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Why did Washington miss this?

Small business operators are often dipping into their 401k's to sustain their businesses and keep people employed in these tough times.

Yet, when these owners withdraw their saved funds to keep workers working, they are taxed with a penalty.

A test should be developed to see if business operators are using their savings to keep people in jobs, and if they are verified as doing so, the penalties should be waived by Congress.

The more we hurt small business with counter-intuitive penalties, the more we risk losing jobs.

A simple idea with a huge potential impact to help America to get back on a solid economic footing.

Robonaut 2 and X-37B…Future Asteroid Deflection Force?

02/13/2011

US Air Force image of the X-37 being prepared for launch.

Only the Pentagon (and perhaps Boeing with Lockheed Martin) really know for sure, but is the Air Force X-37B orbital test vehicle (OTV) capable of performing as part of a rapid response near-Earth asteroid defensive system?

And is Robonaut 2 (“R2″), a humanoid robot with dexterous manipulation capabilities, a likely partner in crafting an effective solution to potentially deadly rocky threats which may be detected, on short notice, speeding toward our planet?

Launched April 24, 2010, the OTV, a small unmanned version of the shuttle, stayed in orbit for 225 days and was rigorously tested. The second X37 B space plane, launched March 5, 2011, is now circling the globe for more assessment by the U.S. Air Force, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and presumably NASA.

The craft’s capabilities remain shrouded in mystery. How far above the restricted orbits of traditional shuttle craft can this smaller, robotic version of a reusable craft travel? How maneuverable is it? These are unknowns to the public.

One thing we do know…the X37 system is designed to carry cargo the size of a small truck, and a humanoid robot can easily hitch a ride with a satellite, to places and dangers where we may not wish to send humans. It’s 29 foot long by 15 feet wide footprint is much smaller than the traditional shuttle, but the X37B may be capable of much more than it’s predecessors.

When precision counts in outer space, and the stakes are high, we may depend upon Robonaut 2. Photo courtesy NASA.

Riding into space with a satellite missioned to deter an asteroid, R2 can extend the fingers of man in remote sectors of our solar system. The capabilities of a robotic hand may prove the difference between success or failure.

We already know the mini-shuttle can stay in orbit for up to 240 days with cargo. The longest the aging space shuttle vehicles (which are racing toward the end of their career) can remain in orbit is a mere 17 days. R2, jointly developed by General Motors and NASA, is designed to stay in space permanently. Such a team can be ready…in space…to respond quickly. Launch delays would not be a concern.

The X-37 may or may not signify a “weaponization” of space, as some fear. But if such a vehicle is capable of short notice launch of systems designed to intercept and deflect or destroy fast moving incoming asteroids, that would be a welcome, and much needed capability scientists have been seeking for years. See previous posts: “A Priority for the New NASA Administrator” and “Jovian Warning II.”

One day, an orbitally pre-stationed X37 craft containing the equipment and robotics necessary to target a threatening asteroid may save our planet. It could serve as a flexible and deployable sentinel in space, with semi-human capabilities, ready to shorten the time between detection of a deadly asteroid path and Earth’s preplanned response.

We don’t have to wait long for such a capability. R2, safely delivered on the last flight of Shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station (ISS), is a humanoid making science fiction come true. It is about to be unpacked for testing in earth orbit. Will Robinson would be jealous. This robot can say much more than “Danger!” For more on the capabilities of R2, see the official R2 website.

Robonaut 2, already aboard the final scheduled flight of Discovery, can be part of a rapid deployment force to deflect incoming asteroids. Image courtesy NASA.

Once fully tested and operational, R2 offers amazing opportunities.

Instead of sending humans to an asteroid to accomplish the delicate and precise mission to push the asteroid off course, R2 could stand in their place. (Sorry Bruce Willis). It could assist by mechanically delivering the dexterity and physiologic precision of a human hand in making the fine-tuned last minute adjustments we once only thought astronauts could perform during difficult technological pursuits deep in space.

