Wednesday, February 28, 2007

da po’ blog is an angry blog

And that is against my original intent for this blog.

Reading some of the latest – actually, most – posts on da po’ blog, I don’t see a lot of constructive criticism. I *do* see a lot of negative vibes being sent. I don’t want that to be the contribution of this blog.

Having said that, sending negative vibes seems to be where I am right now. But I’m working on it.

When I get lost on my mission, I like to read over Edward R. Murrow’s address to the 1958 RTNDA Convention. Particularly this comment:
This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
For the NOLA blogging community and its friends, our instrument is the internet.

Let us inspire.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

C’mon, NBA. Seriously.

You’re not that big:
Reports of crime and violence in Las Vegas during All-Star weekend have NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter concerned about New Orleans' ability to host the NBA's midseason party next season.

Reports of crime and violence in Las Vegas during All-Star weekend have NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter concerned about New Orleans' ability to host the NBA's midseason party next season.

On Monday, Hunter told Newsday that he'll take the NBA to court to try and move the game if New Orleans, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, can't prove it's ready to handle the event.
We just got finished with Mardi Gras, and the NBA Players Association is worried we won’t be able to handle the NBA All-Star game a year from now.
"If the union is not convinced that the city can accommodate the All-Star Game, it's an issue that will be subject to litigation between the union and the league," Hunter said.

Hunter is concerned that post-Katrina New Orleans does not have a big enough police force or enough resources to handle the crowd that comes with an NBA All-Star Game.

"First of all, their police force is dissipated. They're probably dealing with half the force they had before," Hunter told Newsday. "They don't have all the resources that we will need to properly police the city. They've got a serious crime problem as it is. And so what are they going to do?"
I am not going to say that we are walking on rose petals down here. But, I think the NBA Players Association executive director’s concerns say more about the NBA’s problems than NOLA’s problems.

Cliff’s Crib links to a couple of stories on the NBA’s issues. The author of the stories, Jason Whitlock, also addresses some greater issues in the African-American community. For New Orleans’ purpose, here’s the relevant point:
This was not a byproduct of the game being held in Vegas. All-Star Weekend has been on this path for the past five or six years. Every year the event becomes more and more a destination for troublemakers.
Of course, Whitlock also wrote:
NBA All-Star Weekend in Vegas was an unmitigated failure, and any thoughts of taking the extravaganza to New Orleans in 2008 are total lunacy.


Without a full-scale military occupation, New Orleans will not survive All-Star Weekend 2008.


If something isn't done, next year's All-Star Weekend will surpass the deceased Freaknik, a weekend-long party in Atlanta, in terms of lawlessness. Wide-spread looting and a rape killed the Freaknik in 1999.

The NBA's image cannot survive bedlam in the French Quarter. And I'm not sure it can survive the embarrassment of a New Orleans standoff between its fans and the National Guard, either.
I have a little more confidence than Whitlock in our city’s ability to host major events without problems. It’s the day-to-day operation of the city that we can’t handle.

Et tu, Shaq Fu?
"I'm not sure if the city of New Orleans is ready for something like that," Shaquille O'Neal, who played at LSU, told Newsday. "I don't know what New Orleans' situation is, but from watching the Spike Lee special and watching the news, it doesn't look like it's ready for something like that."
At least he is watching the news.

I am no longer a fan.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"An alternative European civilization"

I finally got to see the American Experience episode about New Orleans thanks to Schroeder’s heads up. From it, I got the impression that while pre-American New Orleans was no utopia when it came to race relations, it was American values that brought the chaos that lead to institutional racism becoming a way of life in this part of the world:
Raphael Cassimere, Jr., Historian: The amalgamation of the Africans and whites created basically one culture where everybody was accepted, belonged. It worked well because people kind of understood class structure. I mean even though you lived next door to somebody didn't necessarily mean that you are socially their equal. But free blacks as well as slaves had a place in society.

Narrator: Into this century-old city of some 7,000 people had come the Americans -- English-speaking, Protestant and accustomed to a rigid line between black and white. They had come pouring south from the eastern seaboard and the Kentucky hill country -- most of them bent on making money, and doing so in the American way.

Lawrence N. Powell, Historian:
We came in and we wanted to impose our ways on an alternative European civilization. We wanted to impose the English language. We wanted to get rid of the local culture. So there was this struggle for the soul of New Orleans.
That’s what is happening now. A struggle for the soul of New Orleans. The Americans have seen their opportunity to do what they couldn’t do 200 years ago. They want to impose their ways on us and get rid of our local culture.

American values have been creeping down here ever since the Louisiana Purchase. The rigid race line. The 40-hour work week. The suburbs. The deterioration of the inner city and the public school system. Everything that makes us less a community and more a group of individuals. Everything that separates us from our family, our friends, our culture. Our tribe is in danger.

From the program:
Narrator: "In a few years," one observer concluded, "this will be an American town ... and everything French will in time disappear." It was a prediction that never quite came true.
It didn’t come true because the pre-American New Orleanians fought it. And the post-American New Orleanians who got it joined the fight. Can we still be the alternative civilization to the American Industrial Empire?

Inspiration, sometimes, comes from unlikely places. And, I found myself inspired this morning by an urban planner whose motives and opinions I had questioned in the past. Andres Duany:
Apart from the misconceptions of the tourist, I had also been predisposed by the media to think of New Orleans as a charming but lackadaisical and fundamentally mismanaged place that had been subjected to unwarranted devastation, with a great deal of anger and resentment as a result. That is indeed what I found at first. But as I engaged in the planning process I came to realize that the anger I witnessed was relative. It was much less, for example, than the bitterness one encounters in the typical California city plagued with traffic. The people of New Orleans have an underlying sweetness and a sense of humor, irony, and graciousness that is never far below the surface. These are not hard people.

