Monday, October 31, 2011

Beggars can't be choosers. Or CAN they?

Greece to hold referendum on Europe debt deal
[...] "This referendum will be a supreme act of democracy and of patriotism," Papandreou said, apparently catching many lawmakers by surprise. "The [Greek] citizen will be called upon to say a big 'yes' or 'no' to the new loan arrangement."

But asking voters to support harsh austerity measures that were part of a painstakingly crafted bargain with Greece's creditors casts uncertainty over the country's ability to meet its part of the deal.

Greece is facing the possibility of a devastating default that could imperil the fate of Europe's single currency, shatter global markets and get the country evicted from the 17-nation Eurozone.


Angelos Tolkas, a government spokesman, said details involving a referendum were under review. It would be the first such public ballot in Greece since 1974, when voters decided to abolish the monarchy after a brutal military dictatorship.

"It will most likely take place in January and it will be binding," Tolkas said.


A poll published in the To Vima weekly newspaper over the weekend showed 6 in 10 Greeks opposing last week's rescue deal, many fearing more cutbacks in wages and jobs. Still, 54.2% supported the idea of a referendum, while 40% believed Parliament should decide whether the deal makes sense for Greece.

Whispers about a referendum had been heard for weeks. Still, Papandreou surprised opposition rivals, and even some of his aides.

Members of the Communist Party referred to the move as blackmail. Rival conservatives said Papandreou was dangerous, with New Democracy party spokesman Yannis Michelakis saying that instead of "withdrawing honorably, [Papandreou] dynamites everything."

Senior government officials said Papandreou could push the agreement through Parliament should the public knock down the debt deal in the referendum.

Whatever the contingency plan, Christopher Pissarides, a Nobel economics laureate, told Sky News, "a rejection [of the European deal] will be disastrous."

"Greece will default immediately," Pissarides said, "and I can't see them staying in the euro having rejected such a vital EU plan."

So if they decide having half of their debt eliminated isn't good enough, they will take the global economy down with them? I thought kicking them out of the EU was not an option?

Pure democracies always destroy themselves. Is that what we are going to see here? The Greek president using his "dynamite" and going out with a bang? And taking the global economy with him?

I guess we'll see in January, won't we?

Also see:

Why Greece is in trouble. And a warning for us.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Funny 10-30-11

But is this really anything new? I don't think there has ever been a candidate I ever really got "excited" about, ever since I was able to vote. It's an imperfect world, with imperfect people, candidates, political parties and politics.

Quite often you have to choose the lesser of two evils, and make the most of it.
It's called "working with what you have", V.S. "pie in the sky".

Northeast gets Snow, No Power, for Halloween

Snow smacks Northeast; power could be out for days
SOUTH WINDSOR, Conn. (AP) — Millions of people from Maine to Maryland were without power as an unseasonably early nor'easter dumped heavy, wet snow over the weekend on a region more used to gaping at leaves in October than shoveling snow.

The snow was due to stop falling in New England late Sunday, but Halloween will likely come and go before many of the more than 3 million without electricity see it restored, officials warned. Several officials referred to the combination of its early arrival and its ferocity as historic, yet another unwelcome superlative for weather-weary Northeasterners.

"You had this storm, you had Hurricane Irene, you had the flooding last spring and you had the nasty storms last winter," Tom Jacobsen said Sunday while getting coffee at a convenience store in Hamilton Township, N.J.

"I'm starting to think we really ticked off Mother Nature somehow because we've been getting spanked by her for about a year now."

The storm smashed record snowfall totals for October and worsened as it moved north. Communities in western Massachusetts were among the hardest hit. Snowfall totals topped 27 inches in Plainfield, and nearby Windsor had gotten 26 inches by early Sunday. It was blamed for at least three deaths, and states of emergency were declared in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and parts of New York.

"Look at this, look at all the damage," said Jennifer Burckson, 49, after she came outside Sunday morning in South Windsor to find a massive tree branch had smashed her car's back windshield. Trees in the neighborhood were snapped in half, with others weighed down so much that the leaves brushed the snow.

Compounding the storm's impact were still-leafy trees, which gave the snow something to hang onto and that put tremendous weight on branches, said National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro. That led to limbs breaking off and contributed to the widespread outages.

"We can't even use the snow blower because the snow is so heavy," Burckson said. [...]

Rare and deadly October storm hangs on in Northeast

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Next Level of Cyber Terrorism?

