Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Disaster Recovery Republican Style--Governors Riley and Barbour's "Recovery Commissions" Questionable

Alabama’s “head polluter”(and looter) Governor Riley has assembled a group of yes men dubbed Governor Riley’s Coastal Recovery Commission [CRC] “Roadmap to Resilience” to examine the impact of BPs Gulf oil spill on Alabama’s coast. The CRC will focus on "helping the coastal communities create a post-oil spill economy while improving the quality of life statewide.” The plan includes “local governments and human health issues” and this group sounds very similar to the same commission Haley Barbour put together post Katrina and we’re willing to predict it will have some of the same issues.
Post BBQ face
Riley didn't come up with this idea all on his own and seems to be following good buddy Haley Barbour's lead in this latest scheme of his. We imagine a conversation that went something like this between the two of them probably at some undisclosed location where a regional governor's conference was in the works.

Haley Barbour and Bob Riley have pulled apart from the crowd for a private chat...

Barbour:   Hey, ol’  buddy--  You know this disaster recovery stuff is a real sweet deal, doncha? You oughtta do whut I did.

Riley:       What’s that?

Barbour:  Y’all pick Ricky Mathews to head up a commission and call it a “Coastal Recovery” sumthin’ or ‘nuther. Throw in a little “I care about the little people,” and mix some environment and health issues in there, and y’all will be good to go. Them federal dollars will come rollin’ in like a storm surge, pardon the pun… heh heh.  (slaps ol’ Bob on the back)  Jes’ a lil’ hurricane humor , doncha know.

Riley:       Haley, that’s a good ‘un --  heh heh--  listen, how do I git that goin’?

Barbour:  Nothin’ to it, Bobbo-- you buy yourself a newspaperman.

Riley:       Like that the one you got?  What’s that ol’ boy’s name? Ricky, Rocky… what wuz it?

You got wax in your ears?  I jes’ tol’ you.  Ricky Mathews.

Riley:       He’s a newspaper man too, ain’t he?

Barbour:  Man, you are thicker than red clay, I tol' you to cut down on the Aqua Net. ‘Course he is, an’ he’ll be right friendly. Y’all want a newspaperman ‘cause he makes sure the press writes good stuff and makes you good ol’ boys look like champeens of the little man.  I tell ya right now--  ya can’t lose on this deal, and there won’t be nobody to figure it out until you git a bucket o’ money for your deals first. An’ here’s the beauty part-- when the federal money runs out, you can get the rest from the taxpayers.

Riley:       Haley-boy, I knew there was a reason you were my goodest friend. Now y’all are going to git me a White House job when you run, ain’t ya?

Why, sure thing, Ol’ Buddy. We gotta stick together, our kind does, if’n ya know what I mean. (he elbows Bob and winks at him).  Man, I’m hungry. Whaddya say we go on an’ get us some BBQ?
This is my happy face go on an' take the durn picture already!
Riley goes on to describe the CRC as being charged with the ability to “make recommendations on how the state can strengthen its resiliency in the event of future catastrophes.” What’s really missing from the CRC is the importance of safeguarding the environment from irrevocable damage with future spills and more efficient recovery to the affected “average Joe” citizens before the grand plans of “world class” convention centers and an *aircraft consortium are moved forward.

Not to mention an impartial, non-Riley organized, watchdog committee to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Current Gubernatorial candidates Ron Sparks-D and Robert Bentley-R have not been invited to be involved in the process of forming the CRC and will not receive any information about it until December 15th. The winner of the Governor’s race will, however, be receiving information directly from Governor Riley on the *EADS project (European aircraft consortium contract for Mobile) and “any other industrial prospect” in early November.
*(Note--this is the same project that Senator "King of Pork" Shelby blocked 70 Obama appointees over until he was called out in the press about it and backed down.)
It’s comforting to know that Governor Riley has his priorities straight about what‘s really important for Alabama’s coastal communities and all of their citizens. Surely an aircraft consortium will benefit many fisherman and seafood purveyors who have watched their life’s work completely disappear.

And theirs really did disappear unlike the “mysterious disappearing oil" that actually didn’t.

