Friday, September 30, 2005

The Black Dog Alibi

alibi n. an excuse used by a person accused or suspected of a crime. In the original Latin it means "in another place," which has to be the ultimate alibi.
There's an old court house joke about the standard alibi defense to a reckless driving charge. "I wasn't driving that car. And if I was driving, I swerved to avoid a little black dog that ran out in front of me."

Local congressman Jeff Miller (R-Chumukla) was named nearly two weeks ago by the St. Petersburg Sun-Sentinel's Washington D.C. bureau chief Tamara Lytle as one of three Republican congressmen working on draft language (to be slipped into the mammoth combined federal energy and budget bill in a few weeks) that would allow oil and gas drilling off Florida's Gulf coast. She wrote:
The historic wall of solidarity among Florida lawmakers against oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is crumbling amid fears of rising energy prices.

When Congress begins work next month on a large tax and budget bill, it might include a provision allowing drilling in part of the eastern Gulf.

Instead of being blocked by Florida lawmakers, as efforts have been for years, the proposal may well be drafted by three of them: Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala; Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs; and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla [emphasis added].
Almost immediately, the superb St. Petersburg Times editorialized against the move, noting that these Three Oily Amigos were pushing a proposal that would allow drilling rigs within 100 to 120 miles of the coast.
Now there is a moratorium on drilling in most of the eastern gulf. The only part of the outer continental shelf being considered for exploration is Area 181 ... . Any so-called compromise to establish a 100-mile limit would actually move oil rigs closer to our beaches."
In fact, as Interstate4 Jamming correctly noted, drilling in the L-shaped Area 181 would occur directly south of Pensacola Beach by only 30 miles.

The following week, as we noted here, the Miami Herald factually reported, "several House members from Florida [including Northwest Florida's Jeff Miller] have agreed to endorse... the creation of 'gas only' leases in the long-coveted region known as the Destin Dome, off the coast of Fort Walton Beach, and other natural gas reserves 30 miles off the Pensacola coast."

As the U.S. Minerals Management engineers acknowledged at local meetings and in thick written analyses distributed during the last great fight over Gulf drilling, an even greater environmental threat than drilling platforms would be the necessary pipelines stretched along the shallow shore to carry petroleum to Mobile and Tampa Bay terminals.

Northwest Congressman Jeff Miller doubtless knows that his career will be over the moment the first tar ball bearing his fingerprints washes up on our "sugar white" sandy beaches. So, he's probably been counting on constituents not noticing. After all, a federal energy or budget bill, each of which typically runs to thousands of pages, is the perfect place to hide one's dirty work.

But Miller's strategem always was risky. It depended on a complaisant media as well as 1st District constituents staying asleep. Both were good bets, but no sure thing. So, he needed a fall-back defense just in case he was caught.

When the St. Petersburg paper's capital bureau reporter blew the whistle, it was time for Plan B: cook up a couple of alibis. Today, the outlines of that alibi became apparent: Jeff Miller will claim he's really defending the Gulf of Mexico against drilling.

And if you don't buy that, would you believe he was at lunch when all the bad things happened?

The story reads like a Grimm fairy tale. Yesterday, two congressman from the very distant states of Pennslvania and Hawaii who serve on the same committee with Miller "offered a radical amendment" to the energy-budget bill: "Remove, entirely, all federal bans on natural gas drilling to allow rigs within just a few miles of the U.S. coast."

Importantly, we are told "the amendment was expected" but "it also was expected to fail." As Wes Allison of the SPT coyly describes it, "But sometimes things happen."

Committee chairman Richard Pombo, a senior Republican leader from California who is said to have 'a fiercely honed instinct to rule' --
"declared a brief recess, and the committee members scurried across Independence Avenue to the Capitol to vote. When they returned a half hour later to resume the hearing, fewer than half of [the] committee's 49 members were there. It was lunchtime, and some apparently had stopped for a bite.

Pombo called for the vote on the Peterson-Abercrombie amendment anyway. To his surprise, a majority said "Aye."

Pombo looked around. His staff looked around. No one asked for a roll call to verify the vote. Suddenly the Peterson-Abercrombie amendment had been adopted, to be rolled into a larger energy bill expected to reach the House floor next week.
Get it? It isn't my fault -- I was at lunch when those two dogs ran out into the road.

Dutifully compliant stenographers of the press -- most of whom weren't even there to witness it -- today are serving up this ridiculous alibi to anyone who will listen. Here are just three examples:
  • Bill Kaczor, the Pensacola area AP correspondent (who's usually not so credulous as this) leads the pack with a Miller quote about how shocked (shocked!) he is: "Miller said he hoped talks with Pombo and other House leaders would resolve the issue and expects other affected coastal states to join Florida in opposing it."

  • Larry Lipman of the Palm Beach Post is right behind: "Twenty-two of Florida's 23 House members sent a letter to House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., a day after his committee adopted the measure as part of a broader bill that would also allow oil drilling in a large portion of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. * * * In the letter... the Florida lawmakers called the amendment a "reckless approach... (that) poses a catastrophic risk which cannot stand. Under no circumstances can we support legislation that includes this devastating amendment or similar language."

  • Larry Wheeler of Gannett's D.C. Bureau did no better. In his telling of the farce, "The speed and success of the legislation [i.e. the lunchtime amendment] stunned some Florida lawmakers."
Only Leslie Conn of the Miami Herald bothered to mention that Miller all along has been angling for a way to allow drilling -- and the necessary pipelines -- offshore from Pensacola Beach.

Today's opinion page in USA Today Florida Today gets it right: the whole charade is "rubbish." The truth is --
"Oil company opportunists and their sycophant supporters in Congress aren't missing a minute in their race to open vast areas of the nation's waters to gas and oil drilling.

* * *
That's why Florida Sens. Mel Martinez, R-Orlando, and Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, are absolutely right in opposing this destructive legislation, designed only to boost the already huge profits of the oil and gas industries.

The real solution is a combination of tough vehicle-fuel efficiency, energy conservation, and incentives for alternative technologies.

Until that's done, the U.S. will never be energy independent, and Florida's precious coastlines will be in grave jeopardy.
In the meantime, fairy tale alibis about "surprise" amendments and over-long "lunches" aren't any more convincing than the little black dog defense in court.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Plame-gate Resumes

Judith Miller bows, is freed from jail, and will testify Friday.

Apparently, the chief of staff to Vice-president Cheney, 'Scooter Libby', was her source.

Scandal Scorecards

Tim Grieve of Salon (registration required) provides, with links, a scorecard of current political corruption investigations "from Texas to Florida to Ohio, from K Street to Congress to the inner circles of the Bush administration itself."
Tom DeLay: The House majority leader was indicted ... on a felony charge that he conspired to launder corporate campaign contributions through the national Republican Party in Washington and back to legislative candidates in Texas.

