Ajit Pai, new Chairman of the FCC, blogged his thoughts on reducing the amount of robocalling Americans are forced to endure. He proposed that providers "could block calls that purport to be from unassigned or invalid phone numbers" and noted that the list of unused telephone numbers is available for anyone to reference. He continued by saying, "There is no reason why any legitimate caller should be spoofing an unassigned or invalid phone number."
This is all valid. But what does he think will happen when robocallers cannot use unassigned numbers. Does he really think these parasites will simply find an honest job? Hardly. They will start using assigned numbers.
Using assigned numbers is already a problem, with swatting, where an anarchist-child calls the police pretending to be someone else, being downright dangerous. We need a robocalling solution that will eliminate swatting as well.
Robocallers and swatters use VOIP phones because they can be spoofed.
We need to improve the accuracy of Caller ID data. My Caller ID unit allows for 16 digits. We need to change the name field of calls originating from VOIP to start with "SPOOF?" This would enable 911 services to know that a call may not be what it appears to be and notify responding police officers to not assume that a life and death situation exists. And for international calls, if the call originated in or passed through an untrusted entity, it would be treated as VOIP.
And we need to require telephone companies to offer two new services to customers. The first would block all VOIP calls, with a facility to whitelist known good numbers (we'd need to make the selling or providing numbers in whitelists by telephone company employees a felony). The second would be the reverse, blocking calls by number, area code and prefix, area code, the first six digits of Caller ID data, or by country prefix (this would be for international calls originating in recognized telephone companies). These products would be similar to ones offered by CenturyLink: No Solicitation, which gives customers the ability to block a single number, block an entire area code and prefix, or block an entire area code, and Call Rejection, which give customers the ability to block specific numbers.
Many of us would simply block all VOIP calls and never look back.
During the debate for the Affordable Care Act, Lou Dobbs, while he was still at CNN, featured a series of stories on healthcare around the world. While conservative news outlets offered non-stop stories regarding Britain's awful NHS, Dobbs regaled us with narratives concerning Switzerland, Japan, and other Western countries. Switzerland's healthcare system is a multi-step one, offering basic and emergency care for everyone and optional plans for those who need more coverage. Swiss hospitals never have to worry about turning someone away who might die without treatment.
Of course, Switzerland thoroughly examined all medical conditions, placing some in the basic category and the remainder in optional categories. Sarah Palin said at the time that this sort of categorization was tantamount to "death panels," though she's apparently okay with people dying for lack of coverage.
This is the type of plan we should have chosen. And still can choose.
Republicans have always declared that the ACA was an affront to freedom, just another step on the road to socialism, but these people live in a fantasyland of their own making. Many of them believe that motorcycle riders should be allowed to ride without wearing helmets, yet riders who also decry mandatory medical coverage somehow never wear dog tags with the message, "I'm a libertarian; please leave me by the roadside to die."
Republicans are doubling-down with the odious H.R. 1313, which would allow corporations to extort their employees to accept genetic testing via the wellness program loophole already existing in the ACA. Layoffs would be the vehicle for reducing costs, banishing people destined to develop genetic diseases, similar to how layoffs today always manage to include mostly those over 40 and especially over 50.
The U.S. Congressional Budget Office forecast that 52 million people would be uninsured by 2026 if the Republican alternative to the ACA was adopted. But that's only the start, because many of those people would not be able to treat communicable diseases. The Census Bureau projects that the population of the U.S. will be just under 350 million by 2026, making the number of uninsured people about 15% of the total.
The CBO is simply wrong, however, in its estimate of the number of uninsured after a repeal of the ACA, significantly lowballing the number. It assumes that insurance companies will not revert to their old practice of denying those with preexisting conditions, but capitalism would reign supreme once again. The situation would be much worse than before the ACA because insurance companies would know which customers were likely to cost them more than the average.
Only someone who has been forced to live without medical insurance understands the reality. Prescriptions often cost ten times more. Doctors, labs, clinics, and surgery centers charge the full retail price. It's an à la carte nightmare.
