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Thursday, September 29, 2005

AOL Poll re Indictment

I came across this American Online poll (approx. 134,000 people voting) after the indictment of Mr. DeLay was announced yesterday:

What is your overall impression of Tom DeLay?




This is a national poll and shows some serious problems for the party's image. I have to leave to finish helping with the hurricane damage assessment work being done by the US Air Force Auxiliary and will comment further later...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Change Bankruptcy Law for Victims of Natural Disasters

This will be quick because I have to fly on a US Air Force Auxiliary (Civil Air Patrol or "CAP") mission later today to do hurricane damage assessment. It's volunteer duty. Sometimes we joke that CAP stands for "Come and pay." The way it is set up in Texas, pilots end up fronting the cost of gas on search and rescue missions until it is reimbursed (weeks later). Other states issue credit cards to avoid that situation.

I saw a NY Times article on the effect the new bankruptcy law that takes effect in October will have on hurricane victims. The law was intended to punish those who run up debt without the intent of paying it. However, it will also punish even the honest folks who were victims of Hurricanes like Katrina and Rita.

If I were the representative I would vote to amend the law to carve out an exception in cases of natural disasters like we have witnessed. I have seen no indication that our representative has any intention of doing so.

Whatever happened to justice and fairness?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Residents caught in "Red Tape Trap"

I spoke today with a friend, who is a special needs patient and formerly lived in Port Arthur with his elderly mother. Port Arthur is now uninhabitable and lacks electricity, water, and other utilities. It may be a month before they have those services restored.

I was advised that after applying for FEMA, he attempted to apply for Texas unemployment compensation. They told him that they couldn't help him. Why?

"Because the President has not signed any paperwork," they said (even though the President has already declared our state a disaster zone). Apparently, without a signed piece of paper they are not prepared to help anyone who has lost their livelihood and their home.

Further, he has attempted to contact the US Postal Service to redirect his mail. All he has been able to get is a recording. So his bills and correspondence are piling up somewhere and everyone is left in the dark.

Before it was FEMA. Now Texas bureaucrats are failing the public.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lessons from Katrina and Rita

The best article I've seen on what we need to learn from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are in a column today by Houston's Rick Casey.

I totally agree with his comments. They should be required reading for our public officials, federal, state and local.

I have been hearing stories about people who were "losing it" during Houston's evacuation. At one gas station the attendant's became alarmed and turned off the system. That prompted a man threw a brick threw the window. Things were getting out of control and a friend of mine went around to calm people down. The only pump left operating took credit cards only, but some people didn't have credit cards. They offered him $100 if he would use his credit card to buy $60 worth of gas. To his credit, he helped but only charged the actual cost.

Check out this article on how ill prepared the U.S. is if we have a major terrorist attack or natural disaster.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Houston Dodged a Bullet - But Gas Shortage Remains

Hurricane Rita hit at the Sabine River, near the Louisiana border. A mere 100 miles separated us from total disaster and 130 mph winds.

We had high winds here on the western edge of the storm; the “clean side,” so I can only imagine how fierce it was in Port Arthur that took the hit on the “dirty side” along with western Louisiana. Rita even broke a levee in New Orleans, re-flooding parts of the city.

We dodged a bullet. We lost power for only 7 hours and that was enough “camping out” for me. Many people ran out of gas on the road and had to take shelter anywhere they could. Some slept in their cars. Confusion continues and people are streaming back into town although the Mayor has requested they “stay put” to keep the highways clear for emergency responders and clear power lines, debris, etc.

And a huge problem became evident in Rita’s wake.

Here we live in a major gas refining area -- and yet we have no gasoline in the city. It could be days before supplies come in. The lack of gas stranded thousands of people for hundreds of miles around Houston.

Clearly the State emergency plan has some serious defects, despite all the post 9 11 planning.

Nearly 3 million people evacuated. We could see the same traffic jams coming back that existed when they left the city. Residents of Port Arthur may not have anything to go back to. This isn’t over yet…

Friday, September 23, 2005

Like a Bad Movie

The moment of truth has come. No choice now but to stay – there is no gasoline available anywhere. I met people sitting at gas stations, waiting for a tanker, with their belongings and family stuffed in their cars.

The past two days the air has been still and hot – 100 degrees, and the sky was clear as we secured the house.

Today the temperature is much cooler and the wind has started to swirl. There is change in the air.

Yesterday the cars blocked all highways going north and west. People were running out of gas and sleeping in their cars. Stores were closing and the open ones had long lines. It felt like the set of some kind of bad movie.

Today the streets and freeways are empty; the stores are boarded up. A bus with elderly evacuees caught fire and killed over 20 as their oxygen bottles exploded.

