Trump melts down on Truth Social after judge refuses to delay his testimony: “No way, no how”
Igor Derysh – December 6, 2023
The judge overseeing former President Donald Trump’s New York fraud trial on Tuesday shot down his attorney’s request to postpone his scheduled testimony.
Trump attorney Chris Kise made a “lengthy request” to postpone Trump’s testimony, which is scheduled for Monday, until an appeals court reviews the gag orders Judge Arthur Engoron imposed on the former president and his legal team barring their attacks on his law clerk and court staff.
“You tried,” Engoron added. “And I gave it a deep thought, as well.”
Kise also told Engoron that Eric Trump, who was scheduled to testify on Wednesday, would no longer be part of the defense case, according to CNN. The defense is expected to finish its case after Trump’s testimony concludes next week.
Trump on Truth Social said he was behind Eric’s abrupt cancellation.
“I told my wonderful son, Eric, not to testify tomorrow at the RIGGED TRIAL brought about by A.G. Letitia James’ campaign promise that, without knowing anything about me, ‘I WILL GET TRUMP!’” Trump wrote Tuesday night. “She ran for A.G., then Governor of New York, and lost! Eric has already testified, PERFECTLY (Unlike their STAR witness-who admitted he lied!), so there is no reason to waste any more of this Crooked Court’s time on having him say the same thing, over and over again, as a witness for the defense (us!). His young life has already been unfairly disturbed and disrupted enough on this corrupt Witch Hunt. Besides, I will be testifying on Monday in this shameful, NO JURY ALLOWED ‘TRIAL.’”
Trump claimed to reporters on Tuesday that the gag order is in place because “they’re afraid to have me speak” even though the gag order only prevents him from targeting court staff, not the judge or the attorney general’s team nor from defending himself against the state’s claims.
“If Trump’s truly unconcerned about testifying while the NY gag orders in place, why did his lawyers ask Judge Engoron to postpone his testimony until his appeal of that gag order is resolved?” questioned MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin.
Engoron, who already issued a summary judgment holding Trump liable for persistent fraud, imposed gag orders on Trump and his lawyers after they targeted his law clerk Allison Greenfield, who has been bombarded with hundreds of threatening and disparaging calls and messages, according to the court.
Trump falsely accused Greenfield of being romantically involved with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and his attorneys have accused her of bias and influencing the judge’s rulings in the case.
The gag orders were briefly paused on appeal, leading to a flurry of new attacks from Trump before an appeals court reinstated the gag order last Thursday.
Engoron warned Trump’s team that he plans to enforce the order “rigorously and vigorously.”
A second Trump term ‘poses a threat to the existence of America as we know it,’ says The Atlantic’s top editor
Oliver Darcy, CNN – December 5, 2023
Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, refuses to go gently into that good night.
“We can’t participate in the normalization of Donald Trump,” an impassioned Goldberg told me by phone on Monday. “I refuse to participate in the normalization of Donald Trump.”
Goldberg is one of the few major newsroom leaders who has been exceptionally clear-eyed about the perilous storm on the horizon for American democracy. Using plain language, Goldberg and his team of writers at the renowned magazine have not shied away from portraying Trump as a vandal of civilized society and an outright menace to the U.S. Constitution.
On Monday, The Atlantic published a special edition of its monthly magazine focusing on what a second Trump term would look like. The aptly-titled “If Trump Wins” issue features two dozen articles laying out how the twice-impeached, four-time indicted candidate would shred norms, weaponize government, warp the rule of law, and degrade democracy.
“I want people to be able to hand this issue to people… who are still unsure about the nature of Trump’s authoritarianism,” Goldberg explained to me.
While the leaders of major American newsrooms might privately believe Trump will aim to rule as an authoritarian, it is rare to hear any of them say so aloud — especially in such frank terms. But Goldberg is more than comfortable doing so. He points out that his position is not a partisan one. It’s “not about Republicans and Democrats,” he stressed, but “about authoritarians versus pro-democracy Americans.” And, in his view, not being open with readers about dangerous forces on the march would amount to a dereliction of duty.
“I would prefer journalists to speak plainly about what they’re seeing,” Goldberg said. “And I believe that a second Trump term poses a threat to the existence of America as we know it.”
It is not difficult for newsrooms to state that they are pro-democracy. Most leaders in the Fourth Estate have no problem saying as much. The conundrum they face is that, in this dark time in which we find ourselves, staking out a vocal pro-democracy stance effectively means being anti-Trump. And most news organizations are not comfortable in that territory, given it could be perceived as partisan and turn away audiences.
“This is one of the discomforting aspects of this whole dilemma that people in the news media face,” Goldberg noted. “Our eyes and ears tell us that Donald Trump fomented an insurrection against the Constitution. Right? We saw it. We heard it. It happened. That means that he placed himself outside the norms of American democratic behavior. That is why I am comfortable devoting an entire issue of answering the question of what a second Trump term would look like and reaching the conclusion that it would be terrible. Absolutely terrible.”
