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

Friday, August 31, 2007

A.M. in the Morning! Answers State Farm Apologist

by Ana Maria

There ought to be a national registry of child molesters and insurance company executives because I hold them in the same very low esteem.

Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS)
CNN's The Town the Fought Back
February 25, 2007
An open letter to Ms. Lauren Shurden of Hattiesburg, Miss., who wrote a letter to the editor to the Hattiesburg American. The letter is titled State Farm employee's message for Taylor.

Dear Ms. Shurden,

When I read your letter to the editor published yesterday, August 30, 2007, in the Hattiesburg American in which you publicly chastised Congressman Gene Taylor for a statement you apparently misunderstood, I wondered about the source of your misunderstanding.

In your letter, you wrote
We are now likened to "child molesters" and "should be put on a national registry." I cannot tell you what it feels like to be compared to the lowest of the criminals.

My only crime is to have been employed by a State Farm agent for the last 17 years. Up until August 2005, my vote and taxes seemed to be important to you. Now I am not worth a second thought to you.
Ma’am, you’ve committed no crime here unless you consider it a crime for being a State Farm apologist and failing to get your facts straight before publicly chastising a man who has done a magnificent job of demonstrating heroic courage in the face of extraordinarily enormous challenges brought on by the worst natural disaster in the history of our nation and the worst financial disaster homeowners and business owners are facing because of an industry consumed with greed.

Congressman Gene Taylor lost EVERYTHING in the storm. When Congressman Gene Taylor and his wife Margaret G. Taylor boarded up their home, packed an overnight bag, and drove up the country to a family member’s home where they would ride out Katrina, it never occurred to them that whatever they brought with them would be all that would remain of all that the two of them had. Every stitch of clothing, every family photograph, every piece of familial memorabilia as well as everything else inside their home Katrina’s winds scattered to the four corners of the planet.

Like thousands of families in South Mississippi, the Taylors learned that the insurance company intended not to honor its WIND policy provisions for which its loyal customers had faithfully paid.

Granted State Farm was not the only insurance company to have customers that felt betrayed. Other corporations appear to have implemented similar pre-determined conclusions on insurance claims--the water did all the damage and none of it was from the 135 miles per hour that battered the homes and business for hours on end before the water arrived. To be candid, I’m not sure what honor there is in saying other companies betrayed the American public.

The betrayal club, however, is the reason that Republican Leader U.S. Senator Trent Lott, who also lost everything in Katrina and was also denied a penny on his WIND insurance policy claim, is co-sponsoring federal legislation to ensure that the entire insurance industry be subjected to the same anti-trust laws by which every banker, real estate agent, and other business people are required abide. Like Congressman Taylor, U.S. Senator Trent Lott had to resort to hiring an attorney—Lott's brother-in-law, Dickie Scruggs—and sue before receiving any money on the WIND policy for which each of these families had faithfully paid their premiums through the years.

About 18 months ago, Congressman Taylor stated
There ought to be a national registry of child molesters and insurance company executives because I hold them in the same very low esteem.
Please read this CNN transcript carefully. The word is EXECUTIVES. Congressman Taylor knows very well who makes the decisions that agents implement. He knows that it is the executives who drafted the policies that were written in the memos which he has uploaded on his congressional website here.

I can understand, Ms. Shurden, that you are upset because of your misunderstanding of Congressman Taylor’s comment. As you can see, however, your concern is misguided.

We all know that no insurance agent or broker had an iota of influence on the directives handed down from corporate.

How frustrating it had to have been for you and your peers to feel the brunt of the public chastisement as family after family was wrongfully turned down for the legitimate WIND policy claims that had been submitted.

How humiliating it had to feel that the company from which your families are fed, clothed, and sheltered are denying the funding it should have provided to feed, clothe, and shelter the customers with which you and others like you had cultivated strong relationships.

How you and others like you had to have felt your own sense of betrayal for representing a company that you believed in, that you had believed would honor its commitments.

However, none of the humiliation and betrayal that employees of these insurance companies felt or continue to feel can measure against the financial ruin and emotional devastation that any of your Katrina-ravaged customers feel. To feel ravaged by the company to which one has faithfully paid WIND policy premiums—and paying them without the company having to hire lawyers and engineers to haul them to court to pay up, I remind you ever so gently, remains a horrific sense of betrayal.

Yes, Congressman Taylor likened the Executives of insurance corporations to the same low level of esteem as he holds child molesters. And unless you yourself are really an executive and not an agent, I believe your public tirade has been misplaced.

Now, I have a question for you, Ms. Shurden. What is it that prompted you to write such a letter that is based on factually deficient information and to do so 18 months after Taylor made the comment?

You know, something comes to mind that I would like to share with you. I remember when I was working for the Comptroller of the Treasury as a legislative performance auditor. That is the state version of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). We would go into state agencies to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations. We’d write up audit reports, publish those reports, and testify before the State of Tennessee legislature regarding our reports’ conclusions.

Our reports criticized management for it is management’s job to institute the will of the state legislature and to do so in an efficient and effective manner that would garner the results desired. We were always careful to place the responsibility where it belonged: management, not the front line employees who are only doing as management directed.

However, some agency management failed to take responsibility for its actions. One routine trick of theirs was to distort our reports and tell its employees that the auditors blamed the front line employees for the conditions we found. Of course, if any of the employees had read the reports, this misinformation would have been cleared up. But those employees have busy and hectic lives just like the rest of America and so some of the employees just drank the Kool Aid, as it were.

I’m just wondering if this may be something that has happened here. Is corporate management doing a “shift the blame” routine? See, one result of that would be to get a loyal employee to go public with their feelings about being wrongly accused of what is management’s responsibility alone. Another result would be to help would be brave whistle blowers feel ticked off and not come forth with evidence of corporate wrong doing.

A third result would be to stir up chatter among its employees which then spreads out into the community. That chatter would be, perhaps, similar to what you’ve written in your letter. Upset at Congressman Taylor for . . . well it is for something that is not true and that were it to have been true, would have been devastating and disgusting. The only thing that is disgusting in this in the current situation is being financially ruined by corporate greed and the emotional devastation that has come from it.

So, I’m just wondering the extent to which, Ms. Shurdan, you may be experiencing some of the same things that those state agency employees I was referring to earlier. In a way, I’d sure hate to think that you came up with the misinformation all on your own some 18 months after the statement was made.

Well, the main thing is that now you know that Congressman Gene Taylor’s comment was that the insurance executives ought to have their names on a national registry because he thinks of them in the same low esteem as child molesters.

Down here where the brunt of the Katrina and insurance disasters hit, Taylor continues to enjoy tremendous—and maybe even more—support because he is championing the baseline financial security of every family and business owner that has been ravaged by Katrina then the insurance industry.

See, in true fashion, Congressman Taylor’s constituents are in good hands with him and his strongly committed staff. Just as you worked as you suffered through personal loss and worry about your family’s safety in Katrina’s aftermath, so, too, did Taylor and his staff work as they dealt with the blows Katrina dealt to their own families and friends. Just as you did all you could for your customers as you worked through your own tragic circumstances, so did Taylor and his staff.

Like all agents, you wanted to make good on the corporate marketing. You wanted to be a good neighbor and have your customers feel that they were in good hands. All of us wanted that for you as well.

Taylor has an impeccable reputation in the district because reality reflects his reputation. Taylor's reputation is the only marketing he has.

Thankfully, Congressman Taylor’s constituents feel that he is like a good neighbor. They feel that way because when the chips have been down, Taylor has been there just like a good neighbor, and they were in good hands.

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Bush compliments Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS)

At his stop in Bay St. Louis, Miss., on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the nation's worst natural disaster, George W. Bush complimented Congressman Gene Taylor, the Democratic Congressman who lives in the Bay.

"Gene Taylor cares a lot. I'm proud to be here with Congressman Taylor. Gene was raised here. The Taylors' daughter was married right there recently. This is where he told me he was baptized, married, and if you're compassionate enough, will be buried. (Laughter.) In other words, this is home. And when you're talking about a man's home you hear a sense of passion in his voice. The Congressman has worked hard to make sure the people down here are well represented and he's doing a fine job for the people of southern Mississippi. Congressman, thank you for being here. (Applause.)"
-President George W. Bush, August 29, 2007
It is right that Bush compliment Congressman Taylor, who has worked tirelessly, as has his entire staff, to provide governmental assistance in the district's greatest time of need.

Too bad Bush didn't come here at Katrina's Ground Zero to announce he is throwing the entire weight of the White House behind H.R. 3121 so that American families and businesses can have one policy that provides both wind and flood coverage.

