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The Situation: Thursday, February 23

Editor's Note: The Situation Report is a running log of dispatches, quotes, links and behind-the-scenes notes filed by the correspondents and producers of CNN's Washington Bureau. Watch "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on CNN 4 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET weekdays.

The Situation Online
Mashups are websites containing information from multiple sources.





White House
New Orleans (Louisiana)
George W. Bush

Posted: 4:45 p.m. ET
From Eric Weisbrod, CNN Washington Bureau

Mashup mania

Mashups are new popular online tools that combine information from multiple Web sites. At the first official "Mashup Campexternal link," held in Mountain View, California, a contest was held to find the best mashup.

The winning mashup, Podbopexternal link, combines local concert listings with corresponding free, legal MP3s. In addition to winning a top-of-the-line computer server, Podbop's creator received rockstar treatment by Google, including a tour of Google's headquartersexternal link and dinner with Intel executivesexternal link.

Runner-up Chicagocrime.orgexternal link mashes together local Chicago crime statistics with Google maps. Other notable mashups provide hungry web surfers a map of nearby fast food jointsexternal link, or give information on which ski resorts have the best ski conditionsexternal link.

Toxins in Nola?

Louisiana officialsexternal link say that environmental conditions in New Orleans are improving.

A new detailed reportexternal link from a major environmental group released today argues otherwise.

The Morning Grind

Posted: 9:50 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

Katrina: An internal review

One week after a special House committee described the government's emergency response to Hurricane Katrina as "dismal," the White House releases its own report today with a new blueprint for how the federal government should respond to a catastrophic event.

"The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned" outlines 125 separate recommendations for improving communications, evacuation, search and rescue, community awareness and suggests an increased role by the military during times of national disasters.

"It covers the gamut," Fran Townsend, President Bush's homeland security adviser, said in an interview this morning on CNN's American Morning.

Townsend also noted that enacting these recommendations would help in dealing with future disasters. "The President is very much about looking forward," she said. Townsend provides a more extensive on camera briefing at 11 a.m. ET.

While the report agrees with the idea that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be strengthened within the Department of Homeland Security, it does not recommend Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff step down, as some lawmakers have demanded, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports. Bush, this morning, met with members of his Cabinet to discuss the report's findings.

At the close of that meeting, the day then turns strictly to politics as he heads west on Air Force One to raise money for two Republican incumbents. First stop is at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana, to attend a 12:35 p.m. ET reception for Rep. Chris Chocola. He then skips over to Cincinnati, Ohio, for a 5:35 p.m. ET reception at a private home for Sen. Mike DeWine. After gripping and grinning for most of the day, Bush heads back to Washington and is scheduled to arrive at the White House by 8:35 p.m. ET.

But Democrats question how much Republicans want to associate themselves with Bush, save for his ability to help them raise money. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee distributed a memo last night pointing out that four GOP Senate candidates (DeWine, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and Minnesota Rep. Mark Kennedy) have all been no-shows when Bush has visited their states to promote his policies at public events.

"These candidates are staying far away from Bush in public because the President's policies are not a very strong platform to run on in 2006 -- policies that Congressional Republicans will have a tough time escaping considering how often they rubberstamp the Bush agenda," the DSCC states in the memo sent to "interested parties."

Brian Nick, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, dismissed the DSCC claim. "I usually just ignore DSCC memos," Nick told the Grind this morning.

In 2008 news, an influential conservative organization delivered a scathing critique of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) in an e-mail sent overnight to its members. The American Conservative Union charges that McCain's lobbying reform legislation is "his newest and most dastardly attack against YOUR First Amendment rights," comparing it to his successful efforts to overhaul the campaign finance laws. The ACU claims that if the legislation is enacted into law it would hinder the organization from informing its membership of developments in the nation's capital. The e-mail also suggests the Arizona Republican is working with "his co-conspirators on the left" to pass the law.

The e-mail, authored by ACU Executive Vice President J. William Lauderback, also mentions McCain's involvement with Charles Keating, who was convicted of racketeering and fraud, and lists the Arizona Republican's political contributions received from "powerful special interests."

"You better believe that these special interests have a say in government as far as John McCain is concerned ... but as for you ... well that's another matter," Lauderback writes. He urges members to click on a hyperlink contained in the e-mail that will allow them to send "blast fax messages to President Bush and all 55 Republicans in the United States Senate" expressing their opposition to McCain's efforts.

The Grind was unable to reach a McCain political adviser early this morning to respond to the charges.

Interestingly, McCain placed second in a straw poll taken at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month. The ACU was one of the event's sponsors.

And for those of you interested in the idea that the country should switch to a "national popular election," supporters will be discussing the issue at a 9:45 a.m. ET National Press Club news conference. The bipartisan proposal is being advanced by former Rep. John Anderson (R-Illinois), former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Indiana), former Rep. John Buchanan (R-Alabama), and Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 9:50 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

ON PORT DEAL, "WE PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE CONSULTED WITH OR BRIEFED CONGRESS SOONER": Faced with an unprecedented Republican revolt over national security, the White House disclosed yesterday that President Bush was unaware of a Middle Eastern company's planned takeover of operations at six U.S. seaports until recent days and promised to brief members of Congress more fully on the pending deal. One day after threatening to veto any attempt by Congress to scuttle the controversial $6.8 billion deal, Bush sounded a more conciliatory tone by saying lawmakers should have been given more details about a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates purchasing some terminal operations in Baltimore and five other U.S. cities. "This is one where we probably should have consulted with or briefed Congress on sooner," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. Washington Post: Republicans Split With Bush on Portsexternal link

NO WH-SENATE LIAISON: One detail of the Dubai port imbroglio may go a long way toward explaining how the Bush administration got itself into a public relations debacle: The White House has no Senate liaison. "The fact that no one in the White House or the six different Cabinet-level offices who had to approve of this could see the firestorm this has become is curious," Republican consultant Rich Galen said yesterday. Until earlier this month, the Senate liaison job belonged to Matthew Kirk. Mr. Kirk left his job as deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs Feb. 3 to become vice president of federal affairs for the Hartford, a Connecticut-based lobbying firm. No official announcement has been made on a replacement for Mr. Kirk, White House officials said yesterday. Washington Times: White House lacks Senate liaisonexternal link

NO "LENGTHY REVIEW" REQUIRED: The Bush administration decided last month that a deal to hand over operations at major American ports to a government-owned company in Dubai did not involve national security and so did not require a more lengthy review, administration officials said Wednesday. The decision was made by an interagency committee led by Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert M. Kimmitt. The group included officials from 12 departments and agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Justice, State and Homeland Security, as well as the National Security Council and the National Economic Council... Mr. Kimmitt said that the company, Dubai Ports World, had been thoroughly investigated by the administration, including by intelligence agencies, and that on Jan. 17 the panel members unanimously approved the transfer. New York Times: Panel Saw No Security Issue in Port Contract, Officials Sayexternal link

DOCS SHED LIGHT ON DEAL: Under a secretive agreement with the Bush administration, a company in the United Arab Emirates promised to cooperate with U.S. investigations as a condition of its takeover of operations at six major American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. The U.S. government chose not to impose other, routine restrictions. In approving the $6.8 billion purchase, the administration chose not to require state-owned Dubai Ports World to keep copies of its business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to orders by American courts. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate requests by the government. Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries. AP via Yahoo! News: Bush Says Ports Deal Not a Security Threatexternal link

BUSH, SNOW NOT BRIEFED ON DEAL UNTIL RECENTLY: President George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary John Snow are struggling to explain why they didn't know until several days ago about a state-owned Dubai company's takeover of seaport facilities in New York and five other U.S. cities. White House spokesman Scott McClellan acknowledged yesterday that Bush wasn't aware until last weekend that a panel headed by the Treasury had approved the $6.8 billion sale of London-based port operator Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. to DP World, based in the United Arab Emirates. Snow said yesterday that he learned of the deal in the past "three or four days." Bloomberg: Bush, Snow Struggle to Explain Knowledge of Port Dealexternal link

WH KATRINA REPORT RELEASED TODAY: The nation must revamp the way it responds to major disasters or terrorist attacks, according to a new White House report that calls for more stockpiling of emergency supplies, a better-defined role for the military and a more concerted push to evacuate hospitals and nursing homes. The report, prepared by Frances Fragos Townsend, President Bush's domestic security adviser, and scheduled to be officially released Thursday, does not advocate removing the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the Department of Homeland Security, which some members of Congress have urged, officials said Wednesday. But it does call for many other changes in how federal agencies respond to disasters, including asking the Department of Housing and Urban Development to play a more central role in finding temporary housing for victims. New York Times: White House Report Advises Revamping Disaster Responseexternal link

SD SEN PASSES ANTI-ABORTION BILL: A bill designed to urge the Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling that legalized abortion passed its highest hurdle Wednesday, clearing the South Dakota Senate with a 23-12 vote. HB1215, which declares that human life begins at conception, would ban most abortions in South Dakota. The bill now goes back to the House, which passed an earlier version and now must decide whether to accept changes made by the Senate. The bill, which almost certainly will be met with a legal challenge, then would go to Gov. Mike Rounds. While several other states are considering similar measures, South Dakota would be the first to pass a broad bill banning abortion in all instances except to save the life of a pregnant woman. Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Senate OKs abortion banexternal link

JACK'S RUSSIAN TIES: The federal investigation into the lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff has broadened to examine his dealings with the Russian government and a pair of high-profile Russian energy company executives, according to documents made available to the Globe. A subpoena in the case, issued this month to an Abramoff associate, says the US government is seeking information on Abramoff-related activities with ''any department, ministry, or office holder or agent of the Russian government." The subpoena, which has not been made public, was given to the Globe by a person who is involved in the case. Abramoff's work on behalf of Indian tribes has been widely scrutinized, but his work for Russian interests has received far less public notice. Boston Globe: Abramoff ties to Russians probedexternal link

2/3 OF AMERICANS BELIEVE HILLARY WILL RUN IN '08: Two-thirds of Americans believe Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will run for president, but only one-third believe she can win, according to a national poll released Wednesday. ... Twenty-seven percent of voters said they were not likely to vote for a woman candidate in 2008 no matter which party ticket she headed, according to the poll sponsored by WNBC-TV in New York City. Of that 27 percent, almost one-third said they wouldn't back a female candidate because "women are not up to the job" while 10 percent said it was because the presidency is "a man's job." AP via Yahoo! News: Poll: Most Think Clinton Will Run in '08external link

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