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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Smart Cars are a Mercedes Benz model

There is a misconception that the Smart for Two or Smart Car is manufactured by Swatch and Mercedes Benz. Swatch actually exited the joint venture some time ago due to huge losses. The joint venture lost over 4 billion Euros. Mercedes now exercises total control over Smart car production.

Smart Car Annapolis 57993

The firm that manufacturers Smart Cars is Mercedes Benz. The parent company is Daimler AG. So technically and semantically, the Smart for Two is a Mercedes Benz. Mercedes Benz makes this clear in Europe but would rather not publicize this fact much in the U.S.

I live next door to a Mercedes Benz dealer and they display Smart cars in the same showroom as Mercedes Benz, albeit with bold colors and younger, more hip car dealers. I have only seen other Smart car showrooms in Mercedes Benz dealerships. There may be stand-alone Smart Car dealerships I just have never seen them in the U.S. Smart Cars are sold in at least 25 countries.

Now that gas prices are spiraling out of control the decision to take full-control of Smart GmbH looks like a real smart decision for Mercedes.

Smart Cars have been common in Europe for several years now. I started seeing them in 1998. I now notice them everywhere in Europe and see stand-alone dealerships as well as models displayed inside Mercedes Benz showrooms. They are rarely displayed side-by-side. I only saw that once, at a Mercedes dealer in Rotterdam, I think.

Smart Cars are made at a plant in Bottrop, Germany, at the site of a famous after-market tuning company called Brabus. Besides work on Smart cars and Mercedes, Brabus also does work on Maybach cars.

Smart Cars are also made at a Mercedes-owned facility in Hambach, France. Daimler, Daimler-Benz, Smart, and Mercedes Benz all refer to the same car manufacturer, at least as far as the EU government sees it. Swatch of Switzerland originally conceived the idea but they are not a car manufacturer. VW and GM vetoed the idea but more profitable Mercedes saw the Smart Car as the answer to an environmental regulations problem (see below). As I understand it Daimler AG pretty much rules the roost at this point.

In Europe Mercedes makes it quite clear that Smart cars are their product. The EU and German governments are putting significant pressure on Mercedes and BMW to increase their small car offerings.

In the EU, car-maker’s average carbon dioxide emissions across their range are expected to be limited to 120g/km by the year 2012. BMW and Mercedes cannot afford to ignore the small car sector, as making more small cars like the Smart car or Mini or possibly even a new joint venture will bring their overall emissions averages down significantly.
(Source: www.autocar.co.uk/News/NewsArticle/AllCars/226762/)

The U.S. government under the GOP leadership does not give a damn about carbon dioxide emissions. As far as George Bush and Dick Cheney are concerned the environment can rot while their Texas, Wyoming, and Alaska oil buddies and supposedly blind oil investments rake in record profits. They have undermined the power and authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the past 7 years.

In the U.S., Mercedes Benz has always been more concerned about maintaining their image as a luxury brand. They are under no pressure to decrease carbon dioxide emissions. Buyers of larger Mercedes Benz simply pay an extra luxury car tax on the low gas mileage. This will certainly change under the incoming Democratic Administration.

There were serious concerns among certain Daimler AG investors and executives when Mercedes-branded SUVs started rolling out of Chrysler factories a few years back. I've compared those SUVs to Mercedes top-of-the-line 4-wheel drive models and they are a poor substitute. They are essentially dressed-up Dodge mini-vans and handle mush or much the same. I see many of them sitting on Mercedes back lots and in other storage areas. Large discounts are available for those SUVs but the same is true for all American-made SUVs.

Range Rovers and top Mercedes 4WD models are rarely sale-priced. The same is true for Smart cars and most any ultra fuel-efficient models by any manufacturer, foreign or domestic.

Mercedes recently sold cash-hemorrhaging Chrysler to a private equity firm at considerable loss.

Please note I learned most of this information from the Financial Times, the Economist, BBC, Standard.de, Le Monde.fr, and other European news sources. U.S. newspapers and commercial television seldom cover European car issues at any depth, especially EU environmental actions. U.S. commercial media is extremely reliant on revenues from U.S. car manufacturer's advertisements. The car manufacturers steadfastly oppose all legislation requiring better gas mileage and lower emissions standards. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are paying a stiff price with huge annual losses for this shortsighted policy. Toyota, with many fuel-efficient models, will soon be the #1 car company, in terms of model numbers sold. Honda will move into 2nd Place by 2010 given the amount of time required by U.S. manufacturers to come up with new models.

A Maryland Public television car program, MotorWeek, does a great job of reviewing European models and discussing various issues. For example this week's show will discuss the Jaguar XF, the 2008 Mini Clubman, and even feature a Land Rover event.

(Source: www.mpt.org/schedule/series.cfm?series_id=1434)

Note: For those readers wondering why I have such an interest in auto manufacturing here is some background. My father was an engineer for General Motors for 33 years. My grandfather, Ivor H. Williams, was an engineer and plant manager for Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobile for decades, too. He was one of those responsible for the re-tooling of GM factories for World War Two munitions production. He made tanks, half-tracks, and various aircraft among other items that helped defeat the Axis powers by 1945. My grandmother drove those war vehicles to the rail yards for shipment overseas. Discussion of the auto industry was common in my family home and remains important to me today. I drive a Pontiac G6 GTP.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Parents of Dead Children Protest in China

Across northern Sichuan Province in China thousands of parents awaken each day to silent homes. Thousands of children have been taken from these homes through the combination of a massive earthquake and government corruption. These grieving parents know the real reasons why so many school buildings collapsed in the earthquake while the adjacent public buildings remained standing.