Bill Frist: The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are both investigating the Senate majority leader's sale of shares in his family's healthcare business just before the stock's value plummeted in June.

Jack Abramoff: The Republican super-lobbyist, known to have bragged about his contacts with Karl Rove, was indicted in Florida last month along with his business partner on wire fraud and conspiracy fraud charges related to their purchase of a fleet of gambling boats. This week, three men were arrested -- including two who received payments from Abramoff's business partner -- in the Mafia-style killing of the man from whom Abramoff and his partner purchased the gambling boats.

David Safavian: The president's chief procurement officer stepped down two weeks ago and was arrested last week on charges of lying to investigators and obstructing a separate federal investigation into Abramoff's dealings in Washington. Some Republicans who received campaign contributions from Safavian are divesting themselves of his money now.

Timothy Flanigan: The president's nominee to serve as deputy attorney general has announced that he will have to recuse himself from the Abramoff investigation if he is confirmed because he hired Abramoff to help the company where he works -- scandal-ridden Tyco International Ltd. -- lobby DeLay and Rove on tax issues.

Michael Brown: The president's FEMA director resigned earlier this month amid complaints about his handling of Hurricane Katrina and charges that he and other FEMA officials got their jobs based on political connections and cronyism rather than competence or qualifications.

Bob Taft: The Republican governor of Ohio pleaded guilty last month to criminal charges based on his failure to report gifts as required by state law, among them golfing trips paid for by Tom Noe, a major Republican fundraiser who is the subject of his own scandal regarding the state's investment in $50 million in rare coins, some of which have mysteriously gone missing.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham: A federal grand jury in San Diego is investigating allegations that the veteran Republican congressman received financial favors from a defense contractor who allegedly bought Cunningham's house at an inflated price and let him live for free on the contractor's 42-foot yacht.

Ernie Fletcher: The Republican governor of Kentucky has refused to answer questions from a grand jury investigating whether his administration based hiring decisions on political considerations rather than merit. Fletcher has pardoned nine people in the probe -- including the chairman of Kentucky's Republican party -- and fired members of his staff.

George Ryan: Federal prosecutors made their opening statements this week in the criminal trial of the former Republican governor of Illinois. Ryan and a friend, Chicago insurance adjuster Lawrence Warner, are charged with racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, tax fraud and lying to federal agents.

And then there's Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. The grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame is scheduled to complete its work in late October. While neither Rove nor Libby is apparently a "target" of the investigation -- and while the "corruption" in Plamegate is moral rather than financial -- both men are known to have played a role in revealing or confirming Plame's identity in conversations with reporters, which may be a crime under federal law. missed several. This week, the legal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington launched a new web site called Beyond Delay.

The new web site appears to have a somewhat narrower focus. In keeping with CREW's philosophy that "No one, not even Members of Congress are above the law,” it currently lists the "13 most corrupt members of Congress." The list includes 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats, backed by detailed reports about each embarrassment.

It's a good bet more will be added soon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Q and A

Question: Why are so many top Republicans having such a bad day?
Answer: (circle one with your cursor)
(a) It's Bill Clinton's fault.

(b) It's the fault of the liberal media.

(c) Because Republicans only control the federal Executive branch, Legislative branch, Judicial branch, 93 out of 93 U.S. attorney offices; and 28 of 50 state governorships. No Republican will be safe until the GOP controls all the prosecutor and Grand Jury jobs in America, too.

(d) Because absolute power corrupts absolutely.

History of the World - Redux

Something that's happening with the Bush Administration's Katrina Recovery effort reminds Bark Bark Woof Woof of a great moment in the History of the World.

Murder Mystery

"Let us enter into some examinations for ourselves, before we make up an opinion respecting them. An inquiry will afford us amusement... ."
Cinco Bayou-based Why Now? has stumbled on what you might call a "locked bayou" mystery. Murder most foul!

Oily Politicians

From today's Miami Herald (free registration required):
"Talks begin today in Washington, D.C., that could lead to drilling off the Florida shoreline -- particularly along the Panhandle coast, where petroleum companies believe gas reserves are huge.

* * *
This time around, several House members from Florida [including Northwest Florida's Jeff Miller] have agreed to endorse a 125-mile "no drill" buffer around the state in exchange for the creation of "gas only" leases in the long-coveted region known as the Destin Dome, off the coast of Fort Walton Beach, and other natural gas reserves 30 miles off the Pensacola coast.

The measure, expected to be tucked into the House budget plan and the House energy bill, would eliminate the existing ban on drilling off Florida coasts, auction off leases to the gas-rich region along the Florida-Alabama line known as Lease Sale 181 within three months and limit the 125-mile buffer to five years for gas drilling and 10 years for oil drilling.
More here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Gassy G.M.

From Billmon:

The Wall Street Journal:
General Motors is pinning its turnaround on a series of new full-sized SUVs -- the very models whose sales have fallen as gas prices have climbed. GM previewed the redesigned Chevrolet Tahoe and several other 2007 models last week.
Billmon comments:
We're not talking about prudent corporate planners; we're talking about General Motors -- the same company that, at various points over the past 40 years, has bet heavily on the proposition that U.S. consumers would never buy cars made in Japan, that quality didn't matter because nobody kept a new car that long anyway, that safety could never be marketed because people don't like to think about car crashes, that the federal government would never impose auto emission standards because it would destroy the economy, and that sending private detectives to poke through Ralph Nader's garbage was a really smart way to discredit Unsafe at Any Speed.

Ethics Lesson (updated)

Today the Florida Politics blog points the way toward St. Petersburg Times reporter Joni James' revealing investigative report about the Citizens Property scandal-that-almost-was. The lede and follow:
Two months before two key executives at Citizens Property Insurance Corp. were asked to resign amid a plan to launch their own insurance firm, the pair had plotted a similar business plan with one of Citizens' own board members.

Documents obtained Monday by the St. Petersburg Times show that Edward London, a wealthy Miami businessman who left the board Aug. 1, lent his name in June to a business plan looking to raise nearly $21-million to form Citrus Insurance Group.
Citrus likely would have become one of those depopulation dogs we've mentioned before. The template is:
"Start up an insurance company on paper, collect a large 'depopulation' fee from Citizens, pay themselves handsome salaries and bonuses, and leave just enough left in the company coffers to hire a bankruptcy lawyer when a hurricane hits."
One of the more discouraging things to read is that then-board member London "tried, in his three years on the board, to curtail the bonus program because he considered it too generous." In the end, however, the business ethics lesson London says he learned on the Citizens Property Insurance board was "if you can't beat them, join them."

