Friday, September 16, 2005

Katrina: The National Impact

Since last night I have been wondering about where that $200 Billion is going to end up (in the pockets of crooked Southern politicians and big MNC's is the best bet so far). Then this morning I read an article on MSN

Many New Orleans evacuees won’t return

Fewer than half of all New Orleans evacuees living in emergency shelters here said they will move back home, while two-thirds of those who want to relocate planned to settle permanently in the Houston area

Unforutnately many people down there have nothing left (not that they had much before) so this is a chance to start over. Perhaps some new government prorgrams will help them get above the poverty line (I pray it does) and find new job opportunities. But what this tells me more than anything else is that there really needs to be some more planning on a lot of this before we should proceed with spending Billions of dollars in the wrong direction.

What we have is a real dilemma because people need help now and we should move fast, but if we move too fast we can really screw it up worse than it is. If we take too much time planning, this will just screw up people's lives so we need to be careful about that as well.

I wish we had some sort of open eGovernment collaboration system where the people and the government could share ideas and vote and see clearly where all the money for these efforts are being spent. This is the one thing that might make it all tenable for those of us who will be paying the bill...

George Will wrote in NewsWeek

In 1651, in "Leviathan," Hobbes said that in "the state of nature," meaning in the absence of a civil society sustained by government, mankind's natural sociability, if any, is so tenuous that life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Thoughtful conservatives—meaning those whose conservatism arises from reflections deeper than an aversion to high marginal tax rates—are conservative because they understand how thin and perishable is the crust of civilization, and hence how always near society's surface are the molten passions that must be checked by force when they cannot be tamed by socialization.

At the moment, it feels like the physical devastation of Katrina may pale in comparison to the detrimental impact it has on our country for years to come in terms of internal conflicts and our interactions with the rest of the world. But I am optimistic - this is still an opportunity for us to do more than just rebuild New Orleans and other parts of the south - perhaps it really is time for the dawning of the age of aquarius and love will win out over hate, but only time and the direct actions you and I take each day will tell.

Still, I am hopeful that those in charge may hear not just the loudest voices, but also may hear some of the smallest and respond appropriately all across this great land of ours.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Katrina: Truth be told... state/local officials to blame?

Looks like more people are finding out the details of how the local and state government screwed over the citizens. Not racism by federal government, but incompetence and bad decision making on the state and local level.

Please read this CNN piece and watch the accompanying video

Even Jon Stewart took issue with Mayor Nagin. On The Daily Show last night they aired a clip called "The Little Fuckers" during which Tim Russert on Meet the Press asked Nagin why all of those school buses went unused. Nagin's telling answer to the question - "that is an issue that will be debated" - Stewart's reparte' "most likely by whoever defeats me in the next mayoral race".

In the same clip Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said that "most mayors in this country have a hard enough time getting their people to work on a sunny day, let alone trying to evacuate their city in the face of an oncoming storm".

On Newsweek, there is a firsthand comprehensive account of how the disaster unraveled that is a must read for anyone worried about this issue. Included in this piece is a quote from someone in the Governor Blanco's office that "She wouldn't know the 82nd Airborne from the Harlem Boys' Choir"

Pricing inequities and customer retention...

At BarCamp2005 I felt pretty alone in my defense of business practices that offer the same product at different prices to different consumers - citing the traditional process of coupons in a Kasparov inspired defensive move - but I am shocked at what just happened with regards to a conversation I just had with Network Solutions concerning the transfer of a .org domain name. In defense of my earlier position, I was primarily referencing the practice at Amazon where I personally experienced a price drop after reviewing a product several times over the course of a month.

During the call with Network Solutions however, the CS rep asked why I was transferring and to whom. Since the request is seemingly transparent I told the rep that I would be switching to BulkRegister because of the huge disparity in pricing (approx $10 per year vs. $35 for NetSol). He then proceeded to tell me that BulkRegister's lowest price was $8.99 per year and offered me a deal to stay wtih NetSol for only $9.99 for any renewals.

WHOA! $25 less per year just because I am moving the domain? They did not mention that in any of the renewal emails they have sent over the last few months? Had they done so, I might have renewed with them rather then going through the hassle of transferring. But then again, I have never expected much from Network Solutions. Why the massive discount offer this time? Was it merely because it was the last line of defense for future revenue? Was it because I am a very early user (first NetSol domain I registered was in 1994 and my handle for those of you who know about such things is CH184)? Was it because I am a VIP member?

Whatever their motivation, I am interested in hearing similar experiences from other disgruntled Network Solutions customers and those who have also experience such shocking pricing inequities.

Katrina: Moving the country forward

While I suspect most people will be talking about the disaster and the problems with government response for some time, I am hopeful that we can start to move forward as a country with a focus on solutions instead of past problems. Yes we need to learn from the past, but I hope people dont dwell on it for too long.

On the top of my mind for the past week has been one overriding thought: "If we can relocate, educate and house hundreds of thousands of people displaced by a natural disaster, why can't we solve our nations homeless problem?" Given the tremendous effort to design and deploy systems to assist those whose homes were destroyed by Katrina, it won't take that much more to have these programs address the needs of all the nation's homeless who want the help. The reasoning for this is analagous to the process of getting a car or appliance repaired/serviced - if the extra work will cost less in the long run since we already have it 'opened' up, let's spend the 30% more today rather than doubling the cost if we were to do it tomorrow.

Thankfully, this has not escaped the eyes of other leaders in the country. CNN paraphrased Condoleeza Rice today:

Rice also said she believes the Hurricane Katrina disaster provides an opportunity for Americans to launch a comprehensive attack on poverty.

According to a study published by the National Coalition for the Homeless in 2002 some 2.3-3.5 Million people experience homelessness in an average year, with just under 40% of those affected being children.

I believe this is an unprecendented opportunity for this problem to be solved. Granted, like the many people in NOLA who refuse to leave, many homeless will refuse offers of assistance, but the majority of people can be helped and that is where we should focus our attention. The emphasis of these programs in the short term should be relief/comfort/medical care/shelter, while moving people through the program with a mid-long term focus on empowering individuals to provide for themselves (ie educational basics like 3 R's, computer skills and vocational specific training).

Unfortunately a generation of Americans have been taught to put their hands out awaiting a government payday rather than taking responsibility for their own well being. As someone who grew up in a household financed by my mother's $350-450 monthly Social Security check and my grandparents Pension and Social Security, I do personally understand much of what is going on - especially in regards to knowing that some people (the disabled in particular, but also those affected by real hardship and adversity) do require governmental support. So I am not saying we eradicate such programs, but rather that they be restructured to incent all able people to claim their personal power rather than increase reliance on the charity of the government and non-profits.

One very radical idea might be to rebuild some of those smaller towns that were destroyed by the Hurricane into communities that would be primarily focused on short term housing, education, mental/physical health, job skills, relocation and job placement facilities. Though I dont mean to sound insensitive, it would seem that the old "Not In My Backyard" problem would be avoided finally and perhaps a major project such as this might be pushed through.

While I am praying for the people harmed by this terrible disaster, I am also praying for all those in need of a a helping hand to lift themselves up from teh streets and into a simpler more happy life.