A New Bridge Brings Hope to Bay St. Louis
But for Many Residents, Recovery Remains Far Away
by Keith Burton - (Gulf Coast News) 5/24/07
Hope is a powerful force. It gives strength when times are bad and it has a way of mitigating loss. Such it is for many residents in the most devastated areas of the Coast 21 months after Katrina. Travel anywhere along U.S. 90 or around the bays and bayous of the Coast and it clear that hope is still what is keeping people going. Read the rest of the story
To read more of the recent media coverage, scroll beyond the videos on the home page to the section named Katrina in the News.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
A New Bridge Brings Hope to Bay St. Louis
Bay St. Louis residents continue to display signs expressing their searing conclusions toward State Farm not being a good neighbor and policy holders not being in good hands with Allstate.
Posted by Ana Maria at 6:54 PM
Monday, May 28, 2007
Katrina's aftermath lives on and on for those of us in Katrina Land. So too do our stories. Surviving the storm was the first step in this long journey to the place many call home. A.M. in the Morning! wants your first hand accounts of life today. Who are you, and what is your story?
Survived Katrina and wanting to return? Rebuilding your life? Here at A.M. in the Morning!, we want to hear what you have to share. Whether it's how you survived the storm itself or how you’re surviving the storm’s aftermath, whether its sad or funny, whether its about being here or trying to get back home, this is the space to tell your story.
After Katrina, perhaps you were one of the many who dropped everything in your life to come down or come over to help. Where did you come from, and what inspired you to come? What did you hope to find, and what did you find when you got here? How has the experience impacted you and others in your life? The area is as good as it is because of you, so please, share with us your story!
This is the place to moan and groan, gripe and hype about whatever is happening—good and not so good—in your Katrina-impacted life.
Just post your story in the comment section below and title your story! Or send it to me via email and I'll upload it. email@example.com.
Please following the following steps for posting your Katrina story at A.M. in the Morning!
1. A.M. in the Morning! (that would be yours truly) reserves the right to edit or delete posts as she (again, that would be yours truly) deems appropriate.
2. Sarcasm and humor is great. Vile profanity is not. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you can't figure out the difference.
4. No advertising.
5. Email your photos with your stories to email@example.com for uplinking together.
Posted by Ana Maria at 2:09 PM
Saturday, May 26, 2007
A recent front page headline in the Gulf Coast’s daily paper, the Sun Herald, announced the latest in Katrina-related aftermath: “Rural wells may be in danger: Buried debris full of contaminants.” To date, “virtually no cancer-causing chemicals” have been detected. Virtually none? Good Lord! Who wants to drink, cook with, or bathe in water containing “virtually no cancer-causing chemicals”?
Wanna bet that Bush’s EPA will proclaim the water is safe to drink just as it had said the air around the Twin Towers was safe to breathe in the aftermath of 9-11? We’ll see how safe is “safe to drink.”
How’s about serving up some of that water with “virtually no cancer-causing chemicals” to the next quarterly national Republican Party meeting? Their food can be cooked with it, and this Republican gathering can be served the food specially prepared for this festive occasion. Their tea and coffee can be made with that water from the very same source. Heck, I would personally volunteer to serve it to those Republican big wigs at this important gathering.
I wouldn’t even say a word. I would do my best not to roll my eyes or allow a smirk to cross my face as the ReTHUGlicans spewed their propaganda. Instead, I’d occupy myself thinking of that great scene in Erin Brockovich when she and Ed Masry, her attorney boss, met with PG&E’s lawyers. You remember that one? Julia Roberts did such a great job in that role.
“The rural residents and their attorneys said that community exposure to the carcinogen hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6 — in desert water allegedly tainted by PG&E in the 1950s and 1960s — led to widespread illness and deaths.”
In the scene I’m thinking about, PG&E’s attorneys met with Brockovich and Masry. One of PG&E’s corporate suits picked up a glass of water on the table and raised it toward her mouth. Just as she was about to sip from the glass, Erin informed her that the water had been brought in special from Hinkley, Calif. You may recall that Hinkley was one of the towns with the alleged cancer contaminated water. PG&E’s attorney glared at Erin and put down the glass of water without drinking a drop. A powerful scene.
Just as the movie imitated life, we can envision imitating the movie. Can you imagine the look on the Republican faces as they are informed of the source of the water was used to cook their meal, brew their coffee and tea, and pour into their water glasses? Rather than ruin the whole evening, perhaps it would be kinder to inform them of the water’s source long after they had finished their dessert.
Of course, it really wouldn't matter when we told them the water was specially brought in from Mississippi. Surely to goodness, Bush's EPA will have asserted that hte water's source was clearly good enough to drink, eat, and bathe in. So these Repulicans wouldn't have much to worry a out, now would they?
More coffee, anyone?
PS No mainstream media outlet has picked up on this story. In the aftermath of Katrina, the ever passionate Anderson Cooper with CNN and NBC’s award winning Brian Williams reported tirelessly from this Katrina-ravaged region. Cooper actually came to my hometown of Bay St. Louis, Miss., and the neighboring town of Waveland, both of which Katrina wiped out.
But today, silence. Though both reporters were all over the Hurricane Katrina story in its immediate aftermath, neither man nor their media outlets has remained focused on Katrina’s continuously unfolding devastation, much less with regard to the Bush Administration’s deliberate neglect.
We need these fine reporters to return to the passion and commitment to reporting continuously on this natural disaster of epic proportions. How do we do that? You know. We just raise a little political hell from all over the country! Just let your fingers do the walking! Here is a phone script with the phone numbers for each show, and here is an email letter with the email addresses for each of them, too.
Lord knows it’s getting hotter every day down here in Katrina land, and our desire to reach for a cool glass of water is mighty tempting. ;)
Posted by Ana Maria at 5:22 PM
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Americans living in government trailers large enough for a Barbie doll or two is bad enough. More alarming is their extended 20 month plus stay because the Bush Administration has yet to belly up to the bar and provide real leadership in the recovery efforts down here. Bush’s silence is deafening in resolving the financial crisis due in large part to insurance companies like State Farm and Allstate.
If the Bush White House had taken a leadership role and resolved this issue in favor of policyholders, then 50,000 families remaining in FEMA trailers would have long ago been able to rebuild or renovate their Katrina destroyed homes. These families would have been able to have moved out of their FEMA trailers, which bring up the latest example of the Administration’s despicable and deliberate neglect in Katrina land.
Bush’s FEMA delivered trailers containing toxic levels of formaldehyde. More than 50,000 families displaced by Katrina and Rita still live in FEMA trailers and mobile homes. What did Bush’s man, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison, recommend to those families?
"We've told people they can air those trailers out," Paulison said.
Air out the trailers? Is he crazy? Stupid? Both? Maybe he should just live in one of those formaldehyde-filled FEMA trailers for a few years. Just until we inaugurate a Democrat in the White House in January 2009. That’s 20 months, the length of time from Katrina to now. Fair enough, don’t you think?
When it comes to the good people living in the Katrina-ravaged area, Paulison marches in lockstep as a Bush crony ignoring what the Center for Disease Control has to say about the fact that elevated levels of formaldehyde gas can cause headaches, burning eyes and throats, nausea and difficulty breathing.