When I asked Goldberg about whether being outspoken about the prospect of a second Trump presidency could alienate otherwise persuadable audiences, he argued that self-censorship is not the solution. As he put it, “At a certain point, you can’t convince people of reality.”
“All we can do is try to present fairly and completely our fact-checked views of Trump and Trumpism and hope that people read it and understand that we are trying to be truthful with our readers and truthful with ourselves and transparent,” Goldberg said. “And if some voters in America can’t handle that, then they can’t handle that. There’s not much I can do about it.”
“And this is the dilemma facing all journalism institutions,” Goldberg continued. “We’d like to be able to speak to 100% of Americans. But at a certain point you don’t want to twist or muffle or downplay certain realities simply because reporting those realities offends a segment of your audience.”
Goldberg personally knows that being candid and reporting aggressively on Trump can come with severe consequences. After Goldberg reported in September 2020 that Trump had disparaged American servicemembers who had died in war as “suckers” and “losers” (something former White House chief of staff John Kelly later confirmed on the record to Jake Tapper), he had to move out of his house over security concerns for a period.
But, he warned, a second Trump presidency could be even worse for the press. And, for that reason, members of the news media will need to contemplate their editorial decisions now, given Trump’s already-declared hopes to muzzle critics if he were to regain power.
“We all understand that Trump thinks of us as enemies of the state, and we understand that there are consequences for us that come with this belief,” Goldberg said. “There’s a chance that he would try to somehow criminalize reporting in a second term, and so we have to sound the alarm about that, along with the more generalized threats to American democracy. And we have to sound the alarm now
Trump doesn’t sound like somebody trying to get elected
Rick Newman, Senior Columnist – December 5, 2023
Donald Trump promises more of the same if he wins the 2024 presidential election — more of the protectionism that defined his first presidential term, more dismantling of government, more slashing and burning of the system that many Trump supporters think is rigged against them.
But he may be misreading what voters want. Trump found surprise success in 2016 with his populist, America-first agenda, but voters didn’t love all of it. Plus, the electorate has changed since Trump first won the White House.
In 2016, most Americans agreed with Trump that Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was a bummer. But not anymore. Public approval of the ACA has grown from around 40% in 2016 to nearly 60% in 2023, according to polling by KFF.
Republicans, who uniformly opposed the law when in passed in 2010, warned of socialized medicine, soaring costs, and other dire developments. Big surprise: That was hyperbole.
Repealing the ACA would cause hardship well beyond blue states and districts. The state with the most ACA enrollees is Florida, which leans red and which Trump won in 2016 and 2020.
Voters in the six swing states likely to determine the 2024 outcome — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — would be among those affected if a second-term Trump repealed the ACA. Biden won all of those states in 2020 by a combined 312,000 votes. Around 3.2 million people in those six states get health coverage through the ACA. The data doesn’t reveal how many of those 3.2 million people are swing voters who could tip the election one way or the other, but some of them certainly are.
Georgia is a stark example of the risk Trump faces by threatening, once again, to kill the ACA. Nearly 850,000 Georgians get coverage through the ACA. Biden won the state in 2020 by less than 12,000 votes. So whatever portion of those 850,000 are not die-hard Trumpers would have a new incentive to vote for Biden.
Trump also wants to impose a new tax of 10% on virtually all imports to the United States. That’s a political head-scratcher. Trump already tried something like that the first time around when he slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and about half of all goods coming to the United States from China. Many economists slammed the tariffs as a foolish idea likely to raise costs for Americans, kill jobs, and undermine growth. The Tax Foundation estimates the tariffs amounted to an $80 billion tax hike during Trump’s term. Voters soundly disapproved of the tariffs and Trump’s overall trade war.
Trump’s across-the-board 10% tariff would be costlier, with the Tax Foundation estimating it would add $300 billion per year to consumer costs — at a time when voters’ biggest economic concern is inflation. Vowing to raise taxes is not a normal campaign promise, so maybe it’s possible Trump actually believes his own gobbledygook about foreign producers paying the tariff, which is patently untrue. At any rate, any politician threatening to raise costs for consumers is giving his political opponents a gift, and Biden is sure to attack that one as the 2024 election heats up.
Trump also has some explaining to do about his fight with labor unions and his trash talk relating to auto workers. In September, when unionized workers at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis went on strike, Trump criticized Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, saying “auto workers are being sold down the river by their leadership.” Then he went to Michigan to give a speech at a non-union plant whose workers weren’t on strike, where he said “the workers of our country … are getting screwed.”
