Restoration Contractor Strategies: Getting The Best Value In Your Claim

May 30, 2009

I’ve written before about how to hire restoration contractors, and things to watch for. Now, here are a few tips on how to get the best prices for the restoration work you need to have completed.

• Make sure that the scope of damages is correct. You can usually get a copy of the scope of damages from your adjuster. The scope of damages lists the necessary work to be performed, not the prices.

• Make sure you get at least three estimates from three separate contractors. Inform the contractors that they are competing against other contractors.

• If any contractor finds needed repairs that are not listed on the scope of damage, insist that these repairs be listed on a supplemental estimate separate from the main estimate.

• Make sure that the general contractor bids include Overhead and Profit.

• Negotiate your claim with the insurance adjuster using the highest contractor bid. Many times, adjusters will use estimating software that has unit pricing far below market pricing. This is especially true after a major disaster such as a widespread hailstorm, tornado or hurricane.

• Once you have successfully negotiated the claim amount, go back to the three contractors and suggest that his contractors or suppliers offer better pricing. Economic times what they are today, some companies will drastically shave profits just to have the work.

• Ask your contractors to offer their professional input on ways to get the job done at reduced prices. He might recommend different floor covering, or different cabinets, or different countertops or light fixtures.

• Make a discounted offer to a contractor. Then shut your mouth. The first one who speaks loses.

• Tell the winning contractor that you prefer paying subcontractors and suppliers directly. This can be a win-win situation, since the contractor won’t have to front the money for materials. You can pay for materials out of the insurance proceeds. You can win because you won’t have to pay his overhead or profit for just paying bills.

• Don’t forget to have all vendors sign a Lien Waiver before receiving payment. No signature, no payment.

These strategies can save you thousands of dollars if you’re careful.

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Homosexual Marriage: Don’t You Want To Be Free?

May 30, 2009

Homosexual marriage, or civil union, has always been kind of a mystery to me.

When I moved to Atlanta from a small town in Michigan in 1992, I had never even met a homosexual. Once I got here in Atlanta, I auditioned and was accepted into the Tenor section of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Out of about 30 tenors, there were only two or three of us that were not gay men.

Quite a culture shock for me, the conservative who was always told that homosexuals would burn in hell. But I met and became friends with individuals, not a group. They were kind, and warm, and caring, and genuinely wonderful people. My attitude toward homosexuals was forever changed. I don’t ascribe to their lifestyle, but neither do I stand in condemnation. That’s someone else’s job.

I’ve heard comics say, “The homosexuals should have the right to be as miserable as the rest of us married people.”

Why should homosexuals want the blessing and licensure of the State on their relationships? What’s the big draw… the big benefit?

It doesn’t appear to be that the homosexuals want to be taken too seriously. The folks that march in Gay Pride parades don’t appear to be concerned with the straight world’s acceptance of their chosen lifestyle.

Could it be that they are looking for a legal status that will provide them monetary benefits that they cannot get today? Like Social Security, Medicare, pension and health care benefits?

They already have the right to have any kind of legal relationship they choose.

The Evangelicals who spend so much time denouncing homosexuals say that licensing homosexual marriage will undermine the “sanctity of marriage.”

Please.

First, if you have a faith or religious tradition you follow that prohibits homosexuality, fine. Practice your own individual behavior within your own conscience. But the states and the Federal Government of the USA are secular in nature, not Christian. Don’t presume to force your beliefs onto others.

Second, if marriage was as sacred as our society tells us it is, the state legislatures would not have passed laws that made divorce so easy. Besides, why should any state have any licensure of a marriage? Is it only for the easy fees it generates? Is there any real difference between a marriage license and a dog license or business license?

Seems to me that the essence of this issue is the sanctity of contracts, not the sanctity of marriage.

There is nothing I know of that prevents any two or more people from entering into contract with each other. Two people can go to an attorney and have a legal document drafted that deals with legal duties to each other, community property and the disposition of assets, legal duties to children of the “union,” procedure for dissolution of the agreement (kind of a civil divorce), and any other contractual terms the parties desired.

When the contract was acceptable to all parties, it could be signed and notarized. No preacher or judge would have to officiate…that’s just the romantic myth that accompanies the process. And, there is no license fee for executing a contract.

If the partners of a civil union want to have a little ceremony and a celebration following, great! Nothing prevents it but their budget.

You never see two guys, going into business as a remodeling contractor, draw up a partnership agreement, and then go get a pastor or priest to bless their partnership. Homosexuals don’t need it either.