The Clarion-Ledger, the daily paper in Jackson, Miss., the capitol of the state, reported "Becky Gillette, vice chairwoman of the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club, said testing of some FEMA trailers and mobile homes showed elevated levels of formaldehyde, even in those that have been aired out for months.
'We're getting high readings in trailers that are 20 months old,' Gillette said."
In the meantime, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has demanded Paulison and FEMA turn over all of its formaldehyde-related documents including those “related to communications between the agency and trailer manufacturers regarding formaldehyde levels.” Waxman has been trying to get this information since last August. When the Democrats officially took over Congress in January, Waxman became chair of this committee and his power increased substantially.
If Paulison fails to turn over all of the documents by the May 29th deadline, Waxman has already threatened to issue a subpoena. That’s one of the real differences that happens when the Democrats are in charge. Personally, I’m elated that Waxman is on top of this using the power of the subpoena as he should.
Real government oversight. What a breath of fresh air—pun quite intended.
The Clarion-Ledger also reported "Lindsay Huckabee, who is living in a FEMA mobile home in Kiln with her husband and five children, said she's contacted FEMA at least 30 times because she believes her home has toxic levels of formaldehyde.
"She says her children, who range in age from 1 to 12 years, have had persistent nosebleeds and respiratory problems.
"Two were hospitalized with pneumonia, she said.
"'We've reported (problems) over and over again and we haven't gotten any response,' she said,"
You may recognize the name of the Kiln (pronounced ‘kill’—the ‘n’ is silent) as the hometown of Bret Favre, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. The Kiln is about 30 minutes north of the Gulf Coast where my home town of Bay St. Louis is. As evidenced by the Huckabee story, Katrina’s damage went inland and far beyond the coastal region.
Paulison is advising the Huckabee family—and tens of thousands just like it—that any healthcare problems would go away with just airing out the trailer. What a stupid, inane, callous disregard for the health and well-being of these families, these children, these men and women who are good Americans and loving parents. The Sierra Club’s testing of the trailers that were aired out for months got readings that the formaldehyde levels were high. Perhaps it is the Bushies who are high when they are creating their reality-free public policies and recommendations for the American people.
I’m a firm believer in the “what’s-good-for-the-goose” philosophy, if you know what I mean. Since Paulison sees Bush’s FEMA trailers poise no real health threat then he and every FEMA employee that is marching in lock step should demonstrate the strength of their convictions in the official Bush Administration’s advice by living in FEMA trailers for the next 20 months. I’m sure that the Huckabee family would gladly provide theirs to Mr. Paulison himself.
Either way, Paulison and his staff who are carrying out this willful ignorance of a public health hazard get to show the world how much stock they put into the Bush Administration’s advice.
It’s a win-win situation. If the Republicans steal a third presidential election, then Paulison and his staff can remain in their trailers. If we Democrats do what needs doing to prevent the Republicans from stealing the presidential election agaits, then in January 2009, Paulison and his staff can go home to their families fit as a fiddle, right?
Should they experience “headaches, burning eyes and throats, nausea and difficulty breathing” or if their noses start to bleed, they can just say a little prayer as they air out their trailers. When that doesn’t work, maybe they’ll turn in their faith-based, factually-free health recommendation for a dose of harsh reality. I wouldn’t count on it, though.
The Bushies more likely to hold their breath than to admit they deliberately deceived the American people with their willful neglect, stupidity, and blind faith in a White House that continues to betray the New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast . . . along with everyone else from the East Coast to the West Coast.
As they hold their breath, we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that at our fingertips we possess the tools to help bring about a better outcome for those families living in formaldehyde-filled FEMA trailers.
You know what that means . . . it’s political hell-raising time. We’ll target two people and have a hoot doing it!
On the one hand, we’ll contact Congressman Henry Waxman to applaud his investigation into the formaldehyde-filled FEMA trailers. This is plain ol’ positive reinforcement. It works on children and adults alike. ;) When you call, I’m sure that you’ll get a staffer who expresses sheer joy in taking down your message. We’ll be the ones to get a kick out of it as well. We’ll be encouraging Congressman Waxman and his staff to work diligently. They will all appreciate it immensely and work diligently they will!
On the other hand, we’ll contact FEMA Director David Paulison to recommend that he live in a formaldehyde-filled FEMA trailer for the next 20 months as a way to demonstrate to the American people his faith in the trailers’ health and safety. We’ll be informing the FEMA Director’s office that we wish him to implement the policy that we know of as “what’s-good-for-the-goose-is-good-for-the-gander."
We’ll be talking with a staff member, who will relay our message up the line. When we contact the FEMA director’s office, we’ll be the ones who get a kick out of telling this political hack that reality-free public policy should be reserved for the elite within the Bush Administration. What a hoot we’ll have!
Political Hell-Raising time
Click here for the email letter and here for the phone script to Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Click here for the phone script to Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison.
A year ago, FEMA knew of the high concentrations of formaldehyde in the government's emergency housing trailers. On May 18, 2007, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) wrote FEMA Director David Paulison. “I implore you to expand and accelerate FEMA’s efforts to address the formaldehyde hazard . . . .”
Read Senator Landrieu’s letter here.
Read CBS’s ongoing coverage. FEMA Trailers And Formaldehyde: The Story Continues.
Posted by Ana Maria at 4:46 PM
Tales from the Beach are stories I've gathered from people who talk with me as I'm walking along the Gulf Coast beach, mostly in Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Miss. Once the bridge opens on May 17th, I'll be sharing stories gathered from my walks along the beach in Pass Christian. The three tiny beach towns constitute Katrina's ground zero.
The stories reflect the stories that folks down here are living. The stories often reflet the funny, quirky sense of humor, sarcasm, and wit that abounds in my home town region--even in the face of surviving the worst natural disaster in the history of the region, perhaps the country. Remember, these fabulous people who generously share their stories exhibit this humor in spite of the nation's other worst disaster: the Bush Administration.Read More......
Posted by Ana Maria at 2:19 PM
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Posted by Ana Maria at 6:00 PM
Walking along the Gulfport beach that first full day after the Bay Bridge had reopened, I came upon a pier that looked recently rebuilt. How lovely the noontime sun felt as its rays warmed the sand beneath my feet and the pier’s wooden slats. Sitting in one of the cut out places, I wondered what the water could share with me. What had it seen and heard? The stories drowned in time and space after nearly 21 months since Hurricane Katrina battered these shores.
Fishing with a huge net, a man up ahead was untangling a striped fish whose name I could not recall. So I asked him. "Sheep head," he replied. He threw it back into the water because it’s just too much work to clean. A Gulfport native, the gentleman in his late 40s, early 50s told me that before the storm, his house sat 10th from the beach. Today it’s 5th because folks aren’t able to rebuild—insurance companies aren’t paying.
It’s the story everyone is familiar with. Wind policies say the water did the damage. Hurricane policies say water did the damage. To date, the insurance companies have been able to get away with the shell game. And this gentleman—who requested his name be withheld—he didn’t get a dime either. Not from his wind or hurricane policies.
He said that Katrina took away everything he had. He smiled as he said that he was lucky, because he had money in retirement and savings that he chose to use to rebuild. In early March, he moved into his new home. He hadn’t wanted to use up his retirement in this way, but he was glad to have it. “Many people weren’t so lucky,” he said kindly.