Fain and the UAW ended up negotiating a four-year raise of at least 25% for workers at the Detroit Three, which promptly led to wage hikes at many nonunion auto plants. Biden played the strike well, expressing solidarity with striking workers, touting his lifelong support for unions, and even showing up at a picket line. Trump’s campaign website, by contrast, still features a video in which Trump says, “What’s happening to our auto workers is an absolute disgrace. Auto workers are getting totally ripped off by Crooked Joe Biden.” Doesn’t seem that way, but hey, maybe Trump is playing three-dimensional chess.
Texas is about to follow Arizona through the immigration gates of hell
Phil Boas, Arizona Republic – December 4, 2023
To say the U.S.-Mexico border is in chaos is to actually understate the problem.
Some 2.5 million migrants have been encountered trying to illegally cross the border in fiscal 2023, topping the record of the year before.
As quickly as the state of Texas can put up razor wire to stop the influx, the federal government is cutting it down.
Democratic governors and big-city mayors in Illinois, New York and Massachusetts have screamed at the Democratic White House to get control as migrants flood their social services.
Even Jesse Jackson — yes, Jesse Jackson — is scolding the feds for failing to secure the U.S.-Mexico line.
“Laws need to be enforced at the border,” the long-time civil rights leader said, as reported by Politico on Thursday.
Texas mimics Arizona’s immigration law
Today in Arizona, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will temporarily close their crossing at Lukeville to free up agents to help manage the rising level of migrant encounters between ports of entry, reports Arizona Republic writer José Ignacio Castañeda Perez.
But the real madness comes from Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott is poised to walk through the gates of hell by signing a bill that looks very much like Arizona’s notorious Senate Bill 1070, signed into law in 2010.
Texas Senate Bill 4 would make it a misdemeanor for a person from a foreign nation to illegally enter or attempt to enter Texas at a location other than a lawful port of entry.
“If a police officer has probable cause to believe a person crossed the Rio Grande, that person could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to six months in jail, Texas Tribune reporter Uriel J. García explained.
“If the person has been previously convicted of entering Texas illegally under SB 4, the charge could be increased to a second-degree felony, which carries a punishment of two to 20 years in prison.”
Those convicted of the law would then be returned to a port of entry and ordered to return to Mexico. If they refuse, they could face a felony charge, Garcia explained.
Arizona Republicans argued this before
Tell me where you’ve heard this before:
SB 4 merely follows federal immigration law, the bill’s sponsor in the Texas House, Republican David Spiller, said.
That was the reigning argument when Arizona Republicans passed and signed into law SB 1070, meant to shrink the size of Arizona’s undocumented immigrant population through aggressive state enforcement of the federal law.
In time, much of that Arizona law was gutted by the federal court.
Spiller argues that SB 4 is significantly different than Arizona’s controversial law in that it would focus exclusively on people who have recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally into Texas, not the undocumented who have been living illegally in Texas for years.
The opponents of SB 4 are lining up to legally challenge the State of Texas if and when the bill becomes law. And they are not appreciating the distinctions Texas makes from Arizona’s beleaguered SB 1070.
“(This is) one of the country’s most radical anti-immigrant laws — EVER,” the ACLU of Texas said. “If Gov. Abbott signs #SB4 into law, we’ll sue.”
“Senate Bill 4 is the broadest, most invasive piece of legislation to ever potentially challenge the very nature of our federal and state power,” said Texas state Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, a Dallas Democrat and chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
“The power to enforce immigration is unquestionably, exclusively a federal power.”
The biggest problem with Arizona’s SB 1070
The problem with Arizona’s SB 1070 was that it opened fissures between the white and Latino communities in a border state where the Latino population is a significant and growing part of the community.
No matter how many assurances Arizona Republicans offered that SB 1070 would not target legal citizens, Latino citizens and their allies were unconvinced.
They saw SB 1070 as a target on the back of every person with brown complexion. Feelings were raw. And many Latino citizens talked about leaving the state.
Then-President Barack Obama stood with then Mexican President Felipe Calderón to oppose Arizona’s law.
“In the United States of America, no law-abiding person — be they an American citizen, a legal immigrant, or a visitor or tourist from Mexico — should ever be subject to suspicion simply because of what they look like.”
The times have changed on immigration
Already, the office of Mexico Foreign Minister has said in a statement that the proposed Texas law “categorically rejects any measure that allows state or local authorities to detain and return nationals or foreigners to Mexican territory.”
Good luck trying to send detained migrants back to Mexico, immigration experts tell the Texas Tribune. Mexico is under no obligation to receive those people.
“In fiscal year 2023, about 83% of the 1 million immigrants encountered by Border Patrol on the Texas-Mexico border were not Mexican citizens,” the news organization reported. “Many are coming from Central and South America, Asia or Eastern European countries.”
Without a doubt the earth is shifting on immigration.
During the 2010s when SB 1070 made Arizona a national flash point, you did not hear the howls of Democrats worried about unchecked immigration.
