9/27/2005

Katrina, Rita, Lame Duck and Avian Flu

When bird flu breaks out in the US, let's hope it happens in Texas. As we've seen in the contrast between Katrina and Rita, those in George W. Bush's home state got a much faster, more efficient response from the feds.

W's not hiding it, either. Even though his photo ops are in places like unaffected San Antonio, far from hard-hit Port Arthur and Beaumont, they're his effort to be a president more visibly responsive for the Lone Star state than for Louisiana. Take the Bayou, but don't mess with Texas.

Cluck fest
National Geographic (October, 2005) reveals the deadliness of avian flu, and the US government's decision not to stock up on the only drug effective against it. Other, smaller countries are stockpiling tens of millions of doses, but the US has only enough for about 1/3 of 1% of the population. 1.2 million doses for 300 million citizens. That's if they can deploy it.

Humans don't have immune defenses against animal strains of the flu. The eventuality of an outbreak here has CDCC researchers sweating corn pellets. After WWI, Spanish flu (which was not from Spain) killed many more people than died in the war. Avian flu makes Spanish flu look like a mild case of goose bumps.

The sky is not falling
What is our federal government counting on to save us? The development of a vaccine before an outbreak kills millions of Americans. Some are under development, even human testing, but none are available today, after three years of outbreaks in Asia.

Maybe the administration is also counting on applying the lessons of Katrina and Rita: Duck the blame for the bad stuff, pointing instead to state and local agencies. Meanwhile credit the troops and FEMA with the things that go well. And conduct your own investigations of yourself.

Birds of a feather...
Watch for Bush to make well-televised visits to carefully prepared areas in Rita's path soon. He likes strut around looking like he's in charge, plus he gets to roost on board cool naval ships off the coast.

He's probably just upset that there wasn't some way to get Jeb Bush on national TV for this one. Somebody has to carry on the dynasty. Jeb's next in the pecking order.

There are three more years of this Bush, lame as he may be. Perhaps W hopes to rig it so he and Jeb can run on the same ticket. It worked for those twin brothers in Poland.

9/16/2005

Can Bush match the guts of Germany's Schroeder?

Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schröder deliberately lost a parliamentary vote of confidence earlier this year as a way to dissolve parliament and force national elections a year earlier than scheduled. That's right, a sitting leader chose to face an unnecessary re-run, which takes place this Sunday.

Why would Schröder do such a thing? His party was coming under extreme criticism and losing popularity. His mandate was dissolving -- some say gone -- and he was, in effect, a lame duck who could do very little to move his agenda forward in the coming year.

Sound familiar?

It takes a strong, confident leader to make a move like that. Maybe someone else could consider doing the same thing. Perhaps the person who took personal responsibility for the botched relief effort following Katrina and the broken levees.

The man who called 51% a "mandate" should call for a special election, a vote of confidence, to restore that mandate for the remainder of his term in office.

Additional reading about Germany's elections:
Germany's Election 2005: The Players
"When Germans go to vote they choose the party, not the person, they want to govern. But in fact, everyone knows exactly who each party would put in the country's top spot."

Background: Germany's Election Explainer
"DW-WORLD's selection of background articles shows how the election system works, what past elections have shown and why this year's election is more complicated than previous ones."

Germany’s election sleepwalk (May 8)
"If it were not for the occasional TV talk show, one would not know that Germany is in the middle of an election campaign in advance of the expected 18 September vote. There are two reasons for this political quiescence... "

Energy Debate Enters Germany's Election Campaign (Sept 2)
"Energy is the hot topic in German politics as oil and gas prices are shooting through the roof. Less than two weeks before the country heads to the polls to choose a new government, the oil shortage has fueled the campaigns."

9/14/2005

The world sees behind America's glittery mask

The Mardi Gras mask is off. No more "holier than thou" for America around the world.

"Now it is America which stands exposed. And neither America nor the world much likes what it sees...When corpses float in the streets for five days, the indispensable nation looks like a society that cannot take care of its own. When Sri Lanka offers to send emergency aid, the humiliation is complete." ("Receding
floodwaters expose the dark side of America - but will anything change?
" The
Guardian,
UK, 5 Sept 05)

9/11/01 the world is reminded that Americans are proudly nationalistic.
Iraq invasion 2003 the world saw without a doubt that Americans are gullible.
(re)election of Bush in 2004 the world confirmed that a simple majority of Americans are, to put it nicely, simple.
9/1/05 the world discovered that America has serious racial and class divisions.

Every developed country has its issues with ethnicity and poverty, usually stemming from its colonial ways. The world has been awakened to the fact that America the Beautiful is no different.
"Hurricane Katrina acted as a revealer of America's weaknesses: its racial divisions, the poverty of its less fortunate, and above all the leadership deficit if its president" ("Cyclone: Bush Completely Overwhelmed by Catastrophe" in France's nationwide "Libération" newspaper, 3 Sept. 05)

Why do the attitudes of the French matter? Western Europeans and many other countries around the globe look to France for leadership in world issues. French president Chirac and Germany's Schroeder together wield enormous political power that extends far beyond Europe.

