Saturday, October 13, 2007

Insect Spies and RoboBugs

Is it strange enough for you yet? If not, check out this Washington Post report on the uses and fears of spying insects.

No agency admits to having deployed insect-size spy drones. But a number of U.S. government and private entities acknowledge they are trying. Some federally funded teams are even growing live insects with computer chips in them, with the goal of mounting spyware on their bodies and controlling their flight muscles remotely."

I have to add this question: Are cameras and camera phones somehow unworkable now? 'Cause someone could just take a picture, ya know?

Schools like Vanderbilt, Caltech and Harvard are working on this sci-fi movie ... I mean New Frontier of Science. More info and more strange comments and rumors at PopSciBlog.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Free NumberOnes CDs

Readers responded so strongly to the contest earlier this year for free CDs of Number One hits, we're doing another giveaway.

This time, readers can enter to win a copy of NumberOnes in the genres of Hard Rock, Modern Rock and 90s Rock from Universal Music. All discs are in Eco-Friendly packaging, so you won't need a chainsaw to open the CDs!

To enter for the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post and make sure to include your email. Also, mention which disc you would like to win. Winners will be announced next Friday at noon, so be sure and enter before then! Winners will be selected in a random drawing from all entries.

The musicians featured on these discs include Blue Oyster Cult, Golden Earing, The Cranberries, Collective Soul, Deep Purple, Live, Robyn Hitchcock,Sum 41, Smash Mouth, The Wallflowers and many, many more.

The track listing for the Hard Rock disc is here.

Track listings for Modern Rock here.

Track listing for 90s Rock here.

So leave a comment and show your love for free Rock and Roll!

Update: WE HAVE WINNERS!!!!!!!!

The 90s Rock CD goes to Ivy.
The Modern Rock CD goes to Alloyd4.
The Hard Rock CD goes to LeBlanc.

Many thanks for taking the time to enter this contest and congrats to the winners!

Gore's Peace Prize Win Brings Attacks

As sure as night follows day, the indignant hostility of many in Tennessee and nationwide followed the announcement that former Vice President Al Gore shared a win of this year's Nobel Peace Prize with a U.N. Panel on Climate Change. And as this day continues, the hate-talk will spread across the typical sources on talk radio and on TV and in newspapers and blogs. Time to hate, hate, hate!

Folks sure do hate Al Gore and the U.N. Some really hate Gore, like TN State Rep. Stacey Campfield. And the TN Center for Policy Research continues to hate Gore, as if it were part of their DNA: "
Handing a Nobel Prize to Al Gore, a proven hypocrite on the issue of climate change, would be an injustice to the many people bravely fighting for peace and freedom throughout the world,” said Tennessee Center for Policy Research President Drew Johnson."

Some folks hate the Nobel Committee.

Some folks hate the idea of Climate Change as either a reality or a fantasy-hoax.

Comments left on this article of the win from the Knoxville News Sentinel reveal how deep the hate goes, and how it spreads to connect to almost any topic imaginable.

ACK at Volunteer Voters has a roundup of reactions, some happy, many not.

I suppose it is important to some to have a specific person to hate, to blame for all evils of the world, to be the emblem of all things wrong. Perhaps the hate serves as some soothing balm for all the things that irritate.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Death at TN Juvenile Facilty Ruled Homicide

The Chad Youth Enhancement Center in Middle Tennessee has seen continuing reports of abuse of its juvenile clients and now a death there has been ruled a homicide. The company which operates the for-profit facility is King, based in Prussia, PA and also has 110 'behavioral health' facilities in 33 states.

Tennessee medical examiner Bruce Levy says a 17-year-old from Philadelphia, PA died this summer from strangulation after a fight with two staffers at Chad. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

Tennessee child-welfare officials have already cited Chad over the confrontation, saying the facility's workers needlessly provoked Leach.

The officials said a Chad staffer should have given Leach space to calm down June 2 when Leach had retreated to a dorm after a fight with another resident.

Instead, the staffer, Randall D. Rae, 22, ordered Leach to leave the dorm, and Leach attacked him, according to investigators. The two struggled for a period. At some point, Rae turned his grip on Leach over to another aide, Milton G. Francis, 31.

Police said the aides had told them that they put Leach face-down on the floor with his hands pulled behind his back in a restraint method taught as part of routine Chad procedure. Neither Rae nor Francis could be reached for comment.

