Friday, June 2, 2023

Last Call For Orange Meltdown, Peach State Edition, Con't

An Atlanta-area investigation of alleged election interference by former president Donald Trump and his allies has broadened to include activities in Washington, D.C., and several other states, according to two people with knowledge of the probe — a fresh sign that prosecutors may be building a sprawling case under Georgia’s racketeering laws.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) launched an investigation more than two years ago to examine efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn his narrow 2020 defeat in Georgia. Along the way, she has signaled publicly that she may use Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute to allege that these efforts amounted to a far-reaching criminal scheme.

In recent days, Willis has sought information related to the Trump campaign hiring two firms to find voter fraud across the United States and then burying their findings when they did not find it, allegations that reach beyond Georgia’s borders, said the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the investigation. At least one of the firms has been subpoenaed by Fulton County investigators.

Willis’s investigation is separate from the one at the Department of Justice being led by special counsel Jack Smith, but the two probes have covered some of the same ground. Willis has said she plans to make a charging decision this summer, and she has indicated that such an announcement could come in early August. She has faced stiff criticism from Republicans for investigating the former president, and the ever-widening scope suggests just how ambitious her plans may be.

The state’s RICO statute is among the most expansive in the nation, allowing prosecutors to build racketeering cases around violations of both state and federal laws — and even activities in other states. If Willis does allege a multistate racketeering scheme with Trump at its center, the case could test the bounds of the controversial law and make history in the process. The statute calls for penalties of up to 20 years in prison.

“Georgia’s RICO statute is basically two specified criminal acts that have to be part of a pattern of behavior done with the same intent or to achieve a common result or that have distinguishing characteristics,” said John Malcolm, a former Atlanta-based federal prosecutor who is now a constitutional scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “That’s it. It’s very broad. That doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to charge a former president, but that also doesn’t mean she can’t do it or won’t do it.”

Among Willis’s latest areas of scrutiny is the Trump campaign’s expenditure of more than $1 million on two firms to study whether electoral fraud occurred in the 2020 election, the two individuals said. The Post first reported earlier this year that the work was carried out in the final weeks of 2020, and the campaign never released the findings because the firms, Simpatico Software Systems and Berkeley Research Group, disputed many of Trump’s theories and could not offer any proof that he was the rightful winner of the election.

In recent days, Willis’s office has asked both firms for information — not only about Georgia, but about other states as well. Trump contested the 2020 election result in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Ken Block, the CEO of Simpatico Software Systems, declined to comment on what he has turned over to investigators. A lawyer for the Berkeley Research Group also declined to comment. A spokesman for Willis declined to comment on the investigation. Lawyers for Trump also declined to comment.
We know Willis has asked Fulton County and state officials to be ready to respond to possible charges later this summer. If Willis really is pursuing a massive RICO case, then all bets are off. Trump could go to prison for the rest of his life, and MAGA America will absolutely revolt.

It has to happen, but again, we're not having any serious conversations about the second and third order effects here, and who is going to be hurt the most by the response.

Insuring The Worst, Ensuring The Worst

As climate change continues to drop more and more intense floods, fires, storms and blizzards, more and more insurance companies will jack up property insurance, or will simply stop issuing new policies altogether, making it impossible to afford to remain in disaster-prone areas.  Florida and California are the most susceptible to this as residents are paying the price. Flood insurance rates in South Florida are tripling in the wake of record Miami flooding and hurricanes last year.
Events of the past year have convinced more Florida homeowners of the need to carry flood insurance.

Flooding caused by hurricanes Ian and Nicole caught hundreds, if not thousands, of homeowners across the state by surprise, and without flood insurance.

Similarly, many homeowners affected by last month’s historic rainfall in eastern Broward County had no flood insurance and learned tragically that damage caused by water rising from the ground was not covered by their normal homeowner insurance.

It’s not just flood victims who are experiencing hard lessons about flood insurance.

Just as homeowners are realizing the increased risks of going without flood coverage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has released data showing that coverage costs are exploding for properties in coastal areas most vulnerable to flooding.

The cost hikes stem from mandates by Congress to require rates charged by the National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by FEMA, to reflect the cost of flood risk to individual covered properties, and to pay down the program’s deficit, which was $20.5 billion as of last November, according to FEMA.

The result is a new risk pricing model called Risk Rating 2.0, which took effect on Oct. 1, 2021, for new NFIP policies and on April 1, 2022, for renewing policies. Rather than set rates solely based on a property’s elevation within a zone on a Flood Insurance Rate Map, the new approach considers more risk variables such as flood frequency, types of flooding, and distance to a water source, along with individual property characteristics like elevation and the cost to rebuild, FEMA’s website states.

Improved modeling, however, is of little comfort to homeowners who will have to pay more for flood insurance at the same time costs of regular multiperil property insurance are skyrocketing.

Recently, FEMA released a spreadsheet that compared average premiums currently and how high they’ll climb under the new pricing model.

For example, homeowners in Boca Raton’s 33432 ZIP code can look forward to a whopping 229% flood insurance premium increase, from an average $950 per policy to $3,128.

In Broward County, the 33305 ZIP code that includes Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale neighborhoods near the Middle River will pay 209% more, from $1,099 to $3,400.

In the 33315 zip code, which includes Fort Lauderdale’s Edgewood neighborhood that was among the hardest-hit by last month’s flooding, average rates will increase by 64% — from $863 currently to $1,420.

These numbers are averages. Within each ZIP code are less expensive homes with cheaper coverage costs and pricier homes that will cost even more to insure.

