Cal  Thomas

How one responds to a natural disaster like Katrina says a lot about one's character and motives.

If you're a now-obscure "civil rights leader" like Randall Robinson, you write on a Web blog, "Black hurricane victims have begun eating corpses to survive." How did he know this? "It has been reported," he claimed, without revealing his source so the assertion might be fact-checked. Robinson later retracted his remarks.

If you're a fading, but not yet obscure "civil rights leader" like Jesse Jackson, you blame President Bush, because this gets you TV time. This race hustling should be condemned and would be if politicians and the major media had any guts.

The quickest way to avoid responsibility is to blame someone else for your own shortcomings. Before assigning blame, it is helpful to be reminded of the state's checkered past.

Louisiana and New Orleans have a long history of corruption. In the late 19th century, a Louisiana lottery scandal led to the abandonment of lotteries in every state that had them. Mobster Frank Costello brought illegal slot machines to the state thanks to a deal he made with Governor Huey P. Long. Then there were the illegal, but wide-open casinos in St. Bernard Parish in the 1940s and '50s.

Five years ago, Gov. Edwin Edwards was convicted of racketeering and conspiracy for taking political bribes over the awarding of riverboat casino gambling licenses. It was Edwards who, in 1983, uttered these immortal words: "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy."

Why is this relevant to the current disaster in New Orleans? Because in the past, the levee board has played fast and loose with the funds it was given, as one former top state official told me.

In a May 21, 2001, article for the Louisiana Weekly newspaper, Amanda Furness quoted Stanley Riley, a plaintiff in a suit against the Orleans Levee District (OLD). Riley and his uncle, Harry Jones, have had a long-running legal battle with the OLD over some disputed land they say is theirs, but the OLD claims for itself.

Riley alleges in the Furness story that the OLD literally gambled away a lot of money -funds that might have been used to shore-up the levee system and prevent the disaster caused by Katrina: "The levee board spent $20 million on (a) casino," Riley alleges. "Now they say they can't pay it back 'cause it's going to break them? That's not our problem." There have also been allegations of cronyism by board members who allegedly have diverted levee funds to friends and relatives.

Cal Thomas

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Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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