You can read the rest of the Times article here.


The intrepid Paige St. John has been picking through records that show "top executives of Florida's state-run insurer of last resort worked to launch their own company, with a unique proposal to steer business its way." Their 'unique' idea was to "cut in line" ahead of other private insurers, inaugurate a "Keep Out" plan to prevent customers from giving their business back to Citizens Property Insurance, and raking in unusually high compensation, including "projected bonuses of $30 million for assuming 138,000 existing Citizens policies" and "exemption from $7.5 million in ... fees required of other companies that take on Citizens business."

All this is detailed in a "48-page business plan ... written by then-Citizens CFO Jessica Buss, who included slots for herself as president, Citizens controller Corey Neal as CFO, and its new chief operating officer, Paul Hulsebusch, in the same role for Citrus."

St. John adds that "Buss resigned from Citizens in mid-August, after a company official confronted her about conflicts of interest." Incredibly, however, "she remains employed with the insurer as a consultant, working almost full time on financial matters at $75 an hour."

Visit Florida - If You Dare

"This law sends a message to people who are potentially unstable and have an itchy trigger finger that as long as they can make a reasonable case they were in fear, they can use deadly force against somebody."

-- Peter Hamm, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in the Orlando Sentinel
The always interesting and occasionally quirky Majikthise reminds tourists everywhere that "Florida's 'shoot first' law goes into effect on Saturday."

The first-in-the-nation Florida state law allows "citizens the right to use firearms to defend themselves at home or in public places if they 'reasonably believe it is necessary to do so'." [emphasis added] The new statute is the evil spawn of Northwest Florida state senator Durrell ("I seem to have misplaced my Hypocratic Oath") Peaden and the National Rifle Association.

The other 49 states and civilized foreign countries around the world -- all of which also have tourist attractions -- observe the centuries-old common law doctrine that people should "make every attempt to avoid danger before using deadly force."

But beginning October 1, Floridians in places like football stadiums, parks, streets and highways, bars, and other public places where alcohol often is consumed, no longer will be legally obliged to walk away or otherwise avoid violence if they can safely do so. Instead, they can shoot you dead with complete immunity.

So, go ahead. Visit Florida. Make our day.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Reviewing Rita

Hurricane Rita is no more. So now, with a little more than two months left in this dismal Hurricane Season, we can turn back to watching Cape Verde developments, the growing multi-billion dollar scandal over government contracting in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and Iraq's descent into civil war.


At least one man died on Pensacola Beach Sunday, apparently as he was leaving the water, and several others nearly drowned in the surf. These unfortunate developments ironically came right on the heels of a PNJ editorial praising the SRIA for its decision two years ago to put real money into lifeguarding visitors to the beach (an initiative courageously spearheaded by former SRIA board member Don Ayres).

Rita left at least two dead in Louisiana. That's in addition to the twenty-three who died in the spectacular bus fire during the Houston evacuation chaos. It's likely that even more lives have been lost in the "Cajun swamps of south-west Louisiana."


A photo gallery of Rita damage around Texas and Louisiana is available here at the Houston Chronicle web site. The New Orleans Times Picayune also has more.

Locally, as the Pensacola News Journal reported Sunday there was considerable sand erosion of the beaches -- particularly west down Ft. Pickens Road. Vigorous waves ate at Quietwater Beach on the Sound, too. Rita's outer wind bands easily reached the Pensacola area, ripping into newly-installed siding and other repairs which had just been finished at many homes on the beach, in Gulf Breeze, and in western areas of Escambia County.

Washington Post reporter Blaine Harden says, "For all the punishment that Rita handed out in Beaumont, Port Arthur, Lake Charles and other points northeast of metropolitan Houston, Rita will be remembered by most of the people who live along the Gulf Coast as a near miss." Still, many properties across Texas and southern Louisiana suffered serious flooding, fires, and more. As on-site reporters for the St. Petersburg Times report today --
"While Hurricane Rita may be remembered as just a tepid encore to Hurricane Katrina, a clearer picture of the misery and destruction it wrought on southwestern Louisiana emerged Sunday.

Entire towns were wiped away. Fishing villages were in splinters. An enormous chunk of the heel that makes up the state's boot-like shape was swamped with water.

"This is terrible," said Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, head of the Louisiana National Guard, after a tour of the worst-hit areas. "Whole communities are gone."


For coastal properties in Mississippi and Louisiana -- as Sunday's Pensacola News Journal observed following a group tour -- Hurricane Katrina earlier this month was far worse than our own Hurricane Ivan, never mind Rita:
A group of editors, reporters and photographers from the News Journal did tour the Biloxi-Gulfport coast last week, and absorbed a sobering lesson. As bad as Hurricane Ivan was, there is no comparison between what it did to our beaches and what Katrina did to Mississippi. Not even close.

For those who saw our beaches after Ivan, that might sound shocking, even disrespectful. But the Mississippi coast can only be described as a 50-mile-long Grande Lagoon ... only the destruction is more complete.

Yet as bad as it is, Escambia Sheriff's Office deputies, who have been providing crucial support to law enforcement agencies in the area, say the destruction only gets worse as you go west.

It is difficult to convey the completeness of the destruction in Mississippi from Katrina's storm surge. It is even more shocking when you understand that in Biloxi, just a quarter mile north of the beaches, the damage looks significantly less than what Ivan did here (except in low-lying areas on bays, bayous and canals -- the storm surge overflowed there as well).
Measured against Hurricane Katrina and what Rita could have been had it not weakened and veered away from Galveston and Houston in the last hours before landfall, Hurricane Rita was a disappointment to anyone who was expecting a dress rehearsal for Armaggedon. Houston Chronicle columnist Ken Hoffman seems to be among them:
Hurricane Rita barely brushed Galveston and pretty much missed Houston. A little of me was disappointed, I wanted to see what a hurricane felt like, but a lot of me was relieved.

* * *
When this is over, and everybody's home, two things need to be investigated and corrected: Houston's evacuation plans — and television news' role in making us all crazy this past week.

Lessons To Be Learned - Or Maybe Not

Evacuation plans? Most assuredly. The utter chaos attending Houston's evacuation exposed the fact that across the nation large city evacuation and relocation plans are embryonic or nonexistent." Someone urgently needs to find the answer to the question we asked the other day: "Where did all that Homeland Security money go?"

Beyond natural disasters, Newsweek is worrying that the Houston mess also holds disturbing lessons in the event of another terrorist attack. But Armchair Generalist isn't convinced. He thinks "the destructive power of a hurricane is perhaps unique, and an honest assessment of any future terrorist incident will be that the scale of destruction is much, much smaller."