Pondering this one day, I had an additional insight. I remember specifically when on a street in the Marigny I came upon a colorful little house framed by banana trees. I thought, “This is Cuba.” (I am Cuban.) I realized at that instant that New Orleans is not really an American city, but rather a Caribbean one. I understood that, when seen through the lens of the Caribbean, New Orleans is not among the most haphazard, poorest, or misgoverned American cities, but rather the most organized, wealthiest, cleanest, and competently governed of the Caribbean cities. This insight was fundamental because from that moment I understood New Orleans and truly began to sympathize. But the government? Like everyone, I found the city government to be a bit random; then I thought that if New Orleans were to be governed as efficiently as, say, Minneapolis, it would be a different place—and not one that I could care for. Let me work with the government the way it is. It is the human flaws that make New Orleans the most human of American cities. (New Orleans came to feel so much like Cuba that I was driven to buy a house in the Marigny as a surrogate for my inaccessible Santiago de Cuba.)
Emphasis mine.

There was time to create the fabulously complex Creole dishes that simmer forever; there was time to practice music, to play it live rather than from recordings, and to listen to it. There was time to make costumes and to parade; there was time to party and to tell stories; there was time to spend all day marking the passing of friends. One way to leisure time is to have a low financial carry. With a little work, a little help from the government, and a little help from family and friends, life could be good! This is a typically Caribbean social contract: not one to be understood as laziness or poverty—but as a way of life.

This ease, which has been so misunderstood in the national scrutiny following the hurricane, is the Caribbean way. It is a lifestyle choice, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. In fact, it is the envy of some of us who work all our lives to attain the condition of leisure only after retirement. It is this way of living that will disappear. Even with the federal funds for housing, there is little chance that new or renovated houses will be owned without debt. It is too expensive to build now. The higher standards of the new International Building Code are superb but also very expensive. There must be an alternative or there will be very few “paid-off” houses. Everyone will have a mortgage that will need to be sustained by hard work—and this will undermine the culture of New Orleans.
Emphasis mine.

America wants to own us. They want New Orleans to be an American town. We must fight.

Another Long Insurance Post

Allstate is canceling or not renewing policies in New Orleans:
Halvorsen is one of scores of local Allstate customers who contend that their homeowners insurance coverage is being improperly dropped at the conclusion of a temporary state rule that has kept insurance policies in place since the storm.

In recent days, the Louisiana Department of Insurance has received 100 complaints from customers who are being terminated at the end of Emergency Rule 23, which allows insurance companies to begin canceling customers March 1, after proper notification, if there's no indication that they plan to repair.

So far, all of the complaints have been about Allstate.
…and New York:
Allstate has determined the eight counties of New York along the Atlantic coastline to be at particularly high risk for damage from hurricanes and flooding. In light of recent hurricane destruction in other parts of the U.S., Allstate feels it has to limit its exposure.

Reilly is one of as many as 28,000 homeowners in the coastal counties to receive notices of non-renewal at the anniversary of their three-year policy.
raising rates in Florida:
Allstate Floridian, for instance, intends to continue plans to shed another 106,000 Florida customers. Those policyholders will get new notices, and another 100 days to find other coverage, said Allstate Floridian General Counsel George Grawe.
…and Connecticut:
Allstate is going ahead with a delayed plan to stop writing new homeowners' policies statewide in Connecticut and is expected to raise rates around the state -- including some substantial increases near the coast.
…and California:
Allstate Corp., California's third-largest homeowners' insurer, is signaling it soon might cut back or stop writing such policies altogether in the state.


While most of the state's major homeowners' insurance companies are cutting rates, Allstate is pointing to the state's potential for natural disasters and seeking a 12.2 percent rate increase from its policyholders. Allstate insures about one of every seven homeowners in California.
…and planning to stop new policies in Maryland:
Allstate Insurance Co. has agreed to back off from its plans to stop issuing new homeowner policies in some Maryland coastal areas, but only until it can supply adequate answers to questions posed by Maryland legislators.
The Maryland legislators have some good questions:
“I just don’t think it’s right, and a lot of other people don’t think it’s right either,” [State Sen. Norman] Stone said Monday of Allstate’s announcement, which had been scheduled to go into effect Feb. 14 before the company volunteered to hold off.

“What a great business if you could just pick and choose what you want to take — pick and choose where you’ll issue policies, only taking those you think will have few or no claims,” Stone said.

He said he understands why a company would either drastically raise premiums or refuse to insure a specific property with a bad history, “but to eliminate all properties on the water, it’s just wrong.”


[State Del. Joseph “Sonny”] Minnick said he’s concerned about the policy at a time when Allstate and other large insurers are enjoying record profits.

Alltstate made $1.8 billion last year and CEO Edward M. Liddy exercised stock options of nearly $40 million in December alone, according to Yahoo Finance online reports.

“But when I brought up Allstate’s profit over the last five or six years, the Allstate people told me this isn’t about money,” Minnick said. “Not about money? If this isn’t about money, then what’s it about?”
Back in 2006, former Allstate CEO and current chairman Ed Liddy addressed his company's profits:
Allstate CEO Ed Liddy makes no apologies. "This is a local business," he says. "Folks in Iowa don't pay for the people who live in Florida. Rates were too low for these fabulous homes in harm's way. Now we can see that, for years, rates in these coastal regions have been inadequate."
That’s why he and his cronies get paid the big bucks:
Allstate Corp. has approved 2007 base salaries for top officers, including $960,000 for Thomas Wilson, who became chief executive for the Northbrook-based insurer last month, according to a company regulatory filing Thursday.

Chief Financial Officer Danny Hale was awarded a base salary of $609,312, and Eric Simonson, president of Allstate Investments, was awarded a base salary of $625,248.

The base salary of Edward Liddy, the former CEO who remains chairman, remains unchanged at more than $1.1 million.
I am glad to see that making it harder to insure my “fabulous home” helps Allstate’s shareholders:
The Allstate Corporation (NYSE:ALL) today announced a quarterly dividend of thirty-eight cents ($0.38) on each outstanding share of the corporation’s common stock payable in cash on April 2, 2007 to stockholders of record at the close of business on March 9, 2007. This dividend is an 8.6 percent increase from the dividend declared in the previous quarter.
Allstate responded to Katrina and Rita, and still made a profit. Yet, the company asks for more money and less risk.

How much is enough?

Friday, February 23, 2007

An Insurance Broker in Hamburg, New York

Gets it:
The answer to this mess is to add flood (and earthquake) peril to all homeowners' policies nationwide, with much more adequate limits on the home and its contents. This will also eliminate the impossible task of separating wind and water damage while adjusting the loss.

