Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

If you're a government that doesn't believe government is the answer, you'll install administrators who live up to your beliefs.

Everybody is getting all worked up about a GAO report that FEMA "doled out as much as $1.4 billion in bogus assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita." The anchors at both Fox and CNN have been blasting us all day with the story of "a man who used his FEMA debit card to pay for his sex change operation." There are other abuses chronicled in the GAO report, but it's the "man" who got the sex change operation who really repulses our fine cable newscasters and bloggers.

My first question is: why shouldn't she have used the FEMA funds for her gender reassignment surgery? As conservatives so relentlessly repeat, every individual is the best judge of his or her priorities, and this woman's priority was finally getting that operation. Assuming she was a Katrina survivor, good for her (if she wasn't, then she committed fraud, which is a separate problem). Were these debit cards earmarked solely for George Bush-approved expenditures? Did they only work at Wal-Mart and Ikea? That may have been what Congress had in mind, but the US contains multitudes.

The same argument applies for the guy who bought champers at Hooters with his debit card and the folks who decided to use the card to go to Hawaii. Good for them if that's what they decided would ease their psychological distress. Again, fraud is a separate issue from so-called misuse.

The libertarians have been out in full and predictable force. As Blue Crab writes, "When you throw money around like a drunken sailor, there will be someone around to pick that money up. this kind of result is almost certain in any Federally run program of any kind whatsoever." One Floridian even manages to blame it all on the "illegal aliens".

The conventional wisdom seems to be that credit cards will be used like credit cards, even if FEMA issues them and that "the government is wasting money all the time." Even a lefty blogger writes that "Throughout this great nation's history, whenever the government has given money away, the pimps, abusers, cut-throats, swindlers, cheats, and con artists have always been able to get a piece." Although at least he connects the giveaway to panic due to lack of FEMA preparedness.

However, all of these histrionics miss the point. As Radio Left observed, "Sure, they should be prosecuted. But so should the people who allowed FEMA to deteriorate to the point that it became completely inept and unable to respond to disasters.... And while Congress investigates 1,500 people who fleeced the government, no investigation into why thousands died is being conducted." Or as Salem's Lot very astutely noted, "if you don't believe government is the answer, you'll install administrators who live up to your beliefs." In other words, this is another aspect of the conservative "starve the beast" agenda: FEMA is a liberal hobbyhorse, so install some incompetent cronies, and if they make it look bad, well maybe we can finally dismantle the whole liberal disaster relief agency like we always wanted to.

Of course, the Bushies have their own variation of starve the beast, which entails force-feeding the rich people's beasties. But as far as FEMA is concerned, GWB is a good conservative.


  • At 5:42 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    FEMA is a liberal hobbyhorse? I don't really think so. It was split off as a separate agency by Carter in 1979 (Wikipedia page for background), and then under Reagan basically spent its time drawing up plans to herd people into camps in the event of a nuclear attack. It only started to be competent and effective under Clinton.

    Even as a well-functioning element of government there's no reason to think of FEMA as liberal, and no reason to think of wrecking it as a conservative act. Wrecking HUD and the Department of Education, yes, but FEMA? Most conservatives believe government has some role in helping people respond to disasters and foreign attacks. Only the most radical loonies want to privatize the fire department.

    Incidentally, I think it was a really lousy idea to give lump-sum payments to what are essentially PTSD victims. That was a conservative gesture, and a typically conservative fiasco. We should have been in there with Section 8 vouchers, increased Medicaid spending for physical and mental health, resettlement and job counseling services--any of a range of programs and supports to help people put their livse back together. The debit card program, by contrast, is a perfect illustration of the uselessness of tossing (far too little) money at people and hoping they work it all out for themselves.

  • At 6:06 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    OK, I was in the voice of a conservative looney when I called FEMA a liberal hobbyhorse. But how else can you explain the way they tried to systematically destroy it?

    And yes, you're right that lump sum debit cards are the equivalent of Social Security private investment accounts.

    But, having chosen to go that route, it's ridiculously hypocritical of conservatives to criticize recipients for spending the paltry money on whatever the hell they want to spend it on.

    I think it's pretty fabulous that the Bushies inadvertantly helped some tranny make all her dreams come true.

    But you're right, that's a stupid way to respond to a natural disaster.

  • At 6:53 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    But how else can you explain the way they tried to systematically destroy it?

    Because they didn't destroy it systematically, they destroyed it as a byproduct of making it a slush fund for cronies. These people aren't ideological conservatives in the slightest, they're kleptocrats and that's all.

  • At 10:47 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Well, they're ideological conservatives when it suits them. You're right, though, that systematic destruction is overstating the case. But it definitely seems like a case of "give Brownie something meaningless like FEMA. Who cares if he fucks up THAT liberal hobbyhorse?" Destruction as afterthought.

  • At 10:55 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    They wouldn't have put Brownie in the DHS, for example. Tacit in his appointment was an attitude of indifference or hostility toward FEMA.

    And FEMA was very connected to Clinton, as you pointed out (he didn't start it, but he made it work), which for the resentful, grudge-bearing, partisan Bushies probably makes it a liberal hobbyhorse. Even if only the most extreme libertarians argue against government action after natural disasters. Because as far as I can tell, the Bushie analysis is usually emotional rather than logical.

  • At 1:37 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    They wouldn't have put Brownie in the DHS, for example.

    It took me a while to process this, but: Michael Chertoff is every bit as dumb and incompetent as Michael Brown. They did put Brownie at DHS.


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