The procedure is known as the "Handle With Care" system. According to the instruction manual at use at Chad, the system is "an incredibly effective and safe restraint method."

Investigators will present evidence of this case to a Grand Jury. Meanwhile, officials with Chad say:

Chad said it had a "nurturing and positive environment," but would hire more staff."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Government Hungers for Internet Taxation

If you use the internet for any reason - from shopping to reading to connecting with friends and family - the current debate of internet access taxation is aimed at you. Unless Congress takes action, a ban on taxing your access to the internet will expire on Nov. 1.

With the tax ban in place, the economic growth and the spread of internet access has been phenomenal. Access has changed the way we communicate and do business, changed politics, changed education, and more changes will come as well. The technology too has been changing.

Some state government leaders are complaining that the boom of sales on the internet has meant a loss of tax dollars for such states. Yet, wherever Americans shop, the money they spend will still make its way into a tax revenue stream. Here's a reality check: A slower growth on spending and taxation by states places a bigger burden on state governments to spend more wisely and to prioritize spending. Residents, business and government will benefit from that.

Some in Congress are pushing for a permanent ban on internet access taxation. And some fear what effects that might have, since as yet unknown technologies may develop and avoid even more current tax structures. I keep sensing this philosophy that All Things Must Be Taxed is deeply ingrained in many government offices. A constant and effective oversight of government spending and the tracking and eliminating of wasteful spending is just one way to insure government has the funds it needs for vital services. Simply adding a new tax discourages such efforts.

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander has a bill now which would keep the ban in place for 4 years, but then open the way for every city, county and state to then begin taxing internet access, especially on bundled services. Sen. Alexander says that 4-year period will allow time for Congress to create legislation appropriate to the technology.

Some info from Sen. Alexander's website:

In short, Carper-Alexander legislation improves the existing moratorium by closing tax loopholes and clarifying the definition of “Internet access” to better protect essential goods and services provided by state and local governments.

The Carper-Alexander bill alters the definition of tax-free, “Internet access” to ensure that a consumer’s connection to the Internet, including email and instant messaging, remains tax-free. At the same time, the bill closes a loophole in the original 1998 moratorium that could allow an Internet Service Provider to bundle Internet access with other services and make them all tax-free.

This loophole is important because it could harm the traditional tax base of state and local governments. In 2004, the last time Congress extended the ban, Congress exempted voice-over-Internet-protocol services from the moratorium because of fears that states and localities could lose billions of dollars in revenue as telephone services migrated to the Internet.

As the Internet continues to grow and more services migrate to the Internet, Sens. Carper and Alexander said it makes sense to close that loophole and define “Internet access” exclusively as the connection between a consumer and the Internet Service provider. Such clarity will continue to ensure that Internet access is tax free, while also ensuring state and local governments do not have to come up with new – and potentially more burdensome – sources of revenue to pay for teachers, firefighters and health care services.

“Our bill would ensure that consumers continue to enjoy tax-free access to the Internet, including email and instant-messaging,” said Sen. Carper. “In the meantime, we fix many problems with the current law so that as future services, such as cable television, migrate to the Internet, we don’t completely erode the tax base of state and local governments.”

We should not undermine the ability of governors and mayors to pay for goods and services that everyone depends on. A temporary extension, as we have in our bill, will allow us to keep Internet access tax free, while giving Congress more time to understand the Internet’s evolution and what it means for state and local governments.”

“This is a common sense compromise that would extend the moratorium for another four years without blowing a hole in the budgets of state and local governments,” Sen. Alexander said. “A permanent moratorium would create a massive federal unfunded mandate, which members of Congress have repeatedly promised not to do. When the federal government starts restricting Tennessee’s ability to raise revenue that means increased tuition, higher sales tax on food and even a state income tax are just around the corner.”

I note again the concept here is on increasing tax revenues, not on keeping spending limited. Unknown costs are certainly troubling to states and cities - which again says to me that future leaders need to be even more informed and active in seeking ways to limit government growth and not just assume that government must continue to grow.

Another perspective from the National Review Online:

This new Internet-access tax could do real damage to the U.S. economy, which is finally starting to get its feet back under itself from the tech implosion of 2000-01. In this nascent recovery, growth is again being propelled by technology and knowledge-based industries. At the very heart of this critical debate is the question of whether the Internet should be treated as a tax- and regulation-free form of commerce, or should be converted into a new cash cow for government officials to fund favored programs.