Borrowing from Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s recovery commission Riley has picked the perfect person to head his commission, someone whose well-versed in post disaster recovery "opportunities."
The Coastal Recovery Commission of Alabama, created last week by executive order, is going to craft such a plan. It is a group of citizen leaders led by another person who doesn’t always see eye to eye with public officials: Ricky Mathews, publisher of the Press-Register.
 When Mississippi’s governor formed a commission to plan his state’s long-term recovery from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, he turned to Mr. Mathews to help lead that effort. We both believe Mr. Mathews has the experience and leadership abilities necessary to make the Coastal Recovery Commission a genuine success. (Riley/Hammett Editorial October 2, Press-Register)
Ricky Matthews is the chairman of this newly formed CRC made official by Executive Order # 52. Matthews has moved up the food chain from Governor Barbour‘s commission where he was vice chairman--Riley has appointed him to the highest level for Alabama's commission and he'll lead this time around;
Mathews, who is publisher of the Press-Register in Mobile, was tapped by Riley to lead the commission because he led a similar effort in Mississippi following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina.
Let’s meet Mr. Matthews courtesy of a video posted on YouTube and the Mississippi Renewal website:
Please note who the Mississippi Renewal sponsors are.

The obvious vested interest in a positive message, that leaves out much of the truth, along with any detailed 'spelling out' of the "lessons learned" are absent.

The same lessons that were, in actuality, illustrative of not even opening the book and honestly considering the impoverished and middle income citizens in Mississippi.

Citizens who were hit very hard first--some of the same ones who are still suffering today.

They were left to the slow-moving federal government's care for the most part, but the coastal Mississippi casinos and "incredible communities" weren't and received swift attention from Barbour's state government and commission.(more below on that in the SF Gate excerpt)

We would really to think Mr. Matthews is the best person for the chairmanship of this commission because he has done some good media work in the Katrina recovery, but what Mississippi's recovery commission was involved in and was a part of recommending fairly well outweighs any positives. Adding in the fact that this current commission is the idea of one of Alabama’s most controversial governors kind of seals the deal that this may not go well for all it's purported to help.

That said, we’re not going to assign major fault with any state by trying to revive their economies after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or the Gulf oil spill--it’s to be expected and is indeed the duty of the state government to do.

What we do have a problem with is transparency and truthfulness in what the true agenda is-- is it people, the environment or big business and developers first?

We have additional problems with the process, or lack thereof,  to choose non-industry friendly individuals from all professions and interests, and not simply form some body of mainly business "buddies" who use phrases like “human health issues” and “environmental impacts” as two of the commission’s big concerns.

In Alabama, big business always wins hands down. Mississippi showed us the same attitude. The environmental impact of disasters is minimized (unless huge piles of federal dollars are available) and they're under reported by the state’s largest newspapers.

Coastal citizens in the fishing business are often affected by disasters the deepest and their struggle to survive economically is an uphill climb for months, and sometimes years. Average non-corporate Mississippians were further injured by being relegated to marginal importance by Barbour and his CRC after Katrina. Gov Riley will likely follow suit in the wake of the BP spill.

Just because Riley will be out of office soon does not mean he will not be closely involved with his new commission. He's not one to walk away from his projects and is enough of a control freak to want to maintain control. His notoriously enormous ego won't let him completely hand it over to those who are not lock-step with his way of thinking.

Governor Barbour was all over the media after Hurricane Katrina crying for help for the citizens of Mississippi, deriding the federal government for "not doing enough" and dutifully following his spin masters directions while giving the appearance of a caring, and compassionate man of all the people, but that’s not the reality of what he and the recovery commission placed the greatest importance on and who they helped first.
Aug. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Many Mississippians have benefited from Governor Haley Barbour's efforts to rebuild the state's devastated Gulf Coast in the two years since Hurricane Katrina. The $15 billion or more in federal aid the former Republican national chairman attracted has reopened casinos and helped residents move to new or repaired homes.
Among the beneficiaries are Barbour's own family and friends, who have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from hurricane-related business. A nephew, one of two who are lobbyists, saw his fees more than double in the year after his uncle appointed him to a special reconstruction panel.
Recovery and Renewal
After the storm, Haley Barbour formed the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, appointing former Netscape Communications Corp. Chief Executive Officer James Barksdale as chairman and Henry Barbour as its unpaid executive director.
*(Ricky Matthews, Mississippi Sun Herald publisher, was the Vice Chairman of this commission)
Among the commission's recommendations was the sale of bonds to finance the Katrina recovery. According to state reports and figures provided by Government Consultants, the firm landed about $2.4 million in Mississippi bond fees in 2006, including at least $400,000 from Katrina-related issues. Its fees were up 3.3 percent from 2005, the first year Barbour lobbied for the company, and 125 percent from 2004, the year before it hired him.
One of the projects recommended by the governor's reconstruction commission was a $3 million study of water management systems in six Mississippi counties affected by Katrina. Camp Dresser and Waggoner Engineering, another client of Henry Barbour's firm, worked on that project. CDM paid Henry $15,000 for the final quarter of 2006, according to state lobbying records.
Officials at Waggoner didn't return calls, and a CDM spokeswoman wouldn't comment. 
CRCs Mr. Matthews is the president of Advance Alabama/Mississippi Newspaper Group which includes the Birmingham News and he also serves as the publisher of Mobile’s Press-Register.

