Monthly Archives: May 2007

Of pigs and lipstick

Dickie Scruggs and the rest of the Scruggs Katrina Group continue to go after Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale, this time with a series of newspaper and television ads.  I haven’t seen the ads, but from the description in this story, they appear to be fairly shrewd in that they are more of an advertisement for the legal services of the Scruggs Katrina Group than an attack on Dale, who happens merely to be the bogeyman used in these ads (along with insurance companies, of course).  In March, Dale was depicted in a Scruggs newspaper ad in a Mississippi newspaper as a pig in a beauty parlor, with State Farm attempting to doll him up to be presentable with lipstick and various beauty treatments.  No porkers or lipstick in this new series of ads, apparently. 

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Unsealed lawsuit alleges insurer conspiracy to rip off flood program

You gotta love the chutzpah of the latest meme on Katrina flood damage: first the insurance companies were wrongly denying flood damage to policyholders, but as it turns out, at the very same time they were also wrongly paying too much flood damage from federal money.  That is a fairly creative Nixonizing of insurance companies, Nixonizing referring to Richard Nixon, and the ability to generate multiple story lines about a subject, not all of which make sense or are consistent with each other, because the subject is so hated a lot of people will believe anything about him.  Here’s a story from Rebecca Mowbray of the Times-Picayune about an unsealed whistleblower lawsuit alleging a widespread insurer conspiracy to steal federal dollars.  Here’s a pdf of the complaint, filed last year, that the story is talking about.  

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Update on Scruggs contempt proceedings

E.A. Renfroe filed its reply brief in the show cause proceedings in federal court in Alabama over alleged contempt of an injunction by Kerri Rigsby and attorney Dickie Scruggs.  Rigsby is one of two sisters who took documents from Renfroe, a State Farm contractor that helps adjust insurance claims.  Not a lot of fireworks in this brief, which ends with this plea:

We have witnessed a consistent pattern of conduct by Kerri Rigsby and Scruggs, an officer of the court, to ignore the Injunction.  The conduct began the day the Injunction was issued, Some of the conduct occurred the same week this Court conducted the contempt hearing. Kerri Rigsby and Scruggs are not above the law.  They need to be held accountable. Not holding Kerri Rigsby and Scruggs accountable for their actions would send the signal that parties and lawyers can choose on their own to accept or reject court orders. 

I’ll keep watching the case.  When I know what happens, you’ll know what happens.

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‘The governor’s feistiness seems to have morphed into an unwarranted cockiness that he will soon regret’

Them’s fightin’ words, by Bob Hartwig, insurance industry spokesman, about Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.  Here’s the story, from National Underwriter. And here’s the Hartwig quote:

“The governor’s feistiness seems to have morphed into an unwarranted cockiness that he will soon regret,” he said.

While the governor is bashing insurance companies, Mr. Hartwig said, “Mother Nature is prepared to deliver a financial comeuppance to the state.”

The story talks of Crist’s 73 percent approval rating, which is due in large measure to his populist rhetoric and insurer bashing.  Of couse, if Florida is hit by a large hurricane this year and taxpayers and policyholders have to start bailing out the actuarially unsound state insurance company that has taken on even more risk, his approval rating will register somwhere around 0.0.  

 

 

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Inhibited appetites for risk

I thought this paragraph from a company press release touting its accuracy in property risk modeling was somewhat understated.  I have taken the liberty of bolding the parts I’m talking about and fixing one typo my spellcheck found in the release: 

Homeowners are struggling to find insurance coverage in hurricane-prone coastal areas. Coastal population density is increasing, but several critical factors are causing insurance carriers to abandon Gulf and Northeast coastal property markets. The assumption by reinsurers of stronger and more frequent hurricanes from global climate change and troubling court decisions regarding storm-surge damage in the wake of Hurricane Katrina caught insurers off guard, who had always relied on flood exclusions in their policies to limit hurricane damage exposure. Already financially burdened from the 2005 hurricane season, carriers found these trends further inhibited their appetite for risk in those regions.

"Inhibited their appetite for risk in those regions."  I’ve not quite heard it put that way before.  I guess it’s kind of like when a large dog ran barking into my front yard the other day — it inhibited my cat’s appetite for sticking around. 

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Blogging schedule

My workload crunch finally did it — I have had no time to blog last night or this morning and the rest of the day looks extremely dicey as well, so I’m not going to be able to come up with a post today.  I’ll make it up to you with a two-fer tomorrow.

