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.