We don’t see any environmental and humanitarian credentials in Mr. Matthews qualifications, however, we do note his position as being quite advantageous in being able to craft and direct Riley’s agenda. Just as he was instrumental in assisting Governor Barbour’s agenda after Katrina which included almost exclusively positive news stories of Barbour.

But not all of the press drank the Kook-aid. Many of the out-of-state mainstream news outlets and independent Mississippi newspapers reported on the truth of Barbour and the commission's activities that you won’t find much of in any of White’s newspapers, such as the following story excerpt from The San Francisco Gate ;
In Mississippi the casinos were the first recipients of the state’s recovery efforts:
More than two years after the storm, the highly touted recovery of the Mississippi coast remains a starkly divided phenomenon.

Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, has hailed the casino openings as a harbinger of Mississippi's resurgence, and developers have proposed more than $1 billion in beachfront condos and hotels for tourists. But fewer than 1 in 10 of the thousands of single-family houses destroyed in Biloxi are being rebuilt, according to city permit records. More than 10,000 displaced families still live in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Now, long-standing resentment over the way the state has treated displaced residents has deepened over a proposal by the Barbour administration to divert $600 million in federal housing aid to fund an expansion plan at the Port of Gulfport. The port's recently approved master plan calls for increasing maritime capacity and creating an "upscale tourist village" with hotel rooms, condos, restaurants and gambling.
"We fear that this recent decision ... is part of a disturbing trend by the governor's office to overlook the needs of lower and moderate income people in favor of economic development," 24 ministers on the Mississippi coast wrote in September in a letter to state leaders.
There it is in proverbial black and white--economic development, personal enrichment and certain like-minded business interests trump the needs of lower and moderate income people which is precisely our concern with the Riley controlled and conceived CRC.

One more additional story of note about Barbour and his recovery commission from The Sea Coast Echo July 2010 and yet another huge waste of  post Katrina federal money spent to revive Mississippi‘s “ailing economy” that did not work is important to include;
It might surprise some Bay St. Louis residents to learn that the Old Town beach front, where millions of dollars have been spent since Hurricane Katrina for buildings, infrastructure and a brand-new Beach Boulevard, is a blighted slum.
But that's the official word from the City Council, which learned this week that the pretend designation is necessary before $15.6 million can be spent to build a 162-slip luxury marina at taxpayer expense. 
Granted, business has been slow for Old Town merchants for months, held back at first by laborious hurricane reconstruction and then by recession. But while there may indeed be blighted areas of Bay St. Louis, the intersection of Beach Boulevard and Main Street, where the marina and a new pier are planned, probably is not one of them.
Now it’s going to be a 162 slip luxury marina on the site of the recently built Old Town? That's a much better idea isn’t it ? Just what Mississippi needs to “benefit all the citizens” and stimulate Mississippi’s economy after two devastating disasters.

 Let’s ponder briefly (because that's all it takes) just how many ultra wealthy people will yacht to the coast of Mississippi as their first choice of getaway destinations. Barbour is dreaming with this pie-in-the-sky idea, but he knows that he (and his "good buddies" and maybe family too) will probably make a bundle off it thanks to the federal government's open checkbook.

As we have reported on before, state’s General Funds (where most federal monies are deposited) create a tangled web in how monies are distributed, and offer ripe opportunities to misappropriate funds for pet projects: like road building and controversial development schemes that benefit close alliances of the Governors.

