Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita is set to play his first NRL game in six weeks when the Sharks meet South Sydney in Sunday’s elimination NRL final.


Fifita, 26, hasn’t played since round 20 after copping a six-week ban for abusing a referee at a junior game in July.

His return was in doubt after sustaining a tear to what coach Shane Flanagan referred to as a rare caveman muscle in his calf – only present in a small percentage of the population – at training last week.

However the 26-year-old completed a field session with the side in Woollooware on Wednesday, finishing off with a rapid sparring routine with teammate Sam Tagataese in front of reporters.

“You can ask my ribs – he’s obviously raring to go,” Tagataese said.

“He’s got some power in those punches, man. He’s ready for Sunday arvo.”

Fifita’s comeback will be a welcome return to a Sharks side that stumbled into September with a shock loss to Manly in the final game of the regular season, costing them a top-four spot.

Tagataese said the former NSW Origin representative had been sorely missed.

“Andrew provides those freakish plays where it seems like the team’s going nowhere, then he comes in and makes a big play,” he said.

“Having him back on Sunday is definitely a bonus for us.”

Second-rower Wade Graham said Fifita is an X-factor whose presence lifts the confidence of the playing group.

“Not a lot of big men can do what Andrew can do, can move the way he does, the skill he has,” he said.

“He just brings that extra big body for us, takes the pressure off (Paul) Gallen and (Chris) Heighington.”

While the Sharks have been boosted by the return of one of the game’s premier big men, as well as twin brother David, the Rabbitohs will be without one of their own key props in George Burgess, who will be seeking a downgrade on a contrary conduct charge for throwing a bottle last week.

The 23-year-old is certain to miss at least one game, but could miss two should he fail to overturn the charge at the NRL judiciary on Wednesday night.

Tagataese said Burgess’ absence, together with Fifita’s return, would give them an advantage against the defending premiers.

“It can be a bit of a bonus and a negative where we could probably think we can take it easy. The key thing for us is muscling up against them and use (Burgess’ suspension) to our advantage,” he said.

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Nathan Brown will spend the next month sorting out Newcastle’s recruitment and retention program, including the possible acquisition of Robbie Farah, after being officially unveiled on Wednesday as the Knights’ new NRL coach.


After being announced as the Knights preferred candidate for the head role last week, Brown’s appointment was confirmed on Wednesday afternoon at a media conference at Hunter Stadium.

Before news broke of his new job as successor to Rick Stone, who was sacked mid-season, Brown said he felt unwanted Wests Tigers skipper Farah could reinvent himself at another club.

And on Wednesday, Brown didn’t deny he was interested in the services of the NSW rake when questioned specifically about him.

“I haven’t even looked at our roster yet with ‘Gids’ (CEO Matthew Gidley) so I couldn’t give you an honest answer right now,” Brown told reporters in Newcastle.

“Talking about the roster and what may or may not happen, I’m better off talking about that in three or four weeks.”

However, last week on Fox Sports’ NRL360, Brown was more effusive about Farah, with whom he had developed a relationship while working as a NSW assistant coach.

“Robbie, until the other day, had just been standing and shovelling the ball,” Brown said.

“So from a person who’s played hooker and (has been) lucky enough to coach some good hookers, I think if Robbie Farah goes and plays for someone else, he’ll look back and say they’ve done him a favour.

“I think he’ll get to play the style of footy that’s going to suit him and he’ll get to take the good things that happened at the Tigers and help improve another club.”

Danny Buderus, who had taken over from Stone in an interim capacity, is set to be a key part of Brown’s coaching team.

“Whatever he wants to do, I am sure he will contribute very well,” Brown said.

“He is obviously a local legend and player that actually wore the jumper with pride on every occasion and that is probably the key to the young players coming through.”

Brown nominated Sione Mata’utia, Joseph Tapine and Danny Levi as among the players who were the future of the current wooden spoon holders.

Farah shapes as a key buy for the Knights, who have already lured NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson to the Hunter for next season.

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A Bendigo hotel worker reported 11 months ago that hit-run killer Thomas Towle was breaching his parole conditions by drinking at his pub.


Towle, 44, was arrested at his home in Bendigo on Tuesday for unspecified parole breaches.

The hotel worker, who did not want to be identified, said he emailed a former member of the Adult Parole Board on October 1 last year to report that Towle was an occasional drinker and often associated with a suspected drug dealer at the hotel.

The email has been seen by Australian Associated Press along with a reply from its recipient.

She advised the worker the following day that she was no longer with the board but remained with the Department of Justice and would ensure the report was passed on to a manager for follow-up.

The worker said he heard nothing further.

He said Towle was not a big drinker.

“He didn’t have a bender, only a few pots, but I googled his parole conditions,” the worker told AAP.

The worker said he became aware of Towle’s identity when Towle began falsely claiming poker machines at the pub had swallowed his change.

“He would put $3 in machine and claim one or two wouldn’t register. It was only when I woke up to it that I took his name and number that I realised who it was,” he said.

Towle sometimes became aggressive when challenged but would leave when he was told police would be called if he did not.

Towle’s parole has been cancelled and he is now in custody.

The Adult Parole Board and Victoria Police have not confirmed why his parole was cancelled.

A Department of Justice spokesman said the report was passed on to the Adult Parole Board straight away.

“All appropriate procedures were followed and the information was sent on to the board as soon as it was received,” he told AAP.

An Adult Parole Board spokeswoman declined to comment on Towle’s case, citing privacy and corrections legislation.

She said offenders who breach parole must re-serve their parole time in prison.

In Towle’s case, that’s two years and two months.

But he may apply to the board have all or part of that parole time counted as time already served.

The six teenagers killed when Towle lost control of his car at Cardross, near Mildura in February 2006 were Shane Hirst, 16, his 17-year-old sister Abby Hirst, Stevie-Lee Weight, 15, and Cassandra Manners, Cory Dowling and Josephine Calvi, all aged 16.

Towle fled the scene, leaving his injured pre-schooler son in the car, before later handing himself to police.

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The U.


S. Securities and Exchange Commission is expected Wednesday to finalize a long-delayed rule forcing businesses to share their “pay ratio,” a simple bit of arithmetic that would cast an unprecedented spotlight on one of corporate America’s thorniest debates.

Once the pay-ratio rule is in place, millions of workers will know exactly how their top boss’s payday compares to their own, revealing a potentially embarrassing disparity in corporate riches that many companies have long fought to keep hidden.

