Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Joseph Allbaugh- The Dark and Disturbing Friends of Rick Perry

by Nomad

The career of Joseph Allbaugh is one of those journalist's treasure troves. This post is a little long but offers more thrills of discovery than any Indiana Jones film.

I saw this announcement the other day.
October 24th, 2011 - Texas Gov. Rick Perry added substantial political firepower to his presidential campaign Monday by hiring several seasoned GOP operatives. The Perry team announced Monday that Joe Allbaugh, who managed George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, would be joining the campaign. "I am honored to have these experienced professionals joining our growing campaign team," Perry said in a statement. "These experienced advisors will play an instrumental role in helping me share my vision to get America working again with the nation, and I am proud to have their support as our campaign expands."
If anybody needed any more proof that Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry is a clone (wearing a wrinkly mask and a crisp wig) of former Texas Governor and President George W. Bush, then this latest news is it.

In response to the news above, and out of a sense of patriotic duty, I decided to take a closer look at this new addition to the Perry family and see what I could learn. You probably may not be too surprised to find out that Allbaugh doesn’t pass the “smell” test.
Not one bit.

Joe M. Allbaugh’s career in politics began when he served as Executive Assistant to Governor Bush from January 1995 through June 1999. After this, he devoted his energies to Bush’s presidential election campaign in 2000. It’s worth mentioning that, If the story that Paul Burka, senior executive editor for Texas Monthly, tells is accurate, then Allbaugh and Karl Rove are not the best of friends.
Allbaugh is one of the few Bushies who supports Perry. There was never much love lost between Allbaugh and Rove, even when they were on the same team. I remember the 1998 Texas Association of Taxpayers meeting, when Bush was running for reelection as governor. Rove was on the panel, as was I, and he blurted out, “The governor’s race is over. It’s all about 2000 now.” Well, that wasn’t the official Bush line at all. Nobody was supposed to talk about 2000. Allbaugh was furious.
Even prior to the race for the White House, Allbaugh while still in his position in Texas, became embroiled in a scandal that would be known as Funeral-gate or, even odder, Formalde-gate.

Over Your Dead Body

Allbaugh, as Chief of Staff in the Governor’s office, has the dubious honor of being involved in the first of George W. Bush’s political scandals. Robert Waltrip, a generous donor of $45,000 to the governor's 1994 reelection campaign to Bush’s campaign for governor and a friend of the family, has been called “funeral baron.” 

His corporation, Service Corporation International (SCI), has grown to become North America’s largest provider of end-of-life arrangements and services. By the late 1990s, SCI owned and operated 3,823 funeral service locations, 525 cemeteries, 198 crematoria and two insurance operations located in 20 countries on five continents. Disposing of the dead is a really big business for Waltrip.
Robert Waltrip

However, the funeral business, it might surprise you to learn, is a highly competitive one. Sometimes corners must be cut. If done carefully, who’s going to know? Waltrip found himself in a tight spot when Eliza May—a director with the Texas Funeral Service Commission (TFSC) which regulates the state's funeral industry, began investigating SCI after receiving complaints about unlicensed embalmers being used. 

Apparently, Waltrip feared the investigation might lead to revealing some particularly damaging information- which later came out anyway.

The details of some of the complaints are gruesome so I won’t disturb your night’s sleep by revealing them. Suffice it to say, it involves gnats, oozing fluids and bad odors. It was charged that Bush helped Waltrip block this investigation and May was pressured by Allbaugh to end her investigation. When she refused to back down, she was fired. 

The reasons for her ouster officially were due to other members of her staff losing confidence in her and because she allegedly ordered an employee to research SCI's political contributions to Bush and other elected officials. 
Ms. May initiated a whistle-blowers lawsuit, stating that she had been wrongfully terminated in an obstruction of her investigation of SCI, which had led to $450,000 in fines for the alleged licensing violations. In contesting that decision in court,
Waltrip... has acknowledged complaining to Bush aides. But Waltrip's lawyers said he did not speak with Bush.
That statement does not exactly tie in with Bush’s own affidavit ( a single page) regarding a key meeting held in Allbaugh’s office with SCI executives and TFSC, including May. By his own admission, he said he dropped in on a meeting between Waltrip and Allbaugh, for a quick social visit and couldn't remember what he said. According to Newsweek, Bush stopped by and said to Waltrip, “Hey, Bobby, are those people still messing with you?”

