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April 14 2017

02:44

United Airlines does not have a “PR” problem

It’s been a long week for United Airlines, with no end in sight.

In his initial response to Sunday’s deplorable corporate behavior on United Flight 3411, Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO, talked about “re-accommodating” customers and characterized the event — a passenger being dragged off a United airplane by his arms and legs — as a consequence of “overbooking” [1].

On Thursday, the attorney for the man dragged from the plane, Dr. David Dao, 69, told the world that his client suffered a concussion, a sinus injury, and a broken nose. The Chicago officers who dragged him off the plane also knocked out two of Dao’s teeth.

Attorney Thomas Demetrio said that United employees asked Dao’s wife to leave the plane after he was forcibly removed. In at least one of the consumer videos of Sunday’s brutality, you can see a woman exit the plane at the end of the video.

Spin zone: overbooking

Airlines routinely overbook flights in order to fly with as few empty seats as possible. Anyone who has traveled a bit knows this. Thus United’s characterization was an adroit “PR” move in the disparaging/spin sense of the phrase.

Media, pundits and politicians swallowed “overbookingwhole and unthinkingly; they prattled it back to us, stenography-style. Even though it was clear, from the beginning, that the passenger had boarded the plane.

The former CEO of Continental Airlines (maybe this explains the ‘former’ part) asserted on Monday that the situation was “an oversale obviously” (it wasn’t). He contended that it was the customer being forced from his seat who was acting in an “immature” manner. That’s pretty much what Munoz also said on Monday in his letter to employees. Can you get a better example of CEO privilege on display?

News media repeated United’s “overbooking” explanation, ad nauseam, despite United’s confirmation that seats were needed for four crew members. Not a routine “oversold” problem. Four employees needed to get from O’Hare to Louisville, and according to Munoz, they didn’t approach the gate until after the flight was fully boarded. You know. Late.

Ethically, the decision to pull four paying customers from their seats was wrong.

Legally, it’s questionable as well.

On Tuesday, the company admitted that the flight was not overbooked.

United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said Tuesday that all 70 seats on United Express Flight 3411 were filled, but the plane was not overbooked as the airline previously reported. Instead, United and regional affiliate Republic Airlines, which operated the flight, selected four passengers to be removed to accommodate crew members needed in Louisville the next day.

Assume for a moment that all of this had happened before passengers were boarded. United’s “denial of boarding” contract provisions apply only to flights that have been oversold.

Oversold Flight means a flight where there are more Passengers holding valid confirmed Tickets that check-in for the flight within the prescribed check-in time than there are available seats.

United, according to its own policies, had no right to deny anyone boarding so that employees could fly. Especially employees who showed up late to the gate.

However, what took place on Sunday was not denial of boarding.

It was refusal of transport. And United’s Contract of Carriage 21 details the circumstances in which the airline can remove a passenger from one of its planes.  Surprise! So employees can get to work is not on the list. [Screen caps: 1, 2, 3]

Even now, after United stated publicly that the flight was NOT overbooked, news stories are still talking about “overbooked” flights.

Score: United, 1: News media, 0

Missed opportunities for news organizations

No national news report that I have seen has examined United’s contract of carriage, which details the reasons that it can remove a passenger from the plane after (in this case) he has been seated. I know, I know, this would mean that they would have to retract headlines like this one.

No national news report that I have seen has examined why these crew members were trying to take the last flight of the day or why they were late. Had the crew been suddenly assigned a flight out of Kentucky? Do they live (or were they visiting) in Chicago and Louisville was their home base?

This was a crisis communications opportunity…

On Tuesday, Munoz issued a second apology.

Wednesday, Munoz: “this will never happen again.”

If your company does not have a crisis communications plan in place for when (not if, when) a video of something “bad” happening on your watch makes its way to Twitter and Facebook, and you’re the chief communications officer, you need to resign or be fired.

United is the world’s largest airline, in terms of number of destinations served. And it clearly had no such plan in place, despite the infamous leggings incident (a mere two weeks ago).

 

… which resulted in a huge image problem

 

 

However, screwed up communications about a disaster and a CEO with foot-and-mouth (just trust the lawyers to craft the statement) disease is not the problem.

united

 

Saying United has a “PR problem” suggests the “solution” is akin to putting some lipstick on that pig.

Modifying external appearance (we might call that sleight of hand) does nothing to change the fact that the pig is still a pig.

United’s problem is not skin-deep. It’s soul deep.

United’s heavy-handed, “you lose your seat” behavior isn’t confined to the midwest or east coast or low-budget tickets. From the LATimes, here’s an incident last week in Hawaii. Geoff Fearns, 59, president of TriPacific Capital Advisors, had a full-fare, first-class ticket on United from Kauai to LA. He boarded and had his complimentary beverage. And then:

… they told me they needed the seat for somebody more important who came at the last minute,” Fearns said. “They said they have a priority list and this other person was higher on the list than me…. they didn’t say anything at the gate. I was already in the seat. And now they were telling me I had no choice. They said they’d put me in cuffs if they had to.”

As others have pointed out, the federal government has allowed airline consolidation to occur, unabated. And, apparently, relatively unregulated, in terms of consumer protection.

In 2014, Tim Wu pointed out that the airline industry – at least in America – is predicated on calculated misery and the profits that ensue from our wish to avoid suffering. It’s not your imagination that seats have gotten smaller and the space between rows, narrower (2014):

The roomiest economy seats you can book on the nation’s four largest airlines are narrower than the tightest economy seats offered in the 1990s. The worst seats today measure either 17 or 17.2 inches, when about 19 was as tight as it got through the 1990s. In fact, even the widest seats for sale in economy today—from 17 to 18.5 inches —would not have been offered several years ago. For comparison, up in the front of the cabin, premium class seating on the Big Three usually measures 21 inches.

I don’t agree with this industry expert, who blames the victim (we with little choice and no bargaining power). Henry H. Harteveldt, the president of the Atmosphere Research Group, told the NYTimes:

Consumers have shown that they’re willing to put up with an awful lot, including lack of legroom, lack of amenities, mediocre or worse customer service, dirty airplanes and more to save money.

Sometimes, you need to fly. Funerals. Family emergencies. In a country with abysmal vacation policies relative to Europe, for example, flying is the only way to “vacation” on the other coast. So you take what’s available. That doesn’t mean you like it.

