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The Fire Next Time

| 54 Comments

Sunday, on my ride home, we rode through what I thought was the downwind ash plume of a huge fire north of Santa Barbara. It turns out that it was ash from the recent - huge - Zaca fire being blown offshore by the high winds. Then, again, in Oxnard where we had to divert because Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu was closed. A friend almost got caught there on his morning motorcycle ride:

Both sides of the road were on fire and flaming debris was flying throughout the air. Visibility was no more than 20 feet. I couldn't see and I couldn't breathe and I couldn't turn around, because I was on PCH and I wasn't the only traffic.

Then cars started freaking out and stopping in front of me in the middle of this 'tunnel of flames'. I had to get out of there! So I'm riding as fast as I dare with no visibility, splitting between stopped cars and flaming shit on the road. None of us were supposed to be there. PCH was already closed but having just come down Latigo I was inside the road blocks.

I went from "wow this is exciting" to "shit I'm in trouble" in about 15 seconds.

I made it though and didn't crash.

The fires are burning from Ventura to San Diego - the length of the coastal urban belt here in Southern California.

Last year, I did (but never posted) a post on why it was worth worrying about large-scale terrorism. I gamed what I would do with $25 million and 50 people.

In my little model, two people and about $50,000 set about fifty fires over a Santa Ana weekday, broke the fire response capabilities of the region, and managed to burn substantial amounts of Southern California.

Greece just went through a similar 'storm' of fires this summer.

"Fires are burning in more than half the country," Diamandis said. "This is definitely an unprecedented disaster for Greece."

The worst blazes - 42 major fronts - were concentrated in the southern mountains of the Peloponnese and on the island of Evia, north of Athens. Arson has been blamed in several cases, and seven people have been detained on suspicion of causing fires.

Note that the arsonists do not appear to be coordinated or terrorists.

We need a robust domestic set of systems - an infrastructure - to protect us both against natural disaster and against intelligent terrorists who will eventually exploit our natural vulnerabilities.

It wouldn't hurt if we stopped incentivizing people to build in disaster-prone areas as well. The millionaires in Malibu can afford to choose to live there; but zoning regulations need to be stricter, insurance more expensive, and federal disaster relief in the form of buyouts. That's equally true of the poor people living on the Gulf Coast.

Corrected misstatement about the blog post - I wrote it, but never put it up.

54 Comments

Make a contingency plan for every single possible scenario? Twenty five million dollars and 50 people?

How about 1 kid sniper and a some loser driving around Washington DC with a rifle and a hole in the trunk of the car effectively shutting down the Nation's capitol?

Can you plan for everything?
"Your outdated ideas of what terrorism is have been challenged," an unidentified, disembodied voice announces following the video's first 45 minutes of random imagery set to minimalist techno music. "It is not your simple bourgeois notion of destructive explosions and weaponized biochemical agents. True terror lies in the futility of human existence."

Are the CA fires Katrina II? Let's hope not. But pouring billions monthly overseas while we watch our domestic infrastructure crumble before our eyes (in supposedly better off areas of the US at that) does not support for Iraq War make (sorry, not ranting just telling the truth).

My dad's house is directly in the hot zone of the Witch Creek fire in San Diego. Its hard to imagine how frightening and sad an unstoppable force of nature like this is until people and places you know and love are under the gun. I'm praying for everyone out there.

We need a robust domestic set of systems - an infrastructure - to protect us both against natural disaster and against intelligent terrorists who will eventually exploit our natural vulnerabilities.

Where's the money going to come from to do such things?

Government is particularly bad at preparing for essentially random long term problems, and the higher up you go the worse it is. Look at the FEMA debacle after Katrina. The only surprising thing is that anyone was surprised.

I mean think about it, these organizations have these nice cushy budgets, they are run by short time politicos that get the jobs as rewards for loyalty, and when and if they are actually called upon to do anything by definition there is so much chaos going on that its hard for the public to work up a good lather about how utterly unprepared and in fact clueless they are (look at the way our wars have traditionally gone the first year or so).

If your job is ultimately to prepare for nuclear war (for instance) who is going to call you out for doing a bad job? The post-apocolyptic radiation monsters?

On the other hand the market is equally as bad (at least) at preparing for the long term and random- but at least we can rely on caveat emptor to make us feel better.

Are we better off keeping the money away from the government so people have more resources locally and personally to prepare for disaster (considering they will pay the price if they dont and are hence the only ones truly motivated)? I doubt it, as so many of us are naturally bad decision makers (or gamblers anyway, if there is a difference) and we wont stand for huddled masses standing on causeways... except that we get that even with spending all the cash.

This is a tough one, especially for a libertarian with some liberal sympathies.

Where's the money going to come from to do such things?

If you read onto the next paragraph, there are some excellent ideas: "stop[] incentivizing people to build in disaster-prone areas."

I guess we are so used to subsidies that we don't bat an eye. But the subsidies to help people afford to live in places too risky for private insurance is the cruelest mercy.

Where's the money going to come from to do such things?

If you read onto the next paragraph, there are some excellent ideas: "stop[] incentivizing people to build in disaster-prone areas."

I guess we are so used to subsidies that we don't bat an eye. But the subsidies to help people afford to live in places too risky for private insurance is the cruelest mercy.

If you read onto the next paragraph, there are some excellent ideas: "stop[] incentivizing people to build in disaster-prone areas."

That's a rather curt answer. My reading of this comment doesn't bring me anywhere near an understanding for how to deal with acts of terrorism or other unpredictable natural and unnatural events. Unless you're suggesting that people move out of New York City...

And I'm not too clear on the alleged benefits of the excellent "de-incentivizing" idea either. First of all, does anyone realistically think that will take care of the cost? What kind of "subsidies" are we talking about that you propose might force people to decide to live near the ocean (in danger of hurricane/tsunami disasters), for example, other than the natural beauty? Or a historic connection?

And second, doesn't this "de-incentivize" idea suggest that people shouldn't be allowed to live their lives freely, including taking personal risks? It would certainly be a lot cheaper to live in a society where we were all confined to a small bunker and had to wear a helmet everywhere we go, wouldn't it?

"where is the money going to come for such things".

Nowhere - it's more important that we continue to sink billions into doing our neo-colonialism thing in Iraq. After all, why care about infrastructure when Bush needs another 46 billion to support the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan?

200 billion next year.

