Hurricane Ian could cripple Florida’s home insurance industry
Alexis Christoforous – September 29, 2022
Hurricane Ian could cripple Florida’s already-fragile homeowners insurance market. Experts say a major storm like Ian could push some of those insurance companies into insolvency, making it harder for people to collect on claims.
“Hurricane Ian will test the financial preparedness of some insurers to cover losses to their portfolios, in particular smaller Florida carriers with high exposure concentrations in the impacted areas,” Jeff Waters, an analyst at Moody’s Analytics subsidiary RMS and a meteorologist, told ABC News. Waters said Florida is a peak catastrophe zone for reinsurers, and those with exposure will likely incur meaningful losses.
More than 1 million homes on the Florida Gulf Coast are in the storm’s path, and while Ian’s track and severity can change in the coming days, one early estimate pegs the potential reconstruction cost at $258 billion, according to Corelogic, a property analytics firm.
Industry analysts say years of rampant and frivolous litigation and scams have brought Florida’s home-insurance market to its knees, with many large insurers like Allstate and State Farm, reducing their exposure to the state in the past decade.
“Insurers most exposed to the storm will be the Florida-only insurers, which we define as insurance companies with at least 75% of their homeowners and commercial property premiums written in Florida,” according to a report from Moody’s Analytics submitted to ABC News.
The state-run, taxpayer-subsidized Citizens Property Insurance Corp. stands to lose the most. As more local insurance companies in Florida have closed their doors, Citizens has seen its number of policyholders swell from 700,000 to more than 1 million in just the past year.
Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg and a vocal critic of Florida’s insurance industry, warns that if Citizens can’t pay its claims, Floridians should brace for assessments to go up on their own insurance policies under a state law that allows it to assess non-customers to pay out claims.
“Every policy holder in the state of Florida, home and auto, should be watching this storm very carefully because it could have a direct impact on their pocketbooks,” said Brandes. He predicts policy holders will see rate hikes of up to 40% next year as a result of Ian.
A spokesperson for Citizens tells ABC News that if their preliminary estimate of 225,000 claims and $3.8 billion in losses holds, the insurer of last resort would be in a position to pay all claims without having to levy a “hurricane tax” on residents.
Florida is already home to the highest insurance premiums in the U.S., something Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor running against incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, blames on his opponent.
“Gov. DeSantis let these insurance companies double Floridians’ rates and they’re still going belly up when homeowners need them most. You pay and pay and pay, and the insurance company isn’t there for you in the end anyway,” Crist said in a statement Monday.
A spokesperson for DeSantis did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
In May, DeSantis signed a bipartisan property insurance reform bill into law that poured $2 billion into a reinsurance relief program and $150 million into a grant program for hurricane retrofitting. Among other things, it prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage based on the age of a roof and limits attorney fees on frivolous claims and lawsuits.
At a news conference Tuesday, DeSantis said a lot of the damage from Ian would be from flooding and storm surge. DeSantis said the danger with the Tampa Bay area is that the water has no place to go, noting that the area has close to 1 million residents enrolled in a national flood insurance program.
Homeowner policies typically do not cover flood damage, and most homeowners located in a flood zone often get coverage from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Most private property insurance companies insure primarily for wind damage.
President Joe Biden on Thursday approved DeSantis’ request for a disaster declaration for a number of counties in the state. It includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
“The expense will be higher because of higher construction costs and overall inflation,” Denise Rappmund, the vice president of Moody’s Public Project and Infrastructure Finance Group, told ABC News. “FEMA is the key source of aid following a natural disaster, but much of the costs to repair and rebuild damaged property will be borne by property insurers who will benefit from $2 billion of state-funded reinsurance.”
Analysts say Hurricane Ian has the potential to be among the four costliest storms in U.S. history, mostly because Florida’s population has exploded in recent years.
No state in the eastern U.S. has grown faster in population than Florida in the past decade and the state’s fastest growing cities: Tampa, Fort Myers and Sarasota, are all in the storm’s path. Analysts warn that more people and more homes mean that a major storm could become more destructive and costly.
Cuba without electricity after hurricane hammers power grid
Andrea Rodriguez – September 27, 2022
HAVANA (AP) — Hurricane Ian knocked out power across all of Cuba and devastated some of the country’s most important tobacco farms when it slammed into the island’s western tip as a major hurricane Tuesday.
Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement that work was underway to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people during the night. Power was initially knocked out to about 1 million people in Cuba’s western provinces, but later the entire grid collapsed.
Ian hit a Cuba that has been struggling with an economic crisis and has faced frequent power outages in recent months. It made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the island’s western end, devastating Pinar del Río province, where much of the tobacco used for Cuba’s iconic cigars is grown.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the area ahead of the arrival of Ian, which caused flooding, damaged houses and toppled trees. Authorities were still assessing the damage, although no fatalities had been reported by Tuesday night.
Ian’s winds damaged one of Cuba’s most important tobacco farms in La Robaina.
“It was apocalyptic, a real disaster,” said Hirochi Robaina, owner of the farm that bears his name and that his grandfather made known internationally.
Robaina, also the owner of the Finca Robaina cigar producer, posted photos on social media of wood-and-thatch roofs smashed to the ground, greenhouses in rubble and wagons overturned.
State media said Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited the affected region.
Cuba’s Meteorology Institute said the city of Pinar del Río was in the heart of the hurricane for an hour and a half.
“Being in the hurricane was terrible for me, but we are here alive,” said Pinar del Rio resident Yusimí Palacios, who asked authorities for a roof and a mattress.
Officials had set up 55 shelters and took steps to protect crops, especially tobacco.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and storm surge impacts” when the hurricane struck with top sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph).