Let's tell the White House that we want ONE policy for both wind and water and that H.R. 3121 is the way to do it. Believe me, you'll have peace of mind knowing you gave Bush a piece of yours. ;)

Phone Script
Call the White house at 202-456-6213 or 202-456-1111 and tell the operator that you have a message to relay to Mr. Bush. As always, be polite. It goes such a long way. ;)

Hello, my name is ______. I live in (city, state). I would like Mr. Bush to know that I support one policy for both wind and water and that I support H.R. 3121. I would very much appreciate it if he would come out publicly in support of helping Americans in gaining this important part of our financial security. It's a specific kind of homeland security that is basic and fundamental to American families and businesses.

Thank you.

Email Bush at

Dear Mr. Bush,

I am writing to let you know that I support one policy for both wind and water and that I support H.R. 3121. I would very much appreciate it if you would come out publicly in support of helping Americans to obtain this important part of our financial security. It's a specific kind of homeland security that is basic and fundamental to American families and businesses.

Thank you.
Your name
Your address
City, St., Zip Code

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Katrina, Bush's New Orleanian Betrayal and The American Way

by Ana Maria

Like much of the country, I was glued to the television and the Internet when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The images of the New Orleans Superdome and people on roof tops. Nothing about Mississippi though. The first I really ever saw of Mississippi’s devastation was CNN’s documentary on Bay St. Louis reported by Kathleen Koch who did a fabulous job. Kathleen grew up in Bay St. Louis. Together, she and I attended high school as well as the University of Southern Mississippi.

CNN's anchor and reporter Kathleen Koch with blogger Ana Maria of A.M. in the Morning!at the Katrina 2nd Anniversary Memorial Celebration in Waveland, Miss., on August 29, 2007.
Photo by Ellis Anderson.

It took me forever to understand the difference between what happened in New Orleans and what had happened on the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines. Like most others, I didn’t understand that the hurricane itself caused the damages to my home town and the Mississippi Gulf Coast while the levee breaks were what ripped apart the city where the majority of my family have lived for well over 100 years.

The final pieces fell into place when I watched Greg Palast’s Big Easy to Big Empty. Palast is an internationally award winning investigative journalist from Southern California who works for England’s BBC. His investigation broke the news about the stolen 2000 presidential election. Since then, I’ve become personal friends with him. I trust this man’s work completely. That’s an important part of my journey. Got it?

When I saw Palast’s DVD on what happened in New Orleans, I stopped it in the middle. Palast had just exploded another rude truth all over my computer screen.

Ivor Van Heerden, Deputy Director of Louisiana State University’s Hurricane Center reveals who knew what and when — before, during, and after the storm — and warns that his job is in danger for telling us his story.

“FEMA knew at eleven o’clock on Monday that the levees had breached, at 2 o’clock they flew over the 17th St. Canal and took video of the breaches, by midnight on Monday the White House knew, but none of us knew.”

On the DVD, one New Orleanian lawyer in the film responded to this succinctly. “This is criminal negligence for which people go to jail.”

I stared blankly into space. I couldn’t believe what I had just learned. I didn’t want to believe it. How could I believe it? Yes, I trusted his work completely. Palast has an impeccable history of telling the rude truth to power.

This was different for me, though. This was personal. This was about what happened to my family in New Orleans and its surrounding cities and towns.

The first problem with what happened to New Orleans was a man made error in the levees’ construction. By the time I watched the DVD, I had finally understood that point. Besides, the levees weren’t all that big size-wise.

One of my favorite all time childhood memories involves playing with my cousins after we had eaten our annual Thanksgiving Feast. FYI, we started every holiday meal with pasta, salad, and a type of Italian bread made only in New Orleans. Then we moved on to the traditional eatings.

After we ate, my cousins and I would put on our play clothes—because we always attended the annual family gathering at my Grandmother’s home in our Sunday best. We’d get our pieces of cardboard, walk ½ block to the levee, and delight in the joy of sliding down the levee on the cardboard. I’ve often wanted to relive those moments, but something about no longer being a kid keeps me from doing that to my body. The point here is that while the levee seemed huge to me as a child, as an adult—particularly now in the post-Katrina era—the levee at that place in the greater New Orleans area was no more than a very small hill that provided oodles of fun for my cousins and me.

Back to the DVD.

The second problem with what happened in New Orleans was also man made, though this time the problem resided in the moral fiber of the man who sits in the White House and all those in the Bush Administration who chose not to utter a sound to Louisiana Governor Blanco, the Louisiana state emergency management people, or New Orleans Mayor Nagin or anyone outside of the Bush clan, for that matter.

Why hadn't I learned of this? Where were the news reports? I found this New York Times piece titled White House Knew of Levee's Failure on Night of Storm" and published on February 10, 2006.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.
But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.
Greg's work, as always, was dead on target. The New York Times continued.
But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush was feeling relieved that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet," he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday.
While my first thought is a great big “WHY?”, my second and more overwhelming thoughts revolve around “HOW?” and “WHAT?”
  1. How could anyone deliberately and callously sit there and do nothing?
  2. What kind of failure of leadership allows any American to drown?
  3. What kind of immoral compass possesses a man to talk about loving America while deliberately keeping mum about the impending deaths of Americans who will experience a most gruesome and preventable hellacious nightmare?
At that point, no one could prevent the actual breaking of the levees. However, Bush could have worked with the state, parish (county), and local officials to evacuate everyone immediately.

Oh, that’s right, Innovative Emergency Management, the firm to whom the Bush Administration had given federal tax money to develop an evacuation plan for the city of New Orleans were experienced in financing his election campaign and inexperienced at evacuation planning.

When Palast asked the company for a copy of the evacuation plan they were to have written some two years prior, IEM apparently couldn't find it. In fact, ir seems no one could find it for months on end. In his ever witty manner, Palast explains.
Here’s the key thing about a successful emergency evacuation plan: you have to have copies of it. Lots of copies — in fire houses and in hospitals and in the hands of every first responder. Secret evacuation plans don’t work.

I know, I worked on the hurricane evacuation plan for Long Island New York, an elaborate multi-volume dossier.

So Bush did nothing, said nothing. Bush remained on vacation in Crawford, Texas. Bush’s silence on the levee breach coupled with his disingenuous comment that New Orleans had “dodged a bullet” cost us lives, livelihoods, homes, neighborhoods, communities, places of worship, etc. and so forth. Bush’s silence enabled the ambush of an entire American city.

This is unforgiveable. Simply unforgiveable.

Never one to shun a photo opportunity for something meaningful, Bush had the nerve to visit New Orleans on the 2nd anniversary. Guess Rove ordered updated photos.

My family and the families of countless others suffered greatly because George W. Bush failed to tell the State of Louisiana and New Orleans that the levees were breached and to evacuate everyone. My family and the families of countless others suffered greatly because George W. Bush and Dick Cheney handed the evacuation plans for the city of New Orleans to their campaign supporters who knew nothing about emergency planning AND who didn’t have plans that amounted to more than their Republican buddy in the Mississippi Governor’s mansion, Haley Barbour.

When Hurricane Dale was out in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi Governor did a robo-call to the state’s coastal residents essentially saying “Run For Cover!

Is that the best those folks can come up with? Taking federal taxpayer money and yelling “run for cover?”

At yesterday’s memorial service, I prayed for all of us living inside and out of Katrina Land whose family and friends are living testimonials to the power of putting one foot in front of the other. I also prayed that those folks in charge of our protection, whose legal authority provides access to the best of the brains in our nation and to the financing of access to those brains. I prayed that those same folks actually remember what it is to have a conscience and to be infused with the overwhelming power of using it.

Mostly, though, I prayed that the rest of us whether we are living inside the Katrina-ravaged region or we are in elected positions that can assist in the full and vibrant recovery of this region or we are a member of the media that can shine the light of day on what is needed and how to achieve it to the benefit of all or we are simply someone who can take a part of this grand jigsaw . . . I pray that we’ll have the energy, strength, and vision to make our recovery easier and more quickly the reality we’d all prefer to live.

I prayed that one day soon, we’ll have a sunrise ceremony that comes on the heels of an all day and all night celebration of putting into place the final piece which rebirths a vibrantly alive area from New Orleans, Chalmette, and Slidell, Louisiana, through Bay St. Louis, Waveland, and Pass Christian, Miss., to Bayou LeBatre, Alabama.

For that sunrise ceremony and annual sunrise ceremony of remembrance, I pray the day to come quite soon.

The folks here are simply tired of being tired, tired of feeling alone and abandoned, tired of the betrayal from the White House and federal agencies, and of course, tired of the insurance industry taking our money and ripping us off by denying our legitimate wind policy claims.

We’d all prefer to be tired because we’re celebrating living. That’s the New Orleans way. That’s the Mississippi Gulf Coast way. That’s the way in Bay St. Louis, Waveland, and Pass Christian—the three tiny beach towns that comprise Katrina’s ground zero.

When it comes to throwing a party, living large, and celebrating the art of celebrating, we’re the experts.