And those decisions about seat configuration on new planes? They’re made years in advance. Years.

Today, airlines make a substantial chunk of their income by selling services (credit card alliances) and charging fees for everything from checked baggage to a “better” seat (which, as USA Today noted in 2014, is worse than an average seat 20 years ago).

In 2014, Delta and United each made $1 billion on rebooking/change fees alone. Last year, the LATimes reported that 10 of the world’s largest airlines each brought in more than $1 billion solely from fees for things like checked luggage, reserved seats, food, Internet connectivity, and upgrades to more-leg-room in coach. In 2008, only American, Delta and United sucked up more than $1 billion in fees and “ancillary revenue.”

Don’t expect Wall Street to force a change in corporate behavior. UAL closed higher on Thursday 13 April (69.07) than it did the Monday after the leggings incident (68.37).

Airline policies on overbooking, involuntary denial of boarding, and “refusal of transport” (which is what happened in this case) need to be transparent and uniform across airlines.

 

“PR” can’t “fix” United’s problem.

Neither can that favorite whipping boy, “customer service.”

The only thing that can “fix” United is an introspective examination of organization purpose, which is not to “enhance shareholder value.” (Hint, that’s an outcome, not a purpose.)

The only thing that can “fix” the greed that underlies Sunday’s shocking behavior is a widespread public discussion of realistic returns on investment, the appropriate balance between human dignity and capital. United’s greed is a symptom of a systemic problem, a philosophy not limited to the airline industry.

The only thing that can “fix” the missing balance of power between customers and airlines is a regulatory system (FAA and DOJ) that realizes its mission is to serve the public interest not the capitalist interest. (Not likely in the current Administration, I know, but it was missing from the former one as well, they approved the Continental-United merger. What does that tell you about systemic issues?)

Fundamentally, the fix lies with the collective “us” pushing back in a world that is becoming increasingly undemocratic and grossly unequal.

Stay woke.

 

 

Postscript: A tweet storm

 

 

Footnote

[1] The Chicago Police Department went even further in dissembling, saying that a passenger “fell.” All three have been placed on leave.

 

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April 10 2017

07:15

Trump visits his golf clubs 17 times in 11 weeks

I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf. ~ Donald Trump, August 2016

The President routinely brings attention and money to his own businesses in Florida, Virginia and the District of Columbia through his regular forays to his golf clubs, hotels and restaurants.

On Sunday, March 26, Trump made his 13th trip to a golf course bearing his name. It had been nine weeks since he assumed office on January 20.

On Sunday, April 9, he made his 17th trip to one of his own golf clubs. It’s been 11 weeks since he was sworn in.

 

As president, he is routinely spotlighting his own businesses.

 

Moreover, he is also routinely visiting properties with challenging security issues:

Former Secret Service agents said the setup at Mar-a-Lago and the president’s other regular clubs presents challenges that their agency wasn’t built to deal with. The Service’s main job is to protect the president from physical threats and monitoring for wiretaps and other listening devices — but not from the kinds of counterespionage challenges presented by the president’s choice to eat, sleep and work at a club accessible to anyone who can get a member to invite them in.

You and I know that his businesses aren’t forced to shut down when he visits. (We have seen the pix on social media.)

That’s not the case when he flies into Florida.

Lantana Airport, a Palm Beach County facility, is about six miles southwest of Mar-a-Lago. It loses business every time Trump goes to Mar-a-Lago because the Secret Service closes down the airport. So all of its clients also lose business. However, “tenants are unlikely to receive any concessions” or compensation from the federal government.

 

He is also playing a game of “ignore what I said.”

On 26 occasions, he complained on Twitter about Obama golfing too much.

In February, Politico noted:

President Barack Obama made it four months into his presidency before his first golf outing as commander in chief. George W. Bush made it even longer, first hitting the links as president about 5 ½ months into his first term.

Donald Trump made it two weeks before heading to the golf course.

In December, he played with Tiger Woods.

 

An earlier version of this post ran on March 26.
Also, see my Golf Outing Tracker

The post Trump visits his golf clubs 17 times in 11 weeks appeared first on WiredPen.

April 09 2017

23:46

A dead bat in a package of salad. What’s missing from this story?

Twitter is one of my news feeds, and Sunday it did not disappoint:

 

By tradition, news stories are supposed to answer the questions who, what, when, where, why and how. We call it the 5 Ws and 1 H. Or the six Ws (yeah, I know).

Using that formula, here’s what we can learn about the bat story by reading The Guardian, NPR, a company news release, and the Centers for Disease Control news release. (There’s another story in that string, but not for today.)

  • Who: Walmart and Fresh Express; two unnamed consumers; government agencies: the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Florida Department of Health
  • What: a package of Fresh Express Organic Marketside Spring Mix was allegedly contaminated with the remains of a dead bat
  • When: Saturday
  • Where: This event occurred at a Walmart in an unnamed city in Florida. Affected: Walmarts in the southeast (states not named / update: Miami Herald has the answer. AL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, VA).
  • Why – not touched upon
  • How – not touched upon

But there are additional questions a story might trigger in the mind of a reader or listener.

small bat

Photo: Georgia Bat Control

Here’s what’s missing for me:

  1. Who owns the Fresh Express brand?
    Chiquita, and it’s headquartered in Orlando, FL.
  2. What steps would be required to contaminate a bag of lettuce in an automated packaging facility?
    Fresh Express missed an opportunity here. Surely they have video documenting health and safety in production. Put that in the news release.
  3. What states are part of the “southeast” in the context of this recall?
    Because there is no universally accepted definition of what “southeast” means.
  4. When was the package purchased?
    If I live in the “southeast” and buy organic salad at Walmart, this detail would help me decide if I need to check my fridge.
  5. Where was this lot of Fresh Express Organic salads assembled?
    The company website shows five manufacturing locations. The closest facility to Florida is in Morrow, GA. Others are located in Grand Prairie, TX; Harrisburg, PA; Salinas, CA; and Steamwood, IL.
  6. Where are the greens grown?
    The company website shows 13 farming locations. It’s not obvious which ones use organic growing processes. Are greens shipped across the country to other processing plants or are they packaged in the plant closest to the farm? There is a farm in south Georgia and one in southeast Florida.
  7. Where are bats common in the United States? Are they common near the packaging facility (Q3)?
    Georgia is home to 16 species of bat but each does not live in every county.
  8. Why might anyone do this deliberately? Has the company been involved in labor disputes recently?
    “Who benefits” is a fundamental question when seeking an answer to “why.” Deliberate food adulteration is probably not happening in a vacuum.
  9. Why are the consumers unnamed?
    They may have asked to remain anonymous, which would merit a note. Agency officials may have asked that their names not be released, which might be a policy if there was any possibility of a hoax (removing perverse “credit”).
  10. How big are bats?
    Bats account for 25% of all mammals, and their size can range from that of a penny to a six-foot wing span. The most common bat in Georgia that lives in artificial surroundings (buildings) is about 3″ in length.
  11. How did the customers contact Florida health officials?
    An opportunity for the agencies involved to promote their consumer help pages/apps/phones.
  12. How might an assembly line be tampered with to create an adulterated product?
    Opportunity for general food safety missed by all.
  13. How might a production facility (farm) wind up with a dead bat in its product?
    Bats eat insects; as such, they are an important part of an organic farming operation. That’s called organic insect pest management. Last month, Atlanta’s WSB-TV reported that bats in the state are “dying at an alarming rate.” If the produce came from a Georgia or Florida farm, it’s possible that the dead bat entered the manufacturing cycle at the farm, either accidentally or intentionally. Again, missed opportunity for Fresh Express to highlight food safety.
  14. How do officials determine if claims like this one are hoaxes?
    I have a background in food production (milk/butter) and have toured a lot of food processing facilities, both domestically and abroad. I’m having a hard time visualizing how a bat accidentally entered the manufacturing line.

What’s missing for you?

 

The post A dead bat in a package of salad. What’s missing from this story? appeared first on WiredPen.

April 01 2017

08:18

Cats request treats by ringing a bell

Who knew kitties could act so … dog-like? This video (Japanese, Order side by side) is a sensation!

Who shot the video? What’s the back story of the cats? All we know is what we see in the tweet. Quick video critique: good framing (not symmetrical); nice optics (high gloss table); good use of the rule of thirds; nice neutral but textured background. Having two different ring tones is an inspired touch, as well.

You may see the video reproduced on major websites (e.g., Food&Wine, TheMirror) but you won’t learn anything new.

Google Translate, while rudimentary, sheds light some light, as does the Twitter profile imagery:

Twitter Kitty

  • It’s clear that the cat on the left is the star
  • The profile title: Neko Navi Editorial Department @ VR Movie is being released
  • The cats may be named Buruuru & Teruuri
  • There’s an earlier VR clip (smartphones only, per a tweet)

 

The two cats can also be seen on YouTube in a video licensed by JukinMedia in January.

And they made a hit on Twitter last year, too, but with far less refined production techniques:

 

Like all things YouTube, piracy is rampant. Google could do something about this, if they wanted to. But they don’t. Here are the latest video (side by side) pirates:

 

Although these Japanese kitties might be this weekend’s sensation, by no means are they the first cats to ring a bell for treats. (Who knew?)

This YouTube compilation (yet more piracy) is from 2015. It looks like it may feature our black-and-white kitty:

 

Just say NO to video piracy! Take a few moments and find the original. Shame the others.

One day, it might be you who is in the right place at the right time for a scoop.

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March 27 2017

04:20

Trump visits his own businesses about one-day-in-three

On Sunday, March 26, President Trump made his 13th trip to a golf course bearing his name in the nine weeks since he assumed office on January 20. This time, he went to Trump National Golf Club in Virginia.

All of his golf outings are to properties that he owns.

But here’s the more staggering fact:

On 21 of the 66 days he has been president, he has visited a property that bears his name.

Eight weekends in a row, since the inauguration, he has visited a Trump-owned property.

As president, he is routinely spotlighting his own businesses.

 

Moreover, he is also routinely visiting properties with challenging security issues:

Former Secret Service agents said the setup at Mar-a-Lago and the president’s other regular clubs presents challenges that their agency wasn’t built to deal with. The Service’s main job is to protect the president from physical threats and monitoring for wiretaps and other listening devices — but not from the kinds of counterespionage challenges presented by the president’s choice to eat, sleep and work at a club accessible to anyone who can get a member to invite them in.

You and I know that his businesses aren’t forced to shut down when he visits. (We have seen the pix on social media.)

That’s not the case when he flies into Florida.

Lantana Airport, a Palm Beach County facility, is about six miles southwest of Mar-a-Lago. It loses business every time Trump goes to Mar-a-Lago because the Secret Service closes down the airport. So all of its clients also lose business. However, “tenants are unlikely to receive any concessions” or compensation from the federal government.

Acts of hypocrisy

Before becoming president, Donald Trump used Twitter to criticize President Obama for playing golf.

 

 

Hypocrisy is one justifiable reason to document the trips and outings.

Another is his campaign promise: “I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”

And then there’s the cost to taxpayers

Besides security, hypocrisy, and broken promises, those visits, especially the out-of-state ones, cost bundles of taxpayer money.

The Mar-a-Lago trips impose huge costs on Florida businesses and taxpayers. In February, CBS Miami reported overtime costs for the sheriff’s office at $1.5 million.

According to analysis by Politico, a trip to Mar-a-Lago costs you and me $3 million a pop.

This isn’t chump change:

How many trips has he made to Florida? A lot.

When Air Force One left Florida on March 5:

Trump’s presidency was 1,060 hours old and he had spent approximately 241¾ of those hours in Florida — or 22.8 percent of his time in office. Palm Beach County is already seeking $1.7 million in extra security costs incurred by his visits.

 

This WaPo analysis from March 17 provides an illustrated view of his visits to his own properties:

Trump trips

 

An updated illustration on March 26 documents all visits to

  • Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida
  • Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, Florida
  • Trump International Hotel,  Washington, D.C.
  • Trump National Golf Club, Potomac Falls, Virginia

And the Secret Service has to pay Trump’s clubs to rent golf carts.

Finally, zippo transparency

One difference between Trump and Obama’s presidency on matters of the green: transparency.

Obama did not golf with world leaders or members of Congress on a regular or even semiregular basis, preferring to surround himself with close friends, pro athletes and celebrities or White House aides. But the Obama White House regularly disclosed to the press corps when the president was playing golf, on weekends and even on vacation.