If homosexuals would stop thinking about being slaves of the State, they could actually become leaders to the rest of the population. They could enter into their own legal relationship agreements, and completely forsake the blessing of the State. Tell the bureaucrats to stay out of their relationships, as well as their bedrooms.

Homosexuals, stop trying to curry the politicians’ favors, and show the rest of us a little taste of individual liberty.

Forget state-approved marriages forever!


Seven Myths About Flood Insurance

May 28, 2009

Floods happen with great regularity in the United States. In recent years, we have witnessed entire cities underwater in the spring floods along the Mississippi River. However, floods can happen in unexpected areas and for unexpected reasons. Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to provide insurance protection for the hazard of flood.

The standard homeowner policy (HO-3) defines flood as follows:

“…A general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of normally dry land areas due to:
1. The overflow of inland or tidal waters;
2. The unusual or rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source; or
3. Mudslides.

Remember Hurricane Katrina? The hurricane winds blew flood waters into areas that had never had floods before. The insurance industry denied thousands of claims, attributing the damages to flood. Thousands of property owners who were nowhere near a flood plain had their claims denied because they did not have flood insurance.

So, here are seven common myths about Flood Insurance.

Myth #1: Homeowners, renters, and business property insurance policies cover flood damage.

No, homeowners, renters, and business property insurance policies do not cover floods. The NFIP policy is a separate policy that does cover flood damage to a home or business. Contents coverage can also be added to the flood policy. Policies are available to property owners as well as property renters, whether home or business.

Myth #2: Only homeowners and business owners can buy flood insurance.

Fact is that most homeowners, renters, condo owners, and businesses in NFIP participating communities can buy flood insurance. Policy limits are:

Home and Condo Owners – $250,000 in structural coverage, $100,000 in contents coverage
Renters – $100,000 in contents coverage
Business owners and renters – $500,000 in structural coverage, $500,000 in contents coverage

Myth #3: You can’t buy flood insurance if you are in a high-risk zone.

Fact is that you can buy NFIP coverage no matter where you live, as long as your community participates in the NFIP.

Myth #4: You can’t buy flood insurance if you’ve been flooded before.

Fact is that as long as your community participates in NFIP, you can buy flood insurance.

Myth #5: You can’t buy flood insurance immediately before or during a flood.

Fact is that you can buy NFIP flood insurance any time. There is usually a 30-day waiting period before the effective date of the policy. Also, the policy does not cover a loss in progress, which is defined in the policy as a loss occurring at midnight on the date your policy goes into effect. So, the new policy won’t cover past or current losses, only losses after the policy goes into effect.

Myth #6: If you live in an area that is not a flood zone, you don’t need flood insurance.

Fact is that floods occur regularly in places that are not mapped flood zones. 25% of NFIP’s claims come from low-to-medium risk zones. On the other hand, if you live in a flood zone, you likely cannot finance a home loan without buying flood insurance.

Myth #7: FEMA disaster assistance will pay for flood damage.

Fact is that unless your area is declared a disaster area, there is no FEMA assistance. Fewer than 50% of floods are declared a disaster area. And, if you don’t have flood insurance when the flood occurs, you will have to buy and keep flood coverage to be eligible for future benefits.

Don’t allow your property to be damaged by flood without having the proper insurance coverage. Get the coverage you need, and don’t wait any longer.

For all the details about Flood Insurance, go to: http://www.floodsmart.gov


The Illusion Of Liberty

May 28, 2009

The illusion of liberty is the oil that makes the gears of American politics mesh. Without this grand illusion, citizens might actually wrest government control away from the political criminal class and demand Constitutional governance.

The average American citizen of the late 18th century was a person who could read and write eloquently, intelligently debate complicated issues, and took up arms against tyranny and excessive taxation. Remember that the Federalist Papers were a series of 85 newspaper articles that appeared in The Independent Journal and The New York Packet between October 1787 and August 1788. They were written to the average reader on the street, not to intellectuals in some university publication. The authors wanted to encourage ratification of the new Constitution and influence its interpretation.

Compare that 1788 citizen with today’s American. Over the last 100 or so years, the government schools have been wildly successful in omitting Constitution education and Civics from the curriculum. They also omitted competent math and science education. According to the 2006 report of the US Department of Education’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the American education is ranked #21 of the top 30 nations for science, and #25 of the top 30 nations for math. Azerbaijani students had higher math scores than American kids, and Latvian kids scored higher than Americans in science. Consequently, we have a population that is largely ignorant and uneducated, and ill equipped to live as free people.

But they do very well as sheep.

In place of true education, the American students of the 20th and 21st centuries have been force-fed a pablum of political correctness, social justice and a high priority given to sports, washed down with gallons of racial divisiveness and false patriotism.

