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Opinion: Dealing with Loss in Sandy’s Aftermath

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Last week PBS’s Nightly Business Report, which isn’t followed by the Nightly Labor Report, addressed the incoming impact of Sandy, a tame name for a bad storm. As the writhen clouds of black rain and snow rolled toward the coast, concerned journalists spoke solemnly about the tragic loss that would soon befall insurance firms.

PBS’s Diane Estabrook said, “Analysts can’t yet predict how steep the losses from Sandy will be, but they say the companies with the most exposure include: Liberty Mutual, Travelers, Allstate and Chubb.”

And what exactly are these companies losing? The money customers paid them for financial protection when disaster strikes. Policyholders will file scads of claims in Sandy’s aftermath, resulting in an apparently heartbreaking loss of profits for ultra-rich insurance firms.

Referring to paid claims as ‘losses’ is like saying McDonald’s loses 52 million burgers per day. Unlike the ‘financially-sound’ insurance firms, a morally-sound insurance company would gladly break even every year. Instead, they try to minimize loss and maximize profits. Again, this is like McDonald’s letting customers buy Big Macs while trying to minimize loss by withholding those sloppy patties made from sawdust and sick animals.

According to meteorologists, when Sandy made landfall up north she wasn’t a hurricane anymore. Nevertheless, insurance firms are fighting to classify the storm as a hurricane since such a designation would allow them to raise deductibles, thereby gouging their customers who were just blasted by Sandy. But “Nationwide is on your side.”

Insurance firms should be happy to help during such a tragedy, but instead they dispatch a battalion of lawyers who actively forget the lessons from those ethics classes they were forced to take and use their talents to convince judges a storm was a hurricane so their bosses can jack-up deductibles and make victims pay more. But, “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”

From a certain angle, insurance firms look like fly-by-night grifters that demand regular payments from customers, toss that loot in a vault, use fine print as a weapon against their customers and get mad and miserly when their customers need help. But “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”

The Put Profits First mentality that forces insurance firms to swindle their customers is the same mentality that forces the industrial sector to deny its role in changing the globe’s climate and generating ‘post-tropical cyclone superstorms’ like Sandy. “Liberty Mutual: Responsibility. What’s your policy?”

The difference between Romney and Obama’s environmental policy is like the difference between seven days and a week. Both guys need support from the fossil fuel industry to win elections, so both guys govern in favor of the fossil fuel industry. True, those guys pander to the greens with token praise and funds for renewable energy, but their allegiance is to the nonrewables that brought the wrath of Sandy, a tropical blizzard as big as Texas and as freakish as Texas.

Like most of the mainstream media, the Nightly Business Report didn’t pay much attention to the causes of Sandy, but they did dwell longly on the fact that the New York Stock Exchange was down for two days, as were the sales of knock-off Coach purses, Louis Vuitton handbags and Burberry scarves.

Many victims experienced Sandy as a wracking fury that turned their safe haven homes into death traps, that turned their lives upside-down and their memories into rubble. But this kind of loss is invisible in the limited liability paradise of casino capitalism where the game is rigged so the house always wins, taking the customer’s money and never giving it back. In this sense, the real insurance fraud, and the worst insurance scams, are perpetrated by the companies, not against them.

The storms will get worse, and the premiums will get worse.

As the votes are being tallied in this neck-and-neck presidential race between two environmental cowards we’re left with an image where we’re all huddled together, asleep on cots in a high school gym as the alms run dry and our deserted household keepsakes drown under the surging floods of frankenstorms that rage outside while our insurance claims adjusters defray us and argue that the storm was a hurricane, or an Act of God, like rape pregnancy.

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