to the
American public while SEACOR is ultimately responsible to its owners -- and like the former Blackwater owners, they're quite able to ignore questions as to what they did and how much they made by doing it by saying "sorry, we're a private corporation."

I do mean to be suspicious however and I'm aware that evidence of collusion and corruption and various acts of grift, graft and flim-flam are too easily dismissed as "conspiracy theories." Our history is basically a series of conspiracies conveniently mislabeled and when I hear the words, oil, Bush, and disaster used in close conjunction, and when I hear about efforts to privatize yet another not-for-profit health and safety organization, I'm more than suspicious.

People like me, who belong to well organized volunteer groups like ARES, American Red Cross, SATERN and many, many others are used to working with government agencies, not that there isn't some friction on occasion, but the prospect of mercenaries who take orders from corporate CEO's who profit from disaster aid and are motivated to control and monopolize the process, rationing help to maximize private gain, isn't a welcome one. In fact it's infuriating to think about being told what to say and do, where we can go and where we can't go by black uniformed privateers protecting turf and profit and it would tempt me to ignore them and work around them if possible the next time a storm rages ashore and Florida goes dark.

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