Dallas Morning News
Farmers Insurance has indicated it wants to raise home insurance rates 20 to 30 percent along the Texas coast, while reducing rates in many other areas.
The company's rate filing with the Texas Department of Insurance on Wednesday indicated a net result of a statewide increase of 2.2 percent with hefty premium hikes in coastal counties and southeast Texas. Many other parts of the state would see modest reductions.
Michelle Levy, a spokeswoman for Farmers, said nearly 50 percent of the company's 686,000 policyholders in Texas would see lower premiums under the plan.
"We feel good about the proposal," Levy said. "We think these rates are fair and justified and represent what we need to be charging in the current Texas market."
The new rates, which will be reviewed by insurance department actuaries, are scheduled to take effect Feb. 16 for new and existing customers.
The new filing comes five months after the company withdrew a proposed 6.6 percent increase in homeowner rates when the insurance department signaled that it would reject the plan.
Ben Gonzales, a spokesman for TDI, said the department will review the filing over the next two months and decide whether it is appropriate before the effective date.
"We're still trying to work with the company," he said.
Levy said the proposal reflects concerns an increased number of hurricanes and tropical storms will threaten the Texas coast over the next few years. The industry saw massive property losses from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
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Friday, December 14, 2007
Dallas Morning News
Thursday, December 13, 2007
by Ana Maria
I recall a lecture I attended years ago in which the lecturer discussed what activists can learn from nuns in a convent when they decide to retire from service after many years of devotion in a particular arena. In the secular world, we mourn the loss of a great leader when she or he decides to turn their attention to other endeavors. We also attempt to chide them or guilt trip them into retaining their position.
However, the lecturer informed us, in a convent, the nun retiring from service is afforded a well-deserved respect for their service. Ironic as it may be, guilt tripping the nun into abandoning their wishes to move into another direction is a sign of disrespect. The nuns have given the community a gift, the woman informed us, and it is time to allow others the opportunity to step into the role, to invest their talents, and to provide us the gift of their investment’s harvest.
Having grown up in a strong Catholic household complete with a Catholic education from kindergarten until I graduated from high school, I remember thinking how ironic that a Catholic institution would NOT guilt trip and would find it disrespectful. Nevertheless, the lesson took hold, forever changing how I responded when folks decided to change the direction of their lives. After all, it is their lives, their talent and time.
When it comes to elected office, the one thing that we, the public, don’t really get until we see things up close and personal is the enormous sacrifice to one’s personal life and one’s privacy once in elected office. To be in public office—whether one is a Democrat or Republican, Blue Dog, Yellow Dog, and some other kind of dog—requires a desire, a fire in the belly, a conscious decision to embrace the 24/7 life that public office demands. A sacrifice that every member of the politician's family endures.
After having learned about then read Mike Moore’s decision not to run for the U.S. Senate seat here in Mississippi, I thought of the lecture I had attended over 20 years ago. It is time to thank Mike Moore for the fruits of his labor over nearly three decades of his public service. It is time to be grateful that Mike Moore considered running for the office of U.S. Senate and to respect his decision not to run.
Thank you, Mike Moore.
Obviously, it is perfect time to implement the lessons I learned in that lecture of over 20 years ago. It is time to open our minds to look around to see who desires to step up to the plate and run for this important public office. Who wants it? Who is going to run? Who can give us the leadership we need? Who will actually make South Mississippi’s vibrant recovery—including insurance reform—a priority when they take the oath of office? When it comes to the political arena, I’m a pragmatic progressive. So the next question is who else can actually win the election.
Democrats still have a golden opportunity to win this U.S. Senate seat. We need to make this about winning the seat. Period. We’ve not a moment to lose. We must quickly settle on one candidate, push hard, and win the special election. The forces that would have supported a Mike Moore campaign must make the same commitment to support to the same degree whomever this next person is that will emerge.
Politically-speaking, we need to suit up, exploit our strengths, and shore up the areas that need more resources so that we can have a gloriously celebratory election night victory and one hell of a party once our candidate is formally sworn into office.
The goal remains the same. What is at stake remains the same. We must make our commitment the same. Whoever this Democratic soul is that will emerge to carry forth the Democratic mantle, I intend to leverage all of my resources, talents, expertise, and experience so we can be victorious come election night.
My hope is that Democrats realize that that is the smart, pragmatic thing to do. EAft er all, elections matter. The public policies created (multiple perils insurance legislation) or not (insurance industry exemption from anti trust laws) matter. Checks and balances between the executive branch (i.e. FEMA) and the legislative branch (i.e. House and Senate) matter. Who is sitting in an elected position matters.
We in South Mississippi know that our recovery depends on our ability to have the strongest possible advocates we can elect to federal office. We already have the strongest advocate possible in the House of Representatives—Congressman Gene Taylor. Now we need to elect the strongest possible advocate in the U.S. Senate. That will be whomever emerges next from the Democratic camp.
When it comes to heart, brains, and compassion, Republicans talk the talk. Historically, though, Democrats walk the walk. To ensure South Mississippi’s vibrant recovery, we need to elect someone with well worn walking shoes.
© 2007 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 10:31 PM
December 13, 2007
Four years ago I made a decision to leave elected public office to spend more time with my family and to build some financial security for them. We have all been very happy with that decision. I enjoyed my 26 years in public service working for Mississippi. Elected office gave me great opportunities to do a lot of good for not only my state but the whole country.
I guess I am remembered most for the Tobacco case and the billions of dollars that have flowed into public coffers in all the states. I remember that work more for how many lives have been saved and how many thousands of children will never suffer from the terrible tobacco-related diseases like heart disease and lung cancer.
I was in Washington D.C. this week to give a speech for the U.S. Justice Department to over a thousand people from all 50 states who were there to learn about how Boys & Girls Clubs and Law Enforcement can work together to stop the crisis that places millions of America’s children at risk from violence, poverty, and lack of quality education. I was the keynote speaker this year as I was at the first such gathering four years ago, although the crowd had doubled in size. They wanted to hear about what we had done and were doing in Mississippi to reduce youth crime and improve education levels, how we doubled the number of Boys & Girls Clubs, and began a program that is beginning to show positive results in the Mississippi Delta. The response was overwhelming – “inspirational” they said, - “motivating”. Hundreds pledged to do the same thing we were trying to do in Mississippi in their states. It certainly made me feel good to get that kind of response to my speech, but more importantly, it reassured me that you don’t have to be in elected office to make a difference.
Of course, I met with the leadership in the U.S. Senate while I was in town and talked with many of my friends, former attorneys general who serve their states well as U.S. Senators. The message was clear - the job of Senator is important and fulfilling; the polls show I could win; and I would have the money I needed to win the race. It all just came down to whether it was best for me and my family. The truth is I made my decision four years ago, and it has been a good one for my family and me. In the last four years I made every baseball game Kyle had, Tisha and I have had much more family time, and I have been fortunate in my law practice. From the public service perspective, I am heavily involved with Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and have recently been asked by Cal Ripken, Jr. to help grow his foundation’s work not only here in Mississippi but all across America. I am representing a large nation against the Tobacco industry, chair Mississippi’s new Tobacco Advisory Council, and we are about to kickoff a very big project in the Mississippi Delta that I think will quickly improve the lives of thousands of kids in the most impoverished area in the country. The point is I am happy doing what I am doing, my family is happy, and I look forward to making a big difference in my state and nation. I have seriously considered the U.S. Senate vacancy as my friends urged me to do, but I have always known that what I am doing now is good enough for me. I appreciate all the encouragement to run. I hope I can count on the same support and help when we ask for help for the children in the Mississippi Delta.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 5:40 PM
by Ana Maria
With U.S. Senator Trent Lott’s recent unexpected resignation by year’s end, Democrats have a golden opportunity to pick up a seat in one of the reddest of red states here in the Deep South. With Santa in the middle of making his list and checking it twice, here is the letter that A.M. in the Morning! wrote Santa with a very specific request for South Mississippi: a Mike Moore for U.S. Senate Campaign!Dear Santa,
I know you’re busy, so allow me to be direct. Please bring me a Democratic campaign for U.S. Senate in Mississippi with a candidate who can most easily win the race in 2008. Specifically, Santa, I’m asking you for a Mike Moore for U.S. Senate campaign.
