Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Know This Guy From Somewhere

So I'm watching my local NBC station, and there's some strange but vaguely familiar tall African-American bald guy in a suit speaking about my city of New Orleans. He's telling jokes but nobody is laughing. I know I know this dude. He looks like a younger Louis Gossett Jr. He just asked the City Council to stand and they did. He must be important. The video feed is all screwed up so I know it's local.

Later Note The bald guy says he's the mayor, and he says this is his first state of the city address since Katrina. Is this the legendary C. Ray Nagin? I thought he was living in Dallas, what is he doing here at the WWII museum? He's talking about the word "one" quite a bit. I remember a year ago when he was campaigning, and he said public education was his top priority. I can tell you first hand that our schools are worse than they were before Katrina, if that is possible. It's like subtracting from negative infinity. He's talking tough about the failure of the federal levees though, could I become a Nagin fan?

Later Later Note This platform is too big for the Cox Exec. My friend Bart's speech at the steps of City Hall was much more memorable. I hope he gets off the script and improvises. The media likes that. I've noticed it's rare that he gets a sentence out without a mistake/stutter. He looks less buff than a few months ago. He just said finally, is it almost over?

Later Later Later Note He just asked the audience not to clap when he said he mentioned controversial things. He's amusing. Where was this speech at the 1,2,3,4,5,6 7,8 month anniversaries of Katrina? Now almost two years later? Better late than never. He said our bond from Wall Street is now stable, and "a good investment." What happened all of the sudden that he wants to be our leader again? Will this help his book deal? His speech is on a teleprompter. Why does he screw up at least one word per sentence? I'm so confused. Did he just say "state of the art tecnhology platform"? He said we can get permits in our pajamas from home. After many hours wasted at city hall in lines, I can say that is bullshit. Oh, they just fixed the microphone problem. Thanks state of the art technology platform. He says New Orleanians fight for their insurance proceeds. That's me. thanks for the shout out C. Ray. He has been making fun of the Road Home Project. Thanks for all your leadership on this issue C. Ray over the past 22 months. He just said he gets worried. He says he's gone to battle with his insurance company. He said his new roof leaks. Is that his roof in Texas?

Later Later Later Later Note He says he'll be addressing us again tomorrow night. Who lit the fire under his butt? Maybe he just heard he was reelected. Why didn't they tell him sooner? Now education is the last of his priorities. First he brings up sanitation. "Lemony Fresh French Quarter." What about the kids not passing the 4th and 8th grade with LEAP tests? What about the murder capital of the country? Lemony fresh, mmmm. He's publically thanking the bitch, I mean Veronica White. I need another drink.

Later Later Later Later Later Note I got the drink and I needed it. It's a dirty martini. The bald guy on the TV said quite a bit about roads and FEMA. He said three streets were repaired. That's impressive. Only 500,000 to go. Maybe he'll start on my street. Oh shit! He's talking about the "Pothole Killer" again, and he said there is a second one of these "state of the art" vehicles. Now he's talking about health care, and it turns out it is the fault of the state. Nagin won't give up on this one. I feel better already. Maybe it's the Higgins Landing Craft boat in the background, but this guy seems like he means business. Uh Oh, technical difficulty again in this technologically advanced city. He's talking about crime now. He's making less mistakes now, perhaps it was nerves earlier. He just thanked Warren Riley, the police chief. Online there is a poll that says 74% of voters say he is way off base. How did this guy win reelection? I thought once he was in office he would make the hard but necessary decisions. But that was a year ago, and here he is tonight. Oh my god he is spinning the crime stats, saying he is encouraged. But he says "we are not satisfied." Oh, there that word "technology" is again. The crime cameras are "witnesses that cannot be intimidated" he says. He just said helicoptors will patrol our city through the night. The audience is applauding. I'm sick. He said Paul Pastorek's school of the future is a miracle. It seems that 1 minute was all the time he had for schools. Now we're on to Ed Blakely, and more jokes.