That's a rather curt answer.

Sorry, I have a thing about this particular issue, but since you asked . . .

And I'm not too clear on the alleged benefits of the excellent "de-incentivizing" idea either.

Let me give you an example. Here is some background information on beautiful Grand Isle, Lousiana It is a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico that is "affected by tropical storms or hurricanes every 2.68 years since 1877" and is directly hit by a huricane an average of every 7.88 years. The cost of private property insurance on this island would be prohibitively high, but never mind, the federal government offers below-market insurance.

Prior to Huricanes Katrina and Rita, the federal government spent about $800 million in storm protection on Grand Island, such jetties and levies and sea walls and boulders that eventually wash out. That works out to an investment of $1.2 million for each permanent resident of the island. And that's all before the latest round of huricanes washed away 80% of the homes. Federally subsidized insurance will pay for rebuilding, again and again . . .

Federaly subsidized insurance begun in '68 has made rebuilding easier and brought more people to riskier areas. On low years, the federal government pays out $1-$2 billion annually, recent big event years have been $22 to $30 billion. The sea is rising. Warmer climates predict more storms. People rebuild a little bigger each time . . .

Why am I paying for people to live on Grand Island? Why am I paying to rebuild Trent Lott's beachfront property when odds are its going to be destroyed again in the coming decades?

I don't have a problem with people living in beautiful beachfront locations, living on scenic overlooks into active volcanos, etc. I don't want the government to subsidize it.

PD;

Of course I am well aware that there are such "subsidies". Government spending is loaded with them. I'd be interested in seeing what the Oil companies receive annually, for example and for comparison.

But do you really think that ending such "settlement subsidies" will help pay for the cost of improving infrastructure to help protect the population against Acts of God and Terrorists? At all?

I see some grand plans by AL inspired by the event in SoCal but he doesn't seem to have made even a glancing effort to think the cost of such proposals through, nor consider the re-ordering of budgetary priorties that would be necessary to enact such plans. As such, they become empty rhetoric, unless "ending government subsidies" is his ultimate and true goal...

Nor has it occurred to him to consider that changing global weather patterns could contribute to an increase in the incidence of costly (life, money) natural disasters that will engulf segments of the population that were previously considered to be residing in relatively safe surroundings.

The statement

We need a robust domestic set of systems - an infrastructure - to protect us both against natural disaster and against intelligent terrorists who will eventually exploit our natural vulnerabilities.

Seems so evidently reasonable and obvious to me and probably most people living on the planet that I cannot see why AL thinks it is important to state without at least spending 2 minutes on how this can be achieved.

"But do you really think that ending such "settlement subsidies" will help pay for the cost of improving infrastructure to help protect the population against Acts of God and Terrorists? At all?"

There are really two different facets of the issue here and they are neither mutually exclusive nor conjoined.

I am with PD Shaw concerning the elimination of subsidies for high risk development. If people gain some utility from living in these areas then they ought to pay the full price (which would include special actuarially calculated insurance adjustments). If the full cost exceeds the utility gained then there is no development. End of story.

There is no reason for the general public to pay for the risk of a few; unless there exists some positive externality created by the development of the few. In the case of a positive externality only those benefitting from it should have to chip in and then only to the level of the benefit they derive. I do not see where a positive externality is generated by people building in Tornado Ally, the wildfire/mudslide prone Cal costal areas or Grand Isle, but maybe I'm missing something.

This is how things should be regardless of terrorism potential.

Less govt subsidies I suspect that insurance companies would adjust rates to the level where owners of high risk properties are fully paying for the risk they represent. And this risk would not be spread across pools containing lower risk properties because there would develop a market niche wherein insurance companies would emerge that only sold policies to lower risk property owners. Thus offering a comparable policy at lower cost than the companies mixing high risk and low risk properties in the same experience pool.

So less subsidies the free market would manage this situation quite well.

The second issue is improving infrastructure to prevent - or minimalize - damages caused by acts of terrorism. I am with others here who doubt that it is possible/feasible conceptually and economically to create infrastructure that addresses all - or even most - potential terrorism scenarios with even marginal levels of effectiveness.

The best one can do is to design programs to prevent attacks that represent a combination of 1. the worst attack in terms of damage 2. the most likely approach by terrorists and 3. the type of attack we can actually do something to prevent.

As an aside, terrorist attacks are easy and the fact that we haven't had one since 9/11/01 tells me that the risk is not nearly as great as AL and G. Bush fear (or want us to believe as the case may be).

A Rider truck a la Tim McVeigh on Wall Street at noon would be easy and would instill a large amount of terror; especially if there were simultaneous attacks in Chicago, Detroit, LA. And this would cost a lot less than AL's $25 million. What would you do to prevent it?

Not that we should be caught sleeping. We should definitely have more Valerie Plames out there tracking the handling and dealings associated with nuclear material because a nuclear attack is the worst scenario and the most preventable.

Mark Buehner - re:

Look at the FEMA debacle after Katrina. The only surprising thing is that anyone was surprised.

Okay, I have to breathe as I type.

1st fallacy - That the US Gov't is the driver in these cases. Go back to HS Civics if you think any different. The local, city, state then federal systems come into play, in that order. Oh, I forgot, we don't teach civics anymore, if you are that young. If an old fart... (I apologize, Lord, please forgive me and feed them starving pygmies....)

2nd fallacy -

these organizations have these nice cushy budgets, they are run by short time politicos that get the jobs as rewards for loyalty

Maybe at the Fed level. My recently deceased father-in-law was the state EMA chief as his last job before he retired to play golf. We had long conversations around the topic. He did not do it to get rich, he did it because it was a valid duty to help the state that had given him so much. He was BG Tom C. (Ret - US Army) First responders are as I stated above - local, city, county, state then federal governments. One cannot act without the express request of the preceeding.

[snip]

#8 from hypocrisyrules at 10:20 pm on Oct 23, 2007

Nowhere - it's more important that we continue to sink billions into doing our neo-colonialism thing in Iraq. After all, why care about infrastructure when Bush needs another 46 billion to support the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan?

Oh fer gawd's sake man! Get another meme. That one is old and tired. Got anything else to add?

Now, I got hit with a very strange thought. What if the fires in SoCa are man set? What if they are set by those ephemeral terrorists? That is the perfect storm. Massive property damage along with damage to the infrastructure. Just a thought.