Via The Week, a print news magazine:

Germany--Remember that deer-in-the-headlights look when Bush was informed of the 9/11 attacks? said Stefan Kornelius in Munich’s Suddeütsche Zeitung. Bush seemed similarly helpless in this second national crisis. And he "showed the same political denseness."

England--"It’s cold comfort, but if you are a Muslim who believes that the West values Western lives above Muslim lives, the American president’s demeanor over the last days points to a more democratic reading: The leader of the Western world lacks a language in which to value any life," said Howard Jacobson in the London Independent.

Spain--Madrid’s La Razon said, We watched the richest country in the world let its poor die like animals. It’s beyond dispute that the U.S. had the means to rescue the hurricane victims. It simply lacked the will. "That the largest and most modern army in the world was so inefficient can only be blamed on leaders of doubtful competence." America’s image "has been tarnished as never before."

Canada--America doesn’t value community, said Doug Saunders in the Toronto Globe and Mail. It has never been a country of people pulling together in a joint project, but a pioneer land of self-reliance. Those "individualistic, egalitarian, anti-authoritarian values" have made the United States succeed. But the flip side of that virtue is "an every-man-for-himself ethos that can destroy the system itself."


...and from my own reading:

France*--One journalist noted that Bush, at a ceremony on September 11, 2005, "tried to rekindle the spirit of 9/11 to face the challenges of Louisiana and Mississippi." The author continues:

"The two events are opposites. One brought tragedy to the white-collar class in NY; the other to the poor of the South. One galvanized the country; the other revealed its social and racial divisions. One reinforced Bush's mandate; the other weakened it. Today, in Bush we do not see America's commander in chief, we see its chief bureaucrat." ("A New Scandal for Bush" in "Liberation" 12 Sept 05)

* The French are one of the largest foreign providers of supplies and military assistance to America in this crisis. Their special forces are helping all along the coast to recover the dead and upright sunken navy craft, among other missions. This in spite of America's vicious chastising and damaging boycots of France after the UN Security Council refused to back W's Iraq attack plans, just two short years ago.

I don't doubt this shift in world perceptions will have at least a small impact on USA's ability to bully the world, imposing its ideals for gleaming democracy, equality and freedom, increasingly at gunpoint, with no regard for diplomacy. Perhaps the effect on international relations will be larger, even permanent.

I would also expect an impact on our economic position in the world, but that was already on its way out.

Post (as comments here) or e-mail your favorite headline, quote, or link from the international media.

9/13/2005

Kanarchy: Katrina's Kaos

Officials interviewed last weekend are saying that none of the 15 disasters planned for by our Homeland Security Department include the kind of social breakdown and anarchy encountered in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (CNN et al 9/10/05)

Didn't they watch Blade Runner or Mad Max? After the Rodney King riots in East LA, and WTO in Seattle, is this human behavior so unimaginable that Homeland Security wouldn't even consider it?

These are the people who make you hand over your fingernail clippers and take off your shoes before you can board a plane.

Angry people waiting days for relief reportedly shot at rescue helicopters that passed them by, and demanded help from first responders with threats of violence. Surprise, surprise.

What concerns me most is that Homeland Security will ignore or botch this issue, while the public will remember it and react in unpredictable ways in the next disaster, making things even more dangerous for victims and responders.

9/12/2005

Domain Registry Support -- CAUTION

Domain Registry Support cold-called me today asking to verify my address and get my fax number. They said it was in reference to a specific domain name I own. The agent didn't identify herself at first.

Something smelled fishy. The domain, which I sold earlier this year, was registered with NSI. I've never done business with Domain Registry Support. The call came in with "Unknown" on Caller ID.

When I asked questions instead of answering hers, I got fast, hard-to-understand explanations with a thick Indian accent: "This is a notification we are doing for all domain owners," she said repeatedly. "You are required to keep your information updated."

This was sounding more like a scam every minute. The clincher: "We are responsible for all changes to your domain."

"So if I want to make any changes to my domain, I need to contact you?" I asked.

"Yes sir, that's right. Now you are understanding me," she said.

My impression at this moment was that Domain Registry Support was trying to pose as some kind of internet authority, as if I was required to provide information to them. Why did they want to verify my address? It's readily available in the "Who Is" database.

Was this an attempted domain-slam in progress? There are plenty out there:
"Warning: Domain Scam - Domain Support Group"
"SCAM - domain registry services"
"Register.com Wins Stay Against Domain Registry of America"

I never found out if it was fraud or not. I didn't provide the information she demanded. I got their phone number (800-591-7398). I said I wanted to check with my domain registrar and see if I should be sharing this information. The call ended very shortly thereafter.