We haven’t had national news in three days; it has just been local hurricane coverage 24/7. I have to read the papers online to know what is going on other than the storm.

Now Rita is licking the coast. She moves in tonight. The pine trees in the front yard a already swaying. I was worried about a friend in Port Arthur who is in a wheelchair and lives with his mother. Now it appears Port Arthur will be destroyed in the storm surge. I heard late today that they are in Arlington.

By this time tomorrow it will be blowing and we’ll have no power. Will try to do another update early morning if possible. If not, it will be sometime later…

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Rita is 24 hours out - "Camping Out" time

Hurricane Rita is about 24 hours out. It is now a Category 4 after hitting Cat 5 about 3 a.m. The good news is that the storm has shifted to the East, moving us out of the dangerous “dirty” side. But we still face 70-90 mph winds.

I just found out from a friend who knows someone at Centerpoint Energy that controls our power grid. They plan to pull the plug on electric power when the storm hits – to avoid transformers blowing out, etc. So we are going to be without power for some time, days or weeks.

So our representative who thought Katrina survivors were “having fun camping out” at the Astrodome (see earlier "Camping Out" blog entry) may get to personally get a taste of how much “fun” it is not to have A/C or take a shower for days on end. I doubt he’ll put up with it long before bailing out of town.

A funny note. We decided to stay put and moved all our yard stuff inside on advice from the weather guys to avoid them from becoming flying missiles. That included moving in the dog house. Guess who took it? I discovered Minou (“Me New”) our 10-pound cat lounging inside. Henri, our 100-pound dog that fears nothing --and likes that house-- has not dared enter. Come to think of it he does fear one thing, and she is only 1/10th his size. He's found that she has a mean left hook.

It proves the adage that “it's not the size of the cat in the fight but the size of the fight in the cat!”

I will try to make one more entry before we lose electricity and start having “fun.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Here Comes Rita

We have gone through two weeks plus of action due to Hurricane Katrina, and now here comes Hurricane Rita, aiming for the Texas coast.

So with all the troubles in Iraq and the devastation of Katrina, what do I get in the mail yesterday -- a letter from our incumbent representative, wanting money! What? Yep. Four pages!

Does he mention Katrina or Iraq? No. The biggest evil he cites in four pages is -- not FEMA's fumbling and stumbling and still too slow response (they still haven't done squat for Mississippi, etc).

It’s over a year before the next November election and Tom's busy focusing on...bashing potential opponents instead of kicking some bureaucratic butt.

Houston is flooded with evacuees who have lost everything, straining our resources and wearing out volunteers -- and Mr. DeLay wants you to run out and send HIM a check for his campaign (and knock on doors, volunteer, etc.)!

Once again I question his priorities.

Time for a change folks.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Little Miracle in Katrina’s Aftermath

Yesterday I was part of a small miracle involving a mom and a disabled daughter who had lost it all in New Orleans.

A few days ago I was helping as a volunteer at the Sugar Land Resource center based in the old city hall building. In the hallway near the front door, I happened across a lady with a disabled 10-year-old daughter who was about to leave. She said she had no place to stay that night -- and would have ended up sleeping in a car. In the organized chaos, she had somehow slipped through the system. She was out of gas and out of work.

I got her to some of our people who were going to get her a $10 gas card and a place for the night. But that was not the miracle.

Yesterday I was driving my dogs back from getting shots at the vet when I got a message on my cell phone from the United Cerebral Palsy in Houston offering to help this lady find housing. I did not know how they knew about her or me; I had only mentioned the lady’s plight as one line in an email to my church that would be helping prepare meals at a shelter.

That was great news but I didn’t even know her name or where she was. Our system had a stack of 500 or more names of people needing housing, none sorted by disability or special needs.

Then the miracle happened. As I went about my volunteer duties yesterday, I happened across another volunteer and mentioned my quandary. To my surprise the volunteer said that she remembered the lady since she had been the one who drove the woman to get a gas card and to the local Red Cross Shelter at a church.

I called the shelter, and they remembered her and the child! They checked. She was still there. I gave them the contact information.

So, the little miracle is that I was able to link a woman and her disabled daughter to someone who could help. It might not be much, helping two people out of the hundreds of thousands of evacuees living in Texas, but combined with the efforts of countless other volunteers and organizations, it made a difference in someone’s life.

That made the long days of volunteering even more worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

DeLay's associates indicted

I was out most of the day helping the Ft Bend Relief efforts for the evacuees.

When I got back I found out that DeLay's associates were indicted today--the last possible day before the statute of limitations expired.

