Friday, December 23, 2005

Yea. "Radiation."

Mosques monitored for radiation: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials have secretly monitored radiation levels at Muslim sites, including mosques and private homes, since September 11, 2001 as part of a top secret program searching for nuclear bombs, U.S. News and World Report said on Friday.

The news magazine said in its online edition that the far-reaching program covered more than a hundred sites in the Washington, D.C., area and at least five other cities.

"In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program," the magazine said.

The report comes a week after revelations that the Bush administration had authorized eavesdropping on people in the United States. U.S. President George W. Bush has defended that covert program and vowed to continue the practice, saying it was vital to protect the country.
Honestly, how much do they think the country will swallow?

On the other hand, the United States has been up to Rod-Stewart-rumours proportions, so perhaps they think they've pulled a fast one...

Fall Out From The Transit Strike

New York Buses, Subways Back in Service After Strike


The union agreed to end the walkout and resume contract talks after two days of meetings between labor representatives and MTA officials with a three-person mediation panel headed by Richard Curreri, director of the state Public Employment Relations Board.

The largest mass transit system in the U.S. came to a standstill Dec. 20 when the union rejected a three-year MTA contract offer that called for new employees to contribute more of their wages to a pension plan and walked off the job.


A state law prohibiting walkouts by public employees penalizes strikers two days' pay for every day of work missed. State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones fined the union $1 million for each day of the walkout and threatened to jail labor leaders, and city officials were pressing a separate suit for millions in damages before the agreement was announced.

A court hearing scheduled for yesterday was postponed after the strike was called off until Jan. 20.

During the walkout, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had called strikers ``selfish,'' ``greedy'' and ``thuggish.'' TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint said he was defending his workers' rights.

The union and MTA returned to a midtown hotel after midnight yesterday for their first face-to-face meeting since talks broke off earlier in the week, and at 11 a.m., state mediators came to a ballroom where reporters were waiting to announce they had reached an agreement to end the strike.
Bottom line:

The MTA has NOT taken pensions off the table, in violation of the state's Taylor Law (the law referred to four paragraphs up), but is under no sanction for proposing it. They have, however, agreed that they'd consider additional changes in the health insurance components in exchange for dropping that bit of unethical nonsense.

Which, I suspect, is what they were after in the first place.

So who loses?

The TWU, for one. Those million dollar a day fines are not negotiable and unwaivable, altho on appeal, the courts might reduce them significantly.

The riders, for another, even tho the MTA will move heaven and earth to placate us with a few measly scraps from the table.

Other unions, also. Their pensions and health care coverage are in jeopardy now. The TWU was the only union to strike over a contract, yet the police, fire fighters, teachers, and health care workers all have worked significant periods of time without contracts. The Taylor Law HAS to be amended to make it a fairer deal for workers, who de facto lose money each day they work without a raise that at least covers inflation.

Bloomberg loses as well. Calling working people "thugs" is not going to endear you to any future union work disputes.

Pataki probably loses, but only a little. His presidential bid is such a long shot it's not even funny.

The MTA, of course, wins big, since this is all one giant zero sum game. But things have a way of evening themselves out in the end. I pity Peter Kalikow and George Pataki for the karma they've riled up.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Battle Is Nearly Over, The War Has Just Begun

Strike Report 12/22/05
It's Over (Almost), But Pension Battle for All U.S. Workers is Just Starting


The sickening anti-worker propaganda in New York's newspapers - in a confounding twist, these courageous workers were even called "rats" by the New York Post - shows that Americans have a lot to learn about how their own government is screwing them over.

In this increasingly interconnected world, the NYC transit strike has to be linked to the sorry-ass news on Capitol Hill: Vise President Dick Cheney further put the squeeze on Americans by casting the tie-breaking vote yesterday in the Senate that guaranteed a grimmer economic future for all Americans who make less than $250,000 a year. The guy is simply a vulture, and you're only fooling yourself if you store the horrendous budget news coming out of D.C. in a separate part of your brain from the economic issues behind the New York City transit strike.

The Washington Post only partially got it right this time, reporting this morning:

Senate Republicans, by the narrowest margin yesterday, pushed through a major budget measure that would trim federal spending by nearly $40 billion over five years, but they were stymied by Democrats in their effort to open Alaska's wilderness to oil drilling.

