Government Reform

Heckuva' Job

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Stored in such places as the vacant land near an airfield in Hope, Ark., an industrial park in Cumberland, Md., and a warehouse in Edison, N.J., are the results of one of the federal government's costliest stumbles in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—tens of thousands of empty trailers.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency hurriedly bought 145,000 trailers and mobile homes just before and after Katrina hit, spending $2.7 billion largely through no-bid contracts. Now, it is selling off as many as 41,000 of the homes, netting, so far, about 40 cents on each dollar spent by taxpayers.

Thousands more of the homes—critics say more than 8,000—have never been used and cannot be sold immediately, even though scores of people in the South have been made homeless by recent storms.

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  1. So much for trying to create more NASCAR votes.

  2. “So much for trying to create more NASCAR votes.”

    Maybe if they parked the trailers on the, uh, infield? at tracks, for free use.

  3. I put it to you though. If you are the sort who wants to hold the federal government accountable for Katrina, can you really gripe about this sort of thing? This is the result of an absurd set of assumptions about what the government is supposed to be able to do.

  4. ” This is the result of an absurd set of assumptions about what the government is supposed to be able to do”

    Well, it appears to me they were more concerned about signing the no-bid contract and filling someone’s pockets, than anything else.

  5. Gotta admit, they’d make for one hell of a demolition derby.

  6. Well, sounds like FEMA’s problems stem from forces outside of the agency’s control. They cannot donate unless the Prez declares a state of emergency, and are forced to hold on to them and not sell because big business RV dealers don’t want to bear the brunt of under priced RVs.

  7. Just as long as they conform to the zoning rules; we wouldn’t New Orleans to look tacky.

  8. “Well, it appears to me they were more concerned about signing the no-bid contract and filling someone’s pockets, than anything else.”

    I think this is the popular view, but its probably not exactly on target. I think the government wanted solid evidence that it had Done Something, or to view it the other way, it wanted an insurance policy against the fallout of not having places for people to go. That’s what happens when you assume that the government is going to save you from everything. They have to act like they can in the face of all evidence to the contrary. They would have been better off just writing checks.

  9. Maybe if they parked the trailers on the, uh, infield? at tracks, for free use.

    I might be able to use that in my story of how Charlie Gibson, Dick Button and the rest of the ABC news staff would cover the Daytona 500. I already have them calling the bazillion dollar RVs in the infield a “trailer park” 🙂

  10. JasonL,

    For some reason the photo of the trailers lined up reminds me of the NO school busses lined up, with water up to the hubs, but with an opposite context.

  11. I’d like to see evil knievel try and jump all them trailers 🙂

  12. “Heckuva” probably doesn’t need the appostrophe.

  13. They could always take the wheels off and pile them on top of each other; ta daah! instant Cabrini- Green! What could be a more desirable outcome than this?

  14. BTW, that scene is eerily reminiscent of the suburbs. Only, instead of houses that all look the same, it’s trailers…

  15. Scores of homeless? Thousands of trailers? Makes sense to me.

    Also, Radley is the only person I’ve ever seen who uses apostrophes on words like shoulda, heckuva, oughta. I wonder where he picked it up.

  16. doesn’t need the appostrophe

    That’s not an apostrophe; it’s a “rough-breathing” mark in ancient Greek.

    “Hecuba went mad upon seeing the corpses of her children Polydorus and Polyxena.”

    And when fortune overturned the pride
    of the Trojans, who dared everything, so that
    both the king and his kingdom were destroyed,
    Poor wretched captured Hecuba,
    after she saw her Polyxena dead
    and found her Polydorus on the beach,
    was driven mad by sorrow

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hecuba

  17. I wonder where he picked it up.

    Everybody did not grow up in the English department, man. He was telling me about his life on the farm the other day. Are you dissin’ middle ‘merka?

    Now he survives on the mean mean streets of the DC metropolitan area, just like I do. We even have the same secret gang sign.

  18. So, where can I score one of these discount trailers?

  19. Are you dissin’ middle ‘merka?

    Pshaw! My redneck bona fides are second to none, sir.

  20. Everybody did not grow up in the English department, man. He was telling me about his life on the farm the other day. Are you dissin’ middle ‘merka?

