Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5175 on: Oct 3rd, 2011, 08:55am »
New York Times
October 2, 2011 Now Earthbound, After Years of Fighting Wind and Fire By WILLIAM YARDLEY
WINTHROP, Wash. — Kristy Longanecker smiled while her husband fell from the clear blue sky.
“He got to live his dream,” said Ms. Longanecker, barely bothering to watch. “I’m envious of that sometimes. How many people get to live their dream?”
So ended jump No. 896 — one final shock to the skeleton, one final perfect parachute roll, a practice run with no more reason to practice. Last month, Dale Longanecker turned 57, the mandatory retirement age for firefighters employed by the United States Forest Service. Friday was his last day on the job, and his was not just another retirement.
Mr. Longanecker has spent 38 years as one of the most elite of his kind, a smoke jumper. He has parachuted out of airplanes into some of the most remote wildfires in the West carrying little more than a shovel, a gallon of water and a bottle of ibuprofen. He was 19 when he made his first jump, and the Forest Service says his 896 jumps — 362 of which were into fires — are a record that may never be broken. Sometimes, he might stay in the woods for a night to fight a fire. At others, he would be gone for two weeks, off all but celestial grids.
“Honey,” he would inquire via satellite phone, “did you check the sprinklers?”
He grew up here in eastern Washington, where the Cascade Range gives way to the dry hills of the Methow Valley. His father was a beekeeper. His mother raised him and his five brothers and sisters. He said he was 8 when he decided on a career.
“When I was growing up there was the mill, the fish hatchery and other stuff like that,” Mr. Longanecker said. “And I remember going, ‘I think I want to smoke-jump.’ ”
His older brothers jumped for a few seasons, then moved on to other things. Mr. Longanecker stayed, and he has spent the past four decades on the front lines of an evolving federal wildfire policy. Long ago he was told to put out every fire as quickly as possible. More recently the message has been to let some burn naturally for the sake of forest health.
“In the long run I think it’s the way to do it,” he said, “because if there were no humans here, it would burn.”
But he said he would not be surprised if policy shifted again, because humans are here: “If we let it burn, it will all burn.”
He says he has seen climate change up close, from shrinking glaciers to expanding fires and fire seasons. The summers are hotter.
“We had a high of 109 here at the base one year,” he said. “That was unheard of when I was a kid.”
He has dropped into fires from Alaska to Colorado and in Canada. He once broke both ankles when shifting winds complicated a landing on a mountainside. He has survived fires that have killed co-workers, led to investigations and been written about in books.
When he was just doing his job, it was rarely glamorous. Often fires were less than a tenth of an acre, started by a lightning strike from the storms that ride north past Lake Chelan in central Washington. Within minutes after a crew had jumped out of a plane going 100 miles an hour at an altitude of 1,500 feet, his younger colleagues would see him stooped over just like they were, sweating and snorting and digging in the smoke, trying to cut a line in the land that the flames could not cross.
Laurie Meyers, a childhood friend who stopped by the red Quonset hut that for decades has been the base for the North Cascades Smokejumpers, dropped off a gift bag that she said contained ice cream. “I just came to say thanks for protecting us for so long,” she said. (A closer look in the bag revealed Bacardi rum.)
The base here in Winthrop claims to be the “birthplace of smoke jumping.” A larger base in Missoula, Mont., might dispute that, but no one disputes Mr. Longanecker’s record.
Along the way to setting it, he also became nimble with a sewing machine, customizing Kevlar jumpsuits for himself and the 30 other jumpers based here. He learned to pack and then to design parachutes. He has refined buckles and harnesses to make them lighter. Not once has he had to use his emergency parachute.
His last jump into a fire was on Aug. 10, a small blaze in the Little Bridge Creek area. It was the same area where Francis Lufkin, his next-door neighbor as a boy and one of his childhood heroes, made what local people say was one of the first smoke jumps ever, in 1939. “It just worked out that way,” Mr. Longanecker said.