Ian was expected to get even stronger over the warm Gulf of Mexico, reaching top winds of 130 mph (209 kph) approaching the southwestern coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate.
As the storm’s center moved into the Gulf, scenes of destruction emerged in Cuba. Authorities were still assessing the damage in its world-famous tobacco belt.
Local government station TelePinar reported heavy damage at the main hospital in Pinar del Rio city, tweeting photos of collapsed ceilings and downed trees. No deaths were reported.
Videos on social media showed downed power lines and cut off roads in the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Mayabeque. A hospital in Pinar del Río was damaged.
“The town is flooded,” said farmer Andy Muñoz, 37, who lives in Playa Cajío in Artemisa.
He said many people lost their belongings due to the storm surge.
“I spent the hurricane at home with my husband and the dog. The masonry and zinc roof of the house had just been installed. But the storm tore it down,” said Mercedes Valdés, who lives along the highway connecting Pinar del Río to San Juan y Martínez. “We couldn’t rescue our things … we just ran out.”
AP journalist Osvaldo Angulo in Pinar del Rio contributed to this report.
Rising homelessness is tearing California cities apart
Lara Korte and Jeremy B. White – September 21, 2022
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A crew of state workers arrived early one hot summer day to clear dozens of people camped under a dusty overpass near California’s Capitol. The camp’s residents gathered their tents, coolers and furniture and shifted less than 100 feet across the street to city-owned land, where they’ve been ever since.
But maybe not for much longer.
The city of Sacramento is taking a harder line on homeless encampments, and is expected to start enforcing a new ban on public camping by the end of the month — if the courts allow.
As the pandemic recedes, elected officials across deep-blue California are reacting to intense public pressure to erase the most visible signs of homelessness. Democratic leaders who once would have been loath to forcibly remove people from sidewalks, parks and alongside highways are increasingly imposing camping bans, often while framing the policies as compassionate.
“Enforcement has its place,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who has spent much of the past year trying to soothe public anger in a city that has seen its unsheltered homeless population surpass that of San Francisco — 5,000 in the most recent count compared with San Francisco’s 4,400. “I think it’s right for cities to say, ‘You know, there are certain places where it’s just not appropriate to camp.'”
Steinberg is one of many California Democrats who have long focused their efforts to curb homelessness on services and shelter, but now find themselves backing more punitive measures as the problem encroaches on public feelings of peace and safety. It’s a striking shift for a state where 113,000 people sleep outdoors on any given night, per the latest statewide analysis released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2020. California’s relatively mild climate makes it possible to live outdoors year-round, and more than half of the nation’s unsheltered homeless people live here.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced the state had cleared 1,200 encampments in the past year, attempting to soften the message with a series of visits to social service programs. But without enough beds to shelter unhoused people, advocates say efforts to clear encampments are nothing more than cosmetic political stunts that essentially shuffle the problem from street corner to another.
Steinberg, a liberal Democrat who resisted forcibly removing people until more shelters can come online, has for more than 20 years championed mental health and substance abuse programs as ways to get people off the street. But such programs have been largely unable to keep up with the rising number of homeless people in cities like Sacramento, where local leaders are now besieged by angry citizens demanding a change.
He and many of his fellow Democratic mayors around the state are not unsympathetic to their cause. San Diego has penalized people refusing shelter. Oakland upped its rate of camp closures as the pandemic receded. San Jose is scrambling to clear scores of people from an area near the airport or risk losing federal funding.
“No one’s happy to have to do this,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said earlier this summer as he discussed ticketing people who refuse shelter. “We’re doing everything we can to provide people with better choices than the street.”
Other Democratic leaders around the country, facing similar pressure, have also moved to clear out encampments and push homeless people out of public spaces. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain who won his office on a pledge to fight crime, came under fire this year for his removal of homeless people from subways and transit hubs. The city’s shelter system is now bursting at the seams.
In California, where the percentage of people living day-to-day on the streets is far higher than New York, the shortage of shelter beds has caused friction and embroiled local and state officials in court challenges.
A recent court decision requires local governments to provide enough beds before clearing encampments — a mandate that does not apply to state property. But that’s easier said than done in a state where there are three to four times as many homeless people as shelter beds.
California’s homelessness problem has deep, gnarled roots dating back decades, but has become increasingly pronounced in recent years. Tents and tarps on sidewalks, in parks and under freeways have become a near-ubiquitous symbol of the state’s enduring crisis. A pandemic-spurred project to move people from encampments to motels has lapsed, and eviction moratoriums have dissolved. Homelessness is a top concern for voters in the liberal state, and as Democrats prepare for the midterm elections, Newsom and other leaders have been eager to show voters they’re taking action.
But the practice of clearing out camps can be a futile exercise, particularly when the people being forced to pack up their tents have nowhere else to go or simply end up doing the same thing just a few blocks away.
Weeks after state transportation workers cleared the space under the Sacramento highway, people are still camped out along a city sidewalk across the street, with blankets, chairs, tires and shelves spilling out onto the street and, at times, blocking driveways.
Syeda Inamdar, who owns a small office building on the block, said her tenant is afraid to come to work because of the camp. A nearby Starbucks abruptly closed earlier this year, citing safety concerns.
“This is not safe for anybody,” said Inamdar, who is sympathetic to the people in the camp but says she’s nevertheless thinking of just giving up and selling the property.
Jay Edwards, a homeless man in his 60s, said he and many of his fellow residents felt safer under the overpass, where their tents didn’t block footpaths and people didn’t bother them. Newsom and others have described living situations like his — in a blue tent, with a dirty mattress, surrounded by piles of random belongings and trash — as inhumane. Edwards disagreed.
