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Aftermath: Hurricane Katrina

THE DEPARTMENT OF PRIORITIES
It took less than a day for members of the GOP-controlled Congress to cut short their vacations and rushback to the capitol to “rescue” Terri Schiavo from those who wantedher to be allowed to die in peace. It took about four times longer to get themback into town to deal with the worst natural disaster in American history.Perhaps their attention was focused on more important things. On Thursday, asthe death toll escalated, Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican Party,unveiled a campaign urging citizens to unite against…the death tax.“Today our economic outlook is bright,” he wrote in an e-mail to GOP supporters, three days after the disaster, urging citizens to call GOP holdoutSen. George Voinovich to lobby in favor of axing the tax. Nice to know they havetheir priorities straight. Calls to Mehlman’s office were not returned. (Adam Morgan)


THE MONEY TRAIN
Among the handful of hurricane-reliefcharities endorsed by FEMA, one stands out: Operation Blessing, theVirginia-based nonprofit group run by Rev. Pat Robertson, the notedmeteorologist and assassination advocate. Robertson, who in 1998 wronglypredicted that a hurricane would strike Florida in retribution for DisneyWorld’s gay pride festivities, has a similarly questionable record when itcomes to humanitarian work. In fact, former associates have charged that themercenary man of God uses Operation Blessing to promote his private businessinterests.

In 1994, according to Robert Hinkle, a former pilot for Operation Blessing,the charity’s ostensibly humanitarian activities on the Rwandan borderwere actually a front for Robertson’s diamond-mining efforts.“Operation Blessing has a really checkered past,” says Rob Boston, aspokesman for Americans for the Separation of Church and State. “In themid-1990s the planes were actually hauling diamond-mining equipment out of thecountry of Zaire.” Though a subsequent investigation by Virginiaauthorities turned up violations of the state’s charitable solicitationlaw, the state’s then attorney general never prosecuted. “Theattorney general at that time was Mark Earley. Robertson had donated money toEarley, and he was a political ally,” explains Boston, who was shocked tosee the charity turn up on FEMA’s website. “This is not the sort oforganization that FEMA should be promoting or recommending that the Americanpeople donate to.”

So why are the feds urging Americans to funnel their funds into such ashadowy enterprise? According to FEMA spokeswoman Kathy Cable, “Charitiescontact us that want to help and will take donations…. I’m not sure whatkind of background [check] they go through to see if they’re legit, butthey go through that and put them up there.” In 2004 Operation Blessingshowed its philanthropic heart by giving almost $900,000 to a subsidiary ofthe Christian Broadcasting Network, which happens to be run by none other thanPat Robertson. (MU, AG)


MIRACLE SIGHTING
Elsewhere on the Internet, Columbia Christians forLife, a right-wing conservative group, claimed that a satellite image ofHurricane Katrina as it hit the Gulf Coast Monday looked just like asix-week-old fetus. “The image of the hurricane…with its eye alreadyashore at 12:32 p.m. Monday, August 29, looks like a fetus (unborn human baby)facing to the left (west) in the womb, in the early weeks of gestation (approx.6 weeks),” the group said in an e-mail message. So what does that mean?“Louisiana has 10 child-murder-by-abortion centers…and five are in NewOrleans.” (CK)


THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT
When it comes to nationaldisasters, there’s no business like show business. Although it took a fewdays, E! Online has now found its angle on the tragedy. The site has devoteditself to chronicling the fate of celebrities who call New Orleans home.Here’s the gist:

• Still missing is Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame member AllenToussaint, although Fox News has reported that he was among the refugees in theSuperdome.

• Rapper Juvenile lost his home and several of hisfriends.

• Sadly, Master P, whose home was severely damaged, isstill unable to reach members of his family. He’s starting a charity, TeamRescue, in response to the tragedy.

• Fats Domino, who was missing for days, was found alive and plucked from his home in the city.

• Harry Connick Jr. has issued a press release assuring America that “NewOrleans will be rebuilt.

• Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirnerwas waiting in his native Minneapolis for the chaos to calm. He has a home and arecording studio in New Orleans, and he feared the worst. Sadly, although therehas been no official word, Pirner’s career is widely believed to be dead. (TG)


FIGHTING WORDS
Awakened by the devastation in New Orleans, a once timid press corps is pursuing the administration with a surprising show of force. The president, of course, is responding in his usual, articulate, well-informed manner. Excerpts from a media maelstrom. (JB, JH)


NEW ORLEANS OR IRAQ?
A detail that’s largely gone unnoticed in the continuing New Orleanscoverage is the growing number of defections among the city’s police. Justone more similarity between post-Hurricane New Orleans and post-”liberation”Baghdad.

“Louisiana state police chief Henry Whitehorn said many New Orleans policeofficers had turned in their badges. “They indicated that they had losteverything and didn’t feel that it was worth them going back to take firefrom looters and losing their lives.” (JL)


DENNIS HASTERT’S EXTREME GERRYMANDERING?

When House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Wednesday that perhaps it wasn’tworth rebuilding the Big Easy since “it looks like a lot of that place couldbe bulldozed,” most people just figured the Republican speaker was simplylooking for paved lot big enough to park his fat ass. But could politicalmotivations have played a part as well?

According to Paul Taylor, vice president of the Pew Research Center andauthor of Mapping the Political Landscape 2005, that 77% of New OrleansParish voted for Kerry in 2004, while only 22% voted for Bush. “Of all the cities in the south, New Orleans was the most lopsidedly pro-Kerry by a considerable margin,” Taylor said.

Asked whether he thought the city’s voting history had any impact on Hastert’s statements, the congressman’s spokesperson, Ron Bonjean, said, “Absolutely not! The speaker clarified his comments to say that he wanted to rebuild the city, but only after the needs of the people were met.” Good thing Hastert hired Bonjean. The veteran Capitol Hill flack, who previously worked for former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, is an expert at helping disgraced pols figure out what they meant to say. (AG)


BROADCAST NEWS
The “interdictor” runs a website from New Orleans, which, he notes “In less perilous times… was simply a blog for me to talk smack and chat with friends.” In the aftermath of the hurricane, he managed to secure himself a diesel generator and 18 55-gallon drums of fuel. He’s been posting images and eyewitness accounts of the chaos in the city since, rechristening the site, “the Survival of New Orleans blog.” (BV)

LET THE BACKLASH BEGIN
It’s a brave new world out there in the post-hurricane media land. CNN’sDaryn Kagan — Rush Limbaugh’s girlfriend, for chrissakes — just ripped PresidentBush a new one on national TV. Following Bush’s hurricane-related pressevent in Alabama this morning, Kagen told viewers, “I gotta say that wasrather an odd thing to be watching… A lot of that seemed like a politicalopportunity for the cameras and for the Republican governors of Mississippiand Alabama.”

Kagen isn’t alone in her criticism. It took a few days, but the media has turned on George Bush with a vengeance, with conservatives leading the way. The ultra-conservative Manchester Union Leader got things rolling by publishing a blistering editorial on Wednesday labeling Bush’s hurricane response “aloof” at best. Two days later, the pro-GOPWashington Times ran a lead editorial criticizing the president forcontinuing his vacation a good two days after Katrina struck. MSNBC hostJoe Scarborough, a rabidly Republican former congressman, called thefederal government’s response to the disaster “a national disgrace.” [See the transcript.] And even Fox News, Bush’s defender of last resort, has been savaging W’snon-response to the hurricane in the form of Mississippi-born correspondentShepard Smith, who nearly broke into tears after telling his audience “inthe United States of America, right now, there is an elderly man dead onthe side of the freeway and authorities pass by him and he remains there.” (John Aravosis)

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