Many jumpers are seasonal workers who leave in the winter. Mr. Longanecker has stayed in place. Over the years he has spent his winters helping shape and groom more than 50 miles of cross-country trails in the nearby Loup Loup ski area. Staying in shape has helped when it comes time to take the annual smoke jumper’s physical, which includes running one and a half miles in less than 11 minutes.
“I remember being about 35 and realizing, ‘Wow, I’m going to have to start working at this,’ ” he said.
Mr. Longanecker said he would focus more on the ski trails now that he has retired, but he will also stay connected to fire. He has developed a prototype for a parachute that he hopes the Forest Service will adopt. The new design will improve maneuverability, he said, and make for “softer landings.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5177 on: Oct 3rd, 2011, 1:38pm »
Wired Threat Level
Devil’s Mountain: NSA’s Abandoned Cold-War Listening Post By Kim Zetter October 3, 2011 | 6:30 am Categories: Surveillance
At the height of the Cold War, a hill in West Berlin known as Teufelsberg (Devil's Mountain) served as the perfect spot for U.S. and British intelligence agents to turn an ear on East Berlin and Soviet communications. In its glory days, state-of-the-art listening towers and rotating antennas at the Teufelsberg spy station exposed the Communist Bloc's secrets to analysts and linguists from the U.S. Army and the U.K.'s Government Communications Headquarters. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Teufelsberg was abandoned to decay, graffiti artists and weekend partiers.
The U.S. Army Security Agency (ASA) began its first SIGINT operations at Teufelsberg in 1961 after discovering that the 380-foot hill offered unobstructed collection of communication signals. As the facility grew and more buildings were constructed, the U.S. National Security Agency joined in on the spy operations.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5178 on: Oct 3rd, 2011, 1:41pm »
ABC News, Yahoo Announce Partnership 6:20 AM PDT 10/3/2011 by Georg Szalai
They will launch GoodMorningAmerica.com and Newsmakers as Yahoo News and ABC News reach a combined audience of more than 100 million people in the U.S. each month. NEW YORK - ABC News and Yahoo on Monday unveiled a strategic alliance focused on online news programming designed for the Web.
Among other things, GoodMorningAmerica.com will launch on Yahoo in a model that is set to allow audiences to continue conversations before, during and after the broadcast.
Yahoo’s and ABC News’ slate of online video programming kicks off Monday with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos' interview with President Obama live from the White House as part of a new series called Newsmakers.
Yahoo News and ABC News reach a combined audience of more than 100 million people in the U.S. each month on PCs, mobile devices and tablets, the companies said.
“This relationship will give ABC News an unrivaled ability to reach across the Web, combining Yahoo’s vast distribution and cutting-edge technology with our award-winning journalism,” said Ben Sherwood, president of ABC News. “For years, we've proudly proclaimed that more Americans get their news from ABC News than any other source. Going forward, we will greatly expand this leadership by building a connection with a whole new online audience.”
"This unmatched alliance creates a powerful news experience that provides people greater access to compelling news and information, including more original news video online than ever before," they said.
“Yahoo is committed to building the richest set of premium and personalized content experiences for our users," said Ross Levinsohn, executive vp, Americas, here on Monday. "Our deep collaboration with ABC News further strengthens Yahoo! as the No. 1 online news source, greatly enhancing our already robust news content."
Under the new partnership, ABC News content will be prominently integrated into Yahoo News, the Yahoo front page, and other parts of the Yahoo network.
Newsmakers is described as an original interview series that kicks off later in the day with the President Obama interview at 2:35pm. The entire interview will stream live on Yahoo.com and ABCNews.com.
Other original Web shows are Around the World with Christiane Amanpour, which the correspondent said in a press conference will allow to explore key issues that don't always get enough TV exposure, and This Could Be Big, which will glimpse into the future of innovation and will be anchored by Nightline's Bill Weir each week.
"On TV, time is not always your friend," Katie Couric echoed Amanpour in highlighting the opportunity to provide additional news coverage online.
