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Finger-pointing on Katrina ... Hastert's backpedaling ... More
Scripps Howard News Service


September 06, 2005

WASHINGTON - Where's the Rudy Giuliani of the Hurricane Katrina disaster? The then-New York mayor got plaudits for the way he took command and handled the aftermath of the 9/11 catastrophe, but the debacle in New Orleans this week has resulted only in shameless political buck-passing and blame-shifting, and no obvious political winners.

The hapless Federal Emergency Management Agency learned nothing from a decade of congressional criticism about the need to get basic food and medical assistance to victims of hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters before looking at other issues. Even as TV crews filmed bodies piled on the streets and bridges of New Orleans, FEMA's director insisted that there were only unverified reports this was happening.

The collapse of communications left rescue crews headed for New Orleans confused about where they needed to be in the city to provide the most help. Local government officials were hopeless in dealing with what had hit their city, and reporters found that many New Orleans police officers took days off after the storm to care for their families. President Bush admits the federal efforts were not adequate, while Democratic activists are acid in their blame of the White House for cutbacks made in Big Easy levee projects.

A new round of congressional hearings to lay blame will begin soon.


House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., wants everyone to know much he really loves New Orleans. After the disaster, Hastert made headlines around the world by suggesting to a hometown newspaper in Illinois that it doesn't make sense to rebuild New Orleans, which is below sea level.

Within hours, Hastert's office sought to clarify what he really meant. "I am not advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated," Hastert stressed in a follow-up statement. "My comments about rebuilding the city were intended to reflect my sincere concern with how the city is rebuilt to ensure the future protection of its citizens and not to suggest that this great and historic city should not be rebuilt."


It's small comfort for New Orleans residents who ignored the dire warnings and stayed behind in their homes as Katrina neared, but they weren't alone in dismissing the threat of a flooded city as improbable.

Some scientific skeptics known as the "Cooler Heads Coalition" pooh-poohed the idea as nothing but hot air in 2000, when James Baker, then head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said he was worried about what would happen if a hurricane ever hit New Orleans. "If you had a Category 4 hurricane that hit New Orleans, you'd have 20 feet of water in New Orleans. That's frightening," Baker warned on a CBS broadcast.

"Indeed, Mr. Baker, it is, which is why all should be reassured that it's extremely unlikely," observed the Cooler Heads Coalition, which contended that Baker was only trying to logroll Congress into hiking NOAA's budget with his dire predictions.


The Transportation Security Administration has relaxed its ironclad rules against passengers carrying scissors on aircraft, and will now permit the estimated 750,000 ostomy patients to take their special scissors on flights when they fly. Such patients protested to TSA that the scissor prohibition meant they couldn't fly anymore, and TSA agreed, saying scissors 4 inches long that are part of the kits ostomy patients carry will now be permitted on planes.


Labor activists are trying to get Congress to close a loophole that permits children as young as 10 years old to work on farms. Worried that there wouldn't be enough labor on family-owned farms, Congress in 1938 gave the farming industry an exemption to child-labor laws.

Antonio Cortese of the American Federation of Teachers estimates that there are more than 400,000 children working in the farming industry today, and it's "inappropriate and unfair" for children to be working when they should be learning.


It's not clear whether the American political landscape is shifting, but a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 45 percent of those asked viewed "Muslims" favorably, compared to the only 42 percent who had favorable views of the "Christian conservative movement."


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)


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