Trump’s aides have not done so.

 

Which is the worst sin?

Documenting the presidency: Trump’s golf outings

Featured image: Pinterest/Trump

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March 25 2017

20:25

News/analysis wrap-up: TrumpCare implosion

A lot of ink (so to speak) and air time (ditto) has been devoted to Beltway politics this week, due to the on-again, off-again vote on #TrumpCare (AKA repeal of ObamaCare).

This post contains the best stories/analysis on Friday’s implosion … ready-set-go!

1. ‘Hello, Bob’: President Trump called my cellphone to say that the health-care bill was dead

First up: Trump called this Washington Post reporter to tell him the bill was dead. Look who Trump blames for its defeat.

“We couldn’t get one Democratic vote, and we were a little bit shy, very little, but it was still a little bit shy, so we pulled it,” Trump said.

Trump would also use this deflection with the NY Times:

“Look, we got no Democratic votes. We got none, zero,” Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview he initiated with The New York Times.

2. “Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with some growing pains”

This quote from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) may have given me the most heartburn of any that I read.

Why is that? Because

  1. The GOP has controlled the House of Representatives 18 of the past 22 years. The prior two years (2015-2016), the GOP controlled BOTH the Senate and the House.
  2. For half of Bush’s presidency, the GOP controlled the House and the Senate. That was NOT very long ago. And the folks in Congress? They leave, in the main, when they decide to retire or do something else. Our “re-election” rate is on par with countries that hold faux elections.
    average tenure congress

    Average Service Tenure, Senators and Representatives, FAS

    Reelection rate, OpenSecrets

  3. Had the GOP actually wanted to govern — that is, move the country forward — it would have been working with the minority party in the House the past six years. Instead, it saw a black man in the White House and said, in effect, “Hell no.”

Moreover, a year ago, the Republican-controlled House and Senate sent an American Health Act (ACA/ObamaCare) repeal bill to the President for his veto, safe in the knowledge that it would be vetoed. This is not governing. This is pitching a hissy fit designed for photo-ops and reelection soundbites.

Groundhog Day references will likely be inevitable when the House votes once again Tuesday, Feb. 2, on legislation to repeal ObamaCare.

The House has voted more than 60 times since Republicans took over the majority in 2011 to undo the healthcare law. Tuesday’s vote, however, will be the first attempt to override President Obama’s veto of a measure to overturn his signature legislative accomplishment.

Consideration of the repeal measure – the first to pass both the House and Senate – is expected to stall after this week’s vote. Republicans are not expected to secure the necessary two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto.

3. The Republican Waterloo

Whether or not you agree with him, David Frum usually provides something to chew on in his essays. This 23 March essay fits that bill and provides important historical context. Plus, it reinforces #2 (above).

It seemed to me that Obama’s adoption of ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s—and then enacted into state law in Massachusetts by Governor Mitt Romney—offered the best near-term hope to control the federal health-care spending that would otherwise devour the defense budget and force taxes upward. I suggested that universal coverage was a worthy goal, and one that would hugely relieve the anxieties of working-class and middle-class Americans who had suffered so much in the Great Recession. And I predicted that the Democrats remembered the catastrophe that befell them in 1994 when they promised health-care reform and failed to deliver. They had the votes this time to pass something. They surely would do so—and so the practical question facing Republicans was whether it would not be better to negotiate to shape that “something” in ways that would be less expensive, less regulatory, and less redistributive.

4. “The GOP right blows up its best chance to reform government.”

This is an unsigned op-ed from the Wall Street Journal (paywall), but worth finding a copy to read (see below on how to do that, legallly).

House Republicans pulled their health-care bill shortly before a vote on Friday, and for once the media dirge is right about a GOP defeat. This is a major blow to the Trump Presidency, the GOP majority in Congress, and especially to the cause of reforming and limiting government… Republicans have campaigned for more than seven years on repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and they finally have a President ready to sign it. In the clutch they choked….

Republicans run the government and that means they are responsible for what happens in health care. Messrs. Trump and Ryan are right that the ObamaCare markets are imploding, and prices will rise and choices will shrink again next year on present trends. Republicans can try to blame Democrats, but they’re in charge….

This failure also reveals the unfortunate skills gap between Democrats and modern Republicans in practical legislative politics. Democrats have their Bernie Sanders faction, which claimed to “oppose” ObamaCare in 2009-10 for lacking a government-run public insurance option. But the far left voted for the bill anyway because they concluded, rightly, that a new entitlement was a great leap toward single-payer national health care….

An ideal free health-care market is never going to happen in one sweeping bill. The American political system is designed to make change slow and difficult, thank goodness. Republicans have to build their vision piece by piece…

But much of the current conservative establishment profits from fanning resentments, not governing. Legislative compromises don’t help Heritage Action raise money for its perpetual outrage machine. An earlier generation of leaders at Heritage understood that the goal of winning elections was to achieve something. The current leaders seem happy with failure.

The WSJ editorial board has been increasingly vocal in its unhappiness with this Administration.

[For greater Seattle-area residents, login to SPL; go to the newspaper database reference page; then click “National Newspapers” to access ProQuest; the WSJ and NYT database links are on this page. If you live in the greater metro area (Thurston – Snohomish) and do not have a Seattle Public Library card, talk to me!]

5. Making an “enemies” list

I tweeted Friday that one disappointment from pulling the bill was that GOP representatives got a “pass” from having their “yes” votes on the record. (A vote is more powerful than a statement that someone plans to vote one way or another. Rubber meets road.)

I wasn’t alone, it seems, but in reverse. From the NYT:

One Hill Republican aide who was involved in the last-minute negotiations said Mr. Bannon and Mr. Short were seeking to compile an enemies list.

And let’s not forget the ultimatum.

White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon told a group of House conservatives they had no choice but to back the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal bill days before the bill was pulled… “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill,” Bannon reportedly said.

***

Two final notes, for the record. A potential “no” vote does not mean that the Representative thinks ACA should be retained. And what was it that they didn’t vote on, anyway?

What stories of note did you read?

Talk to me on Facebook

The post News/analysis wrap-up: TrumpCare implosion appeared first on WiredPen.

March 24 2017

07:16

FoldIt, an example of social gaming

Gamification is one of those off-putting words that sounds like nails on a blackboard*.