In any case, the whole matter threatened to unravel Bush’s presidential campaign when May’s lawyer requested a subpoena for George Bush to testify as to what he said and what he did. That was promptly rejected on August 31, 1999, according to this Washington Post article:

A Texas judge ruled today that Gov. George W. Bush cannot be forced to testify in a lawsuit by an ousted state regulatory official who contends she was fired for investigating a funeral home company headed by a Bush political supporter. Sparing Bush what might have been a nagging distraction during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, state Judge John K. Dietz said the former official, Eliza May, a Democrat, had not produced enough evidence to show that Bush has "unique and superior personal knowledge" that would aid her case. Dietz threw out a subpoena issued by May's lawyers for Bush to give a deposition in the lawsuit.

In The Nick of Time

In November of 2001, Governor Rick Perry approved a settlement of $210,000 in May's lawsuit. SCI was to pay $55,000 and the balance by the state of Texas. May's attorney, Derek Howard, said any terms of agreement were to be confidential and he could not elaborate under the terms in which the state did not admit to any wrongdoings.
It was fortunate timing indeed because only weeks later, funeral home violations became very big news when on December 20, 2001
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Attorneys suing a cemetery company accused of recycling graves showed grisly photos and video footage Thursday of crushed burial vaults and human remains discarded in the woods. They also presented internal documents they say show Menorah Gardens & Funeral Chapels in West Palm Beach and its owner, Houston-based Service Corporation International, were aware of the grave desecrations. SCI is the world's largest cemetery company...

More than 1,000 people could become part of the class-action lawsuit, they said. "That body that is placed to rest for eternity is now destroyed, maligned, abused," said attorney Ervin A. Gonzalez. SCI officials did not immediately return a call Thursday but said Wednesday that they had no knowledge of any wrongdoing. The state attorney general's office is investigating Menorah Gardens and four other South Florida cemeteries owned by SCI. A videotape and photos taken by private investigators showed a leg bone beside chunks of a concrete vault, in which coffins are placed. They also show Jewish burial shrouds, and a Star of David next to finger bones. A former cemetery worker led investigators to the remains, attorneys said.
Families of the SCI clients stated that their loved ones were removed from burial sites, and dumped in the nearby woods, buried in the wrong vaults or in an unsuitable disrespectful manner. 
Eventually, the Florida case was settled, costing SCI $100 million. Subsequently, other investigations uncovered more violations by the corporation in Virginia and Maryland, leading to more lawsuits.

However, prior to that, back On February 13, 2001, Allbaugh had been called upon to answer a few questions from Senator Joseph Lieberman in his FEMA confirmation hearings.
Sen. Lieberman: Mr. Allbaugh, I think you know there's a lawsuit in Texas which has raised some controversy and questions which some have directed toward your nomination. And I wanted to ask you some questions about it here. I know that the committee has asked you some before the hearing and I appreciate your cooperation in answering those but I think it's important to get some questions and answers on the record.
For the record, as I'm sure you know a lawsuit is pending in Texas regarding an investigation by the Texas Funeral Services Commission into the activities of a major funeral home corporation called Service Corporation International -SCI. The lawsuit alleges that the executive director of the funeral commission Ms. Eliza May was wrongfully terminated because of her role in the investigation of SCI -the funeral corporation. Some of the allegations in this lawsuit involve incidents that occurred during meetings and conversations in which you were involved as Governor Bush's chief of staff. I want to ask you a few questions about that now and I'm going to be as, as direct as possible. Did you ever try as is alleged to stop the Funeral Service Commission investigation of SCI and its related entities from going forward?
Mr. Allbaugh: No sir. I did not.
The rest of his testimony from Allbaugh is equally honest and equally insightful about the part Allbaugh or Bush played in allegedly obstructing the investigation. It’s really the kind of investigation we have come to inspect from the senator from Connecticut.
Later that year on December 27, 2001, Peter Hartmann, the general manager of the Menorah Gardens Cemetery chain and subsidiary of SCI, was found dead in the garage of his parents' Boca Raton home, apparently from carbon monoxide poisoning. A car was running, police said, and the garage was full of smoke.

