February 28, 2007

Buying Up the Coast for Fun and Profit—LOTS of Profit.

Filed under: Katrina — PolitiCalypso @ 8:48 am

As readers of this blog have undoubtedly noticed, I’ve been focusing heavily on the recovery process of Hurricane Katrina lately. Much attention has been devoted to the initial response and its shortcomings, but critiques of the reconstruction are harder to come by.

And now… we come to an issue that is not only being overlooked, but appears to have a very strong public relations effort underway to spin it a certain way.

This is a multi-pronged issue, but in a nutshell, it’s this: Big industry is getting free rein to buy up anything it can get its hands on, with encouragement and aid from the government at several levels. In the meantime, coastal residents and local businesses are having to rely on private charities (as well as an Attorney General who will fight for them against people trying to ruin them financially) to get back on their feet.

It’s fairly common knowledge that war profiteering on a truly grand scale is taking place in Iraq while the Iraqis and our own soldiers watch the country degenerate into total anarchy and civil war. This same type of corporate profiteering, often by the same companies, is taking place on our very own Gulf Coast as well, while the residents of the coast are left to fend for themselves.

This issue deals with the great divide between the haves and the have-nots, and as such, it is intimately related to the housing and insurance problems associated with the Katrina recovery. This story is likely to have some overlap with previous entries.
Private charity is a great thing, and it’s stories like this that restore some of my faith in humanity when it falters. However, these stories are deeply, deeply sad. The extent of the devastation in these communities is so great that these organizations, despite their heroic efforts, are swamped. (Read more…)

February 27, 2007

Two Responses, Two Recoveries

Filed under: Katrina — PolitiCalypso @ 11:24 am
I discovered this report from the Institute for Southern Studies’ “Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch.” It gives an overview of a number of problems facing the Gulf Coast and proposed solutions to them. Unfortunately, it neglects to mention global warming’s impact on sea levels, including the inundation of the barrier islands and the low-lying wetlands that would take place under these conditions. However, the rest of it is sound.

The problems have been identified, and solutions have been proposed. It is time to act. Enough is enough.

It’s no secret that the response to Hurricane Katrina was a fiasco, wherein no one got really suitable treatment but the level of recovery was still dramatically divided by race and class boundaries. Based on some of the stories in the news, which speak glowingly of Mardi Gras or the rehabilitation of the Superdome, you’d be led to believe that these disparities only surfaced during the immediate response attempts, and that things have been hunky-dory since then.

Well, you’d be wrong. The recovery of Hurricane Katrina is plagued with problems, the first of which I have already touched on–it does not consider the coming rise of the sea levels or the inundation of the coast’s natural defenses, which global climate change is predicted to cause. As I’ve said, there are several others: environmental damage, the domination of the rebuilding process by big industry, and the class-based inequality of personal property recovery. Although they are all closely related, today’s blog will only look at the last one. (Read more…)

February 15, 2007

State Farm Poised to Pull Insurance on the Gulf Coast

Filed under: Katrina — PolitiCalypso @ 8:43 am

In the wake of the lawsuit in favor of coastal homeowners who were victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, State Farm Insurance has announced that it will not write any new policies for residents of Mississippi:

Bob Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America said he believed State Farm’s action was a warning to other Gulf Coast states.

“I would say it’s a warning shot,” Hunter said. “The insurance company here, State Farm, is basically saying, ‘If you make us pay what we owe, we’re gonna … take it out on your citizens.'”

And here’s Mississippi’s Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood on it, after the company tried to blame “judicial uncertainty” for its move:

“They [State Farm] created the problem,” he said. “If they would have paid what they owed in the first place, there never would have been a lawsuit filed.”

I could not agree more with either person.

In a printed article that I read this morning, the company is also cited as “assessing how many of the current policies in Mississippi will be renewed this year.”

That’s a red alarm that homeowners on America’s most vulnerable coastline will have their insurance revoked before the 2007 hurricane season kicks off — a season that is forecast to be a repeat of seasons such as 2003 and 2004, after the current El Nino dissipates. If one company is allowed to get away with it, you can rest assured that others will follow in its wake.

Apparently, the company tried to pull this in Florida as well, but — in a series of events that truly blows my mind — was stymied by the new Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist. Credit where it’s due, I guess, although from this article, it appears that he did it for the wrong reasons.

Insurance companies can’t cancel your homeowner policy before December or raise your rates for the next 90 days.

Throwing another hard jab at the property-insurance industry, Gov. Charlie Crist persuaded his fellow Florida Cabinet members to pass an emergency order to that effect Tuesday.

The 90-day rate freeze is intended to make sure companies preparing rate-adjustment requests take into account the steep savings they should get under an insurance law Crist signed last week.

The order, which prevents insurers from dropping customers until after the next hurricane season, was approved despite strident objections raised by insurance-industry lobbyists and concerns from state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, who both said the rule could put some companies in too much of a financial bind.

Although Florida does tend to treat its hurricane victims better than the victims of Hurricane Katrina in MS and LA, this whining about profits really rings hollow when you consider that

[a] year and a half after Hurricane Katrina, 35,000 Mississippi households remain at odds with State Farm, and now the company says it won’t issue any new homeowner policies in Mississippi.

Yeah, cry me a river.

I sat through this hurricane. My family’s house in Mississippi took roof damage that still has not been repaired. I have since then moved out of the area, but I follow developments very closely. I have come around to the conclusion that disaster victims and potential disaster victims need a media-savvy group to lobby for them. Their entire livelihood depends on the whim of political power-brokers, and, while the insurance industry is rich and powerful, the small businesses and homeowners have NO voice after the storm passes through.