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Memorial Day 2007

I wrote the post below last year for Memorial Day as a tribute to my Dad, who served as a soldier during World War II.  I’ve thought of his service often, and have read many books about war and military history to try to understand what he did, what he went through, and also who he was.  As Dickens pointed out in A Tale of Two Cities, the human heart is a mystery even to those closest to us, and there are many things I know about my Dad, but so much I don’t.  

I do know this much.  He was born to farmers, he farmed before he went to war, and he came back home to farm.  In a way, he was a descendant of the citizen-soldiers during the Peloponnesian War — farmers who left the land to put on armor and engage in a widespread conflagration, shipped out to fight in places they knew little about.  For soldiers in the era of classical Greece, the highest honor was not to kill or stand out as a hero, but to stay in line, not run away, and support the man standing next to you.  And so it is to this day. (The classicist Victor Davis Hanson has done impressive work in tracing the origins of Western military discipline, methods of fighting and ethos back to ancient Greece). I also know that my Dad was wounded once — some shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell struck him in the neck — but he must have refrained from applying for a Purple Heart, because it is not among his battle decorations. I know of it only because I directly asked him once if he had been shot during the war, and he never mentioned it to me again. Knowing my Dad, he would have been embarrassed to get a decoration for his wound when so many others were hurt much worse or killed.

I also know this: he was a tough, tough man in every sense.  He did whatever work he could find to earn money during the Depression — he was one of 12 kids in his family.  He did some farming for his father, he dug ditches and planted trees for the government. He enlisted before the United States entered World War II, and came back home after a brutal war in which he had seen a great deal of savage behavior by Japanese Imperial Army, but I never heard him say one word of hate against the Japanese.  He was the kind of man who worked on the oil rigs in 40-below weather in the winter to feed his family during years the crops had failed.  When it was too cold to start the car, he walked four miles to town in a blizzard to get kerosene and supplies.  He was tough enough to fight some of the best soldiers that ever lived — Japanese Imperial Marines — in jungles and mountains (how much he must have hated that, being from flat, treeless North Dakota). He was tough enough to have seen many people killed — besides deaths in straight-up combat, his unit was chronically short of officers because they were constantly killed in camp and behind the front lines by Japanese snipers — and never talk of wanting to hurt other people. And he was also tough enough to deliver me and one of my older sisters when we were born, with the nearest doctor 20 miles away. I guess he had helped so many calves to be born, he thought how hard can it be to bring a baby into the world. He taught me how to work hard, how to see humanity even in people you don’t like, how to keep going ahead when things don’t go your way and you feel like quitting. He died in 1984.  I don’t think a single day has passed since then that I haven’t thought of him.    

Here’s the post from last year, updated to make the year current.  

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Sixty-two years ago this month, the men of the Sixth Infantry Division, U.S. Army, were in their fifth month of fighting the Japanese Imperial Army on the island of Luzon, the Philippines.  They had just cracked the Shimbu line after a two-month battle in which the division’s three regiments were thrown into a battle against 14,000 Japanese soldiers waiting in bunkers, pillboxes, trenches and caves.  During the Shimbu line battles, every attack was met with a counterattack from the Japanese, who favored night actions and the banzai charge.  Many of the Sixth’s soldiers were ill with diseases like malaria from fighting in the jungles of New Guinea the prior year against elite Imperial Marines.

At that time, in late May 1945, plans were being drawn up for Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu, Japan, which was to begin on March 1, 1946.  Operation Coronet was to follow Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu, which was scheduled for November 9, 1945.  How many American dead and wounded were expected from these two invasions is disputed, but this much is known for sure — the Army manufactured 500,000 Purple Hearts in anticipation of the battle for Japan, a stockpile it has yet to exhaust in all the years since.  The Order of Battle for Operation Coronet included the landing of eight armored and infantry divisions west of Tokyo Bay.  These divisions were then to fight their way north and take the city in conjunction with other U.S. forces.  Among those divisions was the Sixth. Among the three regiments of the sixth was the 63rd Infantry Regiment, and among the 63rd’s 12 companies was Company C.  Among the soldiers of Company C that would have fought their way toward Tokyo, presuming they had not already been killed in their landing transports before they hit the beaches by one of the 10,000 kamikaze planes assembled to oppose the landings, was a young staff sergeant named Fred Rossmiller, my Dad.  In addition to the perhaps 400,000 American dead expected in the battle, it was thought 5 million to 10 million Japanese soldiers and civilians would die.