While the Repubs are already acting as if whomever Republican Governor Haley Barbour appoints will automatically be elected, I know that this is simply not the case. Sure, former Republican National Committee Chair and big time former corporate lobbyist Haley Barbour is flirting with the idea of deliberately failing to follow the law requiring a special election within 90 days of Lott’s resignation. Fortunately, the Democrats are already gearing up to bring him to court to force him to follow the law.
So what Democrats need is to field the candidate who can win most easily and who will be the most effective advocate for us once he is in the U.S. Senate. Santa, that means one man: Mike Moore.
Moore has a proven record of consistently winning statewide elections. From 1988-2004, Mississippi voters consistently elected Moore as the state’s Attorney General. He’s a winner at the ballot box—many times over.
Moore’s success in the court room is legendary. In the late 1990’s, PBS featured a story on Moore’s tremendous success in taking on the tobacco industry. He
filed the first state Medicaid law suit against the tobacco industry and flew around the country convincing other state attorneys general to file. He was the primary negotiator in the deal and is the leader of the push for a national tobacco settlement.Great! That is exactly what we like here in Mississippi: public officials who look after the little people, which means most of us.
FRONTLINE [told] the inside story of how two small-town Mississippi lawyers declared war on Big Tobacco and skillfully pursued a daring new litigation strategy that ultimately brought the industry to the negotiating table. For forty years tobacco companies had won every lawsuit brought against them and never paid out a dime. In 1997 that all changed. The industry agreed to a historic deal to pay $368 billion in health-related damages, tear down billboards and retire Joe Camel.Moore’s groundbreaking, ingeniously creative way of slaying the tobacco industry dragon is EXACTLY the experience, track record, and skill set we need in the U.S. Senate. This is particularly true for those of us living in South Mississippi, which will continue to be in dire economic straights until we slay the insurance industry dragon.
Moore’s legacy is his strong history of dragon slaying. Appealing to voters in this way generates excitement, a key ingredient to any successful campaign and most especially in a special election!
Slaying the Insurance Dragon: Central to Katrina Recovery
Whoever is elected to fill the seat of outgoing Senator Lott will be a rookie in terms of knowing the intricate ins and outs of the Senate. This is a given. South Mississippians, however, must have in that position someone who walks into office already fluent in insurance reform on his very first day.
Of all the people considering a run for this office, Moore can most easily take up the mantle of pushing for insurance reform in the U.S. Senate. Again using his creative legal mind to thwart the greed of insurance companies, Mike Moore has already been defending the rights of South Mississippi families against these greedy gutted corporate insurance goons who have betrayed and abandoned these Americans.
With that perpetual fire in his belly, Moore knows intimately that insurance reform is central to a full and vibrant Katrina recovery. With Moore in the U.S. Senate, Congressman Gene Taylor will have from the get-go a strong partner in the U.S. Senate where the multiple peril insurance legislation now awaits action.
Katrina Recovery Resonates Personally
With Trent Lott bowing out of office, South Mississippi needs a strong advocate in the U.S. Senate who is already fluent in the ravages of the insurance industry as well as FEMA’s insanity. Moore—like Lott himself—is from Pascagoula, Miss., which is located on the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast. Just as Katrina recovery is a moral and personal issue for me, so it is with Mike Moore.
Santa, Mike Moore can win this. With U.S. Senator Mike Moore, South Mississippi wins. That is the reason for my letter. I look around and see the hardship that the greedy gutted insurance goons have imposed. With Lott no longer in the U.S. Senate, the best present under the tree for South Mississippians as a whole would be fielding Mike Moore as a candidate.
As a token of my appreciation for granting my wish with a Mike Moore Campaign, sweet Santa, I promise that I will bake you those delicious mouth-watering cocoon cookies you like . . . and the cook pralines with lots of pecans and whip up a batch of my divine praline fudge!!
On behalf of South Mississippi families, including my own . . .
© 2007 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 1:24 AM
Ana maria [sic] - an absence of posts for the past week...could it be that you've been given a glimpse behind the curtain of all your heroes. Or as Scruggs blogosphere mouthpiece could the knight in tarnished armor have asked you to put a sock in it?Not to worry. I have made up for it with today's postings including a letter to Santa that I penned.
See, my first responsibility it to my elderly mother. Family values in action and all that.
We're closing in on completing the renovations to my mother's home which had been substantially damaged during Katrina over two years ago.
Of course, there was Thanksgiving, and I did all the cooking. Boy oh boy was that a delicious mouth-watering feast! However, it paled in comparison to the spread of food I cooked up for the surprise birthday party that I threw for my mom's 85th!! What was particularly delightful is that it all happened right under her nose, and she didn't have a clue until she walked into the living room with wall-to-wall friends who yelled "SURPRISE!" That was a HUGE success.
This week has been crazy with getting the kitchen boxed up for the local family-owned and operated company that is installing a brand new kitchen for my mother. Then, my 94-year old aunt passed away, and I attended the funeral in New Orleans, which is an hour west of here.
In between all of that, well, I have other things that life calls me to do or that I simply want to do. Entertaining and educational though I know my blog is, it being the holidays and with all the family responsibilities that I joyfully carry out, blogging hasn't been my top priority.
However, since I realize that my neo-conservative, right wing, Rush Limbaugh kool-aid drinking readers may be seeking redemption via my blog, perhaps I'll figure out a way to help save you from the abyss of ignorance.
I love that you think that I'm important enough that the esteemed Mr. Scruggs reads my blog. I am aware that some in his firm do, but as for him, I don't know. He's not my target audience, though I'm sure that A.M. in the Morning! has provided a great service assisting more people to become well aware of the great work he, his firm, and many other trial lawyers have conducted on behalf of American families whom the greedy gutted corporate goons have betrayed and abandoned.
As for anyone dictating to me anything that I would follow, that is surely comical for you to even entertain the thought! As my very wonderful--though right wing, kool-aid drinking--boss in the mid-90's told me, no one is my boss. As in EVER. ;) Independent minded. Think for myself. Articulate.
I understand that my very petite self can be rather intimidating intimidates for guys like yourself who can't conceive of a world in which people--especially of the female variety--think for themselves.
Take my advice, darlin', and stop drinking the Karl Rove kool-aid. Drink some Southern sweet tea instead.
Oh, Al Trimble (the commenter), your comical comments do amuse me endlessly.
© 2007 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 12:47 AM
Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) has recently launched his re-election campaign website, an interactive website that includes an entire section devoted to Insurance Reform.
It’s one-stop shopping for anyone wishing to gain a better understanding of the importance of and issues involved with insurance reform, particularly as it pertains to the recovery of the Katrina-ravaged region as well as states up the eastern and along the western coast.