But why should you care? The trivialities of the unwashed are not your concern.
There are many reasons, but the best one is drug resistant TB. According to the CDC: "TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected ... Drug-resistant TB is caused by TB bacteria that are resistant to at least one first-line anti-TB drug. Multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB is resistant to more than one anti-TB drug and at least isoniazid (INH) and rifampin (RIF). Extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB is a rare type of MDR TB that is resistant to isoniazid and rifampin, plus any fluoroquinolone and at least one of three injectable second-line drugs (i.e., amikacin, kanamycin, or capreomycin)."
The CDC stated with a good deal of understatement that "treating and curing drug-resistant TB is complicated." And the people most likely to have TB are the poor, the same ones who likely won't have healthcare coverage if the social Darwinists have their way with us.
A number of years ago I traveled home via a commercial airline. One self-important man sitting in first class was the sickest I have ever seen, violently sneezing and coughing every few minutes. Not surprisingly, a few days later I became very sick as well, even though I never went near him. Recirculated air and all that. Or maybe it was the hardware he touched, with us touching it later. The first class passenger, like the Americans who returned home with Ebola, shouldn't have traveled. But they did.
Next time you ride an airplane, subway, bus, or light rail, look around you and estimate how many of your fellow riders would fall into the 15%.
Republicans continued their corporation-friendly crusade with H.R. 1313, with the number being appropriate.
It would allow companies to require genetic testing of employees by means of a loophole in the ACA, which allows companies to demand that employees participate in so-called wellness programs, e.g. take part in cholesterol and other screenings, with the penalty for noncompliance being as much as a 50% increase in their health insurance costs. Some of this made sense, because employees who smoke are hurting themselves and the company. However, asking employees for their pregnancy plans went too far. And any shrewd couch potato simply lied on the form asking for "regularly of exercise."
H.R. 1313 would extend that loophole with respect to genetic testing, expressly forbidden in Public Law 10-233 -- "A group health plan, and a health insurance issuer offering health insurance coverage in connection with a group health plan, shall not request, require, or purchase genetic information for underwriting purposes ... A group health plan, and a health insurance issuer offering health insurance coverage in connection with a group health plan, shall not request, require, or purchase genetic information with respect to any individual prior to such individual’s enrollment under the plan or coverage in connection with such enrollment." Genetic testing would now be added to the list of things companies could extort from their hirelings.
It doesn't require an HR manager to figure out what would happen.
Someone with cystic fibrosis would probably be able to make it through the often grueling series of interviews for a plum corporate position, but as soon as genetic testing was completed, that employee would magically fall off the vitality curve.
Employees who know they have a genetic disease would be confronted with a Hobson's choice: pay more for medical insurance or let their employer gain serious leverage over them. And even if they refused to pay the corporate devil, the company would assume that dark secrets resided in that person's genetic closet, possibly leading to an early career demise.
Once the policy is established, the next shoe would drop, with companies outsourcing the storage of genetic data, via servers in foreign countries, of course. After one's genetic data was obtained via a cyber-breach, one might find it difficult to find a job -- any job. One can always obtain another credit card, but one cannot obtain a new genetic identity. Companies would skate away from such negligence after contracting for the usual paltry remedy, i.e. one year's worth of credit monitoring.
Given the push to repeal and then replace the ACA, it's likely that crafty social Darwinists yearn to return to the days where insurance companies could -- and did -- deny applicants for pre-existing conditions. Many people would find it impossible to obtain insurance.
Silicon Valley groupies might assert that eventually the problem will be moot, with science progressing to the point where genetic diseases are easily remedied. But be careful what you wish for: "We saw on your genetic testing results that you have Proboscis Halitosis. We scheduled an appointment to have that corrected, at 7:00 pm, right after the company-supplied meal. Then you can return to work until your hot-bunk slot becomes available at midnight."
Buffy, please report for duty.
The part of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), itself actually Title V - Obscenity and Violence of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, that most people reference is one sentence from Section 230: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."
