What’s Up May 27, 2013?

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· The Honor of Muslims The honor of Muslims is the Syria that stands up, doubly insurgent, fighting on two fronts: that of a dictatorship that has become insane, killing with a vengeance (conservative estimates, at least 80,000 dead), and that of political Islamism, represented within the rebellion by the Al Nosra jihadi front, an affiliate of al Qaeda, which the head of French diplomacy has suggested (and rightly so) including among the “terrorist organizations” the UN has outlawed.

The honor of Muslims is this ANP, the Awami National Party that, in this other hell — this other cauldron of poverty and death that is the Pakistan of the Taliban — pays a high price for its support for anti-terrorist operations American special forces are carrying out in the tribal zones at the border with Afghanistan. They have suffered dozens of deaths, their leaders assassinated or threatened with assassination, car bomb attacks threatening all of their meetings; and yet the ANP continues, refusing to back down, campaigning in the catacombs and never abandoning its dream of an Islam compatible with secularism.

The honor of Muslims is these Libyans — in reality, a majority — who, just a year ago, in the first free elections their country has ever known, disowned the Muslim Brotherhood and brought to power a moderate coalition which itself appointed as Prime Minister a democrat, enemy of the deadly thesis of the clash of civilizations, former president in exile of the Libyan League for Human Rights, who has never compromised with Gaddafiism, the man who led the first delegation of free Libyans received by Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace on March 10th, 2011: Ali Zeidan.

The honor of Muslims was this other great figure who, 20 years ago, also honored me with his friendship and who, in charge of the destiny of a Bosnia at war, refused the choice of the devil. The West prevaricated, the West shrank from the issue, the West — without admitting it, but sometimes, even saying so — played the Serbian card, the same way it is playing the Bashar al Assad card today. But, backed against the wall with his hands tied behind him, all the while invested with what he considered the sacred task to protect a people who were being bombarded day and night, he resisted the temptation to which others might have given in, to accept, for lack of anything better, the only concrete assistance being offered — that of Iran.

The honor of Muslims is those American academics (Azar Nafisi, Ahmed al-Rahim), those civic movements (the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism), and the simple citizens of Dearborn, Detroit and elsewhere who, right after September 11, condemned terrorism, denounced such “sheiks of death” as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the loony preacher of Al Jazeera, and declared their unshakeable allegiance to the United States of America, their country.

The honor of Muslims is Palestinians like Yasser Abd Rabbo and others, many others, who, a little over a decade ago at Geneva, joined forces with Israelis to conceive and present the only plan for peace to this day which is serious, viable and immediately applicable, as it rests on the precondition of simultaneous mutual recognition. By doing so, they knew they would provoke the rage of Hamas and Hezbollah; they knew that they, the true Palestinian patriots, would pass for traitors to the cause. And they also knew that they would never know another day of unthreatened tranquility in their respective lives. And yet they did it, they remained steadfast, they never regretted it, and they never backed down.

The honor of Muslims is the Imam of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi, who combats anti-Semitism as fiercely as he does racism and went to Israel, with a delegation of other French imams, to pray at Yad Vashem much as he prayed at the graves of the victims of the slaughter of Toulouse. He too is taking great risks; he too might, at any moment, pay for his courageous choice with his own life, and those of his loved ones. Need one mention that he is subject to this other tribunal, that of public opinion, which has already singled him out and which, frivolous and capricious, equally ready to adore as to abhor, to pass from mere suspicion to inflamed ire, to entertain conspiracy theories as to acknowledge courage, has already begun looking for nits to pick, suspecting him of dark hidden motives. But he hasn’t backed down either, nor has he deviated from the fine line of his commitment.

The honor of Muslims is Islam, simply Islam, when it is true to its principle, which signifies (as everyone knows but, unfortunately, some have often forgotten): peace. Story Continued

· SOME UNIONS NOW ANGRY ABOUT HEALTH CARE OVERHAUL

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Some unions now angry about health care overhaul – By SAM HANANEL, Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Some labor unions that enthusiastically backed President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul are now frustrated and angry, fearful that it will jeopardize benefits for millions of their members.

Union leaders warn that unless the problem is fixed, there could be consequences for Democrats facing re-election next year.

“It makes an untruth out of what the president said _ that if you like your insurance, you could keep it,” said Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. “That is not going to be true for millions of workers now.”

