Friday, October 28, 2005

FEMA's Brownie Is Back!!!

Raising cronyism to stratospheric heights, former FEMA boss Michael D. Brown has been rehired for a brief return engagement. His resignation on September 12 came in the wake of the agency's inadequate response to Hurrican Katrina.

Shocking as his return may be, the Dept of Homeland Security, overseer of FEMA, says it will allow Brownie to continue providing data to staff. He will still draw salary at his former $148,000.00/year rate for the two months of his hire.

Given the quality (or lack thereof) of his prior performance, is there anything of value that this man could provide to the agency?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Digital Dump: The Hidden Cost Of Your New PC

he lifespan of a home computer is now estimated to be 2 to 3 years. With the inevitable replacement comes the thrill of unpacking that shiny new PC and thoughts of years of effortless applications.

But there is a hidden cost beyond what is paid to Dell, HP or Apple. That portion of the cost falls on the backs of developing nations receiving obsolete computer equipment. Vintage computer equipment is often shipped to developing nations. It is frequently unusable and/or those countries are not prepared to make use it. The equipment, loaded with toxins, often ends up in dumps. Evironmental hazards are the result.

Much of the used computer equipment sent from the United States to developing countries for use in homes, schools and businesses is often neither usable nor repairable, creating enormous environmental problems in some of the world's poorest places, according to a report to be issued today by an environmental organization.

According to a report by the Basel Action Network of Seattle, recyclers are sending the equipment abroad to avoid the costs of recycling.

Basel Action Network Web site The report, titled "The Digital Dump: Exporting Reuse and Abuse to Africa," says that the unusable equipment is being donated or sold to developing nations by recycling businesses in the United States as a way to dodge the expense of having to recycle it properly. While the report, written by the Basel Action Network, based in Seattle, focuses on Nigeria, in western Africa, it says the situation is similar throughout much of the developing world.

"Too often, justifications of 'building bridges over the digital divide' are used as excuses to obscure and ignore the fact that these bridges double as toxic waste pipelines," says the report. As a result, Nigeria and other developing nations are carrying a disproportionate burden of the world's toxic waste from technology products, according to Jim Puckett, coordinator of the group.

Unfortunately, keeping consumers interested in purchasing new computers has produced obsolescence on a grand scale.

According to the National Safety Council, more than 63 million computers in the United States will become obsolete in 2005. An average computer monitor can contain as much as eight pounds of lead, along with plastics laden with flame retardants and cadmium, all of which can be harmful to the environment and to humans.

The numbers are truly staggering. Nigeria has been overwhelmed.

At the Nigerian port of Lagos, the new report says, an estimated 500 containers of used electronic equipment enter the country each month, each one carrying about 800 computers, for a total of about 400,000 used computers a month. The majority of the equipment arriving in Lagos, the report says, is unusable and neither economically repairable or resalable. "Nigerians are telling us they are getting as much as 75 percent junk that is not repairable," Mr. Puckett said. He said that Nigeria, like most developing countries, could only accommodate functioning used equipment.

As a result, much material will end up being discarded where it will contaminate the environment.

The environmental group visited Lagos, where it found that despite growing technology industries, the country lacked an infrastructure for electronics recycling. This means that the imported equipment often ends up in landfills, where toxins in the equipment can pollute the groundwater and create unhealthy conditions.

And the sources of this equipment sent by the recyclers? It's often received for free and sometimes from government sources.

Much of the equipment being shipped to Africa and other developing areas is from recyclers in the United States, who typically get the used equipment free from businesses, government agencies and communities and ship it abroad for repair, sale or to be dismantled using low-cost labor.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Condi Tests The Waters/Hillary In '08?

Secretary of State and unrepentant Bush apologist Condoleeza Rice has made a 3 day trip to Alabama, fueling speculation about a run for office. Although she took time to meet with Hurrican Katrina survivors, another more personal agenda was apparent.

But all weekend long, Ms. Rice seemed to be running for something. It was not, her aides maintained, for office, though she was greeted like a superstar everywhere, with an explosion of cheers at the Alabama-Tennessee football game on Saturday when she entered the field of Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa with Mr. Straw for the ceremonial toss of the coin.