(Cross-posted on the Daily Kos.)

February 9, 2007

Blame the Victims

Filed under: Katrina — PolitiCalypso @ 11:43 am

One trend that I am thoroughly sick of seeing is the one that goes something like “let’s attack the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”

The first kind of it is the government-endorsed attack line branding the victims as fraudsters who were ripping off taxpayers. This is epitomized by the December 2006 GAO report that makes note of “questionable” payments amounting to about $1 billion. (Now, let’s see, how long did the Coast have to wait for help to arrive in the first place, and, oh, how much have we spent in that wasteland known as Iraq, again…?)

CNN reported on the findings. Some choice samples:

In one case, FEMA sent $46,000 to 10 people in Plano, Texas, to cover out-of-pocket housing expenses while at the same time paying for their apartments. Seven of the 10 people “self-certified” to FEMA that they needed rental assistance despite the fact they were living in rent-free housing.

Since, of course, no one who’s lost their home and most of their property might have any expenses to cover beyond rent. And that average of $4,600 per person is just outrageously over-the-top. How dare the government be so wasteful?

The GAO says FEMA also sent nearly $17 million in potentially improper rental assistance to people living in FEMA trailers.

Potentially improper. But I’ve forgotten; this has become a world of “guilty until proven innocent.”

And don’t even get me started on those FEMA trailers. If I had to live in one of those things after experiencing a natural disaster and having my home destroyed or condemned, I’d want some spare cash too.

And nearly $20 million went to individuals who registered for assistance for both hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For example, one individual received two housing replacement payments of $10,500 each, despite the fact he had only one property to replace.

Where can I get one of these $10,500 houses?

There is, of course, another line of attack used against the hurricane victims.
This e-mail, which apparently made the rounds in several variations, is a fine example of it:

North Dakota News Bulletin

This text is from a county emergency manager out in the western part of North Dakota state after the storm.

Amusing, if it were not so true…


Up here in the Northern Plains we just recovered from a Historic event — may I even say a “Weather Event” of “Biblical Proportions” — with a historic blizzard of up to 24″ inches of snow and winds to 50 MPH that broke trees in half, stranded hundreds of motorists in lethal snow banks, closed all roads, isolated scores of communities and cut power to 10’s of thousands.


George Bush did not come….
FEMA staged nothing….
No one howled for the government…
No one even uttered an expletive on TV…
Nobody demanded $2,000 debit cards…..
No one asked for a FEMA Trailer House….
No one looted….
Phil Cantori of the Weather Channel did not come….
And Geraldo Rivera did not move in.

Nope, we just melted snow for water, sent out caravans to pluck people out of snow engulfed cars, fired up wood stoves, broke out coal oil lanterns or Aladdin lamps, and put on an extra layer of clothes because up here it is ‘work or die’. We did not wait for some affirmative action government to get us out of a mess created by being immobilized by a welfare program that trades votes for ‘sittin at home’ checks.

Even though a Category “5” blizzard of this scale has never fallen this early…we know it can happen and how to deal with it ourselves.

“In my many travels, I have noticed that once one gets north of about 48 degrees North Latitude, 90% of the worlds social problems evaporate.”

Fortunately, the good people at Snopes debunked this smear. Debunking is great; that’s what Snopes does. But some things don’t really deserve that honor, and this is one of them.

Even if the e-mail were accurate, let’s compare:


  • 24 inches of snow
  • 50 mph winds
  • Trees broken in half
  • Motorists stranded in snow banks
  • Roads closed
  • Communities isolated
  • Power cut to tens of thousands
Hurricane Katrina

  • 35 feet of rushing water
  • 130+ mph winds
  • Trees washed away
  • Motorists drowned in flood waters
  • Roads washed out to sea
  • Towns obliterated
  • Electrical infrastructure destroyed for hundreds of thousands

To anyone who penned, sent, or enjoyed this type of e-mail: Just shut up. Now.

Personally, I would like to take every single person who cheered on this type of message, and stick them smack in the middle of the Superdome on August 29, 2005.

Or Waveland, Mississippi, which was virtually wiped clear by the winds and surge of Katrina.

Let’s see how long these self-styled “tough guys” last in conditions like that.

The victims of Katrina won a settlement against State Farm Insurance recently, but a federal judge has rejected the ruling. Not so fast, though — it looks like the judge’s problems include a criticism that the ruling doesn’t go far enough:

Senter said he was “struck,” however, that under the agreement, even policyholders left with only a slab or pilings are not guaranteed any payment, noting State Farm’s offer could be offset by policy limits of other insurance.

“Under the proposed agreement, the insured owner of a property worth $100,000 who insured the property against $50,000 in wind damage and $50,000 in flood damage, and who has collected his flood insurance benefits, would not be entitled to any recovery even if only a slab remained,” the judge wrote.

This is all great, of course, provided that the settlement is actually re-worked to address this issue. It’s about time that the Mississippi homeowners had some justice against the insurance industry.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. There are scores of issues with the response and recovery, issues that are not being touched on by anyone, and that are even being touted in certain press outlets as good things. One such issue is the total domination of the recovery by big business, at the expense of local businesses and residents. Another is the class-based division in the level and quality of recovery. Another is the environmental destruction at the behest of the tourism industry. And, finally, one more issue is the ugly fact that the rebuilding is not taking concerns of global warming into account at all. I will be looking at all of these issues in future work.

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