    Now he survives on the mean mean streets of the DC metropolitan area, just like I do. We even have the same secret gang sign.

    Oh, sorry, Radley wrote this not Ron.

    Never mind!

  21. Is the “Job” the one in the Older Testerments, then?

  22. Once again, you elect a bunch of guys who think “government is the problem” to run the government and you can bet they’ll prove themselves right.

  23. So, where can I score one of these discount trailers?

    Idunno, but with the right wheels and an old turbine engine we might be able to get one into the low 11s in the 1/4!

  24. Pshaw! My redneck bona fides are second to none, sir.

    Hark, I sense a challenge!

    So, dear fellow, just what is your favorite chewing tobacco?

  25. Prima Rate,

    Clever and funny.

  26. Upon review clever Priam realizes his Greek orthography was off. Oy.

  27. just what is your favorite chewing tobacco?

    Red Man, ground up, mixed with Tabasco sauce and Everclear, aged for a few months in an oil barrel in the sun, and administered via enema. At’ll put hair on yur chest, Ah tell yew whut, city boah.

  28. “Once again, you elect a bunch of guys who think “government is the problem” to run the government and you can bet they’ll prove themselves right.”

    Nice arm, Dan; you got that one in from left field on one bounce.

  29. Once again, you elect a bunch of guys who think “government is the problem” to run the government and you can bet they’ll prove themselves right.

    So Dan . . . Do you like copy/paste from a file of wity remarks? Or do you actually have this nonsense running in a loop in your head?

  30. and administered via enema

    AH HA! Carpet Bagger in ‘neck clothing!

  31. trailers don’t last very long apparently, rust and all that; they depreciate fast.

    So 40 cents on the dollar is pretty good after a few years. It’s probably comparable to what you would get if you were to buy a place in a trailer park.

    Which means that in a couple of more years we will be paying someone else to come and haul the damn things off after the government inevitable fails to sell off most of them in time.

  32. That has to be a magnet for tornadoes.

    So, I take it Neil Bush owns a trailer factory or something?

  33. “- “As you can imagine, a public auction of so many vehicles could devastate the market for travel trailers,” Michael A. Molino, president of the 2,700-member Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association, said in a letter Friday to FEMA Director R. David Paulison.

    “- Molino’s group and the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds asked last week that the trailers be sold in lots of five or more so dealers can buy and resell them. -”

    And, of course those same guys had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the bank, to deposit the payments they received when they sold the trailers to FEMA initially.

    ——-

    “- Both groups said that selling directly to consumers could pose safety hazards if adequate training is not provided. -”

    Translation: We must protect the helpless and pathetic feebs who are unable to survive without government “assistance.”

  34. The Federal Emergency Management Agency hurriedly bought 145,000 trailers and mobile homes just before and after Katrina hit, spending $2.7 billion largely through no-bid contracts. Now, it is selling off as many as 41,000 of the homes, netting, so far, about 40 cents on each dollar spent by taxpayers.

    Again, and again:

    SOCIALISM CANNOT CALCULATE

    (When will this enter their thick skulls???)

  35. Once again, you elect a bunch of guys who think “government is the problem” to run the government and you can bet they’ll prove themselves right.

    Sigh. No Dan, it’s what happens when you elect people who think government can be “compassionate” and “conservative” at the same time.

    The overriding lesson of Katrina for all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear is that if you’re waiting for the government to save you after a disaster, you’re going to be very disappointed.

    You’re better off on your own.

  36. Sigh. No Dan, it’s what happens when you elect people who think government can be “compassionate” and “conservative” at the same time.

    True.


    The overriding lesson of Katrina for all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear is that if you’re waiting for the government to save you after a disaster, you’re going to be very disappointed.

    You’re better off on your own.

    Tell that to the thousands of people who actually were rescued by the government.

  37. Dan said: “Once again, you elect a bunch of guys who think “government is the problem” to run the government and you can bet they’ll prove themselves right.”

    Yeah , but the other side of that coin is – ‘You elect a bunch of guys who think the government is the answer’ and you can bet they will always be asking for more money to ‘fix’ the problem.

  38. “…the thousands of people who actually were rescued by the government.”

    “Rescued” in what way, exactly?

  39. Once again, you elect a bunch of guys who think “government is the problem” to run the government and you can bet they’ll prove themselves right.