Where I live we have wild fires in the forests. The rule is that you clear 50' away from the house. All the brush and undergrowth. Mother Nature is pretty very often but she can be a bitch.

Robohobo:

Oh fer gawd's sake man! Get another meme. That one is old and tired. Got anything else to add?

Gee, Robo, real sorry to hear that you're fed up with hearing this. In my view, hypocrisyrules was the only contributor on this thread that even attempted to make a serious effort at answering what should be a very simple question but has, apparently, scared Armed Liberal and everyone else into near total silence:

Where are we going to get the money to protect ourselves here at home??

Today it's a wildfire. Tomorrow, it can easily be pandemic flu or bioterrorism. What has the Bush administration done on that score? Gut FEMA and the CDC. Just think about this....if the money being spent on Iraq was just MANAGED properly, we'd realize a savings of billions of dollars. The amount of money that has disappeared down various black holes, contractors pockets, or even perhaps insurgents hands, is numbing and criminal. My tax money. Big gobs of it, simply thrown up into the air with both hands for everyone to scramble over.

Believe me, it's no mystery why most of you here would rather not confront my original question. I would therefore suggest that any further suggestions on government-sponsored programs simply be curtailed for a decade or so unless you have the nerve to say how WE, and not my kids or their kids, are going to pay for it.

Guys, it gets irritating to be told I've been "scared off" when I don't respond immediately to something. I have a for-real job, kids, a wife, and a life that at times bumps participating here lower in the task list.

hypocracy - well, there's a right-wing and left-wing answer I have to the question of how we'll pay. The right-wing answer is that we'll - among other things - stop overpaying public employees. The City of Los Angeles is about to get raped by it's public employees and the politicians they own; in an era of flat wages, public sector jobs are about to get large hikes. Along with great benefits, job security, and lucrative pensions. We also need to refocus state and local spending on basic stuff and spend less on things higher on Mazlow's hierarchy.

It's just got to stop.

On the left, the simple fact is that we need to massively invest in infrastructure, and that taxes are going to have to go up to help pay for it. Since we have (thankfully) a relatively progressive tax structure, that means well-off people (like me - I just wrote a 5-figure check to the IRS, and I'm not happy about it) are going to have to pay most of it.

That's just the way it is.

As to the notion that the war is bankrupting us, nonsense.

We have about a $13.2 Trillion GDP. The war in Iraq costs 450 billion (a little less) over 4 years - so $112B/year.

So the war is costing .8% of the GDP.

Added to the 4.2% of GDP we're spending on defense, we get 5.0% of GDP on defense - as opposed to 5.8% of GDP in 1988.

(All #'s from fast Googling and reliable sources)

A.L.

"1st fallacy - That the US Gov't is the driver in these cases. Go back to HS Civics if you think any different."

I understand full well the local and state preeminence in this (and any) disaster scenario. There is no question that city and state leaders failed as thoroughly as anyone to get ahead of this disaster, and spent most of the ensuing time pointing fingers. But that certainly doesnt excuse FEMA from being inept once its role did come into play.

"2nd fallacy -

Maybe at the Fed level. My recently deceased father-in-law was the state EMA chief as his last job before he retired to play golf."

But the federal level is what is in question here. Of course there are tons of good people on the ground- just as there are excellent CIA analysts, NASA scientists, and IRS auditors. But the point is federal beaurocracies are run from the top down and far more often than not stifle the collective talents and motivations of the people on the ground. Does even the left debate whether this is true anymore?

Think of it this way- would your father-in-law have found some equally noble line of work had FEMA not existed? I'm guessing he would have, whether as a state disaster expert or working at some other more local post. Its a fallacy to suggest that because you whether FEMA is necessary or effective you are questioning the people that make it go. Its entirely possible that those folks would be even more effective working under a different umbrella. If thats the case FEMA is a net drag on resources.

Put your two objections together- one could argue that we are creating a brain drain at the local level to ensure a federal bohemeth subject to lapses in federal leadership (which we see all the time). Isn't it possible that the best people in town are waiting from a phone call from Washington instead of the local mayor in the critical early moments of a disaster?

If the U.S. government was out of the flood insurance business, it would not have had to borrow "$25 billion":
http://www.heritage.org/Research/Regulation/wm1645.cfm to pay 2005 claims. If you follow the link, you will see that Congress is now considering the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act which would increase flood insurance coverage and expand the program to provide wind damage coverage and coverage for basements and crawl spaces.

If the U.S. government adhered to the "Coastal Barrier Resources Act (COBRA),": http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,239922,00.html it would no longer pay for roads, improvements and subsidized flood insurance on barrier islands. The program should be expanded to include other high-risk areas.

It strikes me that these steps would easily provide a savings of a few billion dollars a year in perpetuity (or so long as Mother Nature exists and sh#t happens) Complaining about the Iraq War, the Ottoman Empire are whatever other historical point of interest offers a savings of zero.

AL;

Sorry for the tactics. I think this is an important issue (domestic security) that you raise which can easily get overlooked if the hard part..figuring out how to implement it (both financially and politically)...is not confronted. Pointing out problems and then suggesting token solutions is neither productive nor serious.

So, your suggesting is to raise taxes then?

And, please don't argue a point that no one made. It was never stated that "Iraq is bankrupting us". The point, rather obviously, is that if we weren't spending billions there (regardless of the % of GDP, which is an irrelevant measure), or even if we were spending it with a minimum level of responsible scrutiny, we COULD spend them elsewhere.

This brings me to the second issue that is important to consider, and that is whether there is the political will to adjust spending priorities to increase substantially the proportion that stays at home to build up infrastructure and defense.

I don't think the public has to be convinced, at this point, that this makes sense. Every poll I've seen has placed support for such efforts in a clear and large majority.

So, if the people want it but it's not happening, why not?

Why have the CDC and FEMA been gutted?

Why hasn't the DHS done more for disaster preparedness?

PD;

More snark from you I see.

Of course "complaining" about the war offers a savings of zero; but ending the war, well, you can do the googling/math.

So lets cut to the chase with your comments. Are you saying that the US government should NOT provide flood insurance to citizens? Or that everyone living in a flood zone (which are expanding, by the way, thanks to climate changes) should move to dryer places, because its their "choice" to live in risky places?

Isn't that sorta like saying old people take advantage of Social Security by growing old, and so this particular government subsidy promotes or encourages the notion that people should live well past their 60s?

