Wednesday Mashup (4/25/12)

April 25, 2012

(Testing, testing…is this thing still on :-)?)

OK, allow me to back up and do some ‘splainin’ here…

I pretty much walked away from this site about a year and a half ago out of total disgust, keeping Blogger as my main platform for this kind of thing. Not with WordPress as a blogging platform, I wish to emphasize, but with the impending Dem loss of the U.S. House, including the PA-08 seat of Patrick Murphy to “Mikey The Beloved” Fitzpatrick (guilty of this recent, particularly heinous moment which, in a manner utterly true to form, has been thoroughly ignored by his house organ, the Bucks County Courier Times). Also, at the time, I wasn’t sure if the Senate would fall either, but thanks to the intervention of the teabaggers, who made sure that “Yes, Wiccan” O’Donnell was nominated in Delaware along with Sharron Angle in Nevada and John Raese in West Virginia, the Senate remained under the control of the Dems. I wanted the post with the Rachel Maddow video to remain as the first thing a reader saw at this site as a “J’Accuse!” gesture of sorts (I think it’s safe to say that, after all this time, I’ve made my point).

Well, Blogger is now thoroughly hosed when it comes to fairly long, textual posts and I have neither the time nor the desire to figure out how to deal with the problem. So, on the infrequent, oft chance that I am able to generate content again, I’m planning to do so here for the immediate future.

  • And with that boring pretext out of the way, allow me to bring you the following from the New York Times on Monday (from here)…

    Under federal labor law, employees have the right to join together to seek better pay and working conditions, with or without a union. If an employer tries to punish organizers, employees have the right to seek protection from the National Labor Relations Board. But employees still don’t have the right to be informed of their rights.

    Last August, the N.L.R.B. issued a rule requiring employers to post a notice in the workplace telling employees of their rights. The rule was prompted by the board’s finding that young employees, recent immigrants and workers in nonunion workplaces were generally unaware of the law’s guarantees and protections.

    The backlash was furious. The National Association of Manufacturers sued to block the rule in federal court in Washington, D.C. The United States Chamber of Commerce sued in federal court in South Carolina. In both cases, industry claimed that the law did not expressly permit the board to require employers to post a notice.

    And yes, to answer the question, those opposing the notice were acting typically ridiculous, thus inspiring this video.

    If you want to understand exactly how much this notice (at the very least) needs to be posted, click here to find out how Target has been fighting the efforts of its workforce to form a union (including making a video using unionized actors, believe it or not), click here to read how T-Mobile workers were trying to do the same thing (its parent company in Germany employs a unionized workforce, though that isn’t the case here – Dem U.S. House Rep Tim Bishop and Dem Sen. Richard Blumenthal supported the effort, as noted here), and this tells us how workers at Station Casinos started a seven-day hunger strike in an effort to unionize, and have faced a campaign of illegal intimidation and firings as a result.

  • Next, Ken Blackwell is back to attack Hillary Clinton (some things never change), including taking a shot at the new START treaty (here – in response, this tells us the following)…

    The treaty commits the former Cold War enemies to each reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 – 30% lower than the previous ceiling.

    Mr Obama said it was an important milestone, but “just one step on a longer journey” of nuclear disarmament.

    Mr Medvedev said the deal would create safer conditions throughout the world.

    If ratified by lawmakers in both countries, the treaty will replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) of 1991, which has expired.

    Update: My bad – should have noted that, despite the caterwauling of Repug Sen. Jon Kyl, the treaty was ratified by the Senate, as noted here, and a particularly brainless update is here.

    Blackwell also whines as follows…

    This is the same Russia whose foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, Hillary famously gifted with a red “Re-set” button on their first meeting. That was to signal the new administration in Washington wouldn’t fuss about Russia’s 2008 aggression against the Republic of Georgia.