“It’s not inhumane,” he said. “It’s the people’s attitudes that make it inhumane.”
The state has given more than $12 billion in recent years to help local governments build housing and shelter. But it could be years before those units are built.
In Sacramento, city and county leaders just made it easier for authorities to clear tents from sidewalks and along a popular river trail. But some want even tougher laws. Earlier this year, a coalition of Sacramento business owners approached city councilors hoping to put a measure on the November ballot that would compel the city to move camps blocking sidewalks and create more shelter for those they moved. The Council, whose members run without party affiliation, voted to put the measure on the ballot, with some caveats that enlist the help of the county. Councilmember Katie Valenzuela was one of two members who voted against it.
She said moving the camps won’t help the root of the problem, and the city can’t afford the amount of space that would be necessary to house people cleared from encampments.
“People are saying ‘oh you’ve got the space to do this, just put them all on 100 acres.’ That’s not how this works,” she said.
Newsom appears to be feeling the pressure as well, channeling voter frustration by calling proliferating encampments “unacceptable” and pointing to the litter-filled highway underpasses he cleans during press events as evidence the state has become “too damn dirty.”
Historically, California governors have been reluctant to funnel significant resources to combat the homeless problem. But Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco, has made it a centerpiece of his administration. The governor has secured hundreds of millions of dollars to help local governments address encampments by offering residents services and helping them find shelter, on top of the billions of dollars California has poured into homelessness more broadly and a state program to convert hotels and motels into low-income housing.
But those efforts aren’t happening fast enough for many in California, including merchants who are languishing in downtowns that are inundated with tents, tarps and other refuse from the people who have taken up residence on sidewalks and street corners. Business owners in San Francisco’s historic Castro District threatened to stop paying taxes last month if city officials didn’t do something about the vandalism, littering and frequent display of psychotic episodes that are a result of the neighborhood’s homeless population.
The governor has also personally weighed in when those efforts collided with resistance from courts and local governments. Earlier this year, he decried a federal judge for “moving the goal posts” in an order that blocked CalTrans from removing a camp in San Rafael. The Newsom administration and Oakland also clashed over a sprawling encampment where a July fire menaced a nearby utility facility that stored explosive oxygen tanks.
A judge blasted both the state and the city for trading blame while failing to find shelter for camp residents, accusing the parties of wanting “to wash their hands of this particular problem” and blocking the state’s plan to clear the site. Newsom excoriated the judge’s order and subsequently threatened to pull funding from Oakland, arguing the city was shirking its obligations. The judge ultimately allowed the clearing to proceed despite camp residents outnumbering available city beds.
Those tensions illustrate a larger test for the housing first philosophy that Newsom and other Democrats espouse. The basic premise is that long-term housing is the starting point for getting people off the streets. But it would take years to address California’s chasmic housing shortage while people are clamoring for solutions to street homelessness now.
The governor’s top homelessness adviser, Jason Elliott, said it was “impossible to say” if the state had sufficient short-term shelter for everyone living outside and conceded that “we don’t have enough money to afford a home for every person who experiences homelessness.” But he argued the state could and should move swiftly on “the most unsafe” sites, calling it a first step to help people.
“The criticism that we should not do anything about dangerous, unsafe encampments until we achieve millions of more units, I think, ignores the seriousness of the problem,” Elliott said. “Street homelessness is deeply dangerous and unsafe for people in the community and for people living in those tents.”
Addiction and mental illness can drive people into homelessness and keep them there, which has fueled Newsom’s push for a civil court system that would create treatment plans for those with the most critical needs and allow involuntary commitment for people who do not participate. The CARE Courts program, which Newsom is expected to sign into law soon, is estimated to help between 7,000 and 12,000 people — a small portion of the more than 160,000 Californians without stable housing.
Outside of interventions in critical mental health cases, policymakers broadly agree that poverty and a dearth of affordable housing are still driving more Californians to live on the street and that, on any given day, more people may become homeless than find housing.
Wary advocates are responding with legal challenges.
Oakland amended an ordinance barring camping near locations including homes, schools and businesses after advocates for the homeless sued, calling the policy inhumane. Advocacy groups in Sacramento unsuccessfully sued to block a ballot measure they called cruel and unusual.
In Los Angeles, a sprawling lawsuit over encampments endangering public welfare has produced a vow to build more shelters — and created the legal authority to clear people from public spaces. Last year, the LA City Council prohibited people from sleeping in sensitive public spaces selected by council members in a move the city of Riverside emulated. Then, Los Angeles bolstered its prohibition in early August by banning camping near schools and daycares, acting at the behest of school district officials who warned children were being traumatized and threatened by people in a growing number of encampments.
A backlash erupted as protesters filled the City Council chambers, chanting and shouting over speakers as they accused council members of inflicting death and violence on homeless people. Authorities ultimately cleared the chambers before lawmakers could return and vote. The proposal passed overwhelmingly with the blessing of Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat running for LA mayor. But dissenters accused the Council of displacing the problem.
“When you don’t house people, when you don’t offer real housing resources to people at a particular location, the best outcome that you can hope for from a law like this is that people move 500 feet down the street,” Councilmember Nithya Raman said in an interview. “I’m up against a wall. I don’t have any available shelter, and I would imagine other council members are feeling the same way.”
Seventy percent of California’s homeless population is unsheltered, according to a recent Stanford University study, compared to New York, where the figure is 5 percent. The same study found that a large portion of the California homeless population have either a severe mental illness or long-term substance abuse problem, or both.
State and local officials have feuded for decades over who bears responsibility for housing and caring for people with severe mental health illnesses — those who might have been institutionalized a half-century ago, before the national closure of state-funded psychiatric hospitals.
