Saturday afternoon, I attended the birthday party of my friend’s nephew who was turning a whopping six years old. A gathering filled with family, extended family, friends, and, of course, tons of kids busy going up and down that water slide thing-a-ma-jiggy. Those sweet little things had one thing on their minds: having fun playing on the water slide.
Little girls and boys screamed with glee as they slid to the bottom only to giggle as they marched up the plastic stairs that brought them to the top so they could slide to the bottom all over again.
On the grill was fish freshly caught that morning in the water that flowed right by the house. On a table unto itself sat the delicious chocolate cake that required three sttempts for the little boy to blow out his six candles. A buffet of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers with all the trimmings were on the bar next to the stairs that went up to the house itself. From some 20 or so feet away from the kids, I watched . . . the whole time being quite cognizant of the fact that the house had had 24 feet of water in it when Katrina blew through town. The house is built on stilts, and the party festivities were on the ground level in between the stilts.
I’ll guarantee that not a one of those children playing on the water slide had a single thought of Katrina or Katrina-related stress in those glorious joyful moments of fun in the sun. That is how it should be.
When the kids throughout the Katrina region are again joyously and consistently playing and laughing and giggling in their own yards, that will be one measure of our recovery’s success. There are other measures, but this is one.
One man's story
The grandfather told me his story. Originally from New Orleans—as are most residents in Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Miss., two of the three tiny beach towns that comprised Katrina’s ground zero., he and his wife built a life in Waveland where they had six kids and built a life with several businesses. For weeks after Katrina, he and his chainsaw hacked through trees to clear up the mess around his home. Being alone in this endeavor—his wife safely in Louisiana, as I recall, he hardly showered or shaved for those weeks. A typical scenario I’m told over and again.
For those weeks, he couldn’t bear the thought of what had become of his life’s work. Finally ready to face it, he showered, shaved, then drove to his businesses. As he topped the railroad tracks, he realized that he could see the Gulf of Mexico three or so blocks away. Nothing remained standing between the railroad tracks and the beach. Not a thing. And he cried for the devastation that had been wrought, for what had been lost, for what will not ever be again.
He had had several chances to sell and retire, but he didn’t want that. The day they left for Dallas, he received a call from his agent. They arranged to meet and sign the deal when they returned. But there was nothing to sell, and the six-figure check had to be returned. I didn’t ask about the insurance. I felt it would have been inappropriate to bring up what is a routinely sore and sour topic when we’re trying to have fun at a kid’s party. A forced retirement, indeed. Though he is now happily retired, I’d bet his insurance didn’t pay what they should have after faithfully paying 35 years of premiums.
This is real life in any town, USA. Kids doing their jobs: being kids, reminding us of what is most important such as eating, watching over loved ones, having a good belly laugh, having fun, and playing fairly in every aspect of life.
Funny how a child’s birthday party can bring into crystal clear perspective the essence of what is at stake in the Mississippi race for insurance commissioner.
A Fair Shake
Ensuring that insurance companies treat families and businesses fairly in the aftermath of a disaster is the job of the insurance commissioner. It matters. Fairness is the difference between having the resources to create a day of good old-fashioned fun for a six year old’s birthday party at home and not having a home in which to celebrate a child’s birthday.
I think that Mississippi’s current insurance commissioner has a peculiar way of defining fairness and justice. As I mentioned in yesterday’s piece titled "Ending Corporate Looting on the Gulf Coast," State Insurance Commissioner George Dale’s idea of justice is more of an insurance insiders "Just Us" mentality. His idea of being fair is equally disturbing.
We can see for ourselves how the man defines "fairness" through what he does and says without apology. For example, a week after Katrina hit, Dale finally took a helicopter ride over the Katrina damaged Gulf Coast. The following month, an insurance industry magazine published Dale’s response.
"Nothing was there. All you could see standing from the beach inward were maybe a few trees and some markers. Even with that, there would be a building standing out in the middle of all of this. It was eerie.
"People are calling in droves and in e-mails, demanding that I make the insurance companies pay for all of their losses. I’m calling it a Catch-22. If I could make the insurance companies pay under the wind-driven clause, then how many insurance companies would I be breaking? On the other hand, people are living down there with nothing. Either way, I can’t win."