Additional programs will debut in the coming months and throughout 2012, the companies said.
The companies' editorial teams will also work together to develop premium news content and co-produce coverage for major news events. Also, they will have integrated bureaus in New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles, with Yahoo editorial staff and content set to appear on air.
The partners will also offer premium online video advertising opportunities.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5179 on: Oct 3rd, 2011, 1:46pm »
Korean Designers Invent Wi-Fi Enabled Corks By Glenn Santos on Monday 3rd October 2011 7:04 am in Design, Gadgets
Ah wine, beverage of the old gods. No other alcoholic beverage feels as good as a glass of wine at meal time. But for wine to soothe your senses of taste, it needs the right temperature. Usually corks do this job well enough, but two designers have come up with a better solution.
Kwang Wi Park and Eun Ji Lim, as designers are wont, have conceived of an alternative to age old corks. Like designers the world over, they usually go ahead and design it first before quibbling over the engineering side. Theirs is a “digital bottle stopper” that monitors the temperature of the wine and notifies you when it’s ready to serve.
This might be very feasible for wine connoisseurs who don’t have the benefit of a good size cellar. See, nothing can beat a cellar—or having your own vineyard for that matter. Alas, since wine can only be grown in specific environments, it’s best to enjoy whatever bottles you have and store them correctly.
As concepts go, these bottle stoppers won’t be enjoying a debut soon. There’s absolutely no word if any manufacturer will go the distance and build them. At least it addresses a viable conundrum for a large market.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5180 on: Oct 3rd, 2011, 1:50pm »
Observations HomeAboutContact Nearly 400 Accidents with Dangerous Pathogens and Bio-Toxins Reported in U.S. Labs over Seven Years By Katherine Harmon October 3, 2011
A workplace accident might mean a paper cut or spilled coffee for many—or even loss of life or limb for others. For a select few scientists, however, a little slipup on the job could release a deadly virus or toxin into the environment.
Some 395 reported “potential release events” of “select agents” occurred in U.S. government laboratories between 2003 and 2009, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) reported. “Select agent” is government-speak for a biological agent or toxin that is considered to pose “a severe threat” to human, animal or plant health—or livestock and agricultural products. Special approval from the government is required to handle these agents and toxins, and that can only happen in specially equipped labs.
Not all labs, of course, are of the Contagion and Outbreak biosafety level-4 ilk that handle mega-killers such as Ebola and smallpox. But there are plenty of other organisms studied in government labs that can easily infect and sicken humans if an accidental release occurs.
Just what were these little incidents? Most (196) were an unspecified “loss of containment.” There were also 77 reported spills and 46 accidental needle sticks or other “sharps” injuries, according to unpublished data collected in 2010 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With all of these incidents, however, only seven lab-acquired infections were reported: four Brucella melitensis (which also infects cows and sheep), two Francisella tularensis (also known as rabbit fever, which is a class A, highly virulent bacterium) and one case of San Joaquin Valley Fever (Coccidioides, an infectious fungus).
These CDC mishaps are described as part of a National Research Council (NRC) review published earlier this month in preparation for assessing the risks of a proposed bio-research facility at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md. (The CDC plans to publish a more detailed analysis of potential releases in early 2012, CIDRAP noted.)
The proposed Medical Countermeasures Test and Evaluation facility, which would be about 45 miles west of Baltimore and 50 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., includes plans to conduct primate and rodent research on the Ebola virus disease (EVD), along with Marburg virus (MARV), anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) and the bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis).
According to the NRC’s review, the current proposed risk-assessment strategies for the facility aren’t quite up to par and fail to consider “the full range of potential occupational exposures.” And because the plans for the facility itself have yet to be finalized, the review team cautioned that “differences in design have the potential to increase risk.”