This has been used as the legal vehicle for allowing online comments that might ordinarily be construed as defamatory. However, many magazines and other entities which offered free commenting in the past have changed their position due to the catty nature of the comments, with some, e.g. Bloomberg News and Computerworld, having eliminated comments altogether. Many newspapers, e.g. the Washington Post, have employees censoring comments if they do not meet with the politically correct view of management.
But the original intent of the CDA was to limit obscenity and pornography, not surprising given its name. Other sentences not given the same press include:
1) "It is the policy of the United States -- to ensure vigorous enforcement of Federal criminal laws to deter and punish trafficking in obscenity, stalking, and harassment by means of computer."
2) "Nothing in this section shall be construed to impair the enforcement of section 223 of this Act, chapter 71 (relating to obscenity) or 110 (relating to sexual exploitation of children) of title 18, United States Code, or any other Federal criminal statute."
3) "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected."
It's clear that Internet entities not only have a duty to prevent the sexual exploitation of children as per title 18, chapter 110, of the United States Code, but they will not be held liable for actions taken in good faith relating to same.
Facebook must believe itself above the law, as it often refuses to remove material reflecting a morbid interest in sex, nudity and obscene or pornographic matters, including photos of a subway dragging death, a dead girl following an accident, kittens on fire, and a naked 14-year-old girl.
BBC News journalists found 100 images of child porn on Facebook and notified the company. Facebook only removed 18 of them. The journalists also found five accounts belonging to pedophiles. Facebook did not remove them.
Facebook's director of policy Simon Milner asked the journalists to send him copies of the child porn, but then he or someone at Facebook reported the journalists to the UK's National Crime Agency for dealing in child porn.
"Facebook's failure to remove illegal content from its website is appalling and violates the agreements they have in place to protect children," said a spokeswoman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. "It also raises the question of what content they consider to be inappropriate and dangerous to children."
It's not acceptable for Facebook to claim that its child porn detectors are automated and therefore not reliable. Facebook makes plenty of money to police itself, as founder Mark Zuckerberg is currently worth $57.7 billion and #5 on Forbes list of billionaires. Even a small slice of that would pay for a truckload of American workers to sift through the slime.
Zuckerberg has been trying to convince us that he is donating his fortune to charity, when in truth he only created a limited liability company. The media has turned him into a saint, probably to replace their lamented Saint Steve, and largely ignores his anti-social behavior, e.g. buying the four houses next to his Silicon Valley one to create a secure compound. It does seem appropriate that he was born in 1984.
Facebook should be shuttered until it conclusively demonstrates that it can prevent child porn from being shared via its service.
The traffic light turned green and I started to leave the intersection. This was on a divided local highway, with two driving lanes per side, with the right-most lane serving as the shoulder for 80% of its length and a right-turn lane for the other 20%. A Subaru -- some of the crappiest drivers always seem to be driving a Subaru -- pulled out from the street on my right and made a right turn without stopping, power-sliding through the turn, even though his light was clearly red. He stayed in the far-right lane and accelerated, ignoring the signs -- if he even saw them -- informing him that his lane was ending. I looked over at him and saw that he was looking down at his smart phone, no doubt texting. He ran through a number of transient right-turn lanes and eventually turned right at a shopping center.
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I was waiting at a traffic light, waiting for it to turn green. I was second-in-line in the left-turn lane, behind a car with a young female driver intent on the smart phone in her lap. Our lane received a green arrow, but the texter did not move. After about five seconds, I honked my horn. She looked up and started to move forward, but as she did, she stuck her left hand out of the window and gave me the finger, with that hand also holding a lit cigarette.
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The U.S. is one of the only civilized countries in the world that has not banned the use of hand-held mobile devices in moving vehicles. Many of these countries did so around the turn of the century. The top-ten countries with respect to education did so (Canada, at #10, only partially banned it), as compared to the dreary results of the U.S. And it's not coincidental that schools that ban mobile phones see better academic results. We'll eventually ban them in the traditional American manner, after some snowflake kills a large number of pedestrians.