I have no illusions about the resistance that will be encountered to implementing a change of this sort. Regardless of the insurance companies' advertising slogans, the bottom line always trumps any notion of serving the public good.

The challenge is to develop a system to finance the very substantial losses that this will entail. Without federal government reinsurance, it would not seem possible to limit the exposure of the insurance companies to an acceptable level.

The House Financial Services Committee will soon hold hearings to look into the "failure of the insurance system" to deal appropriately with claims from Hurricane Katrina and Rita. The insurance industry will testify that within the "system" they were nothing short of heroes.

The problem is that the "system," which the industry largely created, is hopelessly inadequate to protect people's assets after catastrophic flooding. While this topic may not resonate in Western New York, eyes will open if we sustain an earthquake, as has been predicted. It will be interesting to follow the congressional hearings.
With heroes like the insurance companies, who needs villains?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Not Having Cable Saves Me from This

Glenn Beck. Who is this dude?

Apparently, he is important enough to have radio show, a CNN Headline News show, and to comment on ABC News.

Past contributions to the Hurricane Katrina discussion:
But the second thought I had when I saw these people and they had to shut down the Astrodome and lock it down, I thought: I didn't think I could hate victims faster than the 9-11 victims. These guys -- you know it's really sad. We're not hearing anything about Mississippi. We're not hearing anything about Alabama. We're hearing about the victims in New Orleans. This is a 90,000-square-mile disaster site, New Orleans is 181 square miles. A hundred and -- 0.2 percent of the disaster area is New Orleans! And that's all we're hearing about, are the people in New Orleans. Those are the only ones we're seeing on television are the scumbags -- and again, it's not all the people in New Orleans. Most of the people in New Orleans got out! It's just a small percentage of those who were left in New Orleans, or who decided to stay in New Orleans, and they're getting all the attention. It's exactly like the 9-11 victims' families. There's about 10 of them that are spoiling it for everybody.
Scumbags? Anyway…

So, Scout Prime at First Draft posts a clip of an “interview” Glenn Beck did with Chris Cooper of Rising Tide Conference fame. I can not believe that this passes for journalism.

Beck starts of with a video clip from his radio show to introduce the topic:

BECK: I don`t want to kick a city when it`s down, but I just -- I mean, we`re not even rebuilding it properly.

I find it very difficult in some ways to feel bad for New Orleans, because you`ve voted your government in. It`s a bad government. You didn`t know that after Katrina, as you were sitting there and the buses were underwater, but the city of New Orleans would like to let you know that crime usually decreases during Mardi Gras.

The problems caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans are great in both magnitude and complexity. “We`re not even rebuilding it properly” means nothing until “properly” is defined, which Beck does not do. Instead, he attacks the city government, pulling out “the buses were underwater” again.

Yes, they were. Eighty percent of the city was underwater. That would fall under the “great in magnitude” category.

Beck then delves into the “great in complexity” category:
Just a few blocks from the parties in the French Quarter, entire neighborhoods are still lying in ruin. Nearly 50 percent of New Orleans` population hasn`t come home.

On this day to eat, drink and be merry, you`ve got to face some sobering realities. Before Katrina there were more than 2,000 doctors serving in the city. Today, 500. Before Katrina, 128 public schools in operation. Today, 56. Four thousand businesses have closed, 100,000 jobs disappeared, 62,000 families still living in temporary trailers.

The murder rate is soaring. It has increased 90 percent in the past six months alone.
Rather than recognize that these are the obstacles we face as we rebuild, Beck cites these as evidence that we are not rebuilding “properly.”

We can infer from his radio-clip introduction that Beck wants to talk about how bad the city government is. While an inept city government doesn’t help, Hurricane Katrina presented us with problems, as I said before, that are great in both magnitude and complexity. Government on the city level, and even the state level, can not solve those problems alone.

Chris Cooper gets it:
CHRISTOPHER COOPER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Hey there, Glenn. The biggest problem is, frankly, the federal government. They`ve...

BECK: Really? How is that possible?

COOPER: I know. That comes as a big shock to you.

BECK: You would think that it would be, I don`t know, the local government that is completely corrupt.

COOPER: They`re partially to blame.
Not only does he get it, but he gets it with supporting evidence:
Congress appropriated the money. It`s not the $110 billion that you always hear about. It`s about $26 billion or so for Louisiana. But they only appropriated the money under the color of what`s called the Stafford Act, which requires every local government to come up with a matching amount of money before any of the federal money can be used.

Well, these local governments are broke as a choke. They can`t come up with the dough.
An incredulous Beck doesn’t agree:
BECK: OK. See, I think the problem in New Orleans is -- is about corruption first over the federal government.

I mean, don`t get me wrong. CSX, the railroad, has already rebuilt the bridges coming into New Orleans. Private industry got it done, because they had to. They`re still pricing out and taking bids, you know, for the freeway system in New Orleans.

You`re exactly right. The government is out of control.
Ok. See, WTF is Beck talking about? CSX? Railroads? And, I didn’t even know that “the freeway system in New Orleans” was one of our big problems. That must be a conservative talking point that I missed.

And what does “You`re exactly right. The government is out of control” mean? Cooper just refuted Beck’s claim that the city government is the number one problem. Beck stood by his claim making it even clearer that he thinks the city government is the problem “first over the federal government.” Yet, he then says to Cooper “You`re exactly right.”

If Cooper is right, then Beck is wrong. My head hurts.

Beck changes the subject:
But when you`ve got crime and murder rate going through the roof, a 90 percent increase in the murder rate in the last six months, and people are walking from it. Everybody knows there`s a 60-day rule going around now. People know. I can kill somebody and serve 60 days and be done.
Once again, this simple statement completely ignores the magnitude and complexity of our problems. Cooper does a good job of trying to add some intelligence to the discussion by pointing out the lack of a crime lab. But, in this format, neither can really address the problems in the New Orleans criminal justice system. It’s too complex for a two-minute discussion.

I promise Beck one thing, though. If he kills someone in New Orleans, he will not serve 60 days and get out. I will make sure of that.