Personally, I'm more than happy that my five-figure annual tax contributions go toward both of these worthy social safety-net programs. We're all the better for them.

But financing air-strikes on civilian neighborhoods in Baghdad? Not so happy.

The problem, Alan, is that we set up a pernicious incentive when we overinsure people who make risky real-estate decisions. No one can help getting older, or being sick. The decision to live in a beautiful, brush-covered canyon with ocean views is an elective one.

Longer response to follow.

A.L.

Are you saying that the US government should NOT provide flood insurance to citizens?

Correct.

Or that everyone living in a flood zone ... should move to dryer places, because its their "choice" to live in risky places?

No. People should live wherever they want to live. If they choose to live somewhere where they can't afford the risk, the government shouldn's subsidize that choice.

Isn't that sorta like saying old people take advantage of Social Security by growing old...

No. Growing old is a near certainty. Building on land that poses such a high risk that the insurance is either unavailable or unafordable is a unique problem. For the government to subsidize that risk to people are property is perverse.

AL;

You're not going to get an argument from me about those specific circumstances. However, I am skeptical that a substantial fraction of those who make claims through the National Flood Insurance program are the kind of rich RE speculators you decry. You fail to distinguish the benefits of such a program to those who are genuinely in need.

I guess an analogy here is the idea that "means-testing" should be implemented for Social Security. Sure, people obviously can't help getting older or sick, but certainly there are plenty of able-bodied 65 year old citizens who are gainfully employed or otherwise wealthy but still receive SS benefits even if they don't need them. That is choice, too, is it not?

And I hope in that "longer response" of yours you'll see fit to getting around to the crux of this issue, improved domestic security and how we pay for and implement it, rather than simply dancing around the issue by addressing marginal points, as you've been doing.

And why isn't it much better than it is now, 6 years after 9/11???

Are you saying that the US government should NOT provide flood insurance to citizens?

If he won't I will. For example, let's try the example from the opposite end of the spectrum. For the longest time the community I live in was not a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (or whatever the acronym is). It was kinda of silly, we live in a desert, why jump through the hoops of having the federal government 'manage our floodplains' when, we don't have any. But, we did have the occasional flash flooding due to a heavy rainstorm or burst water mains. Rare and they don't do much more than dump a bunch of mud in some peoples basements.

A lightweight, cheap, low coverage flood insurance to cover basic cleanup of small amounts of flood damage would be perfect for us. But nobody offers anything like that, and until recently when the local area did join up the federal program, you couldn't get flood insurance at all.

One size does not fit all, this is why the private sector always runs rings around the government. No amount of throwing more government at it is going to change this either.

Treefrog;

I dont' get your point. Before the government (local/federal) program, you couldn't buy flood insurance for your area, but now you can?

In my area, which is not a designated flood plain either, I have the option of purchasing flood insurance from the NFIP through my private insurance carrier. I pay the premiums to my insurer, and any payout for claims due to covered flood damages comes from the government.

Do you know what the details of the system is where you live? You might want to investigate this before trying to make a "big government/nanny state" argument. Because in the system I participate in, private companies profit while the government and taxpayers payout.

Sounds like an Insurance Industry more than settlement subsidy to me. Maybe that's what you mean when you said:

this is why the private sector always runs rings around the government.

??

PD;

You're implying, like AL, that the problem with the National Flood Insurance Program is that it "subsidizing risk-taking". Yet neither of you have made the case that a measurable and substantial fraction of the claims are from people living in areas where the risk is predictable and high.

I can see where you're coming from. It is a common Libertarian/low tax/anti-government program position that tax dollars should not be used for social insurance. Many others, including myself, take the opposite view, that the Federal government is in a unique position to do just that, and do it with a minimum cost to the system because it's not driven by profit motive.

It is a cost that I'm willing to accept, with sensible limits.

There is such a long list of such services that you and I and everyone else in America (and the rest of the civilized world) take for granted and depend on every day that, frankly, it surprises me that anyone can see such microscopic injustice and inequity while remaining blind to the macroscopic benefits.

Yet neither of you have made the case that a measurable and substantial fraction of the claims are from people living in areas where the risk is predictable and high.

As indicated in #9, Grand Island, Louisiana is hit directly by a huricane an average of every 7.88 years. Twenty-five to thirty percent of all federal insurance claims are reptitive loss properties. Its my understanding these properties largely fall within a mile of the Gulf Coast.

I think the usual arguments about disaster-prone areas, which we recap after every disaster, are out of place here. Yes, the system could be tighter; on the other hand, we are no more going broke on relief and federal insurance than we are on Iraq.

We're not talking about a flood plain, or about stilt houses built on an unstable hillside. This is a large populated area that has been hit many times by wildfires comparable to this one (many caused by arson) which cannot be rendered fire-proof or depopulated. This is just the nature of of the beast in California (or as their governor calls it, "Cauliphonia").

I think the prime question was: How do we prevent terrorists from being inspired to set Cauliphonias on fire?

The problem with ramping up the big federal rescue machine is pretty well demonstrated by Katrina. If the government is in charge of reacting to disasters, the moonbat mind logically concludes that the government is morally responsible for causing the disaster in the first place, and outrageous local negligence gets a pass.

Recall that causing political chaos is the primary objective of terrorism. Not death and destruction. Death and destruction is just the means to the end.

Yes, but here's the full data from your link:

And even though repetitive loss properties represent about 1 percent of all those covered by flood insurance policies, they account for 25-30 percent of claims, Williams said.

That's seems pretty much the way all insurance works. How do these rates compare to auto or medical malpractice insurance, for example?

And does that mean that the 99% of those who want to purchase flood insurance in the 70-75% claim category (no repetitive claims) shouldn't be allowed to purchase it?

I'll grant you measurable (poor choice of wording on my part), but substantial (or perhaps disproportionate)?....not so much.

I am skeptical that a substantial fraction of those who make claims through the National Flood Insurance program are the kind of rich.

The Congressional Budget Office was asked to determine what economic class was benefitting from subsidized flood insurance. Here

Many subsidized properties, especially those in coastal areas, have high values. For example, 40 percent of subsidized coastal properties in the sample are worth more than $500,000; 12 percent are worth more than $1 million.

...

