Friday, October 13, 2006

The news media doesn‘t like to cover airplanes that land safely.

Better late than never: I've meant to post about the "Haley Barbour for President" (I mean Katrina anniversary) edition of Scarborough Country for a month and a half now. And somebody needs to post a recent John Maginnis column while it's available on line. For anyone from elsewhere reading, Maginnis is probably the most respected political commentator in the state. I think he leans Republican (I used a harsher term once before); nobody would call him a knee-jerk Blanco defender.

I'm sure that everybody's tired of the manufactured Louisiana/Mississippi rivalry, but the Aug. 29th airing of Scarborough Country
was particularly galling. Scarborough gave Barbour the chance to be the gloating coach of the winning team:
BARBOUR: Our people didn‘t look for somebody to blame. They weren‘t whining. Mississippi‘s not into victimhood. We got hit by the worst natural disaster of our history and got knocked flat. But our people that day got up, they hitched up their britches and went to work. They went to work helping themselves and helping their neighbors. And that‘s the way it‘s been every since, and that spirit is all the difference in the world. They‘re the kind of people that are just not going to quit.

SCARBOROUGH: Anybody that knows about hurricanes knows this was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina. Why were you forgotten?

BARBOUR: We bore the brunt of the storm, you‘re right. I‘ll tell you why we were forgotten. The news media doesn‘t like to cover airplanes that land safely. You know, they want to go where somebody is complaining and whining and saying, Give me something. People down here were saying, Let me help my neighbor.

On the surface, there's nothing wrong with the governor of Mississippi praising the people of Mississippi, but this goes beyond the usual "us vs. them" diversion. I normally think that the term "code speech" is overused, but Mississippi's Gulf Coast is overwhelming white--the three coastal counties vary between 73% and 90% white-- and New Orleans is mostly black. I think Barbour knows exactly what he's doing when he says that they work and help themselves in Mississippi. He doesn't need to say what kind of people whine and complain and say, "give me something."

Barbour didn't need to praise himself, the "Pullitzer Prize winning" editor of the Mississippi Sun Herald was on hand to do that:
(Stan Tiner of the Sun Herald)But I also want to pay homage to the leadership. I think books will be written for many years about leadership that was characterized by people like Governor Barbour because we have a lot of small communities along this coast, and each one of them, as Professor Brinkley indicated, did wonderful jobs of standing up in their place and doing what they could. But it required leadership at a high level to come in and bring the resources together and help them be put into place for everybody.

That was the second segment (scroll past the Brian Williams segment), everybody (Barbour, Tiner, Scarborough and Douglas Brinkley) on it was horrendous.

In a later segment, we even found out that Haley Barbour was responsible for the concept of the Katrina Cottage:
Governor Haley Barbour asked architects to come up with an alternative. The result: Marianne Cusato‘s Katrina cottage.

Not a total fabrication, BTW. Just one hell of an exaggeration.

They left out the part about Barbour's lobbying firm representing corporations that sue to take business from Mississippi companies.

Rather than go into detail, I'll just copy that John Maginnis column:

Road home no faster next door
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
John Maginnis

The snail's pace of the post-hurricane housing grant program is provoking outrage among state politicians. Homeowners who applied in April have heard nothing back. The Legislature complains about being shut out of the planning process, while ethics questions swirl around some lawmakers' business dealings with the program. It is being called the governor's "albatross."

And -- surprise, surprise -- it's not in Louisiana.

Though Mississippi received full federal funding for its housing grant program six months earlier than did Louisiana, bureaucratic snags have caused only 75 of 17,000 applicants to receive checks as of Sept. 14, according to the Mississippi Development Authority. "That's outrageous," U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said. "It baffles me."

Next door, the Louisiana Road Home plan has closed on 11 buyouts and made 190 offers to homeowners for rebuilding grants, out of an estimated 120,000 eligible. But its contractor only began interviewing applicants in August, which was the deadline Mississippi officials had set -- and blown -- for completing that program.

According to news accounts, Mississippi's plan, touted as less complicated and more homeowner-friendly than Louisiana's, is bogged down dealing with hundreds of mortgage companies that are raising fraud alarms about grants of up to $150,000 not being used to pay off mortgages or to rebuild houses. Feeling the heat is Gov. Haley Barbour, who has expressed his own frustration with the slow pace of the program he created.

The real performance of the two states' programs clashes with the popular political mythology.

That holds that Mississippi's can-do governor, having taken care of business in Washington, moved quickly -- even bypassing the Legislature -- to establish a simplified, streamlined grants program to get checks into the hands of individuals, who were free to use the money as they pleased once they paid off their mortgages.

By contrast, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who had to pester the Bush administration for more money, set up a more complicated, bureaucratic process that holds award money in escrow accounts until it is disbursed for rebuilding. Those who sell their homes to the state but do not buy or build in Louisiana are penalized 40 percent.

The Mississippi plan was supposed to cut through the red tape and government-imposed requirements that would bind homeowners in Louisiana.

But the Mississippi program could have used a bit more tape. It lacks the legal authority to require that grants be used to pay off home loans. Though checks in Mississippi are written jointly to homeowners and mortgage companies, the firms cannot prevent individuals from cashing their checks and using the money for something else.

Louisiana's Road Home program was criticized for giving mortgage lenders more control over rebuilding grants so as to ensure that is what they are used for. Louisiana Recovery Authority Director Andy Kopplin said, "We weren't looking to the road to the casino, we're looking to the road home."

The extra time Louisiana spent waiting for all its federal funds allowed it to work out memorandums of understanding with financial institutions. Louisiana Bankers Association president Robert Taylor observed, "No doubt the contractor the state hired looked at Mississippi and took steps not to repeat what they had done."

On the ethics front, Louisiana had elected officials who cashed in on FEMA contracts, but no conflict-of-interest questions have been raised about the Road Home program (yet). Not so in Mississippi, where a congressman is calling for an ethics investigation of three state legislators who have contracts with the program to provide legal services on real estate closings.

In all likelihood, Mississippi will fix its program's flaws and pay out its awards before does Louisiana, which has seven times the caseload. That's because Louisiana's plan extends eligibility to homeowners in the flood plain who did not have flood insurance, a group that Mississippi excludes. The Mississippi Legislature has since passed a compensation plan covering more homeowners, but it has no funding for it.

Mississippi's plan puts the homeowner first, while Louisiana tries to balance the interests of the individual and the community. One can debate the two guiding principles, but, when it comes to comparing the execution, while Louisiana still has much to do, Mississippi has much to redo.

I saw the Scarborough piece. It was outrageously unfair, inaccurate and a cheap shot of monumental proportions. I wrote Scarborough an e-mail after the show and accused him of intellectual dishonesty in his reporting. He did not reply.
I emailed Scarborough last October after Chris Shays appeared on his show and blamed Nagin for everything that happened at the Superdome. I reminded Scarborough that he's from the Fla. panhandle so he knew that Katrina was headed that way on Friday and that everybody says that it would take at least 72 hrs to evacuate N.O. So, I politely suggested that he should have taken the opportunity to educate the congressman. I also emailed Shays. Since I was writing as a N.O. resident and not a private blogger, I made both emails very tactful. Neither replied, but both continued with the flooded school bus routine.
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