But it was front-and-center (no pun intended) on this week’s FullFrontal with Samantha Bee. And gamification — introducing gaming elements into things that aren’t games — has helped scientists solve problems related to AIDS and Alzheimer’s as well as explore new drug design.

In a segment on challenges faced by local news, Sam interviewed Canadian Gabe Zichermann. He explained that gamification makes things we should do, but don’t, more fun. And thus more likely that we’ll do them.

As an example, he gave a shout-out to FoldIt, a University of Washington crowdsourcing computer game that lets average folks contribute to scientific research:

After about 20 minutes of training, people feel like they’re playing a video game but are actually mouse-clicking in the name of medical science…

The game looks like a 21st-century version of Tetris, with multicolored geometric snakes filling the screen. A team that includes a half-dozen UW graduate and undergraduate students spent more than a year figuring out how to make the game both accurate and engaging.

Zichermann told Sam that FoldIt helped scientists solve a problem related to HIV. After 15 years of traditional science failing to find a solution, more than 40,000 people playing FoldIt produced an accurate 3D model in 10 days. Those findings appeared in the September 18, 2011 issue of Nature.

The UW project is ongoing and is available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers (not smartphones or tablets). Anyone can play, but there are also tools for educators to incorporate FoldIt into their classrooms.

Want to know more about gamification? The University of Pennyslvania has developed an online course on gamification. There’s a body of research.

Back in 2011, I expressed my view about the hype around gamification on Google+ where I shared Tim’ O’Reilly’s response to this review of Zichermann’s Gamification by Design:

In the course of but one year, “gamification”, the use of game design elements in non-game contexts, has managed to grow from a self-description used by some vendors and proponents to a placement on the Gartner hype cycle – and in the IT business, it doesn’t get much more ‘official’ than that. Yet the term still stirs hot debate. On one side, game designers and scholars despise the whole notion as an “inadvertent con” (Margaret Robertson). On the other, proponents counter that gamification already ‘delivers’ (in terms of numbers), yet is still in its infancy. Hence it would be premature to call foul on something so young, with no time to learn from failure and sort wheat from chaff. So who’s right, who’s wrong?

 

Watch the FullFrontal episode

Check out FoldIt

* For any youngsters reading this, blackboards were a mainstay of the 20th century classroom (and date to the 16th century). They were made of thin sheets of black or dark grey slate. You wrote on them with chalk, and if your nails scratched the board, they made a screeching sound. Eventually, blackboards would be replaced by chalkboards (green paint) and then white boards (which use colored markers).

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March 18 2017

08:59

Theft of Secret Service computer raises unanswered questions

Multiple news organizations reported Friday that a Secret Service agent left her agency-issued computer in a car outside her home, where it was stolen about 3 am.

Authorities are frantically searching for a Secret Service-issued laptop — containing floor plans for Trump Tower, information about the Hillary Clinton email investigation and other national security information — that was stolen from an agent’s car in Brooklyn, police sources told the Daily News Friday.

The car, with Maryland plates, was in the home’s driveway, per witnesses and surveillance video. According to news reports, the thief took:

  • the agency-issued computer
  • a personal laptop
  • ID pins that allow agents entry into security perimeters
  • an agency-issued radio
  • an access keycard
  • other “sensitive” documents
  • a black zippered bag with the Secret Service insignia

According to the NY Daily News, the agency computer “doesn’t contain classified information but could be used to access a server that does.” A Secret Service statement said:

Secret Service issued laptops contain multiple layers of security including full disk encryption and are not permitted to contain classified information.

And yet the theft “compromised” national security, according to a CBS report.

Questions not answered in news reports (with no suggestion that they were asked)

  1. Why would a Secret Service computer contain information about the Clinton email investigation?
  2. Why would a Secret Service agent leave her work computer, much less everything else reported stolen, overnight in a car?
  3. Why does the car have Maryland plates? Who owns the car? (Note: it’s possible that it belongs to the agent or her family, as they reportedly moved into the neighborhood last year)
  4. Is the agent a veteran of the Secret Service or part of the private security service Trump retained after the election?
  5. Why doesn’t the Secret Service have something like “Find My Device” on its computers? (And yes, I know that this requires an Internet connection.)
  6. Why doesn’t Secret Service have the ability to remotely wipe a computer, like I do with my (personal) MacBookPro?
  7. What is the Secret Service policy about agency-issued equipment? Is the agent suspended?

It has not been a good week for the Secret Service.

  • Investigation 1: A man who jumped the fences (and a gate) surrounding the White House last Friday was on the grounds for more than 16 minutes before being captured.
  • Investigation 2: two agents who were assigned to protect President Trump’s grandson took selfies with the eight-year-old while he was sleeping.

Sources

The post Theft of Secret Service computer raises unanswered questions appeared first on WiredPen.

March 11 2017

07:00

Trump “fires” 46 U.S. attorneys: standard practice or outrage?

On Friday, the Trump administration ordered 46 U.S. attorneys to resign immediately, generating a hailstorm of publicity.

The announcement came on the heels of a Fox news commentator, Sean Hannity, calling for the Trump White House to “purge” Obama appointments:

In addition, the mass dismissal follows a memo from Attorney General Sessions to all U.S. attorneys “asking them to make fighting violent crime a priority.” The violent crime rate has been declining steadily since it peaked in 1991. In 2014, the murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate was at its lowest point since the early 1960s.

Moreover, media reported that incumbents were told to “summarily … clear out their offices.” CNN reported that at the time of the announcement, “many prosecutors had not been formally notified or even told before they were fired.”

Wholesale house cleaning is not out of the ordinary. However, abrupt dismissals are not normal, no matter how many stories you read that says “but Clinton did this” (nope – details below).

However, abruptly and counter-to-precedent is how this administration fired its diplomats, so the move should not be a complete surprise.
 

Is the Trump demand for resignations unusual?

To answer that question, let’s look backwards, recognizing that the law has changed (rather dramatically) twice.

According to the L.A. Times (2007), in their first two years:

  • Reagan replaced 89 U.S. attorneys
  • Clinton replaced 89 U.S. attorneys
  • Bush replaced 88 U.S. attorneys

Replacing U.S. attorneys at the start of a term of office is the norm.

Forcing abrupt, mass vacancies is not normal. It is also, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA), ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, contrary to prior White House promises:

In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White House Counsel Donald McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys would be fired at once. Mr. McGahn told me that the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity.

