Clutching a bag of nails in one hand and wielding a hammer in the other, Marshbaum broke out of semi-retirement and into my office. It could mean only one thing.
“I’m going to be rich!”
In the three decades I have known my faux friend, he always had a scheme for how to live the affluent life of a no-talent pop celebrity. He did extremely well on the first part of it. Now and then, he came up with a scheme that brought him a comfortable living -- until his next scheme drained him of his savings. But, at least he was persistent.
“What’s it this time?” I yawned, knowing that for the next 20 minutes I wasn’t going to get any work done.
“The Gulf Coast!” he declared. “I’m headed South. Gonna take care of houses. Planning to become rich from the government! Halliburton/KBR got up to a half billion. Bechtel, Fluor, Dewbury, and something named CH2M each got $100 million. Their profits are bigger than the oil companies.” Without missing a beat, he added, “This will guarantee me a home in Pacific Palisades.”
“Marshbaum,” I carefully explained, “there are two reasons why that won’t happen.”
“Only two?! Heck, I’m gold already!”
“First reason. You aren’t politically or economically tied to the President or Vice-President. Not only did you campaign against them, you tried to get everyone named Bush or Cheney deported.”
“It was a good idea,” he said.
“Second reason. You don’t know anything about home repairs. Your first wife got an annulment because she said you were useless around the house. Your second wife divorced you after you fell through the roof you were fixing and later burned down the house while trying to screw plate covers onto electrical outlets. Even the insurance company got a restraining order against you to keep you from doing any more home repairs.”
“I know I’m incompetent,” said Marshabaum. “That’s why I’m going to be a consultant. Media companies hire the bunglers all the time. I figure the government needs my incompetence in the Gulf. I’m going to advise people how to fix their houses.”
“You’ve had more than a thousand get-rich-quick schemes,” I said, “but this one has jet-packs on it to put this scheme at the top of the list as the worst idea you ever had.”
“Michael Brown is now a consultant for emergency preparedness,” said a smug Marshbaum.
“Michael Brown?” I said unbelieving. “You sure we’re talking about the same Michael Brown? The incompetent that Bush appointed to run FEMA? The guy who was more worried about what he looked like than what a catastrophic storm was doing to New Orleans? The one who disregarded every advance notice and blankly told us a couple of days after Katrina hit that the storm was bigger than anyone anticipated? The guy who hid out from the storm just as his boss had once hid out from the Vietnam War? That Michael Brown?”
“Same one. All suited up and ready for action.”
“Who’d hire that idiot?!”
“Bunch of companies already have. Hadn’t been off the government payroll more than a month when he started lining up clients. Told the Rocky Mountain News, ‘If I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses—because that goes straight to the bottom line—then I hope I can help the country in some way.’ Now, that’s altruism. He’s a real patriot. Will probably make more from consulting than he ever did on the federal payroll. Even has a fancy office in Washington, D.C.”
That fancy office, I learned, was in the high-rent posh office suite of Joseph Allbaugh, who ran George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign. For his loyalty, but certainly with almost no knowledge of emergency management, Allbaugh became Bush’s first FEMA director before he resigned to become a consultant and lobbyist, bestowing the nation’s disaster response to his college buddy Michael Brown. One of Allbaugh’s clients, the Shaw Group, received two $100 million contracts, much of it for nailing FEMA blue tarpaulins on houses and buildings at a cost about ten times the normal rate.
“So, you see, it’s all so simple. If you can’t do anything right, just be a consultant,” said Marshbaum.
For once, I had to agree with him.
Walter Brasch’s latest book is America’s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights. Forthcoming is “Unacceptable”: The Federal Government’s Response to Hurricane Katrina.
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