Archive for August, 2009

Katrina Rewind: Mississippi Power’s 12 Days to Success

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

A few weeks after Hurricane Katrina, USA Today published this feature on Mississippi Power’s efforts to restore electricity on the Coast.  At the time I was working for Congressman Chip Pickering and he made this article required reading for his staff.  Here is an excerpt:

Melvin Wilson, 46, a marketing manager for Mississippi Power, was reviewing next year’s advertising campaign when Hurricane Katrina turned toward Mississippi.
A day later, the marketing man was “director of storm logistics,” responsible for feeding and housing 11,000 repairmen from 24 states and Canada.

He needed nurses, beds, meals, tetanus shots, laundry service, showers, toilets and much more — and he needed them now. And he needed double the quantities called for in the company’s “worst-case scenario.” And he needed them in places that had no electricity, no plumbing, no phones, few road signs and sporadic looting.

The fact that Wilson didn’t have a working phone was his tough luck: If he failed, men would go hungry, hospitals would stay dark and the suffering of his community would endure. “My day job did not prepare me for this,” says Wilson, his voice choked with emotion, recalling the burden of having 11,000 mouths to feed.

Let it be told: Wilson got the job done. So did his colleagues. And how they restored power in just 12 days is one of the great modern crisis-management stories.

Read the full article at USA Today online: The little company that could.  I didn’t even include the best parts.

The feature listed four key elements of the company’s success, all of which show why this private company was able to achieve their goals ahead of schedule, while the government was struggling to organize a school bus convoy out of New Orleans.

1) A can-do corporate culture.

2) Clear lines of responsibility.

3) Decentralized decision-making.

4) Company procedures were less important than the ability to improvise.

The article also listed six lessons learned.

Lesson 1: Think ahead — A good forecast pays off

Lesson 2: Be prepared — Back up your backup plans

Lesson 3: Teamwork — How to get help when you need it

Lesson 4: Be clever — Seek breakthrough solutions

Lesson 5: Set high goals — Hard work and pride pay off

Lesson 6: Measure results

There are hundreds of great stories from Mississippi’s response to Hurricane Katrina, and this is one of my favorites.

RR: Remembering Katrina

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

I started to write this week about the relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina by Governor Haley Barbour and Mississippi’s congressional delegation. My introduction took up all my space so I’ll use the meat of the story for next week’s column. This week’s column was a little self-indulgent as I told about my experiences the days before and day of Hurricane Katrina, which struck Mississippi four years ago this Saturday.

In the column I mention that I was at Judge Charles Pickering’s farm in Jones County when Katrina passed over. During the storm, I saw some thrashing in the yard. When the eye passed over I took that reprieve to go investigate and found this owl.

I’m not sure if it was injured or just water logged and confused (it was certainly water logged and confused). I took off my shirt and put it over the owl’s head and closed in its wings and took it to the hay loft of the barn where it could dry out and recover without fear of predators. There are profound images of Katrina. This isn’t one of them. But I’ve always liked the picture.

Anyway, the owl story is not in the column, but you can read the full column in the Madison County Journal online: Perry / Remembering Katrina

RR: Obama polling down

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

I spoke with Nicholas Thompson (originally of Collins, Mississippi and now Vice President at The Tarrance Group in Alexandria, Virginia) about President Obama and Congressional poll numbers this week and looked at some recent polling data.  A few items of interest:

Gallup Poll: Self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals in each of the 50 states. There are more self-identified conservatives now than any time in the last four years. Gallup interviewed more than 160,000 Americans - 40% conservative; 21% liberals. Mississippi ranked #2 in conservatism - 48% conservative, 34% moderate, 15% liberal.

Gallup Poll: 78 percent of Americans worried stimulus money is being wasted; 57% believe it has had no effect or made things worse. More Americans disapproved of President Barack Obama’s handling of health care policy than approved.

Rasmussen Reports: Obama’s approval ratings fell to a new low of 47% with only 42% supporting his health care plan. When it comes to health care, more people fear the government than private insurance companies.

George Washington University Battleground Poll: Republican voter intensity 75%; Democratic intensity 66%. Most Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.

Here is an excerpt:

“Obama’s approval rating has fallen 15-points since his inauguration, which is a greater drop than the last five presidents,” explained Nicholas Thompson, originally of Collins, Mississippi and now Vice President at The Tarrance Group in Alexandria, Virginia. He continued, “At similar points in their presidencies, George W. Bush was down two points, Bill Clinton was down fourteen, Ronald Reagan was up nine, and Jimmy Carter was down six. Given that Obama started with an approval rating that was the highest since John F. Kennedy, this decline is a strong indication that Americans do not think he is meeting the expectations that his campaign and Democrats promised.”