Beck then asks for help:
BECK: You see, I mean here -- Chris, I mean, just help me understand this because I -- I just fail to understand it. I read a story out of New Orleans today about a 17-year-old boy who came home, had been beaten up, and his mom says, "What happened to you?"

And he says, "I was beaten up by so and so."

She hands him a gun and says, "Go get revenge." He goes. He kills the other kid. The police grab him, take him home. Mom is there. On the mantle of the house is a picture of the kid with a gun in one hand, a fist full of cash in the other. This -- this family has glorified violence.

What does the police chief say? His response was, "We`ve got to fix the educational system here." What?

COOPER: I mean, clearly that`s a troubled mom. I don`t think that`s a...

BECK: No, that`s a -- that is a troubled police chief that says, "We have to fix the educational system." We`ve got problems with families here.
If Beck is ignorant of the need for better social conditions, like a better educational system, to attack violent crime at the root, then he needs more help than even a well-informed Chris Cooper can give him.

Cooper yet again responds with an intelligent answer, but Beck – no doubt running out of time – abruptly ends the interview.

Is that what passes for a news show interview nowadays? I miss Ted Koppel and Nightline.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bob Marley Sunday

... make that Ziggy Marley Sunday.

People Get Ready.

Not to be confused with People Get Ready. Although, with a post title like Our Stoned Mayor, I see where confusion can occur.

Good Hands, Good Neighbors, and Not-So-Good Faith

This is a long post. But if you make it to the end, you get a prize.

CNN investigated how insurance companies handled minor car accidents:
Since the mid-1990s, most of the major insurance companies -- led by the two largest, Allstate and State Farm -- have adopted a tough take-it-or-leave-it strategy when dealing with such cases.


In an affidavit in a New Mexico case where Allstate is being sued, one of the company's former attorneys said the strategy is to make fighting the company "so expensive and so time-consuming that lawyers would start refusing to help clients."

Shannon Kmatz, a police officer and former Allstate claims agent, said company employees were encouraged to get rid of claims quickly and cheaply and even offered accident victims as little as $50, telling them to take it or leave it.


The strategy, according to former Allstate and State Farm employee Jim Mathis, relies on the three D's -- denying a claim, delaying settlement of the claim and defending against the claim in court.
Interesting strategy. Where did it come from?
For Allstate and State Farm, according to documents obtained by CNN, the strategy was developed in the mid-1990s with the assistance of consulting giant McKinsey & Co.

Looking for a way to boost profits, McKinsey focused on soft-tissue injuries incurred in minor crashes.
David Berardinelli provides an example of how the strategy can boost profits:
Berardinelli is the author of "From Good Hands to Boxing Gloves," a book based on some 12,500 PowerPoint slides that fell into his hands during a lawsuit against Allstate Insurance Co.

The slides had been presented to Allstate between 1992 and 1997 by management consultant McKinsey & Co. as part of an overhaul (the Claim Core Process Redesign) of the insurer's claims handling process. Much of the presentation encourages Allstate to adopt a hard-nosed approach to claims.

One typical slide picked from the book refers to taking a stricter stance on settlements: "Stand firm on final offer with no real negotiation."

Another - and the inspiration for the book's title - distinguishes between the treatment to be accorded to customers who hire a lawyer to press for a higher payout and those who don't: The unrepresented get the "good hands" approach (settlements within 200 days or so); the lawyered get "boxing gloves" (resolution that could take three years or longer).
Shannon Kmatz, also quoted in the previous article, shows that the recommendations from McKinsey were put into practice:
The strategy outlined in the slides sounds much like the marching orders Shannon Brady Kmatz says she got when she was an Allstate claims adjuster. Kmatz, who left Allstate in 2000, says she felt under constant pressure to "fast-track" claims - that is, settle quickly for as little as possible.

"We called it throwing them a bone," she said. "You offer $500 and hope they go away."

She said she was also evaluated on how successful she was at convincing people to accept the company's offer rather than try to get more money by hiring an attorney. Adjusters who excelled at these goals, Kmatz says, were rewarded with free dinners and bonuses that could add up to a few thousand dollars a year.
Berardinelli sums it up:
Claimants in the "good hands" category may get swift reimbursement, but they will end up with less than they're entitled to, he says. Those who hold out for more -- and retain a lawyer to help them get it -- face battering in the courts and potentially years of delay. "You can get your claims resolved promptly or fairly," he argues, "but not both."
CNN concluded that this strategy was used on car accident claims. But, if it was profitable in the car insurance division, why not in the homeowners division?
Gary T. Fye of Nevada, an expert in the analysis of disputed insurance claims, has testified for policyholders in insurance cases.

Fye said: "The ACE redesign [McKinsey’s strategy] is an example of a strategic initiative. A strategic initiative changes everything, including basic assumptions of claims handling. ACE has been very problematic for policyholders and their lawyers because it is so difficult to trace. The company has changed nomenclature and purged documentation to conceal the origins and scope of these strategies."

Fye said teachings from ACE filtered down to State Farm Fire and Casualty, a wholly owned subsidiary of State Farm Mutual, in 1997.
And it is hard not to see the “throw ‘em a bone” strategy and the “three D’s” being used in hurricane claims.

Throw ‘em a bone:
To date [Feb 10], State Farm says, it has paid an average of $25,030 for structural damage to 794 policyholders left with slabs or pilings. State Farm had been unwilling to release the figure before Friday.
If your house ain’t dere no more, I don’t think $25,030 is gonna get it back.

Denial is the biggest of the three D’s:
Where wind damage covered by State Farm and water damage covered by federal flood insurance could not be separated, the company denied claims, infuriating policyholders on the waterfront from state line to state line.
And this denial gem:
In September 2005, while Oklahoma City attorney Jeff Marr prepared his case against State Farm for using biased vendors to deny policyholder claims from a 1999 tornado, the company descended on the Mississippi Coast in response to Hurricane Katrina with the same cast in tow.


He [Marr] represents 70 Oklahomans whose homes were subjected to the most severe category of tornado, an F5, on May 3, 1999.

No matter what the catastrophe, he said, in one interview, "the objective is the same: You go find an expert that's bought and paid for and you go get them to give you a report that justifies denial of the claim. Period.