Later Later Later Later Later Later Note He said the Unified New Orleans Plan was the People's Plan. Actually, the people had their plan earlier, and the UNOP was a watered down version. Now it is good and affordible housing. He pledges that everyone who wants to return can to affordable housing in New Orleans. He of course is a hypocrite. Many public housing facilities were ready to open 1.5 years ago, but he's kept them shut. Oh shit, he said he wants to speak frankly. Please stay on script Nagin. Wait, he's saying what I want him to say. He mentioned Bush's speech at Jackson Square. He said the promise is unfulfilled. He thanked congress for waiving the 10% matching fund. He's disappointed that in this time of record state surplesses the region has not been prioritized in this state legislative session. He ways "we are one Louisiana." I know we're not after trying to charter a school. Now he mentions N.O. recovery means LA will recovery. He mentioned medication will help us recover. He knows from personal experience. This speech is way too long. He needs more of these with less contents. He just said "in closing" thank God. He said "Lord knows we've done enough planning" and 4 people laughed. He just agreed with George Michael to "choose life." And now, "one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all, and justice for all, and justice for all" and 6 people clapped. Now the "it's not our fault" part. Who writes these speeches? "We need help, we need fairness, and we need it now." I agree with that. "We want the whole city fixed." He just admitted he's off teleprompter. He just told people out of here we will rebuild the city and get them back. He said they are suffering more than those who live here, but I doubt it.

Overheard in Louisiana

According to today's Times-Picayune, about half of the $3 billion shortfall in the Road Home program comes from lower than expected claims payouts from the insurance industry. State officials today will be meeting to try to get insurers to pay more. Here's how this conversation will go:

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon: "Hi insurance industry, sorry to bother you, did you hear about the million dollars our taxpayers have set aside to lure you back to our state? Well, hey, we were thinking that you could do us a major solid by living up to your contracts and paying the claims that you should have nearly two years ago, and then maybe...

Insurance Industry: "No."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Archaeology on My House

We've finally begun working on my flooded and racked house, and we've been learning quite a bit about it. Actually we now have more questions than answers. It's not as old as I once thought. I saw a map from 1908 and our house wasn't on it. But by the time another map showed up in the late 1920's all the houses on my side of the street were there. So we're trying to get a more precise date on its construction. We've solved some of the mysteries we've uncovered. For example we know the panelling and drop ceiling in the house arrived in the 1970's. We know this because when we took the panelling down in Kalypso's room, we found a large "73" that baffled us. Then we took out the wall heater, and found that the "73" followed "6-30." So this was painted on June 30, 1973, and the panelling likely went up soon thereafter. I would have been 7-years-old.
Thanks to the person who painted the date. They probably were wearing bell bottoms. The wallpapers in all the rooms are very cool, and probably original to the house. They should hold a key to dating the construction. Kalypso's room has these ballerinas, and she wrote this story about how they got there:
There is this Japanese wallpaper in my room:
The living room had this pattern:
It's made by J. C. Eisenhart W. P. Co., U.W.P.C.O. Union Made. The ballerinas were made by the union U. W. RC of N.A.
These waves were in Gilgamesh's room:
We found this mummified bird, or perhaps a baby pterodactyl, in Gilgamesh's chimney:
Behind the mantel downstairs we found this picture of a soldier.
On the back the writing seems to say "Richard Lance Creppel 1200." Were they trying to spell "corporal"?
But in gutting the house it started to lean even more, and we were afraid it might fall over. Abry Brothers had to come and put these support beams so the house wouldn't collapse. We're hoping that Abry Brothers will rebuild the foundation soon and put in the steel support beams designed by Roy Carubba Engineering. They said to not do any more demolition, so now we wait some more. We're getting good at waiting, but it is expensive.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Road Home/Tax Payers Increase Insurance Industry Profits

A few quotations from an article by David Hammer in the T-P today:
Federal and state documents obtained by The Times-Picayune pin the largest chunk of a multibillion-dollar shortfall on hurricane wind damage that Road Home is paying because insurance companies did not.

An LRA report says lower-than-expected insurance payouts have caused the Road Home to pay $1.3 billion that the state thought private insurers would have handled. It finds that insurance companies covered an average of 61 percent of all inspected damage, rather than the 76 percent payout rate the state expected when it set the Road Home budget. The report also finds that 37 percent of a sample of 46,223 insured Road Home applicants collected private insurance on less than half of their damage. And 11 percent got less than 10 percent of their total damage paid by insurance.

Why pursue the lawsuit if the Road Home is just going to subtract the insurance off of it, especially when I have a limited tolerance for stress and can only deal with the most important crises of each day?" said Badger, 66, who is still waiting for her Road Home grant and says she feels as if the walls of her trailer are closing in on her every day.

And my favorite lie spin from the insurance industry:
"To suggest that insurers have not met their obligations or have been subsidized by the LRA is unfounded," said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. "The LRA is . . . using insurers as their scapegoats. Insurers have met their obligations to their homeowners, paying out more than $40 billion in insurance, and that's a fact."