Vice President Cheney took his seat as president of the Senate just past 10:30 a.m. to cast the tie-breaking vote on a hard-fought budget bill that would allow states to impose new fees on Medicaid recipients, cut federal child-support enforcement funds, impose new work requirements on state welfare programs and squeeze student lenders - all for the purpose of slowing the growth of federal entitlement programs.
The tax cuts for the wealthy? Not even mentioned in the Washington Post story, even though those tax cuts and our outrageous war spending are breaking the federal piggy bank.

As I pointed out the other day, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg had the gall to label the New York City transit strike as "morally reprehensible" while Wall Street execs are taking home huge bonuses this holiday season.

The transit workers, trying to look out for their futures, are labeled "selfish"?
But pensions...those are up for grabs.

How do you think many of those huge bonuses were paid for by companies rewarding their CEOs and other executives for performance? By not funding pensions.

Elaine Chao, our erstwhile Secretary of Labor (such as she is) estimates that the unfunded pension liability nationwide is $450 billion. And that's a conservative making a conservative estimate! My guess, you can double, perhaps triple, that figure and be closer to the truth.

And guess who pays for that? You. Me. Every tax payer in America will have the opportunity to do right for a fellow working American as the Reagan/Bush legacy comes home to roost squarely on the backs of the people who worked 20, 25, 30, 40, 50 years for a company only to find out the rules changed and their pensions that they thought would be waiting for them, are in default.

Like other commuters, I'm happy that the transit strike appears to be ending. We won't have to pound as much shoe leather. But the fight for reasonable pensions and health-care benefits is just now starting, if we're smart. And it was the transit workers who did the walking for us.

I hear the argument from tired newsroom hacks that pensions aren't a "sexy" topic and that young people don't even think about such things.

Well, for decades, many Americans didn't have to think about such things because they had unions fighting for them and because insurance companies weren't running the health-care business.

Those days are over. People had better start thinking about how to revive the American dream before it expires.

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Getting A Leg Up On The Competition

TV host Cooke's body plundered by ghouls


The ghoulish body parts for sale ring stole the bones of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke just before he was cremated, the Daily News has learned.
The celebrated broadcaster and actor died March 30, 2004, of lung cancer that spread to his bones.

The next day, without permission of any family members, body snatchers surgically carved out the 95-year-old's diseased bones.

The bones were sold for more than $7,000 to two tissue processing companies for eventual transplant procedures, sources told The News.

"I hope those guys burn in hell for what they did," said longtime Cooke family attorney David Grossberg.

The alleged leader of the body-snatching ring is Michael Mastromarino, whose operations are under investigation by the Brooklyn district attorney's office.

Mastromarino ran Biomedical Tissue Services Ltd., a tremendously profitable tissue recovery business that sold body parts, including bone, skin and cardiac valves.

After processing, Cooke's bones could have been used for dental implants or numerous orthopedic procedures including dowels for damaged spines.

Cooke's remains were sold by Mastromarino to processing companies Regeneration Technologies Inc., of Alachua, Fla., and Tutogen Medical Inc., of Paterson, N.J.

A spokesman for Tutogen did not return a telephone call. A spokesman for Regeneration Technologies had no comment.

But Cooke's daughter, Susan Kittredge, who learned what happened to her father only last week, told The News she was "shocked and saddened that following his death, parts of his body were illegally sold for transplant."

"That people in need of healing should have received his body parts, considering his age and the fact that he was ill when he died, is as appalling to the family as is that his remains were violated," she said.

The use of cancerous bone for transplant is a violation of Food and Drug Administration regulations and the use of body parts from the aged also is against transplant protocol.

But in paperwork given the two processing companies, Mastromarino allegedly changed Cooke's "cause of death" to heart attack and changed his age from 95 to 85, according to sources.

Mastromarino, along with his former partner Joseph Nicelli, an embalmer, are being probed for allegedly forging hundreds of such records in their business, which ran from 2000 until October 2005, when The News first disclosed the details of the Brooklyn probe.

Mastromarino routinely paid funeral directors for each corpse provided to his company.

Cooke's corpse was picked up at his Fifth Ave. home by the New York Mortuary Services Inc., a private funeral home at 2242 First Ave. Kittredge said she got what she believed to be her father's ashes two days later.

Timothy O'Brien, head of New York Mortuary Services did not return calls. His attorney had no comment.
How many "Masterpiece Theatre" jokes can we make here? "RUMPole of the Bailey"? "EYE, Claudius"? "Elizabeth ARM"?