Corruption. Greed. Government Censorship.


New Olympic Logo

Corruption

Local Chinese officials took bribes given by building contractors. These bribes are paid to officials so that inspectors will not report construction that does not meet existing building codes. The practices are not a secret, not in China, not in other nations.


Building a Rural Hospital R1_00001

Greed

Greedy Communist Party officials used that blood money to build fabulous homes for themselves, to buy new cars, and to buy luxury goods. In some cases the actual building materials like steel re-bar were diverted to other buildings that still stand in the earthquake zones.


Many parents are now marching in protest, despite being offered bribes of less than $5,000 for them to remain silent. They are publicly protesting even though many know they may be arrested and given long jail sentences for doing so.

Tibet Protests Paris 040708 i5.jpg

It is illegal to protest in Communist China. The police will beat you mercilessly if you march down the street holding a sign, especially a sign that accuses the government of corruption.

Those consequences are not stopping the parents of the children that died in poorly-built schools.

A Preventable Tragedy

Yes, the earthquake was massive, over 7 on the Richter scale. However the Chinese have long known their country sits atop many faults in the Earth's crust. Chinese architects and and builders know how to build structures that can at least remain standing long enough for the people inside to evacuate.

Seoul Korea 000013

Perhaps some school buildings were older structures. Nevertheless, Chinese building inspectors have known for years how to identify older structures that cannot withstand earthquakes. China is currently building massive new roads, ports, and airports all over that nation. The government could have identified the poorly-built schools and built replacements. If it wanted to, China could have built earthquake-resistant schools, instead it decided to build earthquake-resistant Olympic Stadiums and skyscrapers in Shanghai.

Out of Sight Out of Mind

The fate of the school children appeared to be of little concern to greedy Communist Party officials. This kind of callous disregard for human life is only possible over the long term when a regime censors all negative reporting and serious analysis of major issues like the Chinese government. The U.S. government censors all reporting of the returning remains of U.S. service personnel to Dover Air Force Base for the same exact reasons.


The new Ministry of Propaganda building is almost finished in Beijing. China's propaganda machine is already working hard to cover-up the issue of government corruption. This author would be jailed for writing this story inside China.

Stade Olympique 0018

People in Western nations will quickly forget the reasons for this tragedy. Wal-Mart needs you to keep buying their goods and supporting the Chinese manufacturers that supply them. Sponsors of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games want consumers to think good thoughts about the Communist Chinese government (Note: The government of Cuba is also Communist but Americans are not allowed to visit or buy products from that poor nation.).

The grieving parents of so many children in Sichuan will be left to suffer in silence while millions are spent on the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Games.


If China's leaders do jail the grieving parents the silence of the young lambs sacrificed for greed will only grow louder. Governments cannot censor grief. Governments cannot squelch the absent voices of little children.

Links

Architects Question School Construction

Disasters Highlight Government Corruption

New York Times article

Washington Post article

CNN article

Thursday, May 22, 2008

CitiGroup, Inc. Credit Division Must Be Flat Broke

Standing there with my large corporate clients today I presented a Citigroup credit card to purchase a large office computer printer. The price of the printer and some additional supplies represented less than half the available credit on the card. The full balance on that card had been paid automatically by direct deposit only days earlier.

The clerk told me that my card had been denied for insufficient credit. I told him there must be some mistake, please try the purchase again. He came back with the same response. My clients looked at me and figured I must be having some sort of money problems. I sort of felt like I was 30 years younger and off at college again.

No wonder Citigroup stock shares (C:NYSE) are down 26% for the year to-date. They need to close up shop if they cannot honor the credit cards they have already issued. I am surprised the new wealthy owners of many Citigroup, Inc. shares, based in Abu Dhabi, have not discovered this major weakness at their latest investment.


I just happened to have my most recent statement from Citigroup in my case. The statement also indicated the balance was paid in-full for less than $400 in purchases made last month. I carry over no debt whatsoever from month to month on any credit card.

New York City 18662

Luckily, I also carry another major credit card. The same purchase, using the exact same personal information cleared instantly on the other firm's card.

I still have received no call from Citigroup regarding this purchase on my phone. This number is clearly listed on the credit card account information. So not only does Citigroup appear to not have enough money to cover a credit card purchase for less than half of a business holder's credit limit but they seem to have fired all the humans that follow-up on such activity. So there are few credit card employees and no more money left at Citigroup, not a good sign at all for a once-respected New York institution.

It seems Citigroup, Inc. must be so short of cash from the recent Sub-Prime mortgage crisis that they cannot clear basic credit card purchases for established business customers in good-standing. This is not a good sign for Citigroup or for any U.S. firms that depend on Citigroup's financial well-being! Time to look for a new bank credit card for your employees that travel. I found a better credit card offer, with a higher limit, at a competing bank within hours of my return to the office. You can guess where the Citigroup credit card is going, the same place the associated bank is going, down the tubes!