Even before the new review was released, many residents in the area expressed “a great deal of concern” about the possibility of these pathogens coming to town, according to the NRC committee, which was led by Charles Haas, head of the civil, architectural and environmental engineering department at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The U.S. Army, which runs the fort’s biodefense campus and is in charge of the $584-million project, explains that this sort of research is necessary to develop vaccines against bioterrorism attacks. “It fulfills the development process for medical countermeasures,” George Ludwig, principal assistant for research and technology at Fort Detrick, told The Frederick News last year. “The facility is designed to meet a broad national need.”
Before the groundbreaking—scheduled for 2014—the Army should take another look at its plans to keep workplace accidents at this facility to a minimum, the NRC team noted. Even the council acknowledged “the goal is not risk elimination but reduction of the risk to an acceptable and manageable level.” Nevertheless, given the pocked track record of other government “select agent” labs, the NRC committee concluded that the current plans are not “sufficiently robust to assist the Army in designing a facility that will reduce the risk from potential hazards.” And an accidental prick of the wrong needle there could certainly have more grave implications than even the most severe desktop stapler injury.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5181 on: Oct 4th, 2011, 08:21am »
New York Times
October 4, 2011 Studies of Universe’s Expansion Win Physics Nobel By DENNIS OVERBYE
Three astronomers won the Nobel prize on Tuesday for discovering that the universe is apparently being blown apart by a mysterious force that cosmologists now call dark energy. They are Saul Perlmutter of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., Brian P. Schmidt of the Australian National University in Weston Creek, Australia, and Adam G. Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
They were the leaders of two competing teams of astronomers who were trying to use the exploding stars known as Type 1a supernovae as cosmic lighthouses to measure the expansion of the universe. They were hoping to measure how fast the universe, which has been expanding since its fiery birth in the Big Bang 14 billion years ago, was slowing down, and thus to find out if its ultimate fate was to fall back together in what is called a Big Crunch or not. Instead, they reported in 1998, it was inexplicably speeding up, a conclusion that nobody would have accepted if not for the fact that both groups wound up with the same answer.
At the time, “We were a little scared,” Dr. Schmidt said. Subsequent cosmological measurements have confirmed that roughly 70 percent of the universe by mass or energy consists of this antigravitational dark energy.
The most likely explanation for this bizarre behavior is a fudge factor Albert Einstein introduced into his equations in 1917 to stabilize he universe against collapse and then abandoned as his greatest blunder. “Every test we have made has come out perfectly in line with Einstein’s original cosmological constant in 1917,” Dr. Schmidt said.
Quantum theory predicts that empty space should exert a repulsive force, like dark energy, but one that is 10120 times stronger than what the astronomers have measured, leaving some physicists mumbling about multiple universes.
Lawrence M. Krauss, a cosmologist at Arizona State University said, “The discovery that the universe is dominated by the energy of empty space has changed everything in cosmology. Nothing could, literally, not be more exciting, because now we know nothing is almost everything!”
In the years since then the three astronomers have shared a number of awards.
Dr. Perlmutter, who led the Supernova Cosmology Project out of Berkeley, will get half of the 1.5 million Swedish kronor prize. The other half will go to Dr. Schmidt, leader of the rival High-Z Supernova Search Team, and Dr. Riess, who was the lead author of the 1998 paper in Science, in which the dark energy result was first published. They will get their prizes in Stockholm on Dec. 10.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5182 on: Oct 4th, 2011, 08:30am »
Emails show top Justice Department officials knew of ATF gun program
Memos from 2010 show some in senior positions were aware of tactics used in a surveillance operation in which firearms were allowed into Mexico in a failed effort to catch drug cartel leaders.
By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau 9:32 PM PDT, October 3, 2011 Reporting from Washington
Senior Justice Department officials were aware that ATF agents allowed firearms to be "walked" into Mexico, according to a series of emails last year in which they discussed two undercover operations on the Southwest border, including the failed Fast and Furious program.
In the emails that the department turned over to congressional investigators, Justice Department officials last October discussed both the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking surveillance operation in Phoenix and a separate investigation from 2006 and 2007 called Operation Wide Receiver. In Wide Receiver, which took place in Tucson, firearms also were acquired by illegal straw purchasers and lost in Mexico, the emails say.