Despite present day budget cuts and questions about the future role of NASA in space exploration, X37 and Robonaut 2 technology are proof positive that NASA, and the Air Force, are moving in creative, and much needed, paths to the future. Planetary defense should be part of their mission.


Destruction of Portable Classrooms Ignores Haiti’s Urgent Needs

07/28/2010

8.4.10 UPDATE: We are seeking ideas on how to cut the costs of shipping the portable classrooms described below and expedite the delivery process, as reported on August 3 and 4 by South Florida’s television station CBS4 and radio station WIOD.  If you have suggestions, please e-mail us by using the Contact Page on this site.

Despite a creative commitment to ship scores of wood framed portable classrooms to help the Haitian people rebuild their society, hefty obstacles are standing in the way of making progress. Economics, logistics and the lack of creativity are frustrating an urgent recovery and rebuilding effort.

According to the Sun-Sentinel on July 25, “…school districts throughout South Florida are deciding what to do with hundreds of portables they no longer need.” The report notes that in Palm Beach County, many unused stand-alone surplus classrooms have been destroyed, instead of being put to another purpose. Two counties to the south, in Miami-Dade, hundreds more are waiting for demolition.

In Fort Lauderdale, less than two miles from one of the busiest sea ports in North America, 118 portables now sit on what is essentially an architectural death row, while their continued potential to provide safe housing is being ignored. First offered by the Broward County School Board to help Haiti in 2008 after hurricane damage, the portables have been waiting to be put to use.

Month after month, they sit…unused.

The destruction of empty portables is simply criminal when given the alternatives. The need for new Haitian schools was underscored when the United Nations stated in February, 2010, that as many as 8,000 schools that served 1.8 million students were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake, just in the area around the hard hit Port-au-Prince region.

These mobile classrooms have been employed for decades as a solution to overcrowding in Florida schools. No longer needed due to slightly decreasing school populations, they can be reinvigorated as clinics, schools, government offices, shops, storage compounds and even homes…all of which are desperately needed in the nature ravaged nation now dotted by frail tent cities.

The William Jefferson Clinton Foundation has already, and wisely, recognized the utility of transporting these willing edifices to the island nation. It has shipped four to Haiti.  A worthy effort, but one which only scratches the surface of the problem. The need is enormous.

The Broward County School Board has offered 85 mobiles for the Haitian relief effort, and that was before the earth moved in January, 2010. But still, six months after the horror of January’s destruction, the portables sit, waiting, without present purpose.

There seems to be a huge disconnect. If the School Board of Miami-Dade County wants to help in a sustainable manner, why is it planning to destroy portable classrooms instead of sending them where they are desperately needed?

Hold on…these are “portables.” Let’s make them useful again and get them on the ground in Haiti.

This dilemma presents an opportunity to help people in desperate need and bring significant relief to a society that cries out for resilient structures. However, cost, as usual, is problematical. The Sun-Sentinel reports, “Officials estimate the price of dismantling, destroying or moving portables at about $20,000 to $30,000 each,” when considering severing utilities, taking apart the buildings, transportation of the parts and reassembly.

It’s time for some common sense and sweat equity.

You’ve wondered what you can do as the earthquake headlines fade from your computer and video screens.  Here’s your chance. Let’s dramatically slash the cost of the relocation process.

Just as Habitat For Humanity can build houses, all of us can band together and work with the school boards, private corporations, the Haitian government, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), the UN and Washington to dismantle, transport and rebuild these portable solutions on designated sites in Haiti.

Communities, universities and organizations can volunteer their time and energies to carefully take apart the unused places of learning so they can be shipped in sections. Cost reduced. Trucking companies can donate flatbed transportation from the portable storage areas to seaports. Cost reduced again. Insurance companies (yes you Progressive, Allstate, State Farm and GEICO) can insure, as a donation, the relocation project activities. Costs further cut. Shipping companies and the cruise industry (hello Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL and the like) can work with the U.S. Navy and the island government to carry the portables across the sea to Haitian ports. Costs mitigated once more.