However, official statements suggest that is what Trump has done. Here’s Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores:

Until the new U.S. attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our U.S. attorney’s offices will continue the great work of the department in investigating, prosecuting, and deterring the most violent offenders.

What happened in prior administration changes when there was a change in party in the White House?

Sending all U.S. attorneys packing on the same day is unprecedented.

The case of the New York attorney

Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, came to this position after several high-profile investigations. One of those led to the resignation of Bush Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in 2007, while Bharara was chief counsel for Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY). That was the Bush-era #attorneygate scandal.

According to the NYTimes, the demand for a resignation was a surprise to Bharara:

In November, Mr. Bharara met with then President-elect Donald J. Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan and told reporters afterward that both Mr. Trump and Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general, had asked him about staying on, which the prosecutor said he expected to do.

Also, the timing of the demand for resignation comes on the heels of a request that Bharara investigate the president:

It also came the same week that government watchdogs wrote to Mr. Bharara and urged him to investigate whether Mr. Trump had violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bars federal officials from taking payments from foreign governments.

The Manhattan district is a high-profile one; one of its most prominent cases involved Bernard L. Madoff.

A brief history

The Department of Justice operates with 93 U.S. attorneys in 94 districts located throughout the 50 states and U.S. territories. The last time I wrote about U.S. attorneys (not attorneys general) was in late 2006 during the Bush Administration #attorneygate.

U.S. attorneys are responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the areas that they oversee and report to Department of Justice. For almost 100 years, when there was a vacancy, the district court appointed an interim U.S. attorney. The president would then appoint a replacement, who would be confirmed by the Senate.

Since 1986, however, the authority to appointment replacements in the case of a vacancy has shifted to the U.S. Attorney General. But the clock was ticking: if a nominee was not confirmed within 120 days, the district court would appoint an interim U.S. attorney, according to Sen. Feinstein.

The Patriot Act Reauthorization Bill of 2005 added another twist in the politicization of the Department of Justice. It enabled the President — through the office of the Attorney General — to arrange for U.S. attorneys to resign and then to replace them with political appointees not subject to Senate confirmation.

When introduced as HR 3199 in July 2005, the bill totaled seven pages (web text converted to PDF). When signed by the President in March 2006, it had morphed into Public Law 109-177, a “final print” behemoth at 277 pages.

Because of the changes in PL 109-177, the March 2006 reauthorization of the Patriot Act, U.S. attorneys can be appointed without Senate oversight until the end of the President’s term, instead of for only 120 days. This clause — as well as several other “miscellaneous” items — was added to the bill during the conference process. Behind closed doors.

Verdict

Unprecedented timing. If, as the official statement implies, all 46 were told to pack up and leave on Friday, outrage is not misplaced. If the spokesperson misspoke, and all are remaining in place until their successors are confirmed by the Senate, then this is politics-as-usual.

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March 06 2017

09:04

Just say no to political “copy/paste” shares on Facebook

The latest “Please copy/paste and share widely” meme spreading like wildfire on Facebook this weekend asks readers to call Congress and say “vote no” on a list of 10 bills.

They all sound awful (just looking at the titles).

FB political share

Screen capture of Facebook share request

But … how many of these House measures have actually been booked for a hearing in a committee? How many have more than a handful of co-sponsors? How many are being proposed by a congressman who is actually ON the relevant committee?

And have any already been voted out of the House? [Hint: yes. Calling about that one makes you look woefully uninformed and devalues any future feedback.]

There were 12,063 measures introduced in the House and Senate (some were resolutions) in the most recent session of Congress (2015-17). Only 661 bills came up for a vote in one of the chambers over that two-year period. Of those, only 329 became law (passed both chambers, signed by the President or veto overridden).

The same percentage (3%) passed in the 94th Congress (1975-77) but more than twice as many measures were introduced 40 years ago.

Do the math: it does not make sense to oppose a bill simply because someone introduced it.

Exception: is the prime sponsor from your state’s delegation and the same party as your representative? If yes, and this is important to you, ask that your rep not sign on as a co-sponsor.

How to effectively contact your elected representatives

It’s best, when bills are at this stage, to talk to your Representative about your concerns about the environment or health care or <insert your hot button issue>. Focus. Focus. Focus.

Unless your Rep is on a committee. Then it’s appropriate to ask them to vote no should a bill come to a committee vote.

Congressional staff are smart.

They know when you’re responding to a chain mail (or its current Facebook equivalent – the anonymous copy&paste).

Also, I recommend that you call or write the local office. Your written missive will be read more quickly (because of scale at the Congressional post office and security measures). You are going to talk to a staff person, anyway, so call locally and bypass the scale challenge affecting the Congressional switchboard (busy signals).

The local office is the front-line for interacting with constituents. To ensure that you’ll speak to a staffer, call during business hours. Please be patient; you’re speaking with a front-line customer service person.

Relative to your two Senators (who represent the entire state), members of the House of Representatives have smaller budgets and staff. Both have interns. (I was a Senate intern, back in the day, and a lobbyist once I graduated.)

If you care deeply about an issue, make an appointment with the local office and organize several people to meet and share specific stories/concerns.

Why those copy&paste requests are a bad idea

Please don’t share the anonymous-and-undated copy&paste, specifically when it is a political call to action, as a matter of principle. This is the modern equivalent of chain email.

  • There is no provenance (which means, credibility is MIA)
  • They are, in my experience, never dated. I’ve seen month-old (and, thus, expired) calls-to-action shared this way

Any political call to action made by a legitimate organization will have been a public post. Public posts are shareable, even if you saw the post shared by a friend with a “friends only” setting. Share the original, not your friend’s posting.

Facebook also penalizes frequently repeated content (the same image uploaded and shared over-and-over for example) per a 2014 announcement.

But the issue is important to me!

Great! You care about the issue and want to communicate that to your elected representatives. Yeah!

I have only one ask: if the issue is important to you, please take a moment to research the call-to-action. (This is a best practice before any share, actually, but I’m concerned primarily with political ones.)

Then tell us where where you found the information; date it; give us links. Provide footprints that everyone (even if the post is friends-only) can see. Add something to the original request to it to make it your own.

In other words, think slowly (thank you, Daniel Kahneman), rather than knee-jerk react. That’s what these posts are designed to do — trigger a knee-jerk, quick (also known as “thought-less”) emotional response.