I believe there are rules about unauthorized transferring of domain names, including the ability for a domain owner to reverse an unwanted transfer within a specific timeframe.

If you have any doubt about unsolicited calls, e-mails or postal mail you receive regarding an internet domain name you own, check with your domain registrar (like Dotster, Register.com, NSI, etc.) right away.

9/10/2005

Katrina and the Economy

Considering the U.S. economy slammed on the brakes in early 2001, recently it actually seemed to be saying, "laissez les bons temps rouler." We had high oil prices, no more budget surplus, and a big trade deficit, to be sure. But the administration had been trying to get key indicators up -- GDP, unemployment, inflation -- to bolster public confidence in the economy and the Republicans in charge of it.

After all, there's an election coming up. Then along comes Katrina with the potential to mess it all up again.

"Overall, there seem to be three broad effects: an employment effect, a gas price effect, and a rebuilding effect," wrote Dr. David Kelly, Senior Economic Advisor at Putnam Investments, in "The Economic Cost of Katrina" issued 6 Sept 2005.

The loss of jobs in the affected states is likely to raise unemployment by 1/4 point, or 350,000 jobs, Kelly said. But the specific loss of production from oil and gas operations along the Gulf is likely to hurt GDP more than the loss of low-income jobs will hurt consumer spending.

That's because earnings in that region are only 80% of the national average. But there's now a disproportionate allocation of household income/savings to buy gas at rising prices, which means postponing other purchases, nationwide.

Massive government spending to rebuild will soon stir the economic potpourri and make things smell a bit rosier than they are.

"One of the ironies of natural disasters is that they often add to economic growth, since a loss in wealth does not show up in the national income statistics, but rebuilding efforts do," Kelly wrote.

"All told, if the government response is swift, and if gasoline prices fall back relatively quickly, the economy should maintain most of the momentum it had eight days ago. GDP growth in the second half of 2005 may look more like 2.5% to 3.0% rather than the 3.0% to 3.5% which had looked likely earlier. However, as rebuilding gets into full swing economic growth should accelerate in early 2006."


Just in time for mid-term elections.

The Economist agrees:

"History suggests that the hurricane will have little effect on the national economy. Despite all the pictures of sinking hotels and flooded convention centres, the overall impact of natural disasters is often close to neutral..."


However, Katrina shut down 90% of the oil rigs in a critical region for that industry, according to coverage by The Economist. Panic sent the price of crude over $70 until Bush "loaned" some to the oil companies from the nation's strategic petroleum reserves.

Watch for more federal support for building new refineries, along the lines of what we heard earlier this year. Also watch for political spin, said The Economist:

"Beware any talk from the president about the disaster somehow underlining his fraudulent campaign to boost America's energy security. It doesn't. The United States will remain reliant on foreign sources of energy."


As for what to do now, Kelly concluded by saying that "long-term investment advice which seemed correct eight days ago still seems correct today, namely, to have a balanced portfolio of long-term investments, with small overweights toward stocks over bonds, international over domestic, large-cap over small-cap, and growth over value."

9/05/2005

Hiking in France or Switzerland

I'd like to go on a week-long hiking trip, as early as next summer, to a French-speaking destination like the Massif Central, Luberon, Jura, or western Swiss Alps. I've never done anything like it, but for example a piece of the Grande Randonee sounds like a blast.

I have enough of the language to easily get by. It would be ideal to make contact with someone who's done this before, to swap e-mails, maybe even meet up there; perhaps with someone who even speaks some Italian or German.

Comment if you know someone who might be interested in corresponding, or know a resource for finding out about this type of travel. I'll also post as I learn more.

9/01/2005

Avoid the Nextel i860 camera phone with GPS

Don't expect much from the Nextel (Motorola) phones that have a GPS and camera. I tried the i860 and had three fundamental problems with it:
  • Poor phone service. Coverage limited to major metro areas and some rural industrial zones. No roaming. Delay in audio (call your landline and listen to the delay) causes others to think you're cutting them off in conversation.
  • Poor camera. Tiny photos, fuzzy, or completely out of focus. Not usable for anything, really, other than showing them on the cell phone's tiny screen. Must e-mail your photos to yourself (for a fee).
  • Poor GPS. I tried the Trimble Outdoors software (for a fee). Big problems downloading it. Support was friendly, but could not fix the problem. Poor reception -- I mean, so bad you give up -- if you're in the backcountry, because the GPS relies on the nearest Nextel tower to narrow its location. Without that, it's lost. Eats up a battery in a few hours, so no good for hiking.

Nextel was hard to deal with, on top of it all. I couldn't get the same answers to some questions from any two people. The company mysteriously cancelled my first order without even contacting me.

The second order went through, I tried the phone, and returned it. Not without having to submit to the last-ditch hard sell from their sales department.

The two weeks of use cost me over $250, plus some long distance charges. They took their time refunding the additional $150 cost of the phone.