NGO’s can employ Haitian workers with a fraction of some of the hundreds of millions of dollars already donated, to help transport over land the wooden shelters and reconstruct them. Other paid Haitian workers can seal and strengthen the waiting structures to help protect against the harsh island heat, rain and mud.

Let’s set a modest goal. Move five portables to the Republic of Haiti each month for the rest of 2010. If just one hundred people donate their time and resources once a month on a Saturday and Sunday, we can start dismantling the portables and begin the process of carrying them to our hemispheric neighbors. If we create public/private partnerships in this aspect of disaster relief, you and I can stop the sorry destruction of these useful building solutions and help construct a better resiliency for the people of crisis-torn Haiti.

Frail tents are not sufficient for long term educational stability. A more lasting solution is available and transportable wood framed mobile classrooms.

Blogcast: Stopping Facetime Behind the Wheel

07/03/2010

An update on anti-texting and distracted driving laws in Florida, and the need for laws that ban video conferencing while driving. Warning: The controversial video posted below is graphic in nature, but makes the point.


 (Click play). 

See 3.21.10 post entitled, “Distracted Driving Legislation and Mobile Video Conferencing.”

Deepwater Horizon, The Cheonan And The Need For Better Underwater Defenses

05/31/2010

Two horrible yet distinct events, half a world apart, share the cry for new oceanic technological and engineering solutions.

As Washington studies what works and what fails in capping the incessant Gulf oil spill, it is clear that the Energy and Interior Departments need to have a rapid naval deployment force of  engineers, underwater robots and the technology to control future drilling disasters. The Deepwater Horizon explosion and its resulting hazards will most certainly not be the last of it’s kind, and it is clear America will not soon stop drilling for oil in very deep waters to help quench our thirst for more and more petroleum products. The longer we drill, the greater the chance that Deepwater II will appear.

Obviously, we have an deep sea challenge of immense proportions. We are not experienced enough with an environment where water pressure is as crushing as one mile below the surface. Our early 21st Century technology is frustratingly impotent in rapidly fixing explosive drilling failures. New challenges posed by the Gulf disaster require innovative engineering and government preparedness solutions.

Proposal: A “deep sea response unit” should be funded by the oil companies who drill off our coasts. A surtax should be levied on oil producers, by Congress, to pay for creation and maintenance of such a force, and an “Apollo” type project should be set in motion with the goal of creating and fusing technology with extreme undersea engineering techniques to allow the government to respond quickly and effectively to blow outs on the sea floor in coming years. Not one penny of the required budget to create such a unit should be paid by the U.S. taxpayer.

The Deepwater Horizon episode is already teaching engineering and ocean experts new lessons about how to attack such problems. Despite the absence of any clear solution to the horrific flow of hydrocarbons second after second, now for over 40 days, drilling and energy experts now know a lot more than they did before the explosion of the rig. Each day they learn new tactics and develop new plans on how to stop the flow. Bitter tragedy is turning into a teacher. We dare not ignore the developing lessons of rapid response, effective capping techniques, and the role of government to step in to protect the nation’s waters when corporate assets and business decisions are not effective.

Meanwhile, over 7,200 miles away, the need for another form of underwater defense is equally compelling in light of the March 26 sinking of a South Korean war ship.  An international forensic investigation (conducted by South Korea, the United States, Australia, Britain, Sweden and Canada) has concluded a North Korean mini-submarine torpedoed the South’s military vessel, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. In the frenetic and sketchy relationship between the Pyongyang and Seoul, this development has the potential, but hopefully not the probability, of resulting in a new and bloody military conflict on a nervous peninsula where an official state of war still exists…since 1950.