Democratic cities were lining up to boycott Arizona, along with national conventions and arts and entertainment, including Kanye West and Rage Against the Machine.
The real damage was eroded trust
But the boycotts never did real damage to Arizona. The real damage was the erosion of trust between Latinos and the majority white population.
Much of the white business establishment had begun to see this too late and tried to fend it off, but the damage was done. I remember this newspaper entertaining a delegation of some of the most distinguished Latinos in our state speaking to us with real anguish and fear.
The federal court would dispense with much of the law, and it was never enforced. But both parties would work for a decade to avoid the wrenching emotions of that time.
For a decade after, Arizona’s GOP-dominated Legislature and governor’s office steered cleared of similar iron-fist immigration measures.
Many of the politicians who pushed SB 1070 would eventually be driven from office, and the author of the bill, Russell Pearce, would see his gambit to follow SB 1070 with roughly a half-dozen follow-up bills unravel.
Working behind the scenes to help Arizona’s moderate Republican lawmakers dismantle those follow-up Pearce bills was a retired judge of some note — former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Learn from us, Texas. Don’t go there
Texas Republicans, like Arizona Republicans, aren’t likely to care about what Mexican officials think about our state immigration laws. They can thump sand.
They’re not likely to flinch at rock bands canceling concerts, or California cities boycotting them.
But they will feel the sting of their fellow Arizonans and Texans — Latinos who are their friends, colleagues, neighbors and family members — who feel betrayed by laws that no matter how you write them are likely to distinguish by race.
The Texas governor would be wise to learn from Arizona and its encounter with the abyss.
So far, President Joe Biden and his immigration officials have not commented on the Texas bill.
They may be waiting for the Texas governor to generously take from the White House the lightning rod that is illegal immigration.
If The Average American Household Is A Millionaire With A Net Worth Of $1.06 Million, Why Do People Feel So Broke?
Jeannine Mancini – December 4, 2023
The Federal Reserve’s 2022 consumer finance survey unveils a striking picture of American prosperity, revealing that the mean net worth of the average household has ascended to $1.06 million, a 23% from $868,000 in 2019. This statistic, while impressive, masks a more nuanced and unequal economic landscape.
Despite the seemingly thriving financial status of American households, the reality is more complex, particularly for the middle class. The COVID-19 pandemic, which drastically impacted economic activities, didn’t halt the growth in family finances, particularly in net worth. Between 2019 and 2022, real median family income modestly grew by 3%, while the real mean family income saw a more significant 15% increase. These gains were predominantly enjoyed by the higher income brackets, amplifying existing income inequalities.
The period witnessed a 37% surge in real median net worth and a 23% rise in real mean net worth, marking the largest three-year increase in the history of the modern Survey of Consumer Finances. Yet, this aggregate growth masks the unequal distribution of wealth gains. Homeownership, often a key component of net worth, rose slightly to 66.1%, with the median net housing value jumping from $139,100 in 2019 to $201,000 in 2022. The growth in housing values contributed significantly to net worth increases but also exacerbated housing affordability issues, as median home values soared to more than 4.6 times the median family income.
Inequality is further highlighted in retirement plan participation and stock market investments. While over two-thirds of working-age families participated in retirement plans, the increases in account balances were mainly seen in families in the upper half of the income distribution. Similarly, stock market participation grew across all income groups, but the gains were substantially higher for those between the 50th and 90th percentiles.
A report by USAFacts using Federal Reserve data underscores this disparity. The top 1% of households in America hold 26% of U.S. wealth. The wealth inequality becomes starkly evident when comparing asset distribution across income quintiles. The top 20% of earners hold over four times as much wealth as the fourth 20%, with the top 1% alone possessing more than half the wealth of the entire top 20%. The greatest asset disparity lies in stocks and mutual fund shares, where the top 1% has more in these investments than the rest of the top 20% combined. This disparity continues down the income quintiles, with the middle class having significantly less in stock wealth.
Mortgage debt burdens the middle class the most. For the middle 60% of earners, mortgage debt represents a larger percentage of their net worth compared to the top 1%. This burden reflects the challenges faced by the middle class in growing their wealth relative to higher earners.
Inflation and other economic pressures have led 64% of Americans to live paycheck to paycheck, struggling to cover day-to-day expenses. Many households are unable to cover a $400 unexpected expense, highlighting the lack of emergency funds for unforeseen circumstances.
Economic uncertainty has contributed to the continuous growth of consumer debt, adding to the financial strain on many Americans. The burden of student loan debt remains a significant issue, especially as payments resumed after the pandemic. Credit card debt, often with high interest rates, contributes to financial stress for many Americans.
The average length of car loans has also increased, indicating that Americans are taking longer to pay off vehicle purchases, adding to their financial burdens.