We’d all prefer to be tired because we’re having so much fun celebrating our triumphs with the most deliciously decadent food for which our region is well known and dancing to one of the area’s many talented band whose music delights our hearts and our feet. Perhaps, visions of this celebration of celebrations keep my family, friends, and neighbors going. I know I think of it and become renewed with energy to keep going.

Katrina's community members to strive for a better life for ourselves and family, our community, and the next generation. We all know life’s better this way. At its core, this is the American way.

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Opposing view: Expand federal program

Covering wind and water damage would aid taxpayers, policyholders.

By Gene Taylor

After Hurricane Katrina, insurance companies paid for wind damage as far inland as Tennessee, 300 miles from the Gulf Coast, but denied wind damage claims in coastal areas where five hours of destructive winds were followed by the storm surge.

State Farm instructed its adjusters that "where wind acts concurrently with flooding to cause damage to the insured property, coverage for the loss exists only under flood coverage." Other companies implemented similar policies.

Homeowners who paid high premiums for decades were left with unpaid claims for wind damage. While denying their own claims, companies were generous with taxpayers' money, paying federal flood insurance claims in full without proving how much damage was caused by flooding.

When insurers did order damage assessments, the reports were rigged. One engineering firm was fired and then rehired by State Farm only after promising to rewrite reports that found wind damage. Managers at another firm changed the on-site assessments of engineers who concluded that damage was caused by wind.

In Louisiana, adjusters billed the downstairs flood insurance claim for damage to upstairs contents that should have been on the wind insurance claim. Allstate used different cost estimates for identical building materials — exaggerating the cost when figuring the flood insurance check while underestimating the cost for the Allstate payment.

A year and a half after Katrina, federal courts ruled that insurance companies have to prove that damage was caused by flooding in order to exclude wind coverage. Only then did State Farm and Allstate offer settlements for the wind damage that preceded the storm surge. The delay took advantage of the desperation of disaster victims. Many settled for less than they were owed; others had given up and relied on government assistance.

Congress has provided more than $30 billion for housing repair grants, FEMA trailers, rental assistance, subsidized loans, tax deductions and other housing assistance. Many of those costs should have been covered by insurance.

The best way to protect taxpayers and policyholders from insurance company fraud is to allow the National Flood Insurance Program to offer both wind and flood coverage in one policy.

The insurance industry will not cover flooding and does not want to offer wind coverage in hurricane-risk areas. It has dumped $600 billion of coastal risk into state wind pools and other state-sponsored insurers of last resort.

The Multiple Peril Insurance Act would benefit every taxpayer in America by ensuring that more disaster costs are covered by insurance premiums instead of by costly and inefficient disaster assistance programs.

Rep. Gene Taylor, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis, represents coastal Mississippi.

Original published in USA Today on August 29, 2007, Hurricane Katrina's 2nd anniversary. Also read USA Today's opposing editorial.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What Katrina Taught Me

by Ana Maria

This day will live on in infamy. Two years ago, Katrina came ashore with her 135 plus miles per hour wind. For many of us here at Katrina’s ground zero, today marks the anniversary that the storm came ashore wiping out our homes, communities, and the lives of our loved ones. At the memorial celebration this morning, Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo stated succinctly what we want from the federal government. We want help getting to our knees. Once we get to our knees, we’ll be able to take it from there. Mayor Longo’s comment reflects one of the most common sentiments found inside Katrina Land.

We’re not a bitter people. Folks here who’ve been through hell over the last two years just want assistance to get to the kneeling position.

We’re a grateful people. At the ceremony in Waveland, Mississippi, Mayor Longo expressed eternal gratitude to the half a million volunteers who’ve helped put back together our towns.

We’re a people who persevere in the face of enormous odds. Why? Because this is home. The people who’ve been through those horrible tornadoes in Michigan or floods in Ohio will persevere for the same reason. Where they are is home.

Two years ago today, I woke up, left my home in San Jose, drove to work at the San Francisco Budget Analyst’s Office, and at some point in the day, I spoke with my mom who had been driven the day before from her home in Bay St. Louis, Miss., to my brother’s home in Georgia close to Chattanooga, Tenn. I felt good that she had left the house, but I really didn’t think any more about it. It was precautionary, and I—like so very many others—thought it would be all for naught. Two brothers remained at the house to ride out Katrina.

The ensuing days, weeks, and months took on a life of their own that I—nor anyone that I know personally—could have envisioned.

I remember standing outside of the Fox Building in downtown San Francisco talking with my older brother in Georgia. When he told me that our home had taken in water, my heart sank, my stomach fell to the ground, and I was dizzy from the mere thought of it. In shock, I just stared blankly as I asked how about my Mom and then my two brothers who had witnessed the hurricane upfront and personal.

There I was some 2200 miles away safe inside major earthquake country living in Silicon Valley and working in the internationally renowned city of San Francisco an hour north. Beauty all around me. The hustle and bustle of life’s vibrancy. All I could think about was, well, I couldn’t think. I was in shock, and I wasn’t worth a damn the rest of the day.

I couldn’t imagine the nightmare that my brothers experienced as they witnessed the water rising into the house. I wanted to do something, but what?

For months after, the two brothers as well as everyone else dealt with dirt, dead bodies, pulling out carpet and getting rid of appliances as well as other damaged parts of the house. Not just my mom’s house, but also the homes of family and friends from New Orleans through the Gulf Coast. A nightmare. One long, hellacious, living nightmare.

Today is day, though, where the focus is on affirming our resilience. Today is a day to remember those who have died and those who remain suffering through the storm’s after effects—both from the storm itself as well as the suffering imposed from the insurance companies that have failed to uphold their end of the bargain. Today is a day to remember all of us in Katrina Land who suffer from an appalling lack of aggressive, innovative, devoted, and committed White House leadership.

Today, George W. Bush is actually showing up here in my home town of Bay St. Louis, Miss. Yesterday, when I was told of his visit I immediately mentioned something about making signed that said INSURANCE REFORM NOW! Then, I chuckled. What was I doing? I must have thought that I was living in the United States of America where Freedom of Speech reigned supreme. In that moment, I forgot that Bush had torn up the U.S. Constitution and prevented any form of challenge to him be it with signs or t-shirts or whathaveyou.

Forget it. I’m too tired from my not quite six months here at ground zero to be expending any of my precious energy on Bush and what he has done to change our country in the wrong direction. Those who have energy and resources, time and desire, please do so.

As for me, I am choosing to focus on what will make a difference today, here, in the lives of my family, friends, and community. Our needs are great and more than anything, we need the energy that comes forth from hope, that marvelous gift that brings innovation, imagination, determination, and optimism. This highly contagious resource is the gift that volunteers continue to provide.

Mayor Tommy Longo said something about helping us get to our knees. Well, that’s what I’m doing in my own way. Helping us get to our knees. Helping my family, my friends, and by extension, my community.

Both in my political and personal lives, Katrina redirected my on what can be done right now to make things better, to take advantage of the minutes in my hands today, to plan well and execute those plans as best as I can, and to always remember that the little things are what make up what we call life. Today and tomorrow, I’m working with two of my beloved brothers to put the furniture back in place after the contractor completes his gloriously awaited work. By Friday, my mother will be back in her house with it looking great and perhaps she will begin to feel a sense of home.

We still have some things to do, but providing a sense of home is critical be it my mom, my other family members, my friends, or my community. More than any of the social justice, political, or community work I’ve done since leaving this town in 1977 to go to college, Katrina has taught me that a sense of home, of belonging, of togetherness, of community is paramount.

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WASHINGTON, DC – In observance of the two year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Congressman James E. Clyburn, House Majority Whip and Chair of the House Democratic Task Force on Hurricane Katrina, released the following statement:

“Two years ago, one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in our nation’s history occurred as the storm known as Hurricane Katrina ravaged and destroyed significant portions of our Gulf Coast. This fierce hurricane’s ruinous force and the failure of the levees left a tragic trail of death and destruction as neighborhoods were flooded, homes decimated, and public infrastructures obliterated.

“Despite the Gulf Coast region’s obvious need for immediate aid and long-term assistance in overcoming Katrina’s cataclysmic aftermath, the initial response of the Bush Administration and the then Republican-led Congress were inefficient and ineffective. The American public and large segments of the international community watched as many Gulf Coast residents endlessly waited in hazardous conditions for help to arrive.

“Fortunately, with the recent change of leadership and new direction of the U.S. Congress, significant progress is being made in addressing both the urgent and long-term needs of the Gulf Coast region. Already this year, Democrats have passed legislation that provides Gulf Coast communities with billions of dollars in funding for levee reconstruction, school rebuilding projects, and public safety initiatives. In addition, Democrats remain steadfastly united and committed to continuing to pass legislation that helps to remedy the region’s housing and public infrastructure crisis.

