Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wednesday Roundup

First, Mr. Melpomene has made an outstanding debut on World Class New Orleans. He brings world-class training and real-world experience in business and the law to this forum. In addition, with gritty determination, he and Mrs. Melpomene have been livin' da post-levee disaster life of sorting out a flooded home and a lost boat (although they did rescue Herbie). NOTE: Herbie is actually an old Mercedes and does not include Lindsay Lohan.

Next, Mr. Clio's fun fact of the day: the director of hazard mitigation for the Louisiana Recovery Authority is named Paul Rainwater.

And furthermore, as I often do because of the younger Clios, I missed a great party Saturday.

Most importantly, however, we have to thank the always-looking-for-distractions Republicans in Congress for screaming about inappropriate use of federal funds after Katrina and the levee disaster.

Markus had the earliest and one of the more succinct statements of why this screaming is misguided. The worst aspect, to me, is that we're taking a PR hit when the guilty included prisoners in Texas. Again, people from elsewhere talk as if Louisiana has a monopoly on corrupt people.

How could a prisoner in Texas successfully apply for FEMA funds related to a hurricane and levee break in Louisiana?

Here is Mr. Clio's Theory of Easy FEMA Money. It arises from my years as a high school teacher. I learned about this particular dynamic from the oustanding principal of the school, based on his observation of bad teachers over a few decades.

If you're really bad at what you do, keep everybody happy.

In teaching, this means that a bad teacher should never fail a kid. Not even one. Even if a kid merits a failing grade. You see, when you fail a kid, it is likely that his/her parents will start asking questions. And when they do, a bad teacher's incompetence will shine through--bad teaching, poorly kept records, personal problems, whatever. And then the bad teacher will lose his or her job, if it's a good school.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of Mike Brown, Michael Cherthof (AKA Jafar), and President Bush. It's September 3 or so, a few days after Katrina and levee break. A world-famous city in the "most powerful nation on earth" is under water, and you've completely botched the relief effort. You look like fools to the electorate and the world. It's clear that you're no good.

So what do you do now? Do you get tough with people who apply for aid? No way. Because if you do, people will continue asking questions about your competence and fairness. They might even demand that you be fired or impeached.

Instead, you tell everyone to register with FEMA, and then you send EVERYBODY, and I mean EVERYBODY, debit cards and checks and electronic deposits. NO QUESTIONS ASKED.

It is important that everyone remember this sequence of events. I know. I was part of it. I was there.

My house had roof damage, but no flooding. However, in early September, millions of people (including the Clio family) didn't know when we would be allowed--if ever--to return home. Civic disorder and mayhem, rampant rumors, environmental hysteria--it was all there.

In that atmosphere, FEMA told us all to register, and at that point there was no talk of quick disbursement of checks. The order to us was simply to register.

The next thing we knew, money started showing up.

When you give people cash money, how can you be shocked that they're going to spend it on silly things that people spend money on? My friend works at a casino in Baton Rouge. It is right next door to where evacuees were sheltered. She gave me the scoop on what it looked like there in the weeks following the disaster. What do you think happened? All of sudden, the casino was doing booming business from that FEMA money. I'm sure the all-night check-cashing stores were doing well too.

The real news here is not that freaked-out displaced people spent money on divorce lawyers and "Girls Gone Wild." The real news is that FEMA's incompetent response to the disaster is the direct cause of people's ability to "misspend" money.

FEMA's criminally negligent response to the Katrina and levee failure disaster was very expensive, because Brown et al realized their plight and decided in turn to keep everybody happy, by sending EVERYBODY checks.

So, to the Republicans in Congress: don't get upset at people for spending cash as they choose. That's what cash is: a fungible means of aid. Get upset that FEMA gave people the ability to do that. GOP, quit yer whining.

If you want accountability out of aid recipients, be competent from the outset of the relief effort, then give people vouchers for hardware stores or grocery stores.

Be competent, so that you can tell people "No" without fear.

This latest dustup is classic Republican bait and switch.

Related link: Mr. Melpomene sent me this link pointing out that the alleged misuse of Katrina-and-levee-break relief money pales in comparison to criminal misuse of funds within FEMA and in Iraq and elsewhere.


T. said...

The theory definitely seems plausible, but one thing I can't understand is why so many valid esidents had so much difficulty trying to convince FEMA to hand them a few dollars, while some of these inmates and out-of-state residents had it so easy.

Adrastos said...

You're on fire the last few days Mr. Clio. I love your easy FEMA money theory.

mchebert said...

Probably the best analysis of FEMA's behavior I have ever heard.

The reports are that 15% of the money was wasted. That's not great, but it does say something else -- 85% was used appropriately. That should be a message to all that the money was needed, and needed badly. I do worry that in a future disaster, burned FEMA leaders could hold back too much as an over-correction.