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.
That hundreds of thousands of homes are needed in nature ravaged Haiti is common knowledge. Mixing culture with architecture and engineering is uncommon ingenuity.
A little known, but potentially important contributor to the vast and urgent global demand for emergency housing is Innovida Holdings, LLC, which has met the need by creating safe, secure and aesthetically pleasing places to live as Haitian citizens toil to rebuild their tortured nation.
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The Innovida shelter, made of fiber composite panels, is described as quickly deployable, inexpensive, sturdy, waterproof and resilient to hurricane winds. The emergency relief houses are also reported to be earthquake resistent.
If thousands of these structures can be built in newly created or reinvigorated communities in Haiti, and if a stronger and smarter government imposes meaningful building codes to direct future construction, perhaps the next natural disaster to strike that nation will be less significant in consequence.
In short, Haiti needs to become more like Chile, where building requirements helped save lives in the recent 8.8 magnitude earthquake. With inexpensive housing solutions and smart planning, the dawn of a new urban ethic is possible in Haiti.
In order to encourage those who live in Haiti to depart their water threatened tents and makeshift shelters, adding a cultural flavor to the product offers a new dimension in the psychology, and acceptance of emergency housing. This is smart architecture. The housing does not take months to build…just days or weeks.
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Others with grand designs to help in the aftermath of the devastation have tried to provide a Haitian housing solution. In the hours following the Haitian earthquake, your author was in touch with a different company that promised to send 50 cargo containers to the island nation as residential structures. In December, 2008, some friends and I visited the Washington D.C. convention center to study and inspect a “container home.” Impressive, sturdy and possibly affordable, it was clear that such a product also had relevance as an emergency housing alternative. Indeed, when the Haitian earthquake struck, it was clear the container housing solution was an immediate imperative.
But it was not ready, despite grand plans that it could be the answer to creating meaningful new housing to replace tent cities.
The 40 foot steel weatherized structures were to be retrofitted for survivors to achieve safe shelter. Haitian laborers were envisioned as being employed, after delivery of the containers (with relief supplies) to the quake region, to cut windows and place walls. The goal was to create safe and sanitary living quarters that could withstand earthquakes, survive hurricanes and safely protect against the elements, while stimulating the economy. With a thermal coating, the housing products could be made livable, even in the challenging tropical climate that Haiti endures. Each container house, spartan in nature, would cost between one thousand and two thousand dollars.
There were constant and increasingly frustrating delays in receiving plans to get the project underway. We had sincere hopes the container project could make a difference in the near term and that we could help those seeking to assist Haiti by funding many of these steel houses. In the end, however, the promises from the entity offering to deploy this solution never came to fruition, as obstacles of economics, shipping and design laboriously impaired the delivery of urgent affordable housing aid to the hundreds of thousands that could benefit. Meanwhile, as search and rescue operations continued, survivors continued to suffer without safe places to live, many grew ill and some perished in the hell that continues to define Haiti’s housing reality.
In stark contrast, Innovida was already working to provide a reasonable real world solution, and seems to be on to something with merit. With projects from India to South America and across the globe, the manufacturer claims it is ready to deploy much needed emergency housing. As Haiti faces the rapidly approaching rainy season and faces the spread of disease, the benefits of the Innovida solution are acutely timely. If, as represented, Innovida delivers what it boasts, it will serve as a model for emergency relief, of the structural kind, across this fragile planet.
SharedEmergency cannot wait to see families actually moving into Innovida homes. Just as Innovida seeks to infuse culture into architecture, products like those pictured in this post may help inject a cultural change in a nation that knows little of zoning and building codes. No longer should insufficient concrete, the lack of reinforced rebar, the failure to plan and shoddy building practices pose the kinds of threats the now crumbled and killer abodes and buildings offered before January 12, 2010, when the face of much of Haiti became a vast nation of rubble, death, dismemberment and despair.
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As this new type of architecture shows…past mistakes can lead to incredible opportunities. We all must help innovative efforts like Innovida promote a constructive rebuilding reality in disaster prone areas.
Note: The Editor has no financial interest in Innovida Holdings, LLC or any other affiliated entity.
It’s not too soon to ask if aircraft drones equipped with small nuclear weapons are in our military future. The answer is yes, but it is less certain the psychology and limits of using such technology are as clear. As the United States and Russia embark on a new era of nuclear arms control in their effort to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a new pact prohibiting unmanned nuclear armed drones seems a survival imperative.
