Take It From Me, a Delta Employee: Passengers and Workers Are in This Fight Together

Take It From Me, a Delta Employee: Passengers and Workers Are in This Fight Together
Overbooked planes, cramped cabins, and poor working conditions all have a common cause: deregulation and the relentless pursuit of profit.
By a Delta Air Lines Employee
May 25 2017
https://www.thenation.com/article/take-delta-employee-passengers-workers-fight-together/

Recent incidents of violence and disruption within the airline industry have called into question the policies that airlines utilize to transport people through the sky. Airlines charge excessive baggage fees, cram passengers into narrow seats, and consistently overbook aircraft, causing chaos when gate agents fail to generate enough offers from passengers to voluntarily take a later flight.

As a current Delta Air Lines employee, I feel it’s time to set the record straight about why these incidents of violence, distress, and anxiety have become increasingly prevalent in the last 25 years. I have no choice but to write this anonymously given Delta’s history of unfairly terminating its employees who speak out about their working conditions. I don’t want to become the next victim.

People across the country have developed countless theories for who is at fault in these situations. Some have blamed airline employees for being too quick to call the police, who often unnecessarily escalate a situation to physical confrontation. Others blame passengers for these situations, claiming that because airlines possess the legal authority to demand passenger compliance, they also have the right to violently remove passengers, even those who do not put anyone’s life in danger.

The problem with both of these theories is that they place the blame on people without power: flight attendants, gate agents, and the passengers they transport. Instead of blaming those at the bottom, passengers need to recognize that these situations are the result of an incessant drive for airline profits coming from the very top of these corporations. That drive makes conditions for both airline workers and passengers worse.

For instance, take the fact that the biggest economy seats today are smaller than the smallest economy seats of the 1990s. The drive to make room for more seats has not only affected passenger comfort; it has also meant that galley-ways for flight attendants have shrunk significantly. Flight attendants at Delta are forced to work in incredibly small spaces, resulting in greater risk of injury for workers who sometimes spend up to 15 hours per day in these cramped conditions.

Additionally, load factors (the percentage of passengers on board compared to the total number of seats) have increased dramatically. In 1995, the average load factor was 67 percent. By 2016, that number had jumped to 83.4 percent, and it is continuing to rise as profitability compels airlines to overbook flights, causing passengers excessive stress and straining flight attendants.

Gate agents have also been strapped with increasing work-loads. Gate agents are given about an hour per domestic flight to make announcements, handle passenger questions, ticketing issues, re-booking, gate-check baggage, manage boarding, print flight departure paperwork, and close the aircraft door for an on-time departure. When flights are overbooked (sometimes by more than 25 seats), gate agents are forced to seek volunteers to take a later flight, in addition to the tasks they are already responsible for completing. Overbooked aircrafts create a toxic environment for passengers who fear their seats could be taken, as well as gate agents who are subject to disciplinary action if their flight doesn’t leave on time.

Increased load factors have also resulted in more bags for baggage handlers per plane, and the increase in baggage fees has resulted in tremendous profits for the airlines. In 2016, Delta made $866 million dollars from baggage fees alone. Still, Delta often staffs a team of only three ramp agents to handle domestic departures: the minimum standard set by the Federal Aviation Administration. Most of these profits go straight into the pockets of investors, rather than to ramp employees who do the work.

[snip]

Republicans claim 1st Amendment right to send you robo-voicemails

Republicans claim 1st Amendment right to send you robo-voicemails
GOP asks FCC to exempt direct-to-voicemail messages from robocall rules.
By Jon Brodkin
May 25 2017
https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/05/republicans-claim-1st-amendment-right-to-send-you-robo-voicemails/

You might start getting many more voicemails if Republicans get their wish.

A marketing company called All About the Message recently petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling that would prevent anti-robocall rules from being applied to “the delivery of a voice message directly to a voicemail box” without ringing the recipient’s phone. These ringless voicemails are already happening, but their legal status is unclear.