Des-Pirro-t Moves

Pirro drops Senate bid to run for Attorney General


December 22, 2005

Finally bowing to the wishes of powerful figures in the Republican party, Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro brought an end to her beleaguered U.S. Senate campaign yesterday, saying she would instead run for attorney general.

Pirro, whose 12-year tenure as Westchester District Attorney draws to a close at the end of the year, said she hopes to build on her career as a prosecutor, echoing the calls of fellow Republicans who had said she was more suited to run for that office.

"I have concluded that my head and my heart remain in law enforcement," she said in a statement, adding she would make a formal announcement next month.

A Pirro bid for attorney general potentially sets her up for a run against former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary. Former New York City mayoral candidate Mark Green is also in the Democratic field.

If Pirro is chosen by Republicans to run for attorney general she would again be forced to defend the illegal activities of her husband, Al Pirro, who was convicted in 2000 of tax fraud.

Pirro's decision immediately opened the door for Manhattan lawyer Ed Cox, a son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon, to re-enter the Senate race. He withdrew in October after Gov. George Pataki endorsed Pirro. But yesterday, a Cox spokesman would not comment on that prospect.
Not just on Pirro's part, since she's clearly going to be in a dogfight against either Cuomo (who has his own marital issues to defend) or Green, but on the GOP part.

Again, I'm not sure you want the son-in-law of the second-most corrupt President in the nation's history running against the wife of the perhaps least corrupt President of the past fifty years (OK, Carter, but I think it's pretty close, absent the sexual improprieties). I can imagine the campaign now: "You had a choice and married into the Nixon family????" followed by loud raucous laughter.

By the way, for you out-of-state'rs, here's a good primer on the New York GOP:
State GOP Smackdown!
With the end of Pataki’s reign nigh, the New York State Republican party seems to be at war with itself. A handy guide to who’s stabbing whom in the back, and why.

Pataki’s Inner Circle
Governor George Pataki

Current Play: Trying to convince national GOP leaders he’s presidential material; plotting to avoid being associated with high-profile 2006 losses.
Boosting: Himself, Pirro (tepidly), Weld (to punish longtime rival Tom Golisano).

State GOP Chair Stephen Minarik
Current Play: Hanging on as party supremo.
Boosting: Socially liberal candidates Pirro and Weld.
Undermining: Conservative Party honcho Mike Long and his power over the GOP.
Strategy: Strong-arming county chairmen into supporting his duo.

Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld
Current Play: Hoping his blue-blood charm will out-affable Spitzer to win governorship.
Boosting: Minarik, his prime sponsor.
Strategy: Pushing for Minarik-engineered “straw poll” of county chairs to shore up his candidacy.

Westchester D.A. Jeanine Pirro
Current Play: After her Senate bid was betrayed by Bruno and others who want to take control of the party from Minarik, she’s fighting for her political life.
Boosting: Minarik.
Strategy: Staged “summit meeting” with Pataki to create impression he’d rallied for her.

Former Senator (and current lobbyist) Al D’Amato
Current Play: Plotting to maintain influence in post-Pataki Albany.
Boosting: Pirro (in hopes of selling access to her later).
Backup Plan: He’s crossed party lines to talk up Spitzer, hoping likely future gov will give him the access to keep his lobbying biz alive.

The Insurrectionists
State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno
Current Play: Hanging on to slim State Senate majority.
Boosting: Golisano, hoping he’ll bankroll Senate candidates and goose turnout.
Undermining: Minarik, Pirro, Weld.
Strategy: By slaying Pirro and Weld, he destroys archrival Minarik.

Rochester Billionaire Tom Golisano
Current Play:
Gubernatorial candidacy as hostile takeover of state GOP after losing repeatedly to Pataki.
Boosting: Bruno.
Undermining: Minarik, because he hand-picked Weld.

Conservative Party Boss Mike Long
Current Play:
Figuring out how to maintain influence over state GOP.
Boosting: Himself.
Undermining: Pirro, Weld, Minarik.
Strategy: By withholding support from Pirro and Weld, he hopes to turn worried GOP activists against Minarik.

The Free Agents
Former Congressman Rick Lazio

Current Play: Floating his name for attorney general while sitting at his desk at JPMorgan Chase.
Strategy: Waiting to see if GOP primary field is clear before running (and apparently wondering if it’s worth sacrificing his Wall Street bonus).