The only radio station I ever loved was WTWC in Champaign, Illinois. When I first started listening to it, the music mix included folk, jazz, folk-rock, and other music. It was truly an epiphany. I would do homework while listening. Many of the artists played were obscure, with most remaining so to this day.
I do not remember if I asked or the station manager, Joe Lexx, volunteered, but I was loaned a copy of one of the records they played on the air to tape and return. I cannot imagine that happening today.
Then in autumn 1975, the station revealed that it was changing its format to earn its owner more money. I seem to remember the new format was elevator music, probably to play in locations where quality demands were at a minimum. The last hours of the old format were to be filled by requests and the sentimental last stands of DJs. Some of the regular DJs were present in the studio, probably accompanied by alcoholic beverages. I listed almost in a trance as the last good music to be played in the Champaign-Urbana area lingered in the air. I called the station with my request: Judy Collins' "Send in the clowns." The DJ snickered at the implication. And then the music died. The station changed hands, formats, and call signs a number of times since then, with the current call sign being WREE.
I studied Russian and German in school. I never became fluent, but I was able to travel throughout much of Europe and even some of the European portion of Russia. I still remember how to properly pronounce words in both languages, though I must admit my pronunciation of words with umlauts isn't perfect. In eastern Europe, German and English are the most common second languages for most people now, though older people will probably have some ability in Russian due to the Soviet occupation, with the last Russian troops not leaving the Baltics until October 1999.
My experiences in Russia cause me to laugh whenever I hear libertarians declare that minimal government is the best because, so the fairy tale goes, left to their own devices, people will always do the right thing.
I went for a walk on Arbat Street in Moscow and saw how people avoided walking on manhole covers and other metal plates in the sidewalk. I asked one person about it and learned that it was not uncommon for the plate to pivot, allowing the unlucky pedestrian to fall past the plate into the hole and become seriously injured.
I strolled in Tver, a small city north of Moscow, and saw a very clean park bench. I thought about sitting down and taking a break, until I placed a finger on the surface and realized that the bench had been freshly painted. There was no warning sign.
Not to mention that Donora thing.
Radio Swiss Classic is one of the classical radio stations to which I listen, with its hosts correctly pronouncing the names of composers and musicians. The station is automated and prerecorded as are many these days, with listeners having the choice of announcements in German, French or Italian, three of the four national languages of Switzerland.
One word I use to determine the competence of hosts is the last name of Russia's most famous composer, Tchaikovsky. It's properly pronounced as if three English words were said in sequence: chai-COUGH-ski (Russians would quibble because the last syllable is actually nuanced and the 't' really is pronounced). The first pronunciation rule Russian students learn is that an 'o' is only pronounced as such when it is under the stress; otherwise it is pronounced like the first sound of "affect." Very few U.S. hosts pronounce the name correctly, with most pronouncing the 'o' as if it were not under the stress.
WGUC's Frank Johnson refers to the aforementioned Russian composer as Peter Tchaikovsky, but somehow he never refers to José Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti, and Johann Sebastian Bach as Joe, Lou, and John, respectively, not to mention that the first name of Jesús López-Cobos is never pronounced as if he had been born in a stable. Tchaikovsky's first name, Pyotr, is tricky to pronounce because there must be no hesitation between the first four letters, but that's no excuse for a professional.
Charley Samson, the former station manager of KVOD, the Denver classical portion of Colorado Public Radio, always pronounced foreign names correctly. He often amusingly referred to Mozart as "yer Mozart." He is missed, as KVOD now has no one who is capable of properly pronouncing Russian words.
David Rutherford, also of KVOD, pronounces Tchaikovsky as chi-KAH-ski, as if he hailed from Brooklyn. What makes it even worse is Rutherford's KVOD online profile which states: "When I was an undergraduate in music at UNC, I remember listening to the students at the local public radio station butchering the names of composers and particularly the names of performers with whom I worked at the university. I figured I couldn't do any worse, so when a work-study position for an on-air shift was posted, I applied."
He might be no worse, but he's certainly no better.