Tuesday, December 26, 2006

And So This Is Christmas...

I keep hearing in my head the lyrics to that song "Happy Christmas (War is Over)":
So this is Christmas,
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun...

It's Christmas again, for the 2nd time post-K, and what have we done? It was hard putting myself into the Christmas spirit this year with the constant thoughts running through my head that things are not looking good down here, this long after the fact. Even though I was surrounded by family and loved ones, there weren't as many as usual because some of them don't live here anymore. Everyone who was there didn't seem to be in as festive a mood as in past gatherings. Maybe it was just my own perception, but a friend from New Orleans shared that her family gathering felt more subdued, perhaps even a bit depressing, too. After all, Baton Rouge just isn't home to them -- not yet anyway. Last Thanksgiving and Christmas was like this too, but that was to be expected less than 4 months after the fact.

I am certainly not ungrateful for the people and the things I still have and for this Christmas, which was still more than many people will ever have. Still, it's not MY Christmas, and I can't help but wonder how many more Christmases before Katrina doesn't dominate our conversations and our new lives, and when our "new lives" will just feel like regular ole everyday lives.

Hope, however, does spring eternal. Otherwise, why would we still be here? Fortuitously, for the first time since I can recall, I wasn't infuriated or completely disheartened by the news. There were actually developments to be hopeful about. The new Congress will FINALLY look into the fat no-bid disaster contracts that went to already wealthy companies well-connected to the White House. State legislators have wised up to the notion that they should question ICF's contract, and are finding some questionable allocations. Democrats and Repubs from LA and MS may actually unite to take on the insurance companies, now that they've even screwed Trent Lott. The Saints (need I say more?). Hell, who knows? Maybe Nagin will miraculously wake up mute next week!

Whatever the case, or however down I feel today (and I must keep emphasizing that this is how I feel today, right now), I have no choice but to keep going because at this point the alternative is an even less acceptable option. It's not like anyone promised any of us blissful holidays for eternity anyway, and who are we to demand such?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

ICF International Wouldn't Lie to Us, Would They?

Today's Times-Picayune featured an article on the slow progress of the Road Home Program stating: "In its proposal, ICF boasted that [it] would provide the kind of 'surge capacity' that would enable the company to quickly process applications and get relief to weary homeowners." However, "while more than 90,000 homeowners have applied for a Road Home grant in the past four months, as of last Thursday just 94 families had received money."

Michael Byrne, an ICF senior vice president and chief program executive defended the company, saying the state's demands changed after the job began:
"We had enough people for the model we built, based on what we thought we needed to be doing," Byrne said. "But the perception of what we needed to deliver changed." [Times-Picayune, December 24, 2006]

In that case, I think ICF should explain the discrepancy in the above statement with their June 30, 2006 Press Release:
"The Road Home housing registry already exceeds 90,000 applicants, with more than 30,000 additional applicants who have not yet registered but are expected to qualify."

Oh and this one one too, from October 19, 2006:
"The State estimates that nearly 123,000 residents are eligible for the rebuilding grant monies allocated for homeowners. In the second and third phases, we expect to double local hiring and team with an even greater number of local firms."

OH, annnnnnnd this one:
"We met or exceeded the deadlines established for the first phase of the Program and are pleased that we were able to accomplish our goals..." October 19, 2006

Not to nit pick, but that sounds a little different from the state's view of things:
"By not having enough advisers, ICF was unable to reach its goal of conducting 1,000 initial interviews per day by Oct. 31, Jones [state official and mayor of Franklin, LA for 23 years] said. That goal wasn't reached until Nov. 16, records show." T-P December 24, 2006

Louisiana Homeowners Give The Road Home Program High Marks

For a free trip to the Twilight Zone, click on the title above.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chimpy is "Disappointed"

Several Libyan nurses and doctors, whom most of the world thinks are innocent, will be executed for allegedly spreading HIV to 400+ children, and our White House is "disappointed."

What upsets me more than the White House's callousness is that I'm still shocked by it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Where Are Our Priorities?

From a recent issue of Gambit Weekly:

Extra Patrols: $88K a Day
Feeling Secure: Priceless

"National Guard troops and Louisiana State Police have been patrolling New Orleans for almost six months now...How much is the deployment costing the state? Answer: $88,000 per day. The 300 Guard troops costs $78,000 a day; the 60 State Police troopers, at least $9,294 a day, according to figures compiled by the governor's press office..."

"...The price tag for the 300 Guard troops through Dec. 31 will be $13.5 million. 'That includes hotels and per diems,' says Blanco press secretary Marie Centanni."

"For the 60 state troopers, the total cost will be $1.9 million, a figure that includes overtime, meals and mileage but not lodging."