Incidentally, after Allbaugh had come and gone in his role as head of FEMA, that same agency would use the services of Kenyon International, an SCI subsidiary, to set up a mobile morgue for handling bodies in Baton Rouge, Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, and thus, outsource handling of Katrina victims' bodies.
There’s no such thing as a coincidence.

Katrina- Warnings and Opportunities

Although Allbaugh resigned as head of FEMA in March of 2003, for anybody searching for the root cause of the Bush administration’s slow, negligent response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, one good place to start might be with Allbaugh.

If nothing else, this man epitomized the prevailing attitude of many Bush appointees. In a classic example of cronyism under President George W. Bush, Allbaugh was nominated to head FEMA despite the fact that he had had no previous experience running a federal agency and no experience in disaster management.
This in itself should not automatically eliminate any candidate for an important post, of course. However, more concerning was the general disposition of the appointee. Under Allbaugh, there existed a certain mindset, a kind of attitude that should have disqualified this particular man from leading an agency whose mission is to provide relief in emergencies. 

A Washington Post article, The Emergency Freight Train, dated April 25, 2001:

FEDERAL EMERGENCY Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh suggested this week that the Bush administration might favor a limit on emergency aid to people and communities that rely too readily on federal generosity to protect them against recurring floods and other natural disasters. "The question is how many times the American taxpayer has to step in and take care of this flooding, which could be easily prevented by building levees and dikes," he said of communities that, confident of federal aid, have taken too few steps to protect themselves.
This position was underlined by remarks made by Allbaugh a month later (May 2001) before a Senate appropriations subcommittee,
Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management.
In light of this attitude, the Bush administration’s budget priorities were adjusted accordingly. In May 2001, FEMA became a part of Homeland Security and thus, was therefore forced to compete with other agencies for funding. Predictably, funding for FEMA gradually dried up, leaving the agency unprepared and understaffed.
In FEMA's last budget year as an independent agency, 2001, it had a budget of $4.4 billion. Adam Hughes of OMB Watch, a nonprofit research, educational, and advocacy organization that focuses on budget issues, regulatory policy, nonprofit advocacy, access to government, estimated FEMA funding other than emergency spending declined 10 percent since the agency joined Homeland Security.
By the time Allbaugh resigned, FEMA was a shell of the agency it had formerly been. But it wasn’t through neglect, it was policy. One source puts it this way:
As FEMA was shrunk, the ability to help those in need in the event of a national emergency plummeted. Hurricane Katrina shows what happens when people who disdain government are put in charge. Conservatives dismantled the government agency, hired cronies and abdicated responsibility at every level.
In June [2004], Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran who heads the agency's government employee union, wrote members of Congress to warn of the agency's decay. "Over the past three-and-one-half years, FEMA has gone from being a model agency to being one where funds are being misspent, employee morale has fallen, and our nation's emergency management capability is being eroded," he wrote. "Our professional staff are being systematically replaced by politically connected novices and contractors."
So when the poor and helpless were left to fend for themselves in the storms and flooding in New Orleans, it was neither unforeseen nor, for some critics, unintentional. It sent a message to those who had come to depend on the government in times of crisis. The response was a message. Don’t ask the government to help you. It’s not our job. If you are poor, it’s your own fault. Deal with it. As we shall see, the failure to prepare and the slow reaction by FEMA served a secondary purpose as well. An exercise in the market-oriented approach.