Who was his carrier? State Farm. Yep, just like a bad neighbor, State Farm ain’t there.
Posted by Ana Maria at 9:35 AM
After the bands quit playing--yes there were two stages with live bands rotating for hours on end pleasing the thousands of celebrants at Bridge Fest--and we finally stopped dancing sometime thereafter, I took a ride with friends and family over the bridge. The old bridge had been a straight bridge connecting Bay St. Louis to Pass Christian (pronounced: chris-chee-anne). The new one is curvy and arches rather high at one point. Without many street lights erected on the bridge just yet, the vista was gorgeous as we looked to the right and saw the railroad bridge that had been rebuilt in the weeks following Katrina. To the left were the lights from the Dow Chemical plant nearby.
As we exited the bridge, we entered a part of the Pass previously closed off to anyone but the property owners. Turning right at the first street, we went about a block and parked. A ghost town. The marina where boat owners dry docked their precious gems still stood, though Katrina had gutted its insides. On the ground, seventeen boats all piled up against one another from the storm remained as reminders of the vicious disaster that swept through this tiny beach town destroying everything in its path.
Kelly, a high school friend of my brother’s, wanted to show me a church in Pass Christian just up the road on Highway 90. With the beach to our right, he whipped his vehicle left into what ended up being no road at all. The usual demarcations—road signs and landmarks—no longer exist.
Driving up a ways, he pointed to a couple of big majestic trees that had survived Katrina. The trees looked a bit worn from the storm’s experience. He said, “See those trees? When I came down here a few days after the storm, cop cars were sitting in them.”
“In the trees?” I asked incredulously. “Yep. Two of ‘em,” he replied matter of factly though knowing how unbelievable it would be to imagine it. I suppose far less so than to actually come upon the surreal scene as he was trying to make it to his parents’ home.
Kelly then proceeded to drive to the church a few blocks away that he wanted to show me. The church faced the beach and sat off the highway by about a block. It had obviously already been gutted, and new construction begun. Kelly swept his hand to indicate where the crypts from the graveyard nearby had been busted up in the hurricane. The coffins were all over the place he told me, and fortunately, none of the bodies had emerged from them. As I imagined such a scene, I just thought, “Oh my!”
Posted by Ana Maria at 9:29 AM
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Two days ago, the Gulf Coast Bay Bridge reopened with tremendous fanfare. The lively affair aptly named Bridge Fest reminded me of big celebrations in New Orleans and beat out anything I had seen in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, or the Washington DC areas. Hancock County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tish Haas Williams organized Bridge Fest, was overwhelmingly successful. Williams and her staff clearly outdid themselves, and the thousands celebrating—myself included—were grateful.
Two stages hosted live bands playing fabulous dance music. It’s so nice to be back home where people dance in the streets when good music plays. My brother Michael, his girlfriend and I danced through the very last song. What joy! What bliss! They had ridden in one of the 150 antique cars procession that had driven across the bridge to christen its reopening.
Everywhere folks were talking about what the bridge’s opening will do for family, home life, the community, and business. With the elimination of the additional hour in commute time, life can take a giant step to returning to its pre-Katrina norm.
Choosing to participate in and contribute to the energy of bridging communities, families and business, I suspended temporarily my angst over the post-Katrina reconstruction obstacles.
For over twenty months, the cities of Lakeshore, Claremont Harbor, Waveland, and Bay St Louis—my hometown—have felt isolated from our Gulf Coast neighbors to the west of us. Katrina had demolished the bridge disappearing the two miles of concrete somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico which the Mississippi Coastline borders. [See Bridging Worlds.]
After the music ended at Bridge Fest some eight plus hours after the celebration had begun, family and friends pied into a vehicle, and we drove across the bridge in the darkness of the night. Literally. Street lights are not yet on the bridge.
We entered Pass Christian (pronounced chris-chee-anne) at the other end of the bridge and turned right at the first street.
When I had driven on the coastline when I first returned home in March, road blocks prevented me from coming into this part of the Pass. Yes, that’s what we locals call it. “The Pass” There’s a pattern here. “The Bay” for Bay St Louis. “The Pass” for Pass Christian. And then there is “The Kill” for Kiln—spelled K-i-l-n, where Green Bay Packer quarterback Bret Farve is from.
Back to our first night across the bridge. A ghost town. That’s what it looked like. A ghost town that had been through hell before being abandoned. The lack of adequate street lighting on Highway 90 and the side streets cast an eerie ambiance throughout the area.
We stopped at the Marina where boats are dry docked. All rammed into each other and not a one salvageable, seventeen boats remained. The darkness may have prevented me from counting all the boats, but I counted 17 of them.
As I looked at these abandoned dilapidated boats, I remembered Katrina area residents telling me that they’ve heard rebuilding the Gulf Coast and New Orleans will take anywhere from 5-10 years.
I thought to myself, “five to ten YEARS?!” That is incredulous. After all, this is the United States of America. How could this be?! We’re Americans. We exude the ‘can-do’ spirit. As a nation, we delight in overcoming long odds against adversity. It’s one of those fabulous aspects of our American culture, our can-do optimistic spirit.
Even with all the hardships residents in the Katrina region endure daily, their ‘can-do’ spirit and determination remains strong.
The reality here, however, is that insurance companies took premiums and failed to pay out as they should have. Without money to rebuild, where are families going to live? How are businesses going to reopen? Insurance companies are doubling and tripling their premiums. How many Americans can afford their insurance rates going up like that?! To add insult to injury, insurance companies are also choosing not to write policies in the area.
The other reality is that the White House continues to betray the good people inside the Katrina-ravaged area.
In an interview with Diane Sawyer just after Katrina hit, Bush went on ABC’s Good Morning America and said, "I hope people don't play politics at this time of a natural disaster the likes of which this country has never seen."
Two weeks ago, Bush vetoed the bill that would have provided money to the Katrina ravaged area. In its Iraq Accountability legislation, Congress provided more money for Bush’s unprovoked, unnecessary war of choice in Iraq. As is usual in the legislative process, the bill also contained provisions for other items. In this case, the bill contained provisions for Katrina funding. Bush vetoed the bill referring to the Katrina spending as “excessive” and “extravagant.” With his veto, Bush turned his back on alleviating the matching provision which would assist towns and cities struggling to stay afloat financially. Playing politics with the lives of Americans is Bush’s modus operandi.
Two days ago, the music and celebration at the resoundingly successful Bridge Fest ended. We’re coming up on Hurricane Katrina’s two year anniversary.
So much heavy lifting left to do. How much? Friends and family tell me five to ten years to rebuild the area. When they say those words, I see in their eyes a weariness born from going it alone, born from a disbelief in the audacity of betrayal from a White House that fails to care, born from insurance companies they thought they could trust. It’s so unfair.
The words of Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Favre continue to resonate with reality here on the ground.
Six months after Katrina in his interview with CNN’s Kathleen Koch,* Favre said, "Our concern is that we're being forgotten. Katrina's no longer the topic of conversation, and it needs to be.” Koch’s two phenomenal documentaries on Bay St Louis aired on CNN. Koch grew up in Bay St. Louis. [Full disclosure. I went to high school and college with Kathleen. I am so enormously proud of her success!]