Texas had no rights to Polygamists' kids

This just in from the state that gave us our illustrious president:

A court in Texas decided that it was illegal for state authorities to remove over 400 allegedly sexually-abused children from a closed religious compound in Texas. Apparently the number 400 was not considered unusual by the Third Court of Appeals in Austin.

Cottonwood Road 13599

The Texas court decided the removal of the children prior to a court hearing was unconstitutional. The court left undecided the issue of whether the men belonging to the ostracized Fundamentalist branch of the Church of Latter Day Saints could have as many wives and children as they wanted. The court also did not rule on the numerous related welfare fraud and tax evasion charges pending against the sect. Most taxpayers following this story are unaware that FLDS members gladly accept all forms of public assistance while eschewing tax payments as "Funding The Devil's Work." Oddly, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has yet to issue a rebuttal to that charge.
"Your family tree shouldn't be a wreath." - Randy Mankin, editor of the Eldorado Success newspaper.
In 1990, Dr. Theodore Tarby conducted a study of the FLDS related to the unusually large number of cases of extreme mental retardation called Fumarase Deficiency. Dr. Tarby's research clearly associated the cases of Fumarase Deficiency with intermarriage. Additional details on this bizarre angle to the ongoing FLDS Polygamy story can be found in this Time magazine article.

Furthermore, the judge was silent on the insult to modern fashion standards presented by the FLDS women dressed in early American garb.


Some time ago authorities in Utah decided FLDS Leader Warren Jeffs should remain in jail pending appeals on his claims to needing a host of child brides to reach his version of Heaven.

Meanwhile the New York Times has revived interest in the practice of polyandry, where one woman marries several men at the same time. Towards this end the Times reprinted William Safire's 1996 Op-Ed piece: A Case For Polyandry.

There seems to be nothing to substantiate the rumor that thousands of young Asian men have applied for membership in the FLDS. Such a trend could result in an influx of millions of dollars to the Fundamentalist's coffers.

Cottonwood Road 13589

The Bush ranch is located in Crawford, Texas, about 225 dusty miles from the FLDS Eldorado compound

Links:

AP News announcement at Washington Post.com

A Case For Polyandry

Time magazine article

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Burmese Junta Must Go

The remaining days of the rotten-to-the-core Burmese military junta can be counted in single digits. The drug dealing thugs trying to pass as legitimate rulers in Rangoon are finished. If they escape the government compounds with their lives there will be no hiding place on earth safe enough. The International Criminal Courts will probably never even get a chance to put these mass murderers on trial.

International pressure is rising on the junta. World leaders need to move beyond negotiating with this gang of armed thugs. Even a pack of wolves only takes what it needs from the elk or buffalo herd.

Each day the current militant trash heap is allowed to remain in power is another day of genocide by proxy. The generals are simply using disease and starvation to eliminate a voting bloc that interfered with their plans to rig the latest so-called elections.

I worked in a nation where this happened once before. In Haiti under Generals Prosper Avril and Pétion I saw people left to die en masse not only after storms but also routinely, month after month, while the Generals and their puppet ministers lived in luxury. The poor Haitians themselves eventually uprooted Avril's bad excuse for a government. In Haiti they call it déchoucage or pulling up the roots of a morally-bankrupt government. The U.S. government was left to take care of General Pétion, the criminal who seized power after Avril.

I know first-hand how much and what kind of efforts are required in order to clean up after deposed despots. It can take years before a totally devastated nation becomes self-sufficient again, if it ever does.

Mariani Haiti 00002

The current leaders of Burma are no different. They lack one iota of compassion for their own countrymen. Even now they are stealing the aid they are forcing other nations to leave at the doorstep. What kind of sickening human garbage do they consider themselves to be?

They have already demonstrated complicity in this crime of epic proportions. Since Cyclone Nargis made landfall fifteen days ago, on May 2nd, thousands of innocent survivors living the Irrawaddy River Delta have died simply for lack of aid.

1,000 Burmese citizens are dying needlessly every day for lack of water, food, proper medical treatment, and basic shelter. Unlike those who died in the initial storm surge, these deaths represent a humanitarian disaster that could have been prevented.

Earth and nature always take over when man fails to act swiftly enough after major storms. Disease and starvation are not new phenomena but rather as old as the earth itself. Every existing species has faced possible extinction and evidence of vanished species lay all around us

350 million-year old Nautlius Ammonoid 70495

The diseases quickly spreading from rotting human and animal flesh will not simply stop at the international borders. Thailand, India, and Indonesia must now be prepared for widespread epidemics. Because of the delays in crucial aid inflows, potent tropical diseases including typhoid fever and dysentery will spread much greater distances than normally would be expected.

The total number of deaths from storm and disease combined will certainly number more than 100,000 and will likely exceed the death toll from the Tsunami that struck south Asia in 2004.

There may be 250,000 total deaths when the natural catastrophe deaths are combined with the far greater number of deaths from pandemic, starvation, and exposure to the elements. Many of those deaths could have been prevented if the international aid workers were simply allowed to perform the jobs they know how to do.