A significant fraction of subsidized coastal properties (23 percent in the sample) consists of residential properties that are not the policyholders’ principal residences.

I'm not sure this is a mystery. Coastal areas are prone to flooding, but property values increase near the coast.

If the government is in charge of reacting to disasters, the moonbat mind logically concludes that the government is morally responsible for causing the disaster in the first place, and outrageous local negligence gets a pass.

Probably true, Glen, which is why those who think like that really aren't given any serious attention from any side of the political aisle.

But if the government is supposed to be in charge of assistance in a natural disaster scenario (rhetorical, since of course it is), the I see no reason not to expect them to do the best job possible so that as many lives can be preserved as possible. If they fail on that score, then they might certainly be responsible for some of the casualties or consequences from said disaster. And when I say "government" I mean local AND Federal.

"That's seems pretty much the way all insurance works. How do these rates compare to auto or medical malpractice insurance, for example?"

Really? If i shattered my body jumping buses on a motorcycle every couple of years, my medical insurance would skyrocket. If my landrover got rolled 3 times a decade, my car insurance would skyrocket. I dont believe the government would offer me cheap insurance to cover the difference, or reimburse me whatsoever.

"And does that mean that the 99% of those who want to purchase flood insurance in the 70-75% claim category (no repetitive claims) shouldn't be allowed to purchase it?"

They are certainly allowed to purchase whatever they wish. Since when does the government not giving you something for free equate to not being allowed to buy it on the market? Oh, thats right, since the Communist Manifesto was published.

Mark, you seem to have missed the point that private insurers have been dropping flood coverage for many years, prompting the Feds to step in with a joint private/public program.

And please don't mistake actions undertaken voluntarily for community benefit with "Communism". You again seem to be missing an important point...many Federal social insurance programs have the support of a majority of the US public.

It's not "The Government" giving you "something for free", this is pure Libertarian/anarchist rhetoric. We are giving support to each other in our community, our society, VOLUNTARILY through our taxes (this is a Democracy, after all), which benefits greatly and is strengthened by doing so.

After all, you don't have to pay taxes, or live in America, right?

Do you know what the details of the system is where you live? You might want to investigate this before trying to make a "big government/nanny state" argument.

Sigh. Why is it every time I try to convince myself that the patronizing big government advocates are just a stereotype, in pops someone desperate to demonstrate the point?

Fine. I'll state it more plainly.

Communities that do not participate in the federal program are not eligible for NFIP insurance from any source including private WYO coverers.

Private insurers didn't, and probably still don't (although I haven't checked recently) offer insurance other than NFIP backed programs. It's to their benefit to coerce towns to join the federal program where they can sell insurance for 0 risk since it's all federal backed than to have to underwrite their own.

By the way, here's the full report that was quoted in PD's link

GAO NFIP Report

Here's the following section (From Pg 8):

According to a recent Congressional
Research Service report, as of December 31, 2004, FEMA had identified 11,706 “severe repetitive loss” properties defined as those with four or more claims or two or three losses that exceeded the insured value of the property.12 Of these 11,706 properties almost half (49 percent) were in three states—3,208 (27 percent) in Louisiana, 1,573 (13 percent) in Texas, and 1,034 (9 percent) in New Jersey.

In any other insurance industry, repetitive claims of this nature would drive your future insurance rates through the roof.

And does that mean that the 99% of those who want to purchase flood insurance in the 70-75% claim category (no repetitive claims) shouldn't be allowed to purchase it?

Just like people can't buy fire insurance because the government doesn't offer it? Nice false dichotomy.

Mark, you seem to have missed the point that private insurers have been dropping flood coverage for many years, prompting the Feds to step in with a joint private/public program.

You have your cause/effect backwards. How can private industry possibly compete with a government program that doesn't even have to break even?

Particularly when they can rebrand and sell the government insurance, get paid to do so, and all payouts for the insurance come from the government?

You can't blame the market for being screwed up when the government has it's thumb on the scales.

We are giving support to each other in our community, our society, VOLUNTARILY through our taxes (this is a Democracy, after all), which benefits greatly and is strengthened by doing so.

We also get to point out that it's not benefiting us, is in fact a royal mess and vote to cut it off.

"Mark, you seem to have missed the point that private insurers have been dropping flood coverage for many years, prompting the Feds to step in with a joint private/public program."

Why does that prompt anything? If car insurers dropped coverage for serial drunk drivers would the government step in? Is there some uninumerated right to flood insurance implicit in our social contract that i'm not aware of?

"And please don't mistake actions undertaken voluntarily for community benefit with "Communism". You again seem to be missing an important point...many Federal social insurance programs have the support of a majority of the US public."

Please don't make the mistake of equating what the majority believes with what is voluntary. The majority may believe in confiscatory taxation for the wealthy but that doesnt make paying taxes voluntary. The idea that if the market doesnt offer something the government must (at the risk of 'denying' it to the people) certainly sounds socialist to me.

"It's not "The Government" giving you "something for free", this is pure Libertarian/anarchist rhetoric. We are giving support to each other in our community, our society, VOLUNTARILY through our taxes (this is a Democracy, after all), which benefits greatly and is strengthened by doing so."

Err, again you could take that argument to its logical conclusion and end up with democratic socialism. IM not the one insisting on anything- if the majority believes in free disaster insurance for people who free ride in disaster prone areas, im not claiming it would be illegal or unconstitutional to provide it. You on the other hand seem to be indicating there is a moral (legal?) obligation to provide same. Should we provide gambling insurance to people who live near Las Vegas? If gambling is a disease surely we owe it to them...

I don't have much of a problem with the federal government's unsubsidized flood insurance. Treefrog is probably correct that it keeps private insurers out of the market. But it doesn't involve the government making it more affordable to live in higher risk areas.

Also, we shouldn't confuse the federal flood insurance program with any sort of social welfare net. Flood insurance, even if subsidized, is still expensive. If you can't afford it, you do without.

A.L.,

This whole sentence, is completely, utterly off:

"On the left, the simple fact is that we need to massively invest in infrastructure, and that taxes are going to have to go up to help pay for it. Since we have (thankfully) a relatively progressive tax structure, that means well-off people (like me - I just wrote a 5-figure check to the IRS, and I'm not happy about it) are going to have to pay most of it.

That's just the way it is.

As to the notion that the war is bankrupting us, nonsense.

