Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Race Card? I don't think so

In all the emotions of the past week, it is understandable that incriminations are being hurled everywhere. One that I have been frequently hearing is that there would have been a quicker Federal response, had it been white people who were in this situation rather than black people. I guess I'm just not cynical enough to buy into that theory. I think it was more of a matter of poor leadership and mismanagement on the Federal level and bureaucracy getting in the way between the States and the Feds. There were poor white communities outside of New Orleans that received help no faster than the folks in New Orleans. I can certainly understand the blacks of New Orleans feeling this way as they look around and only see each other and few whites, but then New Orleans is 70% black as well, so that shouldn't be too big of a surprise. This was the first big test of how Homeland Security would operate now that they had incorporated FEMA under their wing. Obviously, they failed and have to now totally reevaluate how to improve their response. As horrible as New Orleans is, this may serve as a very big and much needed wakeup call.

I hate to say it, but I think much of the blame has to land at GW's doorstep - when you're the man in charge, you have to know the details of your operation - as any good CEO knows, "the devil is in the details". It's not enough to hire people and assume they know what they are doing - you have to be ever vigilant and make sure that those who are working for you have credible plans in place. Unfortunately, I just don't think this President has that mental capability - no slam on him as a person - we weren't all born geniuses. However, someone in charge of a country this large does need to have a great mind, be able to express himself well and be extraordinarily well versed in many areas. Bush is just not the right man at this time for all the crises this country is facing and will be facing in years to come. Who is that perfect person? Who knows, but they need to have the qualities mentioned above and then some.

I heard various commentators suggesting that the Feds would have been in there quicker had the governor of LA asked for it officially. Now that does sound ludicrous, but at the same time hardly surprising when one looks at how huge bureaucracies operate. It will be interesting to find out how much planning went on between the governor, the mayor and the Federal govt in regards to major disaster planning. It seems surprising that a black mayor wouldn't know that most of his constituency didn't have the means to get out of town and even if they could, didn't have the means to afford lodging anywhere. (I suspect he knew this very well). If his State didn't have the resources to go through these neighborhoods and gather up these people on buses and move them out, why didn't he plan with the Federal Govt ahead of time to have National Guard or whomever to get in there and have these buses, trucks, etc picking up these people 1-2 days prior to landfall? I would be most interested to hear that question answered. ( I heard this morning that FEMA just last year went through this very same scenario even to the point of having New Orleans completely flooded and with the understanding that these poor people didn't have the means to get out, but I also heard that they stopped there - they didn't ever go further and figure out exactly how to remove the people and where to put them - mindboggling It will be interesting to sort out the chaff from the wheat in this story in the coming days.

It has also been amazing to watch reporters on this beat - I've never seen such antipathy towards the govt expressed as has been seen here and it's across all the channels, even Fox. Tune in to this snippet on Fox to see what I mean. (It will take a while to download, so if you're on dialup, go eat breakfast or something and come back). It's total disgust for the talking heads in DC and their ineffectiveness - truly history in the making. It will be quite interesting to see how all this plays out in the coming weeks.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

We should be embarrassed

From all apparent signs, the govt's response to the tragedy in New Orleans has been a total disaster in itself. Listening to Jack Cafferty on CNN this afternoon, he ripped the government big time (for those who believe the press is too easy on the govt, you haven't listened to Jack). Now people are in desperate condition at a large convention center in the city, with people starting to die in front of one's eyes. Come on now, you can't get food and water dropped in there? Mind you, I don't blame the heroic efforts the people on the ground are performing - they are truly heroes, but the govt is the driving force behind protecting it's citizens and it is just too damn slow here.

One thing about this tragedy that may in the very long haul bring some good - America is getting to see the Poor up front and slammed in their face. This is what our country turns a blind eye to so much of the time - well there's no escaping it now. Are these the conditions that a humanitarian country wants part of the population to live in? It's time for this country to step up and be proud of itself by providing worthwhile and meaningful jobs for these people who fervently wish to be productive citizens, just like you and I. Corporations could do wonderful things in this arena, but it takes guts on the parts of compassionate CEOs. Sometimes that means telling your stockholders that some of those dividend reimbursements may have to be curtailed so that others less fortunate than you and I can have a better life. Don't think the stockholders would accept that? You might be mistaken - Americans can be very compassionate when called upon. We don't like to see poverty, drugs and crime - well, let's do something that will effect it in a meaningful way - let's provide work for these people, even if it it is public works projects to begin with. Do we really want to send half our jobs overseas and exploit poor people in other countries while we sweep our disenfranchised brethren on the home front under the carpet? Is that what we want for our country? Maybe rather than writing one's congressman/woman, one should be writing the CEOs of companies asking them what they have done to help the disenfranchised of their communities?

Your comments are welcomed.

America's Great Divide

From the Bulldog Manifesto today comes these interesting blog remarks.
To put the 'Great American Divide' in context, assume there are 100 people who have $100 to split up amongst them. Although nobody expects the money to be shared evenly at $1.00 per person, everybody expects that some basic fairness may be applied in the process.

But suppose the $100 gets divided as follows:

1 person gets $38.10
4 people get $5.32 each
5 people get $2.30 each
10 people get $1.25 each
20 people get $.60 each
20 people get $.23 each
40 people get 1/2 cent each

That is how the money is divided in America. As the one person who now makes $38.10 begins to take even a greater share as time goes by, the divide gets wider. Eventually, you have a situation where the people become quite upset with the situation, perhaps feeling that the system is skewed a bit unfairly.
Kinda brings the true picture home when you look at it this way, doesn't it? Kinda depressing to realize i'm probably one of those folks who might be lucky enough to get .23. LOL :(

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Wondering why everybody didn't just get out ?