The problem lies in the unique multiemployer health plans that cover unionized workers in retail, construction, transportation and other industries with seasonal or temporary employment. Known as Taft-Hartley plans, they are jointly administered by unions and smaller employers that pool resources to offer more than 20 million workers and family members continuous coverage, even during times of unemployment.

The union plans were already more costly to run than traditional single-employer health plans.

But Obama’s Affordable Care Act has added to that cost _ for the unions’ and other plans _ by requiring health plans to cover dependents up to age 26, eliminate annual or lifetime coverage limits and extend coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

“We’re concerned that employers will be increasingly tempted to drop coverage through our plans and let our members fend for themselves on the health exchanges,” said David Treanor, director of health care initiatives at the Operating Engineers union.

Workers seeking coverage in the state-based marketplaces, known as exchanges, can qualify for subsidies, determined by a sliding scale based on income. By contrast, the new law does not allow workers in the union plans to receive similar subsidies.

Bob Laszewski, a health care industry consultant, said the real fear among unions is that “a lot of these labor contracts are very expensive, and now employers are going to have an alternative to very expensive labor health benefits.”

“If the workers can get benefits that are as good through Obamacare in the exchanges, then why do you need the union?” Laszewski said. “In my mind, what the unions are fearing is that workers for the first time can get very good health benefits for a subsidized cost someplace other than the employer.”

However, Laszewski said it was unlikely employers would drop the union plans immediately because they are subject to ongoing collective bargaining agreements.

Labor unions have been among the president’s closest allies, spending millions of dollars to help him win re-election and help Democrats keep their majority in the Senate. The wrangling over health care comes as unions have continued to see steady declines in membership and attacks on public employee unions in state legislatures around the country. The Obama administration walks a fine line between defending the president’s signature legislative achievement and not angering a powerful constituency as it looks ahead to the 2014 elections.

Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters, said unions have spent more than a year trying to get a regulatory fix that would allow low-income workers in union plans to receive subsidies too. But labor leaders say they have been told it won’t happen. And new legislation is unlikely anytime soon.

Both Hanson and Schaitberger said the frustration could spill over into the 2014 election cycle if union concerns aren’t addressed.

“It started out with some anxiety, and I think it’s translated into more anger,” Schaitberger said.

Sabrina Siddiqui, a Treasury Department spokeswoman, declined to discuss the specifics of any negotiations between the administration and union officials. But she said the law helps bring down costs and improve quality of care.

Katie Mahoney, executive director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said employers were concerned about possible increases in health care costs and would do what was needed to keep their businesses running and retain worker talent. The Chamber has not taken a position on the union concerns, but Mahoney said it was highly unlikely that the administration would consider subsidies for workers in the union plans.

“They are not going to offset the expense of added mandates under the health care law, which employers and unions are going to pay for,” Mahoney said.

Unions say their health care plans in many cases offer better coverage with broader doctors’ networks and lower premiums than what would be available in the exchanges, particularly when it comes to part-time workers.

“It’s not favoritism. We want to be treated fairly,” said Hansen, whose union has about 800,000 of its 1.3 million members covered under Taft-Hartley policies. “We would expect more help from this administration.”

Unions backed the health care legislation because they expected it to curb inflation in health coverage, reduce the number of uninsured Americans and level the playing field for companies that were already providing quality benefits. While unions knew there were lingering issues after the law passed, they believed those could be fixed through rulemaking.

But last month, the union representing roofers issued a statement calling for “repeal or complete reform” of the health care law. Kinsey Robinson, president of the United Union of Roofers, Water proofers and Allied Workers, complained that labor’s concerns over the health care law “have not been addressed, or in some instances, totally ignored.”

“In the rush to achieve its passage, many of the act’s provisions were not fully conceived, resulting in unintended consequences that are inconsistent with the promise that those who were satisfied with their employer-sponsored coverage could keep it,” Robinson said. Story Continued

· Dem: Republicans throwing infrastructure ‘under the bus’A Washington state Democrat is accusing Republicans of “throwing American infrastructure … under the bus” after a bridge collapse there this week.

The portion of Interstate 5 in Washington that runs over the Skagit River collapsed on Thursday after a truck hit an overhead support structure, but Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) cited the incident in an interview as proof Republicans were blocking infrastructure investment to hurt President Obama politically.