Back in August, Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) held an Insurance Reform Town Hall Meeting in his (and my) hometown of Bay St. Louis, Miss., one of three tiny beach towns that comprise Katrina's ground zero. Nine other congressional leaders—including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC)—attended the standing room only event. Taylor's site includes six video excerpts from the standing room only meeting.
One video features Taylor explaining in everyday language the controversial "concurrent causation" clause that is buried in homeowner policies, the clause that insurance companies have used to deny homeowners' claims for wind-related damages to their properties. The five remaining video excerpts cover the "panelists [who] regaled the congressional delegation and audience with one after another nightmare of dealing with Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath."
The site also features another set of four videos excerpts from Taylor's interview with Kevin Davis, a two-part documentary titled "Katrina Revisited: In Their Own Words," part of which aired on KEYT-TV, an ABC affiliate in Santa Barbara, California. Taylor discusses what prompted him to propose the Multiple Peril Insurance legislation and how American families and businesses benefit greatly from having one policy, one premium, one adjuster for flood and wind damage to property.
Taylor discusses what prompted him to propose the Multiple Peril Insurance legislation and how American families and businesses benefit greatly from having one policy, one premium, one adjuster for flood and wind damage to property.
Taylor's re-election website provides plenty of news articles and editorials. Lastly, the site explains in easy-to-understand language critical components to the insurance reform discussion.
The website address is easy to remember: www.CongressmanGeneTaylor.com.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 12:32 AM
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Another angle of the contractor immunity phenomenon is exhibited in a report carried by ABC’s chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross this evening.
December 10, 2007
A Houston, Texas woman says she was gang-raped by Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad, and the company and the U.S. government are covering up the incident. Jamie Leigh Jones, now 22, says that after she was raped by multiple men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.Sounds like a serious crime to me. Or rather, several: Assault. Rape. False imprisonment. All crimes which the DOJ is empowered to prosecute if they occur in Iraq and involve contractors. It’s the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, or MEJA.
“Don’t plan on working back in Iraq. There won’t be a position here, and there won’t be a position in Houston,” Jones says she was told.
But in the eyes of the Bush Justice Department, contractors functioning in Iraq have complete immunity for whatever crimes they choose to commit. The U.S. issued a decree preventing the Iraqis from prosecuting. And the Justice Department isn’t going to do a thing about them. As one assistant attorney general explained to me in the corridors of the Rayburn Building, “we simply don’t have the resources or time to deal with this sort of thing.”
Of course. When you dedicate 58 FBI agents (one of them recalled from Iraq just for that purpose) to a raid on a law office whose principals are under strong suspicion of raising money for Democratic presidential candidates and reimbursing staffers who make donations, then it only stands to reason that you have no resources to deal with the rape of a woman from Texas, or a group of Blackwater guards who needlessly murder 17 civilians at Nisoor Square. Or when you spend over $5 million on a bogus political prosecution of a Democratic governor, using evidence which is (as we will discover in the next two weeks) completely false. Or when you spend about $10 million on a series of trials in Mississippi which have the principal objective not of law enforcement, but of bankrupting the treasury of the Democratic Party. All of this shows what the priorities are: politics. Especially electoral politics. Dirty tricks designed to advance a G.O.P. electoral agenda. Murder, rape, assault? What is that by comparison? Unimportant. Trivial Stuff. Welcome to the Bush Justice Department.
This week MS-NBC’s “Live with Dan Abrams” is featuring a special series entitled “Bush League Justice.” The first installment featured the destruction of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. It will be hard to get through all of this in just five hours. On Thursday, Dan will come to focus on political prosecutions. The case of America’s most prominent political prisoner, Alabama’s former Governor Don E. Siegelman, will be examined in some depth—along with others. Make a point of checking in and learn what the Birmingham News doesn’t want you to know.
Javert Returns to Centerstage
Siegelman prosecutor Louis V. Franklin is back in the center of another politically charged case. Sources in the Montgomery U.S. Attorney’s Office state that Leura Canary has put her most trusted political prosecutor in charge of a grand jury proceeding that Canary launched. The target is apparently an insurance executive who raised corruption allegations targeting two of Mrs. Canary’s husband’s clients. Apparently making accusations against clients of the Canary household is a crime down in Montgomery.
Incestuous Prosecutions in Alabama
Raw Story’s Larisa Alexandrovna discusses the Siegelman case on Ring of Fire. She starts her account with how Siegelman was defeated in 2002, and the key role played by Alabama Attorney General William Pryor in blocking the counting of the votes in Baldwin County, so that Pryor’s friend and Bill Canary’s client, Bob Riley, could be declared victor by a 3,000 vote margin that statisticians call “not improbable but impossible.” Larisa goes on to describe the key role played in the corrupt prosecution of Siegelman by Karl Rove, Rove’s close friend, Bill Canary, and Canary’s wife, Leura, the U.S. Attorney who brought the case against Siegelman. It’s all a case of acute political incest, says Alexandrovna. Read the transcript here.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 10:34 PM
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
By MARY PEREZ
December 5, 2007
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD
Proposed FEMA maps sit in front of Biloxi Mayor A. J. Holloway Tuesday at Biloxi City Hall. Council members didn't look at the maps since they felt there had not been good communication to explain what FEMA was proposing.
BILOXI -- Flood insurance rates on homes damaged more than 50 percent during Hurricane Katrina could skyrocket, or the homes will have to be elevated, once the new flood elevations are adopted by the Biloxi City Council.
Biloxi Community Development Director Jerry Creel said the flood zone has expanded considerably under the new FEMA maps and some areas that were outside the flood zone before Katrina now may be included, especially along Biloxi waterways. Homes that didn't meet the 1984 flood map elevations before the storm lost their grandfather status when they were damaged more than 50 percent by Katrina. The homes repaired without being elevated to the 1984 standards will now have to be raised.
Creel said he doesn't know how many homes that might be. Homes damaged less than 50 percent don't have to be elevated. Those whose homes in the flood zone were damaged more than 50 percent will need to elevate their house, or, Creel said, "When they go to apply for flood insurance they're going to be surprised." They could face flood insurance premiums of more than $6,000 a year.
Already one man came into his office with problems due to the new flood elevations. His home was repaired without a permit by volunteers while he waited to be approved for an MDA grant. The man was notified that he was eligible for a grant, but Creel said because his home wasn't raised to the Advisory Base Flood Elevations as required by the Mississippi Development Authority, his grant may have to be modified to include elevation funding "even though it's already been completely repaired." Grants of up to $30,000, which FEMA estimates it would cost to raise a home, won't be available until the city adopts the new flood elevations within the next year.
The council met Tuesday with representatives of FEMA but Councilman Bill Stallworth later said, "We learned absolutely nothing from that meeting we had today." Several councilmen asked for individual copies of the new flood elevation maps, which would cost the city $5,000 to print. Links to the maps are on the city Web site, although the files are very large and take several minutes to download.
FEMA Acting National Flood Insurance Program Supervisor Timothy Russo said the new flood elevations are generally 2 to 4 feet lower than the FEMA Advisory Base Flood Elevations created after Katrina. He thought the new elevations could be used immediately, but City Attorney Michael Collins asked him to provide the city with a specific legal opinion.
Creel said it's very important to know what elevations can be used because "every foot you go higher adds significantly to your construction cost." He suggested those building or remodeling a home check with Community Development first for exact regulations to save money.
Stallworth, who coordinates the volunteer efforts at the East Biloxi Coordination Center, knew some homes might later have to be elevated, but said they were concerned with getting people back in their homes quickly. He believes only a few of the more than 600 houses that were repaired will need to be raised.