Cashing In On Misery

When it comes to entitlement programs for the wealthy, Allbaugh seems to have no problem with it whatsoever. Following the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Allbaugh who had left FEMA by this time, was in Louisiana, “"helping coordinate the private-sector response to the storm." 
As one source notes:
In 2003, just before leaving office, Allbaugh arranged an extraordinary, but little known boon for a Friend Of George (FOG). He delivered a sole source $146 million contract for the nation’s emergency water supply, the first of its kind, to a Georgia family firm named Lipsey, with no emergency water delivery experience and only 14 employees. The Lipsey family however, is also the nation’s 2nd largest gun wholesaler, a major GOP fundraiser, and head of both the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers.
It’s not as though nobody had expected the disaster in New Orleans. Quite the contrary. Here are two examples cited by Wikipedia.
In 2001, the Houston Chronicle published a story which predicted that a severe hurricane striking New Orleans, "would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet (6.1 m) of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston."
In 2002, the Times Picayune published a feature covering various scenarios, including a Category 5 hurricane hitting the city from the south. The series also explored the various environmental changes that have increased the area's vulnerability. One article in the series concluded that hundreds of thousands would be left homeless, and it would take months to dry out the area and begin to make it liveable. But there wouldn't be much for residents to come home to. The local economy would be in ruins.
FEMA, itself in early 2001, rated the flooding of New Orleans as one of its top three disasters likely to occur. For some in the Bush administration, waiting for the inevitable calamity was a more lucrative approach that preparation and prevention.
When Hurricane Katrina hit two years later, at New Orleans’ Convention Center alone, nearly twenty thousand people went without water for up to four days, followed by conflicting official explanations. A Congressional committee found that Lipsey had overcharged the government at least $8 million for the work.
And this was by no means an isolated example. That kind of contractor corruption was to take on an entirely new dimension and scale after Allbaugh left FEMA and became a lobbyist and consultant, making good use of his contacts inside the Bush administration. 
As the Northwest Labor Press reports:
The federal government is poised to spend more than $50 billion to rebuild areas destroyed by the hurricane, particularly in the city of New Orleans. Some of the first large-scale relief and recovery contracts were awarded on a no-bid basis to corporations with strong ties to the Bush Administration and the Republican Party,(emphasis mine) according to news stories in the Wall Street Journal and other media. The no-bid deals include $100 million contracts to the Fluor Corp., a major donor to the GOP, and the Shaw Group, which is a client of Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush’s campaign manager in 2000 and the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Meanwhile, Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root Services received a $29.8 million clean-up contract, while Halliburton, formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, is doing repair work at three Navy facilities in Mississippi under an existing contract.
While arranging sweet-heart deals for his friends through no-bid contracts, George Bush used the disaster to strike a blow against union construction worker from cashing in on the Katrina disaster.
At the urging of nearly three dozen Republican lawmakers and large contractors, Bush issued an executive order Sept. 8 suspending the Davis-Bacon Act on rebuilding projects in every county touched by Hurricane Katrina — even Miami, ...Davis-Bacon requires that federal construction contractors pay no less than the prevailing wage for each construction occupation in the local area where the work is done. By suspending the law, the president gave contractors permission to cut the pay of construction workers below the levels that prevailed before Katrina hit the area.
Worst of all, all that low wage private sector work didn’t even lead to success. As Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor writing for the International Socialist Review observes:
The rebuilding process in New Orleans has been deliberately slow, aimed at dissuading thousands of citizens from returning. A year after the disaster only 18 percent of the schools have re-opened. If the children cannot attend school then the parents cannot return. Only 17 percent of public buses are running. If there is no public transportation, in a city where the lack of private car ownership became the object of national discussion concerning the depth of poverty in New Orleans, then there are little means for poor and working people to transport themselves to any jobs that may become available. Only 60 percent of homes have electricity. While slightly better than Iraq, if basic utilities are unreliable, the prospects for returning are vastly diminished.

Taking Advantage: New Bridge Strategies

With the profits made through Katrina by lobbying and consulting and putting the right people in the private sector in touch with the right people in the government sector, Allbaugh expanded operations. 