While the average American’s pay and benefits have been growing at the slowest pace in 33 years, executive wages have soared. Fifty years ago, the typical chief executive made $20 for every $1 a worker made; now, that gap is more than $300 to every $1, and growing.

The pay ratio, at the center of years of corporate arm-wrestling, could ratchet up the pressure on big companies to bring runaway executive pay under control. Boards and shareholders could use it to judge a firm’s high-priced leadership, and customers could opt to shop at companies where workforce pay seems more fair.

The effects could ripple far beyond the corporate suite. Disclosing the pay of a company’s “median worker” — the line at which half of the employees make more and half make less — could also become a human resources nightmare, exposing the raw and awkward tensions of workplaces undercut by growing pay gaps.

“This is going to sensitize every single worker to how it is they compare in pay to folks within their organization, and folks who do the same job at competitors,” said Steve Seelig, a senior regulatory adviser for Towers Watson, a human resources consulting firm.

Companies already disclose the pay of their chief executives, although not how it compares with that of personnel. Most Americans drastically underestimate how wide that wealth gulf has become. In a Perspectives on Psychological Science study last year, researchers found that Americans estimate the pay gap between executives and unskilled workers is about 30 to 1, when in reality it’s more than 300 to 1, a misunderstanding that Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton has said can make people less likely to fight against the gap.

But critics of the rule argue that having to calculate that ratio will be a costly headache and easily misconstrued.

“While income inequality is an important matter worth addressing,” said Jim Barrall, a global co-chair of legal giant Latham & Watkins’s benefits and compensation practice, “burdening companies and investors with more proxy disclosure is a very poor tool for dealing with it.”

The rule was added as a last-minute mandate to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law in 2010 and sprung forth amid national outrage over massive executive bonuses at businesses such as American International Group that were rescued by taxpayer bailouts.

In the years since the SEC began working on the rule, it has attracted an intense measure of public advocacy, including drawing more than 286,000 public comments. In March, 58 members of Congress wrote a letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White urging the agency to finalize its rule by early 2015, saying the culture of skyrocketing pay “hurts working families, is detrimental to employee morale, and goes against what research shows is best for business.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said last month: “There is no excuse for taking five years to get this done. Workers have a right to know whether executive pay at their company has gotten out of balance — and so does the public.”

The proposed rule would apply to about 3,800 large U.S. companies, exempting small businesses and foreign-based firms.

The companies would need to share the ratio in public financial filings, accessible online, within a year of the rule’s effective date. To make it easier for companies to pull the information together, the SEC has said they could take a statistical sample and offer reasonable estimates, instead of compiling each employee’s pay stub.

Although the federal mandate is new, the conversation over how executive pay compares to that of the working class has a long history. Management theorist Peter Drucker suggested, first in 1977, that a lopsided pay balance would erode the teamwork and trust on which businesses depend. A 20-to-1 ratio is the limit for managers who “don’t want resentment and falling morale to hit their companies,” he explained.

Over the past 20 years, the SEC has increasingly required clearer executive-pay disclosures, asking companies to share how they set competitive benchmarks for top managers’ pay and to detail perks such as country club dues and private jets.

But greater transparency also had unintended consequences: Comparing executives at rival firms led companies to notch their top-level pay higher every year to keep their leaders onboard, an upward spiral that ensured the pay gap would continue to grow.

“The theory was disclosure would create embarrassment and lower pay,” said Charles Elson, the director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “But that was based on the assumption that those who had asked for that kind of money were capable of that kind of embarrassment. And they weren’t.”

Businesses, corporate groups and the SEC’s two Republican members have belittled the disclosure rule as an onerous gift for liberal groups and talking heads that is designed mostly to “shame” corporate leadership, with little regard for the added strain.

The National Association of Manufacturers told the SEC that complying with the rule would force one of its members to rake through 500 international payroll systems covering 130,000 employees, at a cost of $18 million. The SEC, meanwhile, estimated in 2013 that the public companies would need to spend only about $19,000 each to crunch their numbers.

More than a dozen companies — including Whole Foods Market, oil company Noble Energy and the Bank of South Carolina — have already quietly volunteered the information to investors with little fanfare, agony or cost.

NorthWestern Energy, an electric and gas utility based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, began listing its executive-to-worker pay ratio in 2010, believing it gave the company another way “to tell our compensation story and tell our shareholders the value we’re providing them,” said Tim Olson, the company’s senior corporate counsel. The ratio is 24 to 1, meaning the company’s chief makes 24 times more than the median employee.

Others have argued the ratio offers no useful information to shareholders and can be easily misconstrued by employees, investors and customers. Tim Bartl, the president of the Center on Executive Compensation, a group of human resources chiefs that has advocated against the rule, said worker and executive pay are delicate, complicated issues affected by geography, business structure, competition and other factors.

Yet proactive companies, researchers say, could turn their pay ratios into marketing tools. For a working paper this year, Norton, the Harvard Business School professor, offered shoppers a hypothetical choice between two retailers: one with an executive-worker gap of about $1,000-to-$1, similar to Wal-Mart; and one with more equal pay. Respondents were not only more willing to shop at the lower-ratio retailer, they were also happier to spend more: A third of those polled said they would pay more for the same bath towels to a company they believed was more fair.

Out-of-balance pay ratios “will be public shaming, just as all adverse financial results are public shaming,” said Bartlett Naylor, a financial policy advocate with the consumer think tank Public Citizen. “If one reports low returns, skyrocketing expenses, that’s shameful, too. Welcome to capitalism.”

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The 71 corpses discovered in a truck on an Austrian roadside last week are only a grim glimpse of a fast-expanding wave of human smuggling seizing Europe, said officials who are charged with hunting the smugglers.


Vans that once may have been used to smuggle cigarettes are being used for the much more fragile cargo of humans. On social networks and in person, migrants can pick from a menu of services, ranging from a slippery seat on a rubber dinghy to Greece all the way to a chartered business jet straight to the refugee haven of Sweden.

The long trek across the Western Balkans has taken fresh prominence in recent months after years in which Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war favored a perilous sea route from Libya. Now thousands of migrants set out every day to make the long journey from refugee camps neighboring Syria to the Western European nations that have offered them safe harbor. They do so hand-in-hand with smugglers, who often advertise their services openly on Facebook and other social media sites.

“There is a growing number of networks that we saw in the past were dealing in the trafficking of illegal drugs and are now shifting to people smuggling,” said Robert Črepinko, the head of the organized crime unit at Europol, the European Union’s policing arm. “The number of criminal activities is growing with the same speed as the number of illegal migrants.”