“While Democrats have made significant strides this Congressional session in aiding Gulf Coast recovering efforts, our task of fully restoring the region to its pre-Katrina functioning level remains a tenured work in progress. Many tough challenges lie ahead in bringing prosperity and a sustained stability back to the Gulf Coast region, but Democrats know what we’re up against and we’re energized, resolute, and ready to fully fulfill our obligation to those displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

“As Chair of the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Hurricane Katrina, I will continue seeking to ensure that Congress honors its promises and establishes a strong and productive partnership for the future with those victimized by this hurricane’s unyielding wrath.”

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Katrina Connects the Big Insurance Rip Off Dots

by Ana Maria

Two years ago today, my elderly mother decided to leave our family home and be driven to the home of my eldest brother who lives in Northeast Georgia. She had heard the word "evacuation" and that is when she decided to heed the warning. In the 45 years that my family has lived in the home that my parents had built in 1962, our family home has been a safe haven during every hurricane. For my mother, leaving was a major, major decision and a break from nearly a half-century of tradition.

Throughout the days prior to this decision, however, I recall friends asking me whether my mom had evacuated yet. I scowled as I said that we have never had to evacuate, that we went through [Hurricane] Camille with only the wind knocking down nearly every tree in the yard. Camille had given us mild roof damage only.

My standard response was a somewhat controlled response of "no, my mother has never left that house, which is the safest spot to be. Ours was so safe that others would come to our house because it always weathered every storm." I mean really. What do folks outside of hurricane country know about things like this? About as much as I know of snow storms--which I've never been through.

However, when the recommended evacuation hit the airwaves the day before the storm, my mom decided to leave. Not for a second did she envision what would have taken place in her absence.

At the time, I was living in San Jose , and I didn't paid much attention to the weather reports. The reason is easy enough to explain. Well, maybe they are understandable if you've grown up with hurricanes like I have listening to the reputable weatherman of my youth.

I remember watching the weather channel some years prior. A young reporter stood at the corner of Hwy 90 and U.S. 49 in Gulfport, Miss., with the beach as his backdrop. Conveying with great intensity, he said that the storm of that moment was the worst that the Mississippi Gulf Coast had ever seen. Wind was blowing swiftly, and rain pelted him. I thought to myself, “This guy has obviously not done his homework.” The way this guy was going on and on, you’d have thought that Hurricane Camille were about to blow through my home state.

Once the eye of this small hurricane came ashore, the storm evaporated into thin air. That’s right. It simply . . . disappeared. No more storm. My goodness. I sure do miss Nash Roberts, the meteorologist of my youth who worked at WWL-TV out of New Orleans. His predictions were always accurate.

Ever since then, I have not trusted national weather information. Since I didn’t have access to the local New Orleans or Biloxi television stations, I relied on my family to tell me what was going on, and I trusted their judgment.

So, two years ago today, my brother Rosie drove my mother half way to Georgia and another brother met them half way to drive mom the rest of the 4-5 hours to his home.

Talk about a shock! Our house had, indeed, weathered the “storm” but with damage that we have never experienced since we built the house 45 years ago. Water had risen up the foundation and climbed three feet of stairs dumping almost a foot inside our home. The little twirly things on the roof blew off pouring water into the attic and broke through the ceiling pouring water into the house from the sky above. (Yes, “twirly things” is a technical term.)

When Hurricane Camille ripped through the Mississippi Gulf Coast back in 1969, water poured into homes a mile or so way from the house, some getting 9 to 10 feet in their homes. Not a drop neared our neighborhood. Nevertheless, the neighbors across the street had gone up the country to ride out the hurricane with relatives. One of Camille’s tornadoes ripped off the roof to their up-the-country “sanctuary”. Their own house, like ours, was perfectly safe. Ever since, they have stayed in their own brick home whenever a storm blew our way—including Katrina.

While our family’s home sits on a foundation and then has three feet of stairs before you get into the house, other homes in the neighborhood—like the family across the street—rested at ground level. So when the water rolled down the street from the left and came from the right and then from a third direction as well, my own brothers who had stayed at the home watched from the relative safety of our home never dreaming that the water could enter the house. But it did.

As the water entered our family home, my two brothers as well as the others who had come to the house for refuge watched the once-in-a-lifetime horror as it unfolded before them. One brother looked across the street to see the 80 year old couple pressing their faces against one of the windows looking out as the water rose inside their beautiful home. Our elderly neighbors climbed on furniture to escape the ravages of Katrina’s rising waters, which ended up rising to five feet inside of their sanctuary.

My two brothers felt helpless, because they couldn’t get to our neighbors to help them. The water was too fast and deep. They themselves could have been pulled under were they to attempt the rescue.

Eventually, everyone in our family’s home—including Lemonade, my brother’s dog—ended up in the attic. The water came up then subsided. A nightmare. No one who has lived in the area over the last century as my own family has would have thought any storm could have been worse than Hurricane Camille. But Katrina's devastation dwarfed Camille's.

What's changed?
Since that fateful day nearly two years ago much has changed.

Today, the faith that everyone inside the Katrina-ravaged region had had in the insurance industry has evaporated.

I recall the routine reports I got from mom. “Well, they offered me 'x' for the roof.” Believe me “x” wasn’t enough. So she wrangled with the company. Time passed, and more unnecessary negotiation to be get the insurance company to pay for this or that or the other.

I thought that the process was ridiculous, and I never dreamed that the insurance company would deliberately drag its feet in hopes to settle for half pennies on the dollar. After all, this was one of those boring industries, part of the backbone of our nation's financial security, and a part of nearly every commercial and residential real estate transaction. It would have been ridiculous to consider that the industry could have been engaged in anything as scandalous as deliberately denying legitimate claims or dragging its feet to get out of paying everything it owed each of its customers.

I had wondered whether my mom had lost her ability to take care of business. I mean, this is a woman who was ever so proud to have found a one penny mistake in her favor on a bank statement when I was a kid. When it comes to money, my mother is meticulous and savvy. I recall wondering about the “2 cents for this, maybe a penny for that” kind of claims’ adjudication. Maybe mom didn't "have it" anymore. I was wrong.

What I didn’t realize—as did no one else—was that the insurance industry could legally collude with each other, talking among themselves to say “we won’t pay, you don’t pay.” Professional baseball is the only other exception, and that’s about entertainment. We HAVE to have insurance to get a mortgage for any loans to buy homes and businesses. It’s a MUST have, not a nice to have as may be the tickets for a baseball game.

Think insurance isn’t part of our foundation for economic vibrancy? Ride with me down the Mississippi Gulf Coast beach along Highway 90 from the Biloxi Bridge through all the tiny beach towns dotting the Mississippi Gulf Coast across the Bay Bridge and down both sides of beach boulevard starting in Bay St. Louis, first to the right then to the left until you stop at the end in Lakeshore, Miss. What will we see?

On one side is the beach and water. On the other side, vacant lots, stairs that lead to no where, steal beams standing as a reminder that something had once been there, slabs that used to have homes built one or two hundred years ago. We’ll see barren land waiting for money to finance the rebuilding efforts from families who have themselves faithfully paid their premiums without any insurance company taking them to court for payment of those premiums.

What we won’t see over all those 50 or so miles is one gas station. So we better have a tank of gas before we start this journey. We won’t see the majestic homes that have overlooked the Gulf of Mexico for the last several centuries or even the last 50 years. Katrina wiped them out, gone, disappeared.

There are sporadic signs of new construction, but not very many. This isn’t the week or even the month after the worst hurricane in our nation’s history. Today marks the eve of the two-year anniversary. The ghost town quality to these Mississippi Gulf Coast miles says an awful lot about an insurance industry that has gotten away with stealing our souls, our dreams, our hopes, and our faith and trust that we have “good neighbors” and we’re in “good hands” when it comes to the baseline financial security that is part and parcel of our everyday lives.

This is all so wrong. In our economy, the insurance industry is essential to our ability to build a home, construct a community center or place of worship, and purchase a business. Whether personal, communal, or commercial, the insurance industry is critical to our financial stability.

What Katrina Ripped Apart
Hurricane Katrina did more than rip apart whole towns and cities in her path. She did more than demonstrate that the U.S. government’s levee system in New Orleans could be breached leaving our federal government liable for the damages that ensued. Hurricane Katrina ripped off the fa├žade of financial security for us as individuals, families, and business owners.

How can anyone confidently build a home or a business, pay the ever-permitted gargantuan insurance rate hikes for less and less coverage? Most of us cannot.

The same insurance captains of industry cannot restore the confidence that they themselves have cruelly stolen from us. The industry's cruelty didn't begin with Katrina, and surely it won't end there, either.

