Raising 'Cane

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 21 2005 3:31 AM

Raising 'Cane

Everybody leads with Hurricane Rita, which passed through the Florida Keys without causing significant damage but has already strengthened to a Cat. 3 and is on pace to become stronger still before it hits probably Texas as early as Friday. "The conditions over the central Gulf are much like they were for Katrina," said a top hurricane official. A few thousand New Orleans evacuees who landed in Houston are being evacuated again, with FEMA sending most to Arkansas.

Citing the analyses of independent experts, the New York Timesand Washington Postboth front pieces saying that Katrina's storm surge in New Orleans was actually far less than originally thought and the levees should have held. The Army Corps of Engineers' system was designed to handle Cat. 3's and 14 ft. storm surges. The NYT says Katrina's winds actually made it just a Cat. 1 in New Orleans, and the Post says the storm surge was never higher than 13 feet. "It should have been a modest challenge," said one expert. "There's no way this should have exceeded the capacity."

The Times zeros in on what appears to have been the levee system's weak link: floodwalls. They may have been built too high, actually leaving them more vulnerable to failure. "If this is true, then the loss of life and the devastation in much of New Orleans is no more a natural disaster than a surgeon killing a patient by failing to suture an artery would be a natural death," one analyst told the WP.(OK, he's an author, not a scientist.) The Army Corps still insists that the storm was just too darn big.

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A Post piece inside looks at the ecosystems destroyed by Katrina and the floodwaters. "This is what I would call catastrophic damage to our national wildlife refuges," said one environmental advocate. One thing not mentioned: According to the Associated Press, state samples from Lake Pontchartrain show it's relatively clean and "far from the alarming predictions that chemicals and sewer materials could alter the habitat and fisheries. "

The rest of New Orleans might be evacuating, but the Los Angeles Timesand NYT both notice the return of some important service workers: strippers.

The WP off-leads the latest signs of GOP friction. The White House had fiscal conservatives over for tea or some such, trying to ease their concerns about paying for Katrina. The congressmen weren't impressed by the generalities offered. "At least give us some idea" of how to cover the cost, said Republican Sen. Conrad Burns. The Post also seems to smell some kind of duck, saying that Republicans are wondering whether Bush is a "liability for the party." Sen. Rick Santorum, a big Bush supporter, is up for re-election and trailing by double digits. Asked whether "Bush's problems" (as the Post paraphrases it) were playing a part, Santorum said, "That may be."

Arguing—not convincingly—that Katrina has caused fissures in both parties, the Post's Dana Milbank highlights this bit from yesterday: Hours after Treasury Secretary Snow said that, given Katrina, extending tax cuts will be pushed to the "backburner," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay responded, "That's not an option," repeating, "Not an option."

The NYT and LAT front Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid saying he'll vote no on Judge John Roberts' nomination. Reid cited Roberts' civil rights sensitivities, pointing in particular to one memo in which Roberts referred to "illegal amigos," a phrase he declined to distance himself from. "I'm not too sure if his heart is as big as his head," said Reid. It's an interesting choice for Page One since—as the NYT doesn't mentioned until way down—Reid said he's not pushing for a filibuster, meaning Roberts is still a sure thing.

The WP fronts—and nobody else does—the nine Americans killed in Iraq since Monday, four of whom were embassy employees or contractors killed in a suicide car bombing; the other five were soldiers killed in assorted attacks. Meanwhile, there were more details about Monday's bizarre incident in Basra where British forces assaulted a prison to rescue two of their commandos. The Brits said they only did it after they heard the soldiers were being handed over to Muqtada Sadr's militia. And indeed, the commandos weren't found at the jail but in a private home.

The NYT notes inside that, for some reason, the Pentagon has barred officers from testifying in hearings about allegations that the military project known as Able Danger ID'd Mohamed Atta prior to 9/11.

Everybody runs big obits onSimon Wiesenthal. A Holocaust survivor, he was the world's most-dedicated Nazi-hunter and, as it happens, a very good self-promoter. He often recalled a talk he had with a fellow survivor: "When we come to the other world and meet the millions of Jews who died in the camps and they ask us, 'What have you done?' there will be many answers. You will say, 'I became a jeweler.' Another will say, 'I smuggled coffee and American cigarettes.' Another will say, 'I built houses.' But I will say, 'I didn't forget you.'  "

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.