Television Coverage

As for television, most people might agree that it wasn't as sensationally bad as in past storms. Katrina seems to have sobered much of the media.

To be sure, there were a few foolish television personalities -- one hesitates to call them "reporters" -- who went on camera to put themselves, unnecessarily, directly in harm's way. Overall, however, as the Associated Press observes, this time "there was little showboating from reporters."

Shepard Smith won wide praise for his uncompromising Katrina coverage. But even he fell flat at least once, you might say, during Rita:
"Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith was blown over while reporting from Beaumont Friday night. He struggled to his feet in the mud, then held onto a street sign for balance.

"It's just stupid to be out in this," he said.
Calling "stupid" what he was no doubt directed to do by some news producer may be about 'fairest' and most 'balanced' commentary in Faux News history.

One of these days a detached road sign or sharp piece of siding will slice through the air and decapitate someone's blow-dried hair -- live and on camera. No one needs that.

Ratings R Us

It's somewhat unfair to place all the blame for bad TV coverage on television. After all, those TV faces you see being pelted by rain are seeking to dramatize the wind and water for you, the television viewer. "Record ratings" convincingly prove that a great many of you want to see it, probably for the same reasons a great many people go to stock car races hoping, deep down, to see a flaming wreck.

Yes, television can be very foolish at times. In that, however, it merely mirrors our own occasional foolishness.

Perhaps as consumers of television hurricane reporting, we need to be "more better", as George Bush would say.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Nuances, Revisions. Corrections, Errata & Updates

Original graphic free for the taking

From Sisyphus Shrugged:
Dr. Frist had a blind trust that eliminated any conflict of interest over his hospital stocks didn't know if he owned any hospital stocks sold the stocks he didn't know he owned to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest had a blind trust by a complete coincidence sold his stock before the price dropped like a stone sold some stock.

That's his story and he's sticking to it.

'Night On The Town'

"Oh Lord won't you buy me a night on the town
I'm counting on you Lord, please don't let me down.
Prove that you love me & buy the next round.
Oh Lord won't you buy me a night on the town."

-- Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin
Predictably, power was down last night around the landfall point of Hurricane Rite, but some of the local bloggers in the Houston area whom we've been following were active.

Brazosport News reminded us that Port Arthur is the birthplace of Janis Joplin and home to the Janis Joplin Museum. Due to the storm the web site is currently down but Google has a rather dim cache of the home page. Visit the Official Janis Joplin web site to convey condolences.

After an attempt to evacuate, getting caught in gridlock, running dangerously low on gas, and deciding to give up and return, we learn from Barista's husband that she is well and back in Houston, riding the storm out with her mother in a "hardened" hospital. "Ironically," she finally found gas "right by the hospital."

But get this: at a station where all you had to do was tear the 'out of service' bag off the pump! Now, that looks like a trick you can try at home! Generation Why? gives a blow-by-blow account of his evacuation ordeal. It took him 9 hours to go 60 miles (consuming gas at 15 miles/gal.). Apparently, he just missed the bus explosion, too.

Matt Hardigree of the group blog Burnt Orange Report covered the local media -- which apparently was being uncovered during the storm:
The Reporter From KHOU-TV (11) losing his KHOU hat and chasing it into the Gulf of Mexico "Arnesto, can you... awwww!"
* * *
The guy who lost his hat, just lost his photographer and then holds up the wind measurement device (anemometer) and says "I think it's about 12 mph." Dr. Neil Frank (former head of the National Hurricane Center) is wise enough to tell him that his device is probably miscalibrated or he's using it incorrectly.

I'm relocating to the living room, an update when something happens or I get drunk.
There is more.

Familiar Rita Debris

24 Die in Bus Fire , Dallas Morning News
"We'll just have to keep on disastrously having
disasters until we finally get it right."

The eye of Hurricane Rita made landfall early this morning just east of Sabine Pass and Port Arthur, very close to the Texas-Louisiana line. So, the worst of the storm missed Houston.

Even before the storm has passed, however, a familiar kind of debris is beginning to be exposed. The New York Times describes one example.

We've seen it before, right here in Penaacola. It was 1995, Hurricane Opal. Six hours to travel five miles. Gridlock on I-10. Frantic radio readers warning people caught in their vehicles to take cover. Frightened people abandoning their vehicles in the middle of the road to run in a panic across the landscape.

As then, this week in Houston local emergency planners worried that no one would listen when they urged an evacuation. As then, this week in Houston nearly twice as many as expected -- in Houston's case, 2.5 million people -- hit the highways, producing "scenes of gridlock, chaos and mass frustration... [and] "deathtrap" highways.

Another recognizable result of the storm: Past negligence is exposed. In 1995, it was all the sub-par electrical and plumbing connections that somehow had escaped the notice of local building inspectors until Opal exposed them. In Houston, we're learning already --
The owner of the charter bus that exploded while ferrying nursing home residents away from Hurricane Rita has a history of financial and safety woes, The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday.
This one is familiar, too: even before the storm has passed, Houston blogger Off The Kuff was joining the debate "over whether or not the dangers of Hurricane Rita were overhyped (by the media and/or local politicians), and if that contributed to the extreme freeway gridlock yesterday."

Sound familiar, Opal surivors?

Here's an easy prediction: after a few months of back-and-forth over alternative evacuation plans, media bashing, political recriminations, etc., Houston officials will decide that next time only coastal residents and those in low lying areas should be evacuated; those on higher ground will be urged to hunker down and ride out the next hurricane.

That will be the new plan. But the "next time" it will be a different kind of hurricane. Maybe even a different kind of disaster. Maybe it will be a hurricane Ivan, whose high winds left Pensacola a "city of blue roofs." (It still is, even a year later.) Maybe an earthquake or a tsunami. Maybe a terrorist attack.

As with wars, we always seem to be preparing to fight the last disaster. Too often, too, even if planners struggle to think about the next one, as Easily Distracted argues "we not only waste money on empty scenarios and bogus futurology, but we fail to spend money in concentrated fashion on concrete preparations for those scenarios whose future occurance is not just hypothetical but practically inevitable."

It seems we'll just have to keep on disastrously having disasters until we finally get it right. Meanwhile, check in on other Houston area bloggers for perspectives from the inside of Rita's pathway.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Rita at Pensacola Beach

Only the outer-most bands of Rita have reached Pensacola Beach. Throughout last night and today, it's been mostly gusty winds, vigorous waves, eroding beaches, and needles of tiny sand grains slicing through the heavy air.

