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American Morning

St. Bernard Parish Officials Take Vacant Trailers; Cartoon Outrage by Muslims

Aired February 07, 2006 - 06:31   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thousands expected to say a final good-by to civil rights leader Coretta Scott King today, her funeral, and we will bring you up to date on what is planned.
A wildfire in southern California moves closer to homes and schools. Will firefighters be able to slow it down as the winds continue to blow there?

And this...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want our citizenry to have to wait for some paper-pusher in Washington to get it right. We got it right here.


M. O'BRIEN: They're taking matters into their own hands in St. Bernard Parish. You can hardly blame them. Trailers on the move, but is it legal?

ANNOUNCER: You're watching AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: That is a cold commute on that bicycle on Columbus Circle.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: It's very cold.

M. O'BRIEN: Somebody get him some cab fare right away. Poor guy. But he's going to be healthy at least.

Let's get right to the news. Kelly Wallace has that.

Good morning, Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning again. And hello, everyone.

President Bush and three former U.S. presidents are expected to be among those attending today's funeral for Coretta Scott King. Tens of thousands of mourners paid their final respects well into the night in Atlanta. They have been coming since last week. The president has ordered flags at public buildings to fly at half staff today to honor the wife of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And CNN will have liver coverage of today's final farewell beginning at noon Eastern.

In southern California now, thousands are spending the night out of their homes because of a fast-moving fire. Here is a look at the fire lines from this morning. The fire broke out on Monday in a remote area of the Cleveland National Forest and has now burned at least 1,200 acres. Strong winds are said to be fueling the flames. So far there are no reports of damage. Fire officials still aren't sure exactly how that fire started.

More outrage this morning from Muslims over cartoons with caricatures of the prophet Muhammed. Today, thousands of rioters clashed with police and NATO peacekeepers in Afghanistan. Officials say at least one person was killed, dozens more wounded.

In Pakistan, police say about 6,000 people gathered, chanting anti-Western slogans. Thousands of demonstrators have been taking part in the protest since last week. The cartoons were originally published in a Danish newspaper and were then reprinted in other papers.

The rising cost for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to be the focus of questions this morning at a Senate hearing. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will go before the Senate Armed Services Committee just about three hours from now. Lawmakers are also expected to ask why the defense secretary is calling for a reduction of troops in Iraq after a Pentagon-ordered report found that the Army is stretched too thin.

And Pittsburgh is getting to celebrate, or celebrate some more you could say. The mighty Steelers are back home from Detroit fresh from their victory in Super Bowl XXXX. This morning, the team will be treated to a parade through the city complete with marching bands and thousands and thousands of screaming fans. It is the city's fifth Super Bowl win, but the first one in 26 years.

And, Miles and Zain, I think they must be celebrating since Sunday night, so it's going into almost 48 hours now.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. By the way, Kelly, I have heard, I think, from most every Iron City beer drinker. They are out there in numbers, and they have let me know that they're big fans of that. So we will hoist a few later.

VERJEE: How long do these celebrations normally go on?

M. O'BRIEN: Until next year.

VERJEE: Next year.

M. O'BRIEN: They'll just let her rip.

WALLACE: Until the beginning of football season next year.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, pretty much.

VERJEE: Thanks, Kelly. M. O'BRIEN: Thanks.


M. O'BRIEN: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is seeking foreign aid for his devastated city. The mayor says he's not getting enough help from Washington. So he's passing the hat among other countries that seem willing to pitch in. Says Nagin, the French can have Treme. That's an area near the French Quarter. And the King of Jordan? Well, he can have the Lower Ninth Ward. We'll see how that goes.

In New Orleans, they're so fed up with government inaction they're hijacking the very symbol of that ineptitude, those FEMA trailers. It's kind of a Robin Hood thing. The hope is that several thousand Katrina victims could ultimately benefit.

CNN Gulf Coast correspondent Susan Roesgen with a look.


SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In St. Bernard Parish, it has come to this. Fed up with waiting for FEMA to pay for trailers the parish ordered just days after the hurricane, the St. Bernard Parish Council says enough is enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want our citizenry to have to wait for some paper pusher in Washington to get it right. We got it right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 59 Packenham Avenue (ph), which is going to be me.