We have about a $13.2 Trillion GDP. The war in Iraq costs 450 billion (a little less) over 4 years - so $112B/year.

So the war is costing .8% of the GDP.

Added to the 4.2% of GDP we're spending on defense, we get 5.0% of GDP on defense - as opposed to 5.8% of GDP in 1988."

Okay. Let's first start with all the misleading -

GDP - THAT is the number you are going to use to determine what we are going to spend on infrastructure - ALL products and services used in the U.S.?? Hey, THAT'S useful.

How about something else - say actual expenditures by the government. The U.S. federal govt spent 2.65 trillion in 2006. Using your numbers (122B/year), that's actually 4.2% of expenses per year. That is significant, considering 20% of spending goes to "everything else", including the infrastructure you care about. That's one fifth!

The breakdown is around the following:

21% Social Security
21% Defense and Security
19% Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP. (hypo note: this is the most exploding part of the budget, and most worrisome. Social Security is much much lower a concern)
9% Safety Net
9% Interest on Debt
21% "everything else". This means, to quote CBPP:

"The remaining fifth of the budget funded a wide variety of public services. These include providing health care and other benefits to veterans and retirement benefits to retired federal employees, assuring safe food and drugs, protecting the environment, and investing in education, scientific and medical research, and basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and airports."

Dishonest switching there, talking about GDP. Clearly, using that 100 billion would make a MASSIVE difference, for infrastructure, in terms of the "everything else".

Now, talking about "relatively progressive tax structure" - "here is a handy chart from Kevin Drum"http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2005_06/006434.php

Not too progressive, really - I urge you to click the link. Kevin also did a new version of this recently, wasn't able to find the link right away.

Time to get your head out of your rear of fantasy talking points and numbers.

hypo - absolutely not.

GDP is what controls what we can afford, government spending is what we choose to spend via government. Raise taxes? Government spending can go up. You know that as well as I do.

And yes, I've seen Kevin's #'s. The issue there is that he includes SSI payments, which are - legally - payments into a pension fund not transfer payments (even though the surplus has been borrowed in an accounting shell game). Take that out, and progressivity is still there. Are taxes progressive enough? That's a damn good question and I think we'd be on the same side in that discussion.

A.L.

Why is it misleading? He is comparing it to a different period of time. Analysts compare military expenditure to GDP all the time, its certainly not some unusual metric. Google 'military spending percent of gdp'.

But have it your way- below is a link to data on US military spending as a percent of descrationary spending. In 1987 it reach as high as 63.6%, in the early 70's it was above 70%.

link

In 2005 (to pick a number) the discretionary budget (which includes defense but not Iraq) 828.6 billion dollars. Defense was 420 billion, add on 112 billion for Iraq to get 532 billion on defense plus Iraq- thats 64.2% of the budget, .6% more than we were paying at the height of the Cold War, and mind you the two wars we are fighting right now aren't cold. So clearly the amount we are spending is not unheard of, certainly not in wartime.

Of course you can argue that the money could have been used elsewhere- but you could argue that anytime about anything. The money we spent in the arms race in 1987 could have been spent preventing forest fires. The money we spent in 1969 could have been spent on education. Heck, we could have spent more in 1998. The point is we dont, and we didnt, and there is nothing unsual much less untenable about the amount of money we are spending right now considering the gravity of the wars we are fighting to the security of the US, much less the region. How many billions did we lose in 10 minutes on 911?

Where are we going to get the money to protect ourselves here at home??

I'll make a start at that. First, the idea to avoid sub-par insurance is a good start. The first time we get a disaster and the bank loans for reconstrution don't come through because the insurance would cost too much, the result is less unprotectable construction. Build somewhere that currently appears safer.

Private insurance doesn't work very well for area disasters. A company that gets too many policies in one place then has them all need payouts at the same time. Bad for business. The usual result is that right after a disaster you can't get a policy at any price, and then the longer it takes for a new disaster, the lower the rates go as they compete with each other for business. At some point the good actuaries get out of that business leaving a bunch of bozos selling insurance who need to get bailed out by the government when the disaster finally happens. I'm not sure what to do about that. Maybe a law that a single insurance company can sell only so many flood policies in a single watershed, and only so many hurricane policies on a single coast, etc? Make each company limit its risk to the point that a lot of people can't get insured?

Make all the barrier islands into nature preserves and forbid anyone to build more than little shacks there? People like to have giant hotels there right on the beach, but it doesn't work. Put the hotels a few miles inland and bus the tourists in? It isn't freedom but it might work.

If I was building in a high-fire area without insurance, I'd want either something real cheap I could write off if it burned down, or something with lots of concrete that was mostly underground. Cut off the air circulation, lock up, and go. Come back and air it out afterward, replant the trees, and in 30 years it's maybe as good as new.

We have a whole lot of potential high-fire areas. Pretty much wherever we have forests. A big potential problem there.

In general we have 2 types of problems to deal with. For one we want to quickly evacuate people so they don't die, and take adequate care of them during the emergency, and then perhaps let them go home and help with reconstruction. The biggest gotcha there is quick evacuation which we aren't very good at. For some things we'd also want a whole lot of medical treatment -- mostly lungs, skin, liver problems. We aren't set for that either.

The second general type, we want people to stay home for awhile with very little in the way of outside resources. Things like epidemics, where evacuation is a bad idea. Also places that should have been evacuated but we couldn't. Every household needs a bucket and chlorine or iodine to disinfect polluted water. For a short time they can accept a bit of heavy metal poisoning, but secondary epidemics are avoidable. Good water filters would be a nice thing to have too. What can we do to help people stay in place and weather a crisis?

There are a whole lot of issues here, that FEMA has actually given consideration to. They can keep emergency supplies in central locations, and have to maintain them. The closest central location might be the place hit hardest and then those resources aren't available for awhile. FEMA settled on buying stuff from commercial sources at the last minute. This is the cheapest if there is no emergency, but it tended to fail for Katrina. Since anything you do can fail badly, it's good to be ready to try alternate approaches.

We could get a whole lot of freight cars to help evacuate places. Put a portapotty and water bottles and a lot of blankets in each car and you're set. Provided the tracks are usable. We could use all lanes of each freeway for evacuation. At the start, don't let any vehicle out unless it has a passenger for each seat. If it's an emergency where lots of lives are at stake, people who're trying to get "stuff" out are a later priority. People who get people out come first. Set up a couple of back roads for people coming into the area being evacuated, plus you can bring some stuff in by air or possibly by water. We have plans like that set up, but we don't particularly have people trained to use them.