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Tactical conventional weapon drones are currently used with precision impact against terrorist operations in Pakistan and other conflict points. They spare conventional pilots the extreme danger of being shot down, can circle target areas for hour at a time, perform exacting reconnaissance, have a long history of success and can be remotely controlled thousands of miles from the battlefield. They are now clearly an established instrument of American foreign policy. Despite issues of “collateral damage,” such drones are highly effective.
Remote warriors simulating lethal drone technology…is delivery of nuclear weapons using such robotics next?
As nations assess future military capabilities, it is not surprising that strategic use of drones (including such devices with tactical nuclear weapons) is on mankind’s doorstep. But crossing the tactical/strategic nuclear boundary when considering robotic air warfare is a threshold that we dare not cross. Before it gets too late, this technology should be arrested, contained and outlawed on a planetary scale.
Recent open discussion in the military press has centered on whether strategic bombers should be replaced by nuclear-armed drones. In the June, 2009 issue of Armed Forces Journal, Air Force Research Institute Professor Adam Lowther pondered “whether it’s time to pursue a long-range, unmanned and nuclear armed bomber.” ArmedForcesJournal.com published a November, 2009 article by Col. James Jinnette, warning the “defense establishment has become seduced by the idea of unmanned airpower,” some of which may be controlled by artificial intelligence. He points out that judgment and “creative capacity” may be pushed aside by such technology. With these voices, future militarization takes on a most serious debate, as the world is embarking into uncharted intellectual killing territory.
According to PW Singer in his TED talk of February, 2009, robotic war “changes the experience of the warrior, and even the identity of the warrior.” (See video). The easier and faster it is to initiate a tactical nuclear attack, without endangering crew lives, the more we hide behind robotics to accomplish our human instinct to kill. According to Singer, “Another way of putting this is that mankind’s 5000 year old monopoly on the fighting of war is breaking down in our lifetime.” The more we rely on machines, computer programs and remote control technology, the closer we approach the point of no return by (ironically) further dehumanizing war. Tactical military robotics with conventional weapons can save lives, but nuclear equipped robotics can help end all life.
Much of 20th Century nuclear policy was based on the psychology of “mutual assured destruction.” Human emotions controlled the threats. It is that mindset that has helped us reach 2010. Another reason we have survived is that humans have instincts, and, at the personal level, the desire to survive. It is those qualities that helped avoid an accidental nuclear exchange in 1995 when Russian Rocket Forces mistook a scientific missile launch for an ICBM attack. It is the exercise of reason and intuition that spared America during the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The more we encumber the exercise of human judgment (despite it’s frailties) by relying on highly complex but remote technology via nuclear delivery systems, the more inhumane, mechanical and likely nuclear war actually becomes. Machines lack consciousness, and if programmed improperly, they can be subverted to misunderstand logic.
Scrutinizing psychology and technology, consider five practical questions posed by nuclear armed drone capabilities.
- If pre-positioned drones with tactical or strategic nuclear weapons are employed, there will be less time to recall them in the event of human miscalculation. True, once existing (and ready) intercontinental ballistic missiles are launched, there are precious few minutes to avert nuclear destruction. missile defenses would be of no value, given the extreme maneuverability of drone aircraft. The current time buffer to detect and kill an incoming threat is significantly reduced, however, by drones already at the target area, waiting for the command to destroy. If war is the result of human failings, we exponentially enhance mutual destruction if by allowing for robotic nuclear delivery systems which are far more flexible and timely than modern ICBM’s.
- If nuclear armed drones are deployed as instruments of national policy, we risk international isolation and condemnation from angered and threatened populations which are in harm’s way. (The Japanese have been outraged by the forward positioning of nuclear forces for decades). Nuke drones may actually increase the specter of war itself from threatened international actors such as nations and organizations with the ability to embrace, and use, identical technology.
- Since U.S. Preditor drones have already been hacked during the Bosnian war, and reportedly by Iraqi and possibly Afghan insurgents using open source $26.00 software, what is to prevent enemy high-tech warriors from taking control of future unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) and re-directing them? (See December 17, 2009 CNN report).
- Given the potential for literally thousands of these lethal UAV’s pre-positioned across the globe, does it make sense to create new nuclear delivery vehicles which could replace or supplement existing missile technology? The Obama Administration publicly seeks reduction and eventual elimination of ICBM’s, but if all we are doing is substituting one class of vehicle for another, arms control efforts would merely be a shell game. Furthermore, if stealth technology is employed in shielding UAV’s, national technical means of verification (a key issue which is holding up a new treaty between the United States and Russia) would be next to impossible.