Unsurprisingly, homes nearest the coast, particularly in low-lying areas, cost far more to insure than homes on higher ground in western suburban cities.

For example, homeowners in Coral Springs’ 33071 ZIP code are looking at a total premium increase of just 17.6% — from $669 to $787.

FEMA says the new pricing model will also drive down the cost of flood insurance for customers with low-risk characteristics. Yet, none of South Florida’s ZIP codes will see average rates decrease, FEMA’s data shows.

Across the country, the climate crisis is wreaking havoc on insurance markets. As climate change fuels more intense storms and wildfires, home insurers in disaster-prone states like Texas, Louisiana, and Florida have stopped issuing and renewing policies. In some cases, companies have even gone under in the aftermath of a particularly damaging natural disaster. As a result, homeowners are contending with skyrocketing premium payments and even beginning to struggle to find insurers willing to cover them at all.

The latest sign of the insurance industry tumult came from State Farm, the largest homeowners insurance provider in California. Last week, the company revealed that it would no longer offer policies to new Golden State customers due to “historic increases in construction costs outpacing inflation, rapidly growing catastrophe exposure, and a challenging reinsurance market.”

“It’s necessary to take these actions now to improve the company’s financial strength,” the company noted in a press release. State Farm indicated it would continue to keep the customers it already has on its books in California.

California’s insurance industry has been struggling to stay afloat in a state increasingly ravaged by fires and floods. Since 2017, when a series of catastrophic fires caused $33 billion in damages, insurers in the state have lost two decades of underwriting profit. As a result, the cost of homeowners insurance has risen by a quarter since 2015, and insurance companies have been withdrawing coverage in the most fire-prone parts of the state in an attempt to reduce the liability on their books. Meanwhile, Californians who have been unable to secure policies from insurance companies have flocked to the California FAIR Plan, the state-run insurer of last resort. The result is an unstable insurance market that appears to be teetering on the edge of crisis.
I expect that large sections of the country will be uninsurable at all in the next few years, especially in coastal states and wildfire states. The federal government will have to step in, or no more buildings and homes will be built in entire regions of the country. And even then, expect a lot less new construction ahead.

Arizona has determined that there is not enough groundwater for all of the housing construction that has already been approved in the Phoenix area, and will stop developers from building some new subdivisions, a sign of looming trouble in the West and other places where overuse, drought and climate change are straining water supplies.

The decision by state officials very likely means the beginning of the end to the explosive development that has made the Phoenix area the fastest growing metropolitan region in the country.

The state said it would not revoke building permits that have already been issued and is instead counting on new water conservation measures and alternative sources to produce the water necessary for housing developments that have already been approved.

On Thursday, Governor Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said Arizona was not immediately running dry and that new construction would continue in major cities like Phoenix. The analysis prepared by the state looked at groundwater levels over the next 100 years.

“We’re going to manage this situation,” she said at a news conference. “We are not out of water and we will not be running out of water.”

Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and its suburbs, gets more than half its water supply from groundwater. Most of the rest comes from rivers and aqueducts as well as recycled wastewater. In practical terms, groundwater is a finite resource; it can take thousands of years or longer to be replenished.

The announcement of a groundwater shortage means Arizona would no longer give developers in some areas of Maricopa County new permits to construct homes that rely on wells for water.

Phoenix and nearby large cities, which must obtain separate permission from state officials for their development plans every 10 to 15 years, would also be denied approval for any homes that rely on groundwater beyond what the state has already authorized.

The decision means cities and developers must look for alternative sources of water to support future development — for example, by trying to buy access to river water from farmers or Native American tribes, many of whom are facing their own shortages. That rush to buy water is likely to rattle the real estate market in Arizona, making homes more expensive and threatening the relatively low housing costs that had made the region a magnet for people from across the country.

“Housing affordability will be a challenge moving forward,” said Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, an industry group. He noted that even as the state limits home construction, commercial buildings, factories and other kinds of development can continue.

And as climate shifts render more and more of the country vulnerable to new flooding, fires, storms and disasters, we'll all be paying much higher premiums for property in the future. Eventually, millions of Americans will be stuck in homes that they can't sell because they are in uninsurable areas, and they'll get to wait until they are wiped out. I guarantee you that the people who can afford to move out will do so, leaving ruined economies and neighborhoods behind.

The people who will pay the highest cost will, as always, be those who can least afford it.

Shutdown Countdown, Armageddon Edition, Con't

The Senate easily passed the debt ceiling bill late last night as President Biden, Hakeem Jeffries, Chuck Schumer and the Democrats successfully limited the damage from the GOP-caused debt ceiling hostage crisis.
The Senate voted Thursday night to pass a bill that would extend the debt ceiling for two years and establish a two-year budget agreement on a broad bipartisan vote.

The vote was 63-36.

Having already cleared the House on Wednesday, it now goes to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it and avert an economically catastrophic debt default with mere days to spare before Monday's deadline.

The agreement was brokered by Biden, a Democrat, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, after a lengthy stalemate and a frenzied few weeks of negotiations as the U.S. neared the cliff. Biden will address the nation on the bill at 7 p.m. ET Friday.

"America can breathe a sigh of relief. Because in this process we are avoiding default," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "The consequences of default would be catastrophic."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., championed the bill as "an urgent and important step in the right direction — for the health of our economy and the future of our country."
The keys here were Democratic messaging that the GOP was wholly responsible for this mess, pounding away at the fact that the same GOP raised the debt ceiling three times under Trump, and that Wall Street donors didn't exactly want an economic collapse as much as the GOP did.

President Biden held fast and the Dems got in array.

Remember this the next time somebody tries to bring up Biden's "cognitive issues".


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