The criminal boom has been so rapid that Europol’s new online monitoring unit, which on July 1 began monitoring terrorist-related social media activity, has recently expanded to monitor smuggling, Črepinko said.

National law enforcement authorities have struggled to keep up with the influx of migrants, as old criminal rings move into new areas of business.

“As a global criminal enterprise, it is very lucrative,” said Patrik Engström, the head of the Swedish police’s national border policing section, who has monitored human smuggling and trafficking for years, and watched as it has taken new life in Europe since the beginning of 2014.

Sweden, along with Germany, has become Europe’s top destination for asylum-seekers after the government announced that Syrian refugees would be granted permanent residency and the right to resettle their entire families within the country’s peaceful borders.

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Engström said his agency has uncovered schemes to get to Sweden that are as basic as an RV over a bridge and as complicated as a chartered plane that lifted off from Turkey, charging the Syrian passengers about $10,000 each for the privilege. When they landed, they claimed asylum, he said.

The wide range of methods reflects the diverse circumstances from which the asylum-seekers are coming. Syria’s conflict, well into its fifth year, has upended the lives of many middle-class families with deep wells of savings. Many of them might have stayed close to Syria for years in the hopes of returning home before giving up and turning toward Europe.

Asylum-seekers have powerful motivations to make it to wealthy nations such as Germany and Sweden without being detected along the way. If authorities in other E.U. countries detain them, they can be forced to apply for asylum under far less-welcoming circumstances. Hungary has strung up a razor-wire fence along its frontier with Serbia, and Hungarian leaders this week barred their onward journey to Austria. Germany, meanwhile, expects to take up to 800,000 asylum-seekers this year. Critics say that type of patchwork enforcement only fuels the demand for smugglers.

“As it becomes more difficult to move in Europe, the cost for the migrants and the need for smugglers will go up,” said Tuesday Reitano, the head of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime.

There is a service for every price point, ranging in the hundreds of dollars for a choppy below-deck voyage across the Mediterranean to thousands of dollars for longer, more complex journeys, law enforcement officials said. In a smartphone era, many of the smuggling services are available on Arabic-language Facebook and other social media sites. Migrants also communicate with one another along the journey using messaging tools such as WhatsApp to warn about where police coverage is heaviest.

“The Syrians are managing their trips in a much more savvy way than any other group that we’ve seen in the history of migration, that I’m aware of,” Reitano said.

The trip is made by boat, foot, rail and bus — and over the more than 1,000 miles between jumping off points in Turkey and the safety of Germany, smugglers are almost always involved in at least part of the journey, law enforcement officials say. Swedish authorities think that 90 percent of refugees reaching their territory used smugglers to ease at least a part of their trip. European officials estimate that the business runs in the billions of dollars.

“In Turkey, the smugglers are much more media-savvy and they cater to a specific audience,” said Izabella Cooper, a spokeswoman for Frontex, the E.U. border policing agency. “On social media, you can simply look up what’s available, there’s a specific date, and a specific type of transportation being offered.”

Until earlier this year, the bulk of crossings came by sea, over the Mediterranean from northern Africa. Now the flow has shifted to the western Balkans, along routes that have long been used by human traffickers, but never at current volumes.

The sea journeys have drawn headlines with all-too-frequent capsized boats. But the Balkan routes also can carry great danger. There may be far more victims than the 71 suspected migrants who perished in the truck in Austria, authorities say. Most of the asylum-seekers making their way to Europe through the western Balkans pay smugglers for each leg of their journey ahead of time, giving their escorts little motivation to make sure they reach their destination safely.

“The Austrian case, and this may sound chilling, is just one case that we’ve uncovered,” said Engström, of the Swedish police. “Now this happens every day, probably every hour, not only that people are transported every day under really hard conditions, but also that they suffocate, but we don’t find them.”

In the few days since Austrian authorities began screening most truck traffic coming from Hungary, they have found several instances in which migrants were packed into vehicles in unsafe circumstances, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said this week.

And one man suspected of involvement in the 71 deaths in Austria had been sought by German authorities in connection with a human-smuggling incident a month earlier, said Peter Wiesenberger, a state prosecutor in the southern German district of Deggendorf. He said that German police had stopped a Citroen van on July 25 and found 38 Afghan migrants inside. The driver and a passenger escaped. The car’s temporary license plate was registered under the name of Metodi Georgiev, a 29-year-old Bulgarian national, according to local news reports.

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The Army, and the military overall, would be better served by retiring some of the generals, colonels and senior lieutenant colonels, and promoting the best captains, majors and junior lieutenant colonels into those roles.


When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Army stood at 480,000 soldiers. Over the next decade, it ballooned to 565,000 soldiers in 2011 and has since shrunk back to 528,000. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last summer that the Army needed to reduce its numbers to as few as 380,000, the lowest since before World War II. It seems likely that the Pentagon will adopt this number as its target for 2020. These cuts will overwhelmingly fall where the recent growth occurred: younger soldiers and officers, nearly all of whom joined to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Army, and the military overall, would be better served by retiring some of the generals, colonels and senior lieutenant colonels, and promoting the best captains, majors and junior lieutenant colonels into those roles.

When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Army stood at 480,000 soldiers. Over the next decade, it ballooned to 565,000 soldiers in 2011 and has since shrunk back to 528,000. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last summer that the Army needed to reduce its numbers to as few as 380,000, the lowest since before World War II. It seems likely that the Pentagon will adopt this number as its target for 2020. These cuts will overwhelmingly fall where the recent growth occurred: younger soldiers and officers, nearly all of whom joined to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan.

On the officer side, this means dismissing captains and majors — the ranks where people entered the force to fight terrorism. No plans have been announced to scale back the numbers of higher-ranking officers such as senior lieutenant colonels and colonels. (The number of generals is assigned by Congress and is constant at 230 in the Army.) Having more experienced, higher-ranking soldiers and officers means that the force will remain strategically flexible and able to expand rapidly if the need arises — even as it loses junior officers.

But cutting personnel who have the most direct experience with contemporary wars — the senior captains, most majors and the junior lieutenant colonels — erodes U.S. military capabilities in precisely the place they’re needed most.

Most of the colonels and generals leading the Army were trained to fight World War III against the Soviets; most of the captains and majors have trained and fought against al-Qaida, Sunni militias and the Taliban. Unfortunately, few colonels and generals have, in practical terms, been adapted their 1980s and ’90s training to the needs of today’s warfare.