- Can failsafe controls be employed effectively in nuclear UAV’s in an era of shrinking budgets across the globe? Rational military experts need double redundancy and recall controls up to the last seconds before pushing the button. We must not let technology get ahead of common sense.
There should be absolutely no debate that completely automated doomsday drone machines should be abolished in the upcoming arms treaty currently under review in Moscow and Washington. The likelihood of such a prohibition, is, of course, fraught with many human complexities. Just as in global warming and climate change, the world needs to wake up to the next great challenge of arms control, and avoid what happened with “the bomb.” We tried to control it, but well after it was too late to contain.
Let’s promote a multi-lateral treaty banning nuclear drone warfare.
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With all the high security technology at its disposal, the White House reportedly still relies on the old fashioned clipboard to check the guest list for those officially invited to State dinners. Staffers who may have referred to written notes as Michaele and Tareq Salahi entered what are supposed to be among the most protected grounds in Washington on November 24 would have relied on an old, and outdated method, to make sure those who are not authorized to attend are kept out by the Secret Service. Sorry, but the clipboard system is just not effective.
The White House claims Mr. and Mrs. Salai were not on the guest list. Whoever was present from the Secret Service did not, by initial accounts, take the additional step to check portable or tablet computers to make sure the couple was authorized to enter the State dinner. Apparently they did not use their mobile smart phones or radio communication system to contact other officials who could quickly verify the background and clearance of the Salahi’s. Instead, security officials allegedly only looked at papers on a clipboard and did not see the couple’s names before the telling security breach at the east end of heavily fortified White House complex.
According to Politico.com on November 28, which quoted the AP, the White House Office of the Social Secretary did not have a representative present at the security checkpoint initially crashed by the fame seeking couple. If not present in person, Social Secretary staff could have been electronically contacted within an instant. Any last minute changes, inquiries or updates to the authorized guest list could be noted for all involved to see, at any checkpoint. However, based upon media accounts, that was not done at the initial security entrance. If someone was present from the Social Secretary’s office in the East Wing visitor portal, a second opportunity to use a laptop or phone to avert this embarrassment was missed.
If potential visitors are not on the official list, simple technology provides quick opportunities to make sure they are allowed to gain entrance or signal they are trying to trespass. If readers of this blog can use a laptop or cell phone, surely the same can be utilized by those checking out individuals seeking to gain entry to Executive Mansion events. It is no excuse that it was raining that night and people wanted to get inside quickly.
The incident highlights a missed opportunity to use technology, at the highest levels. Instead, Salahi and his wife got within inches of the President, the Vice President, the First Lady and the Indian Prime Minister. Using a laptop and the right database, an e-mail…or even simple texting (with or without MMS), could have averted this serious security breach. Clipboard lists just do not provide the immediacy of last minute verification. This is not 1961; we are no longer dealing with Selectric typewriters.
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This incident is not the first time the Executive Branch has been slow to use available technology. When President Clinton entered the White House in 1992, there was dismay on the part of his staff at the lack of faxes, beepers, voice mail, lap tops and high speed e-mail. Since then, our technology is faster and more capable. Of all venues in the nation, the White House should be using the latest secure and proven technologies. No matter what the capabilities, such devices and the immediate information they can provide are of no use if simply ignored.
The technology gap demonstrated in advance of the Obama Administration’s first state dinner is curious. The White House complex is full of intricate detection devices and systems to prevent intruders, but old fashioned thinking and clipboards do not fulfill the mission of protecting the Chief Executive. Any lack of security and adherence to procedures at the White House is a shared emergency for us all.
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Port security, worldwide, has been compromised by a forseeable, and avoidable, mistake.
That humans make mistakes is obvious. Sometimes those mistakes carry little, if any consequences. Sometimes errors can be overwhelming. If there is one current theme in our efforts to achieve nuclear security, it is that we are “mistake prone.” What comes of these blunders…only time will tell.
Take the example of nuclear material and bomb detectors intended for use at world-wide cargo ports.
Clearly it is wise to develop technology for detecting nuclear devices which can be secreted into the country in shipping containers. It is a colossal mistake, however, to run out of a key ingredient, a raw material essential to the development of such technology, because someone forgot to make sure there was enough helium-3 to make functional the 1,300 to 1,400 machines planned to spot uranium or plutonium.
