Archive for April, 2016

Angry Planet Series Featured During Earth Month

Saturday, April 9th, 2016
Angry Planet

Angry Planet

As April 22 is Earth Day, the Pivot cable television network is offering programming on climate and environmental issues throughout the month. I have recorded the “Angry Planet” series airing this month on Pivot and what I have been able to watch so far is fantastic. “Angry Planet” is a 39-part television series hosted by environmentalist and adventurer George Kourounis. Each episode shows the stark effects of Earth’s evolving climate and the consequences of climate change for vulnerable populations. The series is taped for high-definition television, with stunning visual effects. Each episode in the series documents the unmistakeable changes that threaten Earth’s delicate eco-system.

The episode about India’s monsoon season depicts the hardships people suffer each year with increasingly severe storms. The episode filmed in Cabo Verde depicts the hazards of people living dangerously close to an active volcano, as it is the only locale where they can eke out a living. The volcanic eruption sends lava into people’s homes, forcing them to evacuate and we see the frustrations and fears of people then forced to live in tent camps when their homes are no longer habitable. It is compelling television and if you don’t have the Pivot network from your local cable provider, check it out on the Internet.


Friday, April 8th, 2016


Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Planning Tax Payments

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016
It Doesn't Add Up

It Doesn’t Add Up

As April 15 approaches (well, for 2016, April 18 is the relevant date), many people will pay their federal taxes with their credit cards in order to accumulate the points for frequent flyer awards. But did you know that the IRS charges the merchant credit card fees back to the taxpayer? An accountant quoted in the morning news presented a convincing argument that in most cases, the cost of the payment fees exceeds the value of the rewards points. Of course, if you need to conserve your cash, paying the taxes on your credit card may be your only option. But if you can send in a check, it might be less expensive. I was not aware that the charge-back was the practice of the IRS, so I thought I’d pass this on.

And speaking of charges incurred without your knowledge, you might consider the tradeoff with automating your utility payments by storing your credit card information online. The benefit of that practice, of course, is that you don’t have to think about making your monthly payments and you can easily record your expenses with your credit card or bank statement. The disadvantage, and one I had not previously considered, is that your account may be charged without your consent. I happened to meet a lady who lost her condominium in a fire. As her cable television and Internet provider had her credit card information for billing purposes, they billed her for the month of service following the fire, even though she clearly did not benefit from that service as her home and its contents had been completely destroyed. Contesting the charge (and she had called the cable immediately after the fire to suspend her service) is a hassle she did not need right after losing her home. So consider the risks associated with automated payments.

Erratic Weather

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016
Struggling to Bloom

Struggling to Bloom

The old adage about New England is that if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes and it will change. That observation applied to most of the Northeast yesterday and today as conditions changed from snow to sunshine to darkening clouds and back again. We were treated to the incongruous appearance of spring bulbs flowering through the snow. Weather patterns appear to becoming more erratic: we have seen tornadoes in Brooklyn and snowstorms in Atlanta. Our business continuity plans have to be ready for any type of weather in any season in any region.

This photograph perfectly captures the theme of erratic weather and the challenges of preparing our businesses for any contingency. I was in Boston for meetings today and passed by this small public garden. The image of the daffodils struggling to rise above the snow caught my attention – a great image for what our businesses must do to thrive.

Deadly Floods in Pakistan

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Torrential rains and flash floods have killed nearly fifty people in Pakistan and injured many more. The country’s prime minister directed the National Disaster Management Authority to provide timely aid to victims. Family members of those killed in the floods will be compensated with $3,000, owners of destroyed homes will receive $1,000, those with partially damaged homes and those who sustained injuries will receive $500. Reading the news of this terrible tragedy reminded me of what I had read in Mega-Disasters: the Science of Predicting the Next Catastrophe (page 64).

In 1970, a powerful cyclone struck East Pakistan, killing almost 500,000 people. The government, based in West Pakistan, failed to attend to the victims. The disaster occurred in the context of political factions favoring a separatist movement. Enraged by the inept response to the disaster, the population was soon engulfed in civil war. East Pakistan declared its independence in 1971 and changed its name to Bangladesh.  U.S. policymakers believe such responses to weather-related disasters may become more common.

The U.S. Naval War College is undertaking research to consider how climate change can impact global political stability. It is sobering to consider the issues of access to water or food security arising from a warmer world.

Amtrak Train Crash Near Philadelphia

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

By a stroke of luck, I have twice missed being on Amtrak trains between New York City and Washington DC that crashed near Philadelphia. Early today, a southbound train operating at high speed struck a backhoe on the track, killing two track workers and injuring more than thirty passengers. Last year, a train en route to New York derailed, killing eight people and causing injury to more than two hundred. The tragedy of these disasters is that they are entirely avoidable and appear to arise from human error. This should prompt inquiry into Amtrak’s operating practices.

I took away some lessons about disaster communications after hearing the account of a passenger on the train, Steve Forbes. He was scheduled to be at the Washington DC studio of CSPAN to appear on the “Book TV” program to discuss his latest book, Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy and What You Can Do About It. Fate intervened as Forbes was a passenger on Amtrak Train 89 southbound from New York. Fortunately, he was not injured and returned home to do a shorter interview with CSPAN by telephone. CSPAN then filled the air time with a taped recording of a talk Forbes had given about his book at Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington DC.

I had scheduled the DVR to record the CSPAN program as I am a huge Steve Forbes fan.  The first time I met him was in the green room of Fox Business News when we were both guests on Alexis Glick’s show Money for Breakfast. Mr. Forbes was on an earlier segment of the program and when I met him I expressed regret that I had known he was scheduled to appear, I would have brought my copy of  Power Ambition Glory: The Stunning Parallels Between Great Leaders of the Ancient World and Today…and the Lessons You Can Learn for him to sign. Ever the gentleman, Forbes surprised me by sending over an inscribed copy of the book later in the day.

Over the course of his call-in CSPAN interview, Forbes addressed the issue of the condition of American infrastructure, calling for more private-public partnerships, and remarked on the disparity between the condition of our freight trains (which are among the best in the world) and our commuter trains; the former being in good shape as private owners are motivated to invest in maintenance, the latter being in poor condition for poor public management. He also addressed the issue of disaster communications; the passengers on Train 89 knew that it was too hazardous to exit the train and step onto electrified rail, but more than twenty minutes passed before any Amtrak crew informed them of what had happened. Forbes himself was on his cell phone to the CSPAN producer to arrange to phone in his interview given that he was not going to arrive in Washington DC that day.

Forbes touched on the themes of his book which addresses how abandoning the Bretton Woods system, in which the U.S. dollar was pegged to gold, completely undermined money as a store of value. I look forward to when his in-studio interview at CSPAN is re-scheduled as I am eager to hear his analysis of how our monetary policy has undermined small business access to credit. Meanwhile, Forbes’ experience on Amtrak provides a compelling lesson on disaster communications. Employees need to be trained to provide timely information to customers when service is disrupted and kudos to Forbes for his calm response in what must have been a frustrating situation.

Spring cleaning

Friday, April 1st, 2016