Thursday, April 30, 2009

Economic Impact of Swine Flu

Stephanie Flanders writes an economic blog for BBC News. I was thinking about the economic implications of the swine flu but my efforts would have paled compared to Stephanie's piece.

The news is saturating all of their air time and print with stories about swine flu and it easy to begin to tune it all out. I don't think the current outbreak will become as widespread as the 1918 outbreak, I do think some planning is in order.

Any pandemic illness is indiscriminate on who and when it strikes. An outbreak may spread quickly or burnout. Regardless, the impact to a community can manifest in many different ways.

Workers may stay home if they become sick but are certain to stay home if a child becomes sick. There is no way to predict when a particular employee may have to stay home or for how long. Avian flu models predicted at the height as much as 40% of the workforce may be stricken.

Imagine the impact if 40% of airline crews or truck drivers had to stay home. Deliveries of critical supplies would be delayed impacting countless businesses. In turn those businesses ability to provide goods and services would also be impacted.

We use the current outbreak as a reminder to review any plans that were created for the avian flu. If your business or agency hasn't prepared a plan, now would be a good time to start.

Few urban students college-ready

Report: Few urban students college-ready | Kentucky Enquirer |

Having a dialog or debate about a subject is rapidly becoming a lost art despite the advances in communication technology.  Case in point, Strive conducted a report where they found only 3 percent of students from Covington Independent, 9 percent from Newport Independent Schools, and 16 percent from Cincinnati Public Schools were prepared last year in all four subject ares of the ACT.  The Catholic Schools in Cincinnati and Covington fare better with 33 percent and 21 percent respectively.

At my community college, this news comes as no surprise.  It is distressing to see the number of high school graduates who still need remedial math, reading, and writing.  The faculty who teach the remedial courses are convinced that they can overcome the educational deficit of these students (which may represent years) in just a few classes.  Yes, the remedial classes do help but should college students be taking essential high school classes?  

The tendency is to of course point to elementary and secondary schools as the problem.  Such an approach is simplistic and doesn't answer the real question; what is the role of secondary education?  Is it to prepare students for the work place or college?

The other discussion that needs to occur is between colleges and secondary education.  Are college requirements out of synch with high school curriculums?  How can we create a pathway to insure more high school graduates arrive at college able to start taking college courses and not remedial education courses.

The Strive report will open eyes but I fear it would lead to any solutions.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

U.S. Declares Public Health Emergency in Wake of Swine Flu

U.S. Declares Public Health Emergency in Wake of Swine Flu - First 100 Days of Presidency - Politics

The Obama Administration is having to respond to this crisis without a Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and only an acting director for the CDC.   Secretary Naplitano taking the lead on this matter is a bit ironic given her use of the term "man-made disasters" instead of terrorism.  The current crisis highlights the lack of nimbleness of the Obama Administration, some of which is of course due to newness.  It is the first test though of how the administration responds to a crisis that wasn't on the radar during the elections.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

WHO Chief: Swine Flu Outbreak Could Become "Pandemic" - World Health Organization Chief: Swine Flu Outbreak Could Become 'Pandemic' - Infectious Disease

An update on the swine flu outbreak.

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Swine Flu

Human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection have been identified in the U.S. in San Diego County and Imperial County, California as well as in San Antonio, Texas. Internationally, human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection have been identified in Mexico.

U.S. Human Cases of Swine Flu Infection
State# of laboratory 
confirmed cases
California6 cases
Texas2 cases
International Human Cases of Swine Flu Infection
Country# of laboratory 
confirmed cases
Mexico7 cases
Cases will be updated daily at 3 p.m. EST
NOTE: Only international human cases confirmed by CDC laboratories will be reported

Investigations are ongoing to determine the source of the infection and whether additional people have been infected with similar swine influenza viruses.

The above information is from the CDC Website.  The swine flu outbreak is the latest example of focusing on one threat (avian flu or H5N1) to exclusion of others.  H5N1 was thought to be the next most likely to mutate into a variant that was sustainable through human to human contact creating a pandemic.  The swine flu seems to have beaten H5N1 to the punch and has combined elements of swine, avian, and human flu variants.  In short, the current flu outbreak is showing some very unusual patterns.  First, the flu is breaking out in April which is normally the end of flu season.  The flu is seems to have a proclivity to attack 25-45 year olds.  This may have to do with this age demographic being out and mingling more than other age groups.

The Obama Administration has had several setbacks this week keeping this issue from coming to the forefront.  Chrysler may file for Chapter 11, GM appears ready to end the Pontiac brand (something that had not been proposed previously), the nomination of Health and Human Services secretary is stalling, and DHS Secretary Napolitano continues to be criticized for a report linking disgruntled vets to right wing militia groups.  All of this has kept the President from coming with statement on swine flu.

Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza among pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread of swine flu viruses has been documented.  From December 2005 through February 2009, a total of 12 human infections with swine influenza were reported from 10 states in the United States. Since March 2009, a number of confirmed human cases of a new strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in California, Texas, and Mexico have been identified. An investigation into these cases is ongoing.  (Source, Centers for Disease Control)

An article about swine flu in the paper had an interesting recommendation, if you are sick stay away from hospitals.  Hospital patients have open wounds and weakened immune systems, showing up the swine flu will only lead to spreading the spreading the disease.  I don't know how practical such a recommendation is as it assumes you know what illness you have.  Flu symptoms can be mimicked by other diseases and as such for young or elderly people they should still seek out medical attention.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Back to the Future

President Obama has been president for almost 100 days as of this writing (his inaugural date was Jan 20, 2009).  The economic stimulus plan has garnered the majority of press but other decisions are equally important.