The best evidence for this is that we didn’t win in Iraq and haven’t won in Afghanistan. Military journalist Thomas E. Ricks has argued that America’s generals and colonels have been largely responsible for these failures. Small, transient battlefield successes — the Sunni Awakening in Iraq and partnering with militias in Afghanistan to defeat Taliban groups — were largely products of enterprising junior officers: perceptive lieutenants, captains and occasionally majors. In the past three years, those officers have been promoted to captains, majors and lieutenant colonels — and now they’re the ones on the chopping block.

Another reason to consider promoting mid-level officers into substantial leadership roles is the military’s fast-changing culture. The younger captains, majors and lieutenant colonels did not, for the most part, grow up in a country or a military where being gay was automatically seen as disgraceful; they are also more readily able than prior generations to imagine women in combat. Empowering officers who can help solidify such changes will boost morale and enhance the Army’s fighting capability, especially at a time of austerity and decreased training opportunities. These officers have in many cases served alongside women in combat (or are women themselves). They’re better able to see them as warfighting equals than as irksome obligations or legal liabilities — making these officers ideally suited to help the military transition away from its current culture, in which serial rapists are slapped on the wrist or tacitly endorsed.

I am not suggesting that every colonel or general deserves to be fired to make way for a new generation. I do, however, think that trimming a similar number of colonels and generals — say, 10 percent of captains and majors — would create room for the change the Army badly needs. The number of generals remains constant at 230, and I don’t believe we need fewer colonels — just different ones — so this won’t reduce the actual number of senior leaders in the military. It will, however, open up senior leadership to younger officers. To do this correctly, Congress would have to select which senior officers to retire, at which point the military would select which officers to promote. It could be as straightforward as putting every senior lieutenant colonel, colonel and general under the microscope and getting rid of the least capable.

Some of the greatest leaders I’ve met were general officers, and I was honored to serve with them. But we already evaluate tens of thousands of individuals for secret clearances every year, and as the military reviews the careers of thousands of captains and majors to determine who to dismiss and who to retain, it would make sense to review the senior leadership, too. If the future of warfare is going to be small-scale, counterinsurgency conflicts, the likes of which we’re now fighting in South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania, we should empower the officers who understand at the ground level how to fight.

There’s another consideration that the military needs to face, and this moment of force adjustment would be the perfect time to do it: Senior officers are becoming obsolete faster than ever. The complexity and pace of technological change over the past 15 years have been unprecedented. In a 2011 Army study surveying all ranks about the Army’s program to teach digital literacy, none of the respondents said the program was “on track”; two-thirds said it had problems; and a third characterized it as “substantially behind.” For most captains and majors who were born in the late 1970s and early 1980s and grew up on computers, digital literacy doesn’t need to be taught or mandated — it’s part of life.

At the current pace of promotion, it will take at least a decade for the Army’s officer corps to catch up to today’s technology. Colonels and generals don’t seem to have enough time to learn their current jobs, let alone time to train themselves in the technology that holds promise for the future of warfare. It would be much simpler and more feasible to find and promote those junior and mid-level officers best suited for tomorrow’s wars.

At a time when billion-dollar start-ups are developed and sold by 20-somethings, it’s not such a stretch to imagine that suitable service members in their 30s — three or four among 1,000 — could accept a level of responsibility far beyond the military’s usual promotion progression. After all, Amazon’s chief executive is 50 years old, Microsoft’s is 46, Google’s is 40 and Facebook’s is 29.

Technology isn’t the exclusive province of the young, and nobody would argue to replace the highest-ranking Army general — Chief of Staff Ray Odierno — with a company commander. Out of 95 brigadier generals, however, it seems likely that there’s a major or a junior lieutenant colonel who would be much better equipped than at least one of them to lead the military into the 21st century. The swift promotion, against heavy institutional resistance, of H.R. McMaster, now 51, from colonel to lieutenant general shows that the Pentagon understands that the higher ranks require a certain amount of young, new vision. However, McMaster isn’t going to change a culture all by himself.

There’s as great a need for responsible, mature military leadership as there is for flexibility and change. The bulk of the military’s top decision-makers should be those three- and four-stars who saw us defeat Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, who trained for battle against Russia or China. That still leaves a lot of room at the top for more flexible, youthful leadership, which could easily be filled by the most qualified junior officers.

While budgets are being cut and wars drawn down, it is tempting to simply realign according to old habits. It’d be better, though, to use this moment of fiscal austerity to overhaul the military at all levels, rather than cutting just the layers that appear bloated. If the Army is serious about building a modern, high-tech force, it’ll consider these changes — and the rest of the military will follow.

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Bonenberger, a student at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, is a retired Army captain and combat veteran. He is the author of “Afghan Post.” His email: [email protected]杭州桑拿会所,

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Those meetings “were definitely a large stumbling block,” said McNabb, 36, who was diagnosed with autism last year.


“I wasn’t on the same page as far as what they were looking for in a person, or maybe the type of person they’d wanted to work with.”

He finally embarked on his professional life about five months ago, when he began working from home for Ultra Testing, which tests software for companies — and where 80 percent of the workforce has a disorder on the autism spectrum.

Many people with autism, which impedes social and communication skills, are unemployed; those who do work often have low-paying jobs. Interviews are hard because many have trouble making eye contact and are sensitive to noise or light.

Yet, like McNabb, some are high-functioning and exceptional at repetitive tasks, recognizing data patterns and finding bugs in software — a good fit for the technology industry. Microsoft, SAP, Freddie Mac and HP Australia have initiated programs to hire people on the autism spectrum.

“It’s definitely been a very good break for me, just getting traction, being able to show that I can be working and contribute to a team,” said McNabb, who lives with his father and stepmother in Flossmoor, Illinois. For years he had helped relatives with computer troubles, volunteering and tinkering at home with operating systems and software to see what makes them tick.

Testers from Ultra, a New York-based, 2 1/2-year-old startup, were hired to find software bugs for the company behind the Webby Awards, which honors Internet excellence.

“They found five to10 times more things than we found ourselves. We were astonished,” said Steve Marchese, executive producer at Webby Media Group. “This is a really smart way to utilize the gifts that people on the spectrum have.”

Hiring people with autism helps companies comply with Labor Department rules that went into effect last year in which 7 percent of staffing at companies that get federal contracts must comprise people with disabilities.

Integration can be challenging. Managing autistic adults often requires enhancing training, adapting work stations, adopting new communication skills and accepting non-traditional work methods. Employees must adjust to the physical workplace with its noises and social interactions. Both sides need to be aware of comparable salaries to avoid exploitation.

