September 17, 2005

Kyoto Treaty, RIP: Blair Delivers the Blow

Filed under: Economy,Environment,MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:33 pm

Summary: The Kyoto Treaty, the high point of global environmental movement, is dead. Tony Blair has rejected its austere restrictions that would stifle economic growth, the US will never accept it, and the world is much better off.

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Kelo Residents Update: CT Governor Strikes Back

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:29 pm

I don’t know that it does anything more than delay the inevitable, but the governor has temporarily faced down the Kelo tyrants:

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Positivity: Tony Snow–”Fear Is a Waste of Time”

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 12:11 pm

A “read the whole thing” piece: Radio talk show host and nationally syndicated columnist Tony Snow has cancer, but he’s never “felt” better (HT Michelle Malkin):

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This Weekend’s Unanswered Questions (091705): Special Katrina Debit-Card Abuse Edition

Filed under: Consumer Outrage,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 6:50 am

Sept. 19 Update Post: Some Merchants Refuse Cards
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Overview (added at 1 PM Sept. 17): The Katrina relief debit card program was ill-designed; was heavily abused by more than a few recipients; and lacked adequate controls to ensure the prevention of (among many other possibilities) duplicate card issuance or distribution to non-deserving recipients. Though some arrests have been made, at least some duplicate-card and transferred-card recipients have gotten away with stealing government and charity funds.

Unknown to most, though the debit-card distribution has ended, the $2,000 handouts have not. This “no conditions” distribution of charitable aid violates the American tradition of effective giving, and reveals a deeper problem within the government and the not-for-profit community.
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Another installment in a nearly-regular series of mysteries and pseudo-mysteries (usually 3-4) this inquiring mind would like to have answers for (some links included may require free registration):

QUESTION 1: Who designed the cards with no hardwired restrictions?

Give people $2,000 to use however they’d like and you get stories like this:

Storm-relief money spent at strip clubs

Police in Houston find misuse of FEMA’s $2,000 debit cards

On the heels of a report earlier this week that Atlanta area Katrina victims were using $2,000 debit cards to purchase luxury items like Louis Vuitton handbags, Houston police yesterday discovered the cards, provided by FEMA and the Red Cross, being used at local strip clubs.

The Houston Police Department just formed a task force to investigate the abuse of the cards, which were distributed to thousands of Katrina hurricane victims to provide for necessities, such as food, clothing and toiletries. On the first day, the police found the cards being used to buy beer while ogling exotic dancers.

According to a report by KPRC, Channel 2, in Houston, a manager at Caligula XXI Gentlemen’s Club said he has seen at least one debit card used at his club. A bartender at Baby Dolls, identified only as “Abby,” said she has seen many of the cards used at her establishment.

The wife of the manager of another strip club told KPRC that her husband has seen patrons from Louisiana offering Red Cross and FEMA debit cards, but she declined to reveal the club’s name.

…. Restrictions on the cards say they can’t be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco or firearms (but no such controls existed at the register–Ed.).

No one should be surprised that the cards were abused in other less racy but still outrageous ways (link title: “Lavish tastes of card-carrying lowlifes”):

Profiteering ghouls have been using debit cards distributed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – intended to buy essentials for evacuated families – in luxury-goods stores as far away as Atlanta.

“We’ve seen three of the cards,” said a senior employee of the Louis Vuitton store at the Lenox Square Mall in affluent Buckhead, who asked not to be named. “Two I’m certain have purchased; one actually asked if she could use it in the store. This has been since Saturday.”

The distinctive white cards were distributed by the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and carry a value of up to $2,000.

“It doesn’t say anything on the card other than alcohol, tobacco and firearms cannot be purchased with it,” the store employee told me. “There’s nothing legally that prevents us from taking it, unfortunately. Other than morally, it’s wrong.”

The source told me that the two women who had made purchases with the card each bought a signature monogrammed Louis Vuitton handbag in the $800 range.

Meanwhile, in Memphis, more abuse, and a transparent CYA by relief officials:

Designer jeans, high heels and purses — not exactly what the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross had in mind.

But that’s what a few News Channel 3 viewers claim they saw Hurricane Katrina survivors purchase with their $2,000 emergency debit cards. One Katrina victim was spotted at a Cordova clothier buying stacks of $65 designer jeans. Another viewer reported spotting a survivor buying “over $700 in high heel shoes and purses” at a Memphis department store “while (her) younger children, most of them looked under the age of 3, looked like they haven’t showered in weeks.”

So FEMA officially killed the debit card program Sunday, Sept. 11.

“The debit card was a pilot program intended just for the sheltered victims in Texas and only for a limited duration,” said FEMA spokesperson Barbara Ellis. “It was implemented to address the evacuees’ immediate emergency needs — food, clothing, shelter.”