"They represented that these engineers came up here to do an objective and fair assessment of these homes. And they got quite the opposite. Not one report agrees with the policyholder on the nature and extent of the damage. They all sided with State Farm."

A jury found in May that State Farm "intentionally and with malice breached its duty to deal fairly and act in good faith" with policyholders through the use of Haag Engineering Co. and independent adjusting firm E.A. Renfroe.
Haag, one of the companies State Farm used when it "intentionally and with malice breached its duty to deal fairly and act in good faith," then sent employee Timothy P. Marshall to the Gulf Coast to author a survey that would be used to determine claims:
In the survey, Marshall estimated Katrina's peak wind gusts at 115 mph in Bay St. Louis, the hardest-hit area. He concluded the storm surge arrived before peak winds and that there was no tornado damage along the Coast.

Reports from other sources measured wind gusts of 140 miles per hour, found evidence of tornados or tornadic winds and of wind damage well in advance of Katrina's unprecedented surge.

State Farm, Nationwide, Allstate and USAA relied on site-specific Haag reports, along with those of other engineering firms, to assess damage, Marshall has said in sworn testimony.

Attorneys who oppose State Farm believe the initial Haag survey played into the policy language the company used to deny hundreds of claims for homes and businesses Katrina swept away. The language purports to say no wind coverage exists if storm surge ultimately caused the loss. A federal judge has found the language "ambiguous" and "unenforceable," but State Farm has appealed the decision.
From tornados to hurricanes, insurance companies are acting in bad faith. And they are doing it following similar not-so-consumer-friendly strategies, sometimes formulated by the same consulting firm for several insurance companies, and sharing industry favorable estimates from the same company.

So, consumers are paying more for policies and insurance companies are paying less for claims, resulting in billions of dollars of profit for the insurance companies despite record breaking disaster losses. The insurance industry looks like it can do whatever it wants – not unlike a monopoly. Unfortunately, insurance companies are exempt from anti-trust laws.

Then again:
Senate and House leaders, including Sen. Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, moved to rein in the insurance industry Thursday by introducing legislation repealing the industry's federal antitrust exemption.

Lott, a fierce critic of the insurance industry's response to Hurricane Katrina, joined Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., on the Senate floor to introduce the bill, S 618. In the House, Taylor, Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore., Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-La., Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and others announced the introduction of identical legislation.

"Federal oversight would provide confidence that the industry is not engaging in the most egregious forms of anticompetitive conduct - price-fixing, agreements not to pay, and market allocations," said Leahy. "Insurers may object to being subject to the same antitrust laws as everyone else, but if they are operating in an honest and appropriate way, they should have nothing to fear."
And now, your prize. It’s my...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"We didn't know."

No more comment necessary:
Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan had a 20-year-old suspected killer within his grasp only a day ago, yet let him walk out of jail before he could bring the suspect to court on a felony gun charge.


But before Jordan's team can prosecute Treg on the gun charge, they have to find him. Because he had posted bond on the gun charge last year, he was able to walk out of jail not long after midnight Friday. The fact that Treg had been released from jail came as a surprise for prosecutors Friday.

"We didn't know," said Dalton Savwoir, Jordan's spokesman.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Why is this a setback?
In Setback for New Orleans, Fed-Up Residents Give Up


A year ago, Ms. Larsen, 36, and Mr. Langlois, 37, were hopeful New Orleanians eager to rebuild and improve the city they adored. But now they have joined hundreds of the city’s best and brightest who, as if finally acknowledging a lover’s destructive impulses, have made the wrenching decision to leave at a time when the population is supposed to be rebounding.
People are going to leave. Some of them will be of the “best and brightest” bunch. Let them leave in peace.

They will be replaced.

We fault our leaders for not making tough decisions. I will not fault residents who do make tough decisions, like leaving. It is far better for them to leave than to stay with one foot in and one foot out. That’s only good when you’re doing the hokey pokey.

Rebuilding the area will take two feet in.

And the NY Times article is the second time I saw leaving referred to as treason:
In battered but proud New Orleans, abandonment is a highly emotional subject, in part because many have made sacrifices to stay and rebuild. To some, leaving now is tantamount to treason.
The other day I read a NewsHour essay by Chris Rose:
One day we'll tell you we're making progress. And the next day, we're looking at want ads in Houston and Atlanta. Anyone who doesn't have a Plan B for the future here is crazy. Anyone who admits it is treated like a traitor.
You are not a traitor if you leave. You are making the decision that you think is right. Of course, you may be wrong. But you are not a traitor.

I will not put down another person’s decision to leave in order to make my decision to stay look better.

As the t-shirt says, "It's not beautiful being easy." And things won't be easy in the Big Easy for a while. Everyone must bear that burden. Even the "best and brightest."

In fact, I expect more out of the best and brightest. They are equipped to bear the biggest and heaviest burden, or at least pick up the slack.

Or pick up and go. Do whatcha wanna. Hang on the corner...

200 Strong

Cliff’s Crib asked for “at least 100 black men that are positive, strong, and working hard to do the right thing” and received more than 200. No surprise, really.

And I bet those 200 plus black men had positive, strong, and hard-working-right-thing-doing black men and women as their role models. If they didn’t, then I am sure they will be that person for the next generation.

The goal is not to be perfect. The goal is to be good. I’m working on it.

More Than Just Numbers

But if you are keeping count, murders number 23 and 24:
Two men were shot to death and a third critically wounded shortly inside a park car in the 9th Ward shortly before 6:30 p.m. Thursday, police said.
The Mayor showed up:
Mayor Ray Nagin was at the shooting scene and was seen comforting shaken residents who lived nearby.
I give the Mayor credit because he definitely had to go out of his way to get to this crime scene. It was tucked away in the 9th Ward before the Industrial Canal and behind the St. Claude bridge – no where near the parades or touristy areas.

UPDATE: WWL-TV headline - "Nine peope shot in less than seven hours," with a statement from the Mayor:
“Last month, I stated that one murder is too many in our community, our fragile city that is still on the journey to recovery. Tonight, I am deeply saddened that our young people continue dying in our streets.

“As I continue to work to address the systemic problems that have plagued our criminal justice system for decades, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of addressing educational and social problems that have plague our community for just as long.