The medical requirements to combat diseases that have been given a week's head start are triple that which a rapid initial response would have required. Western nations are going to have to provide these treatments anyway. The question is how many people will get sick and die before enough overseas aid is permitted into the country?

Even if the Burmese leadership was deposed tomorrow that would be too late for possibly another 10,000 victims.

Giant new refugee camps must be created on dry ground in order to save the largest number of victims. The rice harvest from the land in southern Burma is crucial to even those parts of Burma relatively unaffected by the cyclone. The starvation caused by the loss of the rice crop will impact millions of additional people. This at a time when rice is in short supply all over the world.

The junta must go. This is not a time for bickering over doctrines or treaties. Any compassionate person on earth can hear the Burmese storm survivors crying out for help, despite the closed door policy of their genocidal rulers.

At some point very soon the rest of the world must wake up and unite against these brutal murderers. It is only a matter of time. The only question remaining is, will it happen in time to prevent a global pandemic?

Links:


New York Times article (05/17/08)
Washington Post Article

French call it Crimes Against Humanity - BBC article

Guardian UK article

Doctors Without Borders site

Friday, May 16, 2008

Suicide, Murder, and the Virtual Worlds We Live In (Update 1)

(Note: This article was originally published on 1/10/2008. The author has re-printed it now in light of the May 15 indictment of Lori Drew, of suburban St. Louis, MO. The indictment states that Ms Drew allegedly helped create a MySpace account in the name of someone who didn't exist to convince Megan Meier she was chatting with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Ms. Drew was charged with conspiracy and fraudulently gaining access to someone else's computer.)

A young girl in Missouri recently committed suicide over comments made on her MySpace account. Young people in Japan and other nations have formed on-line suicide clubs. Every day millions of people abandon more and more hours of their days to live virtual lives in places like SecondLife and World of Warcraft or just sending text messages.

Computer Graphic 31819

This trend is not new but it is accelerating, just like a fast car full of teenagers perhaps headed to a brick wall. Violent computer games like Doom, Quake, and the Grand Theft Auto series are just early stages in this growing trend. Violence has always been a part of human society. It is not at all surprising that it comes to roost in whatever endeavors people undertake.

Even the act of lighting up a cigarette is a gross act of violence against the living cells in our bodies. No matter, a billion people probably light up a cigarette every day, even people we consider to be educated professionals.

Corporations legally design and sell guns that have no other purpose except to kill humans. Millions of people buy these guns to protect themselves against the few that buy these guns expressly to kill another human being. This is what humans do to make themselves feel safer in certain violent societies all over the world. Make no mistake, the vast majority of people are peaceful and live quietly alongside their neighbors. Unfortunately the news media, entertainers, and military organizations often paint a quite different and distorted picture of the societies we live in.

Inside of computers, virtual weapons of every possible type are available for free or for small monthly fees. People of all ages pick up these guns and spend hours shooting cartoon images of other people, all for fun and entertainment.

Other people use the anonymity of on-line computer communities to socialize. Going out of your home to socialize is now considered too dangerous by many people. Even people in small towns sometimes feel it is safer to meet people by networking on the computer rather than talking at a coffee house. In fact, actual coffeehouses are often crammed with people sitting alone, in front of computers, chatting with total strangers or perhaps distant real friends.

Parents see their children peering into computer screens and tiny cell phones, chatting with friends the parents often never get to meet in person. Many parents value the role of the computer in their child's life. Who knows if their daughter or son might not become the next Bill Gates? Who knows if their child might get so attached to virtual worlds, to social networking sites, or to text messaging that they forget how to greet and talk with real people?

Violent computer games can help spawn real world violence. This is no longer just an educated guess. Too much 'virtual time,' spent in MySpace or Facebook or text messaging friends, does have an impact on a young person's language skills, the ability to read expressions, and how we make solid judgments about who is a good friend. It is especially important for parents to know this is the case. Ignoring the negative impact of new technologies only increases the risk that one of these gadgets or web sites might cause harm to your child.

Would you be upset If your daughter develops hearing problems from listening to the iPod turned too loud? Would it trouble you if your son tries his Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft killing skills out in the real world? What if some adult uses MySpace to pose as a friend to your teenage child? What is the worst that could happen? Sexual assault? Suicide? Murder?

USNA 55633

As a larger portion of society embraces the 'virtual life' each year, fewer and fewer people seem to remember how to live out in the actual physical world. Many young people and not a few adults live large portions of their life in a fantasy world named, 'MySpace' or 'Facebook' or 'SecondLife.' Remember, history shows that the number and type of these places will only grow over time. The beauty of real friendship, fresh flowers, and a long walk in the neighborhood is getting lost while we sit rotting among cell phones, LCD panels, and keyboards. Seize back your real families and friends, people, before it is too late!

Links:

Recent Washington Post article (05/15/08) on Megan Meier MySpace hoax

Washington Post article (01/09/08) on Suicide

BBC Article on Video Game Violence

Second Life article #1

Natural Disasters Highlight Government Incompetence

Disasters in China, Burma, and the United States while tragic, also highlight the inherent weakness' of authoritarian regimes. The many faults and incompetence of leaders in these nations, often hidden in the past, have now been brought to the world's attention by the deaths of hundreds of remote villagers, little children, and urban poor or elderly. Only Indonesia's leaders appear to have understood the importance of rapidly getting assistance to the people that need it most.

