Feeds:
Posts
Comments

First, please allow me to express my deepest appreciation to those of you who have been so generous with your monetary and in-kind contributions. I have had offers of housing, computers, and even the free use of a vehicle, the latter which I ever-so-gratefully accepted (my wife’s car was destroyed and I’m pretty sure the insurance won’t begin to replace it; My truck, while having the seats and carpeting ruined, is drivable and GEICO will provide a rental while it is being repaired).

Also, to clear up a discrepancy spotted by reader “Robert,” my first post about the flood said I did not have flood insurance. I later learned from my mortgage lender, LaCap Federal Credit Union, that I did have a “forced-buy” flood policy in the amount of the $40,000 loan I had taken out for home improvements. Because it was a fairly recent loan, the insurance covered just that with practically nothing left to pay for repairs and replacement of destroyed furniture, food, linens and appliances (we salvaged enough clothing to get by without having to buy much of those and because we’re staying at a daughter’s home, we’re okay shelter-wise).

We are still in need of help (like every other victim of this awful event) and we would be more than appreciative of any help you could afford.

Having said that, I would also say that the American spirit of self-help and old-fashioned entrepreneurialship is alive and well.

In addition to seeking immediate financial assistance, I am also asking that flood victims in any area affected by this month’s flooding forward your stories and photographs to me foe inclusion in a planned book about the devastation spread across South Louisiana. The proposed book will be published by Cavalier House Booksellers, owned by John and Michelle Cavalier. I am particularly interested in stories of dramatic rescues of those trapped by the water which seemed (in my case, at least) to have come from nowhere and everywhere at once.

I want stories about the heroic efforts of the Cajun Navy, the Louisiana National Guard, tireless law enforcement officials from all affected parishes, business and faith-based volunteers (about whom there are insufficient words of praise) governmental officials from small town mayors to the governor and, yes, Trump and Obama.

I also would like stories about any frustrations encountered with any officials, from turf wars to bureaucratic red tape encountered.

In short, any story you have, no matter how insignificant you think it may be, should be submitted.

And, of course, please send photos, photos, PHOTOS.

I will edit the submissions, combining or deleting facts where appropriate and select the ones for inclusion in the book. If your story and/or photo(s) are chosen, you will be given full credit in the book. Also, should your story and/or photo(s) be included, you will, of course, receive a free signed copy of the book.

There is no limit as to the length of your story. If it’s too long, we can always shorten but we cannot add to your personal story, so don’t be shy about telling every detail. And don’t worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation. We can edit your copy.

Just a reminder to our readers that LouisianaVoice, like 90% of Denham Springs residents, took a tremendous hit from the devastating flood last week. We lost our home for months, perhaps for a year. We’re fortunate to have daughters living nearby and we’ve moved in with our youngest and while it’s crowded, it is a roof over our heads and a warm bed at night.

And while we do have flood insurance, it won’t come close to covering our losses of thousand of dollara. As most know, auto insurance won’t replace our vehicle lost in the flood.

Please try to find it in your hearts to contribute to LouisianaVoice by credit card by clicking on the yellow Donate button on the right or mail your contribution to:

Capital News Service/Louisiana Voice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

Thank You.

 

One of the great paradoxes emerging from the devastating flood of 2016 is the manner in which a group of volunteers calling themselves The Cajun Navy, with no budget and no centralized organizational structure, can materialize and mobilize almost instantly in times of crisis to rescue thousands of victims from inundated homes while the inept and corrupt politicians of this state cannot or will not take the steps necessary to prevent or at least mitigate damages from the swollen waters of the Comite and Amite rivers.

At the same time, it’s beyond criminal how some people will seize upon the selfless benevolence of these heroic volunteers and upon the generosity of donors in order to satisfy their own greed-driven motives.

Take Sidney Ray-Bazan for example, a New Orleans woman who was soliciting funds on behalf of The Cajun Navy. But her name suddenly disappeared with no explanation from The Cajun Navy’s Facebook page. Previously, on the Navy’s page she was identified “as the woman running the Cajun Navy Facebook page and “making sure donations go to the right place.”

Apparently Ray Bazan’s idea of the “right place” did not parallel with that of the Navy’s.