Thus undernourished on this toxic stew, and dedicated to entertainment above all, Americans make meaningless choices and think they are free.

For the most part, American are compliant and credulous, willing to believe on slight or uncertain evidence. If comes to them from radio, or TV, or in their favorite magazine or newspaper, it must be true. For over 100 years they have been taught to be good order takers, good factory workers, good followers and good soldiers.

Think about it. Here are the choices you get on a daily basis:

• Cash or Credit
• Paper or plastic
• Regular or No-lead
• Shell or Exxon
• 2-Door or 4-Door
• Domestic or Foreign
• Whole or skim milk
• Regular or decaf coffee
• Fat or low-fat
• Over-easy or scrambled
• Latte or espresso
• Dairy or non-dairy creamer
• Smoking or Non-smoking
• Window or Aisle
• AM or FM
• Pepsi or Coke
• Light beer or Regular
• Burial or Cremation

The simplest, drooling moron could make those choices successfully. However, to make some of the next choices calls for more gray matter than rests in most of the American psyche.

• Vote or Don’t Vote
• PC or Mac
• Gay or Straight
• Liberal or Conservative
• Pro-life or Pro-abortion
• Democrat or Republican
• McCain or Obama
• Adherence to or ignoring the Constitution
• Sound money or Federal Reserve notes
• Balanced budgets or Deficit spending
• Religion or Secularism
• Creationism or Evolution
• Free speech or Permitted speech

Notice a few things about the last list. First, many of these choices are also meaningless, but with more serious consequences. “Democrat” and “Republican” are the two faces on the same coin of Big Government servitude. No matter which side of the coin you choose, you still get the coin. Second, many of the terms are without definitions anchored in reality. For example, today’s “Liberal” and “Conservative” bear no resemblance to the original terms.

What is religion? Do you practice religion or seek truth? There is sometimes a difference.

We just completed a Memorial Day celebration. Millions of people flocked to their town squares, streets, churches and cemeteries to pay homage to the war dead. Few of those celebrating Memorial Day would ever admit that none of the men and women of the 20th and 21st century wars died actually protecting America and its Constitution.

But they have the ILLUSION…the erroneous, teary-eyed viewpoint…that those soldiers died protecting our freedom. I think they would be hard pressed to actually define just how “American freedom” got protected in places like Vietnam, or Grenada, or France, or Afghanistan. No one since the British in 1812 has attacked the United States mainland. Yet the illusion of liberty persists like a smoker’s cough.

The illusion of liberty is the widely-held notion that will keep America from actually experiencing true liberty.

“The reason people call it “The America Dream” is that you have to be asleep to believe it.”
~George Carlin


Home Security: Are Your Home’s Doors Break-in Proof?

May 26, 2009

Home security is fast becoming an important topic of concern here in America. As the economy worsens, the crime rate for burglaries and robberies is rising. The local news has stories almost daily of break-ins at homes and business in which the predominant method of entry is kicking in one of the exterior doors.

Over the years I have spent as an insurance adjuster, I’ve been to at least a hundred homes to investigate burglaries and help the homeowners prepare their insurance claim. Seldom have I found incidents where the burglar came in through a window. Burglars nearly always make their entry through a door.

Most people use deadbolt locks and their first line of defense. Nothing wrong with that. I’ve never seen a deadbolt lock fail. The deadbolt is not the weakest link in the chain when it comes to securing an exterior door.

The weak link is the door jamb.

For you that are unfamiliar with the term “jamb,” it is the frame to which the door is mounted by hinges. When you turn the key the deadbolt lock throws a steel bolt into a latch on the jamb.

For tens of millions of homes, apartments and businesses, the exterior door jamb is made of wood. In residential applications, the door jamb usually has a thickness of ¾”. Sometimes exterior door jambs can have a 1 ½” thickness.

The screws that mount the latchplate onto the jamb are usually ¾” wood screws, and are usually about 1” away from the edge of the jamb. So, when a bad guy kicks your door, there is only about 1” of wood in the jamb offering any resistance. One inch of pine wood, or even oak, does not give you much protection.

In almost every burglary claim I’ve handled where the burglar came in through a door, it was the wood door jamb that failed…usually on about the second kick. And the cost of replacing a damaged door and jamb can easily run $750 – $1,000.

The best solution to securing your exterior doors against break-in would be to install steel jambs and steel doors. However, that can be very expensive.

Sliding glass doors are also an easy entry point for thieves. Placing a dowel, bar or stick in the track does not prevent your door from being lifted out of the track.