Congress is feeling the impact, too. The Battleground Poll revealed Republicans (45 percent) lead Democrats (40 percent) in the generic ballot among likely voters. This key indicator could spell trouble in swing districts where independents are peeling off Democrats. “The percentage of Americans who plan to vote for the Republican candidate in next year’s congressional races is higher today than before the 2006 Democratic takeover,” Thompson noted.

Thompson said the stimulus and health care debates have caused many Americans to lose confidence in the Democrats: “Polls show Americans believe the Democrats have spent too much money on a stimulus that has either made no difference or made things worse, so their willingness to support a massive overhaul of health care is low right now. The negative impact this is having on Democrats is seen in the sharp decline in trust Americans have for them to handle fiscal issues like government spending, the deficit, and taxes.”

You can read the full column online at the Madison County Journal: Perry / Obama polling down

How the Mississippi Delta swamped John Law’s economic theory and contributed to the French Revolution

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Long blog post title, but that is the gist of this piece at “Law of easy money - A 300-year-old example of quantitative easing.”

Basically, John Law, economic advisor to French King Louis XV, created a paper based money plan not backed by gold and silver as an economic stimulus package for France based on investing in the development of French colonies including the Mississippi Delta.

Here is an excerpt:

The money raised from these share issues was used to repay the government’s debts; on occasion, Law’s bank lent investors the money to buy shares….The problem was that the delta was a mosquito-infested swamp….So a vicious circle was created, in which a growing money supply was needed to bolster the share price of the Mississippi company and a rising share price was needed to maintain confidence in the system of paper money. You can see parallels with recent times, in which money was lent on the back of rising asset prices, and higher prices gave banks the confidence to lend more money.

When the scheme faltered Law resorted to a number of rescue packages, many of which have their echoes 300 years later. One was for the bank to guarantee to buy shares in the Mississippi company at a set price (think of the various government asset-purchase schemes today). Then the company took over the bank (a rescue along the lines of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Finally there were restrictions on the amount of gold and silver that could be owned (something America tried in the 1930s).

All these rules failed and the scheme collapsed. Law was exiled and died in poverty. The French state’s finances stayed weak, helping trigger the 1789 revolution….Of course, the parallels with today are not exact….But one lesson from Law’s sorry tale endures: attempts to maintain asset prices above their fundamental value are eventually doomed to failure.

You can read the full article online at the Economist: Law of easy money - A 300-year-old example of quantitative easing

RR: Senate Dem supports voter ID

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Last month I wrote (MCJ 07/23/09: GOP pushing voter ID) about efforts to collect signatures to put a photo voter-ID measure on the statewide ballot. The column elicited several responses, among them one from Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (D-Brookhaven) who suggested I got one part of the column wrong. She was right. This week I correct that error but also write about Senator Hyde-Smith’s support of voter-ID, and a case of voter fraud in her district she shared with me. Here is an excerpt:

Hyde-Smith supports the voter ID initiative and intends on signing a petition, but wishes voter ID could have been passed during the session. “I hope [the initiative] works and I hope we get it. I truly want voter ID,” she said.

The need for voter ID hits home for one of Hyde-Smith’s constituents. A few years ago, Jennifer Jackson of Brookhaven went to vote only to be told she had already voted. She assured the poll workers she had not, but they showed her where someone had signed her name. She also discovered someone had voted for her deceased father.

“If someone had to show an ID, they couldn’t have been able to steal my vote or vote for my poor dear dad. I don’t think that is too much to ask,” Jackson said. She continued, “It was really disturbing to me, and it’s so easy to stop it from happening: show identification. I can’t imagine why anyone would be opposed to voter ID, unless you’re the politician the crooks are voting for.”

You can read the full column online at the Madison County Journal: Perry / Senate Dem supports voter ID

Noxubee Alliance Awarded $10K

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

The Mississippi Higher Education Initiative (MS-HEI) recently awarded a $10,000 Access to Higher Education grant to the Noxubee Alliance. The funding will be used for a new program that will help students plan and prepare for college and to increase the overall number of students from Noxubee County earning a college degree. The program will be known locally as Opportunity Knocks and is open to all Noxubee County students regardless of which high school they currently attend.

“Education is absolutely essential to preparing our students for the competitive workplace of the twenty-first century. We are very proud to sponsor this initiative and we want to thank Crayton Coleman for his tireless leadership in this effort,” said Brian Wilson, executive director of the Noxubee Alliance.

