When Did They Put Paul Bremer In Charge of Katrina Relief?

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The AP's Larry Margasak discovers that—hold on to your hats—the cash shoveled onto the gulf coast to help Hurricane Katrina victims is being lost to fraud and deception.

FEMA also could not establish that 750 debit cards worth $1.5 million even went to Katrina victims, the auditors said.

Among the items purchased with the cards:

– An all-inclusive, one-week Caribbean vacation in the Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic.

– Five season tickets to New Orleans Saints professional football games.

– Adult erotica products in Houston and "Girls Gone Wild" videos in Santa Monica, Calif.

– Dom Perignon champagne and other alcoholic beverages in San Antonio.

What possible reason for Katrina victims have for buying champagne? You'd think they never got a no-strings $2000 debit card before.

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  1. The “Girls Gone Wild” videos are understandable. Former residents of N.O. must be keenly feeling the lack of drunken college-age sluts flashing their breasts.

  2. It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

  3. An all-inclusive, one-week Caribbean vacation in the Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic.

    Because after you’ve been chased away from the coast by a hurricane, the thing to do is go sit on an island right in the middle of frickin’ hurricane alley.

  4. As much as I’m “shocked shocked” to find gambl, I mean fraud going on. And as much as I think private agencies should handle disaster relief with little to none government participation. I don’t see this as an example of government failure or even incompetence. Handing out no strings debit cards to one and all was probably one of the better allocations of funds. It put money directly in the victims’ hands, allowing them to purchase what they most needed, when it was most needed. Now is the time to go after fraud.

  5. No matter how Katrina graft might have been, it will NEVER top what I witnessed in Iraq through Halliburton, KBR and various military officers lining their pockets and greasing the palms of contractors cum post-military employers.

    Billions in Katrina vs. HUNDREDS of billions in Iraq.

    George W. Bush means never having to say you’re sorry …

  6. Fraud should be punished. Incompetence and corruption on the part of FEMA, et al. should be punished. Unfortunately, that is not what will happen. There will be a furious bout of anguished Congressional navel-gazing which will establish, to the satisfaction of the nannytariat, that the REAL problem is allowing individuals to make their own decisions and subsequently allowing them to live with those decisions. Rather than give out debit cards (which I consider to be good policy, from an economic and libertarian standpoint), there will be a new agency created to devise and manage the “new and improved” tangle of strings attached to government “relief” payments.

  7. I’m with Warren on this. Can’t really get upset about how no-strings welfare money gets spent.

  8. Why can’t poor people take vacations? I don’t get it? The government gave away billions, no qualifications involved, and they’re upset that some people used it for a once in a lifetime vacation?

  9. Keep in mind that these free-loaders not only got money from the guvmint, but from private charities as well (Red Cross).

    Granted, there were true people of need, but I can’t help but think that most of this money, which is up in the billions, was pissed away. It’s only human nature.

    Handing out wads of cash + no oversight + people of very little monetary discipline = really, really, really bad idea

    And it would be a shame if truly needy people are short-changed next time due to all the abuse this time around.

  10. I agree that giving individuals cash is a better way to provide hurricane relief than grinding those individuals through a bureaucracy. However, if I read the article correctly, it wasn’t Katrina victims who bought all-inclusive vacations and “Girls Gone Wild,” but people FEMA couldn’t confirm were victims. I read that as fraudsters and FEMA employees dipping their hands into the till. That’s theft and worthy of investigation.

  11. Why can’t poor people take vacations? I don’t get it? The government gave away billions, no qualifications involved, and they’re upset that some people used it for a once in a lifetime vacation?

    Seriously. I’m saving up for a vacation. My savings are wiped out by a massively destructive hurricane. I use the money to go for the goddamm vacation, because dammit, I might have lost everything else, but this is one thing I can still get.

    People who’ve been living paycheck-to-paycheck who’ve now found themselves in Houston or Atlanta or Dallas living paycheck-to-paycheck probably feel that using the cash for a little splurge has a very cathartic effect. I say, more power to ’em.