“I commend the clergy for stepping up and working with the city to help our youth find a way out of a life of crime. We must all work together and unify as a community to save our children from violence.”

“This Ain’t Jerusalem”

No, it’s New Orleans:
He [Mandell Duplessis] was a seventh-grade dropout who had been dealing drugs since he was a teenager.


So home he went, about two months after the storm, to his old turf, and his old career.

Months later, Duplessis was dead. He was found fatally shot Aug. 4 on the steps of a trailer in the working-class neighborhood of Gentilly. It made for a minor post-Katrina story, but a depressingly common one in a city with a homicide rate that was the highest in the nation in the last six months, and about 15 times the national average.

Like many of the residents swept up in New Orleans' latest wave of violence, Duplessis was young, black and versed in the drug trade.

So, too, was the man police accused of pulling the trigger, a convicted drug dealer named Garelle Smith. Though apparently strangers, their life stories were remarkably similar.
You can not brush this off as “bad guys killing bad guys.” Every murder hurts the community.

The “bad guys” are often the fathers of the next generation, either by influence:
Duplessis, in his songs, described a different kind of epiphany, one sparked by the sight of a friend from the 'hood who had acquired a slick new car.

It was "a whip [that] looked like a space shuttle," Duplessis rapped. "I knew right then my whole focus in life was to hustle."
Or biologically:
When he [Duplessis] moved into his own place, drugs paid his rent. They paid for expensive sneakers, a fancy GMC Yukon Denali truck, and for the upbringing of the daughter he had fathered with an estranged girlfriend.
Just as the “bad guys” were influenced by their previous generation:
His mother loved him, but she was too strung out to raise a child. So Duplessis moved in with his grandparents when he was in the second grade.


Duplessis' mother sent him to a Catholic grade school until her drug habit ate into her finances. So he started sixth grade in a public school system that was considered among the nation's worst. Two years later, he dropped out.


Neighbors said [Garelle] Smith's father wasn't around much. Nor was his mother, Lynette K. Smith. She was arrested numerous times, and sentenced, in 1994, to two years in prison for crack possession and theft, court records show. The task of raising Garelle and his two sisters fell to their grandmother, Theresa.
This excuses nothing. But it explains a lot.

Our problems span generations. Our solutions don’t. We are too caught up on catching the bad guys, rather than preventing the bad guys.

Sure, we catch them. Mandell Duplessis had been caught before. Here’s a mug shot from 2004. And Garelle Smith was caught before, at least twice for murder.

The thing is, in 2006 they were both still up to no good. Duplessis’ rap lyrics suggest he was dealing drugs. After beating two murder arrests, Smith was arrested a third time for Duplessis’ murder.

The criminal justice system gets the bad guys and gals off the street. Then, it either keeps them off the street for life or rehabilitates them. When it works, it is a deterrent and prevents the bad people from doing bad things. In the case of Mandell Duplessis and Garelle Smith, our criminal justice system did none of those.

Warren Riley, Eddie Jordan, and all the judges in New Orleans – federal, state, or municipal – can not solve our problems. They can only deal with the person before them, not the generations before or after that person.

That’s our job. But I don’t know how to do it. I just know I can’t do it alone.

None of us is the savior. This ain't Jerusalem.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Real Tornado

I was hoping that it wasn’t. But, as the aerial video comes in and people start telling their stories, I see that it was.

Where the po’ family is on the West Bank, we heard the hail smacking against our windows and thunder that sounded like explosions. But we were far from the damage.

What a hurricane is on the macro level, a tornado is on the micro level. While there were less people affected by this tornado than Katrina, they were no less affected. Their recovery begins today. For some of them, it begins again.

The po’ family sends good vibes.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Posse Celebrates

Happy Darwin Day.

There are various ways to celebrate. I celebrate by focusing on making decisions in my life based on theories which:
1) are supported by mounds of empirical evidence;
2) have been tested over time;
3) make valid predictions.
While these criteria are for scientific theories, they work pretty well in your non-scientific life also.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunday Bob Marley

February 6 would have been Bob Marley's 62nd birthday.

"I feel so good in my neighborhood, so here I come again."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Two Sides to Every Story

Sometimes there’s more.

From the Sun Herald, “State Farm tells its side”:
"You kind of step back from it and look over the last month or so and you see, at least I see, examples that sort of strike me as convenient amnesia or schizophrenia, whether we're looking at the political environment, whether we're looking at the legal environment or whether we're looking at the editorial environment," said Michael A. Fernandez, vice president of corporate communications and external relations at State Farm headquarters in Bloomington, Ill.
With all that “convenient amnesia or schizophrenia” going around, it’s a good thing that State Farm keeps records:
To date, State Farm says, it has paid an average of $25,030 for structural damage to 794 policyholders left with slabs or pilings. State Farm had been unwilling to release the figure before Friday.
This is the tough part. Was it the force of the wind which blew over the houses? Or was it a wall of water that knocked them over? Really, there should not be a difference. But we all signed a contract that says there is.

On the flood insurance side, the National Flood Insurance Program paid its claims, even though it didn’t have nearly enough money of its own to do so:
GAO placed the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) on its high-risk list in March 2006 because the NFIP will unlikely generate sufficient revenues to repay the billions borrowed from the Department of the Treasury to cover flood claims from the 2005 hurricanes.


From September 2005 to March 2006, Congress three times increased FEMA’s authority to borrow from Treasury—from $1.5 billion originally to $20.8 billion—to help pay for claims from the 2005 hurricane season. As of August 31, 2006, the NFIP has paid out $17.3 billion in claims for 2005 floods.
Perspective: the NFIP collects only $2 billion a year in premiums and had used up its meager reserves when the 2005 hurricanes hit. The NFIP will probably borrow all of that $20.8 billion to repay claims filed since 2005. But at least it pays claims.