Think About Burma First

The military junta in Rangoon, Burma, actually preferred to see outbreaks of typhoid fever and dysentery rather than allow aid workers access to Cyclone Nargis' victims. It was appalling to learn of their ignorance of the advanced capabilities of well-funded western aid organizations.

Many survivors of the initial storm that savaged Burma would have survived if the largest influence on that nation, Communist China, had chosen to become involved in diplomatic efforts to admit disaster relief workers. Instead China stayed focused on saving the threatened 2008 Olympic Games while cracking heads and arresting people in occupied Tibet.

Seoul Korea 000013

The message was clear for all the world to see. Dictators do not care if the citizens of their country are dying or suffering from a tragedy. Fake elections are more important than clean water, medical care, and dry shelter.

Now China's Corrupt Officials

The earthquake in China, which registered 7.9 on the Richter scale, and was centered near Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, has drawn attention to unsafe building construction allowed by corrupt local and regional officials. Communist party officials and other individuals allow construction firms to cheat on construction projects in exchange for bribes. This is hardly a recent phenomena. Hundreds of illegal and dangerous coal mines always seem to slip past the attention of officials designated to regulate such things. In the past few years illegal steel mills and unsanitary food processing plants have finally been shut down. It is hardly likely that those in positions of authority were unaware of these death traps.

In the case of rural Sichuan Province, which does not have so many mines or manufacturing plants, it seems the preferred method for corrupt officials to milk cash out of the system was to use little or no steel and overlook other building codes in the construction of public schools. The real tragedy is that so many children died inside these poorly constructed schools.

The Chinese have long studied the effects of earthquakes on buildings. Their nation has suffered severely from major tremors in the past. Chinese architects are among the world's best designers of earthquake-resistant structures. Chinese seismologists also stand with the best in that field. However all that knowledge only works if builders are required to erect structures legally, that is, according to the correct building codes for earthquake zones.

In the months ahead, there will certainly be investigations, trials, and even executions of those responsible for these blatant building code violations. The rest of the world may or may not hear of such actions. In the recent case of the poisonous food processing plants the world did learn that some officials were put to death. Those death sentences were probably publicized on purpose, to placate victims and consumers of the tainted food and to reassure everyone that the problems have been resolved.

Don't expect to hear about the arrests or prosecutions of any officials responsible for building code violations in Sichuan Province prior to the Olympics. The Chinese and even U.S. or European news sources have too much at stake in the upcoming events. Corporations and big advertisers like Nike, Adidas, or Coca Cola expect to collectively make billions on the Summer Olympic Games, even if thousands of Chinese must die from corrupt officials, unsafe coal mines, or the pollution pouring out of illegal steel mills. It does not matter if Tibetans are not free, profits are more important. Corporate executives all over the world could care less if people must die needlessly while they each receive $100 million dollars or more in annual pay and benefits.

China had thousands of troops in Tibet cracking heads and arresting peaceful protesters even yesterday, while nearby Chengdu Province roiled from that massive earthquake.

So far, the leadership of Communist China appears to be handling foreign aid as poorly as the military junta in Burma. After the tsunami struck Indonesia's Aceh Province in 2004 the leadership of that nation took advantage of the advanced skills of Western aid organizations. As chaotic as the early efforts were, the few survivors of the giant wave were rapidly provided with medical care, shelter, food, and fresh water, by U.S military forces no less.

The Bush Administration's Response To Katrina

In the U.S., the cronyism, political favoritism, and the overall incompetence of the Bush Administration was obvious in the days after Hurricane Katrina. Republican areas of Alabama received immediate assistance while Democratic New Orleans was left to rot for days. "Heckuva Job Brownie" and a staged event in the mostly undamaged French Quarter was all Bush could come up with.

Immediate medical aid from Cuba, a Communist country in the same vein as our trusted trading partner, Communist China, was refused. The only reason the U.S. embargo on Cuba continues is so politicians can secure the vote of populous south Florida. No matter that the mostly poor remaining residents of New Orleans 9th Ward had to suffer for days waiting for proper medical attention. We couldn't upset the Cuban voting bloc in Miami by letting the skilled doctors from Cuba in to help New Orleans now could we?

This author is trained in specific disaster management techniques. Years of work in India, Haiti, and even SE Washington, DC honed those skills to a very effective edge. When I contacted Federal officials the day after Katrina to offer my help I was told I would be immediately arrested if I crossed the police barricades south of Baton Rouge. The person at DHS told me specifically that local and state officials had everything under control.

Waste, corruption, and incompetence in the Army Corps of Engineers gave us the problems associated with the faulty Mississippi River levees. The Dutch, experts at keeping the North Sea out of their nation had long offered to help reduce the problem of flooding in New Orleans. Billions of dollars were spent on poorly designed systems that were supposed to contain that mighty river. Important wetlands areas, necessary for absorbing the storm surge, were converted to other uses over the decades.


19th Century Horse-Drawn Hearse 48769

The fact that too many National Guard troops were deployed in the effort to colonize Iraq also slowed assistance to stranded New Orleans residents. A large percentage of the Louisiana National Guard was busy guarding the new U.S. colony of Iraq at the time.