At $204.95 each, the Recovery School District would spend $61,485 per day for 300 Masters Level teachers. Arguably, that doesn't include benefits, and there are countless ways to spin the numbers.

But then I consider a more objective comparison:
Compared to the $28,470,000 we are apparently prepared to spend over the course of a year to protect ourselves (300 Guard Troops at $78,000 X 365 days), we spend $2,188,800 each year to educate 300 Orleans Parish public school students ($7,296 annually X 300 students).

Do guns, uniforms, and safety just cost 10 times as much as teachers, books, and modern school buildings? Or do we just value the former over the latter?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Just Mah Two Cents, Volume II

It's probably silly to label blog posts "Just Mah Two Cents," since the posts are all me putting in my two cents, more or less; but I like the title dammit. Today's two-cent contribution is this: I don't get all the apprehension people like State Treasurer John Kennedy are stirring up about LSU building a new $700 million+ medical complex to replace "Big Charity." [and why do they call it Big Charity? Is there a Little Charity?]. Kennedy even has Garland Robinette cowering in the corner with him.

It's an expensive project, no doubt, but the arguments against it ignore the advantages which, in my humble opinion, outweigh the cons. Charity is a shithole, and even if we could salvage it, why? The state could buy another building, but why? Why don't our citizens, poor or otherwise, deserve state of the art facilities allowing staff to provide the most technologically advanced care possible? If one of our city's biggest industries was medical care & research, what's wrong with creating a complex that will entice the best and brightest to come back? Research provides thousands of jobs and millions in revenue.

As someone who works in the field and interviewed at LSU/Charity, I can tell you firsthand that those are the things that push institutions above their competitors. My decision wasn't based on facilities, but even as a native who knew what a hellhole Charity was, I was MORTIFIED by the condition of a place where we expect people to go to get better. And the idea that rebuilding an LSU/Charity hospital means we go back to the same two-tier system we had before is ludicrous. The best hospitals are places where those with private and public insurance WANT to go for treatment; and a building has nothing to do with deciding on how health care will be paid for. Even if people on Medicaid have a "medical home," as is proposed, people still need to go to the hospital sometimes.

Lately our citizens' uncanny talent for choosing to not take bold, brave new steps that will likely benefit us, all the while choosing to take bold steps in the wrong direction(e.g., re-electing Jefferson) seems to be resurfacing. I hope we don't fuck this up too.

By the way, I decided to do my training in Chicago at a Top 10 ranked hospital.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

More Nuggets of Wisdom from the "Food Critic"

I don't have much time to comment on this, but I think it pretty much speaks for itself. It's a volley of communication between me and the alleged GQ Magazine food critic and reportedly human, Alan Richman. JudyB and a few other bloggers, whom I apologize for not recalling at the moment, have also written about him. Fortunately, I have professional experience dealing with the severely mentally disturbed. Enjoy.

Date: Dec 4, 2006 5:52 PM
Subject: From a Real Live Lepre -- I mean, Creole!
To: thecritic@optonline.net

Dear Mr. Richman,

I figured you'd like to know that we Creoles do indeed exist! We even have a language and a cuisine and other cultural traditions that also still exist, just like the real Cajuns you seem so fond of. In fact, Creole French has been the native tongue of my relatives up to and including my grandparents' generation; and although born in America right outside of New Orleans, they did not speak English until they began their schooling. Such was the case for many Creole New Orleanians well into the 20th century. There is no way you spent as much time as you say you did here without coming into contact with the "mythical" Creole. We are very much a part of this culture, even though we don't walk around with C's on our foreheads so that visitors can easily identify us. (It's sort of like how Manhattanites can spot someone from the B&T culture far better than tourists can.) Also, you probably didn't see many of us with shovels because we were at work, school, or likely INSIDE fixing our homes since, well, we figure that re-installing walls and floors and whatnot takes precedence over gardening at this stage in the rebuilding game.

I won't waste anymore of my time with this, not because I'm afraid you'll liken me to "drunks screaming in a bar," as you have called some of my fellow New Orleanians, but because you are clearly the type of ignorant ass I prefer to not waste time on. However, before I say "au revoir" (did you know that Creoles say that too? I learned it from my grandmother long before I set foot in a French class), let me suggest that while you are sparking the national debate on New Orleans which you say "this country badly needs," that you also debate the existence of New York City, one of the most hurricane-vulnerable cities in the nation and likely to face a 20-foot storm surge during the next big storm to strike there.

So get your shovel ready,

Dr. E.J.
A Real Live Creole American
New Orleans, LA

On 12/10/06, thecritic@optonline.net thecritic@optonline.net wrote:
Dear Dr. EJ,

RE: "ignorant ass"

I'm reasonably certain you don't exist, but I'm absolutely certain you're fabricating your higher education.

