Saturday, December 6, 2008

A New Birth of Freedom

The Presidential Inauguration on Jan 20, 2009 will not be the only item on tap in the DC area. With TPTB opening up the bars 24/7, "Happy days are here again!" will undoubtedly be the song of choice.

The agenda for other activities:

The Presidential Inauguration will be held on January 20, 2009. A week of festivities will include the Presidential Swearing in Ceremony, Inaugural Address, Inaugural Parade and a night of Inaugural Balls and galas honoring the new President of the United States.

The theme for the 2009 presidential inauguration will be "A New Birth of Freedom," commemorating the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. The words come from the Gettysburg address, and express Lincoln's hope that the sacrifice of those who died to preserve the nation shall lead to "a new birth of freedom" for our nation. The theme is particularly appropriate in light of the historic election of Senator Barack Obama.

With the election of Barack Obama - the first black president in America - inaugural events are expected to draw record breaking crowds to Washington, DC. This historic day immediately follows the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr which will be celebrated with special events as well. And just in time for Inauguration Day, the nation's capital honors Lincoln's Bicentennial with a city-wide celebration including special exhibits and tours.

Getting around the region throughout the four-day inaugural weekend will be challenging. Washington Metro is gearing up for the events with increased hours and security.

Click & bookmark this link as it will update as information becomes available.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

When will FEMA be overhauled?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was established under the 1978 Reorganization Plan No. 3, and activated April 1, 1979 by Jimmy Carter in his Executive Order 12127. In July, Carter signed Executive Order 12148 shifting disaster relief efforts to the new federal level agency. FEMA absorbed the Federal Insurance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program, the Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration and the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration activities from HUD. FEMA was also given the responsibility for overseeing the nation's Civil Defense, a function which had previously been performed by the Department of Defense's Defense Civil Preparedness Agency.

One of the first disasters FEMA responded to was the dumping of toxic waste into Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York in the late 1970s. FEMA also responded to the Three Mile Island nuclear accident where the nuclear generating station suffered a partial core meltdown. These disasters, while showing the agency could function properly, also uncovered some inefficiencies.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton elevated FEMA to a cabinet level position and appointed James Lee Witt as FEMA Director. Witt initiated reforms that would help to streamline the disaster recovery and mitigation process. The end of the Cold War also allowed the agency’s resources to be turned away from civil defense to natural disaster preparedness.

With FEMA removed from the President's Cabinet and becoming a part of Homeland Security after 9/11, FEMA has been progressively bogged down by mismanagement and bureaucracy. The catastrophe response to Katrina in New Orleans should have given the Bush administration fair warning that this agency needed not just a new leader, but a complete overhaul.

As the 2008 hurricane season ended this past Sunday, news of FEMA disastrous responses are coming back to light yet again. It is with great hope that President-elect Obama will urge Congress to find a remedy to this broken and inefficient Federal Program that is clearly broken and that affects all of the US population.

As for this year's FEMA failings:

SMITH POINT, Texas - A 30-mile scar of debris along the Texas coast stands as a festering testament to what state and local officials say is FEMA's sluggish response to the 2008 hurricane season.

Two and a half months after Hurricane Ike blasted the shoreline, alligators and snakes crawl over vast piles of shattered building materials, lawn furniture, trees, boats, tanks of butane and other hazardous substances, thousands of animal carcasses, perhaps even the corpses of people killed by the storm.

State and local officials complain that the removal of the filth has gone almost nowhere because FEMA red tape has held up both the cleanup work and the release of the millions of dollars that Chambers County says it needs to pay for the project.

Elsewhere along the coast, similar complaints are heard: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been slow to reimburse local governments for what they have already spent, putting the rural counties on the brink of financial collapse.

"I don't know all the internal workings of FEMA. But if they've had a lot of experience in hurricanes and disaster, it looks like they could come up with some kind of process that would work," said Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia, the county's chief administrator.

Governor incensed
Gov. Rick Perry was so incensed at delays in sending cleanup crews to the rotting, city-size pile of waste that he angrily told reporters two weeks ago that he is going to have the state clean it up and then stick FEMA with the bill.

FEMA, whose very name became a bitter joke after the agency's botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said it is working as fast as it can considering the complex regulations and the need to guard against fraud and waste in the use of taxpayer dollars.

Moreover, "you can't work too many people because it's just too dangerous," said Clay Kennelly, hired by FEMA to oversee the cleanup of a section of the debris pile. "And you can't just put Bubba or Skeeter out here on a dozer."