Former Secretary of State Randy Daniels
Current Play: Hoping to become governor by siphoning minority votes from Spitzer while also running as the conservative candidate.
Boosting: Long.
Undermining: Minarik.
Strategy: Hoping to turn GOP rank and file against liberal Weld.

Lobbyist John Faso
Current Play: Selling himself as a Long Island version of tax-cutting Pataki.
Boosting: Himself.
Undermining: Weld, Daniels, Golisano.
Hidden Agenda: High-profile statewide loss would still boost profile (and lobbying business).

Mayor Mike Bloomberg
Current Play: Trying to leverage his landslide into Albany influence.
Boosting: Minarik’s state party for helping him win, punishing Democratic Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver for sinking his stadium (but not enough to alienate probable Dem governor Spitzer).

Who's The Bigger Thug?

[T]he strike's emotional tenor went up a notch, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg continued to call the union "selfish" and several black leaders decried his criticism Tuesday that union leaders were acting "thuggishly."


After updating reporters on the city's Day Two response to the strike, Bloomberg castigated the TWU and its rhetoric.

"What frauds they are, claiming to be a champion of working families when their illegal actions are costing New Yorkers their livelihoods," he said.

A few hours later, Toussaint invoked the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the August 2003 blackout in demanding respect for workers. He also compared the strike to the work of Rosa Parks. "We ask you to keep that in mind when you consider the type of offensive language and insulting speech being used to describe your neighbors," he said.

Some public officials and New Yorkers bridled at Bloomberg's use of the word "thuggish" to describe the union Tuesday.

Standing in front of a sign that read, "The Taylor Law is a slave code," and wearing a red arm band, Councilman Charles Barron likened the MTA to a plantation.

Georgina Howard, 45, a nurse from Cambria Heights, was incensed with some of the mayor's rhetoric. "He called Toussaint a thug," she said. "If the head of the union had been white, I doubt he would have used that word."

The mayor's spokesman, Ed Skyler, said, "It's despicable to inject race into this situation."
Here you have a billionaire mayor, Bloomberg, a billionaire MTA head, Peter Kalikow, and a millionaire governor, George Pataki, wielding the massive club of the state's Taylor Law, calling a bunch of folks the city relies on to move its people "thugs"?

Tell you what, Mikey, Petey, Georgie: put down your club, and walk with me. Let me show you what people are going thru to persevere in this strike. Get out of your limousines and your town houses and your mansions, and take a walk with me to an apartment in, say, Long Island police protection, Mr. Mayor. No cameras for your little photo op across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Be the populist you claim to be, Governor. Walk from City Hall to the Queensboro Bridge, and into Ravenswood projects, or the Queensbridge Houses. See the people, feet aching, legs throbbing.

I'd mention Petey, but I'm guessing the half mile up the incline of the Queensboro Bridge would cripple his calves, which only get exercised stretching for rationales.

We who walk support the TWU. Why?

Because we get it. We see the naked greed of the MTA. The fact that they whine about deficits and bankruptcy until mirabile dictu, they get a fare hike or union concessions or an increase in state or city funding. Then suddenly, they're so far in the black it's not funny.

This isn't private industry, gentlemen. You can't outsource the "D" train to India. You can't hire a busload of Central Americans to operate the trains, sweatshop fashion.

Deal with the folks who run the system. Deal with them fairly, deal with them honestly. Take the pensions off the table, guys. We have enough insecurities in our citizenry about private companies and their pensions without you guys jacking up the fear for folks who, for less pay than they'd make in the private sector, worrying if they made a mistake in serving the public.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Could It Be That Republicans Are Finally Standing Up To Fascism?

Judge Reportedly Resigns Over U.S. Spy Program

Published: December 21, 2005
Filed at 11:20 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal judge has resigned from a special court set up to oversee government surveillance, apparently in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program on people with suspected terrorist ties.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson would not comment Wednesday on his resignation, but The Washington Post reported that it stemmed from deep concern that the surveillance program Bush authorized was legally questionable and may have tainted the work of the court.

An aide to Robertson said the resignation letter submitted to Chief Justice John Roberts was not being released. Robertson did not step down from his district judgeship in Washington.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan would not discuss Robertson's resignation or the reasons cited for his departure. ''Judge Robertson did not comment on the matter and I don't see any reason why we need to,'' McClellan said.