Residents here should have long ago been able to hang their own Mission Accomplished banners in each town and city Katrina hit, in the windows of every business and home. And those thoughts get me to thinking.
If the Bush Administration had worked as diligently and aggressively in taking care of the problems from Katrina as they had in betraying our trust to take us into an unprovoked war with Iraq or conjuring up political reasons to fire U.S. attorneys, this extraordinary burden on every Gulf Coast and New Orleanian family and business would have long ago been alleviated. That would have been worthy of a Mission Accomplished banner and throwing one hell of bash complete with crawfish and shrimp to eat, good bands to dance to, and festivities to rival Mardi Gras!
Posted by Ana Maria at 2:46 PM
Monday, May 14, 2007
Listen to this podcast
When folks around here [in Bay St. Louis, Miss.] say, “I’m going across the bridge,” that means that they are crossing the Bay Bridge traveling eastwardly on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The bridge links one side of the coastline to the other along Highway 90, a major thoroughfare. The saying “going across the bridge” automatically implies going to one of the tiny beach towns spread over 40 miles.
We “go across the bridge” for any number of reasons: shop, visit friends and family, work, go the beach, conduct business, play at a casino (Beau Rivage, The Grand Casino, etc.), or eat at one of the area’s many fabulous restaurants with their decadently delicious dining for which our region is well-known.
When Katrina blew through town over 20 months ago, the hurricane so thoroughly demolished the bridge that it left only the pilings as the photo below captures.
Image from Waveland and Bay St. Louis After Katrina.
Eastern and western coastal beach towns became cut off from each other. So integral is this bridge to our daily life that when I first learned that the storm had wiped it out, I couldn’t imagine how to get to the other side. “What?! How would you get to . . . ?” Initially, an alternate route evaded my thinking—and I’m a native.
While an alternate route does exist, no one in their right mind would voluntarily use it as a routine way to travel from one side to the other. So let’s look at an example to understand the very real impact the bridge’s evaporation has had.
For a young lady working at the Silver Slipper, a newly opened casino in Lakeshore, Miss., located on the western tip of the Gulf Coast beach, her daily drive from her home in Pass Christian to the casino adds 25 minutes to her commute each way, she told me. This translates to just over 4 hours in additional commute time each week. Annualizing this means that she spends 210 hours in additional time traveling to and from work because the bridge is out.
All told, her additional commute time would be the equivalent to five 40-hour work weeks every year. Now in her case, the Silver Slipper has only been opened since November 2006, six months. However, plenty of other folks have been commuting the additional 50 minutes a day since Katrina flattened the area over 20 months ago. The commute is one of many additional challenges that residents in Katrina-land face daily.
For these 20 months, families along the Gulf Coast, in New Orleans, and surrounding areas strive daily to put back their lives in the wake of Katrina.
After having battled the worst natural disaster in our region’s history, if not the country’s, these residents have had the enormous displeasure of experiencing the unnecessary challenge of battling our nation’s other disasters of epic proportions. Bush’s FEMA, his compassionless corporate cronies who raided the post-Katrina reconstruction funding, and his compadres in the insurance industry who are stiffing Katrina’s survivors. I just love that Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor labeled State Farm and Allstate the “axis of evil.” The photo below is of Taylor’s spray painted sign propped up in his front yard expressing these exact words.
Spray painted sign in the front yard of Gulf Coast Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor whose family home Katrina completely demolished when the hurricane blew through Bay St. Louis, Miss., my home town.
Fortunately, for the Gulf Coast residents, the first major community-wide milestone in the recovery has finally arrived. With well-deserved fanfare on May 17th, the Mississippi Gulf Coast reopens two lanes of the Bay Bridge. Isn’t it a beaut!
Bridge Fest celebrates this magnificent inaugural partial opening of the new Bay Bridge, which reunites worlds separated since that fateful day in August 2005. Those two lanes reconnect the tiny beach towns of Bay St Louis and Waveland with the eastern 40 plus miles of the Gulf Coast’s families, friends, and businesses located in Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Pascagoula (pronounced Pas-ca-goola).
Technically speaking, a bridge is merely an avenue of transport. Reopening the bridge connects more than two tiny Gulf Coast beach towns separated by a few miles of water. In this Katrina-ravaged region, however, the Bay Bridge represents far more.
The enormous weight of post-Katrina mourning, loss, and sense of abandonment from the insurance industry, FEMA and Bush White House, while palpable, may escape reduction to a numerical scale. What is visibly measurable are the beaming smiles and twinkling eyes at the mentioning of the bridge’s opening.
Those smiles and eyes reflect a much needed healing similar to that which often occurs spontaneously when loved ones reunite after a long, hard, and difficult separation. For coastal residents on one or another side of the Bay Bridge, the reopening is a sort of family reunion, a homecoming.
“Going across the bridge” once again returns to our vocabulary with renewed meaning. While long overdue, even this partial reopening of the Bay Bridge opens the coastline to a renewed sense of optimism and relief that my fellow locals embrace enthusiastically with all the warmth of the Gulf Coast’s gloriously blazing sunshine.
Posted by Ana Maria at 9:31 AM
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Listen to this podcast “We are already paying the taxes for all the services you could hope to have available in emergency disaster situations like Katrina. And we’re not getting it. We have to take this back and hold the government accountable.” — Michael Rosato, owner, Cinemagic Audio-Video.
Nine-foot gator caught near homes in Waveland
Geographically and culturally speaking, the Mississippi Gulf Coast shares a great deal with our neighboring South Louisiana region. Of course, the gnats and mosquitoes travel miles without regard to geography. The more exotic habitat such as alligators and the like in bayou country up the road is simply not part of the beach town ambiance.
So when a 9½ foot alligator was found in a ditch of three feet of water near a school bus stop in Waveland, Miss., I thought to myself, “what the $#%&!”
Here’s the deal. After Katrina, the state of Mississippi loaned the Gulf Coast’s cities $79 million for cleaning up the hurricane’s debris. Some of the cities on the eastern coastline have rebounded enough to recover the loan money from its tax revenues. That isn’t the case with Waveland and Bay St. Louis.
Of the $79 million, Waveland received a $4.5 million loan, my hometown of Bay St. Louis received an $8 million loan, and the Bay-Waveland school district received an $11.5 million loan. Those debts—plus interest—are due in October, barely two years after the nation’s worst natural disaster in our history demolished these cities. Remember, these were two of the three tiny beach towns that comprise Katrina’s ground zero.
What impact will the demand for the money have on these tiny coastal beach towns?
Waveland and Bay St. Louis won’t have the money to fix drainage problems. Today, Waveland has four public works employees; however it had 27 employees prior to Katrina. Without money, the drainage problems will persist. The real life consequences endanger everyone, including children. Regarding the alligator near the bus stop, Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo said "You think those parents weren't ticked?"
In Bay St. Louis “street paving projects and drainage work that would solve the city's flooding problems will be put on hold or canceled until the debt can be repaid, Mayor Eddie Favre said,” reported The Clarion-Ledger. The Bay won’t have money to hire police and firefighters or put up street lights either. You know, the basics for residential and business development.