Autism affects about 1 in 68 children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 3.5 million Americans are estimated to have an autism spectrum disorder, which refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills and impairment levels, according to a 2014 study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Many with a high- functioning form, known as Asperger’s syndrome, have average or above-average language skills.

Not all autistic adults can or want to work. Many live in group homes or with their families and need help completing everyday tasks.

Microsoft said last month it began a pilot program in Redmond, Washington, teaming with Specialisterne USA, a nonprofit group that helps autistic people find jobs.

“They have a real passion for detail,” Mark Grein, executive director at Specialisterne, said in an interview from Stamford, Connecticut. “They tend to be very good at following a process, improving a process, optimizing a process.”

SAP SE, the German software maker, has hired 53 workers worldwide since 2012 through its Autism at Work program and is aiming for 1 percent of its staff, currently at 74,500, by 2020.

“We do have clear anecdotal evidence of business benefits from our pilot program,” including gains in productivity, quality, customer relations, people management and innovation, said Jose Velasco, who heads SAP’s autism program in the U.S.

SAP, a Specialisterne partner, has also consulted to 50 companies looking to start similar programs, Velasco said. SAP often relies on local organizations that help people with disabilities to suggest candidates, who then go through a five- week training period.

The employee’s team gets about a half day of autism- awareness training and the employee works with a mentor, many of whom have a family member with autism, Velasco said. Workers with noise sensitivities may wear noise-reduction headphones or work in a quieter area. Some communicate with coworkers mostly by e-mail if they are uncomfortable in face-to-face situations.

Towers Watson & Co., a human resources consulting firm based in New York, also worked with Specialisterne to hire 18 autistic adults for about six months last year to check compensation data for clients. The company is now looking to expand the program in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and EMEA regions, according to a company statement.

Managers “had to attune themselves to how to effectively engage and support a different group of people,” Max Caldwell, a managing director at Towers Watson, said in an interview. “It was a lesson in diversity.”

Companies need to be creative when managing employees with non-traditional communication skills. Ultra’s employees live in 12 states and work mostly from home. Weekly, they fill out an anonymous five-question survey on their happiness and well being. Ultra adjusts its processes at least once a quarter to maximize job satisfaction.

“We are trying to create a culture where we appreciate each other,” said Ultra co-founder Rajesh Anandan. The company is adding four to five employees every six to eight weeks to keep up with demand for services and the vast majority are autistic, he said. “If we are really successful, we’ll employ hundreds of folks, maybe a few thousand folks.”

People who find work through Specialisterne get jobs within standard salary ranges for their descriptions, Grein said.

“Our mantra is, we want sustained employment at market wages,” Grein said. “If current college graduates make $50,000-$60,000, our people should make the same.”

Wage inequity does exist, though it’s primarily seen at companies that only hire people with autism, according to Ari Ne’eman, president of Autistic Self Advocacy Network, which represents people with autism and their families.

“We do see and are concerned by reports that autistic people are employed at below market wages in segregated workplaces,” Ne’eman said. Some of the companies “are paying significantly below comparable wages for non-autistic workers in similar positions” at other companies, he said.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac, which has an internship program for people with autism, is finding that they can fill a variety of positions, including in data analysis and customer service. All the full-time employees hired through that program have worked out, said spokeswoman Ruth Fisher.

At SAP, just two people who started in its program are no longer with the software maker.

“The retention rates for our Autism at Work program are consistent with and no different than other groups of employees,” SAP spokesman Scott Behles said in an e-mail.

A year ago, SAP hired Charles Hollenden to solve customer software issues. The 32-year-old, who has Asperger’s, spent years in a rash of less-than-satisfying retail and customer- service jobs. At night, he’d work at home on his passion: the Minecraft game. He said his disability, which affects him mostly on a social level, held him back in past jobs.

“I have a career now,” said Hollenden, who lives with his parents in Ridley Township, Pennsylvania. “I am doing a job that feels like what I was kind of doing for my hobby.”

Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S., according to the Autism Society, an advocacy group.

With statistics like this, companies had “better be prepared to work with them,” said Robert Lux, Freddie Mac’s chief information officer, whose 14-year-old daughter is autistic. “You got to open your mind, let them in. By the time my daughter enters the workforce, I hope it’s not going to be just a handful of companies.”

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_ Hillary Clinton, speaking to the Democratic Women’s Council in Columbia, South Carolina, May 27, 2015

This is a pretty interesting collection of damning quotes from Hillary Clinton about her erstwhile GOP rivals for the presidency.


We often are wary when politicians start to negatively quote other politicians, because all too frequently those quotes are taken out of context.

We’ve written in the past about some of the statistics surrounding the equal-pay debate — such as the assertion that women make 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. But in this case, we are going to focus on whether Clinton is accurately quoting her potential opponents.

“One Republican candidate dismissed equal pay as ‘a bogus issue.’ ”

Here, Clinton is referring to a quote from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, R, who in 2012 signed a repeal of a 2009 law that allowed equal-pay lawsuits to be filed in state court, in addition to federal courts. He argued that the law — which was crafted and passed when Democrats controlled the state government — was duplicative and “could clog up the legal system,” given there were other administrative and federal options available.

Walker’s quote appeared in a 2012 article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, titled “Walker faces challenges in winning some female voters.” The article highlighted the repeal of the law and quoted the executive director of the state Democratic Party as saying that Walker approved the repeal “in the dark of night” (a Thursday before Easter) in order not to draw media attention. The article continues:

“Walker said there was no attempt to hide anything, and the bill-signing did nothing harmful to women.”

Clinton claimed that Walker “dismissed equal pay as ‘a bogus issue.’ ” But in context, it appears that Walker is referring to debate over when he signed the repeal, or perhaps that he has a problem with women. It certainly does not appear that he said that concerns about equal pay are bogus.

The Fact Checker contacted Paul Srubas, the reporter of the story. He agreed that “to say he called ‘equal pay’ a bogus issue I think would be misquoting him.” As he put it:

“As best as I can recall and reconstruct, I don’t believe Walker was publicly dismissing the concept of equal pay as ‘a bogus issue.’ I believe he was saying the 2009 equal pay enforcement act was unnecessary and redundant, so he repealed it, and since repealing it created no harm to women, accusing him of hiding his actions by cloak of night is bogus.”

A Clinton spokesman responded: “Walker is very clearly saying he thinks it’s a bogus issue because other laws take care of the problem and we don’t need to legislate more on this.”

