Unpopular Words

The other evening I watched Spike Lee’s new HBO Documentary entitled, “When The Levees Broke” about hurricane Katrina and New Orleans.  Overall the show was very emotional and a bit racially charged – but that is probably appropriate considering the circumstances.  If nothing else, I have a greater appreciation for just how wrong things can go when the government fails to respond in a timely manner.

I’m going to take an unpopular position.  And before you ask – yes, I have a heart.  This is not about black vs. white, rich vs. poor, or even Democrat vs. Republican.  And despite what Spike Lee wants us to believe, there is no fair comparison to draw between the evacuation and slavery.  What I want to talk about is insurance … or the lack there of.  Homeowners insurance, renters insurance, and flood insurance.  I believe that if people have purchased coverage and paid their premiums, the insurance companies must pay.  But here is where it gets tricky.  People without flood insurance are upset that their insurance companies won’t cover the water damage.  And even stranger than that, others believe the government should bail out all of those who had no insurance of any kind.  We should just pay people for the value of their homes and their property.

Where does this sense of entitlement come from in our society?  Why should anyone get something for nothing?  Insurance is a choice.  If you choose not to elect coverage – it’s like gambling in Las Vegas.  Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but you are betting on the probability that something might or might not happen.  It might seem crazy that people choose to live in a city that is below sea level.  New Orleans is just one example on the world stage where this occurs.  My point is – if you live below sea level – buy flood insurance.  After shelter, health, and food – flood insurance would be my number one priority.

Lastly, I take issue when people complain about the references to Katrina evacuees as “refugees”.  Now I agree that the traditional definition of a refugee is someone fleeing to another country.  And yes – the citizens of New Orleans are all Americans and they were not fleeing to another country.  But the root of the word here is “refuge” which is defined as “shelter or protection from danger or trouble.”  Isn’t that exactly what happened here?

Nothing can bring back the people who lost their lives.  It was tragic.  And the government did fail to act in a timely manner.  But let’s leave the inflammatory rhetoric behind us and focus on how we, as one nation, can do better and learn from our mistakes.

4 Comments »

  1. undees said,

    September 4, 2006 @ 2:22 am

    Hmm. Just playing devil’s advocate here, but I could imagine a few arguments in favor of someone — be it insurance companies or the gubmint or whoever — cutting the evacuees a little slack on rising water vs. falling water.

    1) I don’t know what the premium for flood insurance in New Orleans was pre-Katrina, but in a city below sea level, the answer is almost certainly “not cheap.” For a lot of folks, just paying the rent/mortgage is hard enough. (“Fine,” the counterargument goes. “Just move somewhere else.” Okay, where? What are they going to eat and where are they going to live for the months and months it’ll take them to get a job in a new town in the Bush economy? How are they going to fill their gas tanks to even get there? And who’s to say we wouldn’t be having this exact same discussion about tornadoes or earthquakes or whatever the local risky thing is in their new neck of the woods?)

    2) Insurance companies downplay the importance of certain coverage options all the time in order to sell a policy with a lower premium and appear to undercut the competition. My old man has had to deal with that a lot.

    3) The gubmint has a history of bailing out faceless corporations like airlines instead of saying, “Fiscal responsibility is a choice. You should have had more cash reserves and fewer executive perks.” There’s a long line of folks who are more deserving of the “entitlement mentality” moniker than a city full of people who were flooded out by a levee that they’d been assured would hold.

    Just some thoughts….

  2. jdbarney said,

    September 13, 2006 @ 9:36 pm

    Let’s just call this point, counter-point …

    1. I would never suggest that people should not live in New Orleans – it is a city with a vibrant culture that is truly unique to Americana. But the thing is … a lot of people who have left have no plans to return, and I don’t think we should spend a whole lot of time trying to convince them they should go back. Unlike the media, I do not blame any President alone for the state of the U.S. economy. I would argue that some of the major economic drivers are large corporations, investors, the individual consumer, and our nations dependence on oil and gas.

    2. Shorting coverage for lower premiums is appalling, but I agree it does happen. What a great opportunity for the federal government to regulate what insurance companies can and can not say to consumers. I’m all for accountability.

    3. “Faceless corporations” have plenty of very real people working for them. An airline bailout has greater reach than the appearance it has on the surface. Again – we live in a global economy where people must travel. The unpleasant truth is that there are certain industries that MUST survive for the good of the many. Perhaps it is time for some creative new thinking about how we handle such circumstances. I’m sure there are rooms of people on college campuses around this nation with better ideas than mine. Let’s tell them to get after it.

  3. undees said,

    September 14, 2006 @ 2:04 am

    Um, counter-counter-counter-point?

    > 1. Unlike the media, I do not blame any President alone for the state of the U.S.
    > economy. I would argue that some of the major economic drivers are large
    > corporations, investors, the individual consumer, and our nations dependence on
    > oil and gas.

    I don’t know what media you’ve been watching, but I haven’t heard ’em do much connecting of the President’s abysmal economic policies with their natural results. Not that they shouldn’t. They’re probably worried about being called “the liberal media” for not being quite right-wing enough. Anyway, “large corporations” and “dependence on oil and gas” are pretty much the same thing as the current President.

    > 2. Shorting coverage for lower premiums is appalling, but I agree it does happen.
    > What a great opportunity for the federal government to regulate what insurance
    > companies can and can not say to consumers. I’m all for accountability.

    I’m surprised it’s not covered already by FTC truth-in-advertising regs.

    > 3. “Faceless corporations” have plenty of very real people working for them.

    True, but I still won’t weep if, say, Monsanto goes under. Those very real employees know who they’re working for. It’s the old “plumbers on the Death Star” argument from Clerks.

    > Again – we live in a global economy where people must travel.

    Then we’re all fools for hitching our wagon to an unreliable horse. You and I work in IT — can’t we and our fellow geeks figure out a way to cut down on _some_ travel? Anyway, I won’t lose any sleep if MegaMultinationalCorp has to split into a few smaller, more regional/national ones, so their CEOs don’t have to travel so much. If globalization can’t survive a few airline bankruptcies, maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

    > The unpleasant truth is that there are certain industries that MUST survive
    > for the good of the many.

    If American goes under, the industry will survive somehow, just like the computer industry would live just fine without Microsoft (or Apple, for that matter, but how dull _that_ would be!).

    > Perhaps it is time for some creative new thinking about how we handle such
    > circumstances.

    We could start with, “American Airlines, you can’t have any taxpayer dollars until you’ve slashed executive salaries/perks, curtailed idiotic business practices like paying for your operating system / mail server / file server, and found other non-destructive ways to get the money.”

    😉

  4. jdbarney said,

    September 16, 2006 @ 1:50 pm

    The topic of dependence on oil and gas is something I could rattle on about for days. The citizens of the United States are conditioned from birth on the \\\”right\\\” to own a car – it is directly tied to people\\\’s sense of independence and freedom. That has to change. I have made a personal choice not to own a car. I chose the place I live because of its proximity to good public transit. Is it easy? No. Would it be easier if more people did it? Sure. The money we spend on roads, cars, gas, insurance – all of it could go to better use. Only the power of the people can persuade government not to roll over to the automotive and oil and gas lobby.

    Who is Monsanto? Not a name I am familiar with.

    Cut down on travel? That is exactly why I have influenced my company to invest in newer and better video conference equipment this year. I\’m doing my part.

    Besides the airlines, another example of an industry that can not be allowed to fail in telecom. I\’m not going to argue for or against any specific company. But the fact is there are just some things we can\’t live without. I don\’t want to live in a country where we would allow the phone company to go under and I can\’t call 911 in an emergency.

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