Steinberg, the Sacramento mayor, has been trying to solve this problem for decades. In 2004, as a state legislator, he authored a landmark ballot measure, the Mental Health Services Act, which charged a 1 percent income tax on earnings more than $1 million to provide funding for mental health programs. Steinberg and others have praised the measure as a success, and some reports show that those who participate in the programs funded by the law see a reduction in homelessness.
But nearly two decades later, Steinberg is now dealing with a sprawling homeless population. Sacramento’s bans on camping along sidewalks and along the scenic river trail are set to go into effect at the end of the month. The city ban would classify a violation as a misdemeanor, but homeless people are not supposed to be automatically jailed or fined unless there are extraordinary circumstances, per a companion resolution Steinberg introduced.
With the upcoming ballot measure, championed by business leaders, the city is prepared to put tougher enforcement laws to voters in November, despite fierce criticism and legal challenges from advocates for homeless people. Steinberg said it’s still worth a shot.
“It is not perfect and it is not the way I would write it,” he said of the ballot measure. “But it is progress toward what I believe is essential: that people have a right to housing, shelter and treatment and in a very imperfect way.”
Column: California’s water usage was built on a historic lie. The cost is now apparent
Michael Hiltzik – September 21, 2022
It’s human nature to mark big-number anniversaries, but there’s a centennial looming just ahead that Californians — and other Westerners — might not want to celebrate.
It’s the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact, a seven-state agreement that was signed Nov. 24, 1922.
That evening, in the Ben Hur Room of Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors, using the lapboard on which Gen. Lew Wallace had written his biblical epic 40 years earlier while serving as New Mexico’s territorial governor, representatives of six of the seven states of the Colorado River Basin applied their signatures to the compact with a gold pen.
If we had cut water use in the Colorado River over the last two decades to what we now understand to be the actual levels of water availability … the crisis wouldn’t be nearly as bad.
Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute co-founder
The compact — essentially an interstate treaty — set the rules for apportioning the waters of the river. It was a crucial step in construction of Hoover Dam, which could not have been built without the states’ assent.
The compact stands as a landmark in the development of Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Phoenix and other Western metropolises. But it is also a symbol of the folly of unwarranted expectations.
That’s because the compact was built on a lie about the capacity of the Colorado River to serve the interests of the Western states — a lie that Westerners will be grappling with for decades to come.
The crisis of water supply from the Colorado is vividly represented by the so-called bathtub ring around Lake Mead, the vast reservoir behind Hoover Dam, showing how far below normal the water level has fallen.
As my colleague Ian James has reported, federal projections show that the risk is growing that both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam, are approaching “dead pool” levels, below which water would no longer pass downstream through the dams.
The prospect has led to pressure from the federal government on water agencies in California and the six other basin states to drastically cut back on water use. So far, however, no agreements on cutbacks have emerged.
The ultimate danger is that Lake Mead reaches the “dead pool” stage. At the end of last month, Lake Mead was at 1,044.28 feet of surface elevation above sea level. That’s about 100 feet below its level in August 2003 and about 180 feet below its record elevation of 1,225 feet, reached in July 1983. When the level falls to 950 feet, the lake can no longer generate hydroelectricity. At 895 feet, the dam can’t release water downstream.
The long-term decline in Lake Mead’s capacity has been blamed mostly on global warming. But as I’ve reported before, the river’s enemies are both natural and man-made. It’s true that nature has placed the basin in a long-term drought. But human demands for water from the Colorado have far outstripped what it can provide — indeed, what it ever could provide.
That brings us back to the compact negotiations. The impulse for a high dam on the lower Colorado came largely from California — principally from growers in the Imperial Valley. They depended on the river for irrigation and desired a more reliable supply as well as flood control that could only be provided by a major dam.
Congress resisted approving the project unless the seven basin states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming could agree on how to apportion the river among themselves.
The task of supervising the negotiations fell to Herbert Hoover, who was President Harding’s Commerce secretary. The process was contentious. The upstream states were painfully aware that California was the most voracious user of the river’s water even though it had the smallest acreage within the basin.
All were convinced that California, the most-developed state of the seven, was plotting to appropriate more than its share of the water to stoke its continued development at their expense. They were suspicious of Hoover, who though born in Iowa had made his home in California since becoming a member of the first graduating class at Stanford University in 1895.
Working with his deputy, Arthur Powell Davis — director of the U.S. Reclamation Bureau and a nephew of John Wesley Powell, the pioneering explorer of the Colorado and the Grand Canyon — Hoover overcame the states’ disagreements by promising that they all would receive enough water to provide for all their future economic growth.
They did this through connivance. Davis provided an estimate that the river’s annual volume averaged 16.4 million acre-feet. (One acre-foot, the equivalent of 325,851 gallons, is enough water to serve one or two average households today.)
That allowed the compact to be concluded with a guarantee that the upper basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico could pass 7.5 million acre feet a year — measured as 10-year averages of 75 million acre-feet — to the lower states of California, Nevada and Arizona without sacrificing their own needs. All the states agreed on this formula except Arizona, which didn’t sign the compact until 1944.
(By then the state had all but gone to war with California over water rights on the river, dispatching a squad of National Guard troops to the river on a ferryboat to block construction of Parker Dam in 1934. The ferry was derisively dubbed the “Arizona navy” by a Times correspondent assigned to cover the skirmish. After the federal government imposed a truce, the guardsmen were reported to have returned home from the “war zone” as “conquering heroes.”)
The real flaw in the compact was no joke, however: Davis’ figure was a flagrant overestimate — as he certainly knew, having studied the Colorado for decades.