Are we there yet? See what you think:

Science fiction-style sabotage a fear in new hacks
[...] For years, ill-intentioned hackers have dreamed of plaguing the world's infrastructure with a brand of sabotage reserved for Hollywood. They've mused about wreaking havoc in industrial settings by burning out power plants, bursting oil and gas pipelines, or stalling manufacturing plants.

But a key roadblock has prevented them from causing widespread destruction: they've lacked a way to take remote control of the electronic "controller" boxes that serve as the nerve centers for heavy machinery.

The attack on Iran changed all that. Now, security experts — and presumably, malicious hackers — are racing to find weaknesses. They've found a slew of vulnerabilities.

Think of the new findings as the hacking equivalent of Moore's Law, the famous rule about computing power that it roughly doubles every couple of years. Just as better computer chips have accelerated the spread of PCs and consumer electronics over the past 40 years, new hacking techniques are making all kinds of critical infrastructure — even prisons — more vulnerable to attacks.

One thing all of the findings have in common is that mitigating the threat requires organizations to bridge a cultural divide that exists in many facilities. Among other things, separate teams responsible for computer and physical security need to start talking to each other and coordinate efforts.

Many of the threats at these facilities involve electronic equipment known as controllers. These devices take computer commands and send instructions to physical machinery, such as regulating how fast a conveyor belt moves.

They function as bridges between the computer and physical worlds. Computer hackers can exploit them to take over physical infrastructure. Stuxnet, for example, was designed to damage centrifuges in the nuclear plant being built in Iran by affecting how fast the controllers instructed the centrifuges to spin. Iran has blamed the U.S. and Israel for trying to sabotage what it says is a peaceful program.

Security researcher Dillon Beresford said it took him just two months and $20,000 in equipment to find more than a dozen vulnerabilities in the same type of electronic controllers used in Iran. The vulnerabilities, which included weak password protections, allowed him to take remote control of the devices and reprogram them.

"What all this is saying is you don't have to be a nation-state to do this stuff. That's very scary," said Joe Weiss, an industrial control system expert. "There's a perception barrier, and I think Dillon crashed that barrier."

One of the biggest makers of industrial controllers is Siemens AG, which made the controllers in question. The company said it has alerted customers, fixed some of the problems and is working closely with CERT, the cybersecurity arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Siemens said the issue largely affects older models of controllers. Even with those, the company said, a hacker would have to bypass passwords and other security measures that operators should have in place. Siemens said it knows of no actual break-ins using the techniques identified by Beresford, who works in Austin, Texas, for NSS Labs Inc.,

Yet because the devices are designed to last for decades, replacing or updating them isn't always easy. And the more research that comes out, the more likely attacks become.

One of the foremost Stuxnet experts, Ralph Langner, a security consultant in Hamburg, Germany, has come up with what he calls a "time bomb" of just four lines of programming code. He called it the most basic copycat attack that a Stuxnet-inspired prankster, criminal or terrorist could come up with.

"As low-level as these results may be, they will spread through the hacker community and will attract others who continue digging," Langer said in an email.

The threat isn't limited to power plants. Even prisons and jails are vulnerable. [...]

The complications of the modern age. Our Brave New World.

A San Francisco Treat... But Not for Me

I'm not really surprised. One of the reasons I left SF, was because of the political corruption. This sort of thing seemed inevitable:

Voter Fraud Allegations Hit San Francisco Mayor’s Race
Shocking voter fraud allegations are rocking the mayor's race in San Francisco. District Attorney George Gascon has launched an investigation and demands are growing for federal authorities to move in.

One campaign official fears the election could be stolen if nothing is done.

Supporters of incumbent Mayor Ed Lee, who is running for a full four-year term next month, are accused of illegally handling vote-by-mail ballots.

Witnesses say workers for the group, SF Neighbor Alliance, set up a makeshift sidewalk voting site in the city's Chinatown and accuse it of illegally casting absentee ballots for elderly Chinese voters.

The witnesses claim cell-phone videos show workers telling voters to vote for Lee, filling out ballots for the voters and even using a stencil to hide the names of rival candidates so the voters could only chose one -- Lee.

They also say that the completed ballots were stuffed in plastic bags, which is prohibited by state election law.

"At first we thought they were just helping them understand what absentee ballots were," witness Malana Moberg told Fox News, saying that she saw a worker filling out a voter's ballot.

But she said, "It was pretty blatant."