    In response, this tells us how the Obama Administration, far from acting like wallflowers while the Russia/Georgia conflict simmers, brokered the following deal…

    At the end of last year, the final roadblock to Russian entry into the (World Trade Organization) was Georgia’s insistence that Russia agree to increase transparency of trade across Russia’s borders into Georgia’s breakaway autonomies of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (WTO rules allow every member the right to veto a country’s membership, and Georgia, as a member, could do so with Russia.) The August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia led to Russian military occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Moscow’s recognition of the autonomies as independent states. Even before the war, however, Russia controlled both sides of the crossings into Abkhazia and South Ossetia and staunchly refused access to either Georgia or international monitors.

    While Russian membership in the WTO has been a priority of the Obama administration’s Russia policy, the administration has also made a point not to pressure Georgia into giving its consent. The administration thus insisted to Moscow that it had to negotiate the conditions for its accession directly with Tbilisi, while it underlined to Tbilisi the importance the United States placed on a successful agreement.

    The result is, on paper, a spectacular success. The WTO agreement provides a novel mechanism for monitoring trade between Russia and Georgia across Abkhazia and South Ossetia (as well as at their third, already functioning, land crossing in undisputed territory). Both governments have agreed to report data on trade to the WTO and to affix electronic seals on outbound cargo to facilitate the tracking of goods. They have also agreed to allow a private company to confidentially monitor trade and to recommend, on the basis of that monitoring, the inspection of cargo by either party. Finally, the agreement establishes a mechanism for arbitrating disputes.

    Blackwell should really avoid anything more substantive than attacking children’s television programs, as noted here, which is actually more of his speed.

  • Finally, someone named John Hawkins at Clownhall.com presented five “devastating” numbers that supposedly show Number 44’s “incompetence” (here).

    1) The Debt rose $4.899 trillion during the two terms of the Bush presidency. It has now gone up $4.939 trillion since President Obama took office.”

    This is from an analysis from Mark Knoller of CBS News, who, as noted here, has a history of absolving Former Commander Codpiece of any financial wrongdoing and laying all blame at the feet of Number 44.

    Besides, as Media Matters points out…

    In 2001, President George W. Bush inherited a surplus, with projections by the Congressional Budget Office for ever-increasing surpluses, assuming continuation of the good economy and President Bill Clinton’s policies. But every year starting in 2002, the budget fell into deficit. In January 2009, just before President Obama took office, the budget office projected a $1.2 trillion deficit for 2009 and deficits in subsequent years, based on continuing Mr. Bush’s policies and the effects of recession. Mr. Obama’s policies in 2009 and 2010, including the stimulus package, added to the deficits in those years but are largely temporary.

    The second graph shows that under Mr. Bush, tax cuts and war spending were the biggest policy drivers of the swing from projected surpluses to deficits from 2002 to 2009. Budget estimates that didn’t foresee the recessions in 2001 and in 2008 and 2009 also contributed to deficits. Mr. Obama’s policies, taken out to 2017, add to deficits, but not by nearly as much. [The New York Times, 7/23/11]

    Continuing…

    2) This country has already lost its AAA rating, we’re 15 trillion dollars in debt, we have 100 trillion dollars in unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities…

    The reason we lost our Triple-A rating was because of the dithering of Man-Tan Boehner and that sleazy weasel Eric Cantor on raising the debt ceiling. The debt was mentioned previously, and Social Security (which, as noted here, is projected to drop off funding to about 70-80 percent in 20 years, which is still more funding than what is paid out today…more here) has nothing to do with the deficit. And yes, we need to look at Medicare, but even that isn’t the biggest driver of the debt.

    3) We’re now up to 1,091 days without a budget despite the fact that it’s the most basic function of Congress and it’s required by law.

    Oh brother – as noted here

    HONOLULU — President Obama agreed on Friday to delay a request to Congress to expand the government’s borrowing authority by $1.2 trillion, allowing lawmakers time to return from recess and register their views on it.

