The Florida legislature convened a special session today to address the state's property insurance crisis, in which homeowners, in the wake of recent hurricanes, have seen rates double in many areas and insurers pull out of some communities entirely. Stories in the Orlando Sentinel today and Sunday mapped out the confusing political landscape: In the recent elections, most insurance company money--$2.4 millionwent to Republicans, who control the governor's mansion and both houses of the legislature; yet, perhaps forecasting a typhoon of voter rage, the new governor, Charlie Crist, has vowed to do something about the skyrocketing rates, and last week proclaimed : "Big insurance has a new day coming." The forecast for that day is less certain. What's likely is that the state will assume more of the risk of bailing out insurers or insure more homeowners itselftamping down rates but leaving taxpayers holding the bill in the event of a killer storm.
Not on the plate this week, but sure to be on people's minds, is of course global warming, which has been blamed, in a roundabout way, for the entire shebang. Until now, lawmakers in the second-lowest state in the union (Louisiana is first) haven't really paid much notice to the whole global warming thing; the state legislature took a pass on curbing greenhouse gasses last year and the U.S. Congressional delegation voted in lockstep with the Bush crowd. The blasé attitudes might soon change, though. In November, Broward County Democratic Congressional candidate Ron Klein unseated the Republican incumbent, Clay Shaw, after running ads targeting Shaw's reactionary global warming stance. And the Sierra Club's Florida lobbyist, Susie Caplowe, tells me that Governor Crist has ousted a number of former Governor Jeb Bush's environmental appointees and replaced them with people who she likes much better. Crist hasn't yet stated a position on global warming, but if he wanted to represent his state's best interests (and perhaps his own), getting to the moral high ground on the issue would be a good place to start.
. . .one Adam Kropiewnicki, whose plight was immortalized deep inside an LA Times story about the emptying of a shelter for the NYC homeless in rural New York. Kropiewnicki, 61, was
a wordless, sweet-tempered Polish man known locally as "the Walker." Every morning for seven years, he set out on foot looking for work as a day laborer. But not until last fall did anyone call an interpreter to the site to speak to him in Polish, said Courtney Denniston, 27, a case manager supervisor.
"The first words out of his mouth were: 'Home. I just want to go home,' " Denniston said. He had come to the U.S. illegally to work as an asbestos handler, but when he lost the job, he had no money to fly home. He had a wife and children in Warsaw.
Volunteers of America, the nonprofit contracted by the city to run Camp LaGuardia, bought Kropiewnicki a one-way ticket to Poland. Staff members asked him to be ready at 2 p.m. on the day of the flight, but he was packed and sitting outside with his suitcases, beaming, at 8 a.m. Denniston loves to tell that story. "He had been waiting seven years for someone to ask him what he wanted," she said.
Apple, though beloved by progressives, hipsters, and their favorite rockers (John Mayer in October's Esquire said, "it's got us by the balls."), is nonetheless looking a little bit brown these days, like a Granny Smith or Delicio, sliced, and left on the kitchen table too long. The company's dirty little secret, known to enviros and few consumers, is that it's way behind the curve in the race to build a personal computer that doesn't make people sick, especially when recycled, as is the tendency these days, by kids rummaging through e-waste dumps in Asia and Africa.
To highlight the gap between the San Francisco-area company's squeaky clean image and dirty electrical components (which include substances being phased out by rivals such as Dell), the folks at Greenpeace bathed Apple's Fifth Avenue store in New York in a green spotlight yesterday, sending the light refracting through store's slick glass façade. A press release called the display, "a symbol of the 'green' Apple that is needed this holiday season."
Compelling Apple to go green, whether it wants to or not, are new environmental rules passed by the European Union this week (see the post below). Still, Greenpeace deserves props for shining a spotlight on unsavory practices that Apple would just assume hide under its crisp white casings.
Today the European Parliament passed one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching EU regulations in its history, a set of environmental rules that will hold companies liable for the health effects of some 30,000 substances used in everything from computers to laundry detergent. The lawwhich applies to any company that wants to sell into the huge European market (pretty much any global corporation, these days)signals the evolution of the EU from a paper tiger into the new global arbiter of environmental standards. The rules are sure to affect products produced and sold in the United States much more so than any law recently passed by the U.S. Congress.
To read more about the new law, known as REACH, for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, and how it will affect the environment stateside, check out The Muscles From Brussels, my article in Mother Jones' November/December issue.
In the latest dispatch from the seismically unstable mansion known as the California Republican Party, former aides of Rep. Garry Miller accuse him of turning them into butlers. The aides say Miller required them to help his children with schoolwork, search for rock concert tickets and send flowers to family members and friends. "There was never a clear line in the office between what was congressional business and what was just business," one former aide told the LA Times. "The expectation was that you would do both." Miller is also accused of new self-dealing involving real estate (a longstanding theme), which I won't bore you with here, except to say that he paid himself $75,000 in rent for the use his real estate development firm as a campaign office, which, it appears, wasn't used for much campaigning.
The theme of gilded excess at the California GOP was dusted off last year when former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham admitted he'd conspired to take bribes that included a Rolls Royce, a yacht and a 19th Century Louis Philippe commode. Of course, Miller has built on the notion of GOP graft with all the embellishment of a Fisherman's Wharf caricature artist. Voters showed they care about such things by ousting Rep. Richard Pombo in November for, among other things, his associations with Jack Abramoff, but the carnage Out West left plenty of other sketchy legislators standing. See MJ's November article, Washington's Shadiest Shoo-ins, for a shout-out to SoCal's indomitable Jerry Lewis.
One might hope that Republicans, being the perpetual underdogs in California, would at least serve as the party of conscience, as advocates of balanced budgets and moral probity. At times they've been known to fill this role, such as last year, for instance, when former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley was implicated in a money laundering scandal and a Republican appointee replaced him (for a few months at least, until he lost this year's election to a Democrat). That the Democrats rebounded from the scandal so quickly underscores how much the Republican voice of conscience has lost its credibility, or been replaced by pillow whispers with the powerful.