The 1899-1921 time span on which his figure was based was one of the wettest periods in the basin’s known history. Indeed, only four times since construction of Hoover Dam began in 1931 has the 10-year average reached 16.4 million acre-feet.
Current estimates place the average annual volume of the Colorado since 1906 at 14.7 million acre-feet; since 1991, the annual average is closer to 13.5 million.
Yet the portions of California and the West dependent on the river for their sustenance have grown as if its bounty is effectively limitless.
In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the dam from a podium overlooking the project, declaring that it had turned the willful river into “a great national possession.” Since that time, the population of the seven basin states has grown by more than 52 million, much of the growth fueled by the water and electricity the dam has provided.
For several decades, however, climate and hydrological experts have warned that there can be no soft landing from the restrictions that global warming are forcing upon the Colorado River’s historical beneficiaries.
Hard choices are becoming imperative. The federal government is effectively ordering that the basin states cut their water usage by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet a year.
The draconian cutbacks signaled by the federal government have been made necessary by inadequate action in the recent past.
As water and climate expert Peter Gleick told James recently, “If we had cut water use in the Colorado River over the last two decades to what we now understand to be the actual levels of water availability, there would be more water in the reservoirs today,” Gleick said. “The crisis wouldn’t be nearly as bad.”
The reckoning may have been long in coming, but it was inevitable. As long ago as 1893, John Wesley Powell — the uncle of Arthur Powell Davis, who perpetrated the foundational lie allowing the construction of Hoover Dam — foresaw the basin’s destiny.
Attending an irrigation congress in Los Angeles at which the coming paradise of water-driven growth was being proclaimed, Powell stood to deliver a hard truth. “I tell you, gentlemen,” he said, “you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land.”
He was driven from the hall by a chorus of catcalls and boos, but time has proved him right.
‘Election denier playbook’: Trump supporters seeking state office raise fears of 2nd insurrection
Tom LoBianco, Reporter – September 21, 2022
Supporters of former President Donald Trump seeking to control elections across the country have raised the specter of a second insurrection, akin to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and fears that they will help try to rig the election results for Trump if he seeks the presidency again.
But experts tracking an array of races for positions with control over elections — from governor to county election clerk — say it’s unclear what form a second insurrection could take.
The threat is clouded in part by uncertainty over how much lawmakers will clarify about the previously obscure Electoral Count Act (ECA) and what the Supreme Court will do regarding the “independent legislature” theory, which could block courts from intervening in how elections are run.
Changes to the ECA being debated in the Senate and House would clarify that a vice president cannot replace authentic electors with fake ones; would set a quicker timeline for judicial review of election challenges and a higher bar for objections from Congress; and would establish the governor of each state as the lone person who can submit certified electors to Congress.
But bipartisan groups tracking the threat of another insurrection have consistently warned that Trump supporters running to control state elections — from Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem to Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano — could take the reins and attempt to certify whatever results they want.
“The problem is, the coup did not actually end on Jan. 6. It simply went into a brief hibernation and almost immediately began gathering energy to succeed next time,” said Norm Eisen, founder of the bipartisan group States United Democracy Center and a former top official in the Obama administration.
“They saw that the election refs applied the existing rules to produce the right result,” Eisen said of the 2020 election. “So now they’re going to replace the refs, and they’re going to replace the rules so they can change the results. It’s the election denier playbook, and you see this in state after state.”
The man at the center of the continued threat, Trump, has said repeatedly that he plans to run for president a third time. He has also taken a darker turn in his campaign rallies recently, eschewing the scripted approach of his return to Washington two months ago for wild conspiracy theories, some of which helped fuel his supporters to attack the Capitol. He has also been hinting at more violence from his supporters if he’s indicted for taking highly sensitive classified intelligence from the White House after his term.
Election director races used to be staid affairs, the rare white noise behind the unchecked turmoil of campaign politics. But like so many other things in politics, that flipped on its head after Trump descended the golden-colored escalator in Trump Tower seven years ago. The 2020 election and Trump’s subsequent efforts to deny his loss elevated these races to top-tier battles for the control of elections themselves.
Terrified election workers testified before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack about the rampant death threats they received after being targeted by Trump. And many local election workers have resigned or refused to run again in the face of ongoing threats from Trump supporters.
In Arizona and Pennsylvania, two epicenters of efforts by Trump-backed candidates to wrest control of the election process, Republican nominees have proposed a mix of power grabs and more standard conservative election proposals.
Finchem, the Arizona secretary of state nominee — who recently had a performer sing the QAnon theme song at one of his fundraisers — has proposed ending electronic vote counting and mandating paper ballots (a proposal that Democrats pushed almost two decades ago). But Finchem has also proposed giving the Republican-controlled Arizona state Legislature the power to overturn election results.
Asked by Time magazine if he would certify a hypothetical Biden win, he said he would if the law is followed, but then implied he would never certify a Biden win in 2024 because such a thing would be a “fantasy.”
Across the country, Mastriano, the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, has pushed for voter ID requirements and purging voter rolls, both long-standing Republican election policies.
But Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator who marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has also said he would have his handpicked secretary of state invalidate all Pennsylvania voters and force them to re-register. Mastriano submitted a measure that would expand the number of partisans who can challenge votes and vote counting potentially intimidating poll workers further.
Finchem and Mastriano, like dozens of other Trump supporters looking to take control of their states’ elections, have repeated the baseless claim that voter fraud was rampant through the 2020 election and that Trump never lost. But the stances of Trump-backed Republicans vary widely.