The term "gun walking" is central to the failure of Fast and Furious. Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives purposely allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers, hoping to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders and arrest them. But they lost track of more than 2,000 weapons, and the Mexican government says some of them have turned up at about 170 crime scenes there. Two were recovered at the scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent's slaying in Arizona in December.
Justice Department officials have said repeatedly that they knew nothing of Fast and Furious tactics until ATF whistle-blowers went public this year with allegations that guns were being illegally purchased with the ATF's knowledge.
Justice Department officials, who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing investigations into Fast and Furious, said that although senior department officials knew that guns were "walked" in the Wide Receiver investigation, they were unaware that ATF agents were using similar tactics in Fast and Furious.
Jason Weinstein, deputy attorney general in the criminal division, brought up both cases in an October 2010 email, apparently concerned that they were going to overlap.
"Do you think we should try to have Lanny participate in press when Fast and Furious and [the] Tucson case are unsealed?" he asked about his boss, Lanny A. Breuer, head of the criminal division. "It's a tricky case given the number of guns that have walked but it is a significant set of prosecutions."
James Trusty, acting chief of the department's organized crime and gang section, responded, "I think so but the timing is tricky too."
He said the Tucson case would be ready for indictments before Fast and Furious, and that "it's not clear how much we're involved in the main F and F case."
Either way, he added that "it's not going to be any big surprise that a bunch of US guns are being used in MX, so I'm not sure how much grief we get for 'guns walking.' It may be more like, 'Finally they're going after people who sent guns down there' "
Investigators working for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, view the emails as strong evidence that Justice Department officials knew about "gun walking" tactics in Fast and Furious.
Fast and Furious ran from fall 2009 to January, culminating in charges against 20 people — none of them cartel leaders. It was unclear whether any indictments were issued in the Wide Receiver operation.
July 2010 memos, part of weekly reports, discussed an illegal straw purchaser in Fast and Furious who bought 1,500 weapons "that were then supplied to Mexican drug-trafficking cartels."
October and November memos said that "Phoenix-based 'Operation Fast and Furious' is ready for takedown" — several months before the investigation was officially closed.
Copies of all of the memos were heavily redacted.
Justice Department officials said Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. routinely received reports about myriad ongoing investigations around the country, and that the reports did not disclose that ATF agents were purposely "walking" the weapons. They said Issa received a similar Fast and Furious update last year.
But congressional investigators said the memos suggested Holder had hedged what he knew.
According to the emails, Holder was told generally about Fast and Furious in the memos in July, October and November 2010, well before he told congressional committees he had first learned of the program.
On March 10, Holder testified before a Senate subcommittee that he had just learned about the Fast and Furious gun-walking allegations and had asked for the inspector general's investigation. "We cannot have a situation where guns are allowed to walk," he said.
On May 3, he was asked by Issa when he first learned about Fast and Furious. "I'm not sure of the exact date," Holder testified. "But I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."
Justice Department officials said Holder was referring to the date when he first learned about the operational details of Fast and Furious, not the program itself.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5184 on: Oct 4th, 2011, 12:40pm »
Wired Danger Room
Watch: ‘Invisibility Cloak’ Uses Mirages to Make Objects Vanish By Mark Brown, Wired.co.uk October 4, 2011 | 10:20 am Categories: Bizarro
Researchers from the University of Dallas in Texas have hijacked one of nature’s most intriguing phenomena — the mirage — to make an invisibility cloak. It can hide objects from view, works best underwater and even has a near-instant on/off switch.
To understand how it works, you need to first grasp the basics of the mirage effect. This unusual experience, sometimes seen in the desert or on hot roads during the summer, can trick your brain into seeing objects that aren’t really there.
It happens when a big change in temperature over a small distance bends light rays so they’re sent towards the eye rather than bouncing off the surface. So if you see a pool of blue water in the middle of the desert it’s just the blue sky being redirected from the warm ground and sent directly into your eye. Your brain, being the clever little computer that it is, swaps this mad image out for something more sensible: a pool of water.