“Well, they have clearly spent the whole last five years trying to tear the president down, but they have done it by throwing the American infrastructure and the society under the bus,” McDermott said in an interview with MSNBC host Al Sharpton.

“We have the most long-term unemployed that we have had since the 1930s and there’s no excuse for that,” McDermott continued. “There is plenty of work in this society that needs to be done and all it means is that the Congress has to step up, put the money up, and we can have it.”

McDermott suggested that lawmakers could find extra money to pay for transportation projects by raising the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax.

More from The Hill

“We haven’t raised the gas tax for bridges and highway since 1993,” McDermott said. “And there is just no reason that we shouldn’t be doing this and putting America back to work. All the other problems that face us would be gone if we had put people back to work.”

No deaths were reported in the incident, but parts of the bridge are still in the water. Story Continued

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· Port Authority releases photo of One WTC workers at dizzying heightsThe World Trade Center has tweeted a photo of its workers placing the spire on top of One World Trade Center tower, at incredible heights of 1,700 feet.

The spectacular photo, taken on May 10th, shows the brave iron workers installing the final sections on top of One WTC, with New York City sprawled beneath them.

The new tower, which sits at Ground Zero, stands at 1,776 feet tall including the spire, which is 408 feet tall.

It’s already the tallest building in New York City and once completed, will become the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the third tallest in the world.

One World Trade Center is set to open in 2014, thirteen years after the destruction of the Twin Towers during the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Story Continued

· Bridge Collapses And Structurally Deficient Bridges Across The CountryIn his State of the Union address this year, President Obama urged repairs of “the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.” He proposed a plan called “Fix it First,” which would have invested $50 billion in repairing transportation infrastructure, starting with the most urgent repairs.

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Instead, Congress failed to avoid the sequester and transportation repair spending faces a $1.9 billion cut.

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The collapse of the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Skagit River in Washington State on Thursday once again sounded alarms over our nation’s aging infrastructure. While this incident had no fatalities, there are hundreds of other bridges in Washington with worse sufficiency scores and more than 150,000 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges across the nation. Story Continued

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·

Why Democrats Can’t Be Trusted to Control Wall StreetWho needs Republicans when Wall Street has the Democrats? With the help of congressional Democrats, the Street is rolling back financial reforms enacted after its near meltdown.

According to the New York Times, a bill that’s already moved through the House Financial Services Committee, allowing more of the very kind of derivatives trading (bets on bets) that got the Street into trouble, was drafted by Citigroup — whose recommended language was copied nearly word for word in 70 lines of the 85-line bill.

Where were House Democrats? Right behind it. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York, a major recipient of the Street’s political largesse, co-sponsored it. Most of the Democrats on the Committee, also receiving generous donations from the big banks, voted for it. Rep. Jim Himes, another proponent of the bill and a former banker at Goldman Sachs, now leads the Democrat’s fund-raising effort in the House.

Bob Rubin — co-chair of Goldman before he joined the Clinton White House, and chair of Citigroup’s management committee after he left it — is still influential in the Party, and his protégés are all over the Obama administration. I like Bob personally but I battled his Street-centric views the whole time I served, and soon after I left the administration he persuaded Clinton to support a repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.

Jack Lew, Obama’s current Treasury Secretary, was chief operating officer of Citigroup’s Alternative Investments unit, a proprietary trading group, from 2006 to 2008, before he joined the Obama administration. Peter Orszag, Obama’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, left the Obama Administration to become Citigroup’s vice chairman of corporate and investment banking, and chairman of the financial strategy and solutions group.

All these men are honorable. None has broken any law. But they and their ilk in congress — the Democrats who are now rolling back Dodd-Frank — don’t seem to appreciate the extent to which Wall Street has harmed, and continues to harm, America.

It’s not entirely coincidental that the Obama administration never put tough conditions on banks receiving bailout money, never prosecuted a single top Wall Street executive for the excesses that led to the near meltdown, and still refuses to support a tiny tax on financial transactions that would bring in tens of billions of dollars as well as discourage program trading.

Democrats can’t be trusted to control Wall Street. If there were ever an issue ripe for a third party, the Street would be it.

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest is an e-book, “Beyond Outrage,” now available in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. Story Continued

·

Privacy advocates wary of push to mandate auto ‘black boxes’  –  The increasing computerization of cars allows them to capture and transmit data that can help improve highway and driver safety, federal officials said.