Its Facebook page is now saying it does not raise funds. A cursory check into Ray-Bazan’s past track record in fund-raising probably explains why she was abruptly removed as the go-to person. http://cfozarks.org/attorney-general-directs-settlement-funds-to-cfo-for-rebuild-joplin/

Ray-Bazan reached a plea agreement with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster in March 2014 after she was accused of diverting money collected for Joplin tornado relief to her personal bank account.

Sidney Ray-Bazan collected more than $133,000 in donations for rebuilding efforts in Joplin. She allegedly diverted more than $39,000 of the donations for personal use. She allegedly made frequent cash withdrawals and transfers to her personal account from the charity’s bank account and spent donated funds on restaurants, clothing boutiques, veterinary offices, grocery stores and childcare.

Her charitable organization, Relief Spark, also never applied for recognition as a tax-exempt charity with the IRS.

“In 2011, good-hearted people across Missouri and the nation donated money to help the citizens of Joplin recover and rebuild,” Koster said. “Unfortunately, we know that some individuals diverted charitable donations for personal gain. I am pleased that today we return a portion of that money to the people of Joplin.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Ray-Bazan was to have paid $39,200 to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and no longer solicit funds for any charitable purposes in the state of Missouri for five years.

Meanwhile, The Cajun Navy continues to rescue victims trapped by the rising waters that seemed to come from nowhere, silently concealing streets and highways and soaking residents’ homes, autos, carpeting, furniture and appliances. Many of those rescued were the very young and the very old. Some were sick, others disabled by other maladies.

Members of the Navy who manned bass boats, ski boats and ordinary bateaus did so without pay and without benefit of the photo ops so tempting to presidential candidates who breeze through disaster relief center just long enough to be photographed handing out bottled water to evacuees to show they do, after all, care for the little people.

Steve Hardy and David J. Mitchell, writing for the Baton Rouge Advocate on Saturday (Aug. 20), did a stellar job outlining the sorry history of the never-to-be-built Darlington Reservoir and the Comite River Diversion Canal. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_fc9f928c-6592-11e6-bad5-d3944fe82f0e.html

The two Advocate writers wrote, correctly, that “no one has suggested that the proposed Comite River Diversion Canal or the Darlington Reservoir would have prevented the flood,” but the canal by itself could have spared up to 25 percent of those whose homes were flooded. Like the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi, the project was not designed as a flood control reservoir. But taken together, projects could have mitigated hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

A 1986 LSU study estimated that had the Darlington Reservoir existed during the historic 1983 flood, the Amite River would have crested at a level six feet lower than the 41.5 feet at Denham Springs. The river crested at 46 feet last Sunday (Aug. 14). Flood stage at Denham Springs is 39 feet.

In 1992 the U.S Army Corps of Engineers said that the $154 million cost of Darlington and $222 for the Diversion Canal were not cost efficient and the last year the Federal government appropriated funds for the Canal project was in 2006.

Meanwhile, Bobby Jindal and state legislators went about their primary objective as Louisiana public servants: soliciting campaign contributions even as damages from the 2016 flood far exceeded (by a factor of at least five or six) the cost of building the reservoir.

Now there will be the usual indignant finger pointing and official promises that action must be taken to protect life and property. Then, just as quietly as the murky waters of the Amite River rose and receded, it’ll all be forgotten—until the next flood.

LouisianaVoice has been severely wounded but we’re temporarily operating from my daughter’s in Watson, about seven miles north of my destroyed home in Denham Springs. Following a leisurely breakfast Saturday morning, we looked out the front door to see water from the Amite River (a mile from my house) coming across the street.

That was all the warning we got after feeling confident the night before that we were in no peril. We scrambled to throw some clothing into garbage bags, gathered our medications and put our dogs on leashes as the water poured into the home where we had been living the past 22 years.

Shortly after, a flotilla from the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department (that’s West Baton Rouge, as in across two rivers—the Amite and the Mississippi—and two parishes to the west of us) arrived as we struggled to raise heavy furniture. The deputy who came to our door told us it was useless because the water was going to go much higher than where we were trying to raise it. He helped be complete the task anyway—something he didn’t have to do, but did anyway out of compassion for our plight which was growing more desperate by the minute.