According to the New York Times on November 23, helium-3 is derived from decayed tritium, which comes from hydrogen bombs. The last time we made tritium was in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Since then, the available supply of helium-3, which detects neutrons which are given off by plutonium bombs, has diminished. While there are substitutes for the scarce ingredient, none are reported to be as effective or as discriminatory when discerning between nuclear weapons and ordinary things cargo like kitty litter and bananas.
According to the Times report, “The helium-3 problem is another symptom of the decline of nuclear technology.” Why the Department of Homeland Security did not seem to know it could not deploy all of the detection machines because of a limited amount of helium-3 is a mystery. It signals a serious mistake in planning. According to Representative Brad Miller (D-North Carolina), “I have not heard any explanation of why this was not entirely foreseeable.”
The problem of bombs and nuclear components being ushered in with cargo containers is not new or limited to the U.S. It is a real and present danger across the globe. (See video).
The helium problem is particularly troubling. The miscalculation about how much was available could be catastrophic if a smuggled weapon or nuclear material is actually used because of the lack of detection equipment at American and foreign shipping ports. While there are other technologies to try to prevent a shipping container disaster, this was to be one of the most promising.
Such nuclear negligence takes other forms.
Back in 1998 and again in 2000, the United States and Russia agreed to open up a joint early warning center on formerly Soviet soil to detect and analyze missile launches in an effort to avoid accidental warfare. Delayed by 11 years, the center has still not opened. However, since the agreement was made, nuclear brinksmanship has morphed into a state of complexity, and continues to do so. There are still old warheads for which there is no accounting, and more terrorist organizations and rouge governments seek nuclear capability. The Times reported on November 14 that legal issues (like who is responsible for the construction of the center) have held up opening the facility.
Amazing. We are living in the time of North Korean nuclear weapons, Iranian development of nuclear technology and an unstable Pakistani warhead arsenal. Even Myanmar is suspected of wanting “the bomb.” Al Qaeda seeks the bomb. It is ironic that Russians and Americans can cooperate with the complex International Space Station, but jointly we can’t open a building which might help prevent World War III.
The importance of such an early warning center is crystalized by recalling recent history. According to the International Relations Center in October, 2001, “U.S. nuclear attack warning systems generated more than 1,150 serious false alarms between 1977 and 1984.” On January 25, 1995, the Russians thought an American missile was headed their way. In the minutes before a retaliation launch was being contemplated, the path of the missile was determined to be non-hostile. Even though told of the launch (designed to probe the Northern Lights), someone forgot to tell Russian rocket commanders. We came close…very close, to the end…because of nuclear negligence.
Yes. We are being too lax…too trusting that things will not go wrong. What’s most troubling is the fact that both of these examples of malfeasance fit into the “completely avoidable” category. They are examples of how accidents and incidents are allowed happen, and by then, of course, it is too late. We cannot rely on good luck to avoid nuclear devastation. Quality control in our efforts to avoid nuclear winter needs to be job one.
The legal definition of negligence is clear. It is “the failure to use reasonable care.” U.S. Courts explain “Reasonable care is that degree of care which a reasonably careful person would use under like circumstances. Negligence may consist either in doing something that a reasonably careful person would not do under like circumstances or in failing to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under like circumstances.” Applying these definitions, the helium-3 and early warning center examples shout NEGLIGENCE.
No reasonably careful individual would plan for and develop vital equipment to safeguard our ports that cannot ultimately be widely deployed because of a scarce ingredient. No reasonably prudent person would agree that early warning center is crucial and should be opened, and then just argue about legalities while our enemies seek access to technology, which if used or even threatened, make our other disputes trivial. We don’t just need one joint early warning center. The world could benefit several, jointly hosted by rivals.
Too many Americans think that since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, that we are safer, in terms of nuclear security, than during the days of the Cold War. In fact, we are in a much more perilous situation thanks to the likes of proliferation profiteers and power hungry extremist regimes.
It is telling that the “Doomsday Clock” devised by the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has been just 5 minutes from midnight since 2007, closer than it was during the cold war. (In 1990 the clock was 10 minutes to midnight). We add to our peril and risk a closer proximity to the fateful midnight hour by the excercise of a culture of nuclear negligence in an era of enhanced risk. Since ICBM’s are no longer the only delivery vehicle, cooperation and planning cannot get caught up in details and tunnel vision.
We cannot afford to get sloppy when it comes to averting present-day nuclear threats, and yet, with the examples of helium-3 and the joint warning center, “mistake prone” is our reality. To err is human, but to commit too much error in these hyper nuclear times may ultimately be inhumane. We must do better.
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All countries are at risk with cargo container trucks. Above, China inspects a North Korean freight carrier.