Tomorrow I will be back trying to help Ft. Bend manage this huge influx of people who lost everything they had.

FEMA - Does It Again

Texas is facing nearly $500 million in extra costs to educate the Louisiana children displaced by Katrina. FEMA says that it will pay for computers and buildings, but NOT textbooks or teachers. I guess they expect kids to just sit there without book or let Texas pay for them.

This makes no sense. This is a FEDERAL responsibility. We have 30,000 children enrolled and it is expected that could rise to 60,000. To pay for buildings but not the extra teachers needed to give these kids an education is another example of the feds dumping an unfunded mandate on the state.

Texas has stepped up to the plate to help the evacuees and done a great job.

Now the feds need to do their job and help pay Texas for the extra costs instead of dumping on Texas taxpayers.

And check out this observation by George Will: "passed a transportation bill whose 6,371 pork projects cost $24 billion, about 10 times more than the price of the levee New Orleans needed. Louisiana's congressional delegation larded the bill with $540,580,200 worth of earmarks, one-fifth the price of a capable levee."

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Camping Out?

Incredible. I read this story in the Chronicle in which our senior Congressman, who was touring the shelter set up in Reliant Park, met a couple boys from New Orleans and said: "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?''

What is so "fun" about losing your home and all your possessions? What is so "fun" about your parents now being unemployed? I have been to the dome and saw a lot of people sleeping on cots. Nobody was having "fun." They were killing time, trying to put their lives back together again.

As a volunteer, I have met hundreds of evacuees the past week coming into Hurricane Relief shelters. They needed medical help, financial help, etc. They ranged from the working poor to Vietnamese business owners and whites who had lived in the New Orleans garden district. All were polite and kind, but no one was having "fun."

I wonder if it would be "Fun" if Mr. DeLay was sleeping on one of those cots after losing his job, his home -- and had to rely on a $2,000 FEMA handout to rebuild?

After all, it was Mr. DeLay who approved cutting the Army Corps budget requests for New Orleans levee enhancement, decade after decade, that would have avoided this hundred billion dollar disaster. The money for levees ended up going for a bridge in Alaska to serve 50 people.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Long Days Checking Relief Centers

Yesterday I spent the entire day helping Sugar Land set up its Hurricane Relief Center in the old city hall building on Julie Rivers Street. It is proving to be the perfect facility to handle this type of emergency. We have filled it head to toe with people.

Today, I was at the Astrodome, the Toyota Center, and the GR Brown convention center before heading back to the Sugar Land center until 8 pm.

During the course of the day I ended up meeting Mayor Bill White, County Judge Eckels, Bill Cosby, etc.

The dome was peaceful and operating smoothly; people were sleeping on cots, reading, being helped at stations. I was at the press briefing given by Mayor White and Judge Eckels. It did have some leaks in the basement from 40 year old pipes but it was cool inside and food was being provided.

In comparison, the GRB looked like a First Class hotel with air mattresses instead of cots. Mr. Cosby appeared there. I took his photo with a cell phone. The Toyota center had banks of laptops for people needing jobs or resume help. Mr. Alexander really knows how to do things first class.

People streamed into Sugar Land’s center all day. We got computers up and running and people were working their buns off all day. These are the countless thousands who came over to stay with friends and relatives and now have no home to go to.

The center feels like a war room in a way, but it is helping people instead of killing them. It’s intense because misinformation between the county and feds kept happening. The County was sending people over for food stamps which the Center was not issuing, but we worked them out one at a time. Not a lot of folks are getting much sleep.

I published a detail report on the trip to Baton Rouge in the Global American series,
article # 103.

Monday, September 05, 2005

On the Louisiana Front Line

I got back here 24 hours ago – 1:30 a.m. after a run to Baton Rouge with relief supplies for victims of Hurricane Katrina (I feel like I have jet lag I should not have taken a nap this afternoon because I'm awake now).

A Sugar Land lady was kind enough to donate supplies to fill my van. I figured the supplies piling up here wouldn't reach there for some time and I wanted to check it out and get the goods as close to the scene as possible.

Interstate I 10 runs from Houston to New Orleans, right to the point where it goes underwater. The road was in good shape - no downed trees or sign of damage.

But I heard enough on Louisiana radio to make your hair stand on end - stories about people trying to help who were turned away during the critical hours of need. I'll address those in a separate Global American series article.

I delviered my load to a church in Baton Rouge whic is the staging area just outside New Orleans. From their reaction you would have thought I'd delivered an 18-wheeler full of goods. U.S. Marshall's were sleeping on the floor and going out on 4 hour shifts to provide protection.

A guy came in with a 64 year old lady he'd brought in from New Orleans. I offered to bring her to Houston but they were looking for something there.