At one extreme sit Trump supporters like Couy Griffin, the New Mexico local official who invalidated an election result he didn’t like and later was removed from office for participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection. At the other end are those like New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc, who campaigned in the primary repeating Trump’s election lie but promptly disavowed that lie after winning the Republican nomination last week.
In between are a slew of Trump supporters who have dressed up long-standing conservative election priorities, like requiring identification to vote, in Trumpian rhetoric, but have not repeated some of the wackier claims of voter fraud that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection, like allegations of Italian satellites or Chinese thermostats.
Still, it’s not clear exactly what Trump supporters in election offices could do to rig an election for the former president. The Electoral Count Act fix being debated in the Senate would close most of the loopholes that Trump and his allies, led by Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, tried to exploit in their fake elector scheme.
“The worrisome thing about these election deniers is that they would have, in those positions of power, they would have some real power. Maybe not to singlehandedly overturn the results, but they could try, and it could create a real chaos crisis and undermine confidence in our election systems and possibly lead to more violence like the Jan. 6 attack,” said Ben Berwick, general counsel for Protect Democracy, a group staffed with top former Democratic officials that tracks election director races across the country.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that Trump’s former White House aides at the America First Policy Institute, dubbed the “White House in waiting” for the large number of former Cabinet secretaries and top advisers who took refuge there after Jan. 6, are calling for strict limits on who can vote and how, but are stopping well short of Trump’s most ardent loyalists who are pushing to flat-out change election results they don’t like, according to a report from the group published in August.
The co-chairs of AFPI’s election integrity center, former Trump White House spokesman Hogan Gidley and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, cast their proposals in terms of the Civil Rights Act of 1960, saying that accurate voting data is needed to instill faith in election results.
The group hinted at the election lies that led to Jan. 6, writing, “After the last presidential election, there were concerns that ballots may have been counted multiple times (so that there could be more ballots cast than voters who voted) or that ballots were destroyed (so that there could be more voters who voted than ballots cast).”
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Republican candidates are either saying they do not accept their own primary losses or refusing to say whether they’ll acknowledge reality if they lose in November.
“We’re in a situation where one of the two major parties in this country has been captured in whole or in part by antidemocratic forces, and that’s a real challenge in a system where the whole thing is built on the idea that the losers of an election, while they may not like it, they respect the outcome,” Berwick said. “If we lose that, then we’re headed down a path we can’t come back from.”
Yahoo News Chief National Correspondent Jon Ward contributed to this report.
Climate change could wipe $108 billion from U.S. property market, study finds
Alex Lubben – September 20, 2022
Sea level rise will flood huge swaths of the country and submerge billions of dollars’ worth of land, according to a new report.
An analysis from Climate Central, a nonprofit research group, put a price tag on just how much all that land is worth — and how much local governments stand to lose when it goes underwater. The report found that nearly 650,000 privately owned parcels of land over more than 4 million acres will fall below tide lines within the next 30 years. The analysis indicates that sea level rise could reduce the value of that private land by more than $108 billion by the end of the century.
Because all land below the tide line is, by law, state-owned, the encroachment of the tides could essentially vaporize huge amounts of private, taxable wealth. That, in turn, will decrease property tax revenue substantially in coastal areas, which experts caution could ultimately bankrupt local governments.
For millennia, tide lines haven’t really budged. Nor has the notion that any land under water is public, which is an “idea that goes way back to Roman times,” said Peter Byrne, the director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Program. “The tidelands, the sea, they’re open to the public because they’re navigable. They’re inherently public.”
But as the planet heats, the old tide lines are climbing uphill. The study found that an area the size of the state of New Jersey that is now above water will be submerged at high tide in 2050.
“Sea level rise is ultimately going to take land away from people,” said Don Bain, a senior adviser with Climate Central, who wrote the report. “That’s something we haven’t come to grips with.”
All told, places that are currently livable will become increasingly hard to live in. Here’s what this might mean for local governments.
Risk isn’t evenly distributed
Climate Central found that, unsurprisingly, the effects of sea level rise aren’t evenly distributed across the U.S. The Atlantic and Gulf Coasts will feel its effects more than other parts of the country. In many areas along the coast, sea levels will rise significantly faster because land is sinking as sea levels rise.
By 2050, Climate Central estimates that about 75% of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, will be underwater. In Hudson County, New Jersey, $2.4 billion worth of taxable property will be submerged. In Galveston County, Texas, more than 4,200 buildings that are currently above sea level will be at least partially underwater.
“Climate impacts are not going to happen far off into the future, but within the life of the mortgage on your house,” said Anna Weber, a policy analyst with the National Resources Defense Council.
While sea level rise is one of the major impacts of the climate crisis, it’s not the only one. Supercharged hurricanes and wildfires will also cause displacement and will contribute to the erosion of local tax bases as people move to safer areas. More frequent intense rainstorms are expected to cause more inland flooding in many parts of the U.S. Coastal counties won’t be the only places affected.
“These numbers are relatively conservative,” said Jesse Keenan, a professor of sustainable architecture at Tulane University, who was not involved with the Climate Central study. “That’s what should scare people.”
Doing more with less
In many places, coastal property is the most valuable real estate — and a major source of property taxes for local governments. Without it, municipalities could see a huge loss of revenue at a time when the costs of adapting to climate change are expected to skyrocket. The costly measures that municipalities will need to undertake to adapt to rising sea levels, like building seawalls or elevating roads, could become more difficult to fund.
“When that property tax revenue base shrinks, it’s a compounding problem for adaptation,” said A.R. Siders, a climate adaptation researcher at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center. That could create a vicious cycle: “Not being able to protect those homes reduces their value and so you have fewer resources to protect those homes.”