Connecting the Big Insurance Rip Off Dots
From East to West, South to North, we see a pattern throughout the country—at the very least—with the major insurance companies. Families and business owners faithfully pay their insurance premiums. Then, Big Insurance maks a calculated decision to leave a state: California out west or Oklahoma located smack dab in the middle of the country or New Jersey in the east or Mississippi in the Southeast. One big insurance company leaves an area as a “competitor” raises its rates substantially. Funny how it works out that way. And it is all perfectly legal to work it out among themselves.

The awful thing is that there is no legal mechanism for us as Americans to facilitate a level and fair playing field by which smaller companies can compete against the major corporations. Additionally, there is no legal mechanism for us to regulate how the industry operates throughout the 50 states though they operate across state lines. Companies in this industry operate without being subject to the same anti-trust laws regulating every other industry that crosses state lines—save that of major league baseball.

So when the recent tornadoes in the Mid-West or the unexpected floods in Ohio or a historical event like Katrina hits our homes and businesses, schools and places of worship, we expect our insurance policies to pay up. That is the purpose of paying our good money to these companies. We keep our end of the contract and faithfully pay our premiums. The insurance companies pay us when we properly submit a legitimate claim. That's the expected course of events.

"It's difficult to exaggerate or embellish upon what's happened here. It's absolutely devastating," [Democratic Ohio Governor] Strickland said. Original image here.
A dump truck passed piles of trash collected from destroyed homes while helping the cleanup effort yesterday after flood waters receded in Ottawa, Ohio. (Matt Sullivan/REUTERS)

Fortunately, we DO have a mechanism through which we can change the situation. Notice I didn’t say that we can change it over night nor did I say we can do it single-handedly. Still, we have a way to change the situation at hand. If you’ve been reading A.M. in the Morning! for a while, then, you know what THAT means.

It's P-O-L-I-T-I-C-A-L Hell Raising Time! Yoohooo!

"Sit up, join up, stir it up, get online, get in touch, find out who's raising hell and join them. No use waiting on a bunch of wussy politicians." Time to go long 1/17/06
"Two kinds of people in the world," Emily said her mom would say. "There are stewers, and the there are doers."
Like Molly Ivins, Emily is from Texas. Emily is one of my most beloved of friends. She and I are definitely among the doer-types. Whether it's about work, family, or life in general, there is simply no use stewing about a situation when we could be doing something to impact the direction of the resolution. The same goes for politics.

To that end, this is today's Political Hell Raising Activity. Call or write your congressional representative to voice your support for one policy for both wind and water. The proposal is called H.R. 3121. Go here for sample phone scripts to read and email letters to send.

Does today's political hell raising activity sound pretty much like yesterday's? Well, in a word: yes! Have you emailed? Please do so. If you have, then make a call. There is no limit to how often you get to voice your support. No, ma'am and no, sir. Already done both? Then, how's about talking with one person about your support for this and why you recommend that they consider supporting it as well.

Feel free to turn this friend or relative on to A.M. in the Morning! It's the only blog talking about insurance reform in a way that is easily digestible, entertaining, charming as well as insightfully informative! Talking to one other person is how we can ensure that through Katrina, we connect the Big Insurance rip off dots.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Mid-West Floods and Katrina: The Insurance Connection

by Ana Maria

For Katrina survivors here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we remain steadfast in our determination that no other family or business owner face the nightmare of Mother Nature’s rampage such as has been happening in the Mid-West with its flooding and tornadoes only to add insult to injury when Big Insurance betrays our trust and denies legitimate claims.

For Katrina survivors here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we want every family and business owner throughout the nation to have the financial security that we all think we have when we pay our insurance premiums. We know from experience that this is not always the case as things stand today.

Big Insurance didn’t miss a beat to take advantage of the recent flooding to pushing its greed-driven agenda into the public discourse. The media is highlighting the fact that the federal flood insurance program is operating in the red. However, the missing link is that Big Insurance appears to have pawned off on the federal program bills that the Big Insurance companies themselves should have paid. Yes, the allegation of fraud has been lodged.

On his official government website, Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) has an incredible collection of “documents that suggest fraud by insurance companies in the handling of Katrina wind and water claims.” The doozies below are from Nationwide, State Farm, and Allstate.

9/4/2005: Nationwide instructed its adjusters that “if loss is caused by both flood and wind there is no coverage.”

9/13/2005: State Farm 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.”

6/28/2006: On-site damage assessment by engineer Jerome Quintero of Rimkus Consulting Group for Allstate… concluded that there was “insufficient physical evidence to determine the proportion of wind versus storm surge that destroyed the structure.”

11/4/2005: Jerome Quintero’s damage assessment after revision by Rimkus staff who never visited the site. Quintero’s conclusion of “insufficient physical evidence” was changed to “storm surge and waves destroyed the residence.” Quintero’s name was signed to the revised report without his knowledge.
ABC News was able to obtain a copy from State Farm files of the original FAEC [Forensic Analysis & Engineering Corp.] 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"

Taylor and his wife lost everything in the hurricane, and their insurance company offered them not one penny on their wind insurance coverage.

In Katrina’s aftermath, the insurance industry posted a record $108 billion in profits in 2005 and 2006 while shuffling paper to pretend that the four hours of up to 135 mile-per-hour winds or more that the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast experienced did no damage that would require them to pay off on the wind insurance coverage for which home and business owners paid their premiums.
“Initially, high winds in the outer eyewall struck the Mississippi coast up to three to four hours before the highest water arrived. The problem with water created by the storm’s devastating tidal surge arrived later.”
Hurricane Expert
Coastal Weather Research Center
University of South Alabama
At Congressman Taylor’s recent Town Hall Meeting, Hancock Bank Board Chair George “Schloegel brought the house down when he remarked that the insurance companies didn’t have to hire lawyers and haul us to court to get us to pay our premiums. Why should we have to hire lawyers and haul them to court to get them to pay on our wind policy claims?!”

Yet that is exactly what the Congressman Gene Taylor and his wife, Margaret G. Taylor had to do. They hired Dickie Scruggs of the Scruggs Katrina Group, and they recently settled their claim. The point is that a U.S. congressional representative had to hire a big time attorney to get the money that that insurance company should have paid in the first place.

I didn’t realize that the insurance industry could legally collude with each other, talking among themselves to say “we won’t pay, you don’t pay.” The industry enjoys an exemption from the nation’s anti-trust laws. Professional baseball is the only other exception, and that’s about entertainment. We HAVE to have insurance to get a mortgage for any loans to buy homes and businesses. It’s a MUST have, not a nice to have as may be the tickets for a baseball game.

Think insurance isn’t part of our economy? Try getting a loan to buy a house or business and tell the loan officer that you’re not getting any insurance. Tell them it’s a rip off or that the premiums are too high or that you simply don’t want to buy it. See how fast an application is turned down. In our economy, insurance is a given and the lifeblood of commerce. Yet, this industry is not subject to federal regulation.

How to remedy these two major flaws in our personal and business financial security? We need one insurance policy for both wind and water. The private insurance industry deliberately got out of the flood insurance business in the 1960s. That is the reason that the U.S. Government started its Federal Flood Insurance Program in 1968.

Today, Big Insurance is collecting premiums for wind coverage and apparently deliberately failing to pay policyholders on legitimate wind damage claims. Big insurance is stiffing the federal government with bills and the left over costs—such as those who hadn’t needed flood insurance—are born by families and businesses. In two ways, Big Insurance is sticking it to taxpayers: first, to the federal flood insurance program, and then when those limits are reached or when we don’t have the insurance to begin with.

In the face of well-publicized communal tragedy, most often we experience shock, despair, hope, answered prayers, and miracles of generosity. Unfortunately, Katrina taught us a great deal about Big Insurance which is focused on its seemingly insatiable greed that we came experience with a depth of betrayal and abandonment no one should have had to endure . . . and which we are determined to help others never to have to endure either.
"Greed is the main disconnect in this situation," said Taylor, D-Miss. "It's easy for them to walk around in their Gucci suits and defend their companies, but the reality is down there on the Gulf Coast, where all of the destroyed homes and property of my constituents are. Of course, these companies don't want to change the rules that are currently in their favor.

"People who played by the rules and expected insurance companies to play by the same rules got screwed," said Taylor, whose bill would create financially sound premium levels to make the NFIP self-supporting.
Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS)
Taylor, insurers lock horns over bill
Sun Herald
July 18, 2007
As survivors of that worst of Mother Nature’s tragedies throughout the Katrina-ravaged region from Bayou LeBatre, Alabama, to the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast and over to neighboring Louisiana where the U.S. Corps of Engineers levee system flooded New Orleans and its surrounding cities, we know first-hand of betrayal and abandonment from Big Insurance . . . and those whose knee-jerk reactions would imply that any of us get what we deserve for living where we live. See Optimism and Anger in Post-Katrina Living.

