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Thursday, August 11, 2005

News Bits And Bites

July was another month in which the budget deficit was lower than the forecast. Over the 10 months of this fiscal year the budget deficit has been 94 billion less than last year's through July. That's coming mostly from increased tax revenues, not decreased spending.

I liked Marilyn Barnewell's article about bad bank lending policies. If it weren't for the SBA, it would be almost impossible to get small business loans. What that means, practically speaking, is that whether you can get the capital to start a business depends on whether you can get money from family or friends. That is a setup that tends to reinforce historic social inequities. Combined with the horribly regressive nature of the 1980 social security/.medicare "reforms", this has tended to undercut small business formation for an entire generation of Americans. You simply can't strip the ability to accumulate capital away from income earners as we have been doing since 1983 and not see the results in your economy.

What you might not understand from Marilyn's article is that the banking policies she decries are a result of regulatory rules related to collateral valuation and ratios, so there is virtually nothing the banks can do to redress the situation. The solution in our society as it now stands are Small Business Administration loans which basically give a collateral guarantee to banks, thus allowing them to fund small business expansions or start-ups. So this is one budget item that should be expanded! Remember that.

If you want lower budget deficits you need to spend on SBA. Reforming social security and medicare is another huge priority, and allowing business or trade associations to provide medical insurance plans on the same basis as large corporations is another. Congress could pass the law to do that without much fuss. Why haven't they?

Finally, there is another disturbing report from Siberia about odd illnesses related to bathing or using natural water. The latest is an outbreak of meningitis in Novosibirsk, but there have been a range of reports of sudden illnesses like severe pneumonias, stroke and heart attacks in the regions in which outbreaks of Qinghai-like H5N1 have also been reported. See the Recombinomics' Qinghai H5N1 map. This may or may not be related to H5N1, but we can't know unless we check.

At this point, world health authorities seem to have realized that sick birds do fly and do spread this virulent strain of H5N1. But they have tunnel vision related to the pandemic strain which will depend on the virus developing the ability to spread from human to human. That hasn't happened yet, but it doesn't mean that this strain should be ignored. The evidence is growing that this strain is very likely to reach our shores within a year or so, and when it does it will quickly travel with the birds across the states. We can expect massive losses in poultry and possibly swine once it becomes endemic, and we can expect another public health problem like West Nile Virus but worse. Much worse.

It's time for the US public health agencies to get serious. They need samples from these areas now. They need to step up testing and monitoring of bird populations in Alaska and the northwest. Migrating waterfowl are spreading this strain of H5N1 very efficiently.

Update: See this Agonist thread about some of the reports in just the last couple of days of unusual outbreaks in this area. Odessa, Astrakhan, Udmurtia, Tomsk, Chita region, and note the connection in many cases with bathing in natural water sources. This follows other reports last week of deaths and serious illnesses from several areas that had reported H5N1 outbreaks. And see this thread from a few days earlier (scroll down and then work your way back up), which discusses sudden illnesses in Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk.

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