MS-HEI is a partnership between Mississippi State University and the Appalachian Regional Commission working to raise the educational attainment of the Mississippi Appalachian Region. According to MS-HEI co-director Julie Jordan, “There are two keys to the success and sustainability of any Access to Higher Education project. First is the enthusiastic commitment of the community team. Second is total buy-in and support from the school principal, counselors, teachers, coaches, band directors, choir director, and everyone working with the students at the school.”

Sandra Perkins of the Appalachian Regional Commission; Clayton Coleman, Chairman of Opportunity Knocks; and Julie Jordan, co-director of MS-HEI present a check for $10,000 to the Noxubee Alliance.

Sandra Perkins of the Appalachian Regional Commission; Crayton Coleman, Chairman of Opportunity Knocks; and Julie Jordan, co-director of MS-HEI present a check for $10,000 to the Noxubee Alliance.

The Noxubee Alliance is a public-private partnership for the promotion of economic development, tourism, and community development in Noxubee County.

Fancy Farm, Kentucky

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

[Update: 08/11/2009 - As you can see, they've pulled down the very funny video that targeted Jack Conway, but not before it got the attention of Kentucky political writers: WHAS-11: Jack Conway's "SOB" comment gets new life on Comedy Central, YouTube and the Louisville Courier-Journal: Online video pokes fun at Conway speech - TV comedian Colbert also lampoons attorney general]

I took a trip to Kentucky last weekend to watch their preeminent political event of the year: Fancy Farm.  The town of Fancy Farm hosts a church picnic that benefits St. Jerome Parish featuring games, bingo, hundreds of yards of bbq mutton and pork, an RV camp, and plenty of political campaigning and speaking.

Politics at Fancy Farm make the Neshoba County Fair look downright polite. From the moment a speaker gets on stage until exiting, opposition campaigns and audience participants heckle and boo and yell. Meanwhile, the candidate is calling his opponents everything but a child of God.  Signs and costumed operatives surround the speaking shed which reserves a large section for the statewide media which never neglect this opportunity that cane make or break a candidate. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a governor or a dog catcher, when you reach your time limit they turn off your mic and crank up banjo music to drown you off the stage.  So it is wise to watch the clock.

We had a great time watching the candidates for U.S. Senate.  Incumbent Republican Jim Bunning has announced he will not seek reelection. Some speculate he made the announcement days before Fancy Farm because in the end, he didn’t want to have to endure the ordeal of speaking there again. But regardless of timing, his decision has been in the making for a while now.  The front-runners on the Republican side are two-term Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Dr. Rand Paul, son of Congressman Ron Paul; the Democratic front-runners: Attorney General Jack Conway and Lieutenant Governor Dan Mongiardo.

I was surprised that Jack Conway took the occasion to cuss at the church picnic. I’m no prude, but when he referred to himself in his speech as one tough SOB, I was puzzled. To me, it seemed to be one of two things.  Either it was a calculated decision to compensate for some perceived softness - he wanted to knock down a negative perception that he was not tough.  Or it was a hasty and erratic choice of words in response to pressure from hecklers. Either way, it did not seem a wise campaign tactic.

Here is an opposition clip - I imagine generated by Mongiardo campaign - as a result, somewhat entertaining.

And, Jack Conway even made the Colbert Report. His segment began around the 5:57 mark and runs to about 7:19.

To add insult to injury, Jack Conway did not watch his time. He was drownded off the stage by Kentucky banjo music. What a way to go.

RR: Off-stage politics at Neshoba County Fair

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Much of the political fun at the Neshoba County Fair is off-stage by those not speaking. This year, some of those in the crowd included Bill Luckett, John Arthur Eaves Jr., Burns Strider, Dave Dennis, and Jess Dickinson. Luckett and Eaves have both been mentioned as candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2011. Strider is an experienced and connected Democratic operative originally from Grenada County.  Dennis is very seriously considering a run for governor as a Republican. And Dickinson is a Supreme Court Justice, likely to be running for reelection in 2010. You can read about them in my column this week online at the Madison County Journal: Perry / Off-stage politics at Neshoba

The Fair Times: Frogs and Pharaohs and Obama criticisms

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

The Fair Times is the daily newspaper of the Neshoba County Fair and in it I wrote two pieces this year on the political speeches.  Wednesday’s speeches featured Dick Hall, Phil Bryant, Lynn Posey, Stacey Pickering and Jim Hood. The speeches from Thursday featured Haley Barbour, Tate Reeves, Mike Chaney, Delbert Hosemann, Kenny Griffis, Bill Waller Jr. and Jim Kitchens.

You can read both commentaries courtesy of The Neshoba Democrat - Wednesday: Frogs and Pharaohs and Thursday: Barbour, Reeves, Chaney target Obama at Fair.

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