The New York Times reported on May 30 that the Pentagon and South Korean military planners are working to avert attacks in the shallow waters off South Korea by very small yet lethal torpedo-armed submarines controled by North Korea. The Cheonan incident evidences a lack of readiness. (See article here). According to the Times, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is concerned about exploring and deploying methods to find, follow and oppose miniature submarines, which he characterized as “a very difficult technical, tactical problem.”

Just like the Deepwater incident, the Cheonan sinking presents a nascent but distinct undersea challenge of great technical complexity. We should have been ready for both incidents all along.

With decades of military planning by the U.S. and South Korea to counter the North’s threats, the midget submarine attack was a shock to military observers, just as the Deepwater Horizon explosion and its exponential consequences has stunned America. The oil rig explosion and it’s consequences should not be a surprise, as deep-sea drilling, with all its risks, has occurred for decades as well.

Nevertheless, as time goes on, new underwater threats are discerned, and we must be challenge ourselves with new forms of readiness.

Both incidents are “teaching moments” brought forth by catastrophes. They serve as warning “shots across the bow” and call for greater undersea engineering and military defenses, to secure our environmental and national security interests. Let’s get started.

The Only Thing BP Put A Lid On Today…The Truth

05/27/2010

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Sixteen hours of deception. Sixteen hours of embarrassing the American Government. Sixteen hours of acting like it trying to “cap” the killer leak, but doing the exact opposite. It’s called fraud. And it should not go unanswered by President Obama. BP is not only attacking the Gulf, the insensitive corporate giant is ambushing the Obama Administration, and along with it, the sensibility of the American public.

BP wanted the world to believe it was actively engaged in the difficult task of capping the leak by continually pumping mud to stop the flow from hell, when it actually had halted the operation. And only a few knew.

Just moments ago CNN’s anchor, Anderson Cooper, was more aggravated than we have ever seen him. Justifiably so. BP won’t go on his show to answer direct and pointed questions, all in an effort to deceive us, all of us, about what it was doing in the many tense hours of this nervous day. “I probably should apologize to folks that we haven’t been giving more data on that,” BP’s Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said when asked why it took so long for the company to reveal it had suspended its operations. “It was nothing more than we are so focused on the operation itself.”

Images from a mile down showing the increasingly poisoned waters flowing are on cable news all day. But pictures, in this case, are not enough. It’s hard to tell what is really happening down there by relying on video feeds. In this case, a picture was not worthy of even a thousand words from the company until the truth came out later. The only thing BP put a lid on today was the truth.

Enough.

President Obama is about to visit Louisiana. Mr. President, have a televised town meeting with residents who’s lives have been shattered by the incompetence of BP. Show us your anger. Make Billy Nungesser, the articulate and pleading Plaquemines Parish President, proud.

Show us that the deliberate corporate myopia of not having proven backup systems to avert accidental flows oil will never again be tolerated. Speak out against media management by the public relations “experts” at BP, who, by continually deceiving us, are waging war on the American people, the United States government, and the notion of credibility itself.

Mr. President, this is your defining moment. Make the most of it. This is not a partisan issue. Our resources are being diminished, minute by minute. All of America is behind you on this one.

Make it clear that fraudulent corporate actions will be targeted by your Administration. Make that message the “Domestic Obama Doctrine.”

Yes, it is time to wage a legal war on BP. May 28, 2010 is your opportunity. Attorney General Eric Holder should be at your side during your trip. James Carville is right. It’s time for a grand jury. The government needs to take over the operation. The public will never again believe what any top official of BP says. Why should we entrust our precious Gulf waters to boardroom business decisions?

BP has forgotten what CBS Correspondent Edward R. Murrow once said: “To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful.” Mr. Obama, you are now encumbered with not only rescuing the Gulf, but in standing up for truth, credibility and transparency.

Diphtheria and Haiti: On The Brink Of Avoidable Mass Mortality

05/08/2010

Diphtheria is an upper respiratory tract illness, which left untreated, can be deadly. According to activist and disaster relief worker Sean Penn, on the shattered streets of Haiti on May 7, “This is exactly the kind of thing that can kill masses of people.” 