    The delay, which a White House official said would be only a few days, will not jeopardize the operations of the government, as last summer’s impasse over the debt ceiling did. The budget agreement of Aug. 2, which broke that deadlock, has made it highly unlikely that Congressional Republicans could block an increase in the debt limit through the 2012 election. Since signing legislation to codify that agreement, Mr. Obama has already obtained two increases totaling $900 billion.

    And as noted here, Boehner and his pals are making noise like they might renege on the debt deal later this year (figures).

    4) One of the great ironies of this election is the still rabid support that black Americans have for Barack Obama. This is kind of like Columbine High School throwing a “We Sure Do Miss You” Memorial Rally for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

    Let’s see, tasteless, racist, and utterly inaccurate all at once? Yep, pretty much.

    And as noted here

    During an exchange with Fox News analyst Juan Williams during a debate in South Carolina on Jan. 16, Gingrich defended previous statements that poor kids lack a strong work ethic, that they should be put to work as janitors (child labor laws be damned), and that black Americans should “demand jobs, not food stamps.”

    “Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?” Williams asked.

    “No,” Gingrich responded, to roaring applause and rolling laughter. “I don’t see that.”

    “It sounds as if you’re speaking to belittle people,” Williams added later in the exchange.

    “Well, first of all, Juan,” Gingrich said, “the fact is, more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.”

    This statement, while technically true, is no more reliable as a factual observation than other conservatives’ claims that Obama has governed during the highest unemployment spike in decades, or that his presidency has overseen the biggest national debt in history.

    All three statements may be true on their face, but they lay responsibility for the greatest recession since the Great Depression at the feet of a man who wasn’t even president when the economic floor caved.

    Funny, but I don’t hear Democrats questioning the work ethic of men and women of color. And I know that’s a little tangential to job numbers, but it does have something to do with stigmatizing the employment prospects for a rather significant demographic in this country.

    And in terms of economic policies that actually help African Americans, Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett said here that unemployment funds are a stimulus of sorts, earning her the right-wing umbrage noted here.

    More to the point, though, this tells us the following…

    Even here, the black employment outlook is mixed. Black men appear to have gained jobs since February 2011 in manufacturing, construction and the service sector. And while government employment held steady this month, deep staff cuts in state and local government have hit black women particularly hard. Indeed, government agencies, a sector that has slashed about 500,000 jobs since February 2010, employed just over one-quarter of black women before the recession began. That has caused the number of black women with jobs to fall, although that number held steady in February, (Bill Rodgers, a Rutgers University economist who studies inequality) said.

    The issue is spending to create demand not just to spur hiring for a racial class, but an economic class that will lift all of the proverbial boats, as it were.

    And concluding with Hawkins…

    5) The average unemployment rate during George Bush’s time in office was roughly 5.3% as compared to 8.2% today, which is part of the longest streak of over 8% unemployment since the Great Depression. However, because of the way the unemployment rate is calculated, even those horrific numbers don’t give you the full sense of the Mt. Krakatoa-like havoc that Barack Obama has wreaked on the job market.

    In response, please click here to read each of the three charts, including the last one, showing job losses from Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History and job gains under the current occupant of An Oval Office.

    Oh, and one more thing: Hawkins begins his screed with the following…

    Whether you’ve had some form of head trauma that has caused you to like Barack Obama or like all good hearted people, you can’t stand him, his performance has objectively been terrible.

    I realize that violent imagery and veiled threats of physical harm are right out of the typical right-wing playbook (along with typically pejorative, “us versus them” rhetoric about how all “good hearted” people can’t stand Obama), but I would just like for this fool Harkins to consider something here.

    This is a picture of the late actress Natasha Richardson, who died three years ago last March. She fell while on a skiing trip and, indeed, suffered the “head trauma” that Harkins apparently thinks is something to use to ridicule those with whom he disagrees. She left behind a grieving husband and two young boys.

    Find a conscience somehow, you contemptible guttersnipe.


  • Try Driving To Stay Alive Instead

    July 22, 2009

    cellphoneOver the last few days, the New York Times has provided extensive coverage on the issue of driving while talking on a cell phone (hands-on or hands-free) and texting (Matt Richtel is the author of the thorough reporting on this issue, particularly last Sunday but today also).