  12. Five season tickets to New Orleans Saints professional football games.

    That’s got to be worth at least $25.00.

    Please keep in mind that not all of us got massive subsidies from FEMA (or the Red Cross). The only ‘welfare’ I got was unemployment for the 3 months I was out of work (all of which went to food, shelter, gas, and el cheapo suits for me to go to interviews in). The best part is that since I worked for a nonprofit before the hurricane, I was only eligible for $98/wk, since my company didn’t pay into the state unemployment fund. So I owe about $1,200 to the taxpayers of Louisiana. The check is in the mail.

  13. However, if I read the article correctly, it wasn’t Katrina victims who bought all-inclusive vacations and “Girls Gone Wild,” but people FEMA couldn’t confirm were victims.

    The wording of the lifted quote and the GAO quote make it seem as if the reason those cards are suspicious is because of the activities on them.

  14. People who’ve been living paycheck-to-paycheck who’ve now found themselves in Houston or Atlanta or Dallas living paycheck-to-paycheck probably feel that using the cash for a little splurge has a very cathartic effect. I say, more power to ’em.

    Yeah. Who ever said that public assistance was about providing people with the essentials they need for day-to-day survival? It’s all about making ’em feel good. Sir, you just got your balls washed with a grant from the US Government, do you feel better now? Good, ’cause that’s what we’re here for! Party on!

  15. “Evacuee” loses apartment plus some stuff. Evacuee gets debit card. Evacuee gets new job. Evacuee puts earnings into the bank, draws down the debit card with normal spending. None of the above list seem like they fall outside of what might normally happen in purchases. Even the champagne could be from a celebration for an engagement or something like that, and the vaction package a honeymoon. Mentioning the Girls Gone Wild video seems like moralistic bullshit to me.

    The NOLA Saints purchase strikes me as possibly a savvy opportunity to get in on a good thing while the tickets are still available. Possibly a stupid purchase too if one thinks such tickets might be available cheaper at a later date due to lack of demand.

    Why shouldn’t someone who just got a job and apartment after a hurricane spend money on non-essentials? How is this in the least bit scandalous?

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with how those debit cards got spent. Now, if those debit cards “fell off the truck” and into the hands of FEMA workers or their friends/families, then that is horse of a different color.

  16. The US went to the Middle East supposedly to teach them democracy. They took advanced courses in corruption instead.

  17. Here’s an idea:

    Use the $2000 to get an apartment that is above fucking sea level…

  18. The happyjuggler is spot on.

    Screw that. FEMA or anyone else with the government should have never given out “spend as you please” cash grants in the first place.

  19. FEMA or anyone else with the government should have never given out “spend as you please” cash grants in the first place.

    Comment by: MP

    ———-
    Why not?

    But of course.

    You (specifically and in general) are too stupid, feckless, and pathetic to be allowed to run your life without assistance and guidance from the nannytariat. We have seen how effective/ efficient government “relief” is when the professionals are in charge.

    They track these cards and their usage; why no numbers on how much was spent at Lowe’s and Home Depot? Must not have been newsworthy.

  20. if I read the article correctly, it wasn’t Katrina victims who bought all-inclusive vacations and “Girls Gone Wild,” but people FEMA couldn’t confirm were victims.

    Yeah. And that’s before you consider the sex change.

    We can only presume that somebody was so traumatized by the hurricane that there was absolutely no other way for them to get over it and move on with their lives…..and the fact that we, the (FEMA) people, paid for it, is proof of our welfare statish, humanitarian, altruistic tendencies.

  21. MP – My point is this. Many of those people used whatever savings they had for the emergency of getting tossed out of their homes. Or whatever cash advances they had. The government comensated everyone who was a refugee with $2000. How you spend those particular dollars is what’s irrelevant.

  22. Consider this-

    The gypsy roofers from Texas come to your soggy, windblown little town. They drive down your (not totally devastated, and not below sea level) street, and observe that most of your roof has been blown into the neighbor’s swimming pool; they say, “We kin fix ‘er fer ah, oh, abaht twinnyfahvhunnert bucks.”

