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What is to be done? Part 2.

Friday, September 2, 2005  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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In the post below, and today’s WeeklyStandard column, I speculated on how the web can be made to assist those in need of long term assistance via a web-assisted match with those willing to give it. NZ Bear, right below his update on the blog relief effort, expands on some volunteer assistance he would like as we move forward with. (He also boldly asks for a tech company to step forward and match the total of blogger-generated contributions. Any exec who would like instant partnership with the neary 1,400 blogs participating, drop NZ, Instapundit, or me a note.

I am confident that the private side of the effort will flower in the days, weeks and months ahead. About the government’s response I am not so sure. Appropriating money is easy; spending it wisely and to good effect is not.

The Congress is back early. The president ought to request the opportunity to address a joint session as is appropriate after a national calamity. In that address, he ought to ask for what he needs and inform the Congress of his own innovations. Here’s a few things I think he and the Congress ought to put down on the to do list, for doing almost immediately. As with the aftermath of 9/11, the urgent needs should propel necessary legislation through the two houses on the fastest of tracks.

First, the recovery region needs to be defined geographically.

Second, to speed recovery within that region, the president should ask for and the Congress should approve a complete exemption from all taxes –federal, state, and local– on the income generated from the sale of goods manufactured in that region by new plants that meet the criteria of employing at least 100 locals and which are constructed without injury to existing operations across the U.S. A year of exemption for every 100 manufacturing jobs created in the recovery region should prove a powerful magnet. Thus if GM built a new plant in the region employing 800 people, GM would get eight years of tax free revenue beginning with the first year of operation. The same bill authorizing this and using the federal power to preempt adverse state and local law would also provide the Department of Commerce with the necessary authority to waive or modify statutes that would complicate the construction process. In this sort of emergency, you shouldn’t have to get the local office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s concurrance that you are doing enough for a woodpecker on the endangered species list if a few hundred urgently needed jobs are in the balance.

I would also think any law of this sort would require the company seeking to take advantage of it to declare intent by the end of 2005, and to require start of manufacturing by 12/07. Incentives to hurry the start of manufacturing could be built in as well.

Third, the president should ask for and the Congress should authorize a tax credit for every American adult for the years 2006 and 2007 that provides up to $500 per person for money spent while on vacation in the region. That’s a lot of weekends in the French Quarter and the surrounding region, but the sort of push the industry will need to get the visitor flow reestablished.

Fourth, monuments to the dead will eventually be erected, but the feds should avoid that conversation and the president should call for the establishment at Tulane of the Homeland Security’s new Center for the Study of Mass Casualty Events. After 9/11, the tsunami, the earthquakes we have seen in Iran and elsewhere and now this, Homeland Security needs to focus on the aftermath of the inevitable next such event, the assessment of local preparedness in high risk areas, and the establishment of critical priorities in infrastructure upgrades.

To go along with that project, and to commemorate how both the South and the Country have recovered from disaster before, the president might also call for the establishment in the recovery region of a Smithsonian run “Museum of the Civil War.” Though frought with pc danger, building the sort of modern museum complex and scholarship center that would attract history buffs from around the country and the world in a region thick with civil war history could be put on a schedule to open on April 12, 2011 –the 150th anniversary of the start of the war– perhaps on Mobile Bay where a great battle of the war was fought on August 5, 1864.

The debates over what should go into such a center and the telling of the war would be entertaining and an energy-bringing lift to the region. (The first debate would be over what to call it –the Museum of the Civil War, The Museum of the War Between the States, etc.) A great museum complex dedicated to the crucial years of the Republic is the sort of project that will keep hundreds of thousands of eyes focused on the region.

Michael Barone speculated this week that a disaster on this scale is the opportunity for the exercise of the federal initiative that FDR enjoyed attempting, though infrequently with success. The proposals above are the sort that bring energy and purpose to federa; spending. There are of course others. If you blog on the subject, send me a link. My guess is that Mark Tapscott is full of ideas along these lines. Watch his blog for the appearance of those.

Finally, the president should announce –not ask, announce– his plan for the evacuees. This is the most crucial immediate task, and what he needs to do is emphasize action, not rules, and the method, not its “equality of opportunity” or guarantee of result. We don’t neeed American refugee camps, and we don’t need a long time deciding that we don’t need these things. If in two weeks folks cannot go home, I hope the president tells the North American command that it needs to send a few dozen of its best colonels down to Houston and other relief points, backed by some highly motivated troops, to interview each group of evacuees who are banded together by family or other ties. Those colonels should have the authority to determine these people level of need, and decide a plan for them, and then assign a trooper to carry it out with money on hand to fund the relocation of each group.

Example: A family fo five with no job to return to and an apartment that’s been gutted. They have family in Atlanta. They are willing to make a go of it there. The colonel tells the soldier “Relocate these people to Atlanta, to a two bedroom apartment at a reasonable rent. Pay first and last and for the four months in between. Pay for some furniture and some clothes. And try and find a local church to “adopt” the family.”

This is the boat people model, on fiscal steroids. It requires judgment, not rules. And it takes cash money and credit cards.

Just do it. The prospect of American refugee camps and the costs/miseries/dysfunctions of such places cannot be allowed to just evolve for want of a plan. If there are 100,000 displaced folks flat o their backs, that’s about 25,000 individual relief plans and relocation efforts. Not easy, but much less costly to move quickly to relocate in this fashion than for an ad hoc relief agency to assemble and slowly –ever so slowly– come up with blueprints and rules, plans and codes of conduct. Mistakes will be made and money wasted. But it is a far, far better approach than the drift that led to the Superdome and Convention Center crises.

Avoiding the Marielitosization of the evacuees is an urgent priority. The president should put his best folks to the task, and demand a plan by Wednesday.

That’s enough of my ideas for what the Congress and the president ought to undertake asap. Send me links to your posts on the subject, as well as any reactions to the private effort NZ and I are developing, and I will list them here.

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