Whoa. Hold on there, buddy. What do you mean with the comment that "either way, I can’t win?" Is that some Freudian-like slip of the tongue? I’ve got news for you, George. This isn’t about making you a winner. In fact, this isn’t about you at all except in terms of how well you are doing your job on behalf of the insurance consumers. You got that? George, this isn’t about you.
This has always been about the people for whom the position of Insurance Commissioner was created, regular Mississippians whether they live in the Delta or the Northern or the Gulf Coast part of the state.
Over the last few decades, the overwhelming majority of folks who cast their ballots for you were not the corporate fat cats who had funded your campaigns. Rather, they were nurses and teachers, coaches (like you used to be) and electricians, grocery clerks and firefighters, farmers and shipyard workers, retired seniors and administrative staff members.
Gulf Coast resident James "Bud" Ray of Long Beach, Miss., "offers this view of the insurance commissioner."
"We were in a state of total chaos. If he had been out front and put the hammer down initially, I don’t know what the result would have been, but it certainly would have been comforting for us to know that the person we elected as our insurance commissioner was out there beating the drums on our behalf."
George, this is what handling Katrina’s aftermath has been all about. Leadership would have established in house policyholder advocates to help the thousands of insurance policyholders get their claims filed and approved for the wind damage to their homes and businesses. Instead, George, you let an insurance industry PR hack set up shop inside of your government office. You’re a putz, George. A putz.
Robert Hunter, former Texas insurance commissioner and now a consumer advocate, said
"I certainly can't think of anything he's done that has been pro-consumer.[Dale] hasn't taken leadership in a pro-consumer way . . . He's just there. For a long time, too." To be sure, being hired as a consumer advocate after he leaves office isn’t something for which George Dale would be very well qualified.
Even the Mississippi State Supreme Court has weighed in on the fact that when it comes to fairness for Mississippi’s policyholders, George Dale is as AWOL as his buddy George W. Bush had been during the last two years of his stateside only weekend warrior adventure in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. As other young male military airplane enthusiasts joined their fellow Americans in Vietnam, George W. Bush chose the Texas Air National Guard at a time when the National Guard was always kept stateside. Even with that cushy position, the man abandoned his post. Some would say Bush deserted it.
In a similar way, Dale has long abandoned his post, deserting the people who had elected him. An insurance industry publication noted this about Dale.
On more than one occasion, the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled in an insurance consumer's favor, agreed with a jury's monetary award to punish" the insurance company for bad behavior, then admonished in its opinion: Once again, this court is called upon to redress grievances which might have been avoided by proper state regulation of insurance company practices."
In yet another example, Dale abandoned his post deserting Mississippi’s policyholders when he deliberately permitted insurance companies to write into their policies that disputed claims have one year to file a lawsuit. Oh really? One year, George? An industry trade magazine states that Mississippi’s law is three years. That’s an additional TWO years to file a lawsuit. What is the legal basis upon which you are allowing insurance companies to deceive Mississippians deliberately? There is no legal basis. You just deceive Mississippians, because you can.
The impact is easy enough to see. A company lowballs its customers. Drags it out beyond 12 months. Then in the middle of the second year or so, the company reminds the customer that their policy states they had 12 months to file for a lawsuit, and well, time’s up! Of course, the unsuspecting policyholder sees the information in black and white and believes that the insurance company is telling theme the truth about their rights. After all, the insurance commission would not permit the companies to lie to us.
They believe the insurance company because clearly no honest and fair insurance commissioner would permit the insurance industry to deceive its policyholders deliberately. George, you have allowed insurance companies to lie to your own constituents, which means that you have betrayed us.
Lastly, George, you push mediation before lawsuits. In a mediation, the deck is stacked in favor of your insurance industry buddies, the ones you allows to set up shop inside of your state office—the office in which you are supposed to be regulating the insurance industry rather than providing office space to them. That would be the same insurance industry buddies you allow to deliberately deceive Mississippi policyholders into believing that they have only 12 months instead of 36 months to file a lawsuit against their insurance company. George Dale, you really are kind of slimy. The more I learn about you, the more I hope that the voters cast their ballots in favor of Gary Anderson.