That is the reason we are pushing for one policy where families and businesses can obtain both wind and water coverage and stop all this fraudulent finger pointing that Big Insurance seems to take pleasure in doing.

Taking advantage of the current spate of floods and tornadoes, Big Insurance is engaging in an all out assault on Congressional proposals that will solve the insurance woes for American families and businesses.

The question, of course, is what can we do about it? Hmmmm. Seems to me that it’s time for some political hell raising fun!

Today, we’ll focus on the proposal for one policy because that is coming up for a vote shortly after Congress reconvenes in Washington after Labor Day. We’ll deal with the anti-trust legislation soon enough. But today, the one policy proposal requires our immediate attention.

Let your fingers to the walking and your mouth do some talking to encourage your congressional representatives today to support one policy for both wind and water so that when tragedy hits, families and businesses can focus on recovery rather than face legal battles and financial ruin because of corporate greed.

If the grass of our political opposition looks greener, maybe it’s time for us to water ours more.

For a good watering hose, go here for sample phone scripts to read and email letters to send. Just follow the bouncing ball, take part in this grand American experiment in democracy, and give your representative a piece of your mind. Once the phone call has been placed or email has been sent, a delightful peace of mind falls upon us as we realize that this is our part in creating the life as we desire.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Best of A.M. in the Morning! August 19-24

by Ana Maria

Blog entries
Hancock Bank Can Teach Bush A Thing or Two 8.24.07
Optimism and Anger in Post-Katrina Living 8.23.07
George Dale Should Thank Dickie Scruggs 8.22.07
Bush’s FEMA Again Lifting Wrong Finger for Katrina’s Families 8.21.07
“Run for Cover!” Republican Gov. Evacuation Plan for Gulf Coast Residents 8.20.07

This Week's Featured New Items

Study shows more Hurricane Katrina survivors contemplate suicide

Congress: A New Direction For The Gulf Coast

Whistleblower: Judge victimizing Katrina victims?

Clarion-Ledger Poll On Big Insurance Revictimizing Katrina Survivors

Homeowner Feels Revictimized By Insurers

Insurers being sued over Katrina

Hurricane George: How the White House Drowned New Orleans

Katrina propels insurance factor

Gulf Coast clergy, residents decry Barbour's grant process

Consumer Advocates Help Defeat Allstate's Efforts to Hide its Post-Katrina Pay-Out Procedures

FEMA takes back $4.5M Mspi wanted for mental health facilities

Portrait of a troubled teen: Depression after Katrina led to book about recovery

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Hancock Bank Can Teach Bush A Thing or Two

by Ana Maria

Who would have ever thought that a bank would be the anchor business for beachfront revitalization in Bay St. Louis, Miss., one of the tiny beach towns that comprise Katrina’s ground zero? Yet, that is exactly the case with Hancock Bank, Mississippi’s largest and a strong regional bank as well.

As the flagship business for renewing Bay St. Louis’ beach front/downtown/Old Town business district, Hancock Bank’s reopening provides unparalleled leadership locally and even nationally.

How’s this for a demonstration of Katrina responsiveness?

One of the bank’s officers told the celebration’s crowd of a few hundred that in the storm’s immediate aftermath, Hancock Bank took a satchel of money to some central location and began to cash checks. The bank knew that folks needed cash to buy supplies. Thoughtful, indeed. And good business, of course. But, here’s the kicker.

Hancock Bank even took IOU’s from people. That’s right. A bank in the year 2007 took IOUs from people just to get cash in their pockets so that these Katrina survivors could begin to . . . survive.

THAT’s innovation. THAT’s leadership. THAT’s responsiveness. THAT’s creativity. And that is how forward thinking, responsive leaders act, particularly when the worst natural disaster hits an area.

Hancock Bank Could Teach Bush A Thing or Two
Contrast Hancock Bank’s response with the Bush Administration that wants to know why it is that in the immediate aftermath of this same natural disaster that virtually wiped out so many cities in Katrina’s wake that city officials didn’t go through the traditional bidding process and get the least cost for the services needed. For more on that White House foolishness, read Dirt, Dead Bodies, and White House Dirt Bags.

Contrast Mississippi’s largest bank taking IOUs with Bush’s Administration that is holding out millions and millions and millions of federal reimbursement checks perhaps with an eye on outright stiffing Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama cities and towns for the clean up costs for which the federal government is supposed to pay. Compassionate, my you-know-what! [For more on Bush's Administration holding out on reimbursement funds, see When You're Up To You're Ass in Alligators and The "F" Word: FEMA.]

Bush talks compassionate, but doesn’t walk it. Hancock Bank doesn’t say anything and just takes care of the people who have helped it grow over the last century. That’s leadership.

Hancock Bank's Humble Beginnings in the Bay
Hancock Bank was founded in 1899 right here in Bay St. Louis, Miss., and its initial branch was on this very same spot along Beach Boulevard where this grand re-opening was held yesterday evening. As one bank representative said to us at the ceremony, this 100 plus beach front property has been through four major hurricanes and plenty of financial dark times for the banking industry—most notably the Great Depression and the Savings & Loan crisis during the Reagan years.

At the town hall meeting that Congressman Gene Taylor held last week, Board Chair George Schloegel told the standing room only crowd that the bank is not carrying any insurance on the building. It cannot afford the rates. Should the building be destroyed in the future, the cost of rebuilding will be spread over its multi-state branches. However, he continued, families have one home and can’t spread the costs of rebuilding or renovating their homes like Hancock Bank is able to do. Scholoegel supports Congressman Taylor’s Multiple Peril Insurance Act which adds wind coverage to the federal flood insurance program.

“Schloegel brought the house down when he remarked that the insurance companies didn’t have to hire lawyers and haul us to court to get us to pay our premiums. Why should we have to hire lawyers and haul them to court to get them to pay on our wind policy claims?!”
Great people, a great community asset, and a great business citizen in this tiny beach town. Others around the country should take note and follow its example, including the Bush Administration.

At yesterday’s celebration, I was fortunate to run into George Schloegel and told him that I just LOVED his comment on premiums and hiring lawyers. He looked down at me smiling as he told me that he just said it the way he sees it.

Ahhhh, yes. Boy am I ever home where the verbal guessing game is unnecessary. Talking with us doesn’t require reading between the lines. What you see is what you get. Period. That’s unheard of in the political and corporate circles I’ve traveled in around the country.

Celebrating in Typical Bay St. Louis Fashion
We love our music and great food. Yesterday evening’s celebration was typical Bay St. Louis complete with a live Dixieland Jazz band and two huge tables filled with plenty of great food.

The food was stupendous! None of this barely edible appetizers many try to pass off at such occasions. Absolutely, this was a veritable feast of baby tomatoes stuffed with shrimp salad, potato salad, chicken kabobs, a couple of other meats (I don’t know which because I eat seafood only), jambalaya, and a number of delicious deserts.

When I was growing up, Dixieland Jazz was definitely a favorite genre of music in our home. I remember my father telling me that when he was a young man still living with his parents on Magazine Street in New Orleans, he and his brother were forbidden from holding band practice at home. My paternal grandparents came from Italy, and my grandfather taught music—old style and old school. No, I’m not talking Motown old school. I’m talking something quite different.

Today, we learn musical notes by a letter designation. A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Back then—and yeah, it’s not quite a century ago now, my grandfather taught music Do, Re, Mi, Fa . . . which some of us learned from the Sound of Music. Trust me, it was NOT that kind of teaching. My point is that life was, well, different way back, but the attitude of the older folks toward the younger one's musical tastes remain rather similar.

My grandfather apparently wasn’t too keen on the new ways and would not permit jazz to be played in the house. “Not real music” my father would tell me his dad would say. Eventually, my grandfather allowed his sons to bring their jazz band to practice in the house on one condition. They had to tell their father when the band would be practicing so he could leave. My dad told me that his father thought jazz wasn’t “real music” and that is would be a death knell for the orchestra.

A few years back, I myself knew that I had reached the generational divide when certain songs were played and I thought, “That’s not music!!” I don’t think my grandfather was whispering to me from the grave, either.

Every generation has their musical tastes, I suppose. (But really, how can it be “music” without a good beat to dance to?! Just kidding.) Some things never change from generation to generation.

Nevertheless, for this child of a former jazz musician, listening to the Dixieland tunes being played reminded me of dancing with my father who has long since passed away. As a little girl, he would put me on his shoes and we’d dance. I love those memories.

That’s part of the magic of Hancock Bank’s reopening in the same spot it has always operated for 100 years. Coming home to memories. Clearly the bank’s decision to rebuild in the same spot has more to do with tradition, history, and a sense of community than some actuarial bean counting analysis. That’s what creates strong families, neighborhoods, communities, towns, and cities. It’s about strong memories, a sense of history, a sense of belonging.

