March 13, 2007

Why Does This Not Surprise Me?

Filed under: Katrina,Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 7:12 am

Have they learned nothing from New Orleans?

The Bush administration will allow some development in flood plains without formal environmental reviews.

Predictably (and rightly), the move has enraged environmentalists, who have been advocating for the disappearing wetlands for decades now, mostly in vain. This move allows developers to build on small tracts of land, and it places minimal restrictions on what can be built. Types of buildings to be permitted include residential homes, shopping venues, hospitals, prisons, and schools.

If you were a resident of low-lying Louisiana who had experienced Hurricane Katrina (or evacuated and returned to find your community in ruins), wouldn’t it make you feel nice and cozy to know that your kids’ new school could be built on a filled-in marshland that had flooded before–as long as the school was small and the entire development didn’t take up over half an acre? (In some parts of rural Louisiana, that’s not out of the question.)

(Oh, and is due to be reclaimed by the sea in a few decades because of global warming-induced rising seas, another problem that is not being addressed in the coastal “recovery.”)

And if you were, perhaps, a researcher of endangered species–maybe even the elusive Ivory-billed Woodpecker–wouldn’t you be pleased to know that developers could pull the same sort of stunt that the timber industry did in the 1940s, when it completely stripped clear the last confirmed habitat of Ivorybills?

Oh, sure, the Endangered Species Act would provide protection for areas where the birds are known to roost. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? They are hard to find, and with recent potential sightings in Arkansas and Florida, there’s a possibility that they might be in pockets all over the Gulf states. However, those two sightings are increasingly being called into question since the scientists involved have not produced good video or photography yet. If other potential areas are wiped out before the birds could even be found, it opens the floodgates for the areas in Arkansas and especially Florida to be given similar treatment.

And, from the same article, this is just disgusting:

Another part of the regulations, approved in coordination with other federal agencies and the White House, waives the formal environmental reviews entirely for coal companies when they bury or reroute streams with their mining wastes.

So okay, if your friendly neighborhood coal company decides to dump waste product in a stream, completely cutting off the flow of water with the trash, no one has to run it through any sort of review process.

I’ll make sure to drink bottled water when I am in Louisiana.

This bit of news was certainly a very unwelcome addition to my e-mail inbox this morning.

I have made this blog mostly about Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast, yes, but frankly, I’m tired of having so much material to write about.

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
UPDATE (4:20 PM EST):
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.)

July 18, 2006

The Faith-Based Recovery on the Hurricane Coast, Part VI

Filed under: Katrina — PolitiCalypso @ 5:31 pm

Part VI: A dire situation

Somehow, emergency management for the Coast—America’s “Hurricane Coast,” incorporating the Atlantic and Gulf—has missed the boat, and badly. As of mid-July 2006, thousands of hurricane victims along the totally devastated Gulf Coast are living in various unsafe forms of housing: damaged homes, FEMA trailers, tents, RVs, etc. If the Katrina and Rita evacuations were a nightmare and, arguably, a failure, one does not really want to consider evacuating thousands of displaced and basically homeless people during a 2006 Gulf of Mexico hurricane—which will almost certainly occur once again. This is much more than ignoring the small businesses and residents of the coastline in favor of big industries, although that has been going on as well. This is a disaster waiting to happen.
Hurricane Katrina formed east of Florida in the Bahamas, entered the Gulf of Mexico, and exploded in both size and intensity. Katrina was a product of the Gulf Stream Current and Gulf of Mexico, which have been—along with the Caribbean Sea—considerably warmer in April and May 2006 than they were in April and May 2005. They were actually below average for April and May in 2005, but in spite of that, heated to temperatures that could support three of the six strongest Category Five hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic. With summer fast approaching, these waters will not cool off anytime soon. Most of the Atlantic Basin is warm enough to support a major hurricane, and wind steering patterns are thought to place the entire Atlantic and Gulf Coast in danger this year.

Hurricane season is upon us, with the strong possibility of a repeat of the past two years. Along the coastline from east Texas to the Atlantic coast of Florida, there are few communities that have not been impacted by one hurricane or another since August 2004. Some areas have been struck repeatedly, such as the central Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Pensacola, Florida (struck by four hurricanes since 2004), and the southern half of the Florida peninsula (struck five times with an additional close shave from Hurricane Rita). That’s a lot of damaged or destroyed homes. That’s a lot of people in unsafe housing, unable to obtain a safe place because their insurance—if they had any in the first place—has denied their claim or stalled paying, and the government is more interested in helping multibillion-dollar industries get “back on their feet.” America’s Hurricane Coast cannot afford a faith-based recovery.

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