And in the “wind or water” dispute, when the NFIP paid, State Farm didn’t:
Where wind damage covered by State Farm and water damage covered by federal flood insurance could not be separated, the company denied claims, infuriating policyholders on the waterfront from state line to state line.
Mississippi Representative Gene Taylor has a term for that:
He remains convinced insurers wrote off losses to the National Flood Insurance Program in "one of the biggest Katrina frauds of them all."
I guess that’s the other side.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Steel Courage

Via the_velvet_rut, the 21st murder in New Orleans started as a fist fight and ended with the loser’s mother giving possibly the worst parental advice ever:
Narcisse said Johnson went home and gave details of the fight to his mom, 44-year-old Vanessa Johnson. She gave her son a handgun and told him to get revenge because he had apparently lost the fight.
Clarence Johnson is 17-years-old and still out there somewhere. The mother has been arrested.

This highlights how our violent crime problem spans more than just one generation. It took generations of neglect to arise and will take generations of effort to solve. But there must be a first generation brave enough to start it in order for there to be a next generation to finish it. Varg has some great points on that.

I count this as the 21st murder because this counts as a murder, too:
Today [February 4], the New Orleans Police Department announced the arrest of 21-year-old George Lewis, a local male, and booked him with 2nd degree murder of his girlfriend’s two year-old daughter. The offense occurred yesterday [February 3] at approximately 4:00 p.m,. in the 1400 block of South Lawn Street.


The Orleans Parish Coroners autopsy revealed the child suffered internal and external trauma to the body as the cause of death. Detective Raymond Ambose, conducted an investigation and arrested George Lewis and booked him with 2nd degree murder.
Shaking or beating a defenseless two-year-old child to death is as violent as a violent crime can get. It is just as cowardly as winning a fist fight with a gun.

So, in 39 days in 2007, we have had 21 murders. That’s about a murder every other day. It is also a murder rate of 98 murders per 100,000 residents. (My formula: 365 divided by 39 is approximately 9.36; 21 times 9.36 is approximately 196, which is the projection for the year-end total murders assuming the current rate stays the same; 200,000 divided by 100,000 equals 2, which assumes a population of 200,000; 196 divided by 2 equals 98, which is the projected murder rate assuming the current rate stays the same.)

What this also shows is the problem is not getting better. In the last half of 2006 (184 days), there were 106 murders (one of the 1/3/07 murders was classified as a 2006 murder). Using the above formula (365 divided by 106 is approximately 1.98; etc.), that comes to a murder rate of 105 per 100,000 residents in the last half of 2006. While 98 is lower than 105, it’s not much lower. And when the first 39 days of 2007 are added to the last half of 2006 numbers, the murder rate is 101 per 100,000 residents.

In light of the high murder rate and where the murders happen, I understand more why a Central City mother tells her child to use a gun to settle a dispute. I understand that it is both a cause of the problem and a reaction to it. Apparently, living in some parts of New Orleans requires courage of steel and, when that is lacking, steel courage.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Don’t Kill the White People or They Will March

At least, that’s what the NY Times thinks about New Orleans:
Most of the violence involves black men killing other black men. Out of the 161 homicide victims last year, 131 were black men. Most of the suspects were also black men.

When the pattern of black-on-black violence is occasionally broken, white fear and outrage are redoubled. This happened earlier this month after the killing of a white filmmaker, when thousands of people marched on City Hall to demand change, a majority of them whites.
I think it is accurate to say that the majority (over 50 percent) of the marchers were white. I’m not sure how much over 50 percent, but whites were the majority.

It is *not* accurate to conflate white “fear and outrage” of being killed by a black person with the reason people marched last month.

First of all, I am white. My “fear and outrage” were not “redoubled” when “a white filmmaker” was killed. I honestly don’t think that is possible because my fear and outrage had been maxed out for quite a while before that.

Second, Helen Hill was killed – a woman, a mother, an outstanding member of the community. She was killed and her husband, who shared her good qualities, was also shot. In front of their child.

Whether Helen Hill was white or black, how can you not be outraged by that?

Third, to single out any one murder as the cause of the crime march totally ignores the context in which the march took place. There were 162 murders the previous year in a city with less than half of its population back, which meant a murder rate of somewhere around 70 per 100,000 residents. The last half of 2006 saw almost twice as many murders as the second half.

As the title of the article says, our dysfunctional criminal justice system wasn’t working. Eight days into 2007, there were eight murders. The day after the march, two people were shot in Central City. A day after that, two men were murdered.

Dinerral Shavers – a man, a father, an outstanding member of the community – had been killed only days before Helen Hill. He died by the same violence that he had denounced in his singing. He wasn’t the target of the bullet that killed him.

Whether Dinerral Shavers was white or black, how can you not be outraged by that?

This context is why “thousands of people marched on City Hall to demand change.” It was not an occasional break in “the pattern of black-on-black violence” that sparked the march. It was the absence of a break in the pattern of human-on-human violence for the past year.

Did Helen Hill’s murder receive greater attention than that of a black male teenager shot in Central City? Yes. But I would not say that Helen Hill’s murder should have received *less* attention. I would say a murder of a black Central City teenager should receive *more* attention.

And that was the message for City Hall that day. Every one hurts.

Time to act like it.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sunday Bob Marley

With moving pictures, including Katrina pics.

"We can't take your slogans no more."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A History of Terrorists and the Levees

In reverse chronological order.

Michael Brown, February 2, 2007:
"Had terrorists blown up the levees in New Orleans, the response and recovery would have been different," Brown said, "and I know that, because I've been there."
Mary Landrieu, January 29, 2007:
“I often think we would have been better off if the terrorists had blown up our levees,” she said. “Maybe we’d have gotten more attention.”
Ashley Morris, January 8, 2006:
CNN, October 12, 2005:
"There's only one terrorist around here," said the Louisiana National Guardsman, as he paced outside the New Orleans Convention Center. "And her name is Katrina."

Jim Bernazzani might agree. He's the FBI's special agent in charge for New Orleans, a man who has spent years working counterterrorism.


The city, he soon discovered, might just as well have been hit by a terrorist attack. "For New Orleans, the net result is the same. Clearly the tourism industry getting knocked out -- that happened. The only target of opportunity that didn't happen was sinking a ship in the river.

"What we were preparing for, relative to a terrorist attack, had been handed to us by Mother Nature."
The “net result” was the same. What about the net response?