"The issue goes way beyond Bush's decision to invade Iraq in the middle of the war in Afghanistan. U.S. government literally broke down during the Bush years. The interagency process was destroyed as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld set up what was effectively a 'black' alternative government. . . . The White House treated its coequal branch, Congress, like an interloper (to the annoyance of Republicans as well as Democrats). Junk science infected the policy-making apparatus on key issues of importance to our allies in Europe and Asia, like global warming. Junk legal reasoning by White House and Justice Department lawyers was used to publicly justify torture, decimating our once high moral stature around the world. Junk economics--an excess of free-market fervor--infected the Federal Reserve and other regulators, who slumbered while Wall Street ran amok selling fraudulent mortgage securities to foreign markets. Congress went to sleep while the administration ran up record deficits. . . . The Department of Homeland Security, misconceived and oversized even at its birth, grew into an unmanageable monstrosity, leading directly to the disaster of the Hurricane Katrina response. . . ." - Michael Hirsh writing for Newsweek magazine.
At a recent meeting with a government health official I learned that many places in the U.S. still lack proper disaster response plans, almost 7 years after the events of September 11, 2001. It really came as no surprise given the Bush Administration's focus on extraordinary rendition, aka kidnapping, torture, and imprisonment without trial.

In the long run, the people most affected by these disasters are the ones that remember the failings of their government the most. When millions are impacted by disaster the memory of such tragic events is burned into the minds of a larger slice of society. It will always be impossible to censor the suffering and death of so many families from the general public. Government responses to natural disasters and the human greed this exposes, may bring a type of social revolution to these broken societies. Let us hope this occurs in Burma, China, and the U.S., despite the all efforts by those same corrupt leaders to cover up their crimes.

Links:

Burma Aid Blockage is Mass Murder
Jacques Rogge Defends China Brutality in Tibet
BBC diary of Burma Relief Efforts
BBC coverage of Sichuan Earthquake
Guardian coverage of Sichuan Earthquake
Washington Post coverage of Sichuan Earthquake
New York Times coverage of Sichuan Earthquake

Thursday, May 15, 2008

China's Architects Question School Construction

As the death toll rises to possibly 50,000 or more, many people in China are questioning why so many school buildings collapsed. In some affected cities there are other government buildings constructed around the same time still standing. Earthquake experts often question architecture standards in regions prone to massive earthquakes such as parts of China.

This story will likely need to be pursued by Western press sources as China's Ministry of Propaganda goes into full cover-up mode about this aspect of the tragedy.
Here are a few quotes from an article that appeared in the London Financial Times:
“How come it’s the schools that fall down first? Why are government offices so sturdy?”
- a contributor to the Tianya online discussion website asked on Tuesday.
Urban planning departments remain hotbeds of bureaucratic graft.
Architects say suggestions the schools should have been more robust are not just idle internet chatter.
“It is obviously very hard to say from just a few photos, but it does look as if some of those school buildings used little construction steel,” says a Shanghai-based architect who asked not to be named. “[That] perhaps explains why they collapsed completely.”
Unfortunately, rushed and substandard construction means that many are actually “hidden hazards”, says Prof Zhou, who also heads a research centre for earthquake-resistant construction.
“If standards were adhered to and corners not cut, then schools would not be the first to fall down,” he says. “It is an issue of whether designers and contractors are corrupt or fail to guarantee quality.”
Zhou Yun, head of the Institute of Civil Engineering at Guangzhou University, says that while Chinese schools are not in themselves subject to special standards, any public building constructed according to codes introduced in 1989 should be basically sound.
Beijing has turned down offers of specialist foreign aid.

Here is an example of a rural construction project in Bihar, India, where steel rebar was used:


Building a Rural Hospital R1_00001
Sources:

New York Times Article
London Financial Times Article #1
London Financial Times Article #2
Washington Post article

Monday, May 12, 2008

Blackberry Bold No Threat to iPhone Market

Research in Motion, Ltd. (NSDQ:RIMM) has unveiled the new Blackberry Bold.

Blackberry Bold iPhone.jpg


While they may not do it on the floor of Blackberry's Wireless Enterprise Symposium in Florida this week, analysts will no doubt compare the Bold to the iPhone in an attempt to determine market acceptance. Real comparisons will have to wait until the Bold is available at telephone retail outlets. The 3G Apple iPhone will probably arrive in stores ahead of the Bold, my sources tell me.

Sporting dual-band WiFi Internet access, 3G network access, and a higher-resolution screen, the Bold is obviously designed to prevent some Blackberry users from defecting to the more stylish iPhone. Non-business users of Blackberry phones are unlikely to be too impressed with these features. Despite all efforts to attract the eyes of new buyers, the Bold still fails to match the stylish appearance and amazing touch screen functions of the iPhone.

No doubt Research in Motion intended to upstage Apple with this new model, also known as the 9000. Like Apple, RIM also indicated it will support application development efforts for this new device.

According the venerable Nielsen ratings service, 87 million U.S. cell phone users subscribe to some type of mobile Internet service though only 13.7% of those subscribers actually use it each month.