ROESGEN: Armed with addresses of some of the people in the parish who seem to need a trailer most, Councilman Joey DeFado (ph) led his fellow council members in liberating five trailers that were supposed to stay on this lot.

They didn't call it stealing, but FEMA has not paid for these trailers, so the parish doesn't have the right to take them. The contractor who brought the trailers to St. Bernard let the council members on the lot and even helped them haul the trailers away.

JIM MCGUIRE, TRAILER CONTRACTOR: Somebody is going to have (INAUDIBLE) sooner or later somebody willing to do something. I'm willing to get the ball going by giving the trailers.

ROESGEN: The parish ordered 6,000 trailers from Jim McGuire's company. And McGuire wants FEMA to pay $16,500 for each. But FEMA is balking at the price. The FEMA housing officer for the state of Louisiana, Steve DeBlasio, says FEMA usually pays just $10,500, although he could not provide documentation to support that figure.

DeBlasio told CNN: "It's not a matter of another million dollars. We can get involved with some middleman. We generally deal with the manufacturers." And he says, by taking trailers without authorization, the council "will further complicate the issue," saying "If FEMA can't put a barcode on the trailers, FEMA won't pay for trailers that leave the lot without one."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would imagine they want the door facing their house.

ROESGEN: But that didn't stop the council members from commandeering the trailers, giving them to people who had just about given up on ever seeing one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Carry me. Wait, don't throw me over (INAUDIBLE). Oh, wow! Praise God, huh?

ROESGEN: In St. Bernard Parish, five new trailers are now five people's homes. But thousands of other people are still waiting. And if this act of civil disobedience got FEMA's attention, that's just what the parish council wants.

JUDY HOFFMEISTER, COUNCILWOMAN: I'd like the people of America to look at me, my face. We're all God-fearing, patriotic, flag-waving, taxpaying Americans. My face could be your face in the next disaster. So we need the help of all America.


M. O'BRIEN: That was CNN's Susan Roesgen reporting.

Coming up later on AMERICAN MORNING, we'll talk with two state representatives from New Orleans, and we'll talk about that city's recovery and the governor's bus tour yesterday, which has upset at least one of them -- Zain.

VERJEE: Miles, let's check in on the weather forecast and go over to Chad Myers at CNN center.


VERJEE: Still to come, we want to show you some live pictures right now of the adventurous Steve Fossett getting ready to fly into the record books again. He's going to be -- he wants to fly for three days nonstop. That would make the history books. He's billing it as the ultimate flight.

M. O'BRIEN: Suffice to say he will take a bathroom break before he gets in the airplane for 80 some odd hours as he tries to break that distance record. Yes, it's the Kennedy Space Center, live pictures. We'll try to bring you that live liftoff as it happens. Unclear when it's going to happen right now.

Also, you've been through this before. You go through the line. You've got to give up your scissors. I've given up about four Leathermans right now.

VERJEE: Tweezers. M. O'BRIEN: You name it. The nail clippers. All this stuff. So where is your stuff? And who is making money off of it? Is it on eBay? I've always wondered this. Andy is going to give me the answer. Andy Serwer is our man. Stay with us.


VERJEE: Muslims around the world are taking to the streets again in furious protests over cartoons of the prophet Muhammed. This is the scene in Pakistan. Similar scenes in other countries around the world. The anger is aimed mostly at Denmark, where the caricatures were first published. We've got some really unique perspective now on this story.

We're joined from Copenhagen by Rushy Rashid. She is a journalist. She is Danish. And she is also a Muslim of Pakistani descent.

Thanks so much for joining us on AMERICAN MORNING.


VERJEE: We've seen, Rushy, how the extremist elements in Denmark and elsewhere have reacted. How have moderate Muslims in Denmark responded to this? Do they support the protests?

RASHID: Well, we don't support the outrageous reaction that has been seen from all over the world. What we did, I support the initial protest against the portraying of Muhammed like they have been portrayed. But moderate Muslims, we have formed a network now to speak out and say that Danish Muslims in all shapes, in all kinds, and they have a different standpoint to this issue.

VERJEE: Are the cartoons themselves the real issue here? Or is it really a wider, deeper issue in Denmark that points a finger at the tensions that have existed for many years between immigrant and nonimmigrant communities?