Last night, we all belonged at that wonderful celebration. We felt a sense of community, a hopefulness, a renewed desire to rebuild our town.

With all of the celebration and laughter underneath the stars and moonlight, who would have thought that anyone there had a care in the world.

But, oh, we all have many, many cares. Katrina took away nearly everyone’s homes either completely or devastated the homes so much that it took ages to clean it up to make do while living in it as the rest was being worked on.

Katrina took away so very much, which many fear may never return in their lifetimes. Last night I was talking with a couple that I hadn’t seen in over 25 years. Now in their 60’s and 70’s, how can they start over particularly when the insurance company low balls or outright denies payment on legitimate wind claims on a policy they’ve paid premiums for years?

Our sorrows are deep, healing is slow, and payments from insurance companies slower exacerbating our sorrows and our healing.

So how can we enjoy ourselves at all? We know that life isn’t about sorrow only or happy times only. It is about how they intermingle, intertwine within our lives. Here in Bay St. Louis, Miss., we tend soothe our sorrows and celebrate our joys with great tasting food, good music in the background, and great company. That’s one of our secrets to our sanity, our generosity, our vibrant culture. That’s how we are able to survive Katrina and the betrayal from Big Insurance and Bush’s Administration.

With business sensitivity and innovation like that which Hancock Bank has shown and the internal fortitude of our residents, that's how the Bay will return to its vibrancy complete with all the festive trimmings to celebrate every milestone along the way.

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Congress: A New Direction For The Gulf Coast

Honoring Our Promises, Establishing A Partnership for the Future

Last August, House Democrats traveled to the Gulf Coast on the solemn occasion of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Their mission was to do the work the Republican-led Congress and the Administration were not doing--determine what resources the region needed to rebuild and restore their communities. They met with local officials and stakeholders and took home with them a list of outstanding needs for the region that the lawmakers were committed to providing.

A new Democratic majority in 2007 provided an opportunity to deliver on those promises, but their efforts were met with strong opposition from the White House.

Despite a presidential veto and Republican obstruction, in the first seven moths of a new Democratic majority the 110th Congress was able to send the president Katrina recovery legislation that was signed into law including:

  • waiving the local matching requirement under the Stafford Act, legislation which potentially has the greatest positive impact, saving the region $1.9 billion and allowing work to begin on 20,000 stalled projects;
  • appropriating $6.4 billion in assistance which helped bolster levees, restore the coastline, recruit teachers, keep schools open, maintain health facilities, assist farmers and fishermen, provide housing assistance, assist small businesses, retain law enforcement and other essential government employees; and
  • additionally, providing much-needed congressional oversight-House Committees have held over 30 hearings on Katrina recovery.
[See Action in the 110th Congress on Katrina recovery]

On August 12, 2007, House Democrats returned to the Gulf Coast, just prior to the Second Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, to assess the progress in the region and determine what needs remained. Their productive three day trip brought them to many places in Mississippi and New Orleans, including:
  • Pass Christian Mississippi, where the entire school district is
  • located on the campus on the one elementary school that survived the storm;
  • Bay St. Louis Mississippi, where at a standing-room-only town hall meeting the community discussed their inability to rebuild because insurance companies would not pay claims on wind damage to homes that were also damaged by flood waters;
  • the New Orleans Sewereage and Water Board where the system is on the brink of failure because of the emergency measures executed after Hurricane Katrina on an already aging system; and
  • Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish, where Karen Vinsanau was beginning to rebuild with a Road Home grant. [see blogs]

House Democrats recommitted themselves to a New Direction for the Gulf Coast and a partnership for the future. They outlined a list of legislative priorities to improve housing, infrastructure, health care, and education, reform the insurance industry and FEMA bureaucracy, including:
  • Comprehensive housing assistance including aid for rental, public and low-income housing [HR 1227]
  • An estimated $550 million under the first year of the Federal Housing Reform Act [HR 1427, Pending in House-Senate Conference]
  • Water Resources Development Act [WRDA], which is under veto threat but would bolster coastal levees and provide funding for coastal restoration [Reported out of conference, HR 1495]
  • Disaster relief assistance for small businesses [HR 1468, and the RECOVER Act HR 1361]
[See new commitments]

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Study shows more Hurricane Katrina survivors contemplate suicide

Associated Press - August 22, 2007 3:23 AM ET

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The longer it takes to recover from Hurricane Katrina, the more Gulf Coast residents are suffering post-traumatic stress or even thinking seriously about suicide.

That's the conclusion of a survey by the Hurricane Katrina Community Advisory Group.

The survey is a follow-up to one done six months after the hurricane. It shows that eight percent of people in the New Orleans area have contemplated suicide. That's nearly triple the rate right after the storm.

A psychologist says the underlying optimism in the months after the storm has worn thin. The earlier report had warned about that possibility if rebuilding didn't keep pace with expectations.

And the recovery has been agonizingly slow, especially in New Orleans. In addition to losses due directly to the hurricane, such problems as violent crime and poor schools have added to the distress.

Original article here.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hurricane George: How the White House Drowned New Orleans

Note from A.M. in the Morning! MUST read. An internationally acclaimed award-winning investigative journalist who works for the BBC, Greg Palast is a native Californian whose work also broke the story on the stolen 2000 election. I admire, trust, and respect Palast's brilliant investigative journalism, and he's a personal friend as well.

Originally published August 23rd, 2007 at GregPalast.Com

by Greg Palast
August 23, 2007

It’s been two years. And America’s media is about to have another tear-gasm over New Orleans. Maybe Anderson Cooper will weep again. The big networks will float into the moldering corpse of the city and give you uplifting stories about rebuilding and hope.

Now, let’s cut through the cry-baby crap. Here’s what happened two years ago - and what’s happening now.

This is what an inside source told me. And it makes me sick:

“By midnight on Monday, the White House knew. Monday night I was at the state Emergency Operations Center and nobody was aware that the levees had breeched. Nobody.”
The charge is devastating: That, on August 29, 2005,
the White House withheld from the state police the information that New Orleans was about to flood. From almost any other source, I would not have believed it. But this was not just any source. The whistle-blower is Dr. Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, the chief technician advising the state on saving lives during Katrina.
I’d come to van Heerden about another matter, but in our talks, it was clear he had something he wanted to say, and it was a big one. He charged that the White House, FEMA and the Army Corp hid, for critical hours, their discovery that the levees surrounding New Orleans were cracking, about to burst and drown the city.

Understand that Katrina never hit New Orleans. The hurricane swung east of the city, so the state evacuation directors assumed New Orleans was now safe - and evacuation could slow while emergency efforts moved east with the storm.

But unknown to the state, in those crucial hours on Monday, the federal government’s helicopters had filmed the cracks that would become walls of death by Tuesday.

Van Heerden revealed:
“FEMA knew at 11 o’clock on Monday that the levees had breeched. At 2p.m. they flew over he 17th Street Canal and took video of the breech.”
Question: “So the White House wouldn’t tell you the levees had breeched?”

Dr. Van Heerden: “They didn’t tell nobody knew. The Corps of Engineers knew. FEMA knew. None of us knew.”

I could not get the White House gang to respond to the charges.

That leaves the big, big question: WHY? Why on earth would the White House not tell the city to get the remaining folks out of there?

The answer: cost. Political and financial cost. A hurricane is an act of God - but a catastrophic failure of the levees is a act of Bush. That is, under law dating back to 1935, a breech of the federal levee system makes the damage - and the deaths - a federal responsibility. That means, as van Heeden points out, that “these people must be compensated.”

The federal government, by law, must build and maintain the Mississippi levees to withstand known dangers - or pay the price when they fail.

Indeed, that was the rule applied in the storms that hit Westhampton Dunes, New York, in 1992. There, when federal sea barriers failed, the flood waters wiped away 190 homes. The feds rebuilt them from the public treasury. But these were not just any homes. They are worth an average of $3 million apiece the summer homes of movie stars and celebrity speculators.

There were no movie stars floating face down in the Lower Ninth Ward nor in Lakeview nor St. Bernard Parish. For the ‘luvvies’ of Westhampton Dunes, the federal government even trucked in sand to replace the beaches. But for New Orleans’ survivors, there’s the aluminum gulag of FEMA trailer parts. Today, two years later, 89,000 families still live in this mobile home Guantanamo - with no plan whatsoever for their return.

And what was the effect of the White House’s self-serving delay?

I spoke with van Heerden in his university office. The computer model of the hurricane flashed quietly as I waited for him to answer. Then he said, “Fifteen hundred people drowned. That’s the bottom line.”

They could have survived Hurricane Katrina. But they got no mercy from Hurricane George.

For the rest of the story, get the DVD, “BIG EASY TO BIG EMPTY: The Untold Story of the Drowning of New Orleans,” as reported by Greg Palast from Louisiana for Democracy Now - with Amy Goodman and the music of “the city that care forgot.” Watch a clip on our Youtube page.

