When tragedy strikes, heroes and leaders emerge, but wet ground also brings some worms to the surface.

The level of suffering of those directly affected by Hurricane Katrina is astonishing, so some of the things said by them – from citizens to political leadership – should be considered with an understanding of the pressures of the moment. Some of the most disturbing accusations, however, are coming from people physically disconnected from the disaster.

The attempt to capitalize, either financially or politically, from misery is a time-honored tradition among power seekers, money grubbers, demagogues and the just plain uninformed repeaters of lies.

One of the leadoff hitters in this area was Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Whenever disaster strikes, you can be assured that there will be a Kennedy there to say something insane, not to mention completely inappropriate and inaccurate.

As bodies floated in the water and people were still trapped on roofs and in attics, Kennedy Jr. placed part of the blame for Hurricane Katrina on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour for the part he played in “derailing the Kyoto Protocol.” This is pathetic, even by Kennedy standards.

Besides, does a Kennedy really want to start pointing a finger of blame when drownings are involved? Go look at the back of a milk carton, and you may see a picture of Kennedy family compunction.

Exploiting tragedy is nothing new. The only thing that’s changed is the focus of the blame. For example, in 1900, a big hurricane struck Galveston, Texas, killing at least 6,000 people. What caused that hurricane? The prudent Kennedy of the day would have perhaps pointed the finger at then Texas Gov. Joseph Sayers for his unwillingness to create a “Holstein Treaty” to globally regulate cow flatulence.

In A.D. 79, Mt. Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompeii and Herculaneum. At the time, there were people who blamed the natural disaster on Roman Emperor Titus for drawing divine punishment for the destruction of the Great Temple in Jerusalem nine years prior. There was also widespread looting.

It just goes to show, exploiting tragedy for fun and profit is the world’s third-oldest profession, right behind prostitution and politics – practitioners of the latter, by the way, often get busted for mingling with the other two.

To the list of vermin that have been set loose as a result of Katrina blowing open their weasel cages, we can now add former Clinton suckup Sidney Blumenthal, who wrote a Salon column titled, “No one can say they didn’t see it coming” – I believe this was, coincidentally, the same title Blumenthal used in a column about his former boss’s intern problems. Blumenthal’s bottom line is predictable: Bush’s fault.

The finger-pointing is only beginning. About the only thing that won’t be alleged is the truth – there was a huge hurricane, and hurricanes have been around as long as there has been weather. Apparently hurricanes have become racist over the years, though.

USA Today ran an editorial recently – the obligatory “minorities and poor hardest hit” report, but the USA Today took it a step further. Here’s how it begins:

Although TV correspondents covering Hurricane Katrina avoid commenting on the obvious, their cameras hold back nothing. The people who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave New Orleans are overwhelmingly poor and black. As are the looters.

Then, later: “But lawlessness is the inevitable companion of mass poverty, and a threat to civil order should have been anticipated.”

What about corporate CEOs who have been arrested for bilking their companies and investors? The media demonizes greedy corporate CEOs at every turn because of the few crooks among them. Is their lawlessness an “inevitable companion of wealth and greed”? OK, sometimes that’s the conclusion drawn, but still, it helps prove that lawlessness is more a moral issue than an economic one. Crooks come in all forms.

Based on the opening paragraphs of the USA Today editorial as it concerns cameras catching pictures of the crowd of lawbreakers who were all black, it’s safe to assume the USA Today is referring to black people when writing about “mass poverty.”

If the editorial would have just come out and said what they were suggesting: “Lawlessness is the inevitable companion of black people” – Jesse Jackson would have been banging down their door by now. It’s all in the packaging.

The good news is that, in spite of those few who are pimping Katrina for every political trick she can turn, people are responding, and donating aid and places to stay, in droves. The bad news is that those playing the blame game can’t offer much – at least, not unless B.S. suddenly becomes a valuable currency.

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