That’s right: I’m asking you to invest some of your own time.

 

That list of 10 House measures

The copy&paste request making the rounds this weekend did not even include a link to the bills. In my original Facebook post, I linked to each measure as a comment. I’ve put them in chronological order here. Note that bill titles often bear only a limited resemblance to the actual content of the bill. See the Senate one listed as an example.

1. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife

PASSED THE HOUSE on 2/17 (225 – 193)
IN THE SENATE, received 2/17
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-joint-resolution/69

2. HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill

Prime sponsor, Rep. Barletta, Lou [R-PA-11]
Only nine (9) co-sponsors
01/23/2017 Referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/83

3. HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)

Prime sponsor, Rep. Franks, Trent [R-AZ-8]
**59 cosponsors*
01/23/2017 Referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/147

4. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood of 2017

Prime sponsor, Rep. Black, Diane [R-TN-6]
** 136 co-sponsors **
01/25/2017 Referred to the Subcommittee on Health.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/354

Here’s the companion bill in the Senate

S.241 – Protect Funding for Women’s Health Care Act
(yes that’s really its name)
Prime sponsor, Sen. Ernst, Joni [R-IA]
**26 co-sponsors** (that’s a lot)
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/241

Here’s the bill from the prior session

She introduced the same bill in 2015-16

5. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act (the FB “title”)

“To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010” (Congress.gov title)
There is more than one of these ACA repeal bills – this is NOT the primary one

Prime sponsor, Rep. Flores, Bill [R-TX-17]
** ZERO co-sponsors **
02/10/2017 Referred to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/370

6. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education

[also repeals a rule relating to nutrition standards]
Prime sponsor, Rep. King, Steve [R-IA-4]
** Three (3) co-sponsors **
01/23/2017 Referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/610

7. HR 785 National Right to Work

Prime sponsor, Rep. King, Steve [R-IA-4]
** 15 co-sponsors **
02/01/2017 Referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/785

8. HR 808 Sanctions against Iran (FB title)

Iran Nonnuclear Sanctions Act of 2017 (Congress.gov title)
Prime sponsor, Rep. Roskam, Peter J. [R-IL-6]
** Four (4) co-sponsors **
02/01/2017 Referred to House Oversight and Government Reform
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/808

9. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency

Prime sponsor, Rep. Gaetz, Matt [R-FL-1]
** Three (3) co-sponsors **
02/10/2017 Referred to the Subcommittee on Environment.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/861

10. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education

Prime sponsor, Rep. Massie, Thomas [R-KY-4]
** Seven (7) co-sponsors **
02/07/2017 Referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/899

 

Nine of these 10 measures were featured in a dodgy left-leaning website, which might have provided the impetus for the post.

 

The post Just say no to political “copy/paste” shares on Facebook appeared first on WiredPen.

February 25 2017

07:48

February 22 2017

07:23

Citizens confront congressmen at town halls around the country

[UPDATED3] President’s Day is a national holiday, and U.S. senators and representatives held town halls around the country this week.

However, many congressmen seemed to share this point of view:

Consequently, in a whole lot of communities, citizens held town halls without their congressmen.

On Friday, Alabama U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R) acknowledged the movement on local radio:

I don’t know if we’re going to be able to repeal Obamacare now because these folks who support Obamacare are very active, they’re putting pressure on congressman and there’s not a counter-effort to steel the spine of some of these congressmen in tossup districts around the country.

 
Lest you think that Rep. Brooks thinks this is a good idea …

And you may not even see a vote to repeal Obamacare, you might see something where they call it a repeal but really it’s an amendment. You and I have talked about this before. We need an outright repeal of Obamacare and then whatever’s gonna come after it, fine, let’s have that discussion. But this monstrosity needs to be repealed and right now, in my judgment, we don’t have the votes in Congress to pass a repeal bill, in part because of what these people are doing

Party leadership, starting with the President, have characterized the citizens as agitators trying to “bully” the Congressmen. Brooks echoed this refrain, claiming that there are “some anarchist types, criminal element types, disruptor types.” Headlines are noticeably missing reports of this type of behavior, and “if it bleeds, it leads.”
 

Scenes from

  1. Alabama
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Colorado
  5. Connecticut
  6. Georgia
  7. Florida
  8. Idaho
  9. Illinois
  10. Indiana
  11. Iowa
  12. Kentucky
  13. Louisiana
  14. Maryland
  15. Maine
  16. New Jersey
  17. New York
  18. North Carolina
  19. Ohio
  20. Pennsylvania
  21. Tennessee
  22. Texas
  23. Virginia
  24. Washington

 

Alabama

 

Arkansas

 

California

 

Mariposa

 

San Diego

 

Colorado

 

Connecticut

 

Florida

 

Georgia

 

Idaho

 

Illinois

 

Indiana

 

Iowa

https://twitter.com/mcspocky/status/834490482399051783

 

Kentucky

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told local business leaders that “winners make policy and the losers go home.”
AP

 

Louisiana

 

Maine

 

Maryland

 

New Jersey

 

New York

TOM REED

 

Brooklyn

 

Rhinebeck

 

North Carolina

 

Ohio

 

Pennsylvania

 

Tennessee

 

Texas

https://twitter.com/BlazeBerner/status/834300215511248896

 

Virginia

 

Blackstone

 

York

 

Washington

Photo: Seattle Women’s March, 21 January 2017
POSTED: 11.23 pm Pacific, 21 February
UPDATED: 11.45 pm Pacific, 22 February
UPDATED: 6:20 pm Pacific, 24 February

The post Citizens confront congressmen at town halls around the country appeared first on WiredPen.

February 19 2017

06:55

Donald Trump’s America: week four

This week’s (11-17 February) episode of Donald Trump’s America brings us the following:

Day 29, 17 February 2017

Day 28, 16 February 2017

Day 26, 15 February 2017

  • Andrew Puzder Withdraws From Consideration as Labor Secretary.
    Republican senators who expressed concerns included Susan Collins (ME), Johnny Isakson (GA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), John Thune (SD),  Thom Tillis (NC), and Tim Scott (SC).
  • The FBI released 400 pages of records from the government’s race discrimination investigation into Trump’s real estate company.  “In October 1973, the Civil Rights Division filed a lawsuit against Trump Management Company, Donald Trump and his father Fred Trump, alleging that African-Americans and Puerto Ricans were systematically excluded from apartments. The Trumps responded with a $100 million countersuit accusing the government of defamation.” The parties settled the litigation with a consent decree in 1975.
  • TWITTER: Trump castigated the media (“fake news”).