That won’t just affect the owners of beachfront property. Municipalities rely on property taxes to fund roads, schools, trash pickup — all the basic services that residents rely on.
“It seems probable to me that over time we’re going to have to figure out a different funding model for really flood-prone communities, or communities along the coastline,” Siders added. “They’ve been relying on the perpetual growth of the housing market and that just doesn’t deem realistic in places that are going to experience the effects of climate change.”
One tool that municipalities use to raise money to fund projects that make them more resilient to climate change is municipal bonds — to do things like build a new bridge, fund the construction of a school, or, maybe, to pay for flood control so a city doesn’t get submerged by the next big storm.
Flooding poses threats to crops, commuting routes, utilities, wastewater treatment plants and buildings, the report noted. How local governments react to these economic hits will have implications for their ability to repay debt and keep their credit ratings afloat.
“Before they even reach bankruptcy, stress is going to reverberate through the muni bond market,” Keenan said. “What we’ll begin to see is a more explicit [climate] premium and a higher cost of borrowing for these counties.”
‘Choices to be made’
There are parts of the country that are exacerbating their exposure to the climate risks by continuing to build in coastal areas that will soon be underwater. Climate Central’s report calls for stricter restrictions on new developments and for building new housing outside of risk zones.
Buyouts, in which the government offers to purchase flood-prone buildings, could help create a natural “buffer zone” along the coasts, other experts suggest.
“This issue of losing tax base is something that comes up a lot when we talk about home buyouts because in that case, you are deliberately converting a property from private ownership to public ownership,” Weber said. “What this report shows is that, in some cases, that process is going to happen whether you do it deliberately or not.”
Besides building codes and moving people out of harm’s way, there’s still time to change course on greenhouse gas emissions, Bain emphasized. If the world continues to produce emissions at the current rate, the tides will rise faster; reducing emissions now will allow crucial time to adapt to the rising tides.
“We may not be able to change much between now and 2050, but we can make a large difference going forward from that,” Bain said. “There are still choices to be made — between better outcomes and far worse outcomes.”
8 million ordered to evacuate as Typhoon Nanmadol slams across Japan: ‘Raining like never before’
John Bacon, USA TODAY – September 19, 2022
More than 8 million people in southern and western Japan have been ordered to evacuate as Typhoon Nanmadol roars across the island nation with historic wind and waves.
Local government officials across Japan told national broadcaster NHK that a level 5 alert, the highest on Japan’s disaster warning scale, was issued to more than 330,000 people in about 160,000 households in Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Oita prefectures.
Nearly 8 million people in about 3.7 million households affected by a level 4 alert were ordered to evacuate in parts of the Kyushu, Shikoku and Chugoku regions, NHK said.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said it was “raining like never before” in Miyazaki, where some areas saw more than 15 inches of rain in the 24 hours through Sunday afternoon. Power lines tumbled and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were dark as the storm slowly rolled northward over Kyushu.
“To protect your life and the lives of your loved ones, please follow the evacuation information already issued by your local municipality immediately,” the agency said. “Ensure your own safety without waiting for the announcement of a special warning.”
First special typhoon warning
In Kagoshima, thousands took shelter at evacuation centers. Wind speeds of almost 115 mph were reported in parts of the region.
It was the first time the agency has issued a special typhoon warning for an area outside from Okinawa Prefecture. Flights were canceled and train service, the lifeblood of Japanese travel, was suspended in the region.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he had mobilized police, firefighters, the Self-Defense Forces and other agencies.
“I urge (the public) to avoid going near places posing potential dangers such as rivers and other waterways or places at risk of landslides, and to evacuate without hesitation if they feel in danger in any way,” Kishida said.
Earthquake strikes Taiwan
Less than 900 miles southwest of Japan’s natural disaster, a strong earthquake struck southeastern Taiwan on Saturday evening, collapsing a house and interrupting rail service on the island. Taiwan’s Central News Agency said the 6.4 magnitude shallow quake was centered north of Taitung County on the island’s eastern shore.
Bill Clinton: ‘The world’s on fire,’ but teamwork can help
Glenn Gamboa – September 19, 2022
NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton is calling on governments, businesses, philanthropies and other prominent institutions to draw together and help a world that is “on fire” as he reconvenes the Clinton Global Initiative, the meeting of international leaders, for the first time since 2016.
“Somebody needs to show up and make something good happen,” he said during the conference’s opening public session Monday. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Interest in the two-day meeting has been so intense that the Clinton Foundation had to turn away more than 1,000 potential attendees. It is convening a spectrum of luminaries, including Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and actor and water access activist Matt Damon.
Clinton, president of the United States from 1993 to 2001, said he has been amazed by the massive response.
“The world’s on fire in a lot of different ways,” he told The Associated Press in an interview. “But there are a lot of things that businesses, non-governmental groups and governments working together can do to help with a lot of these problems.”
The Clinton Global Initiative, or CGI, has helped more than 435 million people in more than 180 countries since it was established in 2005. It previously required attendees to create a Commitment to Action, a measurable project that addresses a global issue, though for this first year, everyone will be expected to announce or develop a partnership. Those commitments often unite new partners and encourage cooperation between the public and private sectors.
“I think there is a longing for people to get together and meet with an end in mind,” Clinton said in an interview. “Not just talk about it, but knowing that when they walk away, they will have committed to doing something.”
Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton calls that “a bias toward action,” which she says is part of what makes CGI special and a catalyst for global change. She said the COVID-19 pandemic has energized interest in public health and addressing health disparities because people outside of the field could see the impact.
“Health is interconnected to anything and everything that anyone may care about,” Chelsea Clinton said. “There are a lot of people who now are mobilized to do something with what they have come to newly understand and which they now feel responsible for helping to solve.”
