Gordon Campbell on the fate of Edgecumbe’s uninsured

The rough rule of thumb with natural disasters – floods, earthquakes and the like – is that up to one third of the victims probably won’t be carrying home or house contents insurance, a precondition of help from the Earthquake Commission. That ‘one third uninsured’ figure was cited in September 2010 just after the first earthquake in Christchurch and the same figure is being touted again with respect to the latest round of floods in Edgecumbe.

No point in stating the obvious ie, that people shouldn’t run the risk of not having insurance. Unfortunately, that’s like saying everyone should eat well, should buy nice warm houses and should save for their retirement – given that old age also happens to be a predictable natural event with catastrophic consequences. Obviously though, some people simply can’t afford to future proof themselves and their families. Putting food on the table and paying the rent tends to over-ride keeping up with the insurance premiums. Kids shouldn’t be left to suffer as a result of their parents (lack of) choices.

So, should the state be there help them out? Should Edgecumbe residents who don’t have enough (or any) insurance still receive assistance from central government – or not? In Edgecumbe only a few days ago, Prime Minister Bill English seemed to be telling the Whakatane Beacon that yes, central government would be helping out the un-insured, the elderly… along with everyone else in need within a town that has been built on a flood plain, behind inadequate stopbanks.

[English:] “This remains a town on a flood plain, a basin on a flood plain actually.” On how the Government might be able to react to people who did not have insurance, he said there were always those who were uninsured, for whatever reason, during such events.

“That will be dealt with. People who can’t get into their homes, the elderly … we’ll deal with those issues when we get to them.”

Don’t know about you, but ‘dealt with’ sounds to me like a synonym for ‘cared for’. Yet at Monday’s post-Cabinet press conference, when I asked English whether his government felt obliged to come to the aid of the un-insured in Edgecumbe, he was sounding less compassionate:

“No, I wouldn’t have any particular expectation about that.”

Not surprisingly from a National government, farmers have been placed at the front of the assistance queue.

Mr Guy, visiting the region this morning, said damage to the rural community was worse than he thought. The task force green teams will be “critical to help farmers and individual households with the clean-up”, he said. Rural families’ may also get rural assistance payments to help with essential living costs.

“Extra financial assistance is available in the form of civil defence payments and over 500 applications have been received so far. Most requests are for personal items like clothing, bedding and food. While the region is still in response mode, it is clear that all primary sectors in the area have been impacted to some extent, with major damage to farm land and infrastructure due to flooding, debris and slips,” Mr Guy said.

Rural assistance payments will be available to help rural families with “essential living costs.” Yet one might have thought farmers would be the sector least in need of the essentials, like shelter, clothing and emergency rations. Local firms, by contrast, are going to have to wait for their support package:

Many, including Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne, have called for a business support package similar to the one after the Kaikōura earthquake. However, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said officials were still finding out how many businesses were affected by the flood, and no immediate announcement was likely.

The harsh reality is that the worst hit areas of Edgecumbe are likely to contain most of the residents without adequate insurance cover. That’s how IAG head of corporate affairs Craig Dowling saw it in the NZ Herald:

“One thing we know, and it’s a very unfortunate situation, is that when flooding happens it tends to be in low-lying areas and often these areas are being developed after other areas and it hits communities that are more vulnerable than others,” Dowling said. There are fears that up to one third of homeowners in Edgecumbe are uninsured, and could be left badly out of pocket.

Thankfully, extra funds have been made available for more civil defence payments.

The criteria and the amounts of money available via these civil defence payments can be found on tables here.

The amounts involved don’t look adequate, given that the individuals and families involved will be facing fresh and unexpected costs beyond the subsistence levels at which this assistance has been set. It would be interesting if other media – hello, John Campbell – were to test the availability and the adequacy of this civil defence payment support from MSD, with locals on the ground.

Chemical weapons revisited

A few days ago, the global media and US commentariat momentarily thought the Trump administration had turned a policy corner on the Syrian civil war – what with that Cruise missile strike seeming to have all sorts of implications for US relations with Russia and the Middle East. Silly us. As if Trump would have a context, or a plan, beyond garnering a few headlines. As Foreign Policy magazine has pointed out, the only principle that’s been established here is that the United States reserves the right to use force whenever the President is upset by something he sees on TV.

The US warned the Russians beforehand, the Russians told the Syrians. In other words, Trump followed exactly the same protocols that Trump-the-candidate scorned as “stupidity” when Barack Obama engaged in similar prudent alerts to avoid escalation last year. In any event, the Syrian airbase was back in working order within 24 hours, and was even launching fresh bombing raids against the Khan Sheikhoun neighbourhood hit by the chemical attacks.

As Foreign Policy also pointed out, if this Trump action resembled anything it was President Bill Clinton’s penchant for firing of Cruise missiles in Africa and Afghanistan, such as the targeting of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan in 1998.

The Al Shifa factory was an aid and development project that the US had decided on faulty intelligence evidence, was making nerve gas for Osama Bin Laden. Back then, the Republicans had derided this sort of thing as being symbolic and entirely ineffectual:

After 9/11, you’ll recall, President George W. Bush vowed, in a swipe at his predecessor, “When I take action, I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive.” Looks like we’re back to killing camels.

Its not that Donald Trump really cares about the use of chemical weapons, or Syrian civilians, or Syrian refugees. Back in 2015, he trivialised Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons, such as when 3,200 to 5,000 Iraqi Kurdish civilians were gassed to death during the Halabja massacre of 1988:\

During a December rally in Hilton Head, South Carolina, Trump took a cavalier attitude toward Iraq’s use of chemical weapons under Saddam. “Saddam Hussein throws a little gas, everyone goes crazy, ‘Oh he’s using gas!'” Trump said.

Extra judicial killings? Also fine by him. Again, Saddam was something of a role model:

You know what he used to do to terrorists?” Trump polled the Tennessee crowd. “A one day trial and shoot him…and the one day trial usually lasted five minutes, right? There was no terrorism then.”

At least Trump has been consistent in his fanboy enthusiasm for dictators who trample over their opponents. The more violent they are, the more excitedly Trump admires the “strength” on display. In 1990, here’s how Trump reacted to the Tiananmen Square massacre…

‘When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength…’

Finally, there’s no current sign of the White House mounting the co-ordinated diplomatic/military effort that any serious attempt to affect the course of the Syrian civil war would require. Quite the reverse, actually.

Indeed, military officials are telling the New York Times that the cruise missile strike “was never intended to be the leading edge of a broader campaign to dislodge Mr. Assad from power, or force a political settlement in a country that has been ripped apart by six years of a bloody civil war.” Oh, so what was the point?

The only point, it seems, was to discourage Assad from killing people with chemical weapons. Killing people with barrel bombs, by contrast, appears to be just fine with the Trump administration. “The American strikes did nothing for us. They can still commit massacres at anytime,” a resident of Khan Sheikhoun told the Washington Post. “No one here can sleep properly, people are really afraid.”

New old songs

Mitski Miyawaki’s Puberty 2 was my pick for best album of 2016, and this single is a transitional move by her – a revival/cover of “Fireproof” off One Direction’s fourth album.

And talking of classy neo-bubblegum/proto-punk carryings on…From 50 years ago here are the Monks, a band that were comprised of American GIs based in Germany, shown doing a great version of “Complication” for a German television beat music show in 1966…

And finally, the classic English shoegaze band Slowdive have just issued their first new music in about 20 years, and this lovely “Sugar For The Pill” single is an older, more mature/resigned comeback call.