But the technology also raises privacy concerns about the ownership and unintended uses of that data, experts said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is seeking a law that would require automakers to install “black boxes” in every new car and light truck sold starting September 2014. But unbeknownst to their owners, many vehicles already carry event data recorders, or EDRs. The NHTSA estimates that about 96 percent of all 2013 vehicles have the devices.

The recorders, typically triggered by a crash or air bag deployment, can produce data generated shortly before and during a crash, including vehicle speed, whether the brake was used and whether the driver’s seat belt was buckled. The device records data from a variety of vehicle sensors and typically is attached to the floor.

“EDRs provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to the NHTSA to evaluate what happened during a crash — and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries,” said David Strickland, the agency’s administrator, in a statement.

But privacy advocates say the technology is a new source of data collection on consumers.

For example, some auto insurance companies are offering on-board devices that monitor mileage data and other driver behavior, often in exchange for discounted insurance rates.

“It is going to be harder and harder for people to ever get off the grid. There are so many ways now that you can be monitored,” said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a University of Dayton associate professor of law.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington D.C.-based public interest research group, has urged the NHTSA to adopt comprehensive privacy safeguards for vehicle owners and operators, including driver ownership of data, limitations on disclosure and better security for the data collected.

Thirteen states have passed laws that limit use of the recorders. Ohio is not among them.

The Dayton Daily News obtained a copy of the proposed law, which would require the recorders as mandatory equipment in vehicles that weigh less than 8,500 pounds. The proposal also includes standardized data collection requirements and mandates that automakers provide a commercially available tool for copying the data.

The law would make it possible to seek civil penalties for failure to provide an event data recorder or one that performs properly.

The cost per recorder is estimated to be $20 per vehicle, because the devices capture data that is already being processed by the vehicle. The estimated total costs associated with the proposal would be $26.4 million for technical improvements and other costs related to the 1.32 million vehicles that don’t currently have recorders.

The NHTSA said it would treat recorder data as the property of the vehicle owner and that it would not be used or accessed by the agency without owner consent.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said it does not object to the concept of requiring all light vehicles to be equipped with EDRs, but it “strongly opposes” a law to impose such a mandate. Most alliance members have voluntarily installed the recorders in their vehicles for many years, officials said.

Some automakers, including General Motors, have been installing car “black boxes” since the 1990s to help measure and improve the performance of vehicle safety equipment.

Electronic data recorder evidence has been accepted by courts in at least 19 states, as well as in federal court, in cases involving crash investigations, according to Harris Technical Services, a Florida-based crash reconstruction firm.

Progressive Insurance offers a voluntary, usage-based insurance program called Snapshot that collects driver data in exchange for an insurance discount. This month, Progressive surpassed more than 7 billion miles of driving data from the more than 1 million customers who have used Snapshot, said company spokeswoman Erin Vrobel.

Snapshot uses a small device that plugs into the vehicle’s on-board diagnostic port to collect data on how much the customer drives, the time of day they drive and how many times they brake hard. Progressive uses that information to calculate the customer’s rate, with an average annual savings of $150, Vrobel said.

“The device doesn’t have GPS, so we don’t know your location,” she said.

Travelers Insurance offers a similar program, IntelliDrive, in eight states. In the program, vehicle operation data is wirelessly transmitted to the company in exchange for a small discount. Travelers markets the voluntary program to the parents of teen drivers, who can track how, when and where their child drives, said Tony Hare, the company’s managing product director.

Customers can monitor their teen’s driving using a secure online dashboard. They also can receive email or text alerts when their teen drives outside of parameters set by parents, including speed, time of day or geographic boundaries. Unlike cars’ black boxes, the IntelliDrive device uses GPS technology, as well as an accelerometer to track acceleration and braking information.

Travelers maintains the data, but doesn’t use it for rating customers, Hare said.

“We use it at a high level for research purposes so that we can understand how vehicles are used,” he said. Story Continued

· The NRA Is Wrong: The Myth of Illegal Guns –  by Matthew Parker

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The NRA says gun control won’t work because illegal guns are so easy to get. But as a convicted felon, I know Adam Lanza never could have gotten an illegal firearm.