Sen. John McCain and others have decided to stop Lamar and his small band of tax-the-Internet cronies, and have introduced a compromise to address all of the legitimate concerns outlined by the state and local groups regarding their existing tax base for telecommunication services. The McCain compromise will extend the expired moratorium on Internet-access taxes for four years, phase out taxes on Digital Subscriber Lines ("DSL") that states had illegally started to collect, and address concerns about the treatment of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). The compromise will bring the necessary votes to finally pass an Internet-tax moratorium out of the Senate.

In 1998, Congress wisely declared the Internet a tax-free zone by establishing a moratorium on Internet-access charges. An "access charge" is just the government's polite way of adopting a new tax. The idea was to prevent the government from causing infant-crib death of this new consumer technology. After all, as Justice John Marshall once observed, "the power to tax is the power to destroy." By all accounts, the Internet-tax moratorium has been a resounding success. In 1985, about one in six American families and businesses had access to the web, now three in four do.

Moreover, e-commerce is the new frontier of business enterprise. International Data Corporation recently estimated that the Internet economy in 2003 reached $2.8 trillion. In the U.S. alone, e-commerce accounted for $500 billion in business activity and employed 2.3 million Americans. The Internet sector of the economy is growing at 12 percent per year compounded. E-commerce, in short, is to the early 21st century what the steam engine was to early-20th-century economic development. Meanwhile, the telecommunications sector of the economy now stands ready to invest billions to upgrade the nation's communications networks and make high-speed (or broadband) Internet access available to all American homes and small businesses, as it is for large corporations today.

All of this is to say, if ever a public policy has worked precisely as hoped, it is the Internet-tax moratorium.

Opponents of the ban on Internet taxes believe that this policy deprives state and local governments who need the money to fund vital public services. Lamar Alexander has absurdly labeled the federal ban on the Internet-access taxes an "unfunded mandate on states." But an unfunded mandate is a requirement by the federal government for the states and localities to
spend money. This policy doesn't even deny states and cities a traditional revenue source. Most important, the growth of the Internet and the information economy has been an enormous net positive fiscal development for the states. In the 1990s, as the Internet economy soared, state and local revenues grew at a rate three times the pace of inflation. By the end of the 1990s states and local government coffers were overflowing; it wasn't until the tech bubble burst that government revenues sank.

The proposal by Senator Alexander, along with co-sponsors Kay Bailey Hutchinson and George Voinovich, to allow fees levied on Internet usage seems maddeningly misguided politically given that in just six months voters will decide on which party controls the U.S. House, the Senate, and of course the White House. It makes little sense for Republicans to run for re-election as the party that initiated the nation's first ever tax on the 74 percent of American households who use the Internet."

Another perspective from the Clarksville newspaper says taxation is the only sane response to the internet economy. In my mind, such opinion is reckless and hostile to those who make our economy work.

Your opinion may vary.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Nobodies": John Bowe on Modern Slavery

Slave labor is sadly alive and well - and not in some distant third world nation. It thrives in the U.S., puts food and clothing in local stores and restaurants, all documented in journalist John Bowe's new book "Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy" from Random House.

The facts are grim and depressing, and Bowe's book of investigative reporting is nearly impossible to put down once you begin reading. Bowe starts with events in Florida, where companies rely on modern indentured servants to provide products for major companies like PepsiCo, Taco Bell, Tropicana and many more. Herded into hellish camps and manipulated with brutality by labor contractors, one known as El Diablo, human life is worth little. Providing products for sale trumps all other concerns.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the John Pickle Company, which makes pressure tanks for oil companies and power plants, workers from India arrived only to have their documents confiscated, forced to live inside a factory building and work for three dollars an hour.

In Saipan, the U.S. Commonwealth, workers make clothing for national retail chains like The Gap and Target - yet free from all U.S. labor standards and immigration controls. Labels are allowed to read MADE IN THE USA, thanks to congressional efforts from Tom DeLay. Most of the workers are women, who earn three dollars an hour and are urged to trade sex for green cards.

Bowe's book is scathing, telling true stories of how much the U.S. economy has melded with brutal labor camps, exempt from law enforcement standards and operate with the local and national officials all ignoring the sometimes deadly camps.

You can read an excerpt from Bowe's book here. Bowe is interviewed by Doug Krizner here.

For most readers, "Nobodies" will astonish and terrify. It not only tells the stories of those forced to work in constant fear and poverty, but also reveals how items we consume daily come from such labor.