While still in his position at FEMA, Allbaugh’s wife Diana was a lobbyist at the Republican firm of Barbour Griffith & Rogers. This Washington D.C.-based public relations and lobbying company was created by Haley Barbour, the future governor of Mississippi, and was sold to the Interpublic Group of Companies in 1999. ( Part of the sale deal was that the name remain the same even though Barbour no longer had a financial stake in the company.) According to Powerbase,
Lanny Griffith, Chief Executive Officer of Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, is a Bush Ranger having raised at least $200,000 for Bush in the 2004 presidential election. Barbour, Griffith and Rogers gave $73,603 to federal candidates in the 2006 election through its political action committee - 100% to Republicans.
On March 16, 2011, BGR hosted a lavish, Washington, D.C. fundraiser for Wisconsin Republican politicians. Guests were expected to donate a minimum of $1,000 at the door. They could become "sponsors" by donating $2,500 or "hosts" by donating $5,000. Guests included Wisconsin's Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and the state's Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. The event was held just days after Republicans in Wisconsin's legislature voted 18-1 to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees. The vote was held with no Democrats in attendance. All five Republican members of Wisconsin's congressional delegation were invited to attend the D.C. fundraiser, along with Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson.
But let’s return to the subject of our study. Upon retiring from public service (such as it was) Allbaugh immediately managed to use the same methods applied after the natural disaster in Katrina to the man-made disaster known as the Iraq Invasion, through his consulting firm, The Allbaugh Company, LLC.

After leaving FEMA, Allbaugh and BGR Holdings LLC, previously called Barbour Griffith & Rogers, joined forces to create a new firm called New Bridge Strategies. Its stated purpose was specifically to assist clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq

The question is whether BGR had already been working with Allbaugh - through his wife- prior to his leaving office. (This is something that federal law has long prohibited.)

It is clear, in any event, that Hurricane Katrina, with the relief efforts and the clean-up operation, had enriched BGR by delivering many hundreds of millions in contracts for its clients, including $568 million for Florida firm Ash-Britt, one of Jeb Bush’s big fans.

All very sad but he is at least fortunate not to have to depend on government entitlement programs. The firm was also handicapped by the rather obvious fact that no company wanted to do business in such an unsafe, unstable and politically volatile environment. 

Allbaugh and his partners seemed blinded by all that need and desperation following the bombing, the looting, the chaos and the lawlessness. For them it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
"Getting the rights to distribute Procter & Gamble products would be a gold mine," said one of the partners at New Bridge who did not want to be named. "One well-stocked 7-Eleven could knock out 30 Iraqi stores; a Wal-Mart could take over the country," he said.
Allbaugh defended himself and his company against charges of exploitation by telling critics that he was merely bringing capitalism to the desperate people of the Middle East. It should have been the expected response, the same denial of any moral responsibility was a very common feature in the Bush administration. 
width For Allbaugh, using the market-oriented approach to disaster simply means exploiting those in need, those who cannot bargain or find other means of relief. It has no place in government as the results of Allbaugh’s efforts clearly demonstrate.

Given this (incomplete) list of Allbaugh “accomplishments,” any clear-thinking intelligent candidate for president would have smiled politely and closed the door -with a click- upon the suggestion of having Allbaugh take any part in his campaign. A candidate would have felt lucky to have avoided that kind of campaign destroying revelation in the primary season.

But then, perhaps intelligent thinking has nothing to do with the Perry campaign for president.As a voter in the next election, of course, it will be your duty to do the intelligent thinking, because someday, whether you expect it or not, the day might come when the future president Perry decides that the private -sector market-oriented approach will be the best governmental solution to your own particular brand of misfortune.
A tip of my top hat to HonestyinGov for a link to the amusing and enlightening Rolling Stone article on Perry " Rick Perry: The Best Little Whore In Texas " It can be found by clicking HERE. And special thanks to KOA for allowing me a chance to read it too.