He helped carry our bags of clothing and our small dog and I bodily carried our Chow-Golden Retriever mix through the filthy, swirling water that was by now deeper than the tops of my white shrimp boots (a required part of the uniform if you live in South Louisiana). Needless to say the weight of two boots filled with brown river water made jumping onto tho flotilla impossible so a pair of deputies bodily lifted me aboard even as an untimely cramp in my right calf prohibited me from being of much help to my own rescue.

Once aboard, another smaller boat pulled alongside carrying a family with a special needs teenage boy. His wheelchair was lifted onto the flotilla and his father, who lived behind our home on an adjacent street, lifted his helpless, diapered atrophied son and placed him gingerly onto his wheelchair. It was as I watched that boy, unable to even raise his head that I came to the realization that even though I was losing my home, both vehicles, my record collection, my books and my computer, our losses were insignificant.

As we made our way to higher ground in the middle of the Denham Springs Antique District, I looked northward up Range Avenue (LA. 16, the main north-south thoroughfare in Denham Springs, all I could see was a river of water—a river that was now far wider than Old Man River himself.

We passed Centerville Street and my deputy friend (regretfully, I failed to get his name) said, “When we came past this street awhile ago, there was a coffin floating in the water. It floated up that way (as he pointed eastward) but we don’t know where it went.” Coffins popping to the surface, it seems, is a common occurrence during flooding.

The flotilla was too large to make all the way to solid ground, so we had to disembark in shallow water and walk to to the storefronts of the antique shops, some of which already had shattered windows. Soon, another boat appeared bringing abandoned—and frightened—cats and small dogs that had been rescued by volunteers. I still can’t understand anyone abandoning a pet—even after we were turned form one shelter by an apologetic volunteer because of its no-pet policy.

We walked back to the Antique District leading our dogs and lugging the bags of clothing that were growing heavier with each step. We were in constant contact with all three of our daughters who, despite Betty’s admirable calm, were near hysterics. They were only seven miles away but they may as well have been a continent away. There was nothing between us but dark, rushing water that had already claimed two lives—one of whom was in a pickup that was swept off the road even as a local TV news crew filmed the tragedy, helpless to render assistance.

“What’re we going to do if no one comes to take us out?” Betty asked as two Louisiana National Guard trucks passed us taking evacuees to yet another shelter we were told did not accept pets.

“There’re benches on the sidewalk,” I said. “Since we’re now homeless, I guess we can sleep like homeless people.” I only half-joking.

“What if the water keeps rising?” she asked, pointing out it had already advanced about 30 feet up the street since we landed.

I looked around quickly and pointed to a fire escape that ascended up the rear of a store to the second floor.

That’ll work,” was all she said.

As fate would have it, it wasn’t necessary. Deborah LeDay, a teacher who taught with my oldest daughter lives in a part of Danham Springs which, to that point was high and dry. Calls were made and Ms. LeDay dispatched her friend, Johnny Musso to retrieve us. Driving an Infiniti sedan through deep water that at times I could’ve sworn was waist deep, he pulled off the improbable, if not the impossible and an hour later we were in dry clothes and watching TV news accounts of the flood.

As usual, when the chips are down AT&T drops the ball. For the third consecutive emergency in this area, AT&T subscribers (like me and two of my daughters) lost service for more than 24 hours. As I write this, I still have no service. Jennifer has Verizon and never lost service. Only when we arrived at her home could we contact family members and friends in other parts of the country and let them know we were okay. Another evacuee taken in by Ms. LeDay, a friend of each of my daughters, has Sprint and only by using her phone could we arrange our second rescue.

By noon Sunday, daughter Amy, husband Chris and the twins arrived to pick us up. No reflection on Leah and Jennifer, but I don’t think I have ever been happier to see one of my kids. We are now safe and secure in Jennifer’s home which, incidentally, will also be our home for some time to come. (Note to self: when things return to normal, switch carriers.)

Oak Point Grocery in Watson, by the way, contacted Live Oak United Methodist Church across the highway, which was serving as a shelter for evacuees. Oak Point owners had a message: because the store was going to flood anyway, why don’t LOUMC volunteers come over and clean out the store’s shelves so evacuees can be fed? That, folks, is the true spirit of Christianity.

Also, to West Baton Rough Sheriff Cazes and his deputies, to the Louisiana National Guard, Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard, the many churches and volunteers, Louisiana State Troopers, and to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who gave of his time serving evacuees in shelter food lines, a simple thank you is just not enough….but THANK YOU anyway.