Dr. David Fajgenbaum received a standing ovation as he announced plans for his new nonprofit Every Cure, which seeks to find new uses for generic drugs to treat rare diseases. The idea came from his own research to find a treatment for his own Castleman’s Disease, a rare ailment where the immune system attacks vital organs.
He said his new nonprofit would work on using generic drugs to treat 106 rare disease initially, a process that would cost 500 times less than developing a new drug. “There would be no greater impact in terms of saving lives,” he said. “As long as I’m alive, we’re going to continue to chase them.”
In other commitments, Andrew Kuper, founder and CEO of impact investing firm LeapFrog Investments, announced the firm planned to support 25 million enterprises offering 100 million jobs in developing countries by 2030. Israeli global venture firm OurCrowd announced a partnership with the WHO Foundation to launch a $200 million Global Health Equity Fund that focuses on breakthrough technology solutions in health care.
Peter Sands, executive director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said CGI has always introduced his group to new potential partners, something even more valuable after two challenging pandemic years that made access to new donors difficult. “There’s only so much you can do with PowerPoints and Zooms,” Sands said.
He is currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign of his own. President Joe Biden will host The Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York on Wednesday, delayed two days so that Biden can attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday.
However, he now plans to attend CGI and said the gathering has been missed during its hiatus, even though the Clinton Foundation itself has remained active. The initiative convened annually until 2016 during former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, when questions were raised about the appearance of potential conflicts of interests if donors then had business before her administration.
Bill Clinton said the initiative is counting on the special energy of its participants to tackle a growing number of issues.
“We’ve got the largest number of migrants since World War II,” he said. “And the most publicity they get in America is when one governor or two turns it into some political issue and tries to make problems for other people. Sensible countries work together and try to figure out the best way to deal with it.”
Clinton also hopes CGI can spotlight various solutions that need more support. He points to a study from Generation180, a nonprofit that promotes the use of clean energy. Its research shows some rural schools have installed solar panels to reduce their carbon emissions and their electric bills. The schools then used the savings to give raises to teachers.
“The energy is here. The jobs are here. The benefits are here. The kids win,” Clinton said. “That shouldn’t be a political issue.”
He says philanthropy can help bust through political and cultural gridlock by showing what can be done. For example, he said that when President Barack Obama proposed hiring 100,000 new STEM teachers and Congress turned him down, philanthropy stepped in to make it happen.
“We got the Carnegie Corporation and the American Federation of Teachers and more than 20 other partners together and they said, ‘We will raise the money,'” Clinton said. “Nobody ever thought of that as being a purpose of philanthropy. But it got the job done, and it demonstrated why Republicans and Democrats should cooperate on such things.”
Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.
Massachusetts seeks human trafficking probe targeting Florida Gov. DeSantis over migrants
John Bacon and Rachael Devaney, USA TODAY – September 18, 2022
Authorities in Massachusetts said Sunday that they have requested a federal human trafficking probe after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis boasted of sending about 50 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard to shine a national spotlight on immigration issues.
“We are requesting that the Department of Justice open an investigation to hold DeSantis and others accountable for these inhumane acts,” state Rep. Dylan Fernandes tweeted Sunday. “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”
Fernandes said he had spoken with Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachel Rollins and was “grateful to hear she is pushing for a response from the DOJ.”
The migrants were picked up in Texas, but DeSantis said the flights were part of a $12 million Florida program to transport undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary destinations. DeSantis denied claims that the migrants were duped into taking the flights with promises of jobs that did not exist. And he said he was “perplexed” to hear that President Joe Biden was “surging resources” to the Texas border in response to the flights.
“It’s only when you have 50 illegal aliens end up in a wealthy rich enclave that he (Biden) decides to scramble at this,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis and Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott have also sent migrants to other sanctuary cities, including New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., where some were dropped off outside the home of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Gov. Charlie Baker ordered shelter and humanitarian support be provided at Joint Base Cape Cod in cooperation with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and other officials. And 125 National Guard Members are aiding the effort.
Fernandes said the welcoming response being provided the migrants by his state reflects the best of what America can be.
“There is nothing tough about using women and children and families as your political tools,” Fernandes said on MSNBC. “Ron DeSantis is a coward.”
Surge of Venezuelan migrants at border
The Venezuelan migrants are among a global diaspora of millions of people who left the country to escape a depressed economy and a dictatorial regime amid power outages, lack of access to reliable water, rampant inflation and political turmoil. El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said the biggest surge of migrants in his Texas border city are Venezuelans. He said in recent days as many as 2,000 migrants have arrived in his city and he estimates 80% are Venezuelan.
Leeser, in an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” said the biggest challenge facing him, city officials and the U.S. Border Patrol is that up to half the Venezuelans arriving have no “sponsor,” a family member or friend who can arrange for their transportation and housing beyond the border. He said the vast majority of previous migrants had a sponsor to help them get to their next destination.
“So, we’re helping them working to get them to where they want to go,” he said. “So that’s been really important – that we don’t send anyone where they don’t want to go.”
Cuellar: Crime cartels exploiting weak border control
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Face the Nation that the Border Patrol, Homeland Security and other agencies must be provided equipment and personnel they need to enforce the law. Otherwise, he said, the U.S. will continue to see 8,000 people crossing the border a day. He said the border area he represents includes some of the poorest counties in the nation.
Cuellar said says sophisticated crime cartels are exploiting weak checkpoints to move people across the U.S.-Mexico border. He estimated they might make $8,000 a person – and about 4 million people over the last two years.
“That shows you how much these bad guys are being enriched,” he said. “Everybody that comes across is somehow controlled by the bad guys.”