    You, the aggrieved displaced homeowner, could in fact remain in place, if the roof were to be put back on. You say, “Everything is so screwed up around here, I can’t get my hands on that kind of cash. BUT, it just so happens that my saviours at FEMA have provided me with this emergency cash grant, in the form of a debit card worth two grand. Would you accept that as payment?”

    Some time thereafter, you are back in your home, and the gypsy roofers from Texas are whooping it up at some “gentlemen’s club” and using the FEMA card they got from you to pay the tab.

    If you had paid cash, there would be no problem. Guess what- you paid with the card, and there is still no problem.

    ——–

    As I, and several others, have said previously, if there were corruption and fraud in the program, then root it out, and prosecute the guilty; especially the government employees. But try not to assume, based on your puritannical prurience, that the world and the people who live in it are always and forever corrupt. And don’t presume to know better than the other guy what’s good for him.

  23. The government comensated everyone who was a refugee with $2000.

    That was a bad decision. The point of highlighting all of the things bought with the money is to show what a bad decision it was.

    We have seen how effective/ efficient government “relief” is when the professionals are in charge.

    The government should never provide raw cash kickbacks as “relief”. No matter how inefficient and bureaucratic government is, it is still operating with my tax dollars and thus is required to make an investment in checks and balances to see that these dollars are as wisely spent as possible.

    Which is yet another argument why government shouldn’t be in the “relief” business. But that’s a whole other argument. If I’m going to be forced to support the welfare state, I’ll sure as heck fight to make sure those tax dollars are spent wisely and accounted for.

  24. No matter how inefficient and bureaucratic government is, it is still operating with my tax dollars and thus is required to make an investment in checks and balances to see that these dollars are as wisely spent as possible.

    Yet I bet a lot MORE tax dollars would have been spent if the government had to set up a bureaucracy to ensure that all the money was spent only on items from an approved list.

  25. I live on the gulf coast (Mobile).

    Private agencies ran circles around FEMA during Katrina. Within days the banking system was back up and Salvation Army had hot meals (even though Red Cross said it was impossible to get in those areas).

    FEMA people kicked evacuees out of hotel rooms because they couldnt live like the rest of us (no electricity). One firefighter even was sent to go pick up special fluffy pillows for these “servants of the people”.

    I would like to see how much money was wasted on FEMA personel who needed “special” pillows, “special” this and “special” that…

  26. Screw that. FEMA or anyone else with the government should have never given out “spend as you please” cash grants in the first place.

    Exactly. But once they did, how can they be taken aback that it’s being spent on expensive hooch and the Dominican Republic?

  27. Within days the banking system was back up and Salvation Army had hot meals (even though Red Cross said it was impossible to get in those areas).

    Another reason to tell the Red Cross to go to hell. They are a publicity machine, not a relief agency, as anyone that has been through a catastrophe or a war will attest.

  28. This thread should have been titled “When libertarian principles collide!”

  29. I agree, Thomas. My grandfather, a WWII vet, hated the Red Cross. They would raise donations for “our boys” and then charge the GI’s for a “lousy cup of coffee” (grandad’s words). They have insisted for years that it was the law, but for some reason the Salvation Army gave the gi’s free things.

    During Katrina they closed their doors because they ran out of “client cards”. My mom offered to photocopy some more for them. They refused because they have to be “official”.

    And people keep giving them money.

  30. Obviously you can’t enforce what people buy on the debit cards. If you wanted to do that, you’d just give them the goods directly.

    As long as its the morons given the money that are wasting it and not some contracters bored with their salary, theres nothing that can or should be done. The money was a gift, not a loan. Frankly, I don’t know why we gave them this gift, but its a gift nonetheless.

    I doubt that we’ll ever properly manage distributing money to vast amounts of people like this via the government (after all, thats what the free market system is supposed to do)

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