We’ve seen the development of commission after figurehead commission, whose real purposes are not always initally clear in their actual intentions, unless one is paying very close attention.
Riley was very clear his commission of about 100 community leaders, hailing primarily from the business community, was created to draft a plan for the future administration as his second term in office winds down.
"We must do everything we can to restore what’s been lost because of this disaster, but we should also use this moment to strengthen the resilience of our state and coastal communities," Riley said. "The commission will recommend ways that improve our ability to respond to future challenges and examine strategies that will mean far less suffering the next time a catastrophe threatens us." 
Riley said the saddest words in the English language are “what if” and he challenged every citizen in the state to make his voice heard throughout this process.
“This gives you an ability to take a huge amount of money and direct it into something that benefits everyone in the coastal community,” Riley said, estimating Alabama stands to receive its share of billions of dollars resulting from the oil spill.
Legacy building and the repaying of business and political favors is expensive work isn't it Mr. Riley?

As a general rule, most of Alabama’s coastal community’s are peppered with enclaves of the wealthy and influential who own luxury residences, second and third homes and vacation properties in exclusive, high dollar areas.

Real estate development in these areas has pushed out the economically disadvantaged and some of them have also had devastating effects on wetlands in these areas. It’s not a playground of the far less than wealthy and just trying to by populace, which makes us deeply suspicious of the Riley mantra that "everyone will benefit" from the decisions and actions of this commission.

Riley’s history and the eight longest years in Alabama of recent memory speak for themselves. An overwhelming majority of citizens want him to become a distant bad memory sooner rather than later.

Because Riley’s CRC is made up primarily of business groups it’s problematic from the start that what may occur in Alabama will turn out any differently than Barbour’s recovery commission.

In this state, big business is never on the side of the citizens--there are examples of that long enough to stretch from state border to state border and a few times back again just under Riley's reign alone.

Governor Riley’s record on Alabama’s environment is equally dismal and non-existent in favor of any environmental protections, but it’s certainly thickly laden with destruction as most of the republican and big oil influenced politicians policies are-- rightfully earning them the distinction of having their own particular style self-enrichment recovery after community tragedies. 
*photo credits: BaldwinCountyNow--Bob Riley and Salon.com--Barbour

*Dereliction of Duty-- Why Was the Coast Guard MIA in the Gulf? Blame Governors Jindal, Barbour, Riley and Crist
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  1. I smell a great big, hand talking, shellac haired rat!!!!

  2. I laughed, I fumed and then I thought wth? Does Riley really think he is going to pull a Barbour and get away with it? I agree that even if he is out of office, he'll always be lingering like the bad taste of morning mouth.
    Love this one Max.

  3. Priceless.
    Real life is always so much more interesting than fiction (and sometimes scarier). On the list of 50 ways to get rich quick becoming a politician takes up 40 of them, the other 10 belong to lawyers.

  4. Crooks and liars hiding behind a license to steal. Plain and simple.
    As usual the press is asleep on this and not questioning Riley about this commish which they should given Barbour's fleecing of the government money.
    Does Matthews have anything to do with that? hmmmm..looks like a duck, walks like duck..


  6. I knew it, it's just one gig DAMN LIE!
    Barbour preyed off his citizens and this Boob Riley commission is going to do the same damn thing!
    Matthews should answer to his actions in Mississippi, why isn't anybody asking the questions?
    Afraid of lil' ol' newspaper man huh?

  7. The Governor left one man behind. Senator tripp Pittman of baldwin county. The citizens have Pittman and his partners Commissioner Bob James and Fairhope Mayor Tim Kant surrounded with ethics and possbly fraud convictions. Some one is going to rat out the others and very soon !!!!

  8. I had no idea what really happened in Mississippi, I bet a lot of people don't. Quite convenient that a newspaper man is involved to control the message. This is one helluva connect the dots and sound the alarm. Good work.

  9. A friend of mine frequently says if he wants to really know what's going on in a southern state, if it involves serious issues, he doesn't read the local newspapers.
    Rarely do they tell the whole story and their "news" is, more often than, not the talking points of slick PR types.
    You would have found very little of what Barbour's commission did in state papers and what you did find, you had to look for. Independent sources and the mainstream outlets did the heavy lifting on Barbour and his "recovery" commission.

  10. Very interesting and something to ponder.


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