Hey Loretta, Allstate didn't meet their obligation to me and my family, and that's a fact.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Allstate Increased Profit With Your Taxes

In today's Times-Picayune, there is an article about how Allstate charged considerably more for things such as drywall under the flood policy than it did through homeowner's claims. Chris Karpells (insured) and Rebecca Mowbray (author) noticed the following:
If Allstate attributed the damage to wind or rain, for example -- putting it on the hook for payment under the customer's homeowner policy -- the company priced the cost of removing and replacing the drywall at 76 cents per square foot. But if the damage was blamed on storm surge or flooding, the estimated cost of removing and replacing the drywall more than quadrupled, to $3.31 per square foot...A key difference between flood Sheetrock and wind Sheetrock is this: Allstate must pay for damage covered by its homeowner policy. But damage blamed on flooding is covered by the National Flood Insurance program, set up by the federal government and subsidized by taxpayers. And who decides which policy covers which damages? As with 96 percent of flood policies these days, it is the private insurer, in this case Allstate.

So I went and checked my files, and sure enough, they charged considerably more for damage due to flood. To remove our plaster walls and lath, Allstate charged $8.34 per square yard with flood, and $3.05 for wind. That is quite a difference. Thanks America for making 2005 and 2006 the most profitable years ever for Allstate.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Home Stretch of Getting Out of the Gate

Therese and I have an architect named Peter Waring. We like the work he and his staff have done to date designing how we're going to rebuild our home. They have worked in conjunction with a structural engineer named Roy Carubba and a foundation specialist named Greg Abry to figure out how to unrack our home and fix the foundation, and they are close. Hopefully we can begin the major foundation work and straighten the house out in about a month. Our status, according to Peter, is that we're in "the home stretch of getting out of the gate." It has taken such a long time, and will still take about a year to get back into our house.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Leslie Jacobs And Privatizing Our Schools

The more I learn about Leslie Jacobs, the more I dislike her and detest her policies.

Ms. Jacobs comes from one of the wealthiest families in America, the Rosenthals. They made their money in the insurance industry, which already puts her at odds with me post Katrina. After 20 years working for and then running her family's insurance business, she first worked on the Orleans Parish School Board and then BESE (Louisiana Board of Elementary & Secondary Education) where she is currently vice-president. Back in April she responded to my T-P opinion piece about charter schools widening the achievement gap with the Recovery School District becoming a dumping ground. She claimed that charter schools are not elite and do not represent a system of "haves" and "have nots."

Ms. Jacobs is friends with Shenita Johnson Garrard, the head of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). BESE hired NACSA to decide who gets charter schools in New Orleans. National charter groups like Edison and Mosaica get NACSA's approval because they fund NACSA. Neighborhood groups who want to run our neighborhood schools only get permission if they partner with these national for-profit firms. Recently Leslie Jacobs and Shenita Johnson Garrard addressed the Chicago Schools Policy Luncheon Series. The full text can be seen here. Their speech is full of lies. For example, Ms. Jacobs claims there was no outrage in 2003 when the valedictorian at Fortier High School failed her math exit exam five times and received an 11 on her ACT. I remember there was in fact plenty of outrage. She also claims that government keeps failing us and so the answer is to privatize education, and that charter schools have hot meals and cap enrollment, making them better than the Recovery School District. And yet she is on the BESE board, the same one that gave control of our schools in New Orleans to the RSD. It makes me think there is an effort to make the RSD schools awful so that the charter schools look better than they are.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mid-City's Library Needs Your Help Sunday

My neighborhood in New Orleans, Mid-City, had a public library at 2940 Canal Street until 1958 when it was closed. It was Moler's Beauty College until Katrina, and now that location is set to open as the Zeitgeist. One of the brightest spots of all of my neighbors' effors in the recovery process has been that we are getting a new library, and the Mid-City branch at 330 N. Carrollton is set to open June 1. We received funding for some furnishings, but we need quite a bit more. Bart Everson and I raised over $1500 with our Boozocracy campaign. But now the Library Committee (chair Jeannette Thompson) and the Education Committee (chair = me) at MCNO are doing something more highbrow in order to raise money for the furnishings for the children's room at the library.