    So Dan . . . Do you like copy/paste from a file of wity remarks? Or do you actually have this nonsense running in a loop in your head?

    I believe it’s a recent talking point (“Government works – but only if you have faith in it!”) on Team Blue sites, so he probably read it and filed it away, giggling.

  40. “Rescued” in what way, exactly?

    Perhaps he means the people of Houston who were rescued from their abnormally low crime rate?

  41. “Tell that to the thousands of people who actually were rescued by the government.”

    This strikes me as an unreasonable way to look at the situation. It doesn’t follow that because some people were rescued at astronomical expense by a distant government that if only the right people had been in FEMA everything would have been great.

    It just doesn’t make sense for the feds to do anything other than cut checks. The logistics don’t make sense and the lack of local knowledge is a disadvantage for them. Worst is the perverse incentive that comes from a broad belief that as long as the government has an agency that seems to describe your situation, you don’t have to worry about it.

    I mean really. All I’m suggesting is that if aliens came down and said “you don’t have to go to work because we have a Human Income Agency on Mars that will take care of all your needs,” you’d still better go to work on Monday. If they send you a check, its mana from the heavens.

  42. Bhh | March 13, 2007, 10:23am | #
    That has to be a magnet for tornadoes.
    =============================================

    That was my first thought when I saw the photo. This whole project was never about helping those who were displaced in the disaster. It is a not-so-veiled attempt at climate control, and, as a federal project, is similar in nature to the establishment of a toxic waste dump in the Nevada hinterlands. In this case, we have a tornado dump.

    It’s not working as well as it could, though. I think people actually have to live in the trailers to enhance the tornado magnet effect.

  43. Once again, you elect a bunch of guys who think “government is the problem” to run the government and you can bet they’ll prove themselves right.

    As opposed to electing the other party that believes “government is the solution” and is equally adept at screwing things up.

  44. “…the thousands of people who actually were rescued by the government.”

    “Rescued” in what way, exactly?

    The police took their Eeevil Guns away. They might have hurt themselves, you know.

  45. So you guys are seriously suggesting that during the time immediately after Katrina, New Orleans would have been better off had FEMA not done anything at all?

    Or is the sentiment here that the people of the city deserve their fate according to the social darwinism of libertarianism?

  46. Dan T. says

    Once again, you elect a bunch of guys who think “government is the problem” to run the government and you can bet they’ll prove themselves right.

    Dan T ignores the fact that the New Orleans disaster was caused by failure of government levees. For decades the New Orleans levees have been government designed, government owned and government operated.

    The fed, state, and local governments in New Orleans were the cause of the Katrina disaster. Decades of government screw ups led to the Katrina disaster.

    Dan T’s inability to recognize this provides an entertaining spectacle.

  47. Or is the sentiment here that the people of the city deserve their fate according to the social darwinism of libertarianism?

    Common and understandable misunderstanding of libertarianism, Dan T. You, like many other people have assumed that the choice is that either the gov’t takes care of people, or no one takes care of people. Libertarians believe that people can take care of people. We donate money to charities. We volunteer to help private organizations that provide aid.
    Really, I think you have highlighted a big problem with libertarians’ PR. Perhaps a high profile charity effort by self-proclaimed libertarians would be a good idea. I hesitate to suggest that, however, because it sounds very cynical and calculated.

  48. Dan T. is the entertainment gift that keeps on giving he says

    Tell that to the thousands of people who actually were rescued by the government.

    So government incompetence in levee design over decades led to the widespread flooding and massive destruction in New Orleans. People would not need to be rescued if government had done its job in the first place.

    Dan T thinks the government rescuing people that needed to be rescued because of government failure proves what a good job government is doing.

    Try flow charting the logic in that thought process.

  49. Ah Dan, you showed a brief glimmer of hope yesterday. To bad you regressed so quickly.

    There is a fundamental problem with mankind’s efforts to control nature. No sane cost/benefit analysis would ever allow the population to build a levee that would prevent every conceivable flood event (caused by hurricanes in NOLA’s case).

    That means that you can only build a levee system that will control “most” floods and then you live with the risk of a once-in-a-lifetime or less probability of a flood that tops the levee.