These factors, when combined with the skewed distribution of wealth and income highlighted in the Federal Reserve’s data, explain why many Americans may not feel the prosperity suggested by the average household net worth figure. Despite the overall increase in net worth, issues like debt, insufficient savings and the disproportionate growth of wealth among higher earners contribute to the feeling of financial strain among many.
The growing gap between the average American household’s perceived wealth and actual financial difficulties underscores the importance of financial advisers. This is especially true for the newly affluent earning between $150,000 and $250,000 a year, a group that might not usually seek financial advice. Financial advisers offer crucial insights and strategies to manage present financial challenges and prepare for potential asset growth. Their guidance ensures effective navigation through financial complexities, aiding households in aligning their financial realities with their goals and expectations.
With Offices Sitting Empty, Landlords Are ‘Handing Back the Keys’
Peter Eavis – December 2, 2023
Office landlords, hit hard by the work-from-home revolution, are resorting to a desperate measure in the real estate world: “handing back the keys.”
When this happens, the landlord stops paying the mortgage on the office building or declines to refinance it. The bank or investors who made the loan then repossess the building.
Some of the biggest names in commercial real estate, like Brookfield and Blackstone, have defaulted on mortgages and have started or completed the process of handing back the keys on office towers. The tactic reveals both the depth of the problems in the office market and the ability of big property companies to push much of the financial pain onto others — in this case, banks and other lenders.
Since the pandemic began, office employees showed they could get their jobs done from home, and many have been reluctant to come back. And companies realized they could save a lot of money by renting less office space, making many office towers unprofitable for their owners and turning many business districts into ghost towns. About 23% of office space in the United States was vacant or available for sublet at the end of November, according to Avison Young, a real estate services firm, compared with 16% before the pandemic.
Handing back the keys is a drastic move, but it makes sense because it can limit a landlord’s losses on a building.
Take a property company that bought an office tower for $100 million just before the pandemic, investing $25 million of its own money and borrowing $75 million. If the building is hemorrhaging tenants and now has a value of $45 million, the landlord’s initial investment could be worth zero — and the lower rent income may not be enough to cover the building’s costs.
Rather than continue to pay interest and other expenses, the landlord can decide to default on the loan, which means the lenders get the beleaguered building. And in theory, the lenders could end up with a $30 million loss — the difference between the amount they lent ($75 million) and the resale value of the building ($45 million).
Today’s handing back the keys is reminiscent of the term “jingle mail,” which became notorious after the financial crisis of 2008 when homeowners abandoned their homes — and supposedly sent their keys back to their banks — because their homes were worth far less than what they owed on the mortgage.
But there is a difference: Big property companies can keep doing business after they default and are even considered savvy for jettisoning distressed buildings. But homeowners who stopped paying their mortgages suffered a huge hit to their credit ratings and had to find somewhere else to live.
‘We do not have insurance. We have an insurance bill’: Condos hit with 563% rate increase
Mark Harper, USA TODAY – December 2, 2023
DAYTONA BEACH SHORES, Florida – Tom Baker lives in a retirement dream building: A spacious three-bedroom beachside condo with unobstructed morning sunrises, waves marking the time and the soft sand of comfort.
The retired Marine and Army veteran and his wife Joan moved here from the Tampa Bay area. She had a Daytona Beach timeshare they regularly visited. Ten years ago they moved to their retirement home: a fourth-story condo on the Atlantic Ocean.
“I absolutely love Daytona Beach,” he said. “I absolutely love where I live, and I love this building.”
So why does he seem so angry? Two words: Property insurance.
For Baker and many other Florida condo owners, the very concept of insurance – to ease worries during times of distress – seems lost, especially after the 2021 collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside and the two-punch combo of the 2022 hurricane season: Ian and Nicole.
The latter storms just over a year ago pounded a seawall outside the Marbella Condominiums, then destroyed a pool and deck area. And the Surfside disaster, which killed 98 people, shined a light on structural safety, delayed maintenance and the need for the state to enact more strict regulations to prevent future collapses.
As bad as all of that was, for Baker, the real disaster arrived in December 2022: the property insurance bill for Marbella, where he serves on the condo association’s board.
For the 24-unit building, property insurance jumped from $40,534 for 2022 to nearly $269,000 – a 563% increase. And Rob Lasch, another Marbella board member, said he’s expecting another increase when the policy offer arrives, which could be any day now.
And the increase came in spite of a history of Marbella, which was built in 2007, never having filed a claim, Lasch and Baker said. There was no claim filed for the $2 million damage on the condo’s ocean-facing deck.
“Nothing got paid out for the damage outside because it was the seawall, and nobody was insuring the seawalls,” Lasch said.
So Marbella residents are getting hit hard on both sides of the hurricane. They’re having to come up with the full amount to fix the damage, while also bearing the burden of increased rates.
