One of the signature moments of the Bush administration came when the federal government failed to immediately react to the carnage caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. As you’ll remember, Mr. Bush seemed lethargic about the death and destruction, and the media buried him because of his lackluster posture.
But we now know that the president could not have seized control of the situation because he was not asked in by former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. Mr. Bush could have appeared more engaged in his public pronouncements, to be sure, but legally he could not exert federal authority unless state authorities officially asked him to do so.
Now we have the great blizzard screw-up of 2010 in New York. The day after Christmas, a storm dropped about 20 inches of snow on the nation’s largest city. That’s spring break for places like Moscow, but in NYC, chaos almost immediately broke out.
Based on solid reporting by the New York Post and other media, it now appears that members of the city’s Sanitation Union may have sabotaged snow removal because of anger over budget cuts and layoffs. More than ten percent of sanitation workers called in sick the night they were most needed. Two adults died, and a baby was born in a vestibule and later died because emergency workers could not get through the snow.
When I raised the question of federal intervention in cases like these on my TV program, some conservative viewers said “hell no.” They don’t want big government intruding on local issues. But what happens when local authorities are so incompetent they put your life in danger? What happens then?
The U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn is now investigating whether any federal laws were broken by union workers laying down on the job. Good. Municipal unions all over the country need to know there is oversight on them. One of the big reasons states like California and New York are tottering on the edge of bankruptcy is lavish state benefits paid to union members. Local politicians rarely stand up to union power because the workers can make their lives very difficult. Ask New York Mayor Bloomberg. Ask outgoing California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Federal power is no panacea, as we have seen first-hand on the southern border. But it is a check against local corruption and incompetence. The civil rights laws would have never been enforced in the 1960s if not for aggressive action by Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. Sometimes, it takes a big stick to keep the smaller sticks in line.
The good people of New York and New Orleans are ultimately responsible for their own fate. Blanco and former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin are out in Louisiana. Mr. Bloomberg has taken the political beating of life in the Big Apple. But, always, there should be checks and balances on corruption. The feds should turn up the heat on the snow debacle.