Robertson was one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees government applications for secret surveillance or searches of foreigners and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism or espionage. Robertson's term was to end in May.
And then there's this:
Judge bars ID from schools, says it's religion, not science


December 21, 2005

The concept of "intelligent design" is inherently religious in nature and may not be introduced into high school biology classrooms in a Pennsylvania public school district, a district court judge ruled yesterday in a sharply worded and potentially far-reaching decision.

"The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID [intelligent design] is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory," wrote U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in a 139-page decision that prompted a flurry of responses on both sides of the bitter intelligent design-evolution divide.
But then again, maybe not:
Pirro Expected to Drop Out of N.Y. Senate Race

Published: December 21, 2005
Filed at 12:27 p.m. ET

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Jeanine Pirro has decided to halt her struggling campaign for the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2006, two Republicans close to the situation said Wednesday.

She will run instead for state attorney general, the sources said.

The Republicans, who spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said an announcement from the high-profile Westchester County district attorney could come as early as Thursday.

There was no immediate comment from Pirro.
But then again:
Cheney Breaks Tie on Budget-Cutting Bill

Published: December 21, 2005
WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 - With Vice President Dick Cheney breaking a 50-50 tie, the Senate approved a $40 billion budget-cutting measure today that Republicans hailed as evidence of their determination to control federal spending.

"Victory No. 1," Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, declared after the budget measure was passed in the first of a series of major policy and parliamentary showdowns in the closing hours of the session.
"Victory #1", after nearly a year of this Congress. Sad commentary on the "effectiveness" of the GOP agenda, since for this bill to have been a tie, several Republicans had to defect in the first place from the President's agenda....

Today's Bush Joke

Campbell's has announced it soon will stock America's grocery store shelves with "Bush Soup," in honor of our president. A company spokesman said the soup will consist primarily of a weiner in hot water.

A Measly $20 Million Dollars.....

From today's New York Times:
In Final Hours, M.T.A. Took a Big Risk on Pensions

Published: December 21, 2005

On the final day of intense negotiations, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, it turns out, greatly altered what it had called its final offer, to address many of the objections of the transit workers' union. The authority improved its earlier wage proposals, dropped its demand for concessions on health benefits and stopped calling for an increase in the retirement age, to 62 from 55.

But then, just hours before the strike deadline, the authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, put forward a surprise demand that stunned the union. Seeking to rein in the authority's soaring pension costs, he asked that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions, up from the 2 percent that current workers pay. The union balked, and then shut down the nation's largest transit system for the first time in a quarter-century.

Yet for all the rage and bluster that followed, this war was declared over a pension proposal that would have saved the transit authority less than $20 million over the next three years.

It seemed a small figure, considering that the city says that every day of the strike will cost its businesses hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues. But the authority contends that it must act now to prevent a "tidal wave" of pension outlays if costs are not brought under control.
OK, time value of money calculated in, let's allow for 30 years of service before a worker draws on his pension at age 55. At even 6% a year earnings, that $20 million would grow to the grand total of $100 million.

The MTA (George Pataki and Michael Bloomberg) has an unfunded pension liability (meaning money they've borrowed from their workers' future to fund current operations) of $450 million. This, with a $1 Billion dollar operating surplus.

Why not just fund that extra $20 million now out of the surplus, instead of giving commuters an almost useless nine extra days of discounted fares on the rails and buses?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

In Support of the TWU

Well, I did my first walk of the 2005 transit strike.

As I walked, listening to my iPod, I pondered how I felt about this strike.

Under the state's Taylor Law, the TWU is clearly in violation of the law, and is in danger of serious and severe sanctions. Which means they must be serious about the issues on the table. Maximum penalties under this law are two days salary for each day's strike, plus potential arrest and imprisonment.

And that's just the rank and file.

So what precisely are the issues involved?

First of course, is a salary increase. Even the MTA, including Peter Kalikow and his handler, Governor George Pataki, acknowledge the union deserves a serious wage hike. Three years ago, the MTA was pleading near-bankruptcy, the September 11 attacks had crippled major subway and bus lines and wiped out an awful lot of the ridership (just after some major improvements had been implemented to improve service and keep costs down). The TWU had threatened a strike in 2002, but the strike never came close to materializing, as Roger Toussaint sympathized with the MTA's woes.