Best ,


Date: Dec 10, 2006 7:44 PM
Subject: Re: From a Real Live Lepre -- I mean, Creole!
To: " thecritic@optonline.net"

Mr. Richman,

I would never make up credentials just to impress an ignorant ass.

-Dr. E.J.


From: thecritic@optonline.net < thecritic@optonline.net>
Date: Dec 11, 2006 2:18 PM
Subject: Re: From a Real Live Lepre -- I mean, Creole!
To: dr.ej

And you studder, too. Let me hear you say "ignorant ass" again. It's so cute.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Maybe Travelers' Insurance was right to limit their risk exposure by pulling out of the south Louisiana market. After all, they only netted $3.019 billion in net income from Jan. 2006 to Sept. 2006.

With all the storms last year, they were barely solvent, as 2005 brought in a mere $24.4 billion in revenue and left them with a paltry $113 billion in total assets.

Like they said on page 5 of their annual financial report, these disasters totally caught them off guard:
we believe it is the job of insurers to understand the changing weather cycles – which we have evaluated and assessed for years – and price risks accordingly.

Maybe I was being too hard on them in my previous post. At least they aren't retaliating against angry consumers for filing lawsuits based on this ludicrous notion that insurance companies are supposed to cover hurricane damage just because they paid increased premiums for living in hurricane prone areas. This is an honest industry after all, and there is no way they would engage in unethical behavior...
"we may incur loss and loss adjustment expenses as a result of disclosures by, and investigations of, companies for which we have written directors' and officers' insurance relating to possible accounting irregularities, corporate governance issues and stock option "backdating," "spring loading" and other stock option grant practices; the insurance industry, including us, is the subject of a number of investigations by state and federal authorities in the United States, and we cannot predict the outcome of these investigations or their impact on our business or financial results; our businesses are heavily regulated and changes in regulation may reduce our profitability and limit our growth;"

Saturday, December 02, 2006

And Now, A Heartfelt Message to Travelers Insurance Co.

(A letter I intended to just post, but I think I will really send it to the bastards.)

Dear St. Paul Travelers Cos., Inc.,

I understand that your company, the largest commercial insurance provider in the state of Louisiana, will cancel all commercial insurance policies in the New Orleans area, effective immediately. Your clarification that this will occur over the next 12 months via the non-renewal of current policies is: 1) no consolation; 2) the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig; and 3) a poor attempt to dress up ruthless corporate behavior (see #2). Furthermore, your spokeswoman's comment that this move does not affect residential customers is idiotic and just plain stupid even. For one, how will your residential policy holders afford homeowner's insurance if the companies they work for or own go out of business after not being able to rebuild? Second, I am sure that the homeowners who can will cancel their Travelers policies ASAP. Of course, this is probably what you want since it will save you the trouble of doing it yourselves, as such a shameful move cannot be far off.

The reasoning that you are limiting your risk exposure implies that: 1) you think we are idiots who, 2) don't understand that the whole purpose of the insurance industry is to profit from your customers' risk exposure. Let me explain, in case you missed that day of orientation. You see, you are supposed to take risks. We take the risk that we will need your coverage; and you take the risk that we will not. Sometimes the consumer wins; sometimes Travelers wins. By pulling out of this market, you are trying to ensure that you win every time, now that we have paid you handsomely with several years of increased premiums that you levied to mitigate your risk exposure.

Your risk analysts and risk assessments, I am sure, made you well aware of the chances of this market facing the disaster it did in August 2005. You knew of this risk from the day you began writing policies, and any claim to the contrary implies again that: 1) you think we are idiots who, 2) don't understand that the whole purpose of the insurance industry is to profit from your customers' risk exposure.

I am sure that none of this matters, but I just wanted you to understand why I wrote this letter in the first place, which was out of my desire to say: May others treat you as you have treated others, and may those responsible for this decision rot in the most horrendous realm of hell -- and if hell doesn't exist, may all of the business owners whom you are putting out of business and their unemployed workers use their newfound free time to build one especially for you. And THAT, is my heartfelt message to you.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Good Hands My Ass!

Who can spot the irony in this statement? (It's Friday, so I made it easy.)
"Allstate is a caring, compassionate company. For us, 'You’re in Good Hands ® with Allstate' is more than a company slogan; it’s a way of life."

Yeah, my initial response contained alot of expletives too. It's from their 2005 Corporate Social Responsibility report (damn, I couldn't even type that all out before I started laughing!), on how much $$$ they gave away in LA. I was drawn to the Allstate Foundation website while taking a gander at an Urban Institute report on rebuilding N.O.

Personally, I think Allstate's name should be removed from the report. How dare they? They'd be dropping more policyholders if it weren't for LA state law. As for that quote, it made me wonder: when does something cross the line from being ironic to being an outright lie?