On the way back I encountered a group of evacuees at the Texas rest stop just inside the border at midnight - they were in a group of yellow school buses and were being fed by volunteers at that hour! A pickup was full of rescued dogs taking a break. Everyone looked tired. Despite the crowd it was very quiet.

The overhead highway signs down the road said: "Houston closed to evacuees. Divert ot Ft Chaffee Arkansas." My God, I thought. That's another 9 or more hours on the road in unairconditioned school buses. Houston has 250,000 of them and so they are being spread out.

I'll be going back to try to do some more.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Next 24 -36 hours Critical to New Orleans Relief - My Convoy

As the President said, New Orleans is our No. 1 natural disaster - and the next 24 to 36 hours are the most critical yet. People are starting to die and need to be "out of there."

The National Guard have arrived in force today, thank god. But they will have their hands full maintaining order and finishing rescuing trapped people. Due to the delays, they still need help.

Many will die in the next 24 to 36 hours without water or help. Even the National Guard will need help with this American Tsunami, at least in the short term.

Americans who believe in private enterprise and charity are needed to assist me on a life-savig mission.

I am organizing a private convoy to take water and food to the New Orleans area, and bring people back, with me as driver and my van as Vehicle No. 1. People are getting out so there must be a way in.

It may remain a convoy of one but when people are losing their lives every bit helps. I cannot sit home and think of my schedule or go to soccer games when passengers from the Titanic are splashing in the ocean and drowning. Vast potential loss of life is at stake. The safety margin is now gone. Mothers are reported on TV walking around with dead babies in their arms.

24 hours is an eternity if it were you in that situation. I’ve been in similar situations in 3rd world countries.

If she makes good on her pledge, I've got a lady willing to sponsor my personal convoy and I thank her very much. She is even supplying the cargo. I am looking for more donations to add more drivers and vehicles and supplies. We need to help evacuate as many people as possible --and get them water – in the next couple days.

The idea to is drop water and food and pick up people and bring them back. Repeat as often as necessary until its done. Please spread the word.

Donations to my legal site are 100% dedicated to Katrina Relief:

Donations to my Congress Exploratory site are 10%. I challenge all politicians, office holders and candidates to match it. The real winner will be Americans who need help.

Bringing in the Big Guns

I got a call yesterday telling me about something interesting on the net. According to George Strong's site,, Mr. Cheney is coming to Texas for Tom DeLay's September fundraiser for a special reason --because of Mike Fjetland.

What? I thought I'd heard wrong too, until I checked the site:

Fascinating. If Cheney is required to bring his guns to the OK Corral, someone is worried.

What do they know that requires bringing in the big guns?

Do they expect more ethical skeletons to fall out of DeLay's closet? Mr. DeLay knocked a GOP Congressman off the veterans committee because Chris fought cuts in Vet benefits. DeLay allowed cuts in the Army Corps of Engineers which begged for money to beef up New Orlean's levees to handle a storm like Katrina. Now millions are paying the price.

If so, do they really want Mr. DeLay as the image of the GOP in 2008?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Making a Bad Situation Worse in New Orleans?

Someone in New Orleans today made a decision that makes the situation dramatically worse -- and more dangerous.

The bus convoy that is supposed to bring 20,000 people in the Superdome to our Houston Astrodome has been stopped -- because of an alleged sniper shooting at a military helicopter. Someone has set up a riot.

How does keeping people off buses who suffering from what the President has called an “unprecedented American disaster” make it less likely someone will shoot at a helicopter?

This is not an airlift. It is a BUS convoy so this decision makes no sense. Those taking shelter in the Superdome have little or no food or water and no working toilets. Try that here for a few hours and see how people react. If a shot was fired, and it probably was, it shows the need for FASTER action, not stopping it.

To whoever is in charge: Get that bus convoy rolling and get those people out of there before it does become a domestic reminder of the chaos in Iraq.

I felt just a little of the New Orleans residents pain this morning. I woke this morning at 5, sweating. There was no power. The AC was off. It turned out a transformer had blown out. It was before sunrise and it was already uncomfortable in our powerless house. Put yourself in their position – go cut your power and live like that for DAYS in mid-90's humidity without power, running water, hot food, etc. --and then tell me stopping this convoy makes sense.

Luckily, Centerpoint had us with lights in less than 2 hours (and coffee pot going) versus an estimated 2 months or more for New Orleans.

Someone has made a bonehead decision to keep thousands of desperate people stranded. Keep that up and there will be real gunfire and chaos.

Who is running this show? Homeland Security? Someone needs to exercise some common sense before things really get out of hand in this national disaster...