We had planned our next fundraiser in October, but events now dictate otherwise.

We desperately need help now. We have lost clothing, appliances, computers, files, records, books, jewelry, vehicles and our home. We had no flood insurance because we we were on high ground that had never before taken on water.

Please help us raise needed thousands of dollars. If you can find it in your hearts to help, you may either click on the yellow “Donate” button to the right or mail checks to:

Capital News Service-LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

A little more than five years ago, we launched LouisianaVoice in an attempt to bring political corruption in Louisiana into sharper focus. Two years ago, The Washington Post named Bob Mann’s Something Like the Truth and LouisianaVoice as two of the top 100 political blogs in the nation.

While we were quite proud to have been recognized by such a prestigious publication as the Post, that pride was tempered somewhat by the knowledge that we could never have achieved such a designation had political corruption not permeated all levels of government in Louisiana— from Shreveport to New Orleans, from Lake Charles to Monroe.

Now we learn that researchers Michael Johnston and Oguzhan Dincer, both former fellows at Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, have been conducting a “one-of-a-kind” corruption survey over the past two years.

“The survey is designed to construct perception-based measures of different forms of corruption in American states,” Dincer wrote us recently. “We surveyed more than 1,000 news reporters/journalists covering state politics and issues related to corruption across (each state).

“…We were able to construct measures of illegal and legal corruption for each (branch of) government in 50 states,” Dincer said, adding that the results of the survey “quickly drew extensive and positive attention from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, FiveThirtyEight, and a number of regional newspaper and broadcast stations.”

The results of that 2015 study were published by Illinois State University and the researchers are now in the process of conducting an updated survey. https://about.illinoisstate.edu/odincer/Pages/CorruptionSurvey2015.aspx

So just what is legal corruption as opposed to illegal corruption? Isn’t corruption just corruption without the adjectives? Dincer explained the difference. “We define illegal corruption as the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.”

Legal corruption, on the other hand, is defined as political gains in the form of campaign contributions to or endorsements of a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups by “explicit or implicit understanding.”

“According to several surveys, a large majority of Americans, both liberals and conservatives, think that donations to super PACs, for example, by corporations, unions, and individuals corrupt the government,” the researchers’ report said.

The 2014 report indicated that the leading states for moderately to very common illegal corruption in the executive branch of government were Arizona, New Jersey, Georgia, Kentucky and Utah. States identified as “very common” in illegal corruption in the legislative branch included Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Legal corruption was found in many more states. Kentucky and New Jersey were identified as states where legal corruption in the executive branch was “extremely common,” while those where it was “very common” included Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York and Texas.

Legal corruption in the legislative branch was far more discouraging on a nationwide basis. States where legal corruption in the legislative branch was “extremely common” included Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

States where legislative branch legal corruption was called “very common” included Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

When all factors were taken into consideration, the states leading in overall illegal corruption were Arizona, California, Kentucky, Alabama, Illinois, New Jersey, Georgia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Rhode Island and Texas.

Setting the bar for overall legal corruption were Kentucky, Illinois, Nevada, Mississippi, New Jersey, Alabama, New Mexico, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

States that showed up as most corrupt in both legal and illegal corruption were Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

So, where did Louisiana rank in all these studies?

“Surprisingly enough, we received no responses from Louisiana, which is historically one of the more corrupt states in America,” the report said. http://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/measuring-illegal-and-legal-corruption-american-states-some-results-safra

We knew there had to be a logical explanation. There just had to be.

Which brings us to the current survey.

“We are conducting the third wave of the survey this year and we would like you to take part in a short (5 minute) survey that will gauge your perception of government corruption in Louisiana,” Dincer wrote. “We will again be contacting as many news reporters/journalists as possible in this endeavor to ensure that our results are as reliable as possible. The responses are entirely anonymous and cannot be related to specific participants or institutions.”

So, to all political reporters—and that includes local government beat reporters and political bloggers—in Louisiana who may be reading this, here is the link to their survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KYNN5FC

Now that the legislative session is over and there is no gubernatorial election on the near horizon, there’s no reason for you not to participate.

Be completely truthful, candid and forthright and we can return Louisiana to its rightful spot at the top of the rankings.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,200 other followers