First was the pronouncement by Vice President Biden and the Defense Secretary that the US military needs to be restructured to meet contingencies similar to those in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I see two problems with this view.  First, it suffers from the fallacy of basing your tactics on the lost battle fought.  Every single military school out there teaches the error of “fighting the last battle” over again.  Future adversaries have seen how we fought in Iraq            and Afghanistan that means they have the ability to develop counter-measures.  We need to develop new tactics for new adversaries.

The second decision is related to the first.  Secretary of Defense Gates decided to cancel the F-22 based on it being “too powerful”.  Shortly after the decision to cancel was made, the Secretary seemed to back-peddle when he pointed out the technological advances being made by Iran, North Korea, and China.  North Korea subsequently fired a long range missile further questioning Gates’ criticism that the F-22 was too powerful.

These first two decisions caused me some concern as the world is ever changing and it seemed as though the Obama administration was going to sacrifice military advancements because it did not perceive any viable threat.   Secretary Napolitano followed suit by removing “terrorist attack” from her speeches and replaced it with “man-made disasters”.  Collectively the administration seemed to be moving away from active to a passive position.

Then an old-fashioned threat came back to the future; pirates.  Somali pirates had become increasingly aggressive over the last few years but had never taken American hostages.  Secretary Clinton followed the rest of the administration by lamenting the need for a 21st Century solution to pirates.  Shortly after uttering those words, an American crew was captured by Somali pirates.  The captain was taken off the ship, the crew was able to retake the ship from the pirates.  It seemed like the administration was not going to let the Navy send in SEAL team in to rescue the captain.  Much to everyone’s surprise, the President did authorize the SEALs to execute a rescue mission ending with three of the four pirates dead and the captain rescued.

Things were beginning to look up, in my opinion, for the Obama administration.  The President may want to mend fences but he was also willing to protect Americans.  Then Secretary Napolitano released her report warning everyone about the threat of right wing extremists, especially disgruntled veterans.  The report based this warning on the combination of the economy, the first black President, and large number of returning veterans.  The conclusion seems to be that veterans are both a) disgruntled and b) willing to act against to the very government they swore an oath of allegiance.

I resent the report’s conclusion that all returning veterans are disgruntled and willing to commit “man-made disasters”.  Veterans may have more organizational, leadership and fighting skills than the average citizen but they also share another quality that prevents them from becoming a threat to the government; patriotism.  I and every veteran out there swore an oath the protect this country.  We are the last people that Secretary Napolitano needs to worry about.  She needs to seriously rethink her decision to have shared this report.  It is insulting and misleading.

I remember towards the end of the last decade the concern many law enforcement agencies had as the militia movement was growing.  Several of these groups claimed to have found a government report listing former military personnel as being at high risk for committing crimes against the government.  According to these groups, it seemed as though the government feared the very people they had spent so much to recruit and train.



As President Obama nears his first 100 days, I applaud his handling of the pirates but hope he does better with his decisions regarding the security of the nation.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Practice emergency runs in the works

Practice emergency runs in the works | Cincinnati Enquirer | Cincinnati.Com

I really like the idea of scenario based practice.  Kentucky is a less populated state than Ohio making such an effort practical.  In more densely populated states, these scenarios may have to be broken down into much smaller parcels.  Regardless, Kentucky is taking a pro-active approach to preparing their residents for the next disaster.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

$4M to fight crime

$4M to fight crime | Cincinnati Enquirer | Cincinnati.Com

The solution still is to deal with things after the fact.  You don't need the stimulus plan to re-look at sentencing guidelines.  Alternatives need to be looked at for non-violent criminals that don't involve jail time.  The side bar shows a very uneven distribution with Cincinnati getting the most money.  Well of Cincinnati should as it is a large city, right?  Cincinnati Police recently conducted Vortex in which they focused on high-crime areas in an attempt to reduce crime.  It worked, sort of as Vortex simply drove criminal activity to outlaying areas.  The $2.4 million dollars may have a similar effect, instead of reducing crime it may only serve to drive crime to other areas.

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Convicted immigrant runs up expenses | Cincinnati Enquirer | Cincinnati.Com

Convicted immigrant runs up expenses | Cincinnati Enquirer | Cincinnati.Com

A "tighter" border is an illusion as long as the incentives remain to cross the border, we will continue to have problems with smuggling and illegal aliens.  News articles call for more action by the US, however I haven't seen any corresponding calls for Mexico to act.  The disparity between the economies on the US side of the border and Mexican side creates the incentives for people to cross.  Conversely, I don't see people trying to smuggle things into Mexico.  People who study military history will recognize borders as "static defenses".  No matter how much you shore up your defenses at a fixed point, your adversary merely goes around until the find a less secure point.  Borders can be crossed above ground, underground, over the ground (by air) and by water (to include the ocean).  We are in an economic recession that spending millions or even billions on border protection will have no impact on improving our economy or border security.

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