That petition was filed in March, and last week the Republican National Committee (RNC) asked the Federal Communications Commission to approve the petition. The petition asks the FCC “to declare that the delivery of a voice message directly to a voicemail box does not constitute a call that is subject to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (‘TCPA’) and its implementing rules,” the RNC wrote. “The RNC supports this clarification, which is consistent with the language of the TCPA.”

An FCC finding against the petition “would not only restrict an important form of non-intrusive communication; it would have serious consequences for the First Amendment rights of those engaged in political communication via telephone,” the RNC also wrote. The Republican group told the FCC that it uses “all manner of communications” to discuss political and governmental issues and solicit donations, “including direct-to-voicemail messages.”

The US Chamber of Commerce and American Financial Services Association are also pushing the FCC to approve the petition. The Democratic National Committee has not weighed in on the proposal.

The TCPA prohibits non-emergency calls made with auto-dialers, artificial voices, or prerecorded voices without the “prior express consent of the called party.” There are exceptions for charities and limited exceptions for political campaign robocalls. Political robocalls are “permissible when made to landline telephones, even without prior express consent,” but “prohibited to cell phones, pagers, or other mobile devices without the called party’s prior express consent,” the FCC says. TCPA rules also apply to text messages.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has worked to eliminate or prevent implementation of consumer protection regulations in areas such as inmate calling rates, data security, TV set-top box rental fees, disclosures of hidden fees and data caps, and net neutrality. But Pai has taken a consistent stand against robocalls, describing the problem as a “scourge” that results in US residents receiving 2.4 billion robocalls a month despite rules intended to restrict such calls.

When asked if Pai has any position on the direct-to-voicemail petition, an FCC spokesperson said the commission cannot comment on pending petitions.

“All petitions are put out for public comment after which we will review the record” and prepare a declaratory ruling, the FCC said. “There is no set timeline for resolving such petitions and we cannot comment on the content of a petition until it is resolved by ruling.” Comments are being accepted until June 2.

[snip]

Re: Ancestry.com  takes DNA ownership rights from customers and their relatives

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Bruce Koball.  DLH]

From: Bruce R Koball <bkoball@well.com>
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] Ancestry.com takes DNA ownership rights from customers and their relatives
Date: May 25, 2017 at 1:22:42 PM EDT
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

Hey Dewayne,

Snopes response to AncestryDNA claim:

CLAIM
Ancestry.com can retain the rights to your genetic information if you sign up for their DNA testing.

RATING: MIXTURE

WHAT’S TRUE
Signing up for Ancestry.com‘s DNA test requires that you license your DNA data to them, and this data could potentially be shared by them with third parties.

WHAT’S FALSE
Allowing Ancestry.com to license your DNA data does not mean they own it, in the full, permanent, exclusive sense in which that word is typically understood. 

http://www.snopes.com/ancestry-dna-steal-own/

my read: the lawyers are pleading their cases and jury’s still out.

-brk-

Nuclear industry prices itself out of power market, demands taxpayers keep it afloat

Nuclear industry prices itself out of power market, demands taxpayers keep it afloat
Nuclear power is so expensive even some conservatives are turning on it
By Joe Romm
May 25 2017
https://thinkprogress.org/nuclear-demands-subsidies-b8bfa9bdd8fa

The nuclear industry is so uncompetitive that half of U.S. nuclear power plants are no longer profitable. And if existing nukes are uneconomic, it’s no surprise that new nuclear plants are wildly unaffordable.

New York and Illinois have already agreed to more than $700 million a year in subsidies, and if all northeast and mid-Atlantic nukes got similar subsidies, it would cost U.S. consumers $3.9 billion a year. Things are so bad for the nuclear industry that, recently, even conservatives have started to publicly oppose the subsidies the industry needs to survive.

“Ever since the completion of the first wave of nuclear reactors in 1970, and continuing with the ongoing construction of new reactors in Europe, nuclear power seems to be doomed with the curse of cost escalation,” explained one 2015 journal article, “Revisiting the Cost Escalation Curse of Nuclear Power.”

