Today, Rider and Carson debate the role of the federal government in firefighting and relief. Previously, they assessed the propriety of public fire insurance, the difference between the local and the federal response to the San Diego fires, and the city's lack of preparedness. Later this week, they'll debate the federal government's disaster responsibility and development in fire-prone areas.

Only as a last resort

Professor Carson,

First, let me say that you were correct when you said I didn't assess enough blame on FEMA and the feds. I bow to your expertise in this matter. I let 'em off too easy.

FEMA should get its ass(ets) in gear. It needs to be more mobile and anticipatory. Even when it guesses wrong in repositioning firefighting planes (based on forecasts), the increased timeliness in response to fires would be worth many times the relatively minor cost of making mistakes. Unfortunately, like any bureaucracy, planning ahead is a weak point for FEMA bureaucrats.

While FEMA's timely firefighting assistance seems like an intractable problem, the quick use of regional military firefighting aircraft SHOULD have been settled years ago. Indeed, we all thought it WAS settled years ago. Apparently not.

Local use of military aircraft to fight fires should be pre-cleared with the Pentagon labyrinth. All that the D.C. brass and bureaucrats should get is an "Oh, BTW" e-mail detailing the great publicity the local military was getting for helping out communities in time of need.

Should the feds be the disaster relief Sugar Daddy? No.

Ideally, disaster relief would be voluntary — through the Red Cross and other philanthropic institutions best geared to providing aid in times of need. In addition to not requiring force to obtain funding (taxes), such organizations are far more effective in getting the aid to the truly needy in a timely and efficient manner. If we were not forced to "give at the office" (through taxes) for the government aid programs — and then assuming that the aid problem is taken care of — most of us would contribute far more to such charitable organizations.

If government must be involved in such efforts, it should first be the local jurisdictions, and then the state. Federal aid is too easily politicized, going to the states or constituencies with the greatest juice in D.C. rather than to the most needy. For example, consider the billions we pay annually for absurd crop subsidies to help "needy" wealthy farmers and agribusinesses.

In addition, government aid — especially federal aid — discourages self-reliance and prudent prevention of predictable misfortune. Not only individuals, but cities and states sometimes abdicate their responsibilities, knowing that the feds will take care of the cost if things go bad. This should not be the American way.

Richard Rider is chairman of San Diego Tax Fighters, a grass-roots taxpayer organization. A businessman and retired Naval Reserve commander, Rider has written dozens of ballot arguments against raising taxes and issuing municipal bonds.


The second line of defense

Richard,

Again we agree on several of the key issues. FEMA is still a mess and still has a clean-up-after-the-disaster mentality rather than focusing on how to prevent a situation from turning into a disaster. Local military aircraft should have been allowed into the fight very early, when they would have been most effective. The public was deceived about this issue having been solved.