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, President 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 then-Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. 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 about budget cuts and layoffs. More than 10 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.
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When I raised the question of federal intervention in cases like these on my TV program, some conservative viewers said no way. They don't want big government intruding on local issues. But what happens when local authorities are so incompetent that 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 City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Ask outgoing California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Federal power is no panacea, as we have seen firsthand on the southern border. But it is a check against local corruption and incompetence. Civil rights laws would never have 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 no longer hold office in Louisiana. Bloomberg has taken the beating of his 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.
Author and veteran TV news anchor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor."