What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Iraqi blogger shocked by devastation in New Orleans

by quaoar
Mon May 07, 2007 at 07:43:28 AM PDT

How bad is it in New Orleans? Bad enough that a blogger from Iraq -- visiting the city while on a journalism project -- compares it to Baghdad and feels sorry for the city's residents.

What shocked me the most in this trip was how the city looked like Baghdad. New Orleans looked like Baghdad after the war in 1991; I swear I kid you not. The devastation, empty houses, the people returning to their life in the city, the "rituals" people practice before they completely come back, the bumps in the streets and the smell of destruction (it has a distinctive smell people. Yes it does.)

I arrived to New Orleans Thursday. On the way to the hotel, I saw the same thing I saw on tv two years ago, destroyed buildings. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Two years later and the scene is the same? Where are we? A government that spent hundreds of billions of dollars on wars overseas is not capable of dealing with a crisis on its own soil! A crisis that all what it needed was money!

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The End
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Friday, June 29, 2007

Mr. “I can do my job” isn’t doing his job

Mr. “I can do my job” isn’t doing his job
Our state’s insurance commissioner, George Dale, has been rather busy of late speaking before audiences spewing forth one or another talking points provided by the insurance industry with which he is in the preverbal political bed. In his latest appalling display of happily carrying water for the insurance industry, Dale told the Clarksdale Noon Lions Club Katrina [was] "the worst natural disaster in U.S. history . . . and put an undue burden on insurance companies.”

What?! This publicly elected official is unapologetically expressing concern over Katrina’s devastating impact . . . not for families, neighborhoods, communities, and cities all across the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, the state in which he is elected to protect consumers from corporate insurance running amok over them? That would be empathizing with the folks with whom we would expect him to empathize. After all, he is the insurance commissioner for the people of Mississippi.

No, sir. Dale has the gall to reserve his empathy for the industry which all through the Katrina ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast region has been ripping off consumers, families, businesses, right and left, Republican and Democrat, rich, poor and middle class. In his official capacity, Dale expresses concern for the corporations which boasted obscene billion dollar profits in the aftermath of . . . now, how did Dale characterize it? Oh yeah, “the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.”

A friend too shy for direct attribution and to whom I’ll refer to as a gloriously delightful celestial spirit who came to me in the night summarized Dale’s disgusting public betrayal.

”This is unbelievable. George Dale told the Clarksville Lions Club that Katrina ‘put an undue burden on insurance companies.’ If people pay premiums year in and year out, how is it an ‘undue burden’ for insurance companies to keep the faith with policy holders? I guess George thinks that it is an undue burden for a casino to have to pay off when someone pumps their dollars into a slot machine and hits the jackpot.”

Insurance Companies Hit Billion Dollar Jackpot
With a government insurance commissioner gleefully bouncing around the state touting the latest round of talking points the industry supplies him, no wonder the insurance corporations have been able to hit the billion dollar jackpot.

The Insurance Industry Institute reported that the private insurance industry boasted $44.2 billion in after-tax profits in 2005 and $63.7 billion in after-tax profits in 2006. That’s some heavy profit making. These profits were after the companies had paid out $40.6 billion in Katrina claims. Of course, that wasn’t all of the Katrina-related claims. The industry sent the U.S. federal government flood program a $23 billion bill.

So far, claims paid out on Katrina add up to $64 billion— and this amount only accounts for those who’ve been paid on their claims through 2006. By the end of last year, the private insurance companies had paid $41 billion. These same companies essentially handed a $23 billion bill to American taxpayers for damages that these private companies determined for themselves that flood waters had caused. How generous that the private insurance industry only stiffed the U.S. taxpayers for 36% of the bill, so far.

On his official government website, Congressman Gene Taylor, a good Democrat from the Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast of Mississippi, has an incredible collection of “documents that suggest fraud by insurance companies in the handling of Katrina wind and water claims.” These documents appear to officially direct claims adjusters with such doozies of corporate policies like this one from Nationwideif loss is caused by both flood and wind there is no coverage.”

NO coverage?!

Or this doozie from State Farm that instructed adjusters that “where wind acts concurrently with flooding to cause damage to the insured property, coverage for the loss exists only under flood coverage.”

Dale’s Foot-in-Mouth Disease
Dale’s insults to Katrina’s survivors continued. The Clarksville Press Registry reported

The enormous impact from Hurricane Katrina should leave Mississippians wondering if they should live "in harm's way," State Insurance Commissioner George Dale.
Let’s see now. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

“Populations and built environments in coastal watersheds are growing rapidly, with 55 percent of the U.S. population already living within 50 miles of the
coast.”“The Coastal Community Development Partnership” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The Coastal Community Development Partnership brings together NOAA and EPA offices to better support state and local governments as they promote safer and smarter development along the coast.

Is Commissioner Dale suggesting that 55% of the U.S. population move inland? Katrina’s devastation went well over 100 miles inland. How far inland would he recommend that over half of America’s families move? 150 miles inland? 200 miles? How would he recommend accomplishing that? If it isn’t hurricane country, it’s tornado country or blizzard country or earthquake country.

Dale should focus on doing the job to which he was elected rather than pretending to be the grand master of city planning.

Mr. “I-can-do-my-job” shouldn’t have one
In his impromptu speech before the state’s annual Municipal League conference held on the Gulf Coast this week, Dale repeated this mantra many times “I can do my job.” Thanks to John Leek at Cotton Mouth Blog, another Gulf Coast blog, we have video of Dale’s public admission.

Considering the man has been in the pocket of the very industry he has been responsible for regulating in the 32 years Dale’s been elected to this office, I’m glad to hear him admit that he can do his job. The question, of course, is “when is he going to start?”

Verrrrry Interesting
Before the Lions Club, Dale continued his showmanship in demonstrating his expertise in the foot-in-mouth department. "Can we survive another (Katrina) . . . ?" Excuse me?! This from a man who has all but prostituted himself for the insurance industry that has made recovery all but practically impossible for everyone involved?! Thanks to Dale’s buddies in the insurance industry and their shameless flackey with this Mississippi Insurance Commissioner, surviving Katrina has yet to come to a resilient conclusion.

When I read those highly insensitive words, I thought of the ever popular 1970’s comedy show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. The show had a character named Wolfgang, the Nazi soldier who would pop up behind bushes to say the infamous line "Verrry interesting...but schtupit!"

Yep. That's schtupit, alright. George Dale needs to voluntarily retire and work directly for the insurance industry he has protected from any real regulation.

Personally, I think the real question is this. "Should the good people of Mississippi even entertain the thought of surviving another year with an Insurance Commissioner who is a mouthpiece for an industry that ripped off the families and businesses of the Katrina-ravaged regions of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans?!"

The answer is no.

Dale’s handling of the Katrina disaster alone should have the Democratic voters in South Mississippi sending this guy packing come the August primary.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Happy Talk: State Farm and Their Statistics

 Happy Talk: State Farm and Their Statistics
I come from a musical family. Growing up in my home, playing musical instruments, dancing, and singing were the norm. On Saturdays, one of my older brothers would turn on the radio or put a stack of 45s on the stereo. We would dance with mops and brooms to Motown or other terrific music playing in the background while doing our chores.

As my younger brother now says, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing to music!” I wonder if this is his modern day version of the Mary Poppins’ lyrics “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” For old time’s sake, here’s a YouTube version of Julie Andrews singing it. Go ahead, press the button. You know you want to! ;)

Mary Poppin's "Spoonful of Sugar"

Indeed, Disney movies as well as Broadway plays were a big while I was growing up, and their positive influence has remained with me. I have found their lyrics to be supremely instructional. Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific featured the song “Happy Talk” which may be seen as a precursor to the introduction of the power of positive thinking. In the Broadway musical, South Pacific’s character Bloody Mary sang the rhythmic song while playing matchmaker with her daughter and a military guy.

Happy talkin’ Talkin’
happy talk
Talk about things you like to do
You got to have a dream
If you don’t have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come true?

. . .

If you don’t talk happy
And you never have a dream,
Then you never have a dream come true.

Clearly this is good advice with regard to anything we desire, and its magic is legendary for those of us who’ve followed it. We can see its fruits all around us. The fruit itself can be quite deliciously sweet.

However, the fruit can also be demonically poisonous. It just depends on the fruit about which one is happily talking. State Farm’s happy talk about its closed Katrina-related cases is a great example.

In response to the racketeering lawsuit that the Scruggs Katrina Group filed against State Farm, the company’s spokesman Jonathan Freed declared, “More than 99% of all Katrina claims have been paid and settled.”

Mississippi’s Insurance Commissioner George Dale repeats the talking points that the insurance industry apparently provides him. "98 percent of all claims have been paid." This is all happy talkin’ non-sense. The company’s happy talk covers up the sad reality for hurricane survivors. Playing the role of the big bad wolf, State Farm and Commissioner Dale, who is in the industry’s pocket, hope to scare away current and potential plaintiffs from participating in lawsuits that are intended to force the companies to live up to their contractual obligations. Dale’s attorney is a big time lobbyist for the insurance industry, and the commissioner sees no conflict of interest with this relationship.

Oh my, what big teeth you have!
Not really. Mississippi Attorney General Jim “Hood accused State Farm of reporting false statistics, saying the insurer asserted it had settled 99 percent of its Katrina claims. The Attorney General said if the insurer considered a residence damaged by water, it didn't consider it a claim at all.”

What?! Isn’t that what all of the lawsuits are about in the first place? The fact that State Farm and its cohorts in the insurance industry have routinely pawned off on the federal government’s flood insurance program all of the hurricane’s costs regardless of the percent of damage caused by wind and that caused by water? A smidgen of water and bam! The insurance industry hits our Federal flood insurance program with an inflated $23 billion bill. Meanwhile, the Insurance Industry Institute reported that the private insurance industry boasted $44.2 billion in after-tax profits in 2005 and $63.7 billion in after-tax profits in 2006. These profits were after the companies had paid out $40.6 billion in Katrina claims, which of course, are not all of the Katrina-related claims that they should have paid. [For more information, read Scamming Policyholders & Taxpayers.]

Mixing Bloody Mary’s Happy Talk Advice with Alice in Wonderland
State Farm isn’t the only one using the talking point to pretend 99% of Hurricane Katrina claims have been settled. It’s good neighbor Allstate uses the same number, too!

“Allstate spokesman Michael Siemienas said, “We are pleased that these customers are now a part of the 99 percent of Allstate customers in Mississippi whose claims are settled.” What does he mean “are now a part of the 99 percent”? Is this an admission that Allstate had created a number and from now on any claims the corporation really does close appropriately are part of the fictitious number? Geeze, Louise!

Is State Farm—and Allstate, for that matter—combining Bloody Mary’s happy talk advice with “The Unbirthday Song” lyrics from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland? Do you remember that one? It’s about using statistics in a way that favors your goal. Go on. Press the button. You know you want to remember the Disney film of our youth.

Alice in Wonderland's "The Unbirthday Song"

Statistics prove, prove that you've one birthday,
one birthday ev'ry year.
But there are three
hundred and sixty four
That is why we're gathered here to cheer.

Let’s recap, shall we? We have State Farm, Allstate, and their industry front man, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale all singing from the same fictitious happy statistical song sheet.

Too bad I’m not a cartoonist. I could sketch out an editorial cartoon of three men on stage surrounding a single microphone. Two are cartoonish State Farm and Allstate figures dressed in suits made from cloth with their respective company logos as the design. The third member of the trio, of course, would be their front man, George Dale.

The tune? “The 99% Blues” sung in three part harmony and dedicated to Katrina’s plaintiffs. This would be a two frame cartoon. The first frame is a close up of the three singing, smiling, and winking at each other as if to say, “Yeah, buddy, we’re singing in perfect harmony . . . just like always!”

The second would capture the filled-to-capacity auditorium whose audience is up on their feet walking out on the trio’s performance. The trio is screaming, “Where is everybody going?!” Turning to each other, audience members are saying, “Who has that number to the Scruggs Katrina Group?” “I’m calling my attorney when I get home. These guys were handing us a line of you-know-what.”

So what do we do about an industry that is the only game in town to insure us? Two things come to mind.

First, Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) introduced a bill to expand the federal flood insurance program to include all natural perils. Since these private corporations don’t want to keep their word to us, we can change the rules of the game and end the industry’s gravy train. This is within our power. It is up to us to do our part in ending this legal thievery. Following the rules established under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Congressman Gene Taylor’s legislation requires that the program be financially self-sufficient. Good. It should be.

Today’s political hell raising activity will help us provide real all perils insurance for Americans.

We can call and email our congressional representatives to request that they co-sponsor H.R.920, which is called the Multiple Peril Insurance Act of 2007. Raising a little political hell together, we can protect everyone’s families from being soaked by insurance companies.

The second thing that comes to mind is this. For our own purpose, we use the power of Bloody Mary’s happy talk advice. It’s good advice upon which the filmmakers of The Secret have expounded. I’m a big fan of both The Secret and the song "Happy Talk". The Secret is a DVD that introduces the concept of the Law of Attraction, the idea that what we think about with emotion we will attract and manifest into our lives. Bloody Mary conceptualizes this idea in her song. Talk happy, be happy.

State Farm and Allstate talk happy statistics in hopes to make their dream of scamming us come true.

We can talk in terms of quick and fair settlements. We can talk about a quick and just outcome of the racketeering lawsuit to punish insurance corporations that have harmed families and friends in the Katrina-ravaged region. We can talk about passing the Multiple Peril Insurance Act so that when a tornado rips through or an earthquake swallows or a hurricane demolishes or a flood drowns our home, we really will know that we are in good hands. We really will know that our insurance coverage will be there, just like a good neighbor.

For those who are unfamiliar with or for those who simply want to go down memory lane, below you will find South Pacific’s “Happy Talk” video on YouTube. Go on. Push the button. We all can stand to memorize this song. That way, when we a naysayer like the apologists for State Farm and Allstate start singing their fictitious statistical song, we just remember that these days, we’re singing to our own tune.

South Pacific's Happy Talk"

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Valuing America’s Families

 Valuing America’s Families

Early yesterday morning before the sun rose high in the sky to beam its beautiful—and hot as Hades—rays upon the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I put in a couple of hours sanding base boards and such. The sander fits my tiny hand pretty well, and its light weight nature makes it easy on me. I’ve been dealing with it for a number of days by now, and I guess, that I’m getting pretty good with it and pretty fast with the process. I will confess, however, I DO . . . NOT . . . LIKE . . . doing this.

I’m a petite woman with an extremely high energy level and whose well toned and agile muscles are located between my ears rather than in my physical body. On more than one occasion in my life, I’ve been told I have more energy than the Energizer Bunny. This has come in mighty handy throughout the years when I’ve had to go long hours in electoral campaigns or in the corporate world. However, this post-Katrina physical labor wears . . . me . . . out.

I find myself becoming a bit agitated with it and a bit grumpy at the challenge that doing this kind of work creates. In my exhausted stupor—which comes in full speed about 2 hours after I happily crank up the sander, I always think of those in this Katrina-ravaged area who have been here dealing with the physical, emotional, and financial toll the hurricane imposed.

In addition to that, I think about the betrayal everyone has felt from a White House occupant who remained on vacation while Katrina gathered strength and did nothing to help the states, cities, and the Gulf Coast and New Orleans residents in the face of what was about to happen. And who still does nothing to help with anything remotely resembling good old fashioned leadership.

Then to have the insurance companies deliberately betray consumer trust and outright refuse to cover legitimate claims had to have been another nightmare.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to watch as your home was swept away with the ferocious winds or the wind driven water . . . or to learn that all that you have left of your life is the set of clothes you and your family packed for the few days you thought it would take to return home or to watch, as my own family members did, water come into a home that has been a safe haven for its entire 43-year existence.

So many homes are gone. We were lucky because the family home remained standing though the roof poured water into the attic and water rose four and a half feet or so and placed about 8 inches in the house itself. I reflect on the various stories I’ve been privileged to learn.

Southern Hospitality, Goldie Locks, and Through the Looking Glass
A few weeks after I arrived for what I had intended to be a short visit back in March of this year, I attended a St. Patrick’s Day event at the local Internet Café, the Mockingbird Café. My brother Michael introduced me to two women who were sisters. For a time, their dad had carpooled to work with our dad. Both of our dads worked at Avondale Shipyards, some 90 minutes away—one way, if the roads were clear and there was no fog, rain, or other intemperate weather as is often the case in these parts.

Anyway, let’s call one of the sister’s Mary. Mary told me her Katrina story. As the storm proceeded to rain upon this area, she, her kids, and her best friend ended up crawling into the attic and eventually on to the roof to escape the water. She said that they were holding on for dear life. They noticed that a lot of houses were floating by them. Shocked, of course, at this entire nightmare, there greatest shock was soon to dawn upon them as they realized that the other houses were NOT floating at all.

Rather it was THEIR house that was floating away with them holding on for dear life! Mary tod me her story without choking up. Rather, in typical fashion for the New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast region, she was laughing.

Indeed, a sense of humor about the whole Katrina experience wards off the adverse effects of the stress of the storm and the betrayal experienced at the hands of the Bush Administration’s failed FEMA leadership as well as the hands of the insurance industry.

After Katrina passed, Mary and her family went looking for others in the area. No one was around. They went to a neighbor’s house whose second story was still in good condition. They showered and slept. She said that she knew very well that her neighbors would welcome their presence. Before they left, they took care to make the beds. Sort of like Southern hospitality and manners meets Goldie Locks and the Three Bears in an Alice-in-Wonderland-Through-the-Looking-Glass reality.

Katrina Fatigue
So as I am feeling the exhaustion and a myriad of other things, I imagine what it is like for anyone who actually stayed and went through the storm itself. I need go no further than my own family. Two of my brothers stayed at the house through Katrina.

Why, you ask?

Because historically it has been the safest place in the county. Built in 1962, it has gone through every hurricane relatively unscathed save knocking down the trees. Camille did a bit of roof damage, but nothing traumatic.

After Katrina, my brothers pulled up carpet, tore out walls, helped out neighbors. My brother from New Orleans also went back to the city to check on and deal with his own house there, the home of his daughter’s mother, and various relatives and friends. To this day, he has been unable to get a plumber to show up and install the new hot water heater he has had for quite a long time.

A friend of mine recently visited the Gulf Coast for a work meeting. He remarked that he felt that folks down here were experiencing Katrina Fatigue. Yes, of course, they are. An overall sense of abandonment is almost palpable.

We’re the greatest nation on Earth, but since the current set of folks moved into our White House, caring about the American people and our families evaporated as surely as if Katrina herself had blown away such a traditional notion.

We like to pride ourselves on American ingenuity, our stick-to-itiveness. Yet, the national dialogue on our public airwaves focuses on Paris Hilton’s time in the slammer rather than the imprisoned feeling Katrina’s survivors are experiencing after the storm slammed these shores.

We are the wealthiest nation on the planet with a White House that loves to cloak itself with religious overtones, yet neglecting the real and ongoing needs is its modus operandi. Having returned to the town of my upbringing, I recall easily the songs we sang at Mass while I was growing up. (Please excuse the sexism.) But the words go like this. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” I guess Bush and his callous conservative crowd skipped those lessons.

For many of us inside and out of this Katrina-ravaged region, we understand the universal message of caring for others, being of service to others, giving a helping hand to those whose hand we can so easily touch . . . if only we would.

The current Administration talks of compassion, they don’t “do” compassion. It talks of American ingenuity and uses our famed “can-do” spirit to its own end, but it places unnecessary obstacles that prohibits our American can-do spirit . . . from doing.

Had we had a different federal leadership coming out of the Oval Office, one that would have been appropriate to the situation, then the folks living through Katrina and picking up the pieces afterwards to put together their lives would have been spared the lunacy and hardship of the “you’re on your own” homeland security policy that the Bush White House implemented.

As I continue my part in renovating my mom’s home, I think about the hardships of my friends and family as well as those of everyone I have met. This puts my personal experience into a larger context that keeps me focused on an attitude of gratitude for what my family has as I continue to wonder . . .

How would these incredible and unnecessary hardships from Bush’s FEMA and the insurance industry have been avoided had we had positive, healthy, appropriate White House leadership? The current administration spits out the phrase “family values” as if a punch line in a joke.

The leadership we had expected would have implemented innovative policies—including aggressively taking on the insurance industry—that demonstrated it really did value America’s families. This kind of White House leadership would have removed rather than placed obstacles in our way. This kind of White House leadership would have unleashed America’s can-do spirit, that uniquely American trait that inspires our ingenuity. That’s the American way.

With a White House leadership that implemented solid policies which valued America’s families, the Katrina fatigue that my friend so keenly observed this past weekend would have been a joyful exhaustion from having worked fast and furiously to rebuild so quickly, to reconstruct our homes, communities, and cities with vision and energy, and to rebound with vitality and vigor.

That’s the America we love, the America we respect, the America we trust. That’s the America in our hearts.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Simple Pleasures Not So Simple

 Simple Pleasures Not So Simple

Just got off the phone with my mother’s friend, Ms. Betty. I mentioned that when I had left California, I hadn’t anticipated staying here this long. That my recipe books were back in San Jose. But! I remembered that she had given me a recipe book some years ago and in it was a recipe for a cookie that I would LOVE to bake. When I was a little girl, I just loved it when one or another aunt would bake cocoons, an absolutely scrumptious delicacy! Kind of like a wedding cookie, only far better, in my not-so-humble culinary opinion. ;)

Years, before the storm, Ms. Betty had put together a cookbook for the local county hospital which happens to be in our hometown. She had given me a copy of it, and I recall that in it was this recipe.

I didn’t think twice about asking her for the recipe. It’s a simple enough of a request. Everyone down here loves great food, swapping recipes, and raving over mouth-watering palatable pleasures. I told Ms. Betty that there was absolutely no rush, just whenever she came upon it, if she would call and read it to me, I’d simply write it down.

She said that she didn’t know if she could find it. Not quite yet grasping the situation, I mentioned that it was a pink covered book that she had put together for the hospital. I could hear in her voice that she may not have it. How thoughtless of me especially considering that I knew that she had lost her home. An easy going conversation ended up as reminder of what was lost in a moment during a major natural disaster.

“Ahhhh, yes!” Ms. Betty said. She proceeded to tell me that it made her sick to lose that book in the storm because she had worked so hard on it. Ms. Betty, who is now 71 years old, had been a full time volunteer at the local hospital. However, she then told me that she had mentioned to a friend at the hospital that she had lost the recipe book in Katrina. Lo and behold! There was a single copy of it left, and Ms. Betty did, in fact, have the book containing the cookie recipe. Whew!

Not so fast, though. Ms. Betty said that she had to look through her Katrina boxes to find it and would look for it over the next few days. As she and I talked further, she piped up and changed the subject. “You have a pen and paper?” I said, “Uh, yes.”

“I found the book.” Ms. Betty then dictated the recipe to me. We continued chatting about cooking, food, recipe books. I mentioned that I had really missed having mine with me especially since I’m baking a carrot cake for my younger brother’s birthday at the end of the week. Again, she piped up with offering to look for her carrot cake recipe. I was really feeling conflicted. I knew how food-centric we all are here—cooking it, eating it, sharing it with others. But, I didn’t want to put her out nor did I want her to go looking for something that Katrina had swept away almost 22 months ago.

Again, she put her hand right on the recipe and now I have a great recipe in my hands. Such a sweetie that she is, Ms. Betty asked if I had cake pans. See, when she moved back after the storm, she had attended some volunteer meeting and offered to make a cake for some occasion.

She went to the store and got a few things. When she got to where she was staying, she realized that she didn’t have any cake pans. By this she meant that Katrina had carried away her kitchen belongings along with the rest of her things. Something as simple as baking a cake—at least for those of us who are used to having a kitchen stocked with pots and pans, cooking utensils and assorted items like flour, sugar, baking powder and the like, becomes a reminder of all that was lost on that fateful day Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and burst the levees in New Orleans.

I replied to her question stating that mom’s baking pans were in a box somewhere in the shed or in the make shift storage on the carport. However, my brother’s girlfriend has cake pans she was going to let me borrow.

I think about all of my belongings that are safely in California. Given the way life has unfolded since I arrived here back in the beginning of March, I am uncertain of when I’ll reunite with my things. I remember that I’m lucky. I have all of my belongings. For so many here in Katrina Land, they don’t have what they had pre-Katrina be it a cake pan, a dish towel, or a home to call one’s own.

It shouldn’t be this way. The insurance companies should have paid out the claims long ago. Instead, their unconscionable behavior has forced policyholders to go to court. Thankfully, we have the Scruggs Katrina Group, the Merlin Law Group, Mississippi’s Attorney General Jim Hood and others who are bringing justice to this ongoing nightmarish situation. Hopefully, the insurance companies will receive sky high fines for their atrociously bad corporate behavior which they continue to demonstrate. Along with the fines, I wish that there could be personal criminal charges brought against the insurance managers and board of directors for their role in what they have imposed on Katrina’s survivors.

This is America, where we learn as children about Justice being blind so as to see Truth. When corporations deliberately conspire internally or externally as the documents listed on the official website for Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) appear to indicate, we look for the wheels of Justice to do us proud.

As we wait for the court proceedings to conclude favorably, those of us in Katrina Land must continue to live our lives as best we can. While living in California, going to the one of many grocery stores within a 15 minute drive was the norm. Having at my fingertips, the pots and pans that I’ve accumulated over the years was, of course, common place. Like my maternal grandmother, I absolutely enjoy cooking and baking. These are among many such simple pleasures that I, along with many of you, take for granted.

For me—as for others here in Katrina Land, things are different. Even the simple pleasures in life are not so simple.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bush’s FEMA pulling out $33 million rug from Mississippi School District

FEMA may not fund new school
Jun 22, 2007

Repeatedly over the past 22 months, FEMA officials said in public meetings the school board could build the schools if it raised the elevation above the ABFE.

The recent memo caught state and local officials completely off-guard this week, and now the possibility that FEMA may not fund the school is potentially a serious problem, officials said.

"This is the first we have heard about this," School District Attorney Mark Alexander said Thursday. "FEMA has changed the rules in the middle of the game. Every single step in the process involved reps from MEMA and FEMA. It was our understanding from them that we could build above the ABFE."


Alexander said if the school district has to absorb the $33 million dollar contract . . . , it could mean "extreme ramifications" for the school district. ***

An artist’s conception of the new South Hancock Elementary School, which would consolidate Gulfview and Charles B. Murphy schools.

“This policy is coming down from headquarters
and it is not what the local reps have interpreted."*** Mike Womack, the executive director of MEMA

Thursday, the school district was scheduled to break ground on the new school, which officials hoped to have completed by August 2008.

Last month, the [Hancock County] school board entered into a $33 million contract with Roy Anderson Corp. to construct South Hancock and another school in Leetown. FEMA funding was to cover most of the construction costs.

Repeatedly over the past 22 months, FEMA officials said in public meetings the school board could build the schools if it raised the elevation above the ABFE (Advisory Base Flood Elevation).

The recent memo caught state and local officials completely off-guard this week, and now the possibility that FEMA may not fund the school is potentially a serious problem, officials said.
"This is the first we have heard about this," School District Attorney Mark Alexander said Thursday. "FEMA has changed the rules in the middle of the game. Every single step in the process involved reps from MEMA and FEMA. It was our understanding from them that we could build above the ABFE."

Mike Womack, the executive director of MEMA, said Thursday he believes the school board is exempt from the policy.

"The policy was actually put in place about a year ago, but it said if your project was already underway, then you were exempt," he said. "It's unfortunate that they (FEMA) are taking this position. This policy is coming down from headquarters and it is not what the local reps have interpreted."

Read the entire article in the Sea Coast Echo.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

From Baghdad to Bay St. Louis:
Creating a Political Mardi Gras

 From Baghdad to Bay St. Louis: Creating a Political Mardi Gras
While I was at the Hancock County Public Library the other day, I met a young woman on R&R for two weeks from Iraq. She was at the library with her nieces and nephews who were so cute and adorable. I helped her seven year old niece turn off the sound on the computer she was using. The little one promptly looked up at me with a broad beautiful grin and a twinkle in her eyes as she told me that she gets "A"s in math and science.

I beamed back at her as I praised and encouraged the little one to study hard and get good grades and to stay sweet and beautiful. I wanted to be part of that child’s cheerleader crowd. A young African-American female from my itty bitty hometown who enjoys and gets fabulous grades in math and science. I told this beautiful child to remember that she could grow up and be anything she wanted to be. That she could do or be or have whatever she desired. I wanted to help her to dream and to dream BIG.

Immediately what came to mind were all the opportunities that will open up for her in the next decade, just before she enters college. I want—as I’m sure that her aunt wants—for this little girl to imagine the life she wants and to manifest it for herself.

I went up to her aunt and beamed from ear to ear as I remarked on that precious child. The soldier will return to Iraq in a matter of days and has been told that she will return home in January of 2008. I pray that she remains safe and comes home soon.

I feel so very sad for her and her family. I thanked this solider for her service, and I expressed my desire for all soldiers to be home.

Both of us were born and raised here at Katrina’s ground zero, and our elder family members know each other. I think they worked together at Head Start or something along those lines back in the mid-to-late 60’s.

This young woman should be here helping her family recover from Katrina. She should be here watching with pride as her little niece grows up with opportunities and encouragement that went wanting for us.

That young soldier had momentary pleasure with something as routine as taking her younger relatives to the public library to check out books and to get on the computers. Aside from my total opposition to Bush’s unnecessary war of choice with all of the ill will his Iraq war has wrought throughout the world and here at home, this woman and her squadron along with others like it should be here helping us to rebuild.

As I see the major infrastructure projects that every Katrina town and city must rebuild, I yearn for the times of my childhood. No, not the racism and sexism. Just the part that had a very responsive federal government, the part that had deployed the National Guard and other military units to help with some of the heavy lifting after Hurricane Camille in 1969.

While the general disposition of folks around here is pleasant, make no mistake about it, the hardship is immense.

When I was this soldier’s age, I learned from my feminist sisters that the personal is political. This war is personal. So, too, is the immense hardship of putting back together the lives, neighborhoods,, and communities here in Katrina Land.

Many years later after learning the phrase “the personal is political”, I have also come to understand the reverse to be true. The political is personal.

This morning I was reading on the frustration that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hasn’t ended the war. I’ve read other comments regarding all sorts of areas that folks are expecting this extremely wise political leader to eradicate in a matter of months.

We’re doing good work, folks. Eight and a half months ago, we elected a Democratic Congress and Senate. Now we must be supportive, provide the pressure, and be ready soon to jump on into one of the many races to elect good Dems to congressional office and the White House.

I responded to the Pelosi slam. I’m definitely a Progressive Pelosi Democrat. She’s wise, tough, and politically savvy. I admire that and emulate it. To do what we desire requires that we increase our Democratic majorities in Congress and in state and local offices as well. So be it. We have our marching orders come this January to volunteer some time and/or money to ensure that we accomplish this goal.

In the meantime, we call and email our elected officials. We write letters to the editor. We join with organizations that are doing important political work. On the side of my blog’s homepage is a list of terrific Political Hell Raising Organizations from which to choose, should you be so inclined.

In this way, we continue to move the ball down the field. That is the way to score points on the board, a prerequisite to winning the game. Look, I’m a Southerner. I am smack in the middle of New Orleans Saints’ country and proud of it! Remember, I grew up with the Saints at a time when people joked about putting paper bags on their heads because of their field performance.

After the tremendous natural disaster that was Hurricane Katrina, the team sold out its season tickets last year—the first year it returned to the Superdome after the storm. And what did the Saints do? They went all the way to the Super Bowl playoffs!!!!

How did they do it? They mastered the fundamentals. They leveraged their momentum. They became a powerhouse that had to have psyched out many of its opponents who most likely had anticipated walking through that week’s ball game.

Now, we can use this incredible success story of rising from the ashes like the Phoenix and soaring beyond our wildest dreams. We, too, can master the political fundamentals. As we do, we will enjoy flexing our political muscles and routinely winning year after year the political Super Bowls in the legislative and electoral arenas.

As we continue to come of age politically, we will once again experience an expanding peace and prosperity. Families and neighborhoods like we have in Katrina Land will recover quickly. We will all have so much to celebrate, that we'll be dancing in the streets—one big continuous political Mardi Gras, if you will.

Save me a dance!

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Friday, June 22, 2007

FEMA ordered to stop collection efforts

By Natalie Chandler
June 19, 2007


"(FEMA) will send a letter out that says, 'We've determined you're ineligible for the money you received.' And that doesn't tell you anything," said Crystal Utley, an attorney with Mississippi Center for Justice. "And they're not telling people they may be eligible for a hardship waiver. And when people ask for a waiver, they ignore their request."


Ocean Springs resident Leslie Keller said she cannot afford to repay the $2,500 she was given for rental assistance. She said FEMA originally told her she didn't qualify for the money because she was living in a FEMA trailer. But because she was still paying a mortgage on her destroyed home, she said, FEMA relented.

"Then six months later, they said I had to give it back," said Keller, a 45-year-old mother of three who attends school during the day and works at night.

"I can understand going after the ones that fraudulently (received money)," she said. "But as far as the people who accepted aid and then FEMA says it's the wrong type of aid, it's not right."
FEMA has provided $1.23 billion in aid to Mississippi since Katrina struck.

Read the rest of the article in the Clarion Ledger, daily newspaper in Jackson, Miss., the state’s capitol.

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White House Muzzling Hurricane Center Director

National Hurricane Center Director Bill Proenza has been the loudest voice calling for a replacement of an aging satellite.

U.S. hurricane satellite could fail at any time
Associated Press
June 12, 2007
MIAMI - An aging weather satellite crucial to accurate predictions on the intensity and path of hurricanes could fail at any moment and plans to launch a replacement have been pushed back seven years to 2016.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's chief said the failure of the QuikScat satellite could bring more uncertainty to forecasts and widen the areas that are placed under hurricane watches and warnings.

If the satellite faltered, experts estimate that the accuracy of two-day forecasts would suffer by 10 percent and three-day forecasts by 16 percent, which could translate into miles of coastline and the difference between a city being evacuated or not.

Read the MSNBC article.

A.M in the Morning Comment: In typical fashion, the Bush Administration prefers a PR campaign and muzzling public employees to telling the American people the truth. See next story.

I'd really like to reinforce to American public that we are prepared to provide
hurricane services this season.

Mary Glackin, acting head of the U.S. Weather Service

Hurricane center director chastised for comments to media
June 17, 2007

MIAMI (AP) — The director of the National Hurricane Center, who has been outspoken in warning about an aging satellite used for hurricane forecasting, was chastised . . . by a superior for his comments.

Bill Proenza has been talking about the QuikScat satellite since taking office in January. The satellite was launched in 1999 and designed to last two to three years but is now showing signs of its age. Certain hurricane forecasts could be up to 16% less accurate if it fails, Proenza has said. That could lead to wider areas placed under hurricane watches and warnings. A satellite with technology meant to replace QuikScat would not fly until 2016, seven years later than planned, The Associated Press reported this week.

. . . Proenza was given a 3-page letter from the acting head of the Weather Service, Mary Glackin. Proenza's recent statements "may have caused some unnecessary confusion about NOAA's ability to accurately predict tropical storms," Glackin wrote.

Read the USAToday story.

A.M in the Morning Comment: Yeah, Glackin is marching in lockstep with the Rove, Cheney, and Bush.

Hurricane chief: NOAA wasted millions
By Brian Skoloff, Associated Press Writer
May 17, 2007

The federal government is spending millions of dollars on a publicity campaign that could be used to plug budget shortfalls hurricane forecasters are struggling with, the National Hurricane Center's director said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is spending up to $4 million to publicize a 200th anniversary celebration while the agency has cut $700,000 from hurricane research, Bill Proenza said. The hurricane center is part of the National Weather Service, which is a NOAA agency.

"No question about it, it is not justified," he said in a phone interview while attending the Florida Governor's Hurricane Conference in Fort Lauderdale. "It is using appropriated funds for self promotion."Read the USA Today story.

A.M in the Morning Comment: How wonderful to have folks who know their craft, have a backbone to stand up to political pressure AND receive mainstream media attention. What a breath of much needed fresh air!

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

State Farm, Partners, and RICO:
What a Racket!

State Farm, Partners, RICO: What a Racket!
[At end of this piece are additional resources on the RICO case including a video of the press conference annoucing this historical lawsuit.]

I’m not talking tennis either. The whirlwind of news swirling about is almost dizzying. Shortly after Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and breached the New Orleans’ levees, rumors floated around implying that the insurance companies would rig their claims process to wiggle out of paying what was owed to Paula and Peter Policyholders.

I thought to myself how criminal and cruel, heartless and calculating the people running a corporation would have to be to actually pull off something like this.

I envisioned a set of companies passing back and forth among themselves responsibility for the Katrina claims. I had thought this would be a way to shift its costs to other companies depending on which of them had the flood insurance policies. I was unaware that the private insurance corporations had bailed out of the flood insurance business some forty years ago.

I didn’t realize that our U.S. Government was taking care of what the private market neglected. When corporations failed to fill the market needs of American families and business owners, the federal government stepped in. Indeed, a lesson in the absurdity of arguing in favor of straight up laissez faire economics.

What I had envisioned was in the right direction of what occurred. I just didn’t realize that the US taxpayers would get stuck with the private corporations’ bill.

Courageous Whistleblowers Step Forward
Thankfully, two courageous women—Cori and Kerri Rigsby—blew the whistle on what has turned out to be a scenario worse than imagined. These very brave Rigsby sisters came forward with evidence that allegedly proves that State Farm defrauded policyholders by manipulating engineers' reports so that claims could be denied.

Photo of Cori and Kerri Rigsby

ABC News was able to obtain a copy from State Farm files of the original FAEC damage report, which included the image of an attached "Post-it" note that read, "Put in wind file - do not pay bill - do not discuss"
Below is a post it note on a file that appears to embody the essence of the allegations.

Cori and Kerri Rigsby turned to attorney Richard Scruggs to represent them. A few years back, Scruggs had won his fight against Big Tobacco costing the cigarette industry a “$246 billion settlement to help states defray Medicaid costs for smoking-related illnesses.”

The sisters say they ultimately printed out and copied roughly 15,000 pages of claims records. In addition to providing the material to Scruggs, they say they gave copies to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton's offices on June 5, the same day they told a supervisor they were cooperating with Scruggs. For eight years, Cori and Kerri Rigby had managed State Farm claims adjuster teams.
Of course, State Farm is doing everything it can to suppress the use of this information in any legal proceeding. Doesn’t this sound just like they took a page straight out of the playbook for their Republican buddies in the White House?

Remember how the Administration went ballistic when we learned that someone in Bush’s employ had leaked the identity of CIA undercover operative? The White House wasn’t upset that someone had betrayed the country and put at risk Valerie Plame’s life and all those with whom she was associated as well as compromised her work on weapons of mass destruction. No ma’am. Bush and his team were upset that they had been caught. Well, this is the same game State Farm seems to be playing.

On Wednesday, June 20,2007, the Scruggs Katrina Group filed a federal lawsuit against State Farm and its corporate partners alleging the corporations were violating the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act, which most of us have heard of as RICO. State Farm worked with “Forensic Analysis & Engineering Corp. of Raleigh, N.C., and E.A. Renfroe Co. Inc. of Hoover, Ala. Forensic's engineers inspected homes for State Farm, while Renfroe helped the company adjust claims.”

The Scruggs Katrina Group characterized the complaint as "a story of how State Farm and its web of surrogate companies conspired to deny claims that should be paid by State Farm and to shift liability to the federal-funded flood insurance program. Actions taken by State Farm and conspirators included:
  • threatening experts who disagreed with their desired result
  • concealing information that would work in the policyholder's favor destroying or falsifying reports
  • placing pressure on engineers to use scientifically inaccurate and deceptive language
  • firing engineers who refused to be corrupted inventing a new policy to exclude all hurricane damage
  • using their strength and size to intimidate policyholders in the mediation process

My God alive! Racketeering charges against an insurance company that is known for its jingle claiming “just like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”

“I've never seen a smoking gun this good, even in the tobacco litigation when I'd thought I'd seen it all,” Scruggs said in an interview. “They collaborated to defeat valid homeowner claims through rigged engineering reports and biased adjusting.

Boy oh boy. This is sounding more and more like the Bush Administration’s kind of friends. For an analysis of the obscene amount of money the insurance industry invests in Republican candidates, see Soaking U.S. Taxpayers.

Where’s the Federal Probe?
The Rigsby sisters had turned over their documentation to both the state attorney general and the U.S. Attorney. Just over a week ago, Mississippi’s Attorney General Jim Hood, a good Democrat, filed a lawsuit against State Farm for breach of contract. [See State Farm Paying Attorney Fee for Miss. Insurance Commissioner]. As part of that contract, Hood had agreed to drop the state’s criminal probe into State Farm. With State Farm’s alleged breach, Hood has not ruled out reopening the criminal probe.

The Sun Herald reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has subpoenaed records from Nationwide Insurance, State Farm, and Allstate. The paper also reported “records indicate a grand jury is hearing evidence. Grand jury proceedings are secret and don't necessarily result in criminal charges.”

I feel the public is in good hands with Attorney General Jim Hood and attorney groups like the Scruggs Katrina Group. But I have reservations when it comes to the federal probe.

In September 2001, George W. Bush appointed Dunn Lampton, a Republican, as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. The Clarion-Ledger reported that Lampton was allegedly on a White House 2005 hit list for canning U.S. Attorneys. When asked why he would be on the list, Lampton said, “I don’t have a clue.”

How’s about this for a clue, Mr. Lampton? Your office has subpoenaed documents from three of the big insurance companies: State Farm, Allstate, and Nationwide. Your office has convened a grand jury in the federal probe of these companies … and if that isn’t plenty enough, you just successfully concluded the criminal conviction of “reputed Klansman James Ford Seale [for] kidnapping and conspiracy in the 1964 deaths of two black teenagers in southwest Mississippi.”

I applaud you for bringing justice to the families who have endured immense and unthinkable pain for the last 33 years. Bush’s lapdog Gonzales and his minions found out that you were not one of them. I’m quite sure that the compassionless folks in the White House do not share your sense of justice, your values. I think it’s probably quite safe to say that you are a bit out of sync with the Republican leadership, and once again, for this, I applaud you. You have brought justice to these families and a sense of closure for their wounds.

I hope that you will pursue with equal vigor your probe into the alleged criminal behavior of the corporations that have brought a different kind of unthinkable pain and suffering to the families of all racial and ethnic backgrounds here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

To top it all off, Mr. Lampton, you’ve stirred up a hornets nest with pursuing a public campaign for gun control. Bravely, you yourself were featured in this public service television spot. As I’ve already stated twice and now shall do so for a third time, I applaud you, Mr. Lampton. This was the right thing to do. However, the Bushies do not share your values, sir. Even though you are a Republican, this may be yet another reason that your name was on Gonzales’ hit list for the political purging of the Justice department.

Be strong, Mr. Lampton. The people of South Mississippi, and for that matter throughout this country, need an honest to God federal investigation into the insurance racket.

Whether it’s the White House once again squirming out of taking responsibility for its own wrongdoing in the political firings of U.S. Attorneys or one of the Bush Administration’s partner industries spinning its PR to cover up their corporate corruption, we need strong public leadership.

What the insurance companies have done to the people of Mississippi and New Orleans will continue to happen to anyone of us anywhere in the country until we bring together every resource to end what is essentially a legal mob ring.

While the legal eagles are taking care of their responsibilities in our grand democratic scheme of government, we can also do our part to put all of our families on safer ground after natural disasters.

Since the insurance companies are obviously bowing out of taking care of the customers, the ultimate remedy is to expand the federal government’s flood insurance program to include all natural perils. Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) introduced the Multiple Peril Insurance Act of 2007. (The bill is H.R. 920.)We can partner with Congressman Taylor to take the wind out of the insurance industry. You know what that means! It's political hell raising time again. We can call and email our own congressional representatives to request that they co-sponsor the Multiple Peril Insurance Act of 2007.

Taking these steps is how we begin to break up this insurance racket so that each of us and our families will truly be in good hands.


Watch the press conference (Quicktime) high-res low-res
Download and install Quicktime to view videos .

Press Release Statement of Atty. Don Barrett
Summary of the case (PDF) Concise Statement (PDF)
Court Documents: Shows vs. State Farm
Original Complaint (PDF) Exhibits (PDF) Note: These are large files and may take over a minute to load.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Scruggs Katrina Group File RICO Suit Against State Farm

Investigation shows pattern of corrupt behavior violating Federal law; policyholders were cheated out of claims payments

June 20, 2007

MOSS POINT, MS – The Scruggs Katrina Group (SKG) has today filed federal charges against State Farm, E.A. Renfroe Company, and Forensic Analysis and Engineering Company on behalf of 21 policyholders whose homes were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. The suit has been filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi under the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act ("RICO").

"We have proof that State Farm and its partners conspired to cheat policyholders out of rightful payments worth millions of dollars," said SKG attorney Don Barrett. "They willfully caused victims of Hurricane Katrina extreme emotional and financial distress in their calculated strategy to falsify and conceal evidence, intimidate anyone who got in their way, and use their privileged position to pressure policyholders into accepting pitiful payments both before and during the mediation process."

The lawsuit is the result of a nearly two-year investigation that uncovered evidence – including e-mails, altered engineering reports, confessions, and other smoking guns – that tell the story of what State Farm and corrupt companions have done to the families of the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

It is a story of how State Farm and its web of surrogate companies conspired to deny claims that should be paid by State Farm and to shift liability to the federal-funded flood insurance program. Actions taken by State Farm and conspirators included:

• threatening experts who disagreed with their desired result
• concealing information that would work in the policyholder's favor
• destroying or falsifying reports
• placing pressure on engineers to use scientifically inaccurate and deceptive language
• firing engineers who refused to be corrupted
• inventing a new policy to exclude all hurricane damage
• using their strength and size to intimidate policyholders in the mediation process

Most disturbingly, the court submission tells of the cold and calculated way that State Farm orchestrated a coordinated strategy to accomplish their objectives. Even before Hurricane Katrina hit, State Farm began holding strategy "meetings of the minds" at corporate headquarters to devise ways to avoid paying claims. A few days following the hurricane, a claims "council" continued to meet to develop a strategy for maximizing payment of national flood policy claims. Later, State Farm and Renfroe employees met to participate in "mock mediations" during which they practiced scripted dialogue designed to demoralize policyholders.

The investigation has shown that there are potentially hundreds or more policyholders who have been victims of the corrupt enterprise. It also reveals not just how State Farm treated the 21 clients initiating this lawsuit, but how State Farm treated all their policyholders who lost their homes. This consolidated lawsuit is the first of its kind on the Mississippi Coast.

Former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore added: "Thousands of State Farm policyholders looked forward with great hope and expectation to the day when the supposedly independent adjuster and objective engineer would inspect their property and make a fair and honest assessment of their loss. Little did these victims know that the deck was stacked against them. There would be no fair dealing. The fix was on and State Farm had already pre-written the reports to deny the claims."

For more information, visit on the web.

About the Scruggs Katrina Group
The Scruggs Katrina Group is a legal team consisting of Mississippi attorneys from the following firms: Don Barrett and Marshall Smith of the Barrett Law Office; Dewitt Lovelace of the Lovelace Law Firm; David Nutt, Meg McAlister, and Derek Wyatt of Nutt & McAlister, PLLC, and Richard Scruggs, Sid Backstrom, and Zach Scruggs of the Scruggs Law Firm. For more information go to


The court submission and an indexed summary can be found at

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

State Farm Paying Attorney Fee for Miss. Insurance Commissioner

State Farm Paying Attorney Fee for Miss. Insurance Commissioner

While I’ve been busy the last few weeks sanding baseboards and crown molding and painting ceilings for family members’ homes, Mississippi Deputy Insurance Commissioner David Lee Harrell was busy preparing for his deposition in one of the big insurance cases. The fee for his attorney? State Farm funded that.

Yes, you read that correctly.

State Farm is paying the attorney fee for the lawyer helping the Mississippi Deputy Insurance Commissioner prepare for his testimony under oath and representing him at the proceedings in one of the large lawsuits that Mississippi policy holders are bringing against . . . State Farm.

Can you believe it?! Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!! But this is really more like a criminal defense team paying the salary of the local prosecuting attorney assigned to its case. What a whopper of a conflict of interest. Here’s a guide to the deposition and links to the deposition itself.

The insurance commission claims that it got approval from the Attorney General and that there is some kind of law permitting this conflict of interest. I've seen horrifyingly disgusting relationships between regulators and those they are to regulate. Clearly, this example is quite troubling. The Insurance Transparency Project agrees.

It’s not as if the Mississippi Insurance Commission sent out a press release or held a press conference to inform the state’s good citizens of this obvious fox/hen house relationship.

The only reason that we even know about this unsavory tryst is because courageous policyholders, regular Jane and John Q. Citizens here in Katrina Land, have hired one of the sets of pit bull attorneys, the Scruggs Katrina Group, who is determined to ensure that the insurance companies make good on their legal obligations to these policyholders.

Praise God for trial lawyers!

Even Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott (MS), who also lost his family home in Katrina, has seen the light about the importance of a good trial lawyer. Bloomberg News wrote

“Lott, a longtime critic of trial lawyers, went to court with the aid of his brother-in-law, Richard Scruggs, who in 1998 wrested a $206 billion settlement out of the tobacco industry.”

Lott has also seen the light on the corruption of the insurance industry with which he had been so closely aligned for many decades. Bloomberg News reported

“"Lott says he is willing to work with the industry, though his words would seem to leave little room for compromise. ``These are venal people,'' he says."
I never thought I’d see the day when Trent Lott and I would agree on something of substance. Yet here we are. U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a good democrat from New Orleans, Louisiana, summed it up quite nicely. “Disasters make for strange bedfellows."

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘venal’ as “capable of being bought or obtained for money or other valuable consideration : PURCHASABLE; especially : open to corrupt influence and especially bribery : MERCENARY.” You know, like the Bush White House.

Now, let’s get this straight.

The Mississippi Insurance Commission licenses and regulates the practices of all insurance companies and agents. State Farm and its agents are among the companies that the Mississippi Insurance Commission, a state government agency, regulates. State Farm is paying the fees of the outside attorney that the government commission hired to help it prepare for testimony under oath in a lawsuit against State Farm. Well if that don’t beat all!

To top it all off, on Monday, June 11th, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (another good Democrat) filed a lawsuit against State Farm for breach of contract. Apparently, State Farm did not live up to its legal obligations under the court sanctioned agreement. Does this sound familiar, this failure of a corporation to live up to its legal obligations?

Can we say . . . Enron? Halliburton?

Thankfully, Attorney General Hood is hauling State Farm back to court to ensure that the insurance company lives up to its responsibilities to Mississippi policyholders.

Attorney General Hood is “asking that $50 million be set aside to pay Coast policyholders for Katrina damage and an unspecified amount for damages they suffered because State Farm has breached its agreement. He also is seeking an unspecified amount of punitive damages, designed to deter bad behavior.

Good. That is the point of these kinds of lawsuits. First to make whole the parties who were injured. In this instance, that would be the citizens to whom State Farm refused to pay its obligations under the terms of their insurance policies.

The second point of these lawsuits is punishment. With big corporations like State Farm, Enron, and Halliburton, the only way to assist them in becoming good corporate citizens is to punish them in ways that they understand: depleting their profits.

Corporations are legal entities that are neither moral nor immoral. However, the men and women who run the corporations, those members of the boards of directors, they demonstrate their moral core—or lack thereof—through the policies they propose and implement. Their god is the Almighty Dollar. Eagerly, they bow down to the Almighty Dollar’s Altar of Greed.

In their pursuit of big boons from their god, Almighty Dollar, should we, our family members, our friends and neighbors, or our coworkers be hurt in the process, well, greed is their god and ruthlessness is their rapture. ruthlessness is their rapture. In our civil court system, paying money, taking away their scandalous profits made at our expense is the way to make these creatures pay for wronging us. Punitive damages is about punishing wrong doers so that we can protect the next person from being victimized.

This is what the Mississippi Attorney General is doing: protecting the citizens of the state against a major corporation that is victimizing its policyholders.

Dale, DINO, Lieberman
The Mississippi Insurance Commissioner, an elected officer just as the Attorney General also has this same obligation. Apparently, Mississippi’s Insurance Commissioner George Dale is a DINO, Democrat in Name Only. Mississippi’s Democratic Party Officials voted to prohibit Dale from running as a Democrat because he had supported Bush’s campaign in 2004.

Dale went to court over the Democratic leaders’ decision and hired “Greg Copeland, an attorney who is a longtime lobbyist for the insurance industry” to represent him. When asked about it, Dale retorted, "I don't see any conflict." Oh, I see. The man must think we’re stupid.

Dale’s lawyer asserted that the bad press had hurt Dale’s ability to run as a Democrat and asked that he be allowed to run as an Independent. Yes, Dale has the distinct honor of being a poster child for turncoat Democrats, a Mississippi Lieberman, if you will. Hell, if Dale likes the Republican values so much, why doesn’t he just come out of the closet and declare himself to be one?!

Copeland “has been a registered lobbyist for the American Insurance Association since 2000.” The website for his firm, Copeland, Cook, Taylor & Bush, states that CCTB “serves as general counsel to Mississippi's largest property and casualty insurer and as local counsel for numerous other insurance companies. The American Insurance Association selected the head of the firm's insurance practice group to serve as Mississippi counsel for the Association. . . . The Mississippi Department of Insurance . . . and numerous other insurance-related organizations utilize the services of the insurance practice group.”

Excuse me?! More conflicts of interest?! Holy Moly.

Since the judge ordered that Dale be put on the ballot to run as a Democrat in the primary this August, hopefully Mississippi Democratic voters will elect a real Democrat as insurance commissioner rather than putting back into office George Dale who has obviously developed toooo cozy of a relationship with the folks he is supposed to regulate.

Insurance commissioners don’t have to be this way
Let’s contrast Mississippi’s insurance commissioner with California’s former insurance commissioner John Garamendi, who won his race for Lt. Governor in last November’s election. Garamendi has a fierce reputation for defending California’s policyholders and going up against insurance companies like State Farm. About a year ago, Garamendi went public “accusing California's largest auto insurers of using political extortion to get him to delay implementing laws that would save California motorists money.”

San Francisco’s CBS television station reported that Garamendi received a phone call in which “he was offered a take it or leave it deal. [Garamendi] says a lobbying group that represents the state's top auto insurers threatened to spend over $2 million in a negative ad campaign unless he delayed new insurance regulations - regulations that require auto insurance companies to give more weight to how people drive rather than where they live, a practice known as red lining.”

Garamendi said the lobbying group behind the threats “is funded by State Farm, Farmers, Safeco, Allstate and other top insurers.” The San Francisco television station reported that “State Farm confirmed to CBS 5 that the phone call to Garamendi did take place, but they denied blackmail or coercion.” State Farm sure is busy these days, and apparently not with taking great care of its policyholders.

Rather than buckling under the weight of the alleged blackmail and extortion, Garamendi went public. View news clip. He also turned the matter over to the FBI and state officials. Read Garamendi’s letter to the FBI and state officials.

Garamendi is proof positive that standing up to corporate bullies can be successfully accomplished. All it takes is courage, character, and commitment to the public good. I am proud to have cast my ballot for Garamendi for California’s Lt. Governor and proud that he won the election. Garamendi is the kind of public servant we need all over this country. We need the likes of him from the local court house straight through to the White House, from one side of this country to the other—including my homestate of Mississippi.

I’m proud, too, of Mississippi’s Attorney General Jim Hood for doing his job in the face of what must be enormous political pressure to back down. He is keeping his promise to the citizens of Mississippi to "strictly enforce our consumer protection laws [and] advocate for the rights of victims." Between Hood’s efforts and those of pit bull attorneys like the Scruggs Katrina Group, State Farm will be forced to live up to its PR and become a good corporate neighbor.

Of course, the ultimate remedy is to expand the federal government’s flood insurance program to include all natural perils. Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) introduced the Multiple Peril Insurance Act of 2007 (The bill is H.R. 920.)

We can partner with Congressman Taylor to take the wind out of the insurance industry. You know what that means! It's political hell raising time again. We can call and email our own congressional representatives to request that they co-sponsor the Multiple Peril Insurance Act of 2007.

That way next time a natural disaster befalls any of the “55 percent of the U.S. population already living within 50 miles” of our nation’s coastlines, we can be assured we will be treated fairly . . . just like a good neighbor.

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Who will pay Insurance Department's legal bills?

Official planned to bill State Farm

The Mississippi Department of Insurance had planned to bill State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. for Deputy Commissioner Lee Harrell's legal fees for testimony in a policyholders' lawsuit, but has backed off that position.

Instead, Harrell said Monday that State Farm will cover only the portions of his testimony about the department's ongoing market-conduct examination of the company. State law allows the Department of Insurance to bill insurance companies for fees associated with such examinations.

However, Harrell said during his sworn pre-trial testimony June 7 in McIntosh v. State Farm the Attorney General's Office had agreed State Farm would pay for his attorney, James P. Streetman III.

Attorney General Jim Hood disagreed. On Friday, he released a statement that said: "At no time did the Attorney General's Office authorize the Department of Insurance to have its legal representation paid for by an insurance company in any matter other than the market-conduct survey. To do so would be a conflict of interest and MDI should know that."

Read the rest of the Sun Herald story.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Insurance: A Business Breaker

Posted: Tuesday, May 1 at 05:01 am CT by Mike Stuckey

[Mark] Currier, who with his wife, Jenise McCardell, runs Clay Creations in Old Town and owns a gallery there that is leased by an artists’ cooperative.

“Come on,” Currer says of the commercial rate increase. “The big thing is we’re all excited that they did drop [insurance rates] down from being tripled, but it’s still more than doubled.”

Currier, who plans to remain in his current location, saw the annual insurance bill for his Main Street holdings -- which include his shop, the gallery, a photographer’s studio and a couple of residences -- go from $7,000 to $25,000 before coming back down to $17,000. “It’s a freaking mess,” he says.

And more of a mess than Renee and Drew Boxx, Currier’s new neighbors in Old Town, could take.

Read the entire MSNBC story.

Mark Currier and Jenise McCardell (David Friedman /

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A Bridge Restores a Lifeline to a Battered Town

Published: May 29, 2007
New York Times

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss., May 24 — Sometimes a bridge is more than just a bridge. The new span across the copper-colored St. Louis Bay connects today’s diminished reality to memories of a more generous past, a hopeful link to the return of better days.

The soaring bridge was dedicated last week amid jubilation in a ceremony attended by hundreds, 20 months after Hurricane Katrina blew out the old span. That tangible sign of pushing forward and of a quickening pace — commutes now are drastically shortened — has left people in this battered waterfront town of 8,000 quietly giddy about a future recently in doubt.

And it has ended the isolation, physical and mental, of a place that once considered itself a jewel of the Gulf Coast, a sun-baked collection of picturesque old frame houses that Hurricane Katrina smashed, then severed from its brethren to the east. The surge from the storm wiped out the concrete bridge carrying U.S. Highway 90 that had stood for a half-century.

And it has ended the isolation, physical and mental, of a place that once considered itself a jewel of the Gulf Coast, a sun-baked collection of picturesque old frame houses that Hurricane Katrina smashed, then severed from its brethren to the east. The surge from the storm wiped out the concrete bridge carrying U.S. Highway 90 that had stood for a half-century.

Read the rest of the New York Times story.

Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Press — Getty Images.

A seven-minute dash across the bay bridge
became a 45-minute commute around it.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Soaking U.S. Taxpayers

Soaking U.S. Taxpayers

Katrina’s force broke New Orleans’ levees drowning the city, and many of its residents. Her rains drenched the Gulf Coast. Financially speaking, though, it was the insurance companies that really soaked Katrina’s survivors . . . and us, the taxpayers.

Clearly, the cost of Katrina has been tremendous, and the deluge of claims to the federal flood insurance program has been unprecedented. According to the Congressional Research Services, the largest number of flood claims prior to Katrina was 31,000, and that was back in 1995. The aftermath of Katrina, Rita, and Wilma created 258,000 flood claims. That’s an increase of 800%!

Yesterday’s piece titled Wind? Water? More like a bunch of hot air!, discussed the insurance companies written memos that apparently directed agents to blame Katrina’s damages on water, even if wind damage were present. To date, those companies have sent a $23 billion bill to the federal government’s flood insurance program for damages allegedly caused by water alone.

As the 2007 hurricane season officially began at the start of this month, Risk Management Solutions Inc. had hoped to gain approval for an extraordinarily controversial forecast model which would have “increase[d] projections of potential hurricane losses by as much as 40 percent in Florida, the Gulf Coast and the Southeast -- moves that [would have] translate[d] into drastically higher insurance rates for already-battered policyholders in coastal states.”

My god, these people will stop at nothing to make money off of our tragedies. With insurance companies already failing to live up to their fiduciary responsibilities to us as policyholders or as taxpayers, the last thing we need is some forecasting company lobbying states to adopt their controversial model as the basis for authorizing the insurance companies to gouge us further through increasing our premiums for coverage they won’t pay on.

Blinded by greed, the insurance companies have already dramatically increased their post-Katrina premiums—if they hadn’t already packed up their bags and skipped town taking our policies with them.

"We can't, every time there's a hurricane in the United States, raise insurance rates 50% and then expect to 'let the private sector redevelop.'"U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)

With 55% of the U.S. population living in coastal communities, we all need to pay close attention to these corporate maneuverings. If we don’t live within close proximity to America’s coastline, surely to goodness we have relatives, friends, or coworkers who do.

Boy, do we ever need to implement national insurance reform. Let’s start this discussion with a quick question.

In which political party has the insurance industry invested 80% of its political monies for presidential campaigns between 1992 and 2004?

You have thirty seconds. Can you hear the theme to Jeopardy playing in your head? Da da da da . . .Finished? Good.

If you answered: What is the Republican Party? You are correct!

Before we get to what it all this means, let’s flush out the specifics of this financial partnership between the insurance industry and the Republican Party.

From 2000 – 2006, the insurance industry consistently invested its political dollars in Republican candidates by a margin of 2 out of every 3 dollars it spent. Now, when we break it down specifically to the difference in how the insurance companies invested in the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns of 2000 and 2004, the margin increases substantially.

Of the $27 million the insurance industry invested in the 2000 federal elections (that would be the presidential and U.S. senatorial and congressional races), the insurance industry invested FIVE times as much money in Republican nominee Texas Governor George Bush to the tune of $1.7 million as it did in Democratic nominee Vice President Al Gore with only $330 k.

Four years later in 2004, the insurance industry practically doubled it investment in Republican George Bush giving his campaign $3.3 million compared to the paltry $848 thousand the industry contributed to the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Senator John Kerry.

“So what?” you may say. Let’s put some context around this, so we can get perspective on it.

In 1996, the insurance industry gave only $700k to the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole and $300k to President Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign. Going back another four years to 1992, the insurance industry gave only $550k to the reelection campaign of President George Bush, Sr. and $190k to the Clinton presidential campaign.

From 1992 to 2000, the insurance industry became wildly enthusiastic about investing its corporate profits in the Republican candidate George W. Bush. The industry increased its investment from father to son by 600%. Geeze, Louise!

No wonder the industry is having a hissy fit over Republican Minority Leader Trent Lott leading the charge against the industry’s corrupt practices.

I suppose come hell or high water, the insurance industry will soak us . . . until you and I do what must be done politically inside the legislative arena at the federal level to turn things to our favor.

This week’s political hell raising activities include supporting two important legislative measures. First, Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) introduced a bill to expand the federal flood insurance program to include all natural perils. Following the rules established under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the legislation requires that the program be financially self-sufficient. Click here for political hell raising activities to provide real all perils insurance for Americans.

Second, Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate have introduced legislation to close the insurance industry’s legal loophole that allows it to collude to price gouge and to pass off their own business costs to the federal flood insurance program. U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) are among the co-sponsors of this important legislation. Click here for political hell raising activities to close the loophole.

Everywhere else in the U.S., it’s the beginning of summer. Officially here in Katrina land, it’s the opening of the hurricane season. Everyone wants to know what we’re doing to protect ourselves. One thing is certain. We’re supporting the efforts of our elected officials to pass two important pieces of legislation that will protect our families . . . and yours.

Raising a little political hell together, we can protect everyone’s families from being soaked by insurance companies.

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