Frist's 'Seeing Eye' Trust

Original graphic free for the taking
"The notion that you have a blind trust but you can tell your trustee when to sell stock in it just doesn't make any sense. It means you have a seeing eye trust and not a blind trust. It's ridiculous."

-- Fred Wertheimer, in the Washington Post

Rita Edges Easterly

Mobile NOAA Coastal Warning for Northwest Florida
Escambia-Okaloosa-Santa Rosa Counties
430 AM CDT FRI SEP 23 2005



* * *

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Homeland Gridlock - Updated

"A mass evacuation ahead of Hurricane Rita became its own disaster on Thursday as traffic backed up for at least 100 miles when a million people tried to flee the Texas coast."
From Wikipedia:
  • "Acknowledging that "being on the highway is a deathtrap," [Houston] Mayor Bill White asked for military help in rushing scarce fuel to stranded drivers. Mr. White and the top official in Harris County, Judge Robert Eckels, admitted that their plans had not anticipated the volume of traffic."
From 2002 to the end of this month, the Bush administration has budgeted $114.1 billion on "homeland security," including disaster preparedness, and an additional $10.2 billion in supplemental appropriations.

Where did it all go??

Local Rita - Updated


Outer-most bands of Hurricane Rita reached Northwest Florida Thursday afternoon and evening, causing brief, hard rain over some isolated areas as far inland as Jay and Milton and gusty conditions along the coast.

Reports from Pensacola Beach are that vigorous waves are "wrecking" the loose sand mounds that now serve as mock 'dunes'. The beach itself is undergoing serious erosion in places. It was a "red flag" day. Tomorrow, look for much the same.

Although Hurricane Rita is expected to turn northwest over the next 12 hours, Pensacola Beach still could be at the margin of this very large storm's effects. According to the nearby NOAA Mobile Weather Station"the threat of rip currents is very high along area beaches this afternoon" and "a coastal flood warning is in effect from Pascagoula [MS} to Destin [FL] through tomorrow."

Furthermore, as Rita nears a Texas or Louisiana landfall, "winds will increase into the 15 to 20 mph range along the coast with higher gusts." Locally, "large battering waves" are expected through Friday.

The Mobile station also cautions that isolated tornadoes and "a detached rainband" or two from Rita remain possibilities, depending on how quickly it turns north before making landfall.

Evacuation Tales

With more than a million Texans on the move, it's not surprising so many bloggers have popped up to report how they're doing.

If you want a front-of-the-car seat, with audio capability on your computer you can listen in to Mattsapundit, an all-audio blog, as he mutters his way through hours upon hours of snarled traffic.

Generation Why? (whose motto is 'Every morning when I wake up, I read the Bible and the Newspaper because I want to know what both sides are up to') also is blogging on the evacuation route, by wireless or cellphone. The latest: "Over 3 hours and we've made it to Liberty, TX. * * * This isn't fun."

Another Houston area blog, Burnt Orange Report, has an endearing story about panic in the family as they prepare to evacuate. This is worth the read.

Kevin Whited over at Blog Houston shares a personal anecdote about how, in the midst of evacuating, a fraudulent telemarketer tried to hustle him. They never give up, do they?

The Barista lives in Dallas but found herself in Houston, nursing her mother who may be dying. Now they both have to evacuate.

John Little, on his Blogs of War, gives the details about his last-minute preparations and reports:
The highways are still a complete mess. People are moving 30 miles in 12 hours in some cases. News helicopters are showing freeways littered with cars that didn't make it due to overheating and gas shortages. It's nasty and you can bet that the state is going to get hammered for their questionable execution of this mandatory evacuation plan when this is all over.
Houston Heights blog By The Bayou is safe, sound, and getting appropriately sentimental about those less fortunate souls who are about to lose all they own.

The Houston Chronicle's Rita Blog is up and running. Mostly with news by the minute.

Likewise with the mint-new Houston-Galveston Emergency Blogger Network, which reports, "Many people have been on the freeways attempting to leave the area for over 15 hours. Many others, frustrated by the bumper-to-bumper standstill traffic, have turned around to go home after, for example, travelling 8 miles in 3 hours."

Even before leaving, Galveston area blogger Banjo Jones was worrying over what will surface after the storm. Writing on The Brazosport, he says "there is a veritable festival of volatile organic compounds being released right now while the various petrochemical plants shut down." Along the way, he links to this Texas list of reported chemical emissions released into the air the past two days. How many more haven't been reported? It's anyone's guess.

Leaving Houston

Yesterday we unearthed some Houston area bloggers. Looking in on them this morning, we find there's an interesting array of personal reactions, observations, and decision-making about Rita as this monster storm barrels down on them.

In Houston, "the anxiety level in this city has risen, as has my own," writes Right Side of the Rainbow. For example, Off the Cuff packed everything away in a Houston garage and, so he says, is awaiting Rita's arrival right there at home. Nervously. Meanwhile, he intends to begin reporting on bloggers who plan to stay or evacuate.

Those who are staying might want to consult the Houston surge map for a Category 5 hurricane posted by Truth A whole lot more of Houston than you might suppose will be affected. It was enough to convince Truth Serum. He's 'hitting the road'.

Even scarier is the flash animation surge map for 'Hurricane Carly' -- an imaginary Cat 4 'cane -- developed by the Houston Chronicle. Blogger Lou Manatti has a direct link to it. In sum:
"A Category 4 storm... surge alone would bury the homes of over a million people. Galveston, Texas City, NASA, Clear Lake, Kemah, much of Houston, all would cease to exist."
For him, it's 'Adios', as well.

Yesterday, Sci Guy hosted a short article from Dwight Silverman, who's inviting bloggers who do stay to take part in a Houston Chronicle experiment in "citizen journalism." Can't be sure if Slampo will participate. Wednesday, he was planning to stay put. Today, he seems to be waffling a bit.

He's apparently decided to use what might be called 'The Walmart Test':
Right now our informal poll shows about 40 percent staying, 20 percent going, and the rest, as the pollsters say, are undecided.

We wish we had more time to think about this.

In the meantime we're headed back to our 24-hour Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. If it’s closed, we’ll take that as a sign from God to join the movement of the people. If it’s open, we’re sure we can find something to buy. Or someone to talk to.
Still another apparently let others decide for him:
So it's official. My family and I are staying put through the storm. Personally, I think we're insane, but.. what can you do, y'know? I have no control over their decisions.
This will sound familiar to nearly everyone along the Gulf Coast. Some people over at Metroblogging yesterday were reporting gas shortages all over the city. No Space for Rent likewise says:
There are very few supplies left at stores with no more shipments expected in. Gas stations are out of regular gas, and there are long lines for the small amount of supreme gas that remains.
If you're an oil platform, or love one, check in on the fellows over at The Oil Drum. They have the latest info on "the worst spots in Tx for Rita to hit." Thursday, they added a disturbing chart that shows a steady annual rise in the frequency of Category 4/5 hurricanes since 1970.