    This works pretty well for most of the time. But eventually a flood occurs that tops the levees. At this point, the levee actually turns the resulting “disaster” into a “catastrophe” because:

    1) The false sense of security leads people to over-develop the ground that is “protected” by the levee

    2) The levee makes the flood worse when it does happen by keeping the water from draining away after the event that caused the flood has long gone.

    So it can be reasonably argued that decades of government involvement to build levees so that people can build homes and businesses where no reasonable person should build one is a major cause of the resulting human suffering when nature eventually takes its course.

    You are free to argue the opposing point of you if you so wish. It would a significant value to everyone if you could rationally argue the opposing view instead of sniping at libertarians with snarky comments.

  50. Since summer will be upon us soon and another hurricane season will be upon us (and climate scientists predict more servere weather due to global warming), can’t we hold on to those trailers until say, October of this year? Just in case??

  51. I suppose we could give them to homeless veterans.

  52. I know this isn’t really the government’s job, but think of how they’re improving the aesthetics of the deep South! By sucking up the entire supply of unoccupied trailer homes and then sitting on them for years, they’ve driven up the price of trailer homes. Naw maybe stick-built is more competitive, and we’ll have fewer trailer parks!

    And shouldn’t that have the side effect of reducing tornadoes, which seem to be spawned by trailer parks?

  53. So it can be reasonably argued that decades of government involvement to build levees so that people can build homes and businesses where no reasonable person should build one is a major cause of the resulting human suffering when nature eventually takes its course.

    I suppose so. Although I think New Orleans as a city was founded before the levees were built, not afterwards. And, simply put, there’s no way we’re not going to have a major port at the mouth of the country’s biggest river.

    So yes, if the government had simply never supported New Orleans, nobody would have died there when Katrina hit. And if the government had never spent money to support New York City, nobody would have died on 9/11.

    But NYC, as well as NO, is kind of an important city to have around.

  54. TJIT makes an excellent point. I remember seeing on C-span (I wish I could remember the author and the book – a little help?) an author talking about how NO was a looming disaster – poor levees, dredging preventing the sediments that formed the land mass in the first place to erode, water pumping causing the land to sink, etcetera. All this was well known. Action to prevent flooding, besides costing billions, meant unpalatable choices on the environment. And just as states force insurance companies to provide insurance for beach homes in hurricane paths, the same mindset means that this will happen again.

  55. “That has to be a magnet for tornadoes.”

    I’m told by my boss, who’s from Kansas, that the reason tornadoes only seem to hit trailer parks is pretty much a matter of pure economics.

    For the most part, the powers that be know where tornadoes are likely to strike. As a result, the value of the land is heavily depressed, and no development company wants to spend much money to put in housing that’s just going to get hit by a tornado.

    So the property is bought and developed by trailer park and low-income housing types.

    No one in their right mind would build a half-million dollar house in a place called Tornado Alley, but some people are willing to take the risk of losing a $30K trailer.

  56. Or is the sentiment here that the people of the city deserve their fate according to the social darwinism of libertarianism?

    No, but you cannot simply ignore the importance of human agency in all of this.

    Liberals and even some conservatives think that if only people were protected from themselves everything would be better. In reality, by shielding them from the consequences of their actions they become even less responsible and more dependent.

    Katrina wasn’t that big of a hurricane; IIRC it had been downgraded to a Cat III just before it hit land. What made it a huge disaster were the attitudes of the people and their leaders, attitudes that had been formed by years of welfare dependence and federal subsidies.

    They didn’t take action before the storm hit because they had become conditioned to having someone else take action for them. So when the levees broke and the water came rushing in, they didn’t know what to do. Thus what would have been a managable situation had they been prepared became an epic disaster.

  57. Although I think New Orleans as a city was founded before the levees were built, not afterwards. And, simply put, there’s no way we’re not going to have a major port at the mouth of the country’s biggest river.

    The French Quarter did not flood. The old parts of the city were built where they have significant protection from everything but the most severe whether.

    The disaster areas were below sea lever (20 or so feet below the level of the river) in areas “reclaimed” from marshes and “protected” by the levees.

    The port of New Orleans should be capable of supporting itself without significant government intervention.

    The historical parts of the city may deserve “state” intervention to preserve a major cultural attraction.