(Incidentally, exit polls showed that in 2014 Walker lagged behind the female Democratic challenger by nine percentage points among women, but he coasted to re-election by winning the male vote by 21 percentage points. Walker also narrowly won the votes of white women.)

“Another said Congress was ‘wasting time’ worrying about it.”

In this sentence, Clinton attacks Sen. Marco Rubio, Fla., who, like all Senate Republicans, opposed the Democratic-sponsored Paycheck Fairness Act. Again, the battle lines between the parties were drawn over whether the law would result in more litigation. (We obviously take no position on the legislation but trial lawyers tend to be major financial backers of Democrats, not Republicans.)

In a 2014 interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, Rubio was asked about executive actions that President Barack Obama had taken to address the pay gap between men and women. “I think it is a legitimate issue to focus on because of have millions of women trapped in low-paying jobs for a multiple of reasons,” Rubio said, adding that he wanted to find ways to provide more educational opportunities and better career options for women.

He then turned to criticize the Paycheck Fairness Act. Here is the full context of his comment:

“The proposals before the Senate now are really geared toward making it easier to sue an employer. I understand the political benefit of highlighting that and why they’re doing it, but it isn’t going to solve the core of the problem. And I just think we’re wasting time. Meanwhile, an entire generation of young women is caught in low paying jobs with no way to emerge from that into a better paying job.”

In other words, he was concerned about the pay gap but objected, on substantive grounds, to the proposal before the Senate — which had no chance of getting any Republican votes. So the “wasting time” comment referred to debating a politically oriented bill that had no hope of passage. (In fact, by 2014, the bill had been rejected in the Senate several times.) Rubio did not say that Congress was wasting time worrying about it; in fact, he said it was a “legitimate issue to focus on.”

The Clinton spokesman responded: “Rubio absolutely said Congress was wasting its time; his reasoning for believing that isn’t the point.”

“One even said that efforts to guarantee fair pay reminded him of the Soviet Union.”

Finally, Clinton takes on Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. This line is based on a 2012 Huffington Post article headlined “Rand Paul Compares Paycheck Fairness To Soviet Politburo.”

Paul also attacked the Paycheck Fairness Act for encouraging litigation, saying the proposed law would hand powers to judges to determine whether women are paid fairly, which he said would violate free-market principles. It was in that context that he made the reference to the Soviet Union:

“Three hundred million people get to vote everyday on what you should be paid or what the price of goods are. In the Soviet Union, the Politburo decided the price of bread, and they either had no bread or too much bread. So setting prices or wages by the government is always a bad idea. . . . The minute you set up a fairness czar to determine what wages are, you give away freedom. When you give that power to someone to make decisions, they may well discriminate in favor of whoever they want to discriminate in favor of. The market just makes decisions on your ability to do your job.”

Again, Clinton is suggesting that opposition to a Democratic-written bill means opposition to equal pay for women. But her statement here is a bit more cleverly worded. Paul certainly suggested that this particular effort to address the issue reminded him of the Soviet Union, so as phrased, Clinton’s statement is relatively accurate.

The Clinton spokesman said she was not “saying that the Paycheck Fairness Act, something she believes is a piece of the solution, would solve the problem on its own. . . . She specifies several areas that contribute to the problem that could be fixed. Unfortunately, Republicans obstruct attempts to fix any of these problem areas, including repealing state legislation or blocking or dismissing federal legislation.”

In at least two of the quotes — Walker’s and Rubio’s — Clinton has ripped the remarks completely out of context. In all three cases, Clinton is suggesting that opposition to bills crafted by Democrats — which Republicans said would encourage litigation — is tantamount to not caring about the gender pay gap.

Taking statements out of context is an old political game played by both parties. We recall that Clinton supporters protested vehemently when they accused Republicans of twisting out of context remarks she made during the hearings on the Benghazi attacks. But that still does not make the practice acceptable for political discourse.

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Former EastEnders actress Sian Blake and her two young sons, Zachary and Amon, died as a result of head and neck injuries, police say.


Scotland Yard confirmed they were investigating a triple murder following the discovery of three bodies hidden in the garden of the family home on Tuesday.

Police sniffer dogs led officers to make the grim find at the property in Kent where “significant attempts” had been made to conceal the family’s remains.

Blake, 43, Zachary, eight, and Amon, four, have now been formally identified and post-mortem examinations have taken place.

Arthur Simpson-Kent, Blake’s former partner, is still being sought by police in connection with the murder inquiry and is believed to have fled the country to Ghana.

Photographs of Simpson-Kent, 48, were obtained by ITV News of Simpson-Kent at Kotoka Airport in the Ghanaian capital Accra – three days after he was quizzed by police over the family’s disappearance.

It is understood concerns about domestic violence were raised by a relative of Blake to British child abuse charity NSPCC on December 16, information that was passed on to the Metropolitan Police and Bexley Council.

A missing person’s investigation was launched on the same day after police visited the home.

Murder detectives helped lead a forensic search of the property on Sunday after being drafted in to assist the borough force.

Earlier, Blake’s sister Ava said Simpson-Kent will have to “answer to God” for his alleged actions.

Speaking at Scotland Yard, she said: “Unfortunately I believe Arthur was responsible for my sister and my (nephews’) deaths.

“I want him to face justice and explain why. It’s my nephews more than anything.

“My brother is angry. My cousins are angry and it’s because of the boys.

“They are angry about Sian, but the boys have devastated us. We have lost a generation. We can never replace them.”

Blake, 43, had motor neurone disease – a fatal, rapidly progressing illness which affects the brain and spinal cord – and was reportedly looking “very frail” before she vanished.

She was last seen with her sons in Waltham Forest, east London, on December 13 and officers spoke to Simpson-Kent three days later at the family home in Pembroke Road, Erith.

Ava Blake, 51, said her sister had told their mother, Pansy, that she wanted to get out of her relationship “a long time ago”.

Blake, who played soul singer Frankie in EastEnders, appeared in the BBC soap for 56 episodes between 1996 and 1997, reportedly quitting because of hostility from viewers towards her manipulative character.

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Every now and then, an image of a sidewalk with a specialised “texting lane” makes the rounds on my Facebook news feed.


Such images are often of dubious accuracy, but people generally seem to like the idea of corralling the people who text while they walk into their own lane. Because you see them all the time: smartphone zombies who move about the world on autopilot, their eyes fixed on their devices. At best, they are annoying. At worst, they put themselves in serious danger: At least 10 per cent of pedestrian injuries are due to cell-phone distraction, according to emergency-room data, and an estimated six deaths per year can now be blamed on the same.