The council asked Russo if the Dec. 12 public meeting for Harrison County can be postponed to give them time to study the maps or if additional meetings can be scheduled in East Biloxi, where most of the damage occurred, and in Woolmarket. Russo said all officials in Harrison County can meet with first federal and state officials Dec. 12 from 9 a.m. until the public open house begins at noon.
If you go
Coast residents can see the new preliminary flood maps and speak to officials at open house meetings from noon to 8 p.m.:
Dec. 11: Hancock County, Our Lady of the Gulf Parish Community Center, 228 S. Beach Blvd., Bay St. Louis.
Dec. 12: Harrison County, Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum, 2350 Beach Blvd., Biloxi.
Dec. 13: Jackson County, Jackson County Civic Center, 2902 Shortcut Road, Pascagoula.
Maps are available online at geology.deq.ms.gov/floodmaps. For information, call 866-816-2804 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 6:52 AM
By JERÉ LONGMAN
December 5, 2007
Paxton for The New York Times
South Plaquemines players in their makeshift dressing room, a double-wide trailer used only on game days. The school’s gym was flooded above the rims during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
PORT SULPHUR, La., Dec. 4 — The smell of gasoline fills the ruined gym each evening as a generator sputters to life. A string of bulbs provides thin lighting above the weight-lifting equipment that sits on a warped and abandoned basketball court. A makeshift dressing area for the South Plaquemines High football team spreads beneath one backboard, where floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina rose above the rim, 10 feet off the floor.
Sometimes on Sundays, when football practice starts late, the players do not wait for the rumble of the generator. Stepping carefully, they find their lockers with the glow of cellphones.
“They chased a raccoon out of here once,” Sal Cepriano, a senior lineman, said.
No one is complaining about the inconvenience and the occasional wandering critter. There will be plenty of bright lights and varmint-free locker space Saturday when South Plaquemines (12-2) plays for a Class 1A state championship in the Superdome, 45 miles north in New Orleans, completing a remarkable season of perseverance and indomitable spirit.
Paxton for The New York Times
Coach Cyril Crutchfield celebrating after the Hurricanes’ 56-6 semifinal win last Friday.
Little has returned to normal in the two and a half years since Katrina destroyed the tiny fishing, oil and citrus villages of Port Sulphur, Buras, Boothville and Venice in lower Plaquemines Parish, where the Mississippi River runs to the Gulf of Mexico. Football has provided an important symbol of resilience and renewal along the southern end of this vital but isolated and vulnerable peninsula.
“Football is the only thing that will bring this community together; there’s nothing else here,” said Corey Buie, an assistant coach and the recreation director of Plaquemines Parish.
South Plaquemines, a consolidated school formed in 2006, plays football among Louisiana’s smallest high schools. It is located in temporary buildings on the wrecked campus of Port Sulphur High. Devastation from the storm has been reshaped into defiance. The team is called the Hurricanes, and campus walkways are named Hurricane Alley, Katrina Way and Rita Way.
A year ago, the Hurricanes made the playoffs despite traveling 60 miles round trip to practice and lacking a locker room, a home field and even a school cafeteria for much of the season. This season brought higher expectations, and South Plaquemines responded with Louisiana’s most prolific quarterback, its leading receiver and one of its most resourceful running backs.
Two hurricane seasons have come and gone quietly since Katrina brought its 28-foot storm surge. Perhaps half of the 3,000 prestorm residents and most of the small businesses have returned to Port Sulphur: the doughnut shop and the dollar stores, and Delta Drugs and the Cajun Kitchen. But this has been a double-wide recovery, almost everything in trailers or modular buildings, lending a feel of impermanence and uncertainty.
A third of the team’s 38 players began the season still living in FEMA trailers. Mike Barthelemy, a freshman linebacker, sleeps on an air mattress as his family awaits its rebuilding grant from the state. Shane Dinette, a senior running back, commutes about 50 miles each way from the New Orleans suburb of Harvey, rather than live in a trailer behind his mother’s restaurant, five minutes from school.
“Too depressing,” he said.
Many nights after practice, Coach Cyril Crutchfield spends an hour on his school bus route, driving south to drop players in Buras and Boothville. The parish plans to relocate South Plaquemines High in Buras, but there is no school there now and little sign of recovery. Only the front steps remain to the home of Cantrell Riley, the state’s leading receiver
The Buras fire station has no walls. The Delta Food Mart resembles a movie set with its skeletal facade. Curtains sway through blown-out windows of the library. Sixteen coffins remain unidentified at Our Lady of Good Harbor cemetery. They rest in cement vaults, strapped to the ground so they will not float away again in another storm.
Highway 23 is the only road in and out of lower Plaquemines. The Mississippi flows behind one levee, and the gulf behind another. Katrina’s wrath is evident in the telephone poles that lean as if exhausted and in the arthritic trees shorn of leaves and branches.
Every day, Crutchfield, who won a Class 1A state title at Port Sulphur High in 2002, sees the punch-drunk homes and staggered buildings and driveways that lead to nothing but cement slabs. This is why he feels such urgency to win Saturday against West St. John High, whose coach, Laury Dupont, is seeking to retire with a fourth championship.
“Tomorrow is not guaranteed,” Crutchfield told his players. “We don’t know what will happen when the Gulf water turns warm and the wind starts to blow.”
South Plaquemines has played ferociously, losing only to schools with four times its enrollment of about 190 students. The Hurricanes, who use a spread offense and an attacking defense, scored 60 points in the first quarter of their opening playoff game. Only once in their last 10 games have they scored fewer than 54 points.
Ridge Turner, a junior quarterback, has set a state single-season record with 5,240 combined passing and rushing yards and has accounted for 64 touchdowns. This is more yardage than Terry Bradshaw, Peyton Manning or any other Louisiana high school quarterback produced in a season, and all of it was inadvertent.
Until Katrina struck, Turner was a defensive back at Port Sulphur High. He became a quarterback only when the storm-tossed Randall Mackey moved 300 miles north to Bastrop, where he will play for a third consecutive Class 4A state championship Saturday (the first was revoked when Mackey was deemed to have been illegally recruited).
Paxton for The New York Times
Lyle Fitte has scored 46 touchdowns. His brothers, Beau and Evan, are also on the team.
The fact that Turner is playing at all is something of long shot. From age 6, he was reared by an aunt, Elouise Turner, as his mother battled drug addiction. Until then, Ridge said, he was sometimes left alone at night with his dog, Sandy, and by age 4 or 5 he learned to fry shrimp so that he would have something to fill his stomach.
“His aunt is a saint; she saved Ridge,” said Wayne Williamson, a sheriff’s deputy whose son, Wayne Jr., is a defensive back. “There’s no telling where he would be.”
Last season, Elouise Turner told Ridge he could no longer play football after he brought home a failing grade on a report card. She reconsidered, she said, because, “we already lost our home.”
“Losing football would be losing everything,” she said.
Turner’s grades have improved, as has his ability to read defenses. His favorite receiver is Riley, a whippet-thin senior who was born with a left leg so bowed that the tibia had to be broken and reset. Some of his teammates call him Crazy Legs.
On Oct. 19, Riley’s season appeared to be in jeopardy when he injured his right knee while returning a kickoff. An orthopedist examined him on the sideline and told Riley that he had a torn ligament and should remain inactive for four to six weeks.
Riley stalked away, got a second opinion, bought a knee brace at a sporting goods store and kept playing. He finished the regular season with 57 receptions for 1,098 yards — both first in the state. Then, as the playoffs began, he considered quitting the team.