"What breaks your heart is the city has so many poor people who live in old, deteriorated, substandard housing and they have so little — and what little they have they've lost," said Michael L. Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund, who spent seven years in New Orleans as president of Dillard University. "These are people who stayed because they couldn't get out, because they didn't have a car." New Orleans' Tragic Paradox

Health Costs continue to Spiral Upwards

There's a good article in USA Today about spiraling health costs today. We can identify with that. We just got hit with our annual premium increase - 18% higher than last year. We don't have company paid health insurance, so this is just another nail in our coffin. With this latest premium increase, premiums for my wife and I will hit 10K per year. That's just the premiums! That doesn't cover meeting the deductible and the 20% copays after meeting the deductible. I won't say what we make, but let's just say that is a whopping part of our salary. Even if we increase deductibles from $300 to $5000, we're still looking at $6400/year in premiums alone (having diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes does yourself no favors either when it comes to insurance companies deciding where you fall on their risk ladder). Is this crazy or what? These have been our premium increases in recent years:
  • 2001 - 10.8%

  • 2002 - 16.2%

  • 2003 - 22.3%

  • 2004 - 16.3%

  • 2005 - 19.4%

  • 2006 - 18.2%

Now last time I looked, we weren't getting salary increases each year along those lines. Last time I looked inflation wasn't at those levels either. Seems to me I'd better start buying stock in insurance companies.

And when you start looking at alternative plans, it becomes a bewildering maze of figures and becomes very complicated forecasting what the next year might bring. And if you switch to the cheaper plan, then you can get burned by less coverage and there is the real possibility they won't let you switch back to the old plan. A conundrum to say the least. I'm currently investigating HSA plans (Health Savings Accounts) but they aren't all peaches and cream either.
An HSA (in which money contributed is tax-deductible, grows tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free for medical expenses) certainly can work for you. A worker who salts away $1,000 per year for 40 years in an HSA could accumulate $133,400 to pay for future health-care expenses, EBRI research shows. If the very same worker salts away $2,650 per year, the HSA nest egg could grow to a whopping $474,200.

But those sums, while tidy, are best case and assume a worker would not spend any money in an HSA on current health-care expenses. It assumes they would roll over 100% of their year-end account balances each year.

The more likely case is that a worker would spend some portion of the money in an HSA on current medical expenses. And once you factor the very real possibility that a worker rolls just a portion of their year-end account balances, the health-care nest egg starts to look meager, if not insignificant.

Consider, for instance, the worker who salts away $2,650 per year over 40 years but spends most of it for annual health costs and rolls over just 10% of the year-end account balance for 40 years. That worker would have only $10,000 in the HSA to pay for health care expenses in retirement. And that sum seems hardly enough to buy a box of cotton swabs four decades hence.

Doesn't sound so wonderful does it? Well there are suggestions to make it better and you can read about it in this article entitled Time to overhaul HSAs at Marketwatch.

Some will advise me to just find a doctor to declare myself totally disabled and then I can get on Medicaid. Well, that's fine, except I'm not disabled to that point, nor do I like the thought of not paying my own way and waiting on a government handout. I believe those should be reserved for the the truly needy, whose ranks we'll probably join pretty fast at this rate.

Looks like it's time to wing another letter off to the old congressmen/women in DC - fat lot of good that will do, but if you write a letter and your friend writes a letter, etc, etc - maybe somebody might just wake up. So help us out and sharpen that pencil.

Red Cross Needs your Help

I was hoping to see people clicking on the link to the Red Cross so that they could donate much needed funds. So far I haven't seen any indication of anyone clicking on that link, which is disappointing. I can only hope you've contributed through other sites or via other means. This is the best way to help these unfortunate people at the moment, so do everything you possibly can to loosen up those purse strings.

Note ** - The Red Cross said it had so far raised $21 million, a figure comparable to the response for tsunami victims following the devastation in Asia earlier this year. Nearly $15 million of that has come from individual donations through its Web site, with the rest representing corporate contributions. This is great news - keep it coming folks!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

New 10X Olympus

Image hosted by Olympus has announced a new 10x (35mm-380mm) optical 6mp f2.8-3.7 camera using xD cards for a mere $399. That's a hard price to beat. Also will macro focus down to 3cm and has a 2.5" LCD. Only bummer - electronic viewfinder, but at that price you can't complain. Also noticed it doesn't have IS (image stabilization), which is not good when shooting at the 380 end of that zoom. Still the price is low.

Web site of the Day
Windows XP Free Downloads

Help out the Red Cross

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe Red Cross Needs your help. Head over to the Red Cross Web Site where you can donate to help out. These folks down in LA, MS, AL are going to need a lot of help, so open up those pocketbooks and put the Lexus on the back burner for the moment.

No Flood Insurance?
This left me rather amazed - noticed this in the online edition of Newsweek . They were interviewing an economist with the Insurance Information Institute, who said,
Is it possible for homeowners in storm-prone places to get flood insurance?
In order to have flood-related coverage you have to have purchased a policy that's underwritten by the federal government through the National Flood Insurance Program. Unfortunately many people do not purchase that even though it's relatively inexpensive and ubiquitously available. It's through the same agent that sells your standard homeowner's policy, but it's the government that [provides] the insurance.

Don't people know about federal flood insurance?
Oh, people know about it. Many people because they're not obliged to do it, they say, “It won't happen to me,” or they hope to get some federal aid afterwards. But in the end they're going to wind up coming short. It's playing Russian roulette with your most valuable asset--your home. I would say that you would have to be insane to not buy flood coverage if you live anywhere along the Southeast coast of the United States.

People can afford to have a house but can't afford to protect it - what's up with that?