When it comes to your mediation program, the Insurance Journal states that your program "is not binding and is paid for by the insurers." So State Farm, Nationwide, Allstate and the like pay for it but are not required to go through with anything they agree on. So, then, what is the point?
Moreover, you apparently do not require the insurance company to disclose all of their evidence. Well, this is another foundation for the racketeering case that the Scruggs Katrina Group has brought against State Farm and its engineering partners. Apparently, these business devised a plan through which to hide from policyholders reports that engineers had filed stating that wind had caused a policyholder’s damage.
Go herefor video of former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore explaining the RICO case in everyday language.
How in the living hell can anyone defend themselves when Insurance Commissioner permits the corporate giants to be deceptive, to keep secretive of evidence that would be in favor of you and me? No one can. That is the beauty of our legal system, which allows trial lawyers to be our legal eyes and ears for us.
Because of the work that the Scruggs Katrina Group has been doing on behalf of Mississippi’s policyholders, we now know that State Farm and partners apparently "actively and fraudulently . . . concealed information and prevented the plaintiffs from obtaining information that could be used in their favor." This is George Dale’s mediation program. A game of hide and seek with the evidence and the truth. This is not a child's game. We're talking about people's homes and businesses, schools and government buildings like court houses, jails, city halls, police stations, fire stations, etc.
George Dale's mediation program is deceptive, yet still he claims, "This is a good program."
With insurance companies wrongfully deny paying claims, the consequences have been massive. Parents have no money to rebuild their homes and businesses. Schools cannot afford to construct safe buildings for their students and teachers. Communities ache because too much has been destroyed, and the day of returning to some sense of normalcy seems rather far off to believe a come back is possible in our lifetimes. These are the measures of your failure, George Dale.
You want to play games like hide and seek? Then go to a kid’s birthday party, George, If you observe the kids, you just may get your priorities back in order.
In the meantime, with a lot of smart work and a bit of luck on our side, you’ll have a lot of time on your hands after the August 7th election has Gary Andersonas our next Democratic candidate for Insurance Commissioner. Hopefully, you’ll be singing a new tune on August 8th. Might I suggest you bone up on Happy Birthday?
Listen to the podcast.
If you liked A Kid’s Birthday Party Clarifies Post-Katrina Insurance Questions, you may also enjoy the following pieces.
Broadening Katrina’s Lens: A five Part Series
Part 1: Broadening Katrina's Lens
Part 2: Recovery’s Two Major Impediments: $$$ and the "F" word
Part 3: The "F" Word: FEMA
Part 4: Katrina’s Bigger Picture
Part 5: Katrina’s Karmic Payback: Insurance Reform
Ana Maria authors A.M. in the Morning!, dispatches from Katrina's ground zero . . . a distinctly progressive political perspective.
In March, this native daughter drove from her home in Silicon Valley, Calif., to surprise her mother with a visit to their family home in Bay St. Louis--ground zero for Katrina's devastation. The surprise was on Ana Maria.
She launched her blogin May 2007 and added podcasting in June 2007 to express her dismay and provide detailed, poignant, on-the-ground accounts of what the people of the Gulf Coast are still experiencing nearly two years after Katrina's devastation.
Not for the faint of heart, A.M. in the Morning! provides first-hand accounts of post-Katrina life written in a scathing style redolent of the region's famous cuisine--hot, strong and spicy. Nobody escapes Ana Maria's wrath whether they are the callous insurance industry, the bumbling leadership of FEMA, do-nothing politicians, or incompetent government contractors.
A progressive political blog with a decidedly activist bent, A.M. in the Morning! includes her Center for Political Hell Raising, which provides activist tools of ready-made email letters, addresses, phone scripts and phone numbers to whomever is lucky enough to be caught in her crosshairs.
From the Gulf Coast of Miss. to the heartland of Nashville, Tennessee, from the nation’s capitol to Silicon Valley, California, Ana Maria has been politically active as a professional and a volunteer on the local, state, and national levels.
Ana Maria is committed to using her blog and podcast to reinvigorate the discussion and generate a renewed national sense of purpose to efficiently and effectively rebuild the area.