Pink assures everyone, "We doubt that Rita will leave us with a Katrina-like mess, but what do we know?" No idea if he's staying or going.

And, speaking of not knowing much, Winding Road In Urban Area has an interesting observation about the students she teaches at a local community college. Besides being unable to understand the potential devastation they're facing --
They could not understand the logistical problems of long lines, water and gas shortages, and perhaps no standing college campus much less classes on Monday. They want to know things like how long will the storm last, how long without phones and electricity. * * * They don't read the paper, they don't watch the news, and they do not relate to the unfolding events around them.
Is this age group known as the Gameboy Generation?

Chief Executive Drop-out from Galveston left a poignant sketch of a harried mother getting the kids, and dogs, and frogs, into the car as they all evacuate:
Kids crying as we try to leave. Their mother just realized what is actually going to happen here. Kids wanting to get extra teddy bears, dolls, etc. in the cars but just no room because they are bringing 3 dogs and kennels.

* * *
Well have to go deal with crying people now. 8 won’t let her frog go…she thinks she is saving his life! Geez! Everything is a fight now. Now they are asking why I have toilet paper in the cars……I am explaining that we will be in cars a very long time because it is very slow getting out as everyone is trying to get out. Explaining...

* * *
We are outta here
For Smoke On The Water evacuating from home means "stripping the boat" and packing his "papers, clothes, minimal survival cookware. My laptop. Guns and ammunition. All of it." And, he adds, "my two liveaboard cats."

Someone else has kindly taken over Smoke's blog while he and his guns and cats try to outrun the storm.

Good luck to all! And, we wish quick second thoughts to those who haven't yet evacuated.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Repairing Barrier Islands

Why Now? links to a CBS television news story, Katrina-Damaged Islands Overlooked."

In the original article, U.S. park ranger Bill Whitaker --
says the chain of the barrier islands from Florida to Louisiana can't take many more beatings like this.

"It's not so much an isolated hurricane, but the chain of hurricanes we've had over the past dozen years," Moore explains.

The problem is not just the devastation of these barrier islands, but the weakening of our first line of defense against future Katrinas. These islands act as hurricane speed bumps.

And they are washing away. Katrina laid waste to the islands off New Orleans.

* * *
"The coastal wetlands and barrier islands that provide such an important buffer are beginning to erode and disappear at a very serious rate," Peter Frumhoff, a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, says.

* * *
Rebuilding the Gulf Coast is a national priority. So far, rebuilding these islands is not.

Houston, You Have A Problem

Hurricane Rita is now a Category 4 storm.

Last February, the Houston Chronicle ran a short article by Eric Berger describing an engineering model of the "worst case scenario" for a hurricane strike near Houston.
A landfall here would allow its powerful upper-right quadrant, where the waves move in the same direction as the storm, to overflow Galveston Bay. Within an hour or two, a storm surge, topping out at 20 feet or more, would flood the homes of 600,000 people in Harris County. The surge also would block the natural drainage of flooded inland bayous and streams for a day or more.

Coastal residents who ignored warnings to flee would have no hope of escape as waters swelled and winds roiled around their homes. Very likely, hundreds, perhaps even thousands, would die.

Meanwhile, as the storm moved over western Harris County, its most dangerous winds, well in excess of 120 mph even inland, would lash the Interstate 45 corridor, including Clear Lake, the Texas Medical Center and downtown.

Many older buildings could not withstand such winds.

Anything not tied down, from trees to mobile homes to light poles, would become missiles, surreally tumbling and flying through the air, flattening small houses, shattering skyscraper windows and puncturing roofs.

* * *
Various studies of a large storm hitting the Houston area have estimated that 100,000 to 125,000 homes would be destroyed.
They're looking at damage that could total "as much as $40 billion to $50 billion," or "approximately the city of Houston's entire budget for the next 15 years."

Blogging Houston-Galveston

Done, so you don't have to.

Houston Blogs:

  • Houston Strategies. Blog by a Houston "social systems architect," whatever that is. Updating the hurricane daily.

  • Diane's Stuff. Good blogging while plywooding.

  • (Sometimes) Photoblog. Close-up photos of bees and such from a Houston photographer, but he provides these helpful links to local weather radar.

  • Alex Maccise. Intensive graphics, audio, and video links. Has a Houston webcam but it was off-line last we checked.

  • Patron Belle Lettres Teresa is 21 years old, works in "fragrances" at Sears, and hopes to go to college. She writes, "I am here in Houston and now we are told to go farther north than Houston! This sucks! * * * My neighborhood has begun to flood easily lately as I noticed the last time that we had a heavy constant down pour - and Ricardo was able to play with his remote control boat in the front yard!

  • Right Side of the Rainbow. Blog by a self-described "right-of-center, gun-owning, gay Texan."

  • A Day In The Night of a Stripper. 37-year old Houston teacher, Brighton, reports, "We are outta here."But she'll resume posting soon from a nearby evacuation hidey-hole. (Why on earth would a school teacher give such a name to her blog??

Sugarland Blogs

Galveston/Texas City Area Blogs:

Rita Intensifies, Heads West

Hurricane Rita "largely spared the Florida Keys on Tuesday. It has continued to strengthen, and widen the wind field, as it entered the Gulf of Mexico.

The good news for Pensacola is that the probability Rita will come within 65 nautical miles in the next few days has continued to drop. It is now at only 3 percent.

The bad news is that the Hurricane Center says early Wednesday morning "It would not be a surprise if Rita became a Category 5 hurricane in the next 24 hrs" and surely will be a Category 4 "later today." For Texas, there's more bad news. The consensus forecast calls for landfall somewhere along the central Texas Gulf Coast, including Galveston.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Safavian Affidavit

They didn't wait long enough to draw one honest breath before corrupting the system to line their own pockets.
Yesterday's arrest warrant for the Bush Administration's kingpin federal property manager, David Safavian, was based on a 14-page affidavit by F.B.I. agent Jeffrey Reising. Raw Story is the first to publish the entire affidavit on line.

Key portions of the F.B.I. affidavit quote from private emails exchanged among Safavian, Jack Abramoff, and Abramoff associates. Abramoff, of course, is "an influential Washington 'super' lobbyist and conservative activist" close to both George Bush and House Speak Tom Delay.