They’re everywhere, and thank god you’re not one of them, right?

But, of course, you probably actually are. A recent pedestrian safety survey shows that 80 per cent of American adults agree that distracted walkers are a “serious” problem — and yet only 29 percent of these very same adults believed themselves to be part of this problem, as Ben Zimmer at The Wall Street Journal recently reported. It’s a pretty perfect example of something psychologists call the self-enhancement bias, a term describing the embarrassingly stubborn belief that you are better than the average, facts to the contrary be damned. The phenomenon is also sometimes known as the Lake Wobegon effect — you know, for the fictional Prairie Home Companion town, where the children are all above average.

In the 1980s, for example, Swedish psychologist Ola Svenson found that 88 per cent of the Americans she surveyed believed themselves to be a safer driver than average, and 93 per cent said they were more skillful than average. Defying logic, halfof those surveyed believed themselves to be among the top 20 per cent of the safest drivers in the group. People also tend to believe that they are smarter, fairer, and healthier than the average person, and in 2001, two University of Chicago psychologists published a study suggesting that most people believe they are more popular than they really are, too. 

Some studies, in fact, have found that people who are the worst at certain skills may be the most guilty of this particular bias. In 1999, Cornell University psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning published a well-known study that tested students on their relative prowess at things like grammar and logic, as compared to the others in the group. Again, they found that most people overestimated their competence — but those who were the least skilled tended to also be the least in touch with reality when it came to this estimation. In the grammar experiment, for example, those who scored in the 10th percentile had guessed that they’d score in at least the 60th percentile; on the other hand, the top scorers underestimated their abilities, guessing that they’d land somewhere in the 70th percentile and actually landing near the 90th. (Another experiment in the study, which will shock absolutely no one, found that people who were in fact the least funny in the group believed themselves to be among the funniest.) 

There is some evidence that this might be a uniquely Western — if not uniquely American — tendency, as Psychology Today writers Lawrence T. White and Steven Jackson recently pointed out. White and Jackson describe the findings of a meta-analysis of 91 studies, which found that Westerners tended to be more likely than the East Asians to “consistently [view] themselves in a more positive light”; the Westerners were also more likely “to see themselves as uniquely talented and possessing desirable personality traits.” 

This is mostly just mildly amusing — oh, what narcissistic creatures we are! — until you consider the potential consequences. Psychologists have argued that people’s tendency to believe that they are better drivers than most can also make them mistakenly believe that they are really good at texting while driving, a “skill” that almost no one is actually very good at and that puts the driver and everyone else on the road in serious danger. Some oncologists may be so convinced that their patients will beat the odds and survive that they prescribe unhelpful or unrealistic treatments. Overconfidence has its place, and let’s all agree to ponder where exactly that is once we’ve pocketed our phones. 

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By decree, the parliament gave interim presidential authority to the speaker of parliament, Oleksandr Turchynov, himself a leader of the opposition.


But even as demonstrators in Kiev celebrated their victory over the pro-Russian Yanukovych, there were signs of trouble in parts of the Ukraine that still lean more toward Russia than Europe. In the Crimea to the south, men gathered to volunteer for militias to oppose the decrees announced in the capital.

In Kiev, the parliamentarian and former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko urged the thousands of demonstrators in Independence Square to remain where they are in order to protect the advances won by the opposition. Klitschko also said that the “self-defense” militias organized to defend the barricades at the square against riot police should remain on the streets to provide security. “There are no police on the streets right now,” Klitschko told reporters. “The police will be reorganized, and we will try to do this as fast as possible.”

Another member of parliament warned his colleagues that they needed to move quickly to bring security forces back to work, saying that some of the nation’s vital infrastructure, including nuclear power plants, were unguarded.

Maintaining security wasn’t the only issue. Turchynov, the new interim president, said Ukraine’s pension fund, national currency and banking system were facing “immense problems,” according to the news group RIA Novosti.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Moscow would delay a planned purchase of $2 billion in Ukrainian eurobonds until Kiev formed a new government. In December, Russia had signed a deal with President Yanukovych promising a $15 billion support package. The move toward Russian aid, and away from a trade agreement with the European Union, was one of the sparks that began three months of protest in Kiev.

Independence Square was filled with thousands of Ukrainians Sunday who piled heaps of flowers at makeshift shrines beside photographs of some of the 82 protesters who have been killed by riot police in the recent clashes. In western Ukraine, large crowds assembled to mourn the protesters.

Members of the opposition, which now controls Kiev and the central government, also announced that protesters arrested during demonstrations would be freed immediately, while they also sought to detain and prosecute the dismissed prosecutor general, Viktor Pshonka. The interim interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said the new government would open an inquiry into lethal force used by riot police and security forces during the protests.

The whereabouts of Yanukovych remain unknown.

In a single climactic day, the political order of Ukraine was overturned Saturday when the Ukrainian parliament voted to dismiss Yanukovych from office and to free jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who went directly from a prison hospital bed to a stage at Independence Square to address an audience of tens of thousands.

“A day for the history books,” tweeted Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Still unknown is whether a defiant Yanukovych and a bitterly divided Ukraine will accept any of parliament’s decrees. Leaders of the ousted government, especially those from Ukraine’s east and south, said they would oppose new measures.

Yanukovych, whose exact whereabouts have been unknown since Friday evening, appeared on television Saturday in a prerecorded interview to say: “I am not planning to leave the country. I am the legitimate president, and I am not going to resign.”

“What we witness now resembles Nazi occupation,” Yanukovych said. “My car was shot at. But I am not afraid for my life, I am afraid for my country.”

Yanukovych said Russian President Vladimir Putin told him that he had spoken with President Barack Obama and promised that “we will negotiate.”

But the White House released a statement that praised the “constructive work” done by the Ukrainian parliament and urged “the prompt formation of a broad, technocratic government of national unity.”

On Sunday, U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice warned that Russian troop intervention in Ukraine would be a “grave mistake.”

“This is not about the U.S. and Russia,” Rice said during a wide-ranging interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “This is about whether the people of Ukraine have the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations and be democratic and be part of Europe, which they choose to be.”

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, told the BBC on Sunday: “We don’t know, of course, what Russia’s next reaction will be.”

He noted that Russia had supported a compromise with Yanukovych last week that would have allowed him to stay in power for another 10 months.