Although three wrecked schools are now combined at South Plaquemines, rivalries persist at some level. Riley felt that players from Port Sulphur received too much praise, while those from Buras and Boothville were too often criticized or ignored.
He and his mother spoke with Crutchfield, and the tension was defused. Also a cornerback, Riley has intercepted 10 passes in four playoff games. In a 56-6 semifinal victory last Friday, he caught two touchdown passes and made three interceptions. Afterward, Jeanitta Ancar, whose son Jordan is an offensive tackle, hugged Riley and said, “We love you no matter where you’re from.”
Surely, the Hurricanes would not have reached the championship game without the Fitte brothers, who returned here last spring after attending schools in Belle Chasse in northern Plaquemines Parish. Lyle Fitte, a junior running back, has scored 46 touchdowns on rushes, receptions and kick returns. Beau Fitte is an all-league freshman defensive end. Evan Fitte, also a freshman, is a starting receiver.
“My mother didn’t want to come back at first,” Lyle Fitte said. “She thought the storms would get worse. But I wanted to bring my family together.”
Lyle has lived in a trailer on his grandparents’ property, rising early several mornings a week to run sprints up the Mississippi River levee just beyond his door. Finally, last week, Habitat for Humanity presented the keys to his mother’s new home here.
“You can move around down here,” Beau Fitte said. “Ride your four-wheeler, go hunting in the backyard. Maybe if we win the state championship, more people will come back.”
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Posted by Ana Maria at 6:40 AM
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The federal disaster-aid law largely ignores communities that harbor disaster evacuees, officials from cities and towns in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas told U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu during a committee hearing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses host communities for short-term sheltering and other basic assistance for evacuees. But it pays little to nothing for less quantifiable long-term impacts such as strains on transportation infrastructure and social services, participants said.
Mayor Kip Holden of Baton Rouge said federal red tape made it difficult for the city to absorb and help the estimated 250,000 people who fled Hurricane Katrina and took refuge in his city.
"While the impact on our communities was not the devastation our neighbors to the south suffered, our own resources were nevertheless strained and our lives impacted in ways that had never been experienced in history," he said during Monday's hearing.
Holden and local officials from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi suggested a number of changes to federal law to help host communities better handle disaster evacuees.
The testimony, at the Old State Capitol, came as Congress considers overhauling the much-maligned Stafford Act, which covers the federal government's response to disasters.
Landrieu, who presided over the U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing, said the Stafford Act is unsuited to deal with a massive Katrina-like migration.
She was the lone senator at Monday's meeting of the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which is looking into the Stafford Act.
Holden said federal regulations need to be tweaked to allow for a quick transfer of funds to host communities to house and provide medical care to evacuees.
Recovery funding should take into account the financial toll caused by population shifts not just damage, he said. And population counts must be faster and more accurate, he said, to ensure the financial effects on a host community are understood
Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach, Madison, Miss., Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler and Robert Eckels, a former county judge for Harris County, Texas, who was the top emergency official in the Houston area during Katrina, also took part in the hearing.
Eckels said Harris County was not reimbursed for security at the Astrodome, which processed an estimated 65,000 Katrina evacuees, because it did not hire private security officers. FEMA would not reimburse the county for the overtime it paid local law enforcement officers who patrolled the dome.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 9:09 AM
Lawmaker moved by images of loss in Katrina aftermath
Monday, December 03, 2007
By Bill Walsh
WASHINGTON -- Legendary House Speaker Tip O'Neill's axiom that "all politics is local" seems to have been lost on Rep. James Clyburn.
Clyburn's South Carolina congressional district was spared the disastrous hurricane season of 2005, but the storms stirred the veteran Democratic lawmaker into taking the lead in helping the battered Gulf Coast, where he doesn't get a single vote and whose residents tend to elect Republicans anyway.
Since Democrats seized the House majority in January, Clyburn, the No.3 member of the House leadership, has shepherded more than a dozen hurricane-recovery bills to passage, made it a personal mission to waive the local match required for getting federal rebuilding dollars and, most recently, helped secure $3 billion to cover a shortfall in Louisiana's Road Home housing program.
Why would a guy from rural South Carolina invest so much time and energy on resurrecting the Gulf Coast?
For one thing, Clyburn knows hurricanes. He also has more than a passing acquaintance with devastating personal loss and the redemptive power of giving. And he was quick to recognize the political force of Hurricane Katrina as a commentary on what many saw as the Bush administration's incompetence and, Clyburn has said, latent racism, an insight that may even have impressed a wizened old pro like Tip O'Neill.
Like many Americans, Clyburn watched the flooding of New Orleans in real time on television. The image that has remained with him was of a man, dazed and walking in circles after making the awful choice of saving his kids over his wife as the floodwaters rose around his home.
"I just lost it," Clyburn, 67, said in a recent interview, his baritone voice a notch above a whisper. "What kind of a choice was that to make? It was transforming to me."
The horror he had seen unfolding on television rekindled some deeply personal memories.
Brushes with hurricanes
Clyburn was a teenager in 1954 when Category 4 Hurricane Hazel swept in off the Atlantic, killing more than 1,000 people and clawing its way across the Carolinas. He remembers most vividly the big oak tree felled in the winds that barely missed his home.
"I can never get that out of my mind," he said.
Thirty-five years later, Hurricane Hugo, which having caused $7 billion in damage was then the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history, battered his house in Charleston and left an indelible aural impression.
"That night was the worst sound I have ever heard in my life," Clyburn said. "It was like a locomotive going through. You are lying in bed just waiting for the roof to cave in."
Hugo's aftermath plunged Clyburn into a confusing and frustrating world of insurance adjusters and housing contractors that gave him a sense of what was to come for the hundreds of thousands of residents in Louisiana and Mississippi whose homes were flooded or blown away in the storms.
His personal brushes with hurricanes helped him empathize with the fears and frustrations of those along the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But it was a fire that helped him understand the loss.
When he was 12, he said, his boyhood home burned to the ground. He and his family escaped with only the clothes they were wearing. Everything else was lost. As he stood in the street clad only in his underwear, a neighbor approached him and gave him a jacket.
"I know what it means to lose everything," he said.
Clyburn pressed the issue
As head of the Katrina Task Force, Clyburn organized trips to the Gulf Coast for members of Congress to commemorate the first and second anniversaries of the storm. He scheduled meetings with dozens of local officials and their suggestions formed the basis of legislation he then pushed through the House.
In January, he hired Aranthan "A.J." Jones, the former chief of staff to Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, who knows the disaster zone well.
"I can't say enough for how much Jim Clyburn has done," said Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville. "He never looks back. He never gives us excuses."
Clyburn was particularly intent on waiving the 10 percent share that local communities were expected to pay under the Stafford Act as their share of disaster recovery. President Bush had reduced the share from 25 percent to 10 percent and fronted Gulf Coast states the money to pay. But he stubbornly refused to go further.
At meeting after meeting at the White House between the president and congressional leaders, Clyburn just as stubbornly continued to press the issue. Fellow lawmakers dubbed him "Congressman Stafford" for his single-mindedness.
Clyburn saw Bush's refusal to waive the Stafford Act partly in racial terms. He said the requirement had been lifted after the Sept. 11 attacks and after Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Iniki, which hit Hawaii. Why was this president digging in his heels on this disaster, the costliest in U.S. history?
Clyburn provided his own answer in a commencement speech in May to graduates at Southern University in Baton Rouge. It was because so many of the victims of Katrina were black, he said.