RASHID: I would say the cartoons, it's a kind of ventil (ph) that we have had a really harsh tone in the integration debate for the last five, seven years. But I want to say that this is the thing that should make it explode. I would say it started out as an academic discussion, and it has turned out to be something else. It's a power -- it's a fight for power, I would say.

VERJEE: You've been involved over the years in the integration of immigrant communities of Muslims in wider Danish society. Do you think, you know, would this controversy and the suspicions on all sides and the anger that your work has just gone down the drain and that you have to start over?

RASHID: I would say that, yes, my work has suffered a lot. But what I feel is that this crisis, where the outrage is against the Danish society, it has also made people come together. And a lot of people who never joined in the public debate have now come up front. And they are saying, well, I'm a Danish Muslim, and I don't agree with what is happening. I don't feel that I am a part of Danish society, which is very racist. So it has made a lot of people come together now.

VERJEE: We have seen, Danes have seen, the burning of the American flag, of the Israeli flag. Now, for the first time, you're seeing the Danish flag being burned in the course of these protests. As a Muslim, as a Dane, how does it make you reassess yourself and what it means to be Danish today?

RASHID: Well, I would say that my identity as a Danish Muslim has really come up front. I have never spoken out as a Muslim before. But today, I am very proud to say I'm a Danish Muslim. And it really tears my heart to see the Danish flag burn, and that is the reaction of most of my family members and the friends that I talk to that we don't like to see what is being shown all over the world at the moment. So it really hurt us.

VERJEE: From Copenhagen, Rushy Rashid of Danish television. Thank you so much for joining us and giving us your unique perspective -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Andy Serwer is here. He's "Minding Your Business."

Good morning, Andy.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Good morning, you guys. An airline industry veteran becomes a virgin. Plus, TSA booty. We'll explain coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


SERWER: Wow, a big Garth Brooks fan, huh?

M. O'BRIEN: Never would have guessed that one.

SERWER: I would have guessed that.

M. O'BRIEN: You are a demographic aberration, Zain.

SERWER: I would have guessed that.

M. O'BRIEN: You are the only...

SERWER: A Garth Brooks fan.

M. O'BRIEN: ... the only Garth Brooks fan who says "schedule" right here, right here.


VERJEE: But I can say, 'Where the whiskey's dry.'

M. O'BRIEN: Not bad. Not bad.

SERWER: Oh, that's good. That's working for me.

VERJEE: I've been working on it for a while.

M. O'BRIEN: Andy is here, and...

VERJEE: (INAUDIBLE) that song.

M. O'BRIEN: We can't wait for Andy, but we will wait.

SERWER: We'll wait.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's go to Kelly first.

VERJEE: All right.

M. O'BRIEN: Hello, Kelly.

WALLACE: Hello, everyone. Good morning.

More hearings expected on the Bush administration's domestic spying program. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the program Monday in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Chairman Arlen Specter says President Bush -- quote -- "doesn't have a blank check to bypass the courts." Gonzales could be asked to testify again.

A political tug of words coming from an unlikely source. Republican Senator John McCain is accusing Democratic Senator Barack Obama of -- quote -- "political posturing when it comes to the issue of lobbying and ethics reform." Obama sent McCain a letter backing a reform bill pushed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid instead of McCain's proposal. Obama is calling McCain's charge -- quote -- "puzzling and regrettable."

Thousands of Katrina evacuees will have to start paying for their hotel rooms. That's because today is the deadline FEMA set for evacuees to move out or begin picking up their own hotel tabs. Some 20,000 people received extensions to stay through mid-February or early March. FEMA says it has spent more than half-a-billion dollars so far on hotel lodging for evacuees.

And Steve Fossett was hoping to set another flying record, but we're now hearing -- this just coming in to us -- that it's been canceled. He was supposed to be taking off this morning to try for the longest nonstop flight in history. He was going to be flying alone for the next three days. We understand Fossett was going to be taking off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida any minute now. But if this is canceled, it looks like he's going to have to try and reschedule it. If it all went well, he would be flying around the globe, cross the Atlantic a second time and land near London on Friday.