At the same time, nuclear’s main competition — natural gas, energy efficiency, and renewables — have gotten much cheaper.

The nuclear industry has essentially priced itself out of the market for new power plants, at least in market-based economies. Even the nuclear-friendly French — who get more than three fourths their power from nukes — can’t build an affordable, on-schedule next generation nuclear plant in their own country.

Last week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on the umpteenth cost overruns in Georgia Power’s effort to built two new reactors, with the headline, “Plant Vogtle: Georgia’s nuclear ‘renaissance’ now a financial quagmire.” The Westinghouse plants, originally priced at a whopping $14 billion are “currently $3.6 billion over budget and almost four years behind the original schedule.” Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in March.

The Georgia debacle should not shock anyone. Bloomberg explained two years ago that “even as sympathetic an observer as John Rowe [former chair of the U.S.’s largest nuclear utility] warns that the new units at Vogtle will be uneconomical when — or if — they’re completed.”

As a result, the industry has started demanding new subsidies to keep their plants open — beyond the staggering $100 billion and more in subsidies the nuclear industry has received over the decades.

Yet, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that “Even the promise of state subsidies wasn’t enough to help a struggling nuclear power plant in the biggest electricity market emerge a victor in a closely watched auction” in Illinois. Exelon, however, claimed it hadn’t taken the subsidies — which have not been officially awarded — into account.

And here’s the last straw: You know the industry is in trouble when even conservatives start penning pieces dissing it. This week saw two such pieces:

[snip]

Westworld-style emotional robot servants with virtual nervous systems will ‘be in our homes’ within TEN years

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

Westworld-style emotional robot servants with virtual nervous systems will ‘be in our homes’ within TEN years
Robots that think and feel just like us could arrive a lot sooner than expected according to top computer whizz
By Margi Murphy
May 22 2017
https://www.thesun.co.uk/tech/3621637/westworld-style-emotional-robot-servants-with-virtual-nervous-systems-will-be-in-our-homes-within-ten-years/

ROBOTS that think and feel emotions like humans will enter our homes in as little as ten years.

That’s according to Dr Mark Sagar, who is the chief executive of Soul Machines, a New Zealand-based company that develops intelligent and responsive avatars.

Sagar, an artificial intelligence programmer, creates incredibly realistic virtual humans which can respond to questions and learn from experience.

The avatars blink and communicate exactly like we do.

But they are powered by a virtual neural network which helps them learn social cues and spot patterns in order to answer questions.

This includes Baby X – a virtual infant which can learn through experience and appears to “feel” emotions.

It can see through the computer’s camera and hear through the microphone.

There’s also a virtual assistant called Nadia, whose voice might be more recognisable coming from the mouth of Hollywood actress Cate Blanchett.

[snip]

Google now knows when its users go to the store and buy stuff

Google now knows when its users go to the store and buy stuff
By Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg
May 23 2017
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/05/23/google-now-knows-when-you-are-at-a-cash-register-and-how-much-you-are-spending/

SAN FRANCISCO — Google has begun using billions of credit-card transaction records to prove that its online ads are prompting people to make purchases – even when they happen offline in brick-and-mortar stores, the company said Tuesday.

The advance allows Google to determine how many sales have been generated by digital ad campaigns, a goal that industry insiders have long described as “the holy grail” of online advertising. But the announcement also renewed long-standing privacy complaints about how the company uses personal information.

To power its multibillion-dollar advertising juggernaut, Google already analyzes users’ Web browsing, search history and geographic locations, using data from popular Google-owned apps like YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps and the Google Play store. All that information is tied to the real identities of users when they log into Google’s services.

The new credit-card data enables the tech giant to connect these digital trails to real-world purchase records in a far more extensive way than was possible before. But in doing so, Google is yet again treading in territory that consumers may consider too intimate and potentially sensitive. Privacy advocates said few people understand that their purchases are being analyzed in this way and could feel uneasy, despite assurances from Google that it has taken steps to protect the personal information of its users.