Miracle of miracles, six months later, the MTA was running a big surplus! This, after effectively cutting fares, improving service frequency and reliability.

Think the TWU was a little, um, miffed? After all, they, like the rest of us, believed the MTA's sob story. So this time around, with the MTA claiming a billion dollar surplus (is it really only a billion dollars?), the TWU asked for a three year contract with a raise of 6% a year.

The latest MTA offer is a three year contract of 3, 4, and 4 percent increases. So they're not far apart on this issue.

Next, the pension.

The MTA wants new employees to kick in 6% of the annual pension funding for their benefit for the first ten years of employment, and a raise in the retirement age from 55 to 62.

It sounds reasonable, right? I mean, most 20 year olds don't contribute to 401(k)s in the corporate world, feel they're going to live forever, and so why not force them to put a little away for their old age?

well, that little obstacle, the Taylor Law addresses this issue as well, sort of. Imposed by the Taylor Law is a good-faith arrangement that prohibits the state from materially changing the collective bargaining agreement. In other words, the pension benefit that was in force at the time the Taylor Law was passed has to remain unchanged (but not unaltered).

So this request of the MTA to alter the pension plan may be in violation of the Taylor Law. If so, state law is very clear on this point: if the union can show that the MTA was attempting to force a change in the basic agreement (in this case, the pension benefit), the union can show that the MTA was in effect coercing the union in negotiations by dangling the Taylor Law sanctions in front of them, which would make the strike legal, and the penalties imposed would have to be rescinded.

Almost every other public employees union in the state has raised an alarm about this particular aspect of the negotiations, because if one union is forced to submit to these rules, then all pensions are in danger, not only of being altered, but dismantled.

Next issue, the MTA wants the union members to contribute 1% of the health care premium. Right now, they pay nothing. Again, this sounds reasonable, and perhaps the union will cave on this provision, but it would violate the Taylor Law spirit.

Next, holidays. The TWU wants the MTA to add Martin Luther King's birthday as a paid holiday (which would also impose overtime rules for employees that worked that day). MLK's Birthday is a federal holiday, and the MTA has warmed up to this request.

Finally, and this to me is an overlooked issue: The TWU wants disaster-preparedness training, following transit system bombings in Madrid and London.

See, say what you will about the police, both undercover and uniformed personnel in train stations and on trains, the bus and subway operators are the city's first line of defense against a terror attack in the transit system.

The police can't be everywhere. The TWU has to be. And that alone should justify support of the TWU.

The International TWU has disavowed any authorization of this strike, saying they pleaded with Toussaint to hold off on a job action.

Bunch of pussies. No wonder unions are dying in America.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Announcing the SLB Personal Ad Department

Looking for Love In The West?

Bird Flu Creeping Closer

(Hat Tip to my good buddy, Ed at Tao of Politics)

Mutations taking world closer to bird flu pandemic: official

Fri Dec 16,12:29 PM ET

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Bird flu has yet to achieve human-to-human transmission, but subtle mutations in the virus are bringing the world closer to a pandemic, the UN's coordinator on avian influenza said.

"There are some subtle changes in the genetic makeup of H5N1 which suggest that it is making some of the mutations that would enable it to have a higher likelihood of being able to become a human-to-human transmitted virus," said David Nabarro.

"Virologists who study these things say do not get complacent. It is quite feasible that H5N1 could mutate. The fact that it has taken some years should not lead you to believe that we are through the worst."

Nabarro was speaking in Phnom Penh during a one-day visit to Cambodia, which has seen at least four human bird flu deaths.

He warned that there are difficulties stockpiling enough anti-viral medicines to combat the illness.

"We all would like there to be much more stockage of anti-viral medicines. We are in a bit of difficulty because the production capacity, particularly of (Tamiflu), is quite restricted," he said, adding that the UN was in regular talks with drug manufacturers to build up stocks.
Place your bets on when bird flu hitting America here

Steeeeeeeeeeeeeerike TWO!

TWU stands strong on strike deadline


December 19, 2005, 1:25 PM EST

Thousands of Queens commuters began the Monday morning rush hour with no bus service after workers for two private bus lines went on strike, offering a preview of what could become a citywide shutdown if transit negotiators fail to reach an agreement before the end of the day.

"We believe there is time to resolve this contract before a complete shutdown across the city. But it is our position that unless there is substantial movement by the authority, trains and buses will come to a halt as of midnight tonight," Roger Toussaint said at a news conference Monday morning.