In a debate on the House floor, Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) characterized the fiscal strength of “little towns like Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, that have no tax base because their stores were destroyed in the storm, a county like Hancock County, where 90% of the residents lost everything, or at least substantial damage to their home . . . .” [See the video. Quite an education in Republican tactics, priorities, and values.] Yet somehow the towns are supposed to come up with money for this epic-sized natural disaster cleanup. Part of the “you’re on your own” Republican view of government, I suppose.
Hold on there. Isn’t this one of the reasons we pay federal taxes?“What’s not happening here is indicative of a dysfunctional government, and that affects everyone. That’s why folks throughout the country should be concerned about the recovery process. We are all for a highly efficient, functional government, and what we have is its diametrical opposite.
The Bush Administration has not ensured that it is reimbursing Mississippi and Louisiana for its recovery costs. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA—that four letter word, again) is withholding the money. The administration insists that the towns and cities of Mississippi and Louisiana paid too much money to remove Katrina’s debris. When Bush vetoed the Iraq Accountability Act, he vetoed money for Katrina relief including waiving the matching requirement that is putting a great deal of unnecessary burden on the towns and cities in the Katrina-ravaged area.
How ironic that the White House that is hell bent on handing no bid multi-billion dollar contracts to the largest Bush-Cheney campaign contributors (i.e. Halliburton) would insist that in the days after Katrina, the areas impacted would have to go through a traditional bidding process complete with re-bidding should the cost be pricey.
The administration is noticeably silent on paying Riley Bechtel, another major campaign contributor, to transport FEMA trailers 70 miles at a gargantuan price of $16,000 per trailer. Yet, Bush’s FEMA is holding these city and county officials to a standard that is unfair given the extraordinary circumstances.
I’m a former management auditor for the state of Tennessee and the city of San Francisco, and we followed the Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS), also known as the Yellow Book. I fully agree that the traditional bidding process should be followed with very few exceptions. Clearly, the worst natural disaster in our history qualifies for this exception.
Heck, after 20 months of looking for a contractor to renovate our family home, we were ecstatic when we found someone. Yes, it would be very nice to have gotten several bids and negotiate hard like we would under regular circumstances. But these circumstances are soooooo out of the ordinary. We’re grateful to have someone whose work we trust, whom we feel is trustworthy, and who will get to it quickly.
Surely to goodness, with Bush’s FEMA being AWOL in Katrina’s wake, these towns and cities did the best they could.
St. Bernard Parish, La., just outside New Orleans, is among the communities waiting for a check. FEMA paid the parish about $100 million for debris removal but still owes about $70 million, said David Peralta, the parish's chief administrative officer. St. Bernard also is waiting for $30 million in reimbursement for sewer repairs, Peralta said.
Peralta said FEMA has "kind of implied" that it is looking into whether the parish paid reasonable rates. Peralta defended the Katrina contracts, saying officials tried
to solicit competitive bids without delaying the work.
Look, we have a great saying down here. When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the point was to drain the swamp. In this instance, Mississippi and Louisiana are painfully cognizant of all that needs to be done to restore the region to its pre-Katrina vibrancy including taking care of the drainage problems.
While the Bush Administration chooses to be caught up with the dumb ass—another colorful Southern phrase, we can choose to focus our attention on a few things at our fingertips that will help drain the political swamp in Washington, DC, particularly the White House.
You know what that means? It’s political hell-raising time! Molly Ivins would be so proud.
Cal your congressional representative and two U.S. Senators to request that they work with Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to resolve this issue favorably on behalf of Katrina’s survivors.
Go here for phone script to use when calling your U.S. Senators. Go here for a letter to email. Here is a link to find contact information on your U.S. Senators.
Go here for phone script to use when calling your U.S. Congressional Representative. Go here for a letter to email. Here is a link to find contact information on your Congressional Representative.
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“We are already paying the taxes for all the services you could hope to have available in emergency disaster situations like Katrina. And we’re not getting it. We have to take this back and hold the government accountable.”
— Michael Rosato, owner, Cinemagic Audio-Video.
Friday, May 11, 2007
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Contractors for small jobs are difficult to find. Let me rephrase that. Good, reliable, and trustworthy folks for smaller, non-commercial jobs are difficult to find. Ideally, my family wanted someone who was local, with roots and references here in the area, and who was good at their craft.
Plenty of horror stories going around. Avoiding one of your own is definitely the name of the game.
One evening after having visited the local public library that afternoon, I went looking for my memory stick. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, it dawned on me that I probably left it in the computer I was using at the Hancock County Public Library here in Bay St. Louis, Miss. I was so aggravated at myself. I decided to go to the store early in the morning and get a lanyard to attach to it so that I’d have a fighting chance to remember to take it out of the computer. Off I went at 8:00am in the morning.
Mind you, I hadn’t left my mother’s home before 9:00am since I had arrived. Nevertheless, off I went so that I could get my lanyard and arrive at the library when the doors opened at 8:30 that morning.
I had gone about 20 steps from my car when I really friendly voice cried out, “You’re from San Jose!” Huh?! How the heck . . .? I looked around to see a woman about my age with a great big smile on her face. I asked, “How did you know?”
She responded, “Your car.” Oh yeah. I have California license tags, and the rear one is held in with a tag holder that says San Jose Oak Tree Mazda. OK, now that we’ve settled that . . .
Cami grew up in Napa Valley, Califonia, which is just north of San Francisco. San Jose is about an hour south of San Francisco. She and her children moved here from Arizona last July. Her husband, who is a youth minister, had come over from Arizona several times right after Katrina. They decided to move here. Dave had moved some months before the family joined him last July. Off we went talking with each other as if two friends catching up on each other’s lives before we entered a store.
She talked about how much slower everything is here. I laughed with her about that. I spent 5 years in fast-paced Silicon Valley and a year in Washington, DC. The pace here is definitely different.
Cami asked me how my family had made out in Katrina. I told her that everyone is alive and that my mother’s house had water damage, which was a real shocker. My parents had that house built 45 years ago. It was on part of the highest land in the county. We went through Camille and every hurricane over those years. Camille took down a lot of trees—we have almost an acre of land—and had a bit of roof damage, but that was it.
Built three feet off the ground, Katrina pushed water several miles to put five feet of water in the house across the street and about eight inches in the home of my youth. With the two year anniversary just around the corner, we have yet to identify a contractor to take care of the wood floors, the doors, the molding, and the cabinets in the kitchen. As I was speaking, Cami pulled out a business card, handed it to me, and said, “That is my husband’s specialty. He’s a contractor by trade. He does the youth ministry as a volunteer because he likes it.”
Tears came to my eyes as she handed me the card and gave my family a gift those inside of Katrina land appreciate immensely. How fabulous this was. They had bought a house in Waveland. Their oldest child attend the Bay High School, which is literally around the corner from us. She told me to call Dave, her husband after 9am when he would be out of the meeting he was in.
Just after 9am, I called her husband. Dave came over at 1pm to look at the house. At his suggestion, my brother and I followed Dave to where he was currently working to get a look at his craft. He has already given us a quote and will start the work around the end of the month.
