Sunday, June 23, 2013

Absolute Power - Intellectual Froglegs

Absolute Power: America vs. Government ~ Intellectual Froglegs (Season 2, Episode 1)

Be sure to view past episodes at the Intellectual Froglegs Official Website. Invite friends, and be sure to sign up for SHOW ALERTS.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Homeowners Insurance Tops Inflation by 691%

Caveat Emptor

- By: Larry Walker, II -

Have you checked your homeowner’s insurance policy lately?

I’ve been with the same insurer for over 10 years through two residences. Even with the previous company my homeowner’s rates stayed about the same from 1998 through 2007. During a recent review, I discovered that my basic coverage amounts (i.e. dwelling, private structures, personal property and loss of use) have been inflated by around 3.0% annually since 2007, or slightly higher than the general inflation rate, and although I sort of get that, albeit the cost to rebuild is now around 150 times current fair market value (ugh, don’t get me started), over the same time-frame, my insurance premiums (bundled with auto and other discounts) have grown by an annual average of 11.4%. What do you call that?

In fact, excluding additional discounts received in 2009 and 2010, which helped dampen the rate of growth, my premiums spiked by 17.5% in 2008, by another 16.8% in 2012, and finally by a backbreaking 20.4% this year. Had it not been for those additional discounts, my homeowner’s premiums would have averaged 18.2% over the period. Yet, even with a generous discount, my premiums have ballooned by 65.3% since 2007. Now compare that to inflation, which rose by just 13.7% during the same period (via Dollar Times).

So in other words, from 2007 to 2013, my homeowner’s premiums grew 377% faster than inflation. But don’t just take my word for it. A May 2013 article by the Associated Press (AP) confirms that homeowner’s insurance rates have spiked, however it fails to mention why? More specifically, why homeowner’s insurance premiums are currently advancing 691% faster than inflation.

Of course, the insurance industry blames increasing replacement costs (the cost of rebuilding a home from the ground up). Okay, great! But that only accounts for a 2% to 3% annual increase. So how does this translate into an average annual premium spike of 18.2%? According to the aforementioned AP article, which I might add is based on antiquated data, “Nationwide, an average homeowner paid $909 for homeowner’s insurance coverage in 2010, up 36 percent from 2003. Inflation rose 19 percent during the same period.” It goes on to provide a list of what homeowner’s in states bordering the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico were paying in 2010.

Following are the average costs in five of those states, ranked by the percentage change from 2003 to 2010:

  1. Florida: $1,544, up 90.6 percent.

  2. Alabama: $1,050, up 54.2 percent.

  3. Mississippi: $1,217, up 53.5 percent.

  4. South Carolina: $997, up 48.4 percent.

  5. Georgia: $833, up 46.1 percent.

Now if the AP had continued its research through the current year, it would have discovered that the situation has gotten a lot worse since 2010, as I mentioned above. Here’s an idea for the media – next time, if you don’t know, why not try asking people who are actually affected? My premiums actually went up by 16.8% in 2012 and by another 20.4% this year, for a two-year average of 18.6%, while inflation averaged a mere 2.35%. So over the past two years, premiums have risen 691% faster than the rate of inflation ((18.6 – 2.35) / 2.35). What’s up with that?

It’s not the miniscule annual dollar increase that bothers me, but rather what the cost will be 10 or 20 years from now. At the current pace, by the time I reach what used to be considered retirement age, God willing, which is less than 20 years from now, homeowner’s premiums will be simply outrageous, perhaps more than 4 times the amounts shown above (i.e. doubling about every five years). In other words, if this doesn’t stop soon, I could be paying around $3,500 a year in retirement. I’m sorry, but this is just unacceptable.

So what did I do? I requested quotes from several local insurers. And what did I find? I received some quotes for less than half my current rate, some 30% to 40% lower, and others around the same. So I struck a deal which comes in at just 64% of the proposed renewal rate. That puts my new rate just 5.7% above what it was in 2006. Now that’s more like it. Perhaps I could have done better, but somewhere along the way I’ve learned that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

The bottom line: Why have homeowner’s insurance rates spiked? As one of my Google+ friends put it, Because they can get away with it.” Do yourself a favor; check your policy and take action while there’s still a free market (caveat emptor).

References:

Time to reassess your Homeowners Policy

How Homeowner Insurance Rates Have Spiked

Saturday, June 8, 2013

PRISM Schism

Heads or Tails?

- By: Larry Walker II -

Carla Dean: “Well, who's gonna monitor the monitors of the monitors?” – Quotes from Enemy of the State

PRISM is allegedly a covert collaboration between the NSA, FBI, and nearly every tech company you rely on daily. PRISM has allegedly allowed the government unprecedented access to your personal information for at least the last six years. I say allegedly because every tech company in question denies its existence.

According to the Washington Post:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets… Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

However, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google have all given full-throated denials of any involvement whatsoever. According to Google (emphasis mine):

You may be aware of press reports alleging that Internet companies have joined a secret U.S. government program called PRISM to give the National Security Agency direct access to our servers. As Google’s CEO and Chief Legal Officer, we wanted you to have the facts.

First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.

Second, we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process. Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period. Until this week’s reports, we had never heard of the broad type of order that Verizon received—an order that appears to have required them to hand over millions of users’ call records. We were very surprised to learn that such broad orders exist. Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.

Schism

Now we hear that the federal government may be launching an investigation in order to find the person who leaked details regarding PRISM to The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers. In other words, the government wants to know who, within its ranks, blew the whistle. Sounds like another government-manufactured conundrum to me.

Great, so now the government is going to waste time and resources finding out who leaked the details of a program which never existed. Seems to me like the White House would be a great place to start, especially since its Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes, has a master’s degree in fiction-writing from New York University. What's up with that? I mean, in the mind of a fiction writer, wouldn’t it seem like one of the best ways to deal with a series of scandals would be to manufacture an even bigger one, and then quash it?

By that time won’t everyone have forgotten about Benghazi, the IRS Scandal, James Rosen, Eric Holder, Verizon, the Budget Crisis, Illegal Immigration, the Secret Kill List, Obamacare and everything else? Well, not in the real world. Nevertheless, for my two cents, if there is a leak investigation, in an effort to save both time and precious taxpayer resources, it should be performed by a Special Prosecutor, and should begin and end at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Addendum

I've actually known about Comverse Technology, Inc. since around 1994. The company merged with Verint Systems, Inc. early this year. This video discusses how the Verint Communications and Cyber Intelligence products and solutions help make the world a safer place (i.e. a less private place).

Verint CIS Solutions from Verint on Vimeo.