This Sunday, May 20th, from 5-8 PM we're holding a fundraiser called "Sultry Sunday Soiree" at 4301 Iberville. It's $100 per person, it's tax deductible, and it's limited to 60 people. Thus far we've got some great food from Mandina's, Juan's, Tokyo Bay, Parkway Tavern, and many more, and we've got some great music with Armand St. Martin and Ingrid Lucia, and we've got free booze thanks to Glazer's and Sterling Vineyards. There will also be raw and charbroiled oysters. The hosts are Ken Knevel and Toby Burroughs. We've got about 15 tickets left, and I encourage my fellow NOLA bloggers to attend this worthwile event. There will also be a silent auction with some great things donated up for grabs. Email me at mhoman at for further questions or to get your tickets.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Two Pauls

Wednesday night I attended a meeting in Mid-City organized by Councilmember Midura where the residents of District A got to meet our two new state education leaders: State Superintendent Paul Pastorek and the Superintendent of the Recovery School District Paul Vallas. They're often referred to as "the Two Pauls."

Mr. Pastorek is an attorney who was a partner with the firm Adams and Reese for more than 20 years. He worked on the BESE school board from 1996-2004, and ruffled many feathers when he played political hardball against unions and worked to have Col. Al Davis become the Superintendant of New Orleans schools. That of course ended badly. W. Bush appointed Mr. Pastorek General Counsel for NASA, where he served from 2002-2004. He then returned to his law practice, until March of 2007, when he was annointed by Gov. Blanco and the BESE board to run Louisiana's schools. He'll oversee 69 school districts, 1400 schools, and about 650,000 students. It's a pretty hefty task for someone with neither classroom nor school administration experience. But Louisiana and New Orleans both have a long history of hiring attorneys to run our education system. Curiously not many law firms are looking for education experts to oversee their operations.

Pastorek chose Paul Vallas to run the Recovery School District on May 4th, shortly after Robin Jarvis announced she was retiring. Mr. Vallas has experience in urban school systems, as he oversaw Chicago schools from 1995 to 2001 and Philadelphia for from 2002 until the present. Test scores increased in both school systems under Vallas' supervision. Critics charge that he left both systems in shambles. Philadelphia's school system is being saddled with a $73 million debt. Vallas' family is moving to Chicago, and he will commute back and forth he says. I'd be more impressed if Pastorek and Vallas both enrolled their kids in RSD schools, but of course that will never happen. Vallas will officially begin his job on July 1, when Robin Jarvis steps down, which makes me curious why Jarvis is still being payed her $125,000 salary? By the way, Vallas was paid $275,000 in Philadelphia. By the way again, he looks like John Lithgow.

At the meeting Wednesday both Pauls asked that we be optimistic and hopeful. Mr. Vallas gave some bold and specific goals. The most interesting part of the meeting came from the questions and comments section. One teacher from Dibert asked that they quit referring to what is going on with education in New Orleans as "an experiment." I could not agree more. Others including myself voiced our frustration at 20 months of dealing with the RSD. When they took over our schools they promised transparency and community collaboration, and neither has happened thus far. Both Pauls promised they would work closely with the community. But this meeting wasn't about collaboration. Instead they told us what would happen to our neighborhood schools. Some would be demolished, one near me will be a high school, even though it's a facility meant for 7-8 graders and there is no parking. One school near me, Crossman, was listed to be an RSD school with 540 kids. The building can hold 250 at most. Moreover, there was a man in the audience from La Escuela Esperanza in Chicago who said Crossman was promised by Jarvis and others to him as a Spanish-language charter school. So still nobody really knows what is happening to our neighborhood schools, and we can't figure out who is making the decisions.

Meanwhile at Dibert today, the principal said the RSD was out measuring his playground in order to put extra modular trailers there so the school could hold more students next year. The mood was gloomy, but not because of the modular trailers. The LEAP scores were back and more than 70% of the 8th graders won't be going to the 9th grade because of their low test scores.

Perhaps The Best Post Ever

You've got to read this post from Howie: it's amazing, objective, and oh so true ...

Allstate Terminates The Golden State

Allstate announced yesterday that it will stop writing new home policies in California. Potential losses from earthquakes and wildfires were cited as the reason. Said Mr. Barge, Allstate's VP in CA, "Allstate is taking responsible action now so that the company will continue to be in a strong position to help protect customers in California and across the country." During the past year Allstate quit writing new policies along coastal states in danger of hurricanes. They also dropped several policies in New York.

And in today's letters to the editor in the T-P, April Eaton, an Allstate "relations manager" claims that because Allstate has been around 75 years and insures more than 17 million households, they are acting neither unethically nor illegally. She says that after Katrina changed the world and insurance industry, it is Allstate who is "stepping to the plate first to find solutions that help protect and prepare citizens, while making sure our company can continue to insure as many customers as responsibly possible."