"I truly believe that if the demographics of the affected areas were different, the response of the federal government would have been different," said Clyburn, who was elected in 1992 as the first black congressman from South Carolina since Reconstruction.
As the chief vote-counter for Democrats in the House, Clyburn has a well-tuned political radar. He was quick to recognize that the Bush administration's flubbed response to Katrina could work as a potent political issue in the 2006 midterm elections.
Job isn't seen as done
The president has frequently touted the more than $100 billion in federal aid sent to the Gulf Coast and has promised to rebuild the region. But in weeks leading up to the elections, polls showed that Americans believed Bush hadn't done enough, and Clyburn said the discontent, along with anger over the war in Iraq, were the twin engines that propelled Democrats into power on Capitol Hill.
But not everyone on the Gulf Coast was convinced that the Democratic takeover would mean change.
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, said Democrats likewise focused their attention on Hurricane Katrina while downplaying the significance of Hurricane Rita in southwest Louisiana, which he represents. Boustany conceded that the Democrats passed recovery bills that helped all parts of the state, but he was miffed that they left his district off their itinerary when they visited the Gulf Coast in August.
Melancon, a loyal Democrat, openly questioned his party's commitment to hurricane recovery in February. A day later he was summoned before what Clyburn described as a "very disturbed" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Melancon insisted that the leadership had promised to take up Katrina-recovery legislation in the first 100 hours of the new Congress and had reneged. He pointed to a newspaper story from August 2006, which quoted Clyburn saying as much.
The next day, Clyburn filed legislation to waive the 10 percent Stafford Act match and called a meeting of key committee chairs to expedite hurricane-recovery legislation.
"I think he was wrong on the substance. We were doing a lot already," Clyburn said. "But I understood his frustration."
Since then, the House has churned out hurricane-recovery legislation at a dizzying pace. It's been so rapid, in fact, that this summer much of it got jammed up in the Senate whose arcane rules sometimes seem to encourage delays.
More than two years after the fact, Clyburn doesn't see the job as done. He wants Congress to approve the tens of billions of dollars that would be necessary to create Category 5 hurricane protection in south Louisiana.
He has no illusions that the region will suddenly swing into the Democratic fold. For Clyburn, it is more complicated than that.
Shortly after Katrina, he recalls spotting Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., on the House floor. Taylor's home had been destroyed, and Clyburn wanted to do something to show how much he cared. He remembered as a youth standing in the street after his house burned down. He bought Taylor a jacket and handed it to him.
"He said, 'That's OK, I don't need a jacket,' " Clyburn said Taylor told him. "I said, 'It's not for you, it's for me.' "
Bill Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 383-7817.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 7:14 AM
Monday, December 03, 2007
December 3, 2007
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has convened a special committee to examine allegations that their administration helped the US Army Corps of Engineers cover up the Corps' mistakes in the New Orleans flooding.
These serious allegations are about public safety in New Orleans and nationwide.
Click here and demand a speedy investigation and the results be made public!
It does not serve the American people to keep issues of public safety and government policy behind closed doors.
Click to add your signature to a letter to the ASCE president.
Executive Director, Levees.Org
Want to do more? You can direct any engineers you know to this website, www.CivilizingEngineers.org and ask them to sign on or take the poll.
P.S. Two years ago today on this very day, we launched our website www.levees.org. Since then we have hosted 133,827 unique visitors!
Here's why you should sign.....
Dr. Ray Seed recently submitted an ethics complaint to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) detaling an early intentional plan by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Dept of Defense to:
1. sabotage the independent investigations by U of Cal Berkeley and LSU;
2. intimidate those who tried to intervene;
3. limit the scope of the official Corps-sponsored levee investigation; and
4. delay the release of its findings until the public's attention had turned elsewhere.
An editorial in the New Orleans Times-Picayune calls these charges "deeply troubling" and says they "deserve serious attention."
You can download a copy of Dr. Seed's 42-page letter by clicking here.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 7:05 AM
Popular free health clinic in eastern N.O. will close, but the city plans to step in to close the health care gap
Sunday, December 02, 2007
By Kate Moran
Nurse practitioner Dorothy Davison used to believe the level of health care available almost anywhere in the United States far outstrips what patients can find in the Third World countries where she has done relief work.
Then she came to post-Katrina New Orleans.
At the free clinic Davison and her husband, a physician, run in eastern New Orleans, they have encountered diseases run amok: astronomical blood sugar levels among diabetics, an advanced case of cancer that had eaten away at a woman's breast. The situation is blamed on the scarcity of health care in one of the most devastated parts of the city.
The clinic has been a lifeline to residents in the east, but Davison has had to tell their "distraught" patients that it will close in less than a month.
Operation Blessing, the charity that launched the clinic after Katrina and raised thousands of dollars to support its operations, has exhausted the stash of private donations that came pouring in after the storm.
Operation Blessing began its Katrina relief efforts by shipping medications to Louis Armstrong International Airport, which was converted into a medical triage center just days after the storm.
The free clinic in the east opened in April 2006, and since that time it has helped almost 35,000 patients and dispensed more than 83,000 free medications.
"Since we have been there, we have found it has been like an oasis of healing in a sea of suffering," said Bill Horan, president of Operation Blessing International. "It has been a great honor to serve the people of New Orleans. We wish we could do it forever, but we simply can't."
The closing threatened to strand thousands of uninsured patients in eastern New Orleans without health care in their neighborhood, but the city Health Department -- aware for some time that the clinic would close -- has made provisions to turn an obstetrics clinic on Read Boulevard into a full-service primary care office by January.
Horan said Operation Blessing is also talking with a partner that could take over the clinic's assets and continue to serve patients in the east after the medical office and pharmacy close Dec. 21. He declined to name the partner for fear of jeopardizing negotiations.
Davison and her husband, Dr. Dale Betterton, have run the clinic with the help of doctors from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, who come to New Orleans one week a month to volunteer their services.
Davison and Betterton accept no money for their work, and they lived out of a trailer in Slidell for much of the time they have worked here. They now live in a house in Slidell paid for by Operation Blessing.
The couple met on a volunteer mission to the Dominican Republic after a hurricane, and they both took early retirement to dedicate themselves to international relief missions.
Davison said she never expected to work within the United States, but she has encountered runaway chronic disease and other conditions here that testify to widespread difficulty finding health care since the storm.
Just last month, two patients came to the clinic with lesions covering their bodies. Davison diagnosed them as having full-blown cases of AIDS. Patients often find out they are HIV-positive before the virus progresses into AIDS, but these patients had never been tested.
"You usually don't see that in this country," she said.
Davison said the patients she treats are often "newly made poor" -- former members of the middle class who had a house, a steady job and health insurance before Katrina. They "did everything right" but suddenly found themselves on the underside of fate, she said.
When she has referred them to the state's Charity hospitals for specialty care, she said, some of her patients have experienced the indignities of being shuffled through an overcrowded system for the first time. An uninsured patient with prostate cancer she saw in October 2006 could not get an appointment with a urologist in the Charity Hospital System until the following April.
Davison has found herself on the phone many times advocating for patients who have no insurance and no place to turn for specialized care that the clinic cannot provide.
When the patient with the corroded breast went to an emergency room but was not admitted to the hospital because she had no insurance, Davison said she called Tulane Medical Center and had the chief executive on the phone "in five minutes."
"Besides being medical workers, we've been case workers," she said.
A far ride
The Operation Blessing clinic provides all types of primary care services, plus dental care, foot care for diabetics, Pap smears and other gynecological care, HIV testing and a pharmacy.