Apart from the issue of legal guilt or innocence, the emails reveal on the part of Abramoff, Safavian, and the rest of their associates a level of "me first" greed, betrayal, depraved indifference to the public interest, and bald-faced lying that is dispiriting. They didn't wait long enough to draw one honest breath before they began corrupting government to line their own pockets.

The affidavit alleges in part:
17. On or about May 16, 2002, Safavian became Chief of Staff of GSA.

18. By May, 2002, Lobbyist A [well known to be Abramoff] was seeking to find a new location for Entity A. On May 24, 2002, Lobbyist A sent an e-mail to Safavian's home e-mail address asking if GSA had property available for a school.

19. On June 14, 2002, Lobbyist A notified one of his lobbying colleagues via e-mail that Safavian "was going to join us in Scotland." The lobbyist replied, "Why Dave? I like him but didn't U did as much. Business angle?" Lobbyist A replied back on June 15, 2002, "Total business angle. He is new COS of GSA."
After additional inquiries from Abramoff to Safavian about various federal properties he wanted for himself, using his private home email address Safavian gave him a status update, shared information that would give Abramoff preference and a cover story using his Indian tribe gaming clients, and urged him to "ramp up on this as it is progressing. Let's discuss."

Over the next two months, the affidavit details, Abramoff asked for and received Savanian's personal assistance in arranging a surreptious visit to federal property he wanted, calculating which congressmen could be approached (and corrupted) for help, and plotted using various decoys like a "short term lease" to get Abramoff's nose under the federal property tent.

Invited onto a private plane for the golfing trip to Scotland, on July 25, 2002, Safavian went through the motions of asking for an internal government ethics opinion "regarding his acceptance of free air fare" for the trip. But he lied outrageously in framing the ethics issue.
"I (along with [two] members of Congress and a few Congressional staff) have been invited by a friend and former colleague on a trip to Scotland to play golf for four days. * * * The host of the trip is chartering a private jet to take the eight of us from BWI to Scottland [sic] and back. He is paying the cost of the aircraft regardless whether I go or not. In fact, none of the other guest [sic] will be paying a proportional share of the aircraft costs."
* * *
"One other point of relevance: The host is a lawyer and a lobbyist but one that has no business before GSA (he does all his work on Capitol Hill.)"
There's much, much more to the F.B.I. affidavit... How Safavian met secretly with Abramoff. How he personally lobbied GSA personnel internally to grease the deals for Abramoff. How Safavian assisted Abramoff in drafting necessary documents, secretly disclosed government documents to him, arranged business meetings for him, suggested Abramoff's wife should be used as a front and that she should use her maiden name to hide Abramoff's role, etc. etc. etc.

Mr. Bush appointed Safavian over three years ago to the critical job of setting policy for all federal contracting, including the Bush-beloved "privatizing" of federal property and services. Like the disgraced former FEMA director, Mike Brown, there was nothing in his education, training, or experience to recommend him for the job -- except loyalty and hefty campaign donations to Mr. Bush. Just days ago -- when the White House had to have known he was about to be criminally charged -- Safavian was given added responsibility, as the New York Times reports, for "working on developing contracting policies for the multibillion-dollar relief effort after Hurricane Katrina."

Is there anyone who thinks whatever yokel Mr. Bush appoints next to that job is likely to be any better -- or more honest?

Rita Reaches Category 2


24 More Hurricane Names

With about ten weeks left in the '05 Hurricane Season and only four unused storm names remaining, some people are concerned the National Hurricane Center may run out of names before November 30.

Not to worry. NHC policy is they will simply borrow 24 letters from the Greek alphabet. With a little bit of luck, that ought to be enough.

Hurricane Rita & Trailing Troublemakers

At 8:15 a.m. CDT Rita was officially declared a Category 1 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center. After crossing the Florida Keys later today, consensus forecasts still are calling for a terminal landfall somewhere between Galveston, Tex., and near Lake Charles, La.

The NHC currently pegs the probability of Rita coming within 65 nautical miles of Pensacola at only 7 5 percent. However, past experience suggests the possibility that significant changes in the storm's path can occur after it enters the Gulf of Mexico.

The NHC is keeping an eye on two other potential trouble spots behind Rita which are coming into the picture: "An upper low in the west-central Atlantic" and another one "centered just southeast of the Azores."

Bush's Procurement Chief: Then & Now

"I've got a good administration, really good people."
George Bush, July 23, 2004

"President Bush has tapped David Safavian, the General Services Administration’s Chief of Staff, to serve as the new administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy."
(June 15, 2004):
"If Safavian is confirmed, he would take office at a time of increased procurement scrutiny. Ethics fallout over Boeing executive Darleen Druyun's criminal plea, controversy about the use of contractors in Iraq, and revelations of questionable practices at F[ederal] T[echnology] S[ervice] could spur further investigation. Those who know him predict Safavian would move quickly to improve the management of services contracting, possibly by writing a new section of the Federal Acquisition Regulation."
(September 20, 2005):
"The Bush administration's top federal procurement official resigned Friday and was arrested yesterday, accused of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government.

* * *
The complaint, filed by the FBI, alleges that David H. Safavian, 38, a White House procurement official involved until last week in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, made repeated false statements to government officials and investigators about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002.

It also contends that he concealed his efforts to help Abramoff acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area. Abramoff is the person identified as "Lobbyist A" in a 13-page affidavit unsealed in court, according to sources knowledgeable about the probe.

Until his resignation on the day the criminal complaint against him was signed, Safavian was the top administrator at the federal procurement office in the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he set purchasing policy for the entire government.
There's more on The Project for Governmental Accountability.

Shorter Mark Schmitt

Shorter Mark Schmitt at the Decembrist:
That leaves the question, do we need to offset the spending for Gulf Coast reconstruction? In theory, of course not. That's exactly the kind of project that one runs deficits for -- a crisis, a major capital investment, an undertaking that will yield economic benefits into the future.

But it is exactly the reason that one doesn't want to run massive deficits routinely in good economic times. It makes it all the more painful when you do have an emergency or a recession. It is the deficit that pre-existed Katrina -- projected at $4.5 trillion over the period 2006-2015 -- that we need to be concerned about and that will take a toll on our economy.

Monday, September 19, 2005

They Shoot Dogs, Don't They?

Dallas Morning News photojournalist David Leeson video-filmed the varying responses of federal and local officials in St. Bernard Parish to stray dogs left behind in Katrina's wake. (Common video plug-in player required).

Rita Forecast: Stronger, Bigger, More Northerly - Updated

As of 11 am EDT Monday, the National Hurricane Center still estimates the chances of Rita passing within 65 nautical miles of Pensacola in the next four days at only 7%. But the forecasting models are showing a more northward shift.