“We do know that Russia, as well as the United States, has said a few days ago that they would get behind a deal that had been made, that deal has now been overtaken by events and this is the importance of us continuing a dialogue with Russia,” Hague said.

The European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is scheduled to come to Kiev on Monday.

Just hours after parliament voted to remove the president on Saturday, his archrival Tymoshenko, a key figure in Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, was released from prison after serving 30 months.

Tymoshenko, suffering from a back injury, was rolled onstage in a pink wheelchair. She gave an emotional, forceful speech, honoring the 82 Ukrainians killed in street fighting and by riot police since Tuesday.

The opposition leader, who still has her trademark blond braid, said that Ukraine would not be truly free until “everyone bears a responsibility for what they have done,” a clear reference to the president and his ousted interior minister, who controlled the riot police forces that used live ammunition against protesters. “If we don’t prosecute, we should be ashamed.”

Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, was sentenced to seven years in prison in a 2011 trial on charges of abuse of power and embezzlement over her role in a deal to purchase natural gas from Russia. Her supporters and many Western countries said the trial and conviction were politically motivated.

In an emergency session, the Ukrainian parliament voted 380 to 0 on Saturday to remove Yanukovych from office, saying he was guilty of gross human rights violations and dereliction of duty. Many of Yanukovych’s allies were absent or abstained from voting.

Then the parliament, now dominated by opposition politicians, declared that early presidential elections would be held May 25.

Tymoshenko, who blinked back tears several times, promised: “I am coming back to work. I won’t waste a minute to make sure you are happy in your own land.”

She ran for president in 2010 but lost to Yanukovych, and most people here assume Tymoshenko will run in the May contest.

“We have been monitoring the situation very closely,” said a senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because conditions remained so fluid. “What the United States and our European partners have been advocating for consistently this week is a de-escalation of violence, constitutional change, a coalition government and early elections. The developments we are seeing on the ground are . . . moving us closer to those goals.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday that the opposition in Ukraine was “pushing new demands, submitting itself to armed extremists and looters whose actions pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and constitutional order of Ukraine,” according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

The new speaker of parliament, Turchynov, told his fellow deputies Saturday that Yanukovych had attempted to flee the country.

“He tried to get on a plane that was bound for the Russian Federation but was stopped by border guards. At the moment, he’s hiding somewhere in the Donetsk region,” Turchynov said, according to Interfax. The Donetsk region, in eastern Ukraine, is home to Yanukovych’s Russian-speaking political base.

Tens of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians poured onto the grounds of Yanukovych’s abandoned presidential compound, 12 miles from downtown Kiev, to gawk at the manicured lawns, small zoo, golf course, botanical gardens and classic cars.

Museum officials were working with militias to guard the presidential mansion and inventory possessions and works of art they say were probably borrowed or stolen by Yanukovych from state museums and institutions. Journalists and others began to pore over a stack of documents left behind.

“Who knows what he has stashed in there,” said Ihor Lihovy, a consultant for the Ukrainian national committee for the preservation of national treasures. “We have been told he hoarded masterpieces. It is a scandal.”

Yanukovych built his mansion and its outbuildings after he was elected president in 2010. None of the Ukrainian public or media had seen the inside of the compound before Saturday. An elderly pensioner with a mouth full of metal teeth shouted, “What a thief!” as he took in the marble statuary.

The crowds were orderly and polite. There was no looting, few were allowed to enter the houses or outbuildings, and opposition protesters warned visitors to keep off the grass.

A group of young people, however, found their way into Yanukovych’s clubhouse and brought out golf balls and clubs and whacked a few drives down the long fairways.

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(Updates with environmentalist’s comment in third paragraph.



(Bloomberg) —

WASHINGTON — Asking the trucking industry to do more to cut the emissions that add to climate change, the Obama administration on Friday proposed a 24 percent increase in fuel- economy requirements over a decade.

The Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposal fell short of a steeper increase and shorter time frame sought by environmentalists. Truckmakers must be in full compliance by 2027.

“We will be pushing the administration to require compliance sooner, in order to deliver these benefits more quickly,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

The EPA sided with engine-maker Cummins and transmission manufacturer Eaton and proposed a separate standard and testing procedure for truck engines.

Truckmakers had pushed for eliminating the engine target and just testing the whole vehicle the way automobiles are assessed. That way, fuel consumption targets could be met with less expensive changes, such as improved aerodynamics.

“As a power management company committed to increased fuel efficiency and reduced greenhouse gases, Eaton strongly supports the next phase of standards for medium and heavy duty commercial vehicles,” said Alexander M. Cutler, Eaton Chairman and CEO. “These standards provide important incentives to help deploy the next generation of fuel efficient technologies.

It is the second time regulators set efficiency goals for the more than 7 million tractor trailers and other heavy-duty trucks that haul most of the nation’s goods. Regulators predicted environmental and economic benefits from the truck rules. Reduced shipping costs would eventually be passed onto consumers through lower prices, they said.

Following earlier rules to boost the mileage of cars and cut use of coal to make electricity, the truck-efficiency rule is a step to reach President Barack Obama’s pledge to cut overall U.S. climate emissions by 26 percent by 2025.

”Once upon a time, to be pro-environment you had to be anti-big-vehicles,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “This rule will change that. In fact, these efficiency standards are good for the environment — and the economy.”

Unlike standards set in 2011 — lasting through 2018 — these rules force truckmakers to employ new, untested technology. Vehicles built using new technologies developed to meet the new regulatory targets would end up cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 1 billion metric tons by 2027, saving about 1.8 billion barrels of oil, according to the EPA.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, whose members typically own one or two trucks, has already expressed concern about adding potentially $14,000 to the cost of a new truck and whether untested technology will be reliable enough. The EPA says truck owners’ savings at the pump will allow them to payback any additional vehicle costs in two years.

Fuel is the single largest cost of owning and operating heavy-duty trucks, averaging about $73,000 a year for a tractor- trailer. U.S. households pay about $1,100 a year in diesel charges that are built into retail prices, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

The agency said that most of the gains can be accomplished with existing technology, including more efficient tires, and that the extra costs imposed on vehicles could be recouped by owners within two years by lower fuel bills.

The proposed tractor standards could be met through improvements in the engine, transmission, aerodynamic design and extended idle reduction, EPA said in a fact sheet.

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Wait, come back! I get it — the last thing in the world you’re likely to watch is one more reality show set in Alaska, since we already have about a hundred to choose from.


(You know who’s most tired of Alaska shows? Alaskans. The state is crawling with TV