Believe me, I hugged this lady in a big way. Such a blessing. I love this story. I love that my California credentials on my sweet red Miata made our family’s dream come true, and that for my family, getting a contractor is no longer something akin to California dreaming.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 10:50 PM
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Sherry moved to Pass Christian four months before Katrina hit blowing down the home she had just bought. Looking out across the Gulf of Mexico as she lapped up the sun’s rays, Sherry beamed from ear-to-ear with a million dollar smile as she turned her head toward me as I walked along the water’s edge. I love lapping up the energy of this beach.
Sherry’s smile so warmed me, I asked, “Do I know you?” “No.” she replied sweetly.
I stuck out my hand and immediately introduced myself. She followed suit. I listened to her story of how four months before Katrina, she came to live in “the Pass”—yep, that’s what we locals call Pass Christian, Miss., one of three tiny beach towns that comprises Katrina's Ground Zero. She told me what had happened to someone she knew. This is one of the more hilarious Katrina stories I’ve heard yet. So here goes.
During the storm, one of the walls had apparently blown out, and the family’s refrigerator was swept away with the water. A little while later, another refrigerator floated into the family’s kitchen and stayed when the water receded. It just propped itself in their home.
What did this family do?
Hungry and weary from going through the worst natural disaster of our nation’s history, looking around at the rubble of their home and possessions without electricity or running water,they looked inside the frig for something to eat. Lord knows that whatever was in the new refrigerator was simply going to have to do.
What did they find? Filet mignon!
Were they ever thrilled! The food in the new frig was a whole lot better than the food Katrina carried away in their own refrigerator. What did they do? This family did what any self-respecting hurricane survivors would do.
They fired up the grill and ate most fabulously for days on end. Mmmmm. Mmm. Filet mignon. That’s what’s for dinner.
Note: As a fish-a-tarian, even I can appreciate the humor in this. ;)
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Posted by Ana Maria at 9:31 PM
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Insurance Profits: $108 billion net profit in 2005 & 2006
(after paying taxes and Katrina claims . . . and fraudulently sending the federal government a $23b Katrina bill)
Insurance Industry Institute
Congressman Gene Taylor's Katrina Document Collection
May 30, 2007
Katrina Aid Program Is $2.9 Billion Short — Washington Post, 5/12/2007
May 29, 2007
Louisiana Road Home: “only 16,000 of 130,000 applicants have received money” — Washington Post, 5/12/2007
FEMA gives lawmakers list of nearly 4,000 sole-source contracts — Government Executive, 5/25/2007
May 25, 2007
‘Politics’ holding up the Bay’s recovery
— Sea Coast Echo 5/25/2007
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Posted by Ana Maria at 6:25 AM
Sunday, May 06, 2007
No Longer Unknown: Identity of Katrina victim ‘Will’ has been verified, reported the local paper, the Sun Herald. How sad and relieved his loved ones must feel finally knowing what happened rather than being left to wonder. While walking on the beach the other week, I met a woman whose own story had a happier ending.
She told me that about a month ago, she had found her brother. Last she knew, he was riding out the storm on the roof. Since that fateful August 29the day of 2005, she had not heard from nor seen him. She had believed him not to have survived Katrina. That was not the case. He was alive in Jackson, Mississippi, at a Veterans Administration facility.
I was delighted that her grief had been lifted with the good news that her brother was alive. However, I was curious and asked, “Why didn’t the VA contact you as the next of kin?”
She replied that the VA is understaffed and underpaid. They don’t pay their folks enough to do the job that needs to be done. She smiled humbly. How incredibly kind hearted and generous this lady was in her evaluation of the VA.
Still, I thought, “another example of the Victims’ Administration”, a term I’ve heard vets referring to how this federal agency treats our nation’s men and women in uniform, especially those who are Vietnam era vets. The respect our country afforded their WWII predecessors has eluded these vets. The recent Walter Reed scandal exposed the Bush Administration’s continuation of this disgraceful disrespect to those who wear the uniform. Paul Krugman compared the scandal to Katrina.
“the parallels between what happened at Walter Reed and what happened to New Orleans . . . tell us that the roots of the scandal run far deeper than the actions of a few bad men.”
Unfortunately for the veterans in the Katrina-ravaged region, another VA storm has been brewing on Bush’s watch. The hurricane demolished the agency’s facilities in New Orleans. In the wake of Katrina’s devastation, Bush’s VA should be alleviating obstacles to their health care needs. However, that is not the case. Just last month, The Times Picayune, the New Orleans daily newspaper, exposed the VA’s practice of sending veterans long distances, including to Texas, Tennessee, and Mississippi, for their healthcare.
In the best of circumstances, this is a ridiculous way to handle healthcare for anyone—veteran or civilian. Add to this situation, veterans who need immediate care or those living with a disability and the stew gets thicker. Throw into the pot Katrina’s devastating financial and emotional blows, and stir in White House gross mismanagement in the wake of the storm. What we have here is a recipe for another scandal on Bush’s watch.
The Times Picayune reported “veterans can go to private hospitals if they have a heart attack or other emergency, [otherwise] they have to use veterans hospitals in Houston; Little Rock, Ark.; Alexandria; Biloxi, Miss.; or Memphis.” In other words, unless a vet has an “in the moment” life and death healthcare crisis, the Bush Administration’s policy is to require vets to travel hours and hundreds of miles for their medical care.
One vet living on limited fixed income disability checks objected to the additional travel expense. A VA staff member dismissed the veteran’s objection with a sharp rebuke. “We’re paying you mileage!”
Excuse me?! Requiring vets to travel any additional and unnecessary distance for the care that they earned for their honorable military service is burdensome, more so for vets living on disability incomes. Ignoring for a moment the disrespect this staffer extended, let’s take a peek at the VA’s mileage rate the staffer so proudly proclaimed . . . as if plenty enough compensation for the horrendous burden on the veteran.
The IRS mileage rate for business purposes is 48.5 cents. For medical, it’s 20 cents. The VA mileage rate? 11 cents per mile. To add insult to injury, the agency imposes a $6 deductible on the trip. Gas has gone up again and now hovers around $3 a gallon. Rather than expending all that energy creating photo opportunities to give the appearance that his administration is doing something for vets, Bush and his White House staff should expend that energy actually doing something concrete, positive, and measurably important for vets.
For an administration gung-ho on privatizing government services, the Bush White House could show some entrepreneurial leadership through temporarily privatizing VA services inside this beleaguered Katrina-ravaged region. By contracting with local doctors, healthcare providers, and facilities, the federal government would then live up to its promise to take care of these veterans and their families. At the same time, the VA will be lessening rather than increasing the burdens of these vets. That’s downright revolutionary!
But Bush isn’t listening. He just vetoed the Iraq Accountability Act. Bush’s veto denies funding for improved veterans’ services. How patriotic of him. His second veto since moving into the Oval Office over six years ago, and he uses it to insult the men and women in uniform both present and past. The compassion streaming out of the White House is a bit much to take in, isn’t it?!
Whether it’s the handling of the Katrina recovery or ending the military operations in Iraq, the Bush Administration has been AWOL in terms of integrity, honesty, and leadership. Before the Walter Reed scandal broke, Bush did a photo op at the hospital pronouncing, "We owe them all we can give them." Nice words. Too bad he didn't mean it.
Though Bush and his Veterans’ Department choose to betray our vets, we can choose to remain faithful to our nation’s promises. We do so through bringing pressure to bear upon the situation so that we can improve it. How do we do that?