Demand is so great that new patients must show up at 6 a.m. to check in with a security guard and sign up for an appointment later in the day.
"At first, there was hardly anybody here. Once people started hearing about it, it's been packed," said Gilda Faciane, an eastern New Orleans resident who first went to the clinic for an infection and found out she had diabetes. She now goes for regular check-ups.
When the clinic closes in three weeks, patients such as Faciane say they will have to travel considerable distances to find free or low-cost health care. A few primary care practices have returned to the east, but Operation Blessing was the main clinic that catered to the uninsured.
Faciane already drives her father-in-law to Jefferson Parish three times a week for kidney care, which is not available in their neighborhood. She does not know where she will turn for her own health needs once the Operation Blessing clinic closes, but she expects it will involve another bothersome car trip.
"They provide a service for people who have no place else to go," Faciane said. "Whether they know it or not, we all appreciate it."
The clinic that the Health Department plans to open will be just down the block from the beehive of trailers where Operation Blessing's medical offices are based. Dr. Kevin Stephens, the department's director, said the city clinic will not be free but will charge a fee based on a patient's income.
"The city has stepped up to the plate to get services to the people in New Orleans East, because we know they need it," Stephens said. "We're doing everything we can with limited resources."
. . . . . . .
Kate Moran can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3491.
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Posted by Ana Maria at 6:10 AM
by Daily Kos' Commonscribe, a volunteer who regularly returns to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to invest his talent, time, and sweat in rebuilding. Original posting here on December 2, 2007. It's been diaried elsewhere how state politics and bureaucratic red tape have kept federal relief funds from reaching the residents of the gulf coast. It's been diaried elsewhere on the long term health risks the FEMA travel trailers pose, and how they were never designed to be occupied for years on end. What's not well-known is that many of the charities that have organized, financed and carried out the bulk of the rebuilding over the past two years are now running out of money. A new 501(c)3 is trying to raise one dollar per American to provide the funds for these organizations to continue their work.
With federal relief money still bottlenecked in the system and 14,000 residents displaced by Katrina about to go through their third winter in FEMA trailers or tents, the housing charities of Mississippi are trying to raise $300 million dollars to Finish The Job of getting these people back into permanent housing.
It's been diaried elsewhere how insurance settlements have been low-balled or stalled in ongoing litigation.
You can watch their videohere.
You can make a contribution online here.
Give what you can, or better yet, go yourself. I'll be in Bay Saint Louis the week after Christmas with a group of 30; come by and say hey.
It's been diaried elsewhere how state politics and bureaucratic red tape have kept federal relief funds from reaching the residents of the gulf coast.
It's been diaried elsewhere on the long term health risks the FEMA travel trailers pose, and how they were never designed to be occupied for years on end.
What's not well-known is that many of the charities that have organized, financed and carried out the bulk of the rebuilding over the past two years are now running out of money.
A new 501(c)3 is trying to raise one dollar per American to provide the funds for these organizations to continue their work.
Posted by Ana Maria at 6:06 AM
Concordia's idea for the devastated Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans includes a house with wide steps where neighbors can gather.
Thom Mayne of Morphosis in Los Angeles designed a house that would float if the city floods. James Timberlake of KieranTimberlake Associates in Philadelphia created a house with native vines climbing up the side walls to provide shade and coolness. Steven B. Bingler of Concordia in New Orleans envisioned a house with wide front steps ideal for a traditional crawfish boil.
Those are three of the designs by 13 architecture firms commissioned by the actor Brad Pitt to help rebuild New Orleans’s impoverished Lower Ninth Ward, one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
James Timberlake added cooling vines climbing up the side of his building.
The project, called Make It Right, calls for building 150 affordable, environmentally sound houses over the next two years. In a telephone interview from New Orleans, where he plans to present the designs today, Mr. Pitt said the residents of the neighborhood had been homeless long enough. “They’re coming up on their third Christmas,” he said.
Mr. Pitt said he had been attached to New Orleans for more than a decade. “I’ve always had a fondness for this place — it’s like no other,” he said. “Seeing the frustration firsthand made me want to return the kindness this city has shown me.”
Rather than bemoan the slow pace of redevelopment in the Ninth Ward, Mr. Pitt said he decided to address the problem directly by teaming with William McDonough, the green design expert; Graft, a Los Angeles architecture firm; and Cherokee, an investment firm based in Raleigh, N.C., that specializes in sustainable redevelopment. John Williams of New Orleans is the executive architect for the project.
“If you have this blank slate and this great technology out there, what better test than low-income housing?” Mr. Pitt said. “It’s got to work at all levels to really be viable.”
When Make It Right was announced at the meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in September, Mr. Pitt pledged to match $5 million in contributions to the project, as did Steve Bing, the philanthropist. Nine other firms — all of whom donated their services — are involved, including Adjaye Associates; Billes Architecture; BNIM Architects; Constructs; Eskew & Dumez & Ripple; MVRDV; Pugh and Scarpa Architecture; Shigeru Ban Architects; and Trahan Architects. “We wanted to have a mixture of voices,” Mr. Pitt said.
Beyond serving a public need, Mr. Pitt — who has a longstanding interest in architecture — was eager to see what the designers came up with. “I was most curious about advancing the discussion further,” he said. “That was certainly one of the benefits of this exercise. There is no other reason to call on these great minds if you’re just going to shackle them.”
The green building elements will reduce upkeep costs by at least 75 percent, Mr. Pitt said, and reduce some of the problems that devastated the Lower Ninth Ward during Katrina, when multiple levee breaks forced thousands of people from their homes.
The architects were each asked to design a 1,200-square-foot house for about $150,000, with Make It Right to help with the financing. The houses had to be built five to eight feet off the ground, with a front porch and three bedrooms.
Mr. Mayne of Morphosis opted for a lightweight concrete foundation anchored by two pylons, like a pier, which would buoy the house if floodwaters rise. “It’s a boat,” Mr. Mayne said.
“The population doesn’t want to live on stilts — and it’s expensive,” he added. “These are simple houses for low-income people.”
Mr. Bingler of Concordia said his design called for homes “that would respond to the culture of the Lower Ninth Ward.” He said residents had asked him for “a house where the baby can be sleeping in the back, the mama making red beans in the kitchen and the grandpa can be on the front porch entertaining neighbors.”
Mr. Pitt is asking foundations, corporations and individuals to contribute to the project by adopting one house, several houses or a portion of a house through the project Web site, makeitrightnola.org. “You can adopt a tankless water heater or a solar panel or a tree or a low-flush toilet,” Mr. Pitt said. “You can give it to someone for Christmas,” he said — instead of another sweater.
Responding to critics who question the wisdom of rebuilding at all in an area likely to get hit again, Mr. Pitt said: “My first answer to that is, talk to the people who’ve lived there and have raised their kids there. People are needing to get back in their homes.”
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Posted by Ana Maria at 5:46 AM
Posted by Michelle Krupa, staff writer, December 02, 2007
STAFF PHOTO BY MATTHEW HINTON
At the center of a buzzing construction zone in the heart of the worst-ravaged corner of the Lower 9th Ward, movie megastar Brad Pitt took a break Sunday afternoon to imagine the future.
Strewn around him a half-mile in every direction were hundreds of enormous pink blocks, 8-foot-high boxes and huge triangular wedges, representing the uprooted foundations and dislocated roofs that littered the area beside the Industrial Canal for months after Hurricane Katrina.