Chad, is the weather a factor for potentially this cancellation?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, there are some showers to the north and northwest of there. Titusville right now is very close to the Cape, 13 miles per hour. Temperatures are cool there this morning... M. O'BRIEN: Chad, Chad. Hey, Chad. It's the wind. It's the wind. It's about 6 miles an hour out of the southwest. As you well know, the shuttle landing facility strip there is northwest to southeast. So crosswind, and it has those big, long floppy wings. Yes, and you don't want to do a crosswind with that. So I'm sorry. I didn't mean to chime in there, but I thought I'd let folks know what's going on.

MYERS: Go ahead, Miles. Fine.

M. O'BRIEN: No, no, no, onward now. Where are you, by the way? I hate this when I can't see you, you know. Are you, like, down in the car having a coffee or something? Where are you?

MYERS: I'm actually at Starbucks. I'm at Starbucks. Yes, I'm on my way downstairs.

M. O'BRIEN: Anyway, go ahead.

MYERS: Excuse me.


VERJEE: Well, Virgin America has a new chairman. And do you ever wonder what happens to all of that stuff? I've lost about 10 tweezers over at security checkpoints at the airport.

M. O'BRIEN: Tweezers. Are you going to bring a plane down with tweezers? That's just about the most ridiculous thing.

VERJEE: My tweezers, you know, they say, "Ma'am, you have to" -- 'no, I don't.'


VERJEE: "No, you do."

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

VERJEE: Every single time. You know, I try and get by, but it never works.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

VERJEE: Where are they?

SERWER: Just send them one of those Garth Brooks tunes. I'm still getting over that, Zain. That was excellent.

Let's talk about Virgin America, first of all. We told you about this start-up airline that's partly backed by Richard Branson. Partly is important, because a U.S. carrier must be majority-owned by U.S. citizens. Virgin America is trying to fly. They have their application with the Department of Transportation. In trying to get that application processed through, they have brought on board Donald Carty as chairman. Carty, of course, you may remember...

M. O'BRIEN: That name is familiar.


M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SERWER: He was the CEO of American Airlines. And you may remember he left in 2003 after a flap over his pay. He was adding on to his pay while the unions were having big pay cuts.

I spoke exclusively yesterday with Carty about joining the airline and asked him if he had spoken with Richard Branson. And he said, the last time I talked to Branson was in London several years ago, and we were adversaries. He was trying to hook American Airlines up with British Airlines.

M. O'BRIEN: I remember that, yes.

SERWER: And Branson objected, being the head of Virgin Atlantic.

M. O'BRIEN: Wait a minute, wait a minute. So he's head of Virgin America.

SERWER: The chairman.

M. O'BRIEN: And he hasn't spoken with Branson recently.

SERWER: But Branson is a minority investor.

M. O'BRIEN: So they have to really (INAUDIBLE)...

SERWER: Hands off.

M. O'BRIEN: ... across like this is (INAUDIBLE). Like do you really believe they haven't had a conversation more recently?


SERWER: I do believe it. I mean, I would think that, you know, if he's not telling the truth we would find out pretty quickly here at CNN.

Banned items at the airports. Do we have a second to talk about this?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, quickly.

SERWER: This is a biggie, 30 million items a year, and it's a big business. States and municipalities get to dispose of the stuff. They make a ton of money on knives, Leatherman, tweezers, scissors, Bowie knives. And then, of course, there's the stuff that people bring on, like auto transmissions, sausage grinders, chainsaws.

VERJEE: As one needs on a plane. SERWER: I mean, it's just crazy. And there is this company called Science Application International, which has a $17 million, five-year contract, which makes oodles of money, of course. And you guys are contributing to this then, right?

M. O'BRIEN: Absolutely.

VERJEE: Heave contributions.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.


M. O'BRIEN: I'm just imagining the scene with the chainsaw with the TSA, saying, what do you mean I can't bring a chainsaw on this plane?

SERWER: Yes. I'm going to shoot the movie "Hostile."

VERJEE: OK. All right, we'll catch up with you later, Andy.

SERWER: All right.

VERJEE: We're going to take a short break. AMERICAN MORNING will continue in a moment.



MYERS: The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad. Good morning. I'm Miles O'Brien.