Luckily, we have at our fingertips two tools that will assist us with achieving our goal. A quick call and short email to our Congressional Representative and two U.S. Senators can make the difference. It truly is amazing how a little civic participation on each of our parts can have an amazing ripple effect on the Washington, DC political pond. MoveOn.org proves that over and over again.
Letting our fingers do the walking can bring pressure on Washington, DC, to demand that the White House live up to our nation’s responsibility to our men and women in uniform.
Exercising our constitutional right to petition the federal government is how we assist in bringing about the needed changes for veterans that Katrina impacted. Call and email your representatives in Washington, DC and ask them to get vets access to healthcare locally. Ask them to work with U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Congressman Gene Taylor on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to resolve this crisis immediately. Senator Landrieu and Congressman Taylor are tireless leaders working 24/7 on behalf of their constituents.
For our part, picking up the phone or sending an email to our elected officials is the way we salute and honor our vets with the respect they earned and deserve.
Political Hell Raising Action Center:
Helping Katrina Area Veterans Obtain Health Care Locally
To call your U.S Congressional Representative and U.S. Senators,
use these sample phone scripts.
To email your U.S. Congressional and U.S. Senators,
use these email samples .
For contact information on your U.S. Congressional Representative and two U.S. Senators, click here.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 7:13 PM
Friday, May 04, 2007
Garbage day. Twice a week, the city of Bay St. Louis picks up the trash throughout this tiny beach town. Unfortunately, along with the homes and businesses Katrina demolished, so too went the city’s recycling program.
The first time that I had something in my hand that needed to go in the recycling bin, I asked my brother, Michael, where they put the recycling. He delighted in my obviously not-yet-acclimated-to-post-Katrina-reality. With that glorious smile of his, he informed me that the city stopped the recycling program after Katrina hit.
Oooooh. Of course!
When my brother told me that the city had to trash its recycling program after the financial devastation Katrina caused, it hit me like a ton of bricks, but not because I’m such a conscientious recycler, which I am. It hit me from a totally different point of view.
See, once my mom returned home some seven months after Katrina, I spent long periods of time on the phone with Michael nearly every week for about year. He lives here in the Bay and shared lots of stories of what is happening and not happening here. In spite of those conversations and my weekly talks with another of my brothers, I had not a clue of the impact on mundane daily life that post-Katrina reality had.
When I visited family in New Orleans, I again wanted to know where to put something recyclable that I had in my hand. Same answer. Recycling in New Orleans was trashed after Katrina.
On the long list of what this small town and others dotting the Mississippi Gulf Coast as well as my beloved New Orleans need is a White House committed to protecting the environment.
When I saw Vice President Al Gore’s Academy Award winning An Inconvenient Truth the first weekend it played in San Jose, California, I learned the connection between global warming and Katrina’s devastation. The rising water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico contributed to Katrina’s ferocity as the hurricane traveled northwest toward the Mississippi Gulf Coast. An Inconvenient Truth depicted quite graphically the factual consequences of global warming.
The Bush Administration, of course, likes to live in its own concocted world of ‘facts”. For example, George W. Bush pronounced in 2001, “There is a natural greenhouse effect that contributes to warming.” Then he went about politicizing (read: bullying) the scientific community to do his bidding by which I mean the oil lobby’s bidding.
Last year for its piece titled Rewriting The Science, 60 Minutes interviewed “John Hansen [who] is arguably the world's leading researcher on global warming. He's the head of NASA's top institute studying the climate.” Hansen told 60 Minutes “The natural changes, the speed of the natural changes is now dwarfed by the changes that humans are making to the atmosphere and to the surface."
Not only had Bush turned a deaf ear to scientific facts, but also Bush and his cronies pushed hard to silence NASA’s international expert on global warming.
In its article titled Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him, the New York Times reported on the Administration’s behind-the-scenes political maneuvering to muzzle the expert. The White House did so with phone calls rather than through formal (and therefore documented) channels.
Click here to watch the New York Times 3-minute video interview with Dr. James Hansen who discusses what is essentially White House censorship of information critical the health and well-being of our nation’s citizens and natural resources.
The Times article stated:
"The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."
"The administration's policy is to use voluntary measures to slow, but not reverse, the growth of emissions.
After that speech and the release of data by Dr. Hansen on Dec. 15 showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be "dire consequences" if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews."
In 2005, a year prior to the Hansen interview, the Times reported on the Bush Administration’s systematic censoring of the nation’s scientific reports. As you might suspect, “the White House official [who had] once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.”
Boy that’s a shocker. An oilman inside the White House. And he’s downplaying the connection between auto emissions and global warming. Who would have ever thought?!
What a difference the 2006 election made.
In March of this year, Philip Cooney, the former White House official who had edited the reports, testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) chairs that committee. Cooney “said his past work opposing restrictions on greenhouse gases for the oil industry had had no bearing on his actions once he joined the White House. ‘When I came to the White House,’ he testified, ‘my sole loyalties were to the president and his administration.’”
What is this parsing of words?! Loyalty to the oil industry, to George W. Bush, and to the Bush White House are all one in the same.
With the vacuum in White House leadership, we are continually reminded that presidential elections also make a difference. What we need to do is to elect as president someone with Gore’s passion, knowledge, and credentials not only for leadership on the environment and to handle environmental disasters like Katrina but also for our nation’s presidential leadership vacuum in other areas like Iraq, the economy and healthcare.
Wait a minute! We did that already. Remember? In 2000. That’s right. = The guy’s name was . . . Al Gore!
Had the U.S. Supreme Court properly decided Bush v Gore and upheld as the nation’s policy the democratic ideal that every legally cast ballot be counted to determine the winner of an election, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Had that been the decision that the high court’s majority handed down on that infamous December 7th in 2000 , Vice President Al Gore would have become President-elect Al Gore. In January of 2001, President-elect Gore would have been inaugurated and become President Al Gore. [I like the sound of that: President Al Gore.]
With his continuation of the ever-expanding peace and prosperity that marked the eight years of the Clinton-Gore Administration, most likely President Gore would have been re-elected in 2004.
Real leadership in the White House. That is what we desire and deserve here in the Katrina-ravaged region of the country. Frankly from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast to the West Coast, real White House leadership is what all of us deserve.
Instead, what we have is its opposite. The stolen 2000 presidential election sowed the seeds of this inexcusable Bush White House neglect.
Whether it’s a matter of protecting federal environmental programs or local recycling programs in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, the Bush Administration consistently goes AWOL or simply deserts the American people.
President Al Gore, of course, would have been prepared to deal with Katrina before hand, and in its aftermath, he would have provided real federal leadership that made a positive and noticeable difference immediately in the lives of everyone impacted.
However, the high court was filled with Bush, Sr.’s appointees, I remind you. They decided to high jack the election by stopping the official counting of the votes in Florida.