"Right now there are scattered blocks, like they were scattered by fate's hand, symbolic of the aftermath of the storm," Pitt said as crews installed more of the metal-and-tarp structures. "But we will be flipping the homes, essentially righting the wrong."
In his first extensive one-on-one interview since moving his family to New Orleans last year, Pitt shared with The Times-Picayune on Sunday details of this next phase of his $12 million "Make It Right" project: a vast public art display to be unveiled today as a fundraiser to expand the project beyond its initial goal of 150 homes, and possibly into other neighborhoods and parishes.
Pitt, 43, also spoke of his years-long love for New Orleans, which he thinks will thrive again despite the propensity of some public officials to let the city "die on the vine," and his hope that national leaders will use the ongoing disaster as an impetus to retool public policy with an eye toward the poor.
Katrina "illuminated the brutal truth that there's a portion of our society that we're not looking after, that we are marginalizing. And that shouldn't be," said Pitt, who watched the horrific televised images of the flooded city in 2005 from Calgary, Alberta, where he was filming the 2006 movie "The Assassination of Jesse James."
Steering the conversation away from himself, Pitt focused on Make It Right's efforts to build affordable, environmentally friendly, storm-safe houses for residents of the Lower 9th Ward on the same lots where their old homes once stood. In announcing the project in September at a meeting of world leaders on global warming, Pitt and philanthropist Steve Bing pledged $5 million each to jump-start the project.
"This cannot be about me," he said Sunday from inside a trailer at the project site. "I am fortunate to have a big spotlight in my hand, and I can point it in a direction."
Today that place will be the section of the Lower 9th Ward best-known as the spot where a barge came to rest after floating through a fractured levee. Pitt is slated to lead news reporters on a tour around the area's conglomeration of pink art pieces, then to issue a public call to corporations, foundations and church organizations around the world to "adopt" the blocks, for $150,000 each, to support his project.
Donors also will be invited to make smaller gifts -- from $5 to $45,500 -- to sponsor the individual elements of the houses' eco-friendly designs, such as fluorescent bulbs, low-flush toilets and solar-panel installations. More information is available at the project's Web site, www.makeitrightnola.org.
With the average house slated to cost between $100,000 and $174,000, planners expect participants to contribute some money, including insurance and Road Home proceeds, toward construction. But they expect most homeowners will fall about $70,000 short of paying off their new homes. To fill the gap, Make It Right plans to offer forgivable loans of as much as $100,000, with the caveat that applicants must have owned a home or lot in the Lower 9th Ward before Katrina.
Pink 'screams the loudest'
Eventually, Pitt said, planners will turn the all-natural pink fabric covering into novelty items, such as bags, that will be sold to raise more money.
"Why pink? For me it screams the loudest," Pitt said. "It says that this place, where so many people thrived, is still sitting there like a barren wasteland, and we can change that."
In addition to being a tool for fundraising, the giant pink pieces will, Pitt said, become the ornamentation for a nightly driving tour in the style of City Park's annual "Celebration in the Oaks" festival, albeit with a more somber focus. Expected to open to the public Tuesday evening and extend for five weeks, the tour will feature the large pieces interspersed with 1,000 smaller bulbs representing the residents who died in Katrina. All the lights will be solar-powered, he said.
In addition, the whole installation will be laid out in the precise pattern of the constellations as they glowed on the night of Aug. 29, 2005, he said.
Though the vast work of art aims to draw attention to the Make It Right project, Pitt said it also reflects the "vitality" of the city that he first visited in 1994 during the filming of "Interview with the Vampire" and adopted as his home a year ago, when he and his partner, actress Angelina Jolie, bought a house in the French Quarter.
New Orleans is "the only place that we could do something as crazy as what you see out there and it not be considered so crazy, that it (could) actually be fun," he said. "This is the place of Mardi Gras. This is the place where I had a parade going by my house yesterday. I have no idea what for. It was at noon. I have no idea, but it made me smile."
'We love it here'
Saying he plans to spend the next several weekends in the city, Pitt reiterated a point he has made before: that New Orleans offers himself, Jolie and their four children uncommon tranquillity.
"We love it here," he said. "And for some reason we can have some semblance of a normal life here. The folks treat us so well and give us space and let us be a family. We don't have that luxury in other major cities."
A prime focus of Pitt's work in the coming months will be helping a team of nearly 200 planners, many working for free, turn Make It Right plans into reality. Tom Darden, the project's executive director, said 13 architecture firms from around the globe that lent their efforts pro bono have finished schematic designs and are working on blueprints.
Eight pilot families have been chosen, all with lots in the three blocks of Tennessee Street between North Claiborne Avenue and Galvez Street, Darden said. Construction is expected to begin by the end of March.
"I am telling you, there are going to be families returning into homes, they'll be spending Christmas here next year," Pitt said. "They won't have to spend another Christmas away from home. Next Thanksgiving: turkey dinner."
Pitt acknowledged that even as Make It Right nears groundbreaking on its pilot homes, the project he first pitched to residents in February has faced hurdles, including the deep skepticism of a community where residents lived for years amid abandoned properties, failing public schools and escalating crime fueled by the illegal drug trade.
Cautiously optimistic, residents demanded full participation in the project. And they got it by way of weekly meetings in their neighborhood with architects and planners. Each time architects returned from their drawing boards, residents have said, their plans included more of neighbors' suggestions, from the inclusion of backup fuel sources for solar-powered appliances to wheelchair ramps to reach elevated first floors.
"I come from Missouri," Pitt said. "They call it the Show Me State. I grew up with the same nature. When you know the story here, (can you) question that the locals here would question some outsider coming in?
"Look at the way the freeways are laid in," he said. "They're just laid right on top of neighborhoods. It's so clear some of them were laid out for the needs of a few and not the needs of many."
'A social justice issue'
Aiming to even the balance, Pitt -- a professed "technology junkie" -- has steered his curiosity about advances in environmental design into a requirement that any Make It Right house incorporate such items as energy-efficient appliances, south-facing roofs laden with solar panels, outdoor space for composting, and interior finishes made from products that are not harmful to residents' health or the environment.
"This to me is a social justice issue, too," he said. "They're not getting the crap materials that give your kids asthma, increase your health bills. They're not getting the cheap appliances that are going to run up your bills and keep that burden on you. It's a respectful way to treat people."
Broadly, Pitt said he hopes such issues will be raised during the 2008 presidential campaign. He also wants candidates to address directly the ongoing struggle of hurricane victims across the Gulf Coast.
"I would challenge all the candidates to focus on what's going on down here, what's not going on here," he said. "We're going to build some houses here, but there are bigger issues that need to get answered here, such as education and health. These need to be major factors of the campaign.
"My point is: If you can't get it right down here, you're not getting it right anywhere. This is the place to do it, and there's definitely a need for it right now. I hope to see it become one of the major issues of the upcoming campaign, not as a tool to beat the past administration but as a real focus on the problems of this country."
Even as Make It Right revs up, Pitt said he remains concerned about New Orleans' future and criticized the failure of local leaders to make clear decisions, such as which parts of the city will be rebuilt and how.
"Someone said that it was like it was being left to die on the vine, and I couldn't put it any better than that, meaning there's no real effort either way," he said. "There's just been no clear line drawn."
Public officials say, "¤'We want you to come back, but we're only going to give you a little bit (of money) to come back.' It just hasn't been a strong enough, clear plan of direction," he said.
Nevertheless, Pitt said residents' resilience will pull the city back to its feet.
"The thing is, I don't believe it will ever die on the vine," he said. "There's just too many seventh-generation families. They're not letting this place go under."
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