He's Gaveling the Angels Now

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 4 2005 5:56 AM

He's Gaveling the Angels Now

The New York Times leads with the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist late Saturday night, after a prolonged battle with thyroid cancer. The Los Angeles Times leads with President Bush deploying 7,000 additional troops to restore order to New Orleans. The Washington Post leads with the White House blaming state and local authorities for inadequate evacuation and relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Though he was widely known to be terminally ill, Rehnquist's death came as something of a surprise, occurring less than two months after he issued a statement saying he had no plans to retire. Rehnquist's death comes just days before the start of confirmation hearings for would-be Sandra Day O'Connor replacement John Roberts. The papers don't directly speculate on how the news of an additional vacancy will affect the Roberts hearings, but the WPnotes that even if Roberts were confirmed quickly, it is likely that a Rehnquist replacement would not be selected until after the October 3 start of the court's new term, meaning that tie decisions would be possible. The WP writes that ties "result in the automatic affirmance of the lower court's ruling in the court, but do not establish a legal precedent." All the papers remember Rehnquist for his typically conservative views and for overseeing the court's shift to the right during the 1980s. The LAT quips, "Rehnquist was the rare public official who strove to make his office less powerful."

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President Bush deployed over 7,000 soldiers and the Pentagon has ordered 10,000 additional national guardsmen to help secure New Orleans and evacuate the 40,000 remaining refugees, many of whom are reluctant to leave their homes, says the LAT. President Bush also approved 10.5 billion in federal aid for the devastated gulf coast. The LAT story has a ring of optimism, echoed more cautiously by the other papers in similar stories, as the Superdome evacuation completed Saturday and flood waters continued to recede in some parts of the city. However, the NYT reports that the Army Corps of Engineers estimates it could take up to 80 days to completely drain the city. In a rare show of restraint, all the papers refrain from guessing at the total number of dead, instead contenting themselves with mentioning particularly large caches of corpses, like the 31 dead found at a nursing home, with hundreds more residents missing.

The political battle over who will take the blame for flaws in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort has already begun, the WP reports. After New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin's well publicized outrage in the face of sluggish federal response to the disaster, White House officials are parrying by pointing out failures at the local and state levels. The WP notes that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco didn't apply for aid under a multistate mutual assistance pact until Wednesday and still hasn't declared a state of emergency, despite widespread destruction and lawlessness. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff ups the ante, claiming that the reason his department didn't act faster to help the decimated state was "because our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor." Meanwhile, the NYT fronts a portrait of an administration in mid-freakout as President Bush and other White House officials look for ways to keep criticism of the federal response from scuttling efforts to pass sweeping changes to Social Security and the estate tax. Presidential supporters are quoted saying that the hurricane could yet prove a boon to the administration, provided it can properly step up relief efforts in days to come.

The immediate response to Hurricane Katrina shows just how little the government has done to improve emergency management after the Sept. 11 attacks, writes the WPin a front page catalog of the under-funding, poor planning, and bad judgment that led to the ongoing crisis in New Orleans. From the federal level on down, plans for handling a storm of this magnitude have been compromised, delayed, and gone underfunded for the last 40 years, the WP reports. The Department of Homeland Security, which is charged with responding to natural disasters as well as terrorist attacks, takes much of the blame, with even DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff admitting that his department didn't have an adequate plan for a disaster like this. The WP wonders how the DHS would handle a sudden terrorist attack, in light of its listless response to a hurricane that been predicted days in advance.

The NYT fronts a grim look at New Orleans' police department, which has seen 200 desertions and two suicides in the last week. The article quotes officials saying some officers were unable to report to work because of flooding and some abandoned the force out of grief for a lost loved one. But the consensus seems to be that stress and low morale are the primary culprits. A quote from Superintendent of Police P. Edwin Compass III says it all: "If I put you out on the street and made you get into gun battles all day with no place to urinate and no place to defecate, I don't think you would be too happy either."

The WP examines conditions at the refugee camps in Houston, where over 200,000 people have been relocated after being driven out of their homes by Hurricane Katrina. While it's no bed of roses, the Astrodome appears to be a significant step up from the violence and fetid conditions of the New Orleans camps. Even as the crowds continue to swell, basic needs are still being met for most people and volunteers are turning an eye toward trying to keep up the spirits of the displaced and despairing.

While the eyes of the world were on New Orleans, the tiny fishing village of Chalmette, La. was in every bit as much trouble, but residents there had to wait for six days for someone to notice, the LAT reports under the fold. The story details the suffering of the townspeople and the resourcefulness with which they cared for one another while they waited for help to arrive.

Inside, the NYT takes a look at how Katrina laid bare some shameful realities about race and class in America. The pieces says the impoverished residents of New Orleans were left to fend for themselves by an evacuation plan that hinged on residents being able to drive themselves out, in a city in which 35 percent of black households don't have a car. The LAT reports that NBC cut Kayne West's assertion that "George Bush doesn't care about black people," from West Coast airings of a telethon for the Katrina victims. The WP dispenses with the racial element, but concurs that poverty sucks.

The WP runs a feature inside on world reaction to the situation in New Orleans. As world leaders rub their eyes in disbelief at the scenes of lawlessness and despair, many nations have stretched out their hands to offer aid. Even Cuba, with whom the United States has long had a somewhat prickly relationship, has offered to send doctors.

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