    The rest of New Orleans is not-sustainable without massive state support. From the libertarian point of view, it should never have been developed. To redevelop it now would be the height of stupidity.

  58. By the way, from the “green” perspective, the world will be a better place if the marshes are returned to marshes.

  59. there has to be a trailer trash joke here somewhere, I just cant seem to find it in the bong haze.

  60. Katrina wasn’t that big of a hurricane; IIRC it had been downgraded to a Cat III just before it hit land. What made it a huge disaster were the attitudes of the people and their leaders, attitudes that had been formed by years of welfare dependence and federal subsidies.

    They didn’t take action before the storm hit because they had become conditioned to having someone else take action for them. So when the levees broke and the water came rushing in, they didn’t know what to do. Thus what would have been a managable situation had they been prepared became an epic disaster.

    What a bunch of crap – almost everybody with the means to leave New Orleans (and somewhere to go) did just that.

  61. almost everybody with the means to leave New Orleans (and somewhere to go) did just that.

    Yes and no. Many people had opportunity and choose not to go. The reasons varied from false confidence to ignorance to outright stupidity. Many other people wanted to by did not have the resources.

    This is not a particularly useful thread to discuss at this point.

  62. “So you guys are seriously suggesting that during the time immediately after Katrina, New Orleans would have been better off had FEMA not done anything at all?”

    The people of New Orleans would have been better off if they had never expected to be saved by government but still received checks to help them rebuild or relocate. They would not be worse off if the overpromising government they expected to save them did literally nothing instead of what they did.

  63. Couple of points:

    1) FEMA and the LA national guard actively interfered with private rescue and relief attempts. This included threatening to arrest doctors, turning back trucks carrying water, and driving off flotillas of boats trying to get to the flooded houses.

    2) Once in the concentration camps in the stadium and, I think, a convention center, would-be-evacuees were held at gunpoint by National Guard troops. People trying to evacuate the city on foot were turned back by local police who fired over the heads of the refugee column.

    In the end, had the government officials all fled their posts and run away, the situation would have been better than what actually did happen. Yes, had the government officials tried to help, things would have been better still. But their incompetence in providing help, and their unwillingness to let anyone else enter the area without their permission made things far worse than they should have been.

  64. Let’s not forget- the Port of New Orleans is the reason the natural barriers to the storm surge had been cleared away, allowing the surge to enter New orleans largely unimpeded, and with undiminished force.

  65. When people who don’t care if the government does its job well are put in charge of the government, the government doesn’t do its job well.

  66. When people who value political power and “prestige” more than results are put in charge of the government, you get the government you deserve.

  67. What a bunch of crap – almost everybody with the means to leave New Orleans (and somewhere to go) did just that.

    No, the city had hundreds of buses available for evacuation of poor residents — they just didn’t use them.

    There are dozens of examples of how the Mayor and the LA governor screwed up royally in the initial hours before and after the hurricane hit. It’s just easier for everyone to blame it all on BusHitler.

  68. Uh, yeah, no one ever complains about Blanco and Nagin.

  69. “When people who don’t care if the government does its job well are put in charge of the government, the government doesn’t do its job well.”

    It just isn’t that easy. If I think the job of the government is to make sure men are only married to women, thereby keeping society from descending into chaos, I may get a government that pursues that policy aggressively and with tons of money. It really isn’t useful to say that someone else who viewed my fundamental assumptions as incorrect to ‘not be doing the job effectively’.

  70. JasonL:

    It’s not very clear that pursuing a given “policy aggressively and with tons of money” = “the government do[ing] its job well”. In fact, experience suggests there is little correlation.

  71. From the article:

    “Both groups (representing the mobile home selling industry) said that selling directly to consumers could pose safety hazards if adequate training is not provided.”

    Say what?

    On reading the article, it seems to me the two big obstacles here are the mobile homes industry (who fear a market glut) and red tape (in the example they give, they can’t transfer some of these to those in need because they don’t live in an officially-declared Federal Disaster Area).

    The government doesn’t want to “hurt business” by unloading these things, but wtf? Hurt the goddamned businesses. The rest of us taxpayers have invested in these bastards, and our agent should be allowed to sell them.

  72. Do you think they would let me park one of these in Fairfax County, VA?

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