There is a prolific myth in the United States which asserts that illegal firearms are easily obtainable. Bolstered by pro-gun lobbyists like the NRA, we are led to believe that, in most cities in America, there is a shady character on a particular street corner who will sell a gun to anybody, no questions asked, and because of this, there is no reason to eliminate loopholes allowing legal sales of firearms to, well, shady characters.

I’m a convicted felon who lives in the Bronx. Despite the nonviolent nature of my crimes—my convictions range from counterfeiting to felony-shoplifting to possession of narcotics and drug paraphernalia—I cannot legally purchase a firearm. But given my somewhat shady past (not to mention the Bronx being the Bronx) I’m fairly certain that I could find a shady character close to home who will sell me a gun illegally—with three caveats: I’d risk being sent back to prison if caught, I would be putting my life in danger, and the price of weapons bought in such deals can be in excess of five times their retail cost. To put this in perspective, the assault weapon that Adam Lanza used to murder 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, last December, which has retail value of between $1,000 and $2,000, could cost between five and ten grand on the streets.

My point is that purchasing firearms illegally should be an ordeal, and that effective background checks would be the first step in making it so. But what’s also pertinent is that Lanza was not a shady character with a long criminal history, and so would have had no experience moving in illicit circles. Background checks may have forced him to do so—to risk being arrested, robbed, or even killed in some dark alley for the substantial sum he’d have needed in order to buy a gun illegally.

There is, of course, a legitimate argument that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown massacre. This is likely true, but it’s also equally true that Lanza would have been denied easy access to legal firearms if his mother, the purchaser and owner of the assault weapons he used (and the first one to be murdered by Lanza) had utilized trigger locks and/or a gun safe—prudent safety features that any good NRA member would wholeheartedly advocate.

Can any level-headed American honestly picture Adam Lanza gaining the confidence of hardened, street-level arms dealers?

But let’s suppose for a minute that she did, and that Lanza, after failing a background check, would have had to purchase his weapons from some inner-city shady character. Can any level-headed American honestly picture Adam Lanza, the spineless murderer of children, gaining the confidence of hardened, street-level arms dealers?

And let’s not stop there. What if Jared Loughner or James Holmes had to go out into the streets and risk their lives in order to obtain their weapons? Loughner killed six and injured 14 in Tucson, Arizona, in January of 2011, and Holmes is responsible for murdering 12 and wounding 58 in Aurora, Colorado in July of last year. It would have been an ordeal for them to buy illegal weapons simply because, like Lanza, they were not immersed in lawlessness.

When pro-gun lobbyists insist that it’s relatively easy for criminals to obtain firearms illegally they have the luxury of categorizing Lanza, Loughner, and Holmes as criminals because it is after the fact of their crimes. But if you examine the scenario before the fact it’s plain to see that you’re dealing with sick individuals whose criminal proclivities existed solely in their minds. Their first step in becoming criminals was getting their hands on guns and ammunition. Holmes and Loughner, in particular, were able to buy their weapons legally, passing the nominal background checks that currently exist with ease. So the question remains: How do we mold an effective law that would flag psychotics attempting to buy guns?

Every inmate admitted into the Arizona Department of Corrections is required to take a mandatory psych test. I took it on four separate occasions, one for each time I was sentenced to an Arizona State prison. The test runs about two hours, and was quite proficient at identifying the mentally disturbed—especially those prone to violence. Incoming inmates who failed this test were automatically removed from general population and redirected for further psychological evaluation.

This simple test should be mandatory for any individual who wishes to purchase a firearm.

Which brings us back to the original question: How easy would it have been for Lanza, Loughner, and Holmes to have purchased their weapons illegally? In response I challenge any pro-gun lobbyist and/or pundit to pocket a few thousand dollars and head out alone into the streets of any major city, find a shady character, and purchase a firearm illegally in the same manner that a psychotic and/or criminal would have to do if we had effective background checks in place.

But all this is, of course, academic, since a watery background-check bill was recently defeated by the Senate, leaving me to wonder if there aren’t a lot more shady characters out there than we are led to believe. Story Continued

– I have a difficulty understanding why Matthew Parker makes the claims he does. Recently I met some drug users that have felony convictions on their records that have weapons. They all think that they can get rid of the weapons if the police stop them thus preventing the curse of having a weapon and being convicted of another felony. Granted those drug users are in Texas and all Texans feel they should have a handgun in them at all times for self-protection. PdC

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