Doug Brinkley: Interviewed about Katrina





KASICH: Amidst all the tales of personal suffering and human tragedy, a high-profile legal battle is also unfolding in the Big Easy. Salvador and Mabel Mangano are on trial for negligent homicide in the deaths of 35 residents in their nursing home.

But their defense strategy is to shift blame to federal authorities for failing to secure the levees and state authorities for failing to order mandatory evacuations. Joining us now from Houston, historian Douglas Brinkley, the author of the best-selling book, "The Great Deluge." Douglas, how close is New Orleans to being fixed?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PH.D., HISTORIAN: Well, it's a tale of two cities. There's the sliver by the river, which is the above sea level part of New Orleans. And that's doing pretty well. The port business is about 90 percent back. Tourism's slowly coming back into the French Quarter and the Garden District.

But the below sea level areas, the lower 9th, is struggling, New Orleans East. It's having very hard times. And the bigger worry is the levees. Are they safe to survive a Category 5 storm or even a 3 storm?

Most people say they are not. We have a long, long ways to go. And it would really cost about $40 to $50 billion, the biggest public works project in American history to get those levees ready. We also have the wetlands issue. So their problems are many down in New Orleans on the second anniversary.

KASICH: Douglas, you being a historian, is there anything that's ever happened in our history that had such a black mark against it as the government's inability to get things fixed like this?

BRINKLEY: Well, I think it's — you know, there are people that will complain. There's going to — if you look reconstruction period, people of Atlanta, for example, was burned. And they wanted the federal government to help rebuild the South.

So you do have incidents. But the kind of — the path of destruction that we're dealing with here in Mississippi and Louisiana, it's really still unfathomable to people. It doesn't fit on your TV screen. And the anger is palatable. People are still upset at even just saying the word FEMA or Homeland Security or President Bush.

KASICH: But Douglas...

BRINKLEY: And then you have the problem of corruption.

KASICH: ...here's what I don't understand. This is a total disaster. This is America where this happened. This is not, you know, in Russia, where some, you know, meltdown occurred. This is the United States of America. How is it conceivable that this has not been fixed?

BRINKLEY: We haven't had leadership. You know, if you look at presidential history, you'll see something like TR built the Panama Canal and put aside $230 million for conservation. Or FDR in the New Deal or Eisenhower in the interstate highway system.

President Bush has a policy of inaction. Federal government's view is we have a one trillion dollar debt, we're fighting a war in Iraq, we don't have time for a huge public works project in the Gulf South. There's never been a major czar appointed.

KASICH: Oh, boy.

BRINKLEY: And we've have had a Marshall Plan for Europe, but we can't do a Marshall Plan for the Gulf South apparently. And I'm hoping the 2008 election, people will debate the future of the region.

KASICH: I mean, there is no excuse for government at all levels not fixing this thing. I mean, I'm just so fed up with this, it's ridiculous.



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