AUSTIN, Texas -- The Big Whew blew over Texas, leaving Port Arthur underwater and whole lot of stress across the state. It is highly stressful to be in a car with two adults, three children, the dog and the cat for a 12-to-20 hour trip from Houston to Austin, Dallas or San Antonio. It is also stressful to have two adults, three children, their dog and their cat move into your 1,200-square-foot house with you, especially if your sister-in-law thinks anyone who criticizes George W. Bush is a tool of Satan.

Stress-sensitive groups like Alcoholics Anonymous were doing land-office business in Texas this weekend, while bartenders served up the KatrinaRita. Austin, of course, was also having a music festival and offering free yoga and aromatherapy sessions to hurricane refugees. Austin musicians have adopted New Orleans musicians en masse: You're practically no one if you haven't got a Neville in your guest room.

The refugees trade tales of heroism and generosity, along with reports of the bad and the ugly. That's human nature, but there's nothing forgivable about organized government corruption.

I'm sorry, there are no exceptions: The first commandment of governing is Thou Shalt Not Steal the People's Money. Ronald Reagan came into office in 1980 on the mantra that he would rid the nation of Waste, Fraud and Abuse. He proceeded to raise the national deficit by $2 trillion with tax cuts and spending on the military in the face of a collapsing Soviet Union. This led to the peppy military procurement scandals of the late '80s and early '90s -- the $435 hammer and the $640 toilet seat.

When Newt Gingrich and Co. took power in 1994, they promised many "reforms" and spent millions of dollars on hearings and investigations -- the endless prosecution of Henry Cisneros may actually be a stronger case in point than the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Despite these splendid efforts, they never could find the Waste, Fraud and Abuse they claimed were the hallmarks of government. But this Bush administration has given us Waste, Fraud and Abuse galore.

The waste of money in Iraq is already into the billions, and the lack of accountability is fed by a Republican Congress that refuses to seriously investigate anything done by the Republican administration. The sums being overtly wasted are already staggering, and because there is no accountability, we can expect that situation not only to continue, but deteriorate.

With billions being allocated to clean up after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, you can already smell the corruption -- fat contracts awarded without competitive bidding. The New York Times reports, "More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse."

"Provoking concerns," eh? Good old Times, eternally blah -- why doesn't it ever run a screaming headline that says, "You're getting ripped off!" "They are Stealing Your Money to Pay Off Their Political Pals!" The trouble with journalism in this country is that it's too damn polite.

Look, this is rank, nasty business -- corruption, cronyism and competence (the lack thereof) are the issues here. And as we have so recently and so painfully been reminded, when government is run by corrupt, incompetent cronies, real people pay a real price. There is nothing abstract about swollen bodies floating in flooded streets or dozens of old people dead in nursing homes.

Frankly, it's just a mercy most of Houston didn't drown in a giant traffic jam last week. Already, the corporate vultures are moving in -- contracts are arranged through people like Joe Allbaugh, the former FEMA director who brought in his old buddy Michael ("Heckuva job, Brownie") Brown to run the agency.

This pattern is not just one rotten agency: The arrest last week of David Safavian, the Bushie who oversaw contracts for the Office of Management and Budget, ties into a whole nest of cronyism. Safavian's friend and former lobbying partner is Jack Abramoff, who in turn is big buddies with Texas Rep. Tom DeLay.

The corporate clout in this administration is mirrored everywhere, with the same pattern of crony contracts. Allbaugh didn't just start getting contracts for politically connected firms after Katrina. He's been in Iraq, where he has a flourishing lobbying business precisely to help corporations get government contracts.

Already, Homeland Security is flooding what's left of New Orleans with mercenaries from the same private security contractors flourishing in Iraq. The Nation reports companies like DynCorp, Intercon Security, American Security Group, Blackwater, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International are all in New Orleans.

"Some, like Blackwater, are under federal contract. Others have been hired by the wealthy elite, like F. Patrick Quinn III, who brought in private security to guard his $3 million private estate and his luxury hotels, which are under consideration for a lucrative federal contract to house FEMA workers."

Baghdad on the Bayou for real.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.