    Last Sunday’s report featured the following information…

    A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cell phone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.

    Yet Americans have largely ignored that research. Instead, they increasingly use phones, navigation devices and even laptops to turn their cars into mobile offices, chat rooms and entertainment centers, making roads more dangerous.

    A disconnect between perception and reality worsens the problem. New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

    Device makers and auto companies acknowledge the risks of multitasking behind the wheel, but they aggressively develop and market gadgets that cause distractions.

    Police in almost half of all states make no attempt to gather data on the problem. They are not required to ask drivers who cause accidents whether they were distracted by a phone or other device. Even when officers do ask, some drivers are not forthcoming.

    The federal government warns against talking on a cell phone while driving, but no state legislature has banned it. This year, state legislators introduced about 170 bills to address distracted driving, but passed fewer than 10.

    Five states and the District of Columbia require drivers who talk on cell phones to use hands-free devices, but research shows that using headsets can be as dangerous as holding a phone because the conversation distracts drivers from focusing on the road.

    Oh, and as noted here (and as Richtel tells us today), the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration recommended in 2002 and 2003 that cell phones not be used except in emergencies. However, as the story tells us, “that recommendation was kept from the public, partly over worries that members of Congress and other public officials would consider the proposal a move by the NHTSA that ‘crossed the line into lobbying,’” The New York Times reported, according to MSNBC (as noted here, the NHTSA administrator at the time was Dr. Jeffrey Runge).

    (Bushco, working to screw you over, as always – even though they’re gone, their wretched legacy lives on).

    The Times’ Sunday story began with the tale of Christopher Hill, a good driver and a good person by all appearances who experienced a horrendous lapse in judgment when talking on a cell phone; he ran a red light in his Ford Ranger pickup truck and didn’t notice Linda Doyle, a driver in a small sport utility vehicle, until the last second. As the story tells us, Hill hit her going 45 miles per hour (and) she was pronounced dead shortly after the accident.

    The story also tells us that David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah and a leading researcher in the field of distracted driving, said “we’ve spent billions on air bags, antilock brakes, better steering, safer cars and roads, but the number of fatalities has remained constant…Our return on investment for those billions is zero (because) we’re using devices in our cars.”

    And the story also tells us that that goes for hands-free phones also (echoing today’s findings), which also demands more of our time behind the wheel than we can spare when trying to avoid accidents on the road.

    Also…

    Some states have overcome opposition to pass restrictions. Joe Simitian, a state senator in California, managed to get his hands-free legislation, an effort he began in 2001, passed in 2006. He argued, based on data collected by the California Highway Patrol, that drivers using cell phones caused more fatalities than all the drivers distracted by eating, children, pets or personal hygiene.

    In each previous year, the bill was killed — after lobbying by cell phone carriers, including Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. Mr. Simitian said that in the first two years, he would visit the offices of his colleagues on the Transportation Committee on the day of the vote and “find three cell phone industry lobbyists sitting in the legislator’s office,” Mr. Simitian said. “They’d just smile.”

    He said they fought him even though their brochures said that distracted driving was dangerous. The exception was Verizon Wireless, which supported his efforts from the start.

    Opposition gradually eased, and his bill requiring use of headsets while driving took effect in July 2008. In the first six months the California law was in effect, a preliminary California Highway Patrol estimate showed that fatalities dropped 12.5 percent — saving 200 lives. Mr. Simitian said it was too soon to determine whether the law or other factors caused the drop.

    Mr. Simitian said one reason political opposition eased was that fellow legislators saw the dangers firsthand. “They’d come to me and say: ‘You may be bringing me around. I almost got creamed at the corner,’ ” he recalled.

    For its part, the cell phone industry trade group said it had dropped its objection to restricting cell phone use by drivers — it now is neutral on the subject — because it decided the industry should play no role in trying to shape public policy on the issue. “The change came after we had an epiphany that, if you will, we’re in the business of providing service, and how they use that service is at their discretion,” said Mr. Walls, the industry spokesman.