Ms. Rice insisted, on the contrary, that she was seeking to bring foreign policy issues to people outside Washington and, more important, to use the triumphant story of the civil rights movement to counsel patience and understanding for skeptics who believe that democracy cannot flourish in Iraq and the Middle East.

Foreign policy issues to the masses? In a state more concerned with the aftereffects of Hurrican Katrina, this seems, shall we say, an unlikely explanation.

It was Ms. Rice's second trip to the region since Hurricane Katrina, when she and other members of the Bush administration came under criticism for the handling of the storm's aftermath. On this trip, Ms. Rice met with hurricane victims and volunteers in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. But much of the rest of her itinerary was of a more personal nature.

No recent secretary of state has taken a trip like this, to relate a life story. Nor has Ms. Rice previously put her own experiences on such public display.

Present were a childhood friend and her school band teacher. But then there's this:

"I think she's quite popular in the South, but I don't know if she'd be a good presidential or vice-presidential candidate," said Hastings Wyman, editor of the Southern Political Report, a widely read newsletter. "But against Hillary, they would like her."

So perhaps the contingency plan is to have Condi ready in case of Hillary's declaration of her candidacy.

As for whether all this will lead to a political life beyond diplomacy, Ms. Rice said: "I don't know how many ways to say it - this isn't in my future. But I can't live my life as secretary of state deciding not to do things because people may consider them to have an impact on my political future, which I don't think I have."


Friday, October 21, 2005

Bush To The Chinese People: Please Stop Saving

Apparently the Bush administration is not satisfied with the staggering debt of our citzenry.  It is the aim of the Bush administration to achieve the same result abroad.

MULAN, China, Oct. 13 - Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, touring this village in the Sichuan province to promote "financial modernization," urged China on Thursday to take lessons from the United States on how to spend more, borrow more and save less.

Amazing, no?  But there's more:

Mr. Snow argued that China's consumers and entrepreneurs are badly in need of financial sophistication offered by American banks and investment banks.

As he wandered through a thriving farmers' market and a traditional rural credit cooperative, Mr. Snow said that with better credit, Chinese families would be able to spend more money, buy more goods and perhaps reduce China's huge trade surplus with the United States.

"Good credit facilitation and consumer finance is going to help consumers buy more things," Mr. Snow said.

And the reason for this interest in helping Chinese consumers?  Perhaps Secretary Snow seeks to better the lives of ordinary Chinese citizens you say?  Well, actually, no.

"We see consumerism and consumer credit as going directly to the thing we have most on our minds - the global imbalances."

Ahh, so the reason we need to get the Chinese to accumulate debt is to alleviate the huge trade imbalance cause by our own rampant overspending.  Now things are clear.

China's savings rate is nearly 50 percent, one of the highest rates in the world. The savings rate in the United States, by contrast, has sunk to less than zero in recent months and is one of the lowest rates in the world.

So to all you oversaving Chinese citizens, start cooperating by spending yourselves into poverty, got it?  Okay, just so we're straight on that.  

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Condi: Fair Voting In Asia, No Word On Ohio

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will be visiting the former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikstan this week. Amongst other things (including US relations), she will be promoting democracy. (Or at least what passes for it these days.)

SHANNON, Ireland, Oct. 10 - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, beginning a trip to Central Asia, urged the region's leaders on Monday to hold "elections that are free and fair," even though in one state she plans to visit nearly all the likely opposition candidates have been jailed and in another laws have been passed that stack the odds in favor of the present rulers.

"We seek strong and deep relations," she said in a discussion with reporters aboard her plane, "but one of the elements of a strong and deep relationship with the United States these days is moving forward with democracy."

Of course, there are other considerations, but given the extensive positive human rights record of this administration < snark > , surely these could only be secondary!

They include military basing rights, energy and economic relationships, and drug trafficking problems in the region. But Ms. Rice made it clear that promoting democracy would be central to her mission.  

While discussing democracy with Mr. Rakhmonov (Tajikistan), Ms. Rice might also raise the issue of military basing rights. The United States is being evicted from its base in Uzbekistan, and Ms. Rice made it plain that the military must "maintain the ability to move and be flexible" in the region in order to curb terrorism.

Shockingly, there was no statement offered about providing similar fair elections to the people of Ohio. But then I've probably missed the point.