Sure, reminding everyone of the seeds sown when Bush and Cheney stole the 2000 presidential election may make right wingers a bit livid with this inconvenient truth. They may whine and carry on ad nauseum. So what. They will only be spewing their same ol' views that are garbage. Think of it as verbal recycling.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 8:10 PM
Thursday, May 03, 2007
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Republicans love to preach about morals and decency. Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on the importance of marital fidelity. Newt has admitted to cheating on his wife at around the same time the House was impeaching President Bill Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Disgraced Republican Congressman Mark Foley resigned amid allegations that he himself had engaged in or attempted to engage in an inappropriate relationship with an under aged teen in the Congressional Page program. Foley had chaired the House caucus on missing and exploited children and was a champion of sexual predator legislation
Another fine example of a Republican behaving badly erupted on the House floor toward the end of March. This time it was all about what constitutes decency in Washington, DC.
Earning himself membership credits in the Bush–Shill-and-Mouthpiece-Club, Georgia Republican Congressman Tom Price took to the floor on March 27th to help stick it to the families struggling to put their lives back together after Hurricane Katrina. This compassionless conservative sought to restrict housing reconstruction funds for low-income families living in Katrina-ravaged areas of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans.
Price wanted to require the demolished local communities to raise matching funds before the Bush Administration provided financial assistance to these low-income Southern residents who are struggling today within horrendous conditions that federal dollars can help alleviate.
Mind you, there is NO tax base from which to raise monies for matching funds. Capiche?! None. Zip. Nada. Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor, whose district covers the entire Gulf Coast of Mississippi, eloquently informed Mr. Price of the dire circumstances of life after Katrina.
“. . . little towns like Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, that have no tax base because their stores were destroyed in the storm, a county like Hancock County, where 90% of the residents lost everything, or at least substantial damage to their home, he wants to punish Bay St. Louis, he wants to punish Waveland, he wants to punish Pass Christian for mistakes of the Bush dministration.”[See the video. Quite an education in Republican tactics, priorities, and values.]
Price, an obvious compassionless conservative Bush crony, has not even had the decency to visit any of the many Katrina-ravaged communities. He is speaking without understanding what the situation is. Perhaps he doesn’t care what the situation is down here on the ground.
Nevertheless, he had the audacity to cloak his disdain for the good people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans through feigning concern for government waste, fraud and abuse. [Read: Investing federal tax dollars in rebuilding New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast is waste of money.] Since Democrats represent these good people in Congress, the people's house, Price's display of Republican charity reveals a partisan tinge. Price’s amendment failed in a 98-333 vote.
The first day I arrived here in Bay St. Louis, my younger brother drove me around to see what life is like some 19 months after the storm. Going down Beach Boulevard, he whipped into a dirt driveway and parked. This was the lot where Congressman Gene Taylor‘s home had been before Katrina destroyed it completely. In the back of the lot, new construction for a home was evident. Up the stairs we went. The Taylors were working on their home.Margaret Taylor, the congressman’s wife, told me that during the storm, they had gone to stay with family . . . and today that is where they remain.
The Taylors have received not one dime of insurance money. Not a dime.
As Margaret and I spoke, the congressman was busy hammering away. They are building their tiny home themselves literally. [See Sidebar: Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor—Sticks and Stones: Rebuilding Our Future] In front of Congressman Taylor's house is a hand-painted sign that express clearly his sentiments: “Allstate & State Farm, Axis of Evil.”
Congressman Gene Taylor's sign in his front yard of what used to be his home in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Photo by Ana Maria Rosato taken May 25, 2007.
So when an obtuse individual holding the power of a congressional office pretends to be concerned mostly that the families whose incomes, homes, jobs, and places of worship have been demolished by Katrina may engage in waste, fraud, and abuse rather than worrying about the families themselves, Taylor’s response becomes understandable.
Immediately, right there on the floor of the House of Representatives, Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor filleted Price expertly. [Watch the video.]
"If you want to look for Katrina fraud, look for the Katrina fraud that was perpetrated by the Bush administration. In south Mississippi at one point we had 40,000 people living in FEMA trailers, we're grateful for every one of them. But those trailers were delivered by a friend of the president by the name of Riley Bechtel, a major contributor to Bush administration. He got $16,000 to haul a trailer the last 70 miles from Purvis, Miss., down to the Gulf Coast, hook it up to a garden hose, hook it up to a sewer tap, and plug it in, $16,000. So the gentleman never came to the floor once last year to talk about that fraud.Then Price had the nerve to demand that Taylor’s remarks be stricken from the record AND take away for the rest of the day, Taylor’s ability to speak on the House floor.
* * * Mr. Price, I wish you'd have the decency, if you're going to do that to the people of south Mississippi, that maybe you ought to come visit south Mississippi, and see what has happened, before you hold them to a standard you would never hold your own people to, and that you fail to hold the Bush administration to."
Why? Taylor used the word “decency.” That’s right. Price wasn’t concerned about the indecency of his own proposal. He wasn’t concerned about the indecent conditions that the good people living in Katrina ravaged country endure daily because of the Bush Administration's despicable and deliberate neglect.
Price was concerned with etiquette and courtesy extended to himself. As you watch the clip, notice how Price’s hissy fit over etiquette and courtesy ended up interrupting congressional action by well over an hour. His indecent proposal wasted time and money while insulting every family and business owner on the Gulf Coast and within the New Orleans area. Immediately, Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced a motion to restore Taylor’s right to speak for the rest of the day, and Frank’s motion passed on a 265-160 vote. Republicans objected to the decency of restoring Taylor's speaking privileges. Afterall, Taylor actually knows first hand of Katrina's ravages and the suffering of families here on the ground. God forbid that they have to endure hearing how the federal government can be a force for good in the lives of these American families, business owners, communities.
Price should have been ashamed of himself for the indecency of demonstrating to the world his uninformed opinion and wholly uncompassionate position. It was Mr. Price who should have kept his own mouth shut for the remainder of the day.
He should have immediately made arrangements to take leave of absence from his office to come down here to see for himself what the situation is. Frankly, he should try living for weeks or months on end in one of those FEMA trailers. You may be thinking that these are house sized trailers. Surprise! They are more like camper trailers in which families and extended families have been living since the storm.
Personally, I am appalled at the indecency that the Bush Administration and its congressional cronies continually display. Decorum over decency, that’s what Price and his ReTHUGlican buddies advocated that day in March.
What everyone down here needs is decent leadership from a White House that will demonstrate it cares by moving heaven, hell, and earth to rebuild our communities, our towns, and our beloved New Orleans.
Rather than a lesson in congressional etiquette, Mr. Price, the folks down here need real federal leadership and federal money that actually gets where it was intended to go and does what it was intended to do. Since Price and some of his Republican buddies have no clue what to do to
rebuild with compassion, here’s a novel idea.
Ask Congressman Gene Taylor what it is going to take.
In the meantime, the rest of us can act on the advice that the great Molly Ivins provided. In her column Time to go long, Molly Ivins, another Southern hero of mine, said it best. "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."
She must have had in mind politicians like Price.
From one hell raiser (yours truly) to the next (that would be you, dear beloved reader), how’s about calling your congressional representative to request that she/he seek Taylor’s advice on how to rebuild on the Gulf Coast and to collaborate with him. Heck, let's go one better and
provide Taylors' office number in Washington, DC. 202 225-5772. Most likely you'll be talking with a staffer when you call. Here's a script you can use. Look up here your representatives contact information.
Letting your fingers do the walking is an easy way to do an important and effective political activity. Call your reps and just ask them to listen to Congressman Taylor, because . . . it’s the decent thing to do.
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