As we now know, Operation Coronet never happened, because the war ended in September 1945.  If it hadn’t, my Dad might never have made it back to Wildrose, North Dakota, where years later, he delivered me, the fifth of five children, one October morning on our farm.  My Dad never said much to me about the war.  I asked him once if he had killed in battle.  He said he didn’t know: he fired at the enemy and they fired at him.  If he had killed someone, he had not personally seen it.  He then told me a different story, about how when he was fighting in Luzon, he and his unit came upon some members of the Filipino Army, who had captured a Japanese soldier, tied him to a tree and were beating him.  My Dad stopped them, but his unit was involved in a battle, and had to move on.  They couldn’t take the prisoner with them.  After his unit moved out, my Dad said, he didn’t know what happened.

The mutual enmity between the Japanese and American armies in World War II was extremely high.  Yet my Dad had tried to protect this enemy soldier, and apparently thought this a more appropriate lesson for his child than his other combat experiences, because he never talked to me about them in the same kind of detail. Mostly, what I know of the Sixth and its battles I have read in the official division history and elsewhere.

In the abstract, it may sound like a cliche to talk about honoring those who have served and sacrificed for our nation.  But that abstract concept of service and sacrifice is made up of millions of individual real acts by real people who did things like carry a 70-pound machine gun on their backs through dense, mountainous jungle, and sleep with their boots on both to keep snakes and bugs out and to be ready for an enemy suicide attack.  People like my Dad, who fought in 306 days of combat, the last 219 of them consecutive, and then went home and farmed, didn’t complain, and didn’t talk much about what he had done.  There is a word for people like that, people like my Dad: heroes.  And they  have Memorial Day lest we forget.

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Another wind vs. water debate

Federal and Louisiana officials are at each other’s throats over a shortfall in the Louisiana Road Home aid program, which was supposed to compensate Hurricane Katrina victims for flood damage, even where they didn’t have federal flood insurance. The program, stocked with federal money but administered in large part by the state, will come up an estimated $2 billion to $6 billion short.  Why? Because Louisiana officials paid out the money not only for flood damage but for wind damage too, and there wasn’t enough to go around.

Louisiana officials are incensed that the feds aren’t necessarily ready to roll out a convoy of money trucks, and the reason they are incensed is because — you guessed it —  they say the people have already been ripped off by the insurance companies that didn’t pay for wind damage, and now the federal government doesn’t want to pay for it either! Wait a minute, I thought the story line was that insurance companies had raided the federal Treasury by dumping all the wind damage onto federally backed flood policies.  But I guess that story doesn’t sell if people didn’t have insurance at all, or if they had coverage that was less than the value of the wind damage.

Here is some of the action from a story in the Times-Picayune:

Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency that created the Road Home, were incensed by the latest federal rebuke of the program.

"It comes as no surprise to anyone in the administration that we believed our program should not discriminate between houses ruined by wind versus water," Blanco said Wednesday. "Insurance companies left many people shortchanged, and now our own federal government wants to do the same. I had hoped that we had grown past these evil political winds."

Setting aside for the moment the question of how one can grow past winds, evil or not, doesn’t this strike anyone as the last refuge of state authorities that have botched everything from the Katrina evacuation to managing the state-run insurer to handing out aid money? What’s next, are they going to blame their problems on Sasquatch, or as I believe some call him in Florida and possibly Louisiana, the Skunk Ape?

Here’s another story that is less accepting of the line from Louisiana officials, by Peter Whoriskey of the Washington Post.

Incidentally, if you follow the link above to the Sasquatch video, the authenticity of this has been questioned many times.  I’ve watched this very closely, and it appears to me he is wearing a pair of white Keds sneakers. Doesn’t mean it’s not real, of course, but come on, his name is Bigfoot, where is he going to find a pair of size 36 shoes? In a big, tall and hairy men’s shop?

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Blog business

My trackbacks feature works (and sometimes doesn’t work) in ways that are mysterious to me.  (Trackbacks is a feature that theoretically notes links by other bloggers to a particular post).  So I don’t always become aware of mentions of my blog until I check my Bloglines feedreader, and sometimes I don’t know at all.  But I do greatly appreciate links and if my trackbacks doesn’t acknowledge them, I try to do so in a post. Thanks to Ted Frank at Point of Law for the recent kind words.  Also thanks to Richard Victoria at PA Insurance Law Notes for the kind words.  

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Damage from hurricanes and tsunamis alike

I’m kind of pressed for time more so than usual this week: brutal schedule, brutal like a cage match with Chewbacca (which I see my spell check function wants me to change to "Rebecca"), so only a short post today.  This story from LiveScience.com caught my fancy earlier this month.  It’s about how the damage from Hurricane Katrina storm surge was very similar to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  Here’s another good story from the same writer, Andrea Thompson, about how meteorologists may be better able to predict hurricane storm surges in the future.

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