I'm dizzy from the spin. Allstate's recent actions have nothing to do with protecting customers. Allstate instead is doing all they can to increase value for shareholders, and continuing to reap record profits year after year. Allstate's actions here in Louisiana have often been clearly unethical and illegal. At least the people in California will benefit from not having Allstate insurance when something catastrophic happens. They won't have to hear Allstate deny their claim for bogus reasons.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

200 Pounds of Michael Homan

I've weighed 200 pounds for many years now, and I don't like it. I've decided to try to lose some weight. Today I started this strange fasting/cleansing diet where you only drink water mixed with grade B maple syrup, fresh lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. I predict that tomorrow I'll have a horrible headache as I go through diet coke withdrawal. I'll also be interested to see how my body responds to no beer. Enjoy it while you can liver!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


My daughter is friends with a charming girl named Hannah. They go to the same school, Lusher Charter School. Hannah is 11 years old, certified as academically gifted, and has been at Lusher since kindergarten. Recently Hannah's mother received a letter from Lusher saying that Hannah won't be allowed to return to Lusher next year. Hannah is dyslexic, dysgraphic, and has inattention ADD. She has a 504 plan in place but her teachers have done none of the things to help her as outlined in her 504 plan. Hannah is of course depressed about this. She feels that she can't continue in school with her friends because she has bad grades and a learning disability. Her parents don't know what to do. They tell Hannah that bad grades and learning disabilities don't define her as a person. They can't afford private schools, her bad grades and learning disabilities might prevent her from being accepted at another charter school, and the quality of education at an RSD school is horrendous.

Of course Lusher's actions in regards to Hannah are immoral and unethical, but you would think they would also be illegal. Hannah's mother has researched section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and she understands it to read that charter schools in New Orleans are exempt from its provisions until the city is "fully repopulated." There are many ways to interpret "fully repopulated," so it could go on indefinitely.

There are hundreds of children in New Orleans with stories similar to Hannah's. Some are even more dramatic and tragic. I volunteer every Friday at John Dibert Elementary, an RSD school in my neighborhood. Last Friday I was in a 5th grade classroom, and the teacher showed me psychological histories of the students. Several of them had witnessed relatives drown in the flood. One girl's mother drowned while she was holding her mom's hand as they tried to wade and swim to dry land. It sickens me to think about how my government took a parent away from these kids, and continues to fail them by not giving them a first-rate education.

Instead the powers that be claim that charter schools are the answer to all of our education problems in New Orleans. There are rumors that Paul Vallas will replace Robin Jarvis as the superintendent of the Recovery School District. Vallas is a big fan of charter schools, as is his boss Paul Pastorek and many on the BESE board. And it seems likely at this point that Bobby Jindal will be our next governor. He seems to support privatizing everything to reduce the size of government, and this would include schools. But with the privatization of our schools, the number of stories like Hannah's will increase, and that is not acceptable.

It is my lofty goal to get a competant and qualified group elected to the Orleans Parish School Board in Fall 2008, and then to get control of all of our schools back away from the state and into the hands of a new and improved Orleans School Board. And I'm still waiting for my elected school board representative Una Anderson to meet with me and few other neighborhood education leaders from her district to chat. Come on Una, talk to me...

note: much of the info regarding Hannah came from the comments section of my previous post.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Three Steps Forward in Education

The Times-Picayune has published two excellent articles about education in New Orleans this week, and it is only Tuesday. First on Monday they reported how special needs children were being systematically excluded from charter schools. Then today on the front page there was an article about the incopetancy of the RSD in getting schools ready, and how we will be facing a major shortfall of classrooms in the Fall. And just now I read that the RSD superintendant Robin Jarvis will be retiring at the end of May. I consider these developments to be good for the public school students in that the media is looking past the rosy front painted by the charter school lobby, and I'm sure the RSD could be better managed. I still feel the answer lies in getting control of our schools out of the state's hands and back into a Orleans Parish school board, one that is competant. As the chair of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization's Education Committee, I along with the Northwest Carrollton neighborhood representative Karen Gadbois have been trying to arrange a meeting with Una Anderson who represents our neighborhoods on the school board. So far we've received no answer. The Orleans Parish School Board is only running five schools at the moment, so how busy could she be? Anyway if you see Una tell her I said "hey."