Baker said his wife wants to move, leaving him to contemplate simply not buying property insurance for the building – something his fellow board members don’t support because it violates Florida law and would leave the board members personally exposed to lawsuits.
“In a minute, I wouldn’t pay another dime in property insurance, because it is illegal, it is immoral, and it’s wrong. You can’t justify this payment. This is out-and-out stealing. Theft,” he said. “And excuse me for being passionate. I am pissed.”
Other condo owners also see exponential rate hikes
Marbella isn’t alone. Many condo associations across the state have said they, too, have faced astronomical property insurance rate hikes.
Right next door, the 109-unit Grand Coquina Condo went from paying $207,000 for property insurance in 2022 to $680,000 for 2023, a 228% increase, said Jeff Sussman, the association’s treasurer.
That amounted to a $2,331 additional assessment per unit this year, while Sussman projects another assessment of between $3,000 and $6,000 per unit will be required in 2024.
Grand Coquina filed a claim seeking reimbursement for water damage its board members contend was caused by wind during the storms. The claim was denied, said Marro Porcelli, president of the Grand Coquina Condo Association Inc.
Grand Coquina hired an attorney and a structural engineer to challenge the denial. Board members expect they will receive a settlement offer.
“There’s a lot of fight left in us,” Porcelli said. “We’re not giving in to the criminals.”
Marbella is relatively new, built 15 years ago under strict building codes. As a result, it stands on 42 pylons that are 40 feet long and reach down to the hard core beneath the sand, Smith said.
In other words, residents there are confident if the building itself could withstand Ian and Nicole, it’s unlikely to crumble anytime soon.
And Smith said the deductible for any disaster is $1 million.
That leads Baker to question what the insurance is actually covering.
‘We don’t have insurance. We have an insurance bill’
“If a tornado came across this building and ripped the roof completely off, our deductible is more than the repair. If an atomic bomb goes off downtown, and blows this building down, we don’t collect because of the war clause,” Baker said.
“There is no way this building can collect,” he said. “This is a concrete building with sprinklers. You couldn’t burn the damn thing down if you built a bonfire inside. We do not have insurance. We have an insurance bill.”
Baker has written to all 160 state lawmakers as well as 15 news organizations about the plight of condo owners. He went to Tallahassee during this year’s session.
“I learned something a long time ago in the military,” he said. “If you make a complaint, have a suggestion on how to fix it, OK?”
He’s proposed dropping the requirement that condos purchase insurance. And he’s also talked about condos finding a way to self-insure.
Mostly, Baker said his pleas have been ignored.
Baker met with Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, who was receptive to at least one of his ideas. The office of Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Sunny Isle Beach, responded to a packet of information Baker mailed to all lawmakers. But otherwise, he’s heard nothing.
Baker said he’s most disappointed in Sen. Tom Wright, R-New Smyrna Beach, who represents Daytona Beach Shores.
“For one year, I’ve been trying to get an appointment with Sen. Wright,” Baker said. “I even went to his office. He walked right past me. He didn’t extend me the courtesy of shaking my hand.”
Wright did not respond to a request for comment.
Leek, whose district includes Daytona Beach Shores, likes at least one of Baker’s ideas.
Is self-insuring a good idea?
“We are actively finding ways to help the Florida consumer, and allowing condominium associations to self-insure is a good idea. In fact, measures that increase competition in the insurance market and drive more carriers into Florida will benefit consumers,” he wrote.
Mark Friedlander, Florida spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, said Florida has long had a complicated relationship with property insurance, and it got more challenging with the Surfside collapse and the hurricanes of 2022.
Many of the insurers that offer condo coverage started to pull back from the Florida market due to increased risk at the older coastal properties, Friedlander said in an email.
“The insurers that remained enhanced their underwriting criteria. This began the trend of significant premium increases for master association coverage,” he said. “Insured losses incurred from substantial property damage generated by hurricanes Ian and Nicole last year further impacted the availability and cost of master condo insurance,” Friedlander wrote.
In addition to “master policy costs” shared among all condo unit owners, individual condo owners living in high-risk properties are seeing their condo unit policy premiums increase substantially – 50% to 100% on average, he added.
Over the past two years, the Florida Legislature has passed a flurry of changes with the goal of resolving the property insurance crisis, so far to no avail.
Some of those measures include tweaking regulations related to Citizens Property Insurance Corp, the state-run insurer of last resort, authorizing actions to be taken by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, and cracking down on bad-faith claims.
In an early November special session, lawmakers allocated $181.5 million to the My Safe Florida Home Program, which provides homeowners a wind-mitigation survey and grant funds to make homes more sturdy.
Leek said he’s confident that what lawmakers have been doing has been done is working.
“The Legislature’s insurance reforms are taking hold,” Leek wrote in response to questions. “New carriers are entering the Florida insurance market for the first time in years. Just this month, a new carrier entered the Florida condo association insurance market.