It was too late Thursday evening for Oriel, a young boy who Mr.Penn and others desperately tried to save in a frantic prolonged search for an antitoxin, traveling from hospital to hospital. He died of diphtheria in an unprepared nation, despite the presence of scores of well intentioned aid and relief organizations.

So what does diphtheria vaccine cost? Surprisingly little. Visit the Centers for Disease Control Vaccine Price List. As of April 23, 2010, a 10 pack of the vaccine can cost, at a non-governmental rate, $18.23. Logistics, refrigeration and proper distribution are the challenges, it’s not the cost.

According to Mr. Penn, the vaccine is not being distributed in Haiti, where it’s needed the most right now. Something must be done, immediately, he urges in this interview with journalist Anderson Cooper. (See CNN video, above).

Penn is right. Relief agencies are not prepared or acting quickly enough with life-saving inoculations . Pleading from the streets of Port-au-Prince, he correctly protests, “Nobody can say this is any surprise…this is the beginning unless everybody realizes the disaster is still on…There won’t be a Haiti to rebuild without the people of Haiti.”

With vaccine aid to Haiti moving at a glacial pace, what can we do to help what Dr. Sanjay Gupta characterizes as a “preventable, stupid death” on a mass scale? The frustrating and horrible last 11 hours of this once animated 15 year old victim’s life is an early warning. He is the first confirmed case of Diphtheria in Haiti in the aftermath of the January earthquake.

We must not be complacent. As donors of aid to organizations on the ground, it is time for us to stand up for accountability and responsible action, so that the money donated to save lives is actually spent, as quickly as possible, to prevent further population loss.

I, for one, am alarmed and angry that millions upon millions of contributed dollars have not been used to prevent short-term, but avoidable, carnage.  (See Miami Herald article of 4.27.10). Stories about monies being retained for future Haitian relief programs abound. As people contract diseases in the aftermath of disasters, donors from around the world need to know their urgent contributions are put to use proactively, not held up in bank accounts for projects that are months off.

The administration of vaccines does not take as long as it does to provide new infrastructure for the island nation.  If we put our minds to the task, hospitals can be supplied appropriate vaccines in just a day with the right logistics. We need to help Haitians cope with their exceedingly harsh environment with an immediate vaccination program for Diphtheria and other threats.

We should join Sean’s voice with ours. There is still time to act with vaccines, but the clock is ticking.

 

Editor’s Update (5.11.10)- Despite vaccinations, infectious diseases are a very real concern. The Associated Press reported from Port-au-Prince on 5.9.10 that UN health officials are stating “there is no evidence the bacterial disease is spreading…” Citing the CNN story featuring the comments of Sean Penn (see video above), an official with the World Health Organization (WHO) is quoted by the AP as stating Oriel’s case was “isolated.” According to the AP, however, the WHO official “added that concerns about the threat of infectious diseases breaking out across the quake-ravaged areas are well-founded. Many of the 1.3 million people displaced by the magnitude-7 earthquake are living in squalid camps where infection can spread easily.” The report states that 900,000 have been vaccinated against the threat of diphtheria and other disease in April, 2010, and more vaccinations are planned for June.  Question, why was it so hard for Mr. Penn and others to find the vaccine in hospitals?

Editor’s Update (5.11.10)- Vaccination programs have taken place in Haiti. According to the UN News Centre on April 29, 2010, “An estimated 60,000 Haitian children under the age of five will receive life-saving vaccinations in a major immunization campaign that kicks off in the Caribbean country on Saturday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced today. Routine immunization of children in Haiti was severely disrupted by the massive earthquake that struck on 12 January. Health facilities were damaged or destroyed, and interruptions to fuel and electricity had a major impact on health services, including the refrigeration system that supports storage and distribution of vaccines, according to UNICEF. Vaccination rates in Haiti were as low as 53 per cent even before the quake, the agency said. Children will receive vaccinations against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), measles, and rubella during the drive, which will be led by the Haitian health ministry with the support of UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO). The campaign will supplement an ongoing programme that began in February and has already reached more than 220,000 children under the age of eight in 687 locations in camps for people displaced by the earthquake.” See full UN article. Question. If electricity is disrupted, thus affecting refrigeration of vaccines, what about using solar power to get medicines cooled until regular electrical service is restored?