A shiny border and a sharper screen will still not overcome a primary issue for mobile internet device software developers: screen size. The people that design software user interfaces treasure screen real estate. That fact will never change.

When I send my Blackberry-carrying clients photos of their factory interiors, newly-built conveyor lines, and software error messages, they still must download the image to a laptop computer to study it. I usually get feedback from them the next day. Clients using the Apple iPhone get back to me in minutes with revisions, suggestions, and comments.

When your factories cost millions to build and operate daily, minutes can be worth thousands of dollars or euros. Sub-contractors left waiting days for a decision may not seem like a big extra cost, but we are just that. Construction errors left uncorrected can cost even more over the long term.

Style and screen size may not seem like a big deal to those eager to defend Blackberry's important business features. The ability to wipe a stolen Blackberry clean, use Microsoft Windows Live services, and the keyboard remain as important features. However, pictures are still worth at least a thousand words. All the agile thumbs in the world cannot change that.

Links:

CNN article
Fortune article
Multichannel.com article

Note: The author recommends and implements technology solutions in businesses large and small. At different times throughout the year he holds equity in various technology firms including those mentioned in this article.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Burmese Junta Aid Freeze is Mass Murder

How Many Must Die Needlessly?

Each day the iron-fisted military junta in Rangoon denies access to foreign aid workers more Burmese citizens die.

Each day they seize the UN relief supplies thousands more people grow sicker or perhaps die, needlessly.
Moreover, the leaders of neighboring countries appear to be taking no concrete steps towards forcing the government in Rangoon to allow medical aid to reach increasingly desperate people.


Sunset along Spa Creek 51945

100,000 corpses may be scattered across the Irawaddy River basin and tributaries in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. Widespread famine and the growing threat of communicable diseases looms over this situation.

Typhoid Spreads Quickly


Typhoid fever only needs a few days to become a killer of thousands more. Talk to the experts at the International Committee of the Red Cross, AMURT, or Médecins Sans Frontières for the gruesome details.

Many survivors of the cyclone will surely be lacking access to clean water. This means dysentery and other microbial diseases of the digestive tract will soon be taking hold of poor people already weakened or injured from the cyclone's high winds and flooding.

The leaders in Rangoon are more concerned about dragging the dead and dying to the polls to prop up the paranoid, drug-running thugs supposedly in-charge.

The problems related to getting aid to remote villages in devastated regions of this south Asian nation are now entirely man-made. Foreign planes, helicopters, and trained aid workers stand ready to help. However, they are not allowed to deliver the aid and aid workers to the survivors that need them most. This situation cannot be allowed to continue for even one more day.

The government of China in Beijing, which literally props up Rangoon's military junta, has chosen to do nothing about the growing humanitarian crisis. The Chinese want the world to forget about all the death and destruction in Burma and pay more attention to the Olympic Torch ceremonies taking place in Tibet. There is absolutely no way the 2008 Summer Olympics should be allowed the take place in China if the government in Beijing refuses to act now to help the people of Burma.

Invasion of Humanitarian Aid Required

Despite my general revulsion at seeing the military of any foreign nation take over parts of another country, solely for the purpose of distributing much-needed aid, that time has come. China, Australia, India, Thailand, and perhaps even European or U.S. forces must now come together and assume a critical role in the aid effort.

In this case, the weapon of mass destruction being used by Rangoon's ruthless dictators is the denial of aid for the people of Burma. If no immediate action is taken, today, right now, the end result may be another 100,000 dead of preventable disease.

More Refugee Camps in Thailand or India?

A million people will end up trying to migrate to neighboring China, Thailand, India, or Indonesia rather than starve to death in their destroyed Burmese villages. These people will not be coming alone to seek aid. They will bring all the diseases they have contracted and may well remain for years in refugee camps before returning to their farms and villages.

Think carefully about that Monsieurs Hu Jintao, Samak Sundaravej, Manmohan Singh, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. You have only a short window to act in Burma before the situation takes control of itself. This time the tsunami that wreaks havoc on your nations will be man-made and preventable. The cost of this delay in human terms will be an absolute disaster, for more nations than just Burma. There is no other possible conclusion.

Links

Guardian article
Washington Post article
New York Times article
CNN article
BBC article

Monday, May 05, 2008

Fake Unemployment Reports and other Elephants in the Room

I know what you're thinking Simone. This is a phoney, baloney world. Everything's fake. Women are surgically enhanced. Atheletes are on steroids. News is entertainment. Politicians are bought and paid for. We're all livin' one big lie. So why shouldn't you live too?
- Al Pacino as Viktor Taransky in the film Simone
Every time wealthy U.S. corporations decide it is time to throw hundreds of humans out with their trash the U.S. government stands right beside big business. During periods of massive layoffs in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2001, the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics buried the real unemployment numbers. Isn't it strange how mass unemployment comes along every decade right on schedule? It almost seems like the U.S. Federal Reserve bankers, politicians, and corporations get together to manufacture each economic crisis so that a few people can get even richer. Government agencies work hard to keep the truth from citizens, after all, many civil servants are ordered to do so by elected officials.


White House

It really does not matter which corrupt politicians currently sit in Congress or the White House. They all do absolutely nothing for private citizens except waste the people's hard-earned tax money. All elected officials share the blame equally for hiding the truth from ordinary citizens. People working in government agencies are so used to being the lapdogs of elected officials the truth does not have a chance.