Google also declined to detail how the new system works or what companies are analyzing records of credit and debit cards on Google’s behalf. Google, which saw $79 billion in revenue last year, said it would not handle the records directly but that its undisclosed partner companies had access to 70 percent of transactions for credit and debit cards in the United States.

“What’s really fascinating to me is that as the companies become increasingly intrusive in terms of their data collection, they also become more secretive,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He urged government regulators and Congress to demand answers about how Google and other technology companies are collecting and using data from their users.

Google said it took pains to protect to protect user privacy.

“While we developed the concept for this product years ago, it required years of effort to develop a solution that could meet our stringent user privacy requirements,” Google said in a statement. “To accomplish this, we developed a new, custom encryption technology that ensures users’ data remains private, secure, and anonymous.”

The announcement comes as Google attempts to weather an outcry from advertisers over how their ad dollars are spent. Google is working to move past an advertising boycott of YouTube, its lucrative video site, after news reports that ads for mainstream brands were appearing alongside extremist content, including sites featuring hate speech and violence.

Google for years has been mining location data from Google Maps in an effort to prove that knowledge of people’s physical locations could “close the loop” between physical and digital worlds. Users can block this by adjusting the settings on smartphones, but few do so, say privacy experts.

[snip]

How Cellphones Can Cause Brain Tumors and Trigger Chronic Disease

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

How Cellphones Can Cause Brain Tumors and Trigger Chronic Disease
By Dr. Mercola
May 23 2017
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/05/23/cellphones-cause-brain-tumors-trigger-chronic-disease.aspx

Story at-a-glance –

• Exposure to cellphone radiation may or may not increase your risk of brain tumor formation, but this is a minor risk compared to damage done by free radicals from peroxynitrites that radically impair mitochondrial function
• Science has linked exposure to peroxynitrites from low-frequency microwave radiation emitted from cellphones and Wi-Fi networks with chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease
• You can reduce your exposure by shutting off your Wi-Fi at night, keeping cellphones in airplane mode unless using them, using the speaker phone and using a selfie stick when talking on it

As I discuss in this video, the debate over whether cellphone exposure causes brain tumors may be counterproductive. Think about the number of people you know who carry and use cellphones daily. According to the United Nations more people worldwide have cellphones than have access to toilets.1

While nearly everyone you know carries a cellphone, and probably has for a decade or more, it’s likely you don’t know anyone who has a brain tumor. Every year approximately 80,000 U.S. men, women and children are diagnosed with a brain tumor.2 In comparison, 787,000 people die each year from heart disease.3

The relative rarity of brain cancer may lead you to believe that your cellphone is safe. After all, when 91 percent of the adult population of the U.S. carries a cellphone4 and less than 0.02 percent5 develop a brain tumor, it may appear that using a cellphone is benign.

However, the primary pathology behind cellphone damage is not related specifically to brain tumors, or even to cancer. Instead, the real danger lies in damage from the reactive nitrogen species peroxynitrites. Increased peroxynitrites from cellphone exposure will damage your mitochondria.

The Debate Over Brain Tumors and Cellphone Exposure Continues

An Italian court recently weighed in on the debate over cellphone use and the development of brain tumors when they found in favor of a longtime telecommunication employee, Roberto Romeo, who claimed a benign brain tumor resulted in hearing loss in one ear.6 Interestingly, both Romeo7 and his attorney made reference to inappropriate use of a cellphone that led to the development of the tumor. Romeo reportedly used his cellphone for three hours a day over 15 years while doing his job for the mobile phone company.

This is not the first time the Italian court found in favor of a plaintiff claiming cellphone use triggered a brain tumor.8 In 2012, the Italian Supreme Court upheld a ruling linking an executive’s cellphone use to a tumor on the same side of his head he held his cellphone five to six hours a day for over 12 years.9

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has long held to the safety of cellphone use, as has the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Environmental Health Science and the National Cancer Institute.10 The consensus appears to be:11

“The majority of studies published have failed to show an association between exposure to radiofrequency (RF) from a cellphone and health problems.”

[snip]