    But Mr. Windsor from Nationwide Mutual and others are skeptical of the cell phone industry’s explanation. They believe its position changed because its business has changed to rely less on total minutes that people spend talking. Cell phone companies’ growth is coming more from customers surfing the Internet, downloading games and using other data services — things that people typically do less of behind the wheel.

    Mr. Simitian believes that a ban on talking on cell phones while driving would save even more lives. But he hasn’t proposed one, and has no plans to. “It’s a political nonstarter,” he said. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before people give up their phones altogether in cars.”

    At this point, I need to share the following observation. We recently drove the Doomsymobile to the Jersey shore and back as well as to the Phillies game and back on Monday and counted about half a dozen people playing with their cell phones looking to retrieve messages, check a contact list, or God knows what else. And they were doing this both while stuck in traffic and trying to maintain their speed on the highway (and I’ve lost count of the number of distracted drivers I have to share the road with who are engrossed in cell phone conversations).

    (I don’t know if anyone else out there besides me is old enough to remember this, but back when high schools offered driver education – I don’t know whether that has been chopped from school budgets or not, but if it has, it should be reinstituted – a requirement of the training was to watch this horrendously scary short film called “Signal 30” I believe, which shows the aftermath of an auto accident. As far as I’m concerned, this should be required viewing for anyone attempting to receive a driver’s license.)

    Now that I’m finished with my rant on this subject, I’ll provide this link to a post with extensive information on PA cell phone legislation, and this tells us of a cell phone driving bill that was recently defeated in the PA State House by a narrow margin (and yes, people do a whole host of nutty things behind the wheel, and I’ll admit that I haven’t exactly been a “saint” either at times, but the amendment offered by Rep Chris Ross concerning “changing the CD in a car, eating or drinking while driving, shaving, putting on makeup and driving with your pet animal on your lap” is just a bit of overkill).

    I realize that, ultimately, what we are trying to do here is legislate good behavior (a quixotic effort at best, I know), particularly given that the whole “gadgets” biz cares only about feeding our perceived need to endanger our lives while we entertain ourselves (and a spot-on column by MoDo today amplifies that point also).

    What we need, however, is a “push back” of common sense in response (and let us all hope and pray for no more lost lives before that day finally arrives).


    A Cell Phone Conundrum And The Wireless Wrangle

    January 5, 2009

    angry_cell_phone_user_1_t250I found this item in Parade Magazine yesterday, which tells us what many have known for some time; namely, that for all of the invention and entrepreneurship that went into the development of the Internet and personal computers in this country, the exact opposite has happened in the area of cell phone technology…

    Cellphones in the U.S. transmit data more slowly than phones in Europe and have fewer features than those in Asia, where you can make calls on the subway or use your handset like a credit card. According to Kent German of Cnet.com, a technology website, “The U.S. is going to be behind for a long time.”

    Why? Competition. Carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, a network that works in a completely different way from CDMA, the one used by Sprint and Verizon. Phones are not compatible across networks, and customers can’t roam between them. Because Europe and many countries in Asia decided years ago to adopt a single cellular network, GSM, their infrastructure works with all kinds of phones, and developers can add more bells and whistles.

    German also tells us that, because there was no standard network agreed upon by Sprint and Verizon, it will be harder to develop across platforms than upon a single environment.

    All of this makes me scratch my head a bit as I read the following from Larry Magid, the technology correspondent from CBS News, who tells us here that…

    Even though most phones from (Sprint and Verizon) are configured to access cellular networks that are totally incompatible with the GSM (Global System for Mobil) networks used in Europe, Australia, parts of Asia, Africa and much of the rest of world, both companies do offer phones that are also capable of accessing GSM networks overseas.

    To enable GSM, you need a Subscriber Identity Module (or SIM) Card. All GSM-compatible phones have a slot for this card, as Magid tells us.