Friday, February 02, 2007

When the Army Corps of Engineers Comes to Town

No levee is safe.
The Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that 122 levees from Rhode Island to California are at risk of failing, potentially affecting thousands of people and requiring millions of dollars in repairs.
As further proof that New Orleans is no longer part of the United States, there are no Louisiana levees on the list (pdf).

Don’t worry:
But Maj. Gen. Don Riley, director of civil works for the Corps, told reporters that levees in the New Orleans area would be adequate once the current work is completed. He said Mississippi River levees are subject to very stringent programs and none in Louisiana shows any deficiencies.
Maj. Gen. Don Riley must also be making the distinction between a levee and a floodwall (what sits on top of the levee). If he isn’t, then he must not be reading Matt McBride:
It seeming that the storm on December 21, 2006 was a bigger deal than it even seemed at the time. So far, we know:

- the level of the London Avenue canal got within five inches of the Safe Water Level, which is depth of water above which a levee breach could be imminent.
That really scares me, by the way.

California had the most nominations:
Thirty-seven levees from Chico to Santa Maria are at risk of failing because of poor maintenance - far more than in any other state, according to a list released Thursday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
What happens after your levee makes the list? The cleaner comes in.

SACRAMENTO - The federal government says it is reversing an earlier decision and redrawing flood maps for a fast-growing region near the state capital.

The announcement today by the Federal Emergency Management Agency affirms that the risk of a potentially catastrophic flood is greater than originally believed.

FEMA officials say the levees in Natomas are substandard and don't meet the government's criteria of 100-year flood protection.
So, when does the three-foot rule go into effect for new construction in this “fast-growing” region?

Thursday, February 01, 2007


July 2006:
"We're talking about people that pretended that maybe they were God," Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. said, announcing second-degree murder allegations against Dr. Anna Pou, Lori L. Budo and Cheri Landry.

"This is not euthanasia. It's homicide," Foti said.


Foti said a forensic pathologist analyzed tissue samples and concluded that the four patients died from a lethal cocktail of morphine, a powerful painkiller, and midazolam hydrochloride, a central-nervous-system depressant, which has the brand name Versed. None of the patients was receiving those drugs as part of their care at the hospital, Foti said.

"The crime was that they took morphine and midazolam and injected it into the patients," Foti said.
February 2007:
In a development that appears to undermine the case against Dr. Anna Maria Pou and two nurses at Memorial Medical Center, who have been accused of murdering four elderly patients in the harrowing days after Hurricane Katrina, Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard said the physical evidence does not support a finding of homicide.

Instead, Minyard has classified each of the deaths as "undetermined," which means he cannot -- at this point -- conclude whether the four critically ill patients died by accident or from natural causes, suicide or homicide.
And it’s not for lack of trying:
Minyard said he reached that conclusion after reviewing the evidence and consulting with some of the top forensic experts in the country.

"We did everything we were asked to do," Minyard said. "We took toxicology and sent it up to one of the best labs in the country for them to analyze. . . . But as we stand now, with all of the consultants we have used in our investigation, the classification is undetermined."

Hail to the Recovery Chief

I hope Ed Blakely doesn’t start claiming he is the decider:
Indeed, throughout his comments, Blakely embraced his new role as New Orleans' recovery chief, one of only seven top City Hall aides who report directly to Nagin. He said he "recruited myself" to New Orleans' recovery effort, believing his experience rebuilding cities around the world made him particularly well-suited to the task and saying his expertise has been acknowledged across south Louisiana.

"FEMA has recognized me as the only authority for setting priorities for the parish of Orleans," he said.
Yes, the only authority… except for those pesky residents.

UPDATE: The Advocate story on his speech was more people-friendly than the T-P article:
"We’re going to rebuild the entire city. We’re not shrinking any footprints. We’re bringing every neighborhood back," he said.


"We’re going to build entire neighborhoods all at once." Whole neighborhoods will be elevated rather than “one house at a time," he added.


"I want to see jobs as close to people as possible," he said.


"I don’t want to see that same Wal-Mart look here," he said.


"We have to build smart, we have to build well, and we have to use the right materials," he said.


"The Police Department is not going to arrest itself out of this," he said, saying more job opportunities is one answer.

"We have to create employment opportunities all over town. You wouldn’t have time to commit murders if you’re working," he said.


He also said the city needs a training program to prepare workers for the massive rebuilding that lies ahead.
Sometimes I wish the media would just print the transcripts of speeches, press conferences, and interviews.

Every One Hurts

January 2007 – 17 Murders

01/01/07 – 1 murder
1) African-American man shot, 7:45 pm, 2300 block of Fourth Street
01/03/07 – 3 murders, 1 murder from 2006
2) African-American man shot, 3:29pm, 2900 Block of Saint Ann Street

3) African-American man shot, 3:44 p.m., at Industry and Press Streets

4) Randall Thomas shot, 6:54 p.m., 2500 block of LaSalle Street.

162) [Last Murder of 2006] Cheryl Nitzky, beaten, 6400 block of Roder Street.
01/04/07 – 2 murders
5) African-American man shot, 12:30a.m., 2119 Josephine Street

6) Helen Hill shot, 5:30a.m., 2444 North Rampart Street
01/05/07 – 1 murder
7) Jealina Brown shot, 7:20a.m., 7437 Pitt Street
01/08/07 – 1 murder
8) African-American man shot, 12:30a.m., 2530 Dublin Street
01/13/07 – 2 murders
9) Jeffery Santos shot, 6:15 a.m., 2228 Royal Street

10) Chivas Doyle shot, 11:56 p.m., 2526 Desire Street
01/14/07 – 1 murder
11) Christopher Ruth strangled, 3900 block of Annunciation
01/17/07 – 1 murder
12) Tyrone Andrew Johnson shot, 7 a.m., 2000 block of Allen Street
01/20/07 – 2 murders
13) Ronald Holmes shot, 9:40 a.m., 1324 Bienville St.

14) Man shot, 4 p.m.,431 S. Genois St.
01/26/07 – 2 murders
15) Man shot, burned, 3000 block of North Villere Street

16) Man shot, 7 p.m., 400 block of South Lopez Street
01/31/07 – 1 murder
17) African-American man shot, 2:18 a.m., 1900 Block of Delachaise Street