Everybody knows that many more jobs are tied to political connections than those positions assigned by Presidents. The Director of this and the Assistant Deputy of that agency must forsake any semblance of the truth in Federal Government reports or risk losing their job.

This rule applies all the way up the ladder. If the President actually told us the truth about unemployment, the war in Iraq, the U.S. debt, or any major issue, the people could get so angry they might actually boot that person out of office. That is why all evidence of government corruption and waste gets labeled "Secret for Reasons of National Security."

Fake Government Reports Buy Votes

It is that simple, really. Write a report which says there is only 4.9% unemployment while at least 15% of the adult population sits idle. Unemployed. Out of work.

There are thousands and thousands of people working at the U.S. Department of Labor alone and not one of them appears capable of determining the actual unemployment rate.

Why this inability to count the number of people who have a job, and subtract that number from the total workforce? Are that many government workers really that bad at basic mathematics?

Or could it be that elected officials do not want U.S. citizens to know the truth?

The Surgeon General admits writing fake reports at the request of the Bush White House. Retired generals admit to giving false reports to the news media, again at the request of the President of the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency was unable to find any carcinogens in the air right after the World Trade Center was destroyed.

Crooked politicians order government agencies to write false reports to give them a better chance of being re-elected.

U.S. Capitol 19914

America, the Deceitful

The real casualty of all this deceit is not the trust of the American people. Politicians lost that trust years ago when they faked Gulf of Tonkin Incident in Vietnam.

Vietnam Soldier 1960s

Presidents remind us not to believe a word they say when they lie about a war that gets our sons and daughters killed for the sole benefit of oil firms, weapons manufacturers, and war profiteers. We must throw up our hands in disgust when we learn the President of the United States ordered humans to be tortured. Most members of Congress and thousands of people in the military also agreed wholeheartedly with the official Federal policy of kidnapping, torture, and indefinite imprisonment without trial. Many more Americans have been convinced of the efficacy of torture by unscrupulous media sources such as Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. Police departments have known for centuries that people will tell you anything you want to hear if you torture them long enough.

U.S. Constitution Outlawed

The U.S. Constitution is no longer worth the old parchment paper it was written on. Elected officials have replaced it with a shorter document which reads:

  1. Never admit the truth, at all costs.
  2. Make sure rich corporate executives get exactly what they ask for, in addition to their million-dollar salaries.
  3. Hire as many friends as possible, regardless of any job qualifications.
  4. Ignore the terrible reality created by poor decisions.
  5. Tell the voters what they want to hear, but never, ever, tell people the truth.
  6. Cut as much money from education programs as possible and spend it on bombs.

Apparently there seems to be a severe undiagnosed condition most elected officials suffer from; acute dishonesty. Somebody needs to remind every politician that the truth eventually comes out sooner or later.

Links:
CNN article on U.S. unemployment figures.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Shareholders Should Consider Microsoft's Latest Retreat

Updated: May 5, 2008 17:40

New York City 036590

New York Times' writers Miguel Helft and Andrew Sorkin consider what the withdrawal of Microsoft's bid for Yahoo could mean for investors in those technology stocks. It is important for investors in other computer-industry shares to learn from Microsoft's mistake.

Takeover bids like this one seem destined for the dustbin almost from the start. After all, two wrongs rarely ever make a right. The potential synergy generated from the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo did not seem to materialize out of laptops carried by Steve Ballmer or Kevin Johnson. Jerry Yang probably never seriously considered the sale of his precocious teenager, Yahoo.

A certain number of investors in both technology firms will reduce their share holdings. Tech stock investors however, will not so easily abandon technology investments altogether. Of course a certain percentage will say that Apple, Inc. shares are currently too high priced. The same might be said for Google (GOOG) or Research in Motion (RIMM) share prices. Intel (INTC), IBM (IBM), Oracle (ORCL), or Cisco Systems (CSCO) may attract new investors. Further down the food chain, Broadcom (BRCM) just reported excellent earnings, beating analyst's expectations. Adobe Systems, Inc. (ADBE) is still sailing along on software revenues.

Sailing into Sunset 18958

A billion dollars reallocated to other technology shares could start significant momentum in the NASDAQ.

It is about time investors moved out of sleepy Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo (YHOO) shares and into businesses demonstrating market prowess with successful new products. The same tired, cluttered Yahoo search or Flickr® web sites, the bloated Vista® operating system, or a Zune® music player are not what investors are seeking in a technology company.

People are buying stylish iPhones®, downloading music and video from the classy looking ITunes® site, and searching the Net using Google. The pace at which computer buyers are choosing Apple laptops and desktop computers is also increasing. Many new Apple customers are naturally switching from Windows. Of course the numbers are small compared to overall market shares but look at the profits Apple makes on sales compared to Dell (DELL) or Hewlett Packard (HPQ). The story is being told in the profit margins moving forward, not the history book entries for Microsoft and Yahoo.

Disclaimer: For years the author has owned shares in many technology firms, including most of those mentioned in this article. His business computers use OS X, UNIX, and various versions of Microsoft Windows, sometimes all at once!

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