    However, get a load of this (in the third paragraph)…

    Sprint’s world phones are unlocked, which means you can buy a SIM card in the local country and pay much lower rates. In some cases, it costs as little as 10 or 15 cents a minute for outgoing calls and nothing for incoming calls.

    The Verizon phone is locked, but upon request Verizon can provide an unlocked code. There are also third parties and Internet sites that, for a one-time fee, will unlock most but not all locked GSM phones or provide you a code to unlock it yourself. I’ve used, an independent cell phone dealer to unlock phones that I and family members have used when traveling overseas.

    When you’re using a SIM card you buy abroad, callers have to dial into the country where you bought the card. So if you bought a SIM card in Spain, callers would have to dial a Spanish phone number to reach you. If you then traveled to France and bought a French SIM card, they would have to dial a French number.

    However…

    Another option, especially useful if you plan to travel to different countries, is to purchase a global SIM card. Sim4Travel.com and GoSim.com sell cards that can be used in most countries at rates starting at about 60 cents a minute to call back to the United States. It may not be as inexpensive as buying a local SIM card, but you get to use the same number in each country and it’s cheaper than paying international roaming rates through your U.S. carrier.

    For the purposes of disclosure, I should point out that I don’t do a lot of travelling in my job, and it has not involved overseas travel to date. I imagine that a tech-savvy traveler can figure out how to negotiate using a wireless device across multiple countries and continents. But, as a third-party observer to this situation, I think having to buy a SIM card in each country I happen to visit is pretty damn silly (and the “workaround for a nominal fee” of buying the global GSM card sounds to me like something else you shouldn’t have to pay for).

    With this in mind, I’ll defer to Wall Mossberg of the Murdoch Street Journal here, who, though he seems to summarize this situation nicely, blames the wrong people for the problem…

    …it’s intolerable that the same country that produced (all kinds of innovative PC and web-based technologies) has trapped its citizens in a backward, stifling system when it comes to the next great technology platform, the cellphone.

    A shortsighted and often just plain stupid federal government has allowed itself to be bullied and fooled by a handful of big wireless phone operators for decades now. And the result has been a mobile phone system that is the direct opposite of the PC model. It severely limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, crushes entrepreneurship, and has made the U.S. the laughingstock of the mobile-technology world, just as the cellphone is morphing into a powerful hand-held computer.

    Oh, right, I forgot; we’re talking about the Murdoch Street Journal here, so it’s imperative that “government” be blamed for the greed and short-sighted ignorance of the carriers who are supposed to be the technological innovators in this scenario.

    And as long as the Journal has spoken out so eloquently about the importance of PC and web innovation in this country by helping to foster “one of the greatest technological revolutions in human history, as well as one of the greatest spurts of wealth creation and of consumer empowerment,” you would think they would be equally dedicated to the cause of Net Neutrality, wouldn’t you?

    Well, as Tim Karr, campaign director for SaveTheInternet.com told us here a couple of weeks ago…

    We are now on the cusp of making history for an open Internet. But don’t tell that to the Wall Street Journal, which today published an article that portrayed the movement for Net Neutrality as losing steam.

    Say what?

    Contrary to claims of the Journal that Net Neutrality forces are receding, we are actually closer now than ever before to victory. We have arrived at the moment when Net Neutrality has its greatest appeal, clearest need, and best chance of becoming law.

    Our opponents will try to divide and distract us. But now is not the time to retreat but to move forward.

    Yep, true to form, the Journal, in its best “concern troll” mode, wants to help propagate the lie that the forces in favor of Net Neutrality are all but ready to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as it were, by (as Mossberg did) giving a pass to the parties truly at fault, as others have done concerning the telcos and their stifling of cell phone technology in this country by failing to adopt the GSM standard already used throughout much of the world.

    Government isn’t innocent, I know, but it also isn’t responsible for the technology itself. However, you can bet that they will be blamed by Mossberg (a tech-savvy guy otherwise) and his brethren all the same.


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