There is another solution that is cost effective and works great!

Armor Concepts is a company based in Saddle Brook, NJ that has created three products that solve this security problem. They are:

• Door Jamb Armor – A patented door security and repair solution that will help stop home invasions before they begin. Door Jamb Armor can also be used to repair a previously damaged jamb and can be installed in under an hour by the average do-it-yourselfer. All pieces are made of galvanized steel and are powder coated so they will stand up to harsh weather and can be painted to match your door. You will barely notice the steel door armor once it’s installed. Door Jamb Armor will allow you to turn any door into a security door that’s attractive and economical.

• FIX-A-JAMB – A cheap, quick and attractive door frame repair solution

• Armor Latch – An effective and economical sliding glass door security solution. Prevents sliding glass doors from being lifted out the track.

You can see some dramatic product testing video at the company’s website at: http://www.djarmor.com One video shows use of a police battering ram. The jamb holds rock solid.

These products can be found at big box home improvement retailers like Lowe’s.

If you do not protect your doors and jambs, it will be cheaper for you if you’ll just go ahead and leave the doors unlocked. At least the thieves will only steal your belongings, not destroy your door and then steal your stuff.


The Torture Debate: Government’s Sleight Of Hand?

May 24, 2009

The torture debate may be a classic example of the old magician’s “sleight of hand” routine. Watch what I’m doing over here in my right hand, while the actual trick is happening in my left.

Osama Bin Laden clearly stated the reason for Muslim hatred was the American presence in Muslim nations. Infidels on Muslim soil. Our mere physical presence has generated new legions of fighters and suicide bombers. In addition, the knowledge of American torture of Arabs and Afghanis is one of the best recruiting tools our enemies have.

And Arabs and Afghanis have made us pay dearly. The American occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to over 5,000 US military deaths, and tens of thousands of horrible injuries and disabilities.

But, knowing the clear reasons for Arab anger, the American military and intelligence agencies still use torture…just like always.

The various American intelligence agencies, both military and non-military…you know, the “three initials” agencies like CIA, FBI, NSA, etc…have been capturing people and using “enhanced interrogation” techniques since their inception. The American populace simply doesn’t know much about their history.

Why did the Bush Administration make a decision that they would disclose to the world that they had captured “enemy combatants?” They went further and disclosed that they had moved them to locations around the world, outside of the reach of American law. Then they started talking about “renditions,” and various forms of torture like sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, electric shock and simulated drowning, otherwise known as “waterboarding.”(I refuse to disinfect and redefine the act of simulated drowning.)

Could it be to create a diversion?

Torture is the least of the many crimes that the American Federal Government has perpetuated over the last 150-plus years. Yet, while the American media trots out this story continually over months and years…even though it deserves the ink…it obscures the greater crimes done by the American Federal Government.

Greater atrocities are ignored while the feigned outrage in this country is largely focused on this single crime.

Here is a short list of atrocities performed by the US Federal Government:

• Theft of land from native Americans from sea to shining sea
• Abrogation of all treaties between the American government and Indian nations
• Murder and genocide of native American tribes
• The Civil War
• Internment of American citizens of Japanese origin at the beginning of WWII, and confiscation of their assets
• Atomic weapons used against civilian targets at Nagasaki and Hiroshima
• Overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and theft of the Hawaiian Islands
• The enactment of the individual income tax
• Attempted overthrow of Fidel Castro
• Ruby Ridge murders by FBI
• Branch Davidian massacre, Waco, TX
• Overthrow of other governments like Chile and most Central American nations
• Use of Depleted Uranium ordnance in Iraq, rendering the entire country radioactive and lethal, causing illness and horrific birth defects
• The Patriot Act
• The Department of Homeland Security

The American government has not strayed from its high principles. It does not possess any high principles. It simply had a moment of hubris mixed with indiscretion when it disclosed that it uses torture. It could have been a diversionary tactic, but I doubt it. The government is pretty sure that it can get away with anything because it does not fear its citizens. And why would it?

President Obama has not repudiated the use of torture with his actions, only with his words. He is simply returning the system to the secrecy that it enjoyed for the last 60 years. He encourages America to look forward, not backward, which in essence guarantees the status quo and immunity from prosecution for the torturers and the politicians who ordered it.

Don’t get any weird idea that America is special, God’s chosen nation to bring freedom to the world. The mass perception of American citizens is not reality. It is not that “city on a hill” that Ronald Reagan called it. Every king, potentate, Caesar, Czar, or Emperor throughout human history has committed mind-numbing atrocities on the populations they wished to subdue, conquer and plunder.