After making little progress over the weekend, negotiators for the Transport Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority planned to return to the bargaining table Monday -- but the head of the union warned that plans were firm for a large-scale strike beginning at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

Toussaint said that the MTA's plan to raise the age at which new employees become eligible for a full pension from 55 to 62 presents a major sticking point.
We should also point out that the MTA has asked that the union remove its representation from the pension plan board in exchange for funding the pension liability of $450 million that they've been "borrowing" to fund perks.

But we know this "major sticking point" cited is a sham, since:
The main obstacle to a settlement appears to be the MTA's demand that new employees not qualify for full pensions until age 62, compared with age 55 for most current workers. A union lawyer said yesterday that the Taylor Law prohibits either side from insisting on pension changes in its final contract offer.

"A change in pensions requires an act of the state legislature," he said. "Therefore, it is outside the realm of what you can require somebody to bargain with you about."
The same Taylor Law that prohibits civil service and other municipal and government unions from striking.

Or, to put it another way:
They fear any concessions by Transport Workers Union Local 100 will be forced on municipal workers in coming years - slashing benefits for hundreds of thousands of middle-income New Yorkers, labor leaders and experts say.

"Any effort to change this [the benefits] is going to face fierce opposition from the other municipal unions," said Daniel Walkowitz, a labor historian at New York University. "This will become the new model, and it will be very hard to reverse it."

That's one reason the New York City Central Labor Council, which represents 375 local unions, is organizing a rally outside Gov. Pataki's midtown office today - and is urging every unionized worker in the city to contribute a dollar to a $1.5 million strike fund for the TWU. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's contract proposal "is a precedent that could be devastating to the other unions," said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. "They're worried. They're frightened."

Methinks this is the chip that Toussaint is going to drop in court when the state sues him after they strike tonight.

Much walking for me tomorrow, I suspect.


Bush on Iraq: 'We're winning'

President admits mistakes were made, but insists course in Iraq is right; asks Americans to fight off 'defeatism'


December 19, 2005

WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush last night appealed to Americans not to give in to "defeatism" in Iraq, warning of more sacrifice in the months ahead but insisting, "We are winning the war in Iraq."

"Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom," Bush said in unusually personal terms at one point, speaking directly to those who oppose his decision to invade Iraq.

Bush hinted that Iraq after last week's legislative elections "should require fewer American troops" in the new year. But he stopped well short of announcing any specific steps to reduce the 153,000 U.S. troops in Iraq today.

Instead, Bush used the inherent drama of a rare Oval Office address to convey the importance he places on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, posing the choice before the American people as stark - "victory or defeat."

Bush said, "To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor, and I will not allow it."
A few observations here:

1) The last time a President said "Mistakes were made" --
As Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein tied the scandal to top officials in the Nixon administration, Ziegler routinely dismissed their reports as inaccurate. But the press secretary publicly apologized to them and their newspaper the day after the April 30, 1973, resignations of White House counsel John Dean and Nixon aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman.

"I would apologize to the Post, and I would apologize to Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein. ... We would all have to say that mistakes were made in terms of comments. I was overenthusiastic in my comments about the Post, particularly if you look at them in the context of developments that have taken place," he said at the time. "When we are wrong, we are wrong, as we were in that case."
Again, are these guys sure they want the ghost of Nixon hovering over this corrupt administration?

2) Someone will have to define for me "winning". We're about to spend another $100 billion dollars between Afghanistan and Iraq, combined. What are we winning for that money, first off, and secondly, is it worth that much money in a nation that's seeing an entire major metropolitan area demolished, it's future in doubt? Is it worth around $10,000,000 per vote in Iraq to see homeless people in our streets, hunger creep back across America, unemployed skilled laborers working the doors at Walmart? IS IT???

3) On the "winning" note...who said this?"I don’t think you can win [the war on terror]"? Was it the same person who said “[B]y helping democracy succeed in Iraq, we bring greater security to our citizens here at home. The terrorists know that democracy is their enemy. And they will continue fighting freedom's progress with all the hateful determination they can muster.”

Today's Words of Wisdom

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

"Not very long," answered the Mexican.

"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs . I have a full life."

The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."

And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.
Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.

"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.

"And ! after that?"

"Afterwards? Well my Friend, That's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" said the Mexican.

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

And the moral is: Know where you're going in life... you may already be there.

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