Haitian Recovery: Broadcasting the “Lost City” To Enlighten Rebuilding Efforts

04/03/2010

Daily video reports from Haiti informing architects, engineers and other professionals about the details of rebuilding the island are needed to sustain recovery momentum. Such reports can be modeled after the above video, produced by the Inter-American Development Bank and supplemented by weekly international web conferencing. Presidents Clinton and Bush offer a potential solution. The video was produced on 1.29.10.

That Haiti needs continuing and sustained assistance in the effort to intelligently rebuild the earth-shaken and disabled nation is no headline. The problem: timely rebuilding updates from Port-au-Prince are rapidly disappearing and the amount of media coverage has expectedly tapered off in the weeks and months following the horrific events of January 12, 2010 when the 7.0 magnitude quake struck our consciousness.

What’s needed is a continuing internet media presence so the outside world can track progress, understand unique local issues involved in restoring the Haitian infrastructure, and to establish a professional-to-professional connection that will maintain a continuing bond between those with specific expertise that wish to help with those who daily fight for survival and seek sustainable answers.

As of Saturday, April 3, 2010, there were 88 channels on Livestream.com from Haiti. On UStream.tv 715 outlets could be found. Switching over to Justin.tv, only one Haitian station was seen. Only a few were “live.” Much web video/internet broadcasting efforts from Haiti have ceased, and others have nothing to do with disaster recovery.  Some are fundraisers, but it appears none are expressly focused on the daunting challenge of rebuilding homes and communities. Some Haitian and non-governmental organization (NGO) channels may briefly cover the challenge, but it appears none are focused enough to enlighten, on a real-time basis, the engineers, architects, entrepreneurs, NGO’s, academics, students and others who seek to help understand and attack day-to-day recovery issues. 

Interested parties need constant updates about neighborhood areas of opportunity, the success and failures of different deployed housing alternatives and modalities, cultural restoration needs and the opportunities and advancements made in putting the island back together. 

There are many in the United States and elsewhere that seek to provide meaningful and strong housing options for the beleaguered island population.  Such professionals could benefit from an inexpensive front line daily briefing about the status of local rebuilding efforts, the materials needed, applicable government regulations, logistical challenges and financing alternatives.  

Networks such as Livestream.com allow for live video and immediate chat discussion of specific rebuilding issues, in a manner which is much more effective than a recorded YouTube presentation or static web pages.  They offer more depth than 140 character Twitter headlines. Yet, despite all the new age opportunities to keep us abreast of the evolving rebuilding challenges and efforts, these networks are falling short of their technological promise.
 

The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, established to raise money for Haitian relief, should sponsor and broadcast a daily live show focused on the re-birth of Haiti.  It should enable such a channel, on its current website,  to allow students, volunteers, professionals and members of government to work on rebuilding solutions in real time. Once a week live video conferences should be held on Skype, AdobeConnectPro or GoToMeeting to facilitate understanding of weekly progress and impediments. As an adjunct to fund raising efforts, the Presidential relief initiative, already based on the net, can focus on the most pressing daily problems by broadcasting to the world “rebuilding updates.”  Such a video conversation would enable international collaboration, educate, inform, and be focused on providing real solutions for practical applications. At the same time, it would help donors see their charitable contributions in action.

Time Magazine currently has a special on the American newsstands. It refers to Port-au-Prince as the “Lost City.”  With a daily video report, Haiti will not be lost in yesterday’s good intentions, or hidden from today’s consciousness.  Let’s start a daily video chronicle and highly visible conversation to make Haiti ready for the today’s challenges and those which lie ahead.

 

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