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All the screwups fly home to roost at once
Published on September 11, 2005 By Phil Osborn In Politics
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Now it seems that a lot of people who otherwise qualified for assistance from FEMA in the Katrina disaster cannot get it, or have already lost their chance, simply because they weren't using Windose and IE6. I heard a long interview on NPR with a woman whose home, business, vehicles were all destroyed, so she found out about a limited time offer of a $2,000 debit card to families such as hers. Problem is, her only computer was her husband's Mac portable, without IE6, of course. The CyberCafes were mostly shut down, and when she finally managed to log on, they demanded a current residence address(!) to send the card.... from a refuge'. So, she and reportedly many others have lost all potential aid from FEMA. The head of FEMA, who is under investigation on other grounds, reportedly said that he was unaware that there WERE any other browsers...

This was also covered yesterday (Saturday) on Digital Village (DV)...

Also mentioned on DV (I believe) someone at the Astrodome managed to put together an effort to provide a local radio station to help keep victims informed and connect them. They miraculously got the licences for 3 temporary frequencies from the FCC and all the authorizations from FEMA, but were told by the Astrodome officials that they would have to provide their own power. When they had surmounted that supposed last hurdle, they were finally flatly refused permission by the officials, who were apparently afraid that they might somehow incite an insurrection or something...

There are MANY grounds in this disaster for MASSIVE lawsuits against local, state and federal officials. Apple Computer, just for one, could start a class action suit against FEMA on behalf of all the people who were denied assistance because they didn't go with a product and a company - MicroSoft - that has already been successfully hit with MANY HUGE lawsuits for its monopolistic practices.

A lot of the problems can be traced directly to the top -down authoritarian political structures that repeatedly - as documented in today's (Sunday 9/11/05 ) L.A. Times, fought over the pecking order while blocking critical assistance from other agencies or private groups such as the Red Cross, as well as failing to pass on critical information.

Brown, of FEMA (so far), did not even know that the levies had been breached until the middle of Tuesday (and then denied that they had any knowledge that the levies might fail, even though that information had been presented to them, and had been available for decades). Bush and his crew were consistently hours or days behind the news media in their knowledge of the situation.

Of course, we all know that the solution is more top-down authoritarian power structures. I.e., socialism. Like in China, right? Or maybe Cuba, which has been repeated cited for its own superior performance of late in dealing with similar events.

There are other solutions. In an anarchy, for example, the insurance companies would be a determining factor in where people chose to locate homes. If you can't get insurance, then how do you get a loan? Of course, this is already a factor in today's society, in determining home prices. But a pro-active insurance company might offer better rates to people who agreed to do things to reduce their risks - the way quiting smoking can lower your health insurance today.

Today, people constantly build in completely unsafe areas - such as slide zones on hillsides out here in SoCal, or fail to take precautionary measures, on the assumption that FEMA or somebody from the State will bail them out. Without that umbrella - paid for by those of us who do take precautions - either the levies would have been fixed or people would have moved elsewhere. So long as the umbrella is there, however, there is greatly reduced incentive for the insurance company to take proactive measures, as it has to compete with other insurance companies, who can lower their rates on the same bail-out assumption.

The drills and planned evacuations that Cuba practices are a good idea. But our fragmented authority structure and our property rights structures that derive from the Divine Rights of Kings theory (rather than the common law) make such things almost undoable here in the U.S. Large insurance companies, however, either separately or in a combined effort, could promote the idea, through fee reductions, that people demonstrate knowledge and preparation for disasters, involving drills, pre-allocated emergency transport and housing, etc. Failure to properly prepare could also reduce contracted coverage.

The proactive search to find better balances of preparedness and premiums is what insurance is about, in reality. Each company tries to get a better solution to the balance for its niche markets, so as to maximize its own profits over time. Thus, there is a positive incentive for the insurance company to promote safety, especially among its own customers and to widen that market by finding better, more cost-effective solutions to risk management.

Thus, a non-coercive, decentralized system could accomplish more-or-less the same level of general preparedness that Cuba boasts, without the repression and regimentation and poverty.

The trust in the coercive, top-down authorities to be truly prepared, ignores the imperatives of power, that tends always to focus on its own preservation, to the detriment of its supposed positive function. Government agencies typically get bigger budgets when they fail, right? Does the police department get more money if crime goes UP or Down?

Many thanks to New Orleans for helping to provide a concrete example of this that will be difficult to ignore.

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