We can get the people out of lots of areas, if we have the political will to follow the plans. Various things went wrong for Katrina but we aren't that far from having something that would work.

For staying in place, we need a big publicity campaign. We know in general what people need and that has to be tailored to specific circumstances. Ask the people who actually prepare to prepare for extra for those who don't. Perhaps have some subsidised materials available, and perhaps arrange those with the civil defense volunteers. Accept that what's being prepared for is surviving a very bad situation and not doing so in comfort. Get clear what scale of emergency we're preparing for -- we can't prepare for everything, try to get a sense of the cost for each level of preparation, and get a sense of what we're willing to pay for.

Epidemics are hard because you need people to stay in place, and you need to provide them with services without actually contacting them. There's the hope that with quarantine the infectious agent will disappear after infecting a minimum number of people. How long can you hold out? What if there are carriers who'll start up infection after you think it's over? If it's enemy agents spreading it, what if they spread a new agent after your resources are spent? But there are multiple reasons no one spreads easily-infecting biowarfare agents. One is that it doesn't serve anybody's interests. Another is that they're hard to make -- it's hard to test them without letting them out, traditional prisons and prison camps leak disease. It's probably enough to prepare for one epidemic that requires three weeks general disruption across the whole continent. Maybe a month. It doesn't make sense to prepare for longer than that because we probably can't prepare for longer than that.

So, costs? We have to limit the cost some by diverting resources we'd otherwise use for something else. For evacuation use railroads, private cars, the gasoline that's in place, etc. Provide minimal temporary services to refugees. The first priority is to get them out alive, beyond that they can go home and rebuild or else find work elsewhere. Anybody who wants better treatment can evacuate themselves and their possessions, before the emergency. If we can afford better evacuation we'll do it.

For survival in place we have unavoidable costs. We have to keep waterworks going as long as possible because city people can't get by drinking each other's sewage. That preparation costs. We probably need supplies in place because we can't depend on moving them where they're needed. Minimal cheap durable supplies? Oatmeal, corn grits, a few charcoal briquets to cook them? Sugar and salt for rehydration media? Simple cheap food that might keep sick people alive? I dunno. The big expense is organization. Get it real clear we depend on people to mostly do their own supplies in place and maybe that would partly work out.

Compared to the cost of actually dealing with a big emergency, the cost of planning is fairly small. Keep track of all the railroad cars in the country. Training programs for police etc -- make it clear what they have to do and why it's vital they do it, and make it clear we'll get them out after they do their jobs, even if the plan otherwise all falls apart. Continual training for police and civil defense workers is kind of expensive. Public awareness work is expensive. But pretty cheap to cooperate with a media expose' about how minimal the plans are and how we need to spend more to get better emergency management.

After reading through this thread and thinking about it a bit more, I think I've adjusted my views a little.

I no longer think that it would be hard for us to "find" the money to fund improved domestic security and disaster preparedness. We can argue ad nauseum about GDP vs. annual budget and the capacity of our economy to absorb huge costs. Clearly we can. Iraq certainly proves that. No one seems too bothered by the idea we can borrow and spend as much as we want, and although I certainly don't think it is good for the economy in the long run, I don't think I want to digress into that argument. So fine. Money's there...let's borrow some more from China. Why not.

What is obviously lacking, and is more important, is the WILL to do such things for those who control the purse strings.

In other words, if the Federal govermnent or Bush administration REALLY wanted to make California better prepared to deal with wild fires, it would have increased, rathar than cut, National Forest Service appropriations.

So I would have to conclude that, if you don't think it's the money, then you would agree with me that it's the will.

Bringing it all back to this point again:

This brings me to the second issue that is important to consider, and that is whether there is the political will to adjust spending priorities to increase substantially the proportion that stays at home to build up infrastructure and defense.

I don't think the public has to be convinced, at this point, that this makes sense. Every poll I've seen has placed support for such efforts in a clear and large majority.

So, if the people want it but it's not happening, why not?

Why have the CDC and FEMA been gutted?

Why hasn't the DHS done more for disaster preparedness?

Same reason so many things the public overwhelmingly believes in dont happen (border security, campaign reform, pork barrel reform)- they dont really believe in them all that much. At least not enough to force the government to enact them despite remarkable polling numbers. Our federal government has essentially become an adolescent that doesnt beleive the parents threats anymore (at least on these subjects). We can complain all we want but until we vote with our, well, VOTES they will continue to ignore it. This applies to both sides of the aisle.

Alan - I think you're right. It's because there is no constituency for freeway repairs or sewer systems - yet. I wrote about it while ago, talking about Joel Kotkin's sewer socialism and I still believe what I wrote back then.

That's a Democratic Party I could get behind...

A.L.

Piddly $400 billion? How about $2.4 trillion long-term war costs? Can the economy handle that?

"Piddly $400 billion? How about $2.4 trillion long-term war costs? Can the economy handle that?"

Sure. Why not? If its 2.4 trillion over 16 years, 604 billion of which have already been paid for, that comes to just under 200 billion a year.. but, that includes interest on the portion of national dept this will incur which nobody ever thinks about outside of the CBO. Moreover that also assumes there will still be 75,000 US troops in Iraq in 2013, which I dont think anyone is arguing to be realistic at the moment- certainly not at this level of violence which makes things expensive. So even in this unrealistic scenario its still hardly untenable from a dollar and cents standpoint.

A.L.,

GDP doesn't PAY for infrastructure, and also doesn't pay for the war in Iraq. Government spending does both.

Pretty obvious point.

And that's why using what the government spends, as a comparison for how much we spend in Iraq, is the right measure. And again, CLEARLY when 400 billion is spent for "everything else", and that everything else includes:

"The remaining fifth of the budget funded a wide variety of public services. These include providing health care and other benefits to veterans and retirement benefits to retired federal employees, assuring safe food and drugs, protecting the environment, and investing in education, scientific and medical research, and basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and airports.""

Say basic infrastructure is 1/5 to 1/10 of everything else. This would be 40 billion to 80 billion spent on infrastructure.

Are you REALLY ARGUING that having that 100 Billion, for homeland infrastructure, would NOT make a big difference?? Doubling to tripling the amount spent for that infrastructure??