Current NHC findings include --
  • Rita is strengthening and developing a "substantial inner core convection for the first time";
  • The storm is moving north-northwest at 10 mph;
  • "Most of the models have shifted farther north late in the forecast period over the western Gulf of Mexico;
  • "the size of the storm is increasing";
  • Conditions are conducive for further strengthening -- and "an expanding system";
  • "All indications are that Rita will become a major hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico."
As of 11 am Monday, the NHC is warning that "storm surge flooding of 6 to 9 feet above normal tide levels... along with battering waves" is possible in the Florida Keys. "Coastal storm surge flooding of 3 to 5 feet" is possible "along the extreme Southeastern Florida coast... and in the Northwestern Bahamas."

The consensus modeling forecasts for eventual landfall still target South Texas or the Mexican coastal state of Tamaulipas late this week.

The Keys News is reporting that a mandatory evacuation has been ordered for the lower Florida Keys, and there is some concern Rita may become a Category 2 hurricane before striking somewhere in the island chain. Many of the amateur storm watchers at Hurricane City's message board are predicting a first landfall in the northern Keys.

More on FEMA Waste

Florida blog Bark Bark Woof Woof calls attention to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel series exposing waste, fraud, and political abuse of FEMA.

"Ironically," 'Bark Bark' observes, "all those in favor of "small government" usually keep their mouths shut until the check clears.

Death By Chocolate

Depressing news: No chocolate for dogs

The current issue of the respected British Medical Journal reminds us that "chocolate is potentially lethal to dogs."
[T]he main toxic components are the methylxanthine alkaloids theobromine and caffeine.

* * *
Theobromine primarily affects the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system... . The first signs of poisoning in dogs include vomiting, haematemesis, and polydipsia.

Other signs may include hyperexcitability, hyperirritability, tachycardia, excessive panting, ataxia, and muscle twitching. Effects may progress to cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, and death. Most symptoms will begin to appear within two hours of ingestion, but, as theobromine is metabolised slowly, it can take as long as 24 hours for them to appear and up to three days for recovery.
As little as one one-thousandth of an ounce per 1,000 pounds of body weight can be lethal.

A Hawkeye Hurricane

"They don't seem to realize that every one of these storms did more damage in two hours than Osama bin Laden did in his whole career."

-- Frank Reddis, emergency management coordinator of Miami-Dade County
The St. Petersburg Times answers a question many have wondered about: What ever happened to FEMA's 'mitigation' grant program? The answer:
Of 785 applicants this year, fewer than 150 have been awarded grants. By far the biggest recipient is Iowa, which ranks 30th in population but got 36 grants, or almost a fourth of the total number.
Parts of Iowa regularly suffer from Spring floods along the Mississippi and its tributaries, of course. But 25% of all FEMA mitigation grants?

In fairness, all those Iowa grants amount to only "about 4 percent of the $27-million awarded thus far," as senior Times correspondent Susan Taylor Martin points out. Smaller grants awarded in dribs and drabs seem to be the order of the day.

The reason is the Bush administration cut FEMA's mitigation budget in half -- "and got off to such a slow start that 2005 marks only the second round of grants." Even worse, "the Republican controlled Senate wants to cut next year's funding to $37 million... a 75% reduction."

As Pinellas County Emergency Management director says, that's "too small a pot of money to be spread out nationwide. It's difficult to get a large-dollar project funded."

So, the Hawkeye State wins. And the Gulf Coast slogs through hundreds of miles of mud and debris.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

T.S. Rita

Rita is still forming, according to the National Hurricane Center, but she's strong enough to qualify as a tropical storm, effective Sunday evening.

Mississippi Beating

Credit: Marshall Ramsey, The Clarion Ledger

Mississippi state Attorney General Jim Hood is taking an early beating from editorial writers in Mississippi newspapers for his recently filed lawsuit "in behalf of Mississippi residents and/or property owners in and around the Mississippi Gulf Coast."

Hood has sued multiple property insurance companies, among them a line-up of the usual suspects like Farm Bureau, State Farm, Allstate, USAA, and Nationwide. (Meanwhile, Oxford private attorney Richard ('Dickie') Scruggs also says he is preparing to file "thousands of lawsuits" for individual clients with similar complaints.)

Hood's lawsuit raises five claims. In three of them, he alleges that insurance company attempts to avoid coverage under an asserted provision excluding 'flood' coverage are against public policy, unconscionable, and ambiguous. The fourth claim asserts that for years the defendants have sold policies in Mississippi coastal communities on the representation that they "specifically contemplate full and comprehensive hurricane coverage... ."

The fifth claim is in some ways the most novel, fact-specific, and urgent for it alleges that adjusters sent into Mississippi are:
"at present utilizing forms and other documents requiring policyholders to acknowledge and concede...disputed factual issues to the benefit of the defendants [insurance companies] and to the prejudice of the polciyholders."
A current example of this is attached as "Exhibit A" to the attorney general's complaint. It's a form apparently presented to Mississippi policyholders which requires them to concede they suffered a "Flood loss."

Local editorialists around the state are coming down hard against Hood's lawsuit. The south Mississippi Sun Herald is particularly snarky, claiming the attorney general has gone "overboard," is 'not following the law,' and "is sending a dangerous signal to the entire private sector." Equally unimpressed are the Meridian Star and the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

As it happens, Mississippi does not have a "value policy" statute, as Florida did until earlier this year and as other, many more progressive states still do. So far as the wind-vs-water issue is concerned, consequently, unlike the hundreds -- if not thousands -- of Ivan-related lawsuits in Florida, the Mississippi lawsuit appears to rest most heavily on what Hood alleges is the common law of the state of Mississippi. That, of course, has little if any relevance in Florida.

Insofar as Hood's suit depends on Mississippi common law, he may or may not be right. It will take extensive legal briefing, oral arguments, and no doubt years of appeals before anyone can be sure. But you can be sure right now of one thing: the Mississippi editorial writers don't have a clue what they're pontificating about.

Until the evidence is in and the law has been researched the newspaper chains in that state, and the few remaining independents, would better serve the public if they reserved judgment, did a more honest job of reporting the facts as Media Matters urges, and stopped jumping to judgment as fast as an old time Mississippi lynch mob.

Ophelia Dies, Phillipe Is Born

Queen Gertrude: One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
So fast they follow; your sister's drown'd, Laertes.
-- Hamlet, Act. IV, Sc.7
NHC's last on Ophelia:
Being an extratropical low pressure system, Ophilia [is] forecast to continue moving... across Newfoundland during the day Sunday... . This will be the last tropical cyclone advisory on Ophelia."
NHC on newly-name Phillipe: