Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Re-Inventing -- or Just Expanding -- Government?

President Bush announced Sunday his continued push to have the military take a greater role in domestic natural disasters. Josh Marshall is right to observe, "[Y]ou don't repair disorganized or incompetent government by granting it more power."

But an equally important concern to raise is: Given that just about everyone admits that the military is overstretched as it is -- constitutional questions aside -- why on earth would it be a good idea to add domestic disaster relief to the military's already-full international platter?

It is indeed curious that the military is the only government service that the administration seems to have such confidence in that it immediately adopts the mantra "expand, expand, expand" (well, not counting entitlements like Medicare and farm aid). The problem is that even though it is almost impossible to say "no" to the Pentagon in terms of funding, manpower remains an indefinite finite problem.

Meanwhile, as the LA Times reports, the administration appears not to want to use tried-and-tested in-place government policies to assist the displaced of New Orleans -- in favor of ad hoc ideas that stretch the concept of the term "conservative."

My former boss notes:

"The idea that — in a community where we could place people in the private housing market to reintegrate them into society — we would put them in [trailer] ghettos with no jobs, no community, no future, strikes me as extraordinarily bad public policy, and violates every conservative principle that I'm aware of," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican.

"If they do it," Gingrich said of administration officials, "they will look back on it six months from now as the greatest disaster of this administration."
Newt's right: Turning poverty "mobile" is not the same thing as turning it transient.

The question this raises -- as does the overall response to Katrina and 9/11: Why do government mistakes have to result in, not just more government, but greater and more imposing government?

The government screws up, Osama bin Laden's minions take advantage of that and perpetrate an attack on the United States. Result: Pass the PATRIOT ACT.

Now, during the post-Katrina period, to address the failures of state, local and federal officials and agencies, the president wants to consider:

...whether the Defense Department should take the lead in a natural disaster "of a certain size" as it would after any terrorist attack. "That's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about," he said.
So, again, the U.S. has never had to deal with a natural disaster before? It's essential that government options be "re-invented" on the spot.

The U.S. has never had to deal with a disaster that wiped out people's homes, right? So, we have to figure out how the government should help them.

Except we have a fine example of that eventuality. As the LAT article notes, following the Northridge earthquake, victims were given vouchers to cover their new homes. Yet, now the feds want to reinvent the wheel -- by creating a trailer park "community" of entrenched poverty.

Government is never worse than when it decides to adopt insta-legislation for "emergency" purposes. Either the policy sticks around forever (check New York's rent control laws that were passed during World War II) -- or the policy is adopted quickly for immediate purposes without any long-term consideration. Again, refer to the PATRIOT Act.

So, we now have one the idea that "only the military can respond to natural disaster" -- so, let's scrap a century-old federal law.

And another idea: Federal "Projects-On-Wheels."


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