With that in mind, the researchers wanted to find a material that has an exceptional ability to conduct heat and quickly transfer it to surrounding areas to mimic the light-distorting temperature gradients of the desert. That material, they found, was sheets of carbon nanotubes.
The nanotubes — one-molecule-thick sheets of carbon wrapped up into cylindrical tube — have the density of air but the strength of steel. They’re also excellent conductors, making them an ideal material to exploit the “mirage effect.”
Through electrical stimulation, the transparent sheet of highly aligned nanotubes can be quickly heated to high temperatures. By transferring that heat to its surrounding areas, a steep temperature gradient is generated, which causes the light rays to bend away from the object concealed behind the device. Therefore, the object appears invisible.
“It is remarkable to see this cloaking device demonstrated in real life and on a workable scale,” said a spokesperson for the Institute of Physics. “The array of applications that could arise from this device, besides cloaking, is a testament to the excellent work of the authors.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5185 on: Oct 4th, 2011, 12:45pm »
Congress Proposes To Legalize Robot Drone Assaults On Cell Phone Users
by Kirsten Boyd Johnson 1:00 pm October 4, 2011
Congress seems to feel that the record number 82% of Americans who hate their guts is still Not Enough, so the House is proposing a sneaky little update to the ancient Communications Act of 1934 that would finally allow the Satanic cavalcade of political campaigns and action committees to launch their ritual election season ear-rape attacks on millions of mobile phone users with incessant demands for cash/help/sex. Currently the wicked lizard political solicitors are still limited to robo-calling the dwindling reserves of American land line numbers that sane people long ago abandoned specifically to avoid this kind of annoying bullshit. But not for long!
The “Mobile Informational Call Act” is an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934 and will allow political organizations, committees, and action groups to contact you on your mobile phone. The new bill, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President, would allow political organizations to use automated dialers and robocall-systems to dial your cell phone and hand you off to a live person or play automated messages asking you to contribute to political campaigns or take surveys.
The result, should the bill pass and become law, is that you’ll be able to opt-out of specific campaigns and group calling lists, but political organizations that get your number through petitions, calling lists, or affiliated organizations will be able to call your mobile phone whenever they choose.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5186 on: Oct 4th, 2011, 5:17pm »
Related to the last post, here is a focus on the bill-collection end of it......
Obama Wants to Ease Way for Debt Collectors to Call Cellphones
Published October 04, 2011 Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- To the dismay of consumer groups and the discomfort of Democrats, President Obama wants Congress to make it easier for private debt collectors to call the cellphones of consumers delinquent on student loans and other billions owed the federal government. The change "is expected to provide substantial increases in collections, particularly as an increasing share of households no longer have landlines and rely instead on cellphones," the administration wrote recently. The little-noticed recommendation would apply only to cases in which money is owed the government, and is tucked into the mammoth $3 trillion deficit-reduction plan the president submitted to Congress. Despite the claim, the administration has not yet developed an estimate of how much the government would collect, and critics reject the logic behind the recommendation. "Enabling robo-calls (to cellphones) is just going to lead to more harassment and abuse, and it's not going to help the government collect more money," said Lauren Saunders of the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center. "People aren't paying their student loans because they can't find a job." Whatever the impact on the budget deficit, the proposal has aligned the White House with the private debt collection industry -- frequently the subject of consumer complaints -- at a time when the economy is weak, unemployment is high and Obama is embarking on his campaign for re-election. Democrats in Congress who frequently support the president, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, declined through aides to say whether they favor or oppose the plan. Nor was there any reaction from two other members of the party's leadership in the Senate, Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York. Both men frequently take the side of consumers in legislative struggles. Several aides, speaking on condition of anonymity so they could talk freely, said Democrats do not want to oppose the president but are unable to support the request. Mark Schiffman, a spokesman for ACA International, an industry trade association, said the administration "basically has come to the same solution we have" at a time when an increasing number of Americans have no landline phone to receive calls. The change "is something we have been advocating for," he said, although he added his organization did not