Tuesday, September 13

The Banana Republic of Louisiana and the French (Canadian) Connection

When Paul Wolfowitz took over the presidency of the World Bank he identified corruption as a major obstacle to development in the poorest countries and observed that, "Corruption is the biggest threat to democracy since communism."

As investigative reporters unravel the tangled skein of events leading to the New Orleans horror, it is coming clear that Wolfowitz's comments might apply as much to Louisiana as a developing country.

It is public knowledge that failure to upgrade the New Orleans levee and floodwall system was a key factor in the flooding that overtook the city during Katrina's onslaught. Less known is that the local agency responsible for maintaining the flood protection system misallocated funds.

Last Wednesday Charles Gasparino, a writer for NEWSWEEK, reported to John Batchelor's radio audience that the Orleans Parish Levee Board spent revenue on casino development and other tourist attractions instead of financing projects to upgrade and repair the New Orleans levee system.

In an article for NEWSWEEK Gasparino reported that the levee board did not work with the federal government to issue municipal bonds to upgrade the levees. The bonds would be needed to make up the tax shortfall when paying for major work on the levees.

Former Louisiana congressman Bob Livingston, who represented the suburbs surrounding New Orleans for two decades, told NEWSWEEK that regional rivalries were greatly to blame in preventing federal money going to fix the levees.

The Orleans Parish Levee Board might have had a more serious reason for any unwillingness to deal with the feds: a US congressman had called for an investigation of corrupt practices at the board.

Writing for Canada Free Press, David Hawkins, Foundation Scholar at Cambridge University and Judi McLeod, award-winning journalist and founding editor of Canada Free Press, observe:
Rampant public corruption was doing big business in New Orleans long before Hurricane Katrina ever hit. What then Congressman, now Senator David Vitter [R-LA] calls "corrupt, good old boy" practices were apparent in the New Orleans Levee Board just one year before the collapse of regional levees, emergency communications and government services brought the Big Easy to the brink of anarchy.

In fact, Senator David Vitter requested a federal investigation into improper practices of a number of public utilities, including the New Orleans Levee Board, and a new Task Force was to have been initiated in the Baton Rouge office, beginning in July 2004.

As Vice-Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee, which holds jurisdiction over the Justice Department, Vitter met with and actively encouraged Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller to establish an additional Public Corruption Task Force in their Louisiana offices.

With the focus on kickbacks and bogus contractors, who was heeding experts calling for a levee disaster from a major hurricane?
The same article raises the question of a connection between corruption in Louisiana government and a French Canadian organization with ties to the UN Oil for Food scandal.
Of all the coastal regions struck by Katrina, only the State of Louisiana is in the clutches of La Francophonie. La Francophonie's detractors […] describe it as a Montreal-based, racketeering influenced and corrupt organization (RICO) with outlandish claims to represent the interests of the French-speaking world. [...] Purporting to "defend Louisiana's unique linguistic heritage", it was the Conseil pour le developpement du francais en Louisiane (CODOFIL) that brought the state into the La Francophonie tent.

"CODOFIL represents Louisiana at the signing of accords with the foreign governments: these accords dictate the nature of the relationship between Louisiana and the foreign governments." [...]

La Francophonie was funded and re-structured [...] by insiders of CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) at a 1986 meeting in Paris. [...]

Management of La Francophonie is Canadian, CIDA is the main source of funds granted by Canada to Francophonie cooperation programs and managed by La Francophonie Affairs Division. Canadian Heritage, Industry Canada (information technologies), Justice Canada (democracy, legal cooperation) and Environment Canada (particularly management of the Energy and Environment Institute of la Francophonie [...])

CIDA was founded in 1968 by the ex-president of Power Corp. of Montreal, Maurice Strong [...] In the 1990s, Strong went on to become the godfather of the $trillion Kyoto trading scandal, with the financial clout to execute his dreams for La Francophonie.

Strong's plan appears to have played out as follows: Montreal insiders of Power Corp. and La Francophonie have controlling positions in global commodity markets through oil companies (TotalFinaElf) and water companies (Suez). Former UN Secretary-General Bhoutros Bhoutros Ghali serves as La Francophonie Secretary-General. Both Strong and Ghali are under investigation by American authorities for alleged ties to the UN oil-for-food scandal.
It might take considerable digging to learn whether there is a direct connection between Maurice Strong's ventures and Louisiana-backed enterprises; seeking a connection between Strong and inappropriate expenditures by the Orleans Parish Levee Board could be even more difficult.

However, the connection between Strong, CIDA, La Francophonie and Louisiana points up the interlocked, globalized aspect of corruption in today's world. A 2004 report to the National Press Club, Public Corruption in the United States, underscores that Louisiana is by no means the only US state with entrenched government corruption.

Yet the corruption in Louisiana represents a special case because of the vital importance of the Port of New Orleans and the fact that New Orleans is dangerously below sea level and continuing to sink.

It has long been established that the city could not withstand water surges from a Category 4 hurricane. Yet the Orleans Parish Levee Board, and those holding power in Baton Rogue, didn't even bother to put on a good show of trying to raise funds to upgrade the levees and floodwalls protecting New Orleans.

And those holding power in Louisiana didn't even bother to make a show of evacuating residents most at risk from a city they knew would be a disaster zone in the wake of a powerful hurricane.

It is almost beyond comprehension that here, in America, in the 21st Century, we have a state in our midst that remarkably evokes Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe.

How, then, is US Ambassador John Bolton supposed to stand before the United Nations and demand more accountability from governments in other countries? How, then, is Paul Wolfowitz to urge the poorest nations to fight corruption in their government?

For more on the Orleans Parish Levee Board, Dan at Riehl World View provides a few nuggets, including the stunning news that the board announced they would close an evacuation route to New Orleans on the Saturday before Katrina struck.
Ironically enough, it doesn't require an engineering degree, or any type of experience with a levee to serve on the levee board in New Orleans. It says only that: they serve at his (the Governor's) pleasure. It's my understanding that the levee board is often primarily composed of business people. [...]
Let us hope that someone with engineering experience, or at least the mayor, persuaded the board to keep the evacuation route open longer.

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