Day 26, 14 February 2017

Day 25, 13 February 2017

Day 24, 12 February 2017

Day 23, 11 February 2017

 

Cabinet Tracker (link provides current information)

  • February 16: Scott Pruitt confirmed as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (52-46)
  • February 16: Mick Mulvaney confirmed as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (51-49, McCain voted with the minority)
  • February 14: Linda E. McMahon confirmed as Administrator of the Small Business Administration (81-19)
  • February 13: David J. Shulkin confirmed as Secretary of Veterans Affairs (unanimous)
  • February 13: Steve Mnuchin confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury (53-47, Manchin III voted with the majority)
  • February 10: Tom Price confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services (52-47)
  • February 8: Jeff Sessions confirmed as Attorney General (52-47)
  • February 7: Betsy DeVos confirmed as Secretary of Education (50-50, tie cast by Vice President Pence)
  • February 1: Rex Tillerson confirmed as Secretary of State (56-43)
  • January 31: Elaine L. Chao confirmed as Secretary of Transportation (93-6)
  • January 24: Nikki R. Haley confirmed as Ambassador to the United Nations (96-4)
  • January 23: Mike Pompeo confirmed as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (66-32)
  • January 20: John Kelly confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security (88–11)
  • January 20: James Mattis confirmed as Secretary of Defense (98–1)

See CabinetVotes.org to track your Senators.

The post Donald Trump’s America: week four appeared first on WiredPen.

February 11 2017

07:48

Donald Trump’s America: week three

This week’s (4-10 February) episode of Donald Trump’s America brings us the following:

Day 22, 10 February 2017

Day 21, 9 February 2017

Day 20, 8 February 2017

Day 19, 7 February 2017

Day 18, 6 February 2017

Day 17, 5 February 2017

Day 16, 4 February 2017

In addition, the White House travel ban continued to lose in court:

So now the WH may rewrite the executive order. Or maybe it won’t.

News from Congress:

  • Republican Congressmen grilled by constituents at their own town halls (TN, UT)
  • Republican Congressmen cancelling town halls (AL, NY)
  • Citizens demanding Congressmen hold town halls (NY)

Congressmen grilled at town halls

California, Florida, Tennessee, Utah

Much more on Rep. Chaffetz town hall in Utah on Storify

Congressmen cancelling town halls

Alabama and New York

http://leftinalabama.com/al-05-mo-brooks-public-town-hall-event-canceled-after-public-found-out-about-it/

Citizens demanding town halls

Arizona, New York

Coming up over the weekend

 

The post Donald Trump’s America: week three appeared first on WiredPen.

February 07 2017

20:59

Collins and Murkowski bear responsibility for Betsy DeVos being Education Secretary

For the first time in the history of this country, a vice president had to break a tie vote (50-50) on a cabinet nomination.

The nominee was Betsy DeVos. The tie was because two Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins (ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK) voted against their party.

In back-to-back floor speeches, the lawmakers said Ms. DeVos was unqualified because of a lack of familiarity with public schools and with laws meant to protect students, despite her passion for helping them.

Shout-outs to these two Senators have already begun. They are misplaced.

Had either of these senators — Collins or Murkowski — voted against DeVos in committee, her nomination would never have come before the Senate.

DeVos “passed” the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on a 12-11 party-line vote.  Collins and Murkowski both voted to RECOMMEND that DeVos be elevated to Secretary of Education.

Nothing has “come out” about DeVos in the week between the committee vote and the full Senate vote that is “new”. If DeVos is unqualified today, as both Senators contend, she was unqualified then.

In other words, Collins and Murkowski have a lot of explaining to do to their constituents. And the nation. Because the work of Congress takes place in committee.

Senators and Representatives cannot have subject matter expertise — or subject matter staff — on every issue that comes before the legislative body. They delegate those tasks to other legislators, just like voters delegate subject matter expertise to elected representatives. The world is too complex for anyone to know everything about everything.

Although Collins and Murkowski bear responsibility for the HELP Committee recommendation, GOP moderates bear responsibility for her being elevated to a position that she seems qualified for only by virtue of her $200 million gift to the GOP. Lust for power trumps common sense, much less common decency.

No swamps are being drained.

Neither Collins nor Murkowski stand for re-election in 2018.

 

Photo credit: official Senate photos of Collins (in blue) and Murkowski (in red).

The post Collins and Murkowski bear responsibility for Betsy DeVos being Education Secretary appeared first on WiredPen.

February 06 2017

09:53

Meteor seen across midwest early Monday morning

The things you see on Twitter! I took a peek before heading to bed, only to see that the National Weather Service of Chicago had tweeted a dashcam from an Illinois police car … showing a meteor falling from the sky. Timestamp: 01:25.

In case you’ve forgotten your science classes:

A meteor is a space rock—or meteoroid—that enters Earth’s atmosphere. As the space rock falls toward Earth, the resistance—or drag—of the air on the rock makes it extremely hot. What we see is a “shooting star.” That bright streak is not actually the rock, but rather the glowing hot air as the hot rock zips through the atmosphere.

Meteorites are meteors that reach the Earth’s surface; they are rare.

So I started poking around. The meteor was seen in at least two states, Illinois and Wisconsin, and perhaps Iowa and Indiana.

 

Chronology of meteor sighting, as posted on Twitter

Times are Pacific.

 

00:17, Wisconsin

 

00:30, Wisconsin

 

00:51, Wisconsin

 

00.55, Wisconsin

 

1:13, Illinois

 

1:18, Wisconsin

 

1:35, Wisconsin

Famous meteors

At least 16 witnesses captured the 1992 Peekskill, NY, meteor on video, “making it one of the best-documented meteor strikes in history.” Pretty sure that record just turned into dust.

The Ensisheim Meteorite (1492) landed near the town of Ensisheim in Alsace, France. It is the earliest meteorite “witnessed in the Western world” from which we have samples.

 
Credit:
Featured photo is montage from this tweet

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July 22 2016

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