Saturday :: Aug 21, 2004

You've Got A 'Friend'

by pessimist

A Friend to the Needy
Is not One who's greedy ...

Floridians dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Charley have plenty of troubles to deal with. There have been numerous examples of the goodness and generousity in humanity, but as in every case where someone is in need, there is also someone in greed.

With Storm Gone, Floridians Are Hit With Price Gouging

Certainly the stricken areas of Florida are filled with volunteers and people offering free food or charity. But there are also those brazenly looking to make some extra money.

Even some from the Federal Government.

Florida Could Suffer From Cuts in Disaster Aid

Florida also could be the biggest loser yet from an effort by the Bush administration to redirect post-disaster spending.
President Bush tried to kill the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which provides an extra percentage of federal disaster aid to states and communities so they can prepare for future catastrophes. The result of that effort was that Congress in 2003 halved those grants from a maximum of 15 percent of disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to 7.5 percent. The difference means Florida could lose big. Although it's too early to say how much, it easily could be tens of millions of dollars. In dollar terms, before the change in 2003, $1 billion worth of FEMA disaster relief could result in an additional $150 million for hazard mitigation under the 15-percent rate. Now the same circumstances could yield $75 million for mitigation.

Florida might have been eligible for much more than 7.5 percent of disaster relief were it not for delays in implementing a 2000 law. Congress allowed states to collect up to 20 percent for post-disaster mitigation grants if they have enhanced mitigation plans approved by FEMA, but the agency has delayed that process.

In the case of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars, Bush argued it was a waste to spend that money after a disaster instead of before. He proposed a $300 million pre-disaster mitigation grant program to replace it. As a compromise, Congress cut the post-disaster program in half and put $150 million a year toward pre-disaster mitigation grants, which all communities can compete for regardless of whether they are threatened often.

Hazard mitigation grants can be used to relocate people living on properties prone to flood damage, hurricane-proof public buildings, replace or bury power lines and combat coastal flooding.

It would seem to be a logical idea to do what can be done in advance of a disaster to lessen the damage, but sometimes the damage that such a disaster can cause isn't so obvious. To paraphrase one corollary of Murphy's Law, 90% of the damage [the obvious] can be prevented using 90% of the budget. The remaining 10% of the damage [the not-so-obvious] can be repaired using the other 90% of the budget.

We don't like to speculate on unpleasantness, so we tend not to prepare for it. We don't plan for disasters, natural or man-made, because there are so many other things that are current problems that need our attention. There is only so much that one can attend to before one becomes overloaded and it becomes very easy to succumb to the idea that 'It hasn't happened yet - maybe it won't'. It also makes us susceptible to the conman who comes along and says 'Trust me! I'll take care of that for you!' We like that idea, so we sit back and let George do it, only George isn't working for us and we don't find this out until after his services prove to have been false security. We then have only the opportunists to take care of our needs: [from the first link]

Certainly the stricken areas of Florida are filled with volunteers and people offering free food or charity. But there are also those brazenly looking to make some extra money.

A man with a chain saw told Jerry Olmstead that he could clear the oak tree off his roof, but it would cost $10,500. "Why do people try to capitalize on other people's hardship and misery," Mr. Olmstead asked as he fumed over the tree removal. "Of course it angers me. They see an opportunity and, fine, if you want to make a little money. But there's a limit. This is ludicrous."

Janet Snyder, a pharmacy technician in Cape Coral, said several men in two pickup trucks spotted her roof damage and offered to lay down a temporary covering of plastic sheeting. They wanted $600, about four times what she figured was the right price, based on 15 rolls of plastic that usually sell for $10 each.

Across the state, in Ormond Beach, Chris Boyce, a salesman for a roofing supply company, said that when his company tried to restock on Monday the wholesaler tried to raise the price of tar paper 40 percent, to $10.50 for a roll of 216 square feet. "That's criminal," Mr. Boyce said he told the wholesaler, adding, "I'd rather not have it at that price."

Greg Lawrence talks about the $10 bag of ice. Mr. Lawrence, a cook who is studying to become a Web site designer, came across a gas station here in Orlando selling the equivalent of two $1 bags for $10. "I said, 'Are you kidding?' and he just looked at me," Mr. Lawrence said. "There were mobs of people buying ice from the guy. Even though that was the only place I could find ice, I refused to buy it."

Sara Kinsey said she had heard from a man who said he was told that the new price for a small household generator was now $2,000, up from about $250. Ms. Kinsey said that in one instance a price gouger simply took advantage of anxiety and fear that there was no ice to be had. He bought several chests of ice in a grocery store in a mall at the usual $1 or so for a big party-size bag, she said, stepped outside and began selling scoops of ice for $2 each.

Some gas stations facing long lines of cars with empty tanks are charging $3 a gallon for gas that would normally go for $1.78, said John McMahon, a sheriff's investigator in Orlando's surrounding Orange County. In one of the boldest cases, some contractors from Jacksonville offered to clear two trees off the roof of an Orlando woman for $23,000, Mr. McMahon said. The woman declined the offer.

In Port Charlotte and in Arcadia, two of the most devastated places, scam artists have been posing as independent insurance claims adjusters, offering, for $500 to $2,000, to help resolve claims with insurance companies, the state's Department of Insurance said.

Many people fled the Tampa Bay area after forecasters calculated incorrectly that the hurricane would be coming ashore there. Kenneth Kleppach and his family were among them. Mr. Kleppach says he was clipped for nearly three times the advertised price for a hotel room. They drove inland, and every hotel they checked was full. They continued across the state to the East Coast city of Fort Pierce and still could not find a room. Finally, in West Palm Beach, Mr. Kleppach said in court documents filed in the attorney general's lawsuits, he saw a sign at the Days Inn Airport Hotel reading, "ALL ROOMS - $39.99." There were two rooms left. But the price, Mr. Kleppach said, was $109.00. "I was desperate and needed shelter for my family," he said, "so I took the room for that price."

In Plant City, just east of Tampa, Rosemary Duffield, who is in her 80's, decided she should get out of her mobile home and she booked a room a little farther inland, at the Crossroads Motor Lodge in Lakeland, she said in court papers. She was told the price would be $44.79, she said. But when she called to reconfirm later in the day, the price was $55.79. After checking in on Friday and settling into her room, she discovered that she had been charged $61.27.

And so on.

This is the sort of behavior I have come to expect out of people, and is the reason I chose 'pessimist' for my nom de blog. I know that my low expectations of people will thus be met, and any unanticipated goodness will thus be a very pleasant surprise. I'd much rather be pleasantly surprised than bitterly disappointed.

So let's put this to the test: anyone have a good recipe for soured milk of human kindness?

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pessimist :: 6:22 AM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!