“It’s happening and it does take time, and we will continue to work to provide a climate of competition and choice,” he wrote.
Friedlander also referenced the new carrier as a positive sign: “Last week, Florida’s insurance regulator announced that a new insurer, the Condo Owners Reciprocal Exchange, will be entering the state’s market in 2024 and provide master condo policy coverage to associations. We hope this will be a first step toward stabilizing the market for this coverage.”
Condo owners socked with $64,000 in assessments
As a result of both sides of the property insurance problem – high rates and being awarded no claims for the damage, Marbella condo owners have each paid approximately $64,000 in HOA fees and assessments in 2023, said board President Jim Smith.
Baker acknowledges beachside condo owners – particularly those who have thus far been able to absorb the high insurance bills and the assessments to pay for damages – probably don’t attract much sympathy in Florida.
“Now us rich son-of-a-bitches, pardon me, we can manage somehow and get away with it,” he said.
But other condo owners have had their retirement dreams dashed, moving because of the high costs, while an exodus awaits if the problem isn’t contained, association board members say.
They appreciate what Baker has done to raise awareness of the problem.
“He’s taken this on, and he’s very passionate about it,” said Jim Smith, the Marbella Condo Association Board president.
Baker said: “People who moved down here on fixed incomes and bought themselves their final place now find themselves with an impossible bill.”
The commercial, which was created with assistance from the Alzheimer’s Association, focuses on an elderly woman suffering from the disease. In it, her granddaughter takes her on a jaunt in a 1972 Chevy Suburban, revisiting places from her youth as they listen to John Denver on an 8-track tape. As a result, the grandmother is able to recall some aspects of her life that initially had seemed lost.
It’s not just a sweet holiday story, though. As the company worked on the ad with the Alzheimer’s Association, they “talked a lot about reminiscence therapy,” Steve Majoros, Chevrolet’s head of marketing, told Ad Age.
So, what exactly is reminiscence therapy, and how does it work?
Whether or not the granddaughter in the ad is aware of it, she and her grandmother are engaging in reminiscence therapy — a kind of psychotherapy that involves helping people recall older memories using both conversation and sensory engagement, according to VeryWell Mind.
Reminiscence therapy is credited to the work of Dr. Robert Butler, a psychiatrist in the field of geriatric medicine in the 1960s, and is sometimes called life review therapy. It can be a helpful tool for people living with Alzheimer’s, though it is not used only for people with that condition.
As there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, the goal of reminiscence therapy is not necessarily to help people recall memories, but instead to improve their quality of life. Those patients typically struggle with short-term memory, which can cause considerable distress, but revisiting long-term memories, which are often intact in individuals with Alzheimer’s, can help improve self-esteem and reduce anxiety. It also can help improve the individual’s relationship with the person leading this kind of therapy, often their caregiver.
In that way, the Chevy commercial offers an accurate depiction of how reminiscence therapy can work. (It’s worth noting, though, that people with Alzheimer’s may not recall short-term memories, as the ad’s grandmother does when she realizes she’s due back for Christmas dinner.)
As Majoros told Ad Age, reminiscence therapy is not intended as a “cure or a solve” for Alzheimer’s and other memory-loss conditions, but it can “enable the person going through it to feel more comfortable — and the people that are the caregivers that are surrounding them to also feel more comfortable.”
This number will shape Earth’s future as the climate changes. You’ll be hearing about it.
Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY – November 30, 2023
Consider that 3 degrees Fahrenheit is the difference between a raging fever and a healthy toddler. Between a hockey rink and a swimming pool. Between food going bad or staying at a safe temperature.
Now consider that Earth is about 2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter on average than it was in the 1800s. It’s little wonder that has already led to measurable shifts in the climate: The last eight years have been the hottest in recorded history and 2023 is expected to be the hottest yet.
But there’s a looming threshold that will dictate the future of planet Earth. It could have cascading effects on how hot the planet gets, how much seas rise and how significantly normal daily life as we now know it will change.
The number is 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
World leaders at an annual gathering beginning Thursday will be spending considerable energy pondering that number, although they will use the Celsius version: 1.5 degrees.
“We can still make a big difference and every single tenth of a degree is enormously important,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Representatives and negotiators from 197 nations are gathering at an event called COP (Conference of the Parties) in the United Arab Emirates, a 13-day meeting that comes at what scientists say is a critical moment in the fight to keep the already dangerous effects of climate change from tipping over into the catastrophic.
Research published last month estimated humanity has only six or so more years before so much carbon dioxide has been pumped into the atmosphere that there’s only a 50% chance of staying below the threshold.
Why 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit is so important
In 2016, the United States and 195 other parties signed the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change aimed at lowering the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to keep global warming at bay.