have direct discussions with administration officials in advance. Schiffman noted that debt collectors have long been allowed to make robo-calls to landline phones. He said automatic dialing is a more efficient way to contact consumers who are overdue in their payments, and the industry wants it allowed in all cases, not solely those involving debts owed to the government, as Obama has proposed. Legislation along those lines was introduced in the House last week. Federal law currently permits private debt collectors to use automatic dialing in trying to contact consumers on their landline phones. They also are permitted to make individually-dialed calls to some cellphones. The request comes at a time when the government is looking for ways to collect tens of billions of dollars. According to a report by the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service, the Education and the Health and Human Services departments as well as FMS itself referred debts totaling $35.9 billion to private debt collectors in the 2010 fiscal year. The Education Department accounted for the largest share by far -- $28.8 billion referred to 22 private debt collection companies. The firms collected $685 million outright, and another $1.7 billion was recast into agreements that are designed to be paid monthly, according to the report. Education Department officials did not respond to several requests to speak on the record about the proposal. According to written responses the department provided to questions, it hires private collection agencies in part so the government can gain "the benefits of greater collections" through the use of new technology that is developed by private industry. Collection agencies can receive a fee of as much as 17.5 percent of the amount they recover. A different federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission, collects extensive records about the private debt collection industry in general. "The FTC receives more complaints about the debt collection industry than any other specific industry," according to an annual report to Congress, more than 100,000 in 2010. The complaints fall into several categories, citing alleged harassment, demands for impermissibly large payments, failure to provide required consumer notice and threatening dire consequences such as jail time.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5187 on: Oct 4th, 2011, 5:48pm »
"Obama Wants to Ease Way for Debt Collectors to Call Cellphones
Published October 04, 2011 Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- To the dismay of consumer groups and the discomfort of Democrats, President Obama wants Congress to make it easier for private debt collectors to call the cellphones of consumers delinquent on student loans and other billions owed the federal government. The change "is expected to provide substantial increases in collections, particularly as an increasing share of households no longer have landlines and rely instead on cellphones," the administration wrote recently. The little-noticed recommendation would apply only to cases in which money is owed the government, and is tucked into the mammoth $3 trillion deficit-reduction plan the president submitted to Congress. Despite the claim, the administration has not yet developed an estimate of how much the government would collect, and critics reject the logic behind the recommendation. "Enabling robo-calls (to cellphones) is just going to lead to more harassment and abuse, and it's not going to help the government collect more money,"
Thanks Swamprat. Get yourself a VERY LOUD whistle and keep it by your cell phone. If someone calls that you don't like, blow that sucker into the cell phone until they stop calling. It works really well, believe me! I have a Bobby's whistle and it is LOUD!
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5188 on: Oct 5th, 2011, 09:39am »
New York Times
October 5, 2011 Greek Workers Strike to Protest Austerity Program By NIKI KITSANTONIS
ATHENS — In the first general strike since June, thousands of Greeks walked off the job on Wednesday to protest a relentless austerity drive by the government, which is struggling to avert a default that could shake the euro zone and global markets.
Two separate rallies — one organized by the country’s two main labor unions and the other by the Communist Party — drew roughly 13,000 protesters, police officials estimated. The organizers said at least twice as many people gathered for the two demonstrations.
Men and women shouted “traitors” and “employees of Merkel,” a reference to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, at riot police in central Athens, while a crowd of younger protesters chanted “cops, pigs, murderers” — the Greek anarchists’ slogan.
By early afternoon, sporadic clashes had broken out between riot police and dozens of masked youths, some wearing gas masks, who hurled chunks of stone at police officers guarding Parliament, at Athens University and outside luxury hotels on the fringes of the capital’s central Constitution Square.
Most international travel was halted, with all scheduled flights into and out of the country canceled, the national rail service was suspended and ferries remained in their ports. Public transportation in the capital and other major cities was to run on a limited service to enable workers to attend protest rallies. Tax offices, courts and schools shut down for the day and hospitals were operating with only emergency staff.
