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2nd January

First Published in The New York Sun, January 2, 2008

By Andrew Wolf

NEW ORLEANS, December 27 - Visiting the crescent city for the first time since Hurricane Katrina hit has been an eye-opener. I am amazed that the candidates for president, all so eager to show how they alone embrace the concept of “change,” aren’t highlighting the failure of the public and private sectors to address the emergency.

The French Quarter and Garden Districts, so beloved by tourists, emerged largely intact, and the great restaurants are mostly reopened. Still, more than two years after the hurricane struck, huge areas of the city and surrounding areas are devastated. Tens of thousands are living in government issued trailers. Tens of thousands have left, many never to return.

The Left would have you believe that somehow the moneyed interests deliberately placed the poorest folks in the New Orleans on the land that is most vulnerable. A man-made disaster, they will tell us, and the men in charge got the results they wanted. While the total destruction of the Lower Ninth Ward is heart-rending, it is clear that the disaster struck across class and racial lines.

No one was spared. And if the moneyed interests were looking for a way to beat down the poor and the minorities, they had an odd way of going about it. Much of the destruction in New Orleans is commercial infrastructure wiped out either by the floods or the resulting loss of customers. Even Wal-Mart, the giant retailer that the Left warns is first among the destroyers of civilization has abandoned stores here.

As the left attempts to spread the gospel of victimization, the Right has failed to harness the great power of the American private sector to make things right, maybe even better than they were in a city troubled even before the first drop of rain fell that last weekend in August of 2005.

With so many homes destroyed, why has the major response of the federal government been to buy hugely expensive trailers? A provision of the law governing the federal response to emergencies restricts FEMA to only provide temporary housing, ergo trailers. but the devastation in New Orleans is so extensive that the huge investment made in these trailers has been money squandered.

It seems to me that the correct response would have been, and to some extent still can be, to rebuild New Orleans’ housing stock through the encouragement of the creation of a huge new local industry to build modular, prefabricated homes. A happy side effect would be to put thousands to work at meaningful jobs, rebuilding their city. When that task is complete, a great new industry could be born, strategically placed in a major transportation center, a permanent boon to the New Orleans economy.

As a nation, we have been talking about encouraging factory-built housing for decades. A program to support this, Operation breakthrough, was an initiative of the Nixon administration. For these past 40 years the modular housing industry has been marginalized by the combined interests of contractors and unions.

The size of the emergency in New Orleans is so huge that there can be little argument that a new approach is warranted. Here is an instance where the invisible hand of private investment should be nudged by government initiative.

It is to the shame of the Republican administration in Washington that it allowed the kind of bureaucratic bungling that they usually blame on Democrats to make the government’s response as ineffective as it has been. Democrats, running the city and state have much to answer for as well. Mayor Nagin resorted to racial pandering to hang onto his job, and the Governor Blanco has been driven to retirement by the improbable (for Louisiana at least) Indian-American Republican Bobby Jindal, who replaces her on January 12.

As the levees, pumps and other infrastructure needed to protect the city in the future are addressed, the new governor and the next president will have to demonstrate that America is still a country capable of rolling up its sleeves and getting the tough jobs done.

What is going on in New Orleans is much like the paralysis that afflicts us here in New York, where Ground Zero is an empty hole more than six years after September 11, 2001. The effort that cleared the debris from the World Trade Center site in record time and rebuilt the Pentagon so expeditiously has been replaced with dithering and debate.

Senator Moynihan lamented that once we paid honor to those who built things, while today we pay honor to those who prevent things from being built. Robert Moses, the most maligned figure of our time, is just the kind of fellow the good people of New Orleans so desperately need today.

© 2008 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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