See, what you do here is make these side arguments (which I'm sure you will do in response), but anyone with brains, or isn't investied otherwise, can see it makes on huge difference.

Obviously, Hypo, you are correct. Only an appallying pitifull example of willfull ignorance/stupidity - or scurilous deceit - could claim otherwise.

And only the percent of government spending not already allocated/entitled - like Medicare, SS, Defense, etc - can be considered as available for the programs AL calls for.

Thus, it should be obvious to all but the most dull among us that additional spending on building infrastructure in Iraq - and whatever the hell else we're supposedly doing there and in Aghanistan - bites into the available funding for infrastructure at home. Available funding being that over and above entitlements and necesseties like defense.

Now, if you want want to talk about cutting into Medicare and SS to fund Iraq and Afghanistan, I strongly suggest you put that concept to the voters. You will quickly see what a fringe element you really are.

Cheers!

"Iraq certainly proves that. No one seems too bothered by the idea we can borrow and spend as much as we want, and although I certainly don't think it is good for the economy in the long run, I don't think I want to digress into that argument. So fine. Money's there...let's borrow some more from China. Why not."

Exactly. We're already borrowing away our future and our security to pay or what we are already doing; despite whatever GDP figures are out there. So where does the extra money come from?
Let the printing presses roll? Let the Asians tie us to their bed ( and spare the vasoline)?

avedis -

Wow, that's pretty strong - "Only an appallying pitifull example of willfull ignorance/stupidity - or scurilous deceit - could claim otherwise." Want to speculate on which one I am? It could be amusing for an evening.

hypo and you are flat wrong. Government spending isn't etched into stone, and - unlike GDP which is largely controlled by exogenous inputs - it's set by political fiat. We spend money on what's important to our political class. We could change the federal budget - within some broad fiscal limits - in an afternoon.

We choose not to. That's too bad; we misallocate many of the resources we do spend; that's worse. Bush is a domestic disaster, but to be blunt, I think that the gradations of disaster open to us based on who's likely to get nominated are relatively small.

Personally, one of my pet projects is building a constituency for (which means defining first) the kind of internal rebuilding that we need to do.

It's in the queue.

A.L.

Again, AL, I ask you, "where is the $ going to come from?".

You refues to address that question.

"Government spending isn't etched into stone" Really? Which spending? Medicare? SS? Defense? Which do you want to cut?

Other than that you only have descretioary spending and, as has been ignored by you, there is scant little of that left - short of borrowing - to be spent on the stuff you want.

Go ahead; build your constituency around the notion that contracts that go to who knows what in Iraq are more important than their schools, security, Medicare, retirement, etc.

Bush only got away with it because he is a bald faced liar that people wanted to believe in the wake of 9/11.

Those days are past.

"We could change the federal budget - within some broad fiscal limits - in an afternoon."

Wow, AL, that's pretty strong.

Want to spell it out in detail? Or is this just vague grandiose conservative/libertarian fantasy?

And whatever it is you propose, would your consituency go along with it? Would it withstand the test of political viability?

avedis, are you effing kidding me? Do you know how the budget process works? Why don't you go look it up and we'll have a discussion.

A.L.

Wow, that's pretty strong - "Only an appallying pitifull example of willfull ignorance/stupidity - or scurilous deceit - could claim otherwise." Want to speculate on which one I am? It could be amusing for an evening.

He didn't name any names.

If the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it? ;)

AL, I have participated in it at the state level. Assuming that the Federal is fairly similar, then yes, I have an effing idea how it works.

So which programs do you cut and what do say to those effected?

Still waiting for an answer.

avedis, hypo;

In general, I think this is a strong line of argumentation, asking where the money is supposed to come from to fund domestic security/infrastructure improvements (or even to maintain the damn status quo). That is why I raised the question of AL to begin with in #3. It makes a very strong point about the (skew of the) current spending priorities, which you both had done well to make clear.

I don't think anyone serious or knowledgeable would argue that the government is behaving in an extremely fiscally irresponsible and un-conservative (ironically, perhaps) way at the moment in 1) cutting taxes, and 2) substantially increasing budget outlays for Iraq and Afghanistan, but also to fund other Big Government programs created by this administration, including the bloated and wasteful DHS. The list goes on and on. It's a mess. And to think that we had a surplus less than 7 years ago. It almost makes me want to weep.

But here's the thing. If something is truly important, we (the nation) will find the money to fund it somehow, someway. Usually in Washington this does not mean cutting anything. Neither party is willing to do this. AL suggests we raise taxes. This of course makes perfect sense to a lot of people, except perhaps the really rich ones who have made out so well recently. Only the Dems are politically able do this, and just barely, because, it is, of course, something that the Republicans will try to crucify them on regardless of whether it is the right thing to do or not. And the media will go right along with it. It is, of course, totally unfair therefore to ask the Dems to sacrifice themselves politically to do what is socially or even ethically right, while excusing the Republicans and conservatives from doing so because they have been quite successful at convincing people that they are "against taxes" based on core principles. Which is poppycock.

It's a fool’s game, this continual borrowing and spending. If our economy begins to look shaky, foreign creditors won't be so willing to loan us money, and the US as a whole begins to look a lot more like those over-extended consumers who are defaulting because their ARM rates are spiking. Will they want something for their money, will they try to "foreclose" and expect "pieces” of America. Who knows. I am angry at the current administration for putting the Nation as a whole in such a vulnerable and weak financial position, while at the same time making sure that a very small percent of people at the very top are wealthy enough to survive even in the face of the dissolution of the US as we currently know it to be.

So I do think that AL is approaching this issue superficially by suggesting massive spending increases without confronting some of these realities. Then again, I get the sense he still things the Iraq war is a worthy and just cause. Arguing whose perception of reality is more correct is frustrating and often completely pointless. Maybe you get what I'm trying to say.

Which is why I think it is worthwhile to move past the "Where's the money going to come from?" argument to "How the hell are we going to get these important things done?" And for this question, I do think it is important to also ask "Why haven't these things already been done?" because the answer to that question will be illuminating and might suggest solutions.

A.L.,

Given the level of spending, 100 billion that was NOT being spent on Iraq, would make a huge difference in discretionary spending. You want to say "hey, raise taxes by another 200 billion", well, good luck with that.

Still, doesn't negate even a little bit my point, given the current level of funding.

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