And read the full story of our investigation in the added chapter on New Orleans in the new paperback edition of “Armed Madhouse: from Baghdad to New Orleans - Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild.” Click here to donate to our Investigative Fund and receive a book signed by Greg Palast as a gift from us.

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Optimism and Anger in Post-Katrina Living

by Ana Maria

Yesterday, the Gulf Coast Business Council released Two Years After Katrina, which reports on the status of our recovery down here. The Biloxi Sun Herald, the only daily newspaper along the Mississippi Gulf Coast aptly titled its headlined article Keeping it positive.

As is often shown in our own lives, keeping an upbeat, appreciative, and grateful attitude for what has been done for us and for what we have is always a good thing and generally generates more for which to be grateful and appreciative. It’s a mystical like quality that seems to magnetize our energy field to attract more of the same. The opposite is also the case. Coming off as ungrateful for anything often engenders a negative response from those around us giving us more for which we are ungrateful. Funny how life works that way.

I find myself juggling a delicate balance knowing of these mysteries. On the one hand, I'm respectful of all that the volunteers, the residents, and the resident's friends and family members have done. What a blessing. More of these good graces, please.

On the other hand, I’m livid that Big Insurance has apparently deliberately chosen to stiff its Katrina customers so it can pocket the premiums everyone has paid over the years. I’m livid that George W. Bush has failed miserably to ensure that every dime needed—from FEMA, HUD, Corps of Engineers, etc.—was immediately appropriated and easily drawn down to where the money can be spent directly for its intended purposes.

I’m livid that Bush has spent billions and billions rebuilding Iraq, a country that he destroyed for no reason while here in the United States we have an entire region still barely moving in the direction of rebuilding. I’m livid that Bush has not done anything substantive to move his buddies in the insurance industry in the direction of paying fully on the legitimate claims that Katrina’s home and business owners have submitted.

Keeping a mindful eye on the solution to these challenges and following steps to rectify the situation are imperative lest we get caught up in the whirlwind of talking and thinking only about what it is we don't like and staying stuck in "what is" rather than in pursuing the solution and making headway in that direction.

It's tough, though, especially with the stress of post-Katrina life. to which I’m a relative newcomer. I still have that fire in the belly burning in my soul. I believe that things could be better, should be better. Though I have only recently stepped into daily living inside the Katrina-ravaged region, even I have already become acclimated to the destruction and devastation all around me more than I had thought I had and the stress of it is beginning to show.

For example, when booking at a motel inside Katrina Land, I had specifically stated that I needed Internet service. "Yes, ma’am, we have it." Great!

So, when I plugged in my computer and the Internet service wasn’t there, I was not a happy camper. No problem. I’ll call, someone will repair the problem, and I’ll be up and running in just a bit.

Uh…not exactly.

The front desk staff said that my particular room didn't have Internet service. What ensued demonstrated clearly to me that the stress of post-Katrina life had finally begun to get to me.

Unhappy as all get out, I went to the front desk and then asked to speak to the manager, who had just walked up. I began my diatribe about my initial request, I need the service to work, blah, blah, blah.

Now picture this. I’m a tiny woman with a bundle of energy and a voice I can project for quite a long way. I was neither quiet nor exactly the epitome of Miss Manners.

The manager and two front desk staffers just watched as I went into a bit of a tirade over the service.

“What do you mean it may be up tomorrow or next week or in a couple of weeks?!!!” I demanded.

Calmly, the manager said that ever since Katrina, they haven’t been able to accurately speculate when a repair contractor will show up even when contractors say they will show up.

Bam! It hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh. Yeah. I’m thinking as if this is in the “outside” world.

Katrina. It’s a bit like being inside of Alice in Wonderland. What’s up is down and all around.

I immediately thought about my family’s home and how long it had taken to find a great contractor we trusted to work on it and then how much time it’s taken to get on his schedule plus coordinating it with our own schedule with us having to figure out when we’ll get to the prep work, etc. and so forth.

Instant calm down on my part. My manners returned. That anger and upset that had just blown up all over those women? Evaporated.

I was embarrassed for my enormous insensitivity and failure to "get it" before being . . . extremely unpleasant, to put it mildly.

Yes, of course, I have to be mindful that I have work to do requiring Internet access, but still. I “got it” at yet another level. Post-Katrina life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The manager put me in another room where the wireless Internet service worked just fine, and she helped with the move mentioning that she had seen my younger brother earlier. Huh? “You know my brother?” I asked. Not just that one. She knows one of my older brothers, too. She called him by a childhood name, which meant that she’s known my family for decades. More humility and embarrassment. I felt awful!

After I moved in to the room, I went to her and apologized profusely. She told me that I wasn’t that bad. “Really, not that bad?” I thought. Answering the question in my head, she continued by saying that when people begin to get upset, they just let people blow. It’s Katrina. It gets to everyone. And, yes, she said that compared to others, I wasn’t bad. Oh.

I told her that I after I treated them so horribly, I wanted to go home and cook something for them as a peace offering, but the house wasn’t in any condition for me to go cook in it. She laughed.

But life here in Katrina isn’t funny. When even I am blowing from the stress—and I’ve been here 5 ½ months, things are bad off. I didn’t go through Katrina. I didn’t deal with the yuck and the mud, the stench and the stark conditions that were everywhere for months on end. Yet, the stress of life here is getting to me. Things shouldn't be this way. We should be nearing completion, not barely beginning.

Pouring Oil on the Fire
In the middle of the emotional turmoil that is everywhere in Katrina Land, I’m “graced” with reading articles like this one titled Should Tax Dollars Keep Rebuilding Risky Areas?

I begin to seethe inside. Sure, institute better developer requirements. That’s sound. Fine. I’m not talking about that.

Personally, I have always wanted to liv on a beach, to look out my window and see the sand and water. I want a big screened in porch on the backside overlooking a massive yard with big oak trees throughout it. On the front porch, I want a big swing. When I get that--and I have every intention of having it, I will find the absolutely best hurricane proof architectural plans around. That is what I will build--regardless of whether local standards may require less. It is what I have always wanted. Now that I'm back home, I'm going to have it.

New a fabulous standards are not what I'm concerned about.

I’m talking about the notion that tax dollars shouldn’t be used to help and the implication that insurance companies are right to stiff us. Kind of a “serves you right for living there” attitude in articles like that and comments that are along the same lines. That's what I'm talking about.

The questions that come to my mind are these.

1. And just what part of paradise do you live in where the federal, state, county, or local government has not had to assist in any way what so ever and where insurance is unnecessary because everything goes along smashingly?

2. Where is this paradise inside the US where there not a blizzard, tornado, earthquake, or hurricane . . . and a place where anyone would want to live?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. La la land.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency reports that 55% of Americans live within 50 miles of our nation’s gloriously beautiful coastlines. Where then are we to move our homes, families, communities, places of worship, jobs, and friends? Come on, now, where’s the plan? No plan? OK, you and yours go first. Show us how it is done and where to move. Go on now. Be the example. Why the hesitation?

Ohhhh, it’s so easy to pass judgment, isn’t it?

Changing Tunes and Joining a New Choir
U.S. Senator Trent Lott has had a lifetime of apologizing for corporate greed at the expense of little guys. Surely, we could have expected him to join in with the rest of the crowd criticizing the use of tax dollars to rebuild homes, businesses, communities, places of worship, schools. After Katrina left only a slab of his home, he found out that even as a bigwig in the Republican Party, he would be treated just as poorly as the next guy.

Then, Lott began to sing a different tune and join a new choir. All I can say is that he’s got a lovely voice and we’re happy to have him join in. [The man does have a wonderful singing voice. ]

Home of U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) in Pascagoula, Miss. The house is gone. The land swept clear. Photo by Gulf Coast News.

When Republican U.S. Senator Trent Lott and Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor both have had to sue their insurance carrier to get any money from the homeowners’ policies wind coverage provisions, something way beyond the average person’s grasp is strangling the life out of folks. Lott has been a vociferous critic of lawyers who fight for the little guy. He is singing a slightly different tune today. To represent them in their lawsuits, both Lott and Taylor hired attorney Dicky Scruggs, Lott’s brother-in-law.

I hope that those who advocate some form of financially starving us into migrating elsewhere will come to a different conclusion before they find themselves in need of a hand up to get back on their feet and returning to the humming of their lives.

In the spirit of where I was born and raised and where I now once again reside, I'm hopeful . . . and pray that even they don't have to experience this unnecessary post-Katrina chaos and madness brought on by corporate insurance industry greed and deliberate neglect from Bush's Administration.

Throughout my lifetime, my mother has said, “It all depends on whose ox is being gored.” Well Katrina has certainly made that one obvious.

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