The strike was called by the country’s two main labor unions, which represent about 2.5 million workers and have led resistance to the latest measures. These include additional taxes, further cuts to civil servants’ pay and pensions and a controversial plan to cut 30,000 jobs in the public sector which employs about 10 percent of Greek workers.
Protesters sardonically invoked Mrs. Merkel’s name in reference to the central role played by Germany in resolving Greece’s fiscal crisis. Lawmakers in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, voted last week to expand the bailout fund for heavily indebted European countries, a necessary step in approving a second bailout for Greece, a 110-billion-euro package agreed to in principle by European Union leaders in July.
The Greek finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, who is trying to convince foreign auditors that Greece is getting its financial house in order, said on Tuesday that the government could only meet a budget deficit target for 2011, revised up to 8.5 percent of gross domestic product from 7.6 percent, if the Greek public unites behind the cutbacks.
“If state mechanisms don’t work and if we don’t have the cooperation of the public, we may have problems with the 8.5 percent target,” Mr. Venizelos said. In a nod to widespread tax evasion, he also appealed to Greeks to pay their taxes.
But national solidarity has been in short supply. Protests against the new measures have been vehement and the two main labor unions already have called a second strike for Oct. 19, ahead of planned votes on the new measures in Parliament. The votes are expected to be close as the governing Socialist Party has a majority of only four in the country’s 300-seat Parliament and some lawmakers are said to be wavering.
The strongest opposition is from the civil servants whom the government depends on to push through many of the changes such as the collection of additional taxes. Angry public sector workers have staged sit-ins this week at several government offices, including the Finance Ministry and Labor Ministry, thwarting the efforts of foreign inspectors to complete their audit.
The results of the audit by officials of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, known as the troika, will determine whether Greece receives the latest in a series of rescue loans. Without the release of an 8 billion euro installment — part of the 110 billion euro rescue package — Greece will run out of money to pay state salaries and pensions by mid-November, Mr. Venizelos said on Tuesday. Government officials had said last month that state coffers would run dry by mid-October.
A decision on the disbursement of the funding, originally scheduled to be made on Oct. 13 by euro zone ministers, has been put off until November, Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg and head of the euro zone finance ministers, said late on Monday, noting that the troika needed more time to complete its report.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5189 on: Oct 5th, 2011, 12:10pm »
Good Samaritan mistakes Jupiter for distress flare
Lifeboat crews launched a rescue mission after a member of the public reported seeing distress flares over the North Sea that turned out to be the planet Jupiter.
5:43PM BST 05 Oct 2011
Tynemouth RNLI and a RAF helicopter were called out at 7.45pm on Monday to locate a potentially troubled vessel six miles off the coast of Tynemouth Longsands, North Tyneside.
They saw a number of fishing boats making their way back to the Tyne but an extensive search proved fruitless.
And after an hour out at sea it was found that the informant had mistaken the bright sparks of Jupiter for flares.
Adrian Don, from Tynemouth RNLI, said: "As the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade spoke further to the member of the public it became apparent that the flares were in fact the planet Jupiter which is very low in the sky at this time of year.
"There were several stars visible in the sky at the time.
"But we were able to plot the position of Jupiter and discovered it was where the caller had reported seeing the distress flare.
"Jupiter gives off a bright red light which could be mistaken for flames.
"And the fact that it was also partly covered by clouds could have possibly given it the appearance of a flare."
Kevin Mole, from RNLI Tynemouth, who was part of the rescue mission, said: "There were about six or seven stars visible in the area at the time.
"But because of the clouds they could have been mistaken for a flare.
"We were out searching for about an hour before we were told to head back."
Despite the false alarm, the RNLI said that it was made with the "best intentions" and stressed that it had not been a prank call.
Mr Don added:"The RNLI stresses that although this was a false alarm it was made with the best intentions, and urges anyone who thinks they've seen anyone possibly in distress at sea to do the same."