The 2008 hurricane season ended this week after walloping the Texas and Louisiana Gulf coasts with three major storms: Dolly, near the Mexican border in July; Gustav, which slammed the Texas-Louisiana line on Labor Day; and Ike, the 600-mile-wide monster that barreled ashore at Galveston on Sept. 12.

Only a hundred yards or so of the 30 miles of debris in Chambers County has been cleaned up, because the project has been slowed by negotiations over who is responsible for what.

Living in tents
Along the rest of the Gulf Coast, thousands of homeless families are still living in tents, trailers and motel rooms, and hundreds of businesses are lying in near-ruin.

The federal government is responsible for public lands or hazardous waste, while private landowners must handle their own cleanup but can apply for assistance. Much of the debris has been left to rot while crews determine whose land the junk is on and what's in it.

Payment in three years
Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough tells the story of receiving word on Sept. 12, as Ike closed in on Galveston, that FEMA was sending him $1.8 million of his $3 million request for storm cleanup — from Hurricane Rita, three years ago.

"Good Lord! The red tape and rules you have to go through to get anything done," Yarbrough said. "On Hurricane Ike, when we're putting out tens of millions, we can't afford a three-year reimbursement program. It would bankrupt most entities in this area if it takes that long."

In Louisiana, hit by two storms this year, Gov. Bobby Jindal complimented the agency on improvements made since Katrina but criticized FEMA's focus on paperwork and an inability to make decisions quickly.

"It has gotten better, but the problem you've got with FEMA is that they're looking for reasons to say 'no,'" Jindal said. "While they've made progress since '05, there's such an emphasis on filling out paperwork. They need to have a focus on results."

In an e-mail statement, FEMA said the recovery process "continues seamlessly," and it noted the many rules and overlapping jurisdictions involved.

"The steps in the process of recovery include many at the individual, local, state and federal level," FEMA said. "In large measure they are understandable safeguards."

$1 billion in aid
FEMA pointed out that more than $1 billion in federal and state aid already has gone to Texas in disaster assistance since Ike, with about one-third of that in grants for temporary housing rent and another third in low-interest loans for renters, homeowners and businesses. The state has estimated the total pricetag at $11 billion.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, whose area includes Houston, complained that FEMA's bureaucracy is unwieldy. He recalled a FEMA official showing up at his office after Ike and declaring he was "going to be joined at the hip with you in this whole process."

"Then the next week, somebody else would show up and tell me the same thing," Emmett said. And then somebody else. "That was really frustrating to me."

Near the Mexican border, thousands of families remain in homes damaged by Dolly, the storm that blew ashore on South Padre Island on July 23. FEMA was helpful at first, but bureaucracy and the distraction of the other hurricanes have slowed the recovery, local officials said.

A farmworker rights organization and 14 poor South Texas residents sued FEMA last month, accusing the agency of refusing to help thousands of poor families repair their homes.

"I understand they have Hurricane Ike, but we had a Category 2 come through the Valley, too," Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas said.

History of FEMA

MSNBC Article on the 2008 Hurricane Season

Monday, December 1, 2008

2008 Hurricane Season Ends

We here in South Florida, for the most part, lucked-out this year, however, this year was bad for Texas as will as the countries of Cuba and Haiti as storms ravaged one after another, creating much property damage.

Six consecutive named storms struck the U.S. mainland — most ever

WASHINGTON - The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, which ends Sunday, appears to have attained Olympian heights, setting at least five weather records in the United States and Cuba.

"It was pretty relentless in a large number of big strikes," said Georgia Tech atmospheric sciences professor Judith Curry. "We just didn't have the huge monster where a lot of people lost their lives, but we had a lot of damage, a lot of damage."

Data on death and damage are still being calculated.

Three records showed the hurricane season's relentlessness. Six consecutive named storms — Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike — struck the U.S. mainland, something that had not been seen in recorded history. It's also the first time a major hurricane, those with winds of at least 111 mph, formed in five consecutive months, July through November. And Bertha spun about for 17 days, making it the longest lived storm in July.

Fay hit Florida four times
Two records involve storms hitting the same places repeatedly. Rain-heavy Fay was the only storm to hit the same state — Florida — four times, leaving heavy flood damage in its wake. A record three major hurricanes smacked Cuba: Gustav, Ike and Paloma.

Full MSNBC story

New Technology

Fuel-cell powered devices getting closer

Tiny fuel cells powered by combustibles could power a laptop for days.

A self-contained USB mobile power system is designed to provide power for all consumer electronic devices utilizing butane and a silicon based power cell.

Full Story

Blooms of Plunkett

Blooms of Plunkett
A Banana tree in the backyard in full bloom