"I noticed that someone who was working at that booth, who had an Ed Lee shirt on, fill in an absentee ballot on behalf of the voter, and I was immediately shocked and couldn't believe that someone would actually fill in the ballot. I thought it was probably illegal, and if not at the very least, unethical," Moberg said, adding that "someone filling out a ballot for somebody else seemed completely inappropriate."

One of videos was shot by Adam Keigwin, a campaign official for State Sen. Leland Yee, one of Lee's opponents.

"Individuals were marking ballots for elderly voters. They would literally mark the ballot, seal it, and put it in bags behind them. There are so many violations there, almost too numerous to mention," he said.

Keigwin told us the alleged ballot stuffing happened right out in the open, for anyone to see. [...]

At least they got caught. This time. But it does shake your confidence when it can even happen so blatantly.

I wish I could say that I'm more confident about Oregon's voting sytem. But I'm not, as I've posted about previously:

Who Elected Kitzhaber as Oregon's Governor?

I think Oregon's voting system is one of the worst there is:

Vote-by-mail's vulnerability to fraud

Oh well. Vigilance must never go out of style, if we're smart.

Medicare's future, for those under age 55

People like me:

What no one is telling you about Medicare
[...] Cuts are inevitable. The real battle is over who bears the cost.

This spring the House passed a budget resolution designed by Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that radically overhauls Medicare. The plan is unlikely to become law in its present form, but the ideas behind it will play a pivotal role in shaping Medicare reform.

Here's how the system would work: If you are younger than 55 today, your Medicare insurance would be replaced with a fixed voucher, or what Ryan calls "premium support," which you'd use to buy a private health insurance plan. In 2022 a typical 65-year-old would get about $8,000. Plans would have to take all comers, regardless of their health, and would charge the same price to people of the same age. Your premium support would go up as you got older or sicker. Low-income seniors would get extra cash.

You get skin in the game...

Premium support attempts to fight what economists call the moral hazard problem. If your insurance picks up a lot of your medical bills, you don't have much incentive to be a picky consumer. Your doctor prescribes, you comply. Even if there might be a cheaper way to get better results.

"Medicare has inherent in it inflationary pressures that push costs up very high, very rapidly," says Jim Capretta, a former George W. Bush administration budget official now at a think tank called the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Ryan's approach would force you to make choices about what to do with your $8,000. You could pay a lot on top of that to get a generous plan or buy a cheap one that lets you see doctors within an HMO network and leaves you with a high deductible.

How much would that system reduce the cost of care? The answer is hotly contested. Some people would spend less but might also forgo care they really needed, says Juliette Cubanski, a Medicare policy analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Gail Wilensky, who ran the Medicare system during the George H.W. Bush administration, thinks a market dynamic will help a lot, but cautions that much spending is concentrated on the very sick, whose costs have blown past any reasonable deductible. "The serious spenders are always going to be using someone else's money," she says.

Shifting to private plans also has costs: Insurers have to charge enough to pay for administration and marketing while clearing a profit. The CBO, which concedes a lot of uncertainty about how vouchers would change the market, believes total costs would go up. It estimates that private plans will be so expensive that in 2022 a typical 65-year-old would spend twice as much to get the same benefits Medicare provides. That's an extra $6,240 to you.

...but a shrinking benefit.

The voucher is also a tool to cap government spending on health care. In 2022, once the feds send you $8,000, they're done paying for the year. "What we do in Medicare today is say, 'We're going to set in motion an open-ended entitlement, and the government's going to subsidize whatever it takes to provide that package,'" says Capretta. "The Ryan budget says, 'Why don't we build a budget that sets a level of taxation that we can afford, and here's the level of entitlement spending that will fit within that?'"

The idea of imposing a limit isn't inherently conservative or liberal. Most other rich countries, with their universal insurance, set a health care budget; the reform law signed by President Obama last year tries to cap spending too. But Ryan's cap is remarkably austere.

Social Security checks to rise 3.6%

The value of his voucher would grow at the level of inflation, which is almost always less than the growth of the economy. But no industrial country keeps health spending growth below GDP growth.

"It's implausible to think costs would inflate at that level," says Boston University health economist Austin Frakt. If so, then over time premium support would buy you less and less insurance -- and less and less care.

There are countless ways to moderate the severity of the Ryan plan. Wilensky suggests a cap that grows a little faster than GDP, for instance. What's most important about the proposal, though, is not the specific growth target; it's the philosophical stake in the ground planted about how much of the cost of paying for health care should be shared collectively, through taxes, and how much should be a responsibility for you, the individual, to bear. The Ryan plan says clearly: more on you. [...]

Hmmm. I do believe that costs have gotten so far out of control, because once the "government" is paying, instead of an individual, then nobody cares about the costs or questions what is being charged and why. But if it goes too far the other way, then people under 55 might be getting a lot less, even though they payed into Medicare the same as people over 55.

Is there a happy medium, a balance, somewhere? One will have to be found, because it sure can't continue like it is; unsustainable.

It's quite a long article. From PART 2:

Medicare: How much more will they cut?
For all the chatter about how politicians have to buckle down and get serious about reining in Medicare, you might have missed this development: Last year's health reform bill cut $500 billion out of two big Medicare programs over a decade, while increasing the number of high-income retirees who have to pay larger Part B premiums.

"It's as if that never happened," says Jonathan Oberlander, a professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina.

To be sure, health reform wasn't a let's-shrink-the-government project. The reason Democrats got their hands grimy and made cuts to the program was to help pay for a new health care entitlement, making it easier for Americans under 65 to buy their own insurance. Still, the new law shows that liberal lawmakers will slice into Medicare if needed, and offers a glimpse into how they'll try to do it.

The central idea behind the maze of cost-control provisions health reform establishes: Focus on trimming fat before reducing benefits. One approach is to reduce the power of providers to drive spending. When your doctor says you need this test or that surgery, you tend to take his word for it, even if you have hefty out-of-pocket costs. Hospitals, meanwhile, have consolidated in recent decades, giving them considerable price-setting power.

Results: There's substantial evidence that doctors at times over-treat, and you overpay for just about everything. "For a long hospital stay we pay $18,000, vs. $4,000 or $5,000 in Germany or Japan," says Gerard Anderson, director of the Center.


In coming months one idea you'll hear debated a lot is imposing a numerical cap on future government spending or revenue -- say, 21% of GDP or even 18%.

No matter what the specific numbers proposed are, growing health care costs are on a path to push the size of government well beyond those limits. If that happens, Medicare would go from long-term challenge to immediate crisis. Big changes would have to happen fast. Budget hawks ought to be specific about what those changes will be.

All you can know for sure now: This country, not just the government, but each of us as individuals -- is facing a monster of a doctor's bill, and there's no easy way to get around paying it.


The New Portable Credit Card Reader

Square's credit-card swiper hits Wal-Mart
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- After landing a massive cash infusion in June, mobile payments venture Square is taking a big step into the mainstream: Its mobile credit-card processing system is now on sale at Wal-Mart.

Square's card reader, aimed at small business owners and on-the-go merchants, is a smartphone add-on. It attaches to iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and allows the owner to accept a credit card payment in return for a 2.75% transactional fee.

The aim is to bring down the barriers smaller business owners typically face when they want to accept credit card payments. [...]

Way cool. And good for small businesses.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Itchy & Scratchy Junker & Rompuy Show

Would you buy a used car from these guys? I wouldn't:

Eurogroup president Jean-Claude Junker and
Herman Van Rompuy, head of the European Council

EU officials scramble to solve the crisis
[...] As a work around, officials are reportedly considering a plan to use EFSF funds to provide loans that governments can use to partially insure new issues of domestic debt. But this would effectively add to already unsustainable levels of public debt.

"All of this is stupidity," said Columbia Business School professor David Beim. "All they can think to do is get an ever larger fund and throw it into ever worse assets."

Beim, like many economists, argues that the first step toward stabilizing the eurozone is to restructure the Greek government's debt load. All else merely delays the inevitable and perpetuates the crisis. [...]

If you read the full article, it sounds like it's all about going nowhere quickly. Re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.

It sure doesn't inspire confidence. I wouldn't much care what they do, except that it will have global consequences. And what might those be?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Great Irony in the Wall St. Protests

Well, at least the most obvious one:

Down With Evil Corporations! [Photo]
[...] Last night, Mark Levin used a caller as a foil to deconstruct this idiocy.

• Who's the biggest health insurer in the country?
• Who's the biggest bank in the country?
• Who's the biggest land-owner in the country?
• Who runs the biggest retirement plans in the country?
• And who alone has the force of law to force you to comply with their decisions?

That would be the federal government, an extra-constitutional monolith that controls every aspect of our lives, from shower-heads, to automobile bumper design, to thermostats, to building codes, to carbon dioxide emissions, to the size of toilet tanks, to health insurance plans, to... [...]

It goes on to make a comparison with the Soviet Union.

Too much government. It's not the answer; it's the PROBLEM.

And there's one more Great Irony to consider:

Occupy Wall Street: the "herbal tea party"
I know where they're coming from - but...

Do you want chamomile or patchouli in your hot water?

I was born and raised in Africa and to me these "impoverished" neo-hippies are risible.

Taylor Marvin checks the math of the above image, which has been making the rounds: [...]

It's not far off.

Also see:

Adbusters behind "Occupy Wall Street"


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Where the jobs are: Health Care

I've posted previously about MBTI personality testing as a tool for choosing a compatible career. I tested as an ISTJ, one of 16 personality types.

At the Keirsey website, the sixteen types are divided into four temperament groups: Guardians, Idealists, Artisans and Rationals. And there are four sub-types for each of those. My type, ISTJ, is a Guardian, with the sub-type being The Inspector.

Anyhow, one link on their right sidebar was to an article that said there is one job sector that continues to enjoy job growth, and is expected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. And that sector has jobs that suit each one of the personality types! I found it quite interesting:

Rx For an Ailing Career Outlook:
Health Care is a Growth Industry

With the economy in seeming freefall, and companies daily announcing layoff plans, the employment picture is looking bleak for those entering the workforce, or those hit by the layoffs needing to find new jobs.

However, there is one employment sector that is continuing to show steady growth. According to Joanne Giudicelli, Talent Management Consultant and author of HIRE POWER: A Radical New Strategy for Defining and Executing Successful Hiring, the health care sector is itself one of the healthiest in terms of employment opportunities. According to Giudicelli, "As the large crop of Baby Boomers age, the need for health workers has increased. The need is not only found in the United States, but in countries throughout the world." Backing Giudicelli's statement, an August 1, 2008 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that "employment continued to fall in construction, manufacturing, and several service-providing industries, while health care continued to add jobs."


Career Coach and Author Alice Fairhurst points out, "While most people are aware of the critical need for primary care physicians, physician assistants and nursing staff, many do not realize the shortage in the allied health professionals such as respiratory care practitioners, medical transcriptionists, radiographers and lab technicians. Those with the highest projected need include physical therapist assistants, dental hygienists and pharmacy technicians. Some health care providers are working with two year colleges to provide needed clinical training."

Mid-career workers who have lost their jobs due to downsizing are taking training to enter these fields where demand is high. And people who worked in health care in another country are getting certification in the United States to fill the need.

To help sort out the various opportunities in this growing sector, Fairhurst recommends individuals take the Keirsey Temperament Sorter which can help guide a person into which of the careers might be more satisfying. [...]

The full article gives examples of suitable jobs for the different types. If you don't know your type, but want to find out, try taking the MBTI test for free, here or here.

A job skill that will always be in demand, is a nice thing to have. And if it's one that suites your personality too, so much the better.

Also see:

What to do in college right now

Best alternative to grad school

Bad career advice: Do what you love

There Are No Bad Bosses, Only Whiny Employees.

Overcome the willpower myth

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Magic Mushrooms make you Young At Heart

Permanantly. See for yourself:

Magic Mushroom Drug Has an 'Anti-Aging Effect' on Personality
Sept. 29, 2011 -- Psilocybin, the drug in “magic mushrooms,” helps many people become more open, creative, and curious after they take a single high dose, a new study shows.

Ordinarily, researchers say, after age 30 personality is a pretty fixed part of who we are.

When people do change their stripes, it’s usually in the wake of significant life events that cause emotional upheaval, like marriage, divorce, or getting fired from a job.

Researchers say the new study, which is published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, is one the first to show that a drug, when used in an experimental setting, can alter personality long term.

Specifically, the study found that psilocybin affects a dimension of personality called openness. Openness relates to the ability to see and appreciate beauty, to imagine, to be aware of our own and other people’s feelings, and to be curious and creative.

“Personality, after the age of 25, is relatively stable, and if anything happens, openness decreases across decades, just very slightly, but generally people become more rigid and less creative,” says researcher Roland R. Griffiths, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “And this is showing an anti-aging affect if you will, on openness.” [...]

Read the whole thing for details of the study, and embedded links.

I'll just say... they don't call them "Magic" for nuthin!