Uh huh. “Pilot” programs usually don’t involve tens of thousands of people. Call me cynical, but I believe it retroactively became a “pilot” once embarrassed relief officials saw how their “implemented” idea was being abused.

QUESTION 2: Are you above the law just because you’re a hurricane victim?

Again from the WND piece:

The FEMA and Red Cross cards have few restrictions, but some evacuees have gotten into trouble when they tried to get additional cards.

Meanwhile, Houston police are going undercover as evacuees to keep their eyes on those who get in line more than once.

“There may be some individuals who use some false identifications or providing false information on the forms, so we’re targeting those persons also,” said Lt. Robert Manzo.

Officers handed out a warning that falsifying government documents could result in a 20-year prison sentence.

WARNING? How about arrest and incarceration? Update–It looks like the Houston cops went well beyond warnings. Good for them. It turns out that 25 people have been accused, with 11 arrested so far, as of Friday. but it appears I’m concerned that many more could have been arrested, and should have been. We also have to see how the courts deal with these people; hopefully they’ll be behind bars for a while, but I’m not optimistic.

QUESTION 3: Why do so many officials not seem to care if the money isn’t used for legitimate relief purposes?

The easy but not complete answer is “because it isn’t theirs.”

In a Thursday article (day before the one cited above) about how Houston police arrested 11 people for “trying to collect more than one aid check” (appears to really be “trying to get another debit card,” but the piece is horribly written), some stunning comments from those supposedly involved in stewardship of our tax money and charitable contributions:

The task force will not address how the Hurricane Katrina evacuees spend legitimately awarded financial assistance.

“If you want to go buy a plasma TV or Nike tennis shoes, that’s your business,” Williams said. “We have no control over that.”

In the cops’ defense, it’s probably not illegal, they have their hands full, and they didn’t design the deeply flawed program. But Mr. Williams’ statement serves to promote abuse by people who might not otherwise have considered doing so (“hey, the cop said it’s okay, so why not?”).

But aid officials behind the idea don’t seem to care that the money would be misused, either. Back to the WND piece:

“If they make an inappropriate decision as to what to purchase, the whole issue of victims’ rights comes into play,” said Bill Hildebrandt, chief executive officer of the Mid-South chapter of the Red Cross. “They have a right, I guess, to be inappropriate.”

Uh, no they don’t, sir.

Disaster planners have a DUTY to put in adequate controls to prevent misuse and abuse, and have no business nonchalantly giving carte blanche to victims to do whatever they want. I hate to break it to you guys, but the money should be targeted to giving victims legitimate help, not passed out like candy in the hope that it’s used properly.

The debit-card abuse is a small piece of a much bigger problem, noted in this review (fourth paragraph) of a Marvin Olasky book on what has been lost from the American tradition of effective charity:

(in the past) giving was to be done not mechanically but from a spirit of genuine love; almoners of charity were to acquaint themselves personally with the poor, so as to discern better who deserved aid and who did not; moral and spiritual guidance was to be dispensed along with material aid; because men’s sinfulness often prompted them to abuse charity, donors were advised to withhold it at times; and giving was done in such a way as to strengthen and encourage family life.

Modern charities and the government are either unable or unwilling to do the tough work of effective charity described so succinctly in the excerpt. It’s so much easier to merely hand out money.

QUESTION 4: Finally, how many people know that the $2,000 handout program described as a “pilot” has NOT been discontinued?

I sure as heck didn’t, but the WND piece at the end tells us it has just taken a different form:

FEMA has stopped handing out the cash cards, but is now requiring evacuees in other states outside Texas to apply for cash assistance.

FEMA is still distributing $2,000 per household to victims of the hurricane, but the process has been slow. After a brief experiment with the debit cards, the agency is now directly depositing the money in bank accounts.

Great. Although I will concede that the money in the bank accounts can be used appropriately for more items than a debit card, such as car payments and the like, recipients who wish to can now abuse the aid they receive less visibly.
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UPDATE: The article about the 25 arrests notes a concern of the Red Cross:

Gregory Smith, a Red Cross official, explained that the crackdown does not apply to those who make innocent mistakes, but it is directed at those who intentionally seek relief funds more than once.

The fraud, Smith said, has a “demoralizing” effect on volunteers and those who truly need the help. Meanwhile, he added, Red Cross officials worry the thefts will result in fewer donations to the agency.

Indeed, I donated to the Red Cross over the Salvation Army in a close call. It won’t be a close call next time.

Positivity: Teenager Drives Dozens to Safety from Katrina

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 12:33 am

Given that lives were in danger, and that so many alternative forms of transportation were either underwater or were inexplicably not used despite being offered (requires registration; refers to Amtrak offer “declined”), I’m puzzled as to why Jabbar Gibson has not received more evenhanded treatment for what he did. Gimme a break–He’s a hero (top 2/3 of link):

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