Including their own people.

Get some perspective, America. Torture is heinous, but your government is doing a lot worse things than torture. Save your anger and outrage for the really bad stuff.


Oath Keepers: The Sentries On The Wall

May 24, 2009

Oath Keepers is a non-partisan association of currently serving military, veterans, and peace officers who will fulfill their sworn oath to “support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, so help me God.”

I recently learned about Stewart Rhodes, a Yale-educated lawyer. Stewart served on the staff of Texas Congressman Ron Paul until after the 2008 elections. While he was there, he formed a new idea. Seeing the fast encroaching totalitarianism infecting the Federal Government, he correctly concluded that without willing and compliant military, combined with local law enforcement personnel, the tyrants among us could not subjugate the American populace.

So, Stewart founded Oath Keepers.

There is a debate within the ranks of the military regarding their oath. Some mistakenly believe they must follow any order the President issues. But many others do understand that their loyalty is to the Constitution and to the people, and understand what that means.
Their oath is to the Constitution, not to the politicians, and not to any political party. In the long-standing tradition of the U.S. military, they are apolitical. They don’t care if unlawful orders come from a Democrat or a Republican, or if the violation is bi-partisan. They will not obey unconstitutional (and thus unlawful) and immoral orders, such as orders to disarm the American people or to place them under martial law. They won’t “just follow orders.” Their motto: “Not on Our Watch!” or to put it even more succinctly, in the words of Lt. General Harry Kinnard, in response to a WWII German order to surrender, “NUTS!”

There are thousands of active duty and veteran military joining Oath Keepers, as well as active duty and retired law enforcement officers.
Each person entering the US military swears this oath:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

(Title 10, US Code: Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

Many law enforcement personnel also take an oath much like the military oath.

Notice that, above all, the oath-taker swears to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. He swears true faith and allegiance to the Constitution, not the Commander-in-Chief. Only after that affirmation does the oath to obey orders of the President and superior officers appear in the body of the oath. A soldier who obeys an order that violates the Constitution commits treason against the Constitution. An officer who issues a direct order that violates the Constitution issues an unlawful order, and the order should be ignored.

I submit to you that a soldier that understands the depth of his oath cannot lawfully and constitutionally follow the orders to deploy to an undeclared war anywhere in the world. Nor could he obey an order that would violate the rights of an American citizen. Soldiers who truly understood their oath have a duty to disobey unlawful orders, even if it meant prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.”
~President Theodore Roosevelt

Every President of the United States must take the following oath of office as set forth in the US Constitution, Article II, Section 1:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Any President that commits an act subverting the Constitution commits treason against the Constitution. Can you count the number of acts committed by the last six Presidents? The number would stagger the memory of your calculator.

Under Article 4, Section 4, the Federal Government must defend the states against invasion:

“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”

There is a deep debate today in America on Article 4. Many today believe that the Federal Government may take unconstitutional measures to “protect…against invasion…and against domestic violence.” So, now we have the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security. Oath Keepers believe in the rule of law.
Any law or regulation that undermines the Oath of Office or the duty of the Federal Government under Article 4 shall be considered unconstitutional and each person has a duty to ignore that law.

“The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law.”
~ President Dwight David Eisenhower

Allow me to compare today’s American political reality with J.R.R. Tolkein’s stories of the Kingdom of Middle Earth.

Washington DC is Mordor, the very center of evil. Sauron, the all-seeing eye, is the Federal Government. Sauron seeks to rule the world. But, recently, the gaze of the all-seeing eye has been turned inward on Middle Earth. He seeks out those who he considers a threat to his power. The only way that Sauron can conquer Middle Earth is to send forth his army of Orcs. Orcs are often portrayed as beings with brutal, warmongering tendencies, although in some instances are described as a proud warrior race with a strong sense of honor.

That description of Orcs accurately describes some of today’s military and law enforcement communities. There are many that will obey Sauron’s orders, and try to subjugate American citizens. But if the military and law enforcement rise up and refuse to obey unlawful orders, the ability of Sauron to conquer will be diminished and could evaporate.

Oath Keepers speak directly to those members of the military and law enforcement that still have a conscience. They are having remarkable success with military and law enforcement veterans and retirees, since those individuals are free of the orders of superiors. However, there are many that are still on active duty that must protect their identities against persecution and/or termination. Still, those secret Oath Keepers exist in growing numbers.

It is the military and law enforcement that can stand in between the citizen and the tyrant. Time will tell just how many of them will stand for the rule of law and forsake the rule of men.

To learn more about Oath Keepers, go to: http://oath-keepers.blogspot.com/