All the nations that signed the Agreement pledged to try as hard as possible to keep the global average temperature increase below 2.7 degrees, and to definitely keep it below a 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit rise. (Only the Agreement said it in Celsius, which comes out to the smoother-sounding 2.0 degrees Celsius and 1.5 degrees Celsius.)
The numbers sound pretty small – but they aren’t.
A few degrees is a big deal
The difference between 65 degrees and 67.7 degrees (that critical 2.7-degree difference) isn’t even worth carrying a sweater. So why does it worry climate scientists?
It’s because they’re thinking about global temperature averages, and when the global average goes up, the extremes go way up.
Why is it important to not let the Earth warm an extra degree?
The difference between an aspiration of no more than 2.7 degrees warming and a serious commitment to no more than 3.6 degrees might not seem large.
But multiply the extremes and their effects, and each results in a vastly different world. One is difficult, resulting in a less reliable and more chaotic climate than the one we live with today. The other verges on a movie cataclysm.
At their heart, the 13 days of COP28 negotiations are the place global governments sit down to hammer out just how much each will lower its carbon emissions, though many other climate change topics are on the table as well.
The Earth crossed a key warming threshold in 2023, with one-third of the days so far having an average temperature at least 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than preindustrial levels. On Nov. 17, it reached 2.07 degrees above. This year is expected to be the warmest in recorded history, warmer than any other in 125,000 years.
What is COP28?
COP28 is the annual United Nations meeting of the 197 parties that have agreed to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, originally adopted in 1992. The meeting is the decision-making body of the countries that signed onto the U.N. framework. It is held to assess how well nations are dealing with climate change and set agendas and goals.
How important is this COP?
In a major report, the UN’s climate change body said earlier this month that global greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by 45% by the end of this decade compared to 2010 levels to meet the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Things are not going in the right direction. Instead, emissions are set to rise by 9%.
COP28 is where changes can be made.
Scientists say humanity has about a decade to dramatically reduce heat-trapping gas emissions before thresholds are passed that may make recovery from climate collapse impossible.
To do so will require cutting nearly two-thirds of carbon pollution by 2035, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said. That means ending new fossil fuel exploration and weaning wealthy nations away from coal, oil and gas by 2040.
“Humanity is on thin ice – and that ice is melting fast,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the spring. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.”
Hundreds of new oil and gas projects approved despite climate crisis
Valentin Rakovsky – November 30, 2023
More than 400 oil and gas projects were approved globally in the last two years despite calls to abandon all new hydrocarbon development, new figures showed as the UN COP28 climate talks opened Thursday.
With greenhouse gas emissions threatening to heat the planet to catastrophic levels, countries at the talks in Dubai are under pressure to agree to phase out oil, gas and coal in order to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
Nearly 200 private and public corporations across 58 countries were involved in the 437 new fossil fuel projects, according to figures from the nonprofit Reclaim Finance, based on data from Rystad Energy consultants.
The data demonstrates the mismatch between the continuing exploitation of fossil fuels — responsible for most of humanity’s greenhouse gases — and the target of limiting warming.
“We are in denial about the environmental emergency and the conclusions drawn by IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists,” Lucie Pinson of Reclaim Finance told AFP.
The UN’s IPCC climate expert panel has said emissions need to be slashed by over 40 percent this decade to keep the 1.5C threshold in sight.
And in May 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued an explosive warning saying “no new oil and gas fields” could be approved for its pathway to net zero emissions to be met, as well as no new coal mines.
Countries agreed at Glasgow’s COP26 in late 2021 to “phasedown” coal power that does not involve emissions being captured before they go into the atmosphere.
But attempts to widen ambition to include targets on reducing oil and gas have so far met stiff opposition, despite a surge in renewable energy.
– ‘Desperate’ need –
And fossil fuel expansion shows no sign of stopping.
All of the 437 new projects since 2022 have received their “final investment decision” — a key commitment where investors sanction the development and production of a new hydrocarbon field.
Once in production, they will produce oil and gas in vast quantities for years to come.
State-backed oil companies were behind 57 percent of the projects.
Some 22 percent were linked to just seven oil giants: BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni and TotalEnergies.
Qatar alone is due to host 17 percent of the total expected future production of these planned gas and oil projects, when measured in volume.
Saudi Arabia would host 13 percent, Brazil 10 percent, the United States eight percent and this year’s COP28 host, the United Arab Emirates would have six percent.
The IEA estimates that global demand for oil and gas will peak by 2030, but oil giants argue the transition to renewables is not happening fast enough to replace fossil fuels.
There is a “desperate need” for oil and gas still, said Shell CEO Wael Sawan in July.
And several European oil giants — including Shell, BP and Enel — have recently rolled back on some of their energy transition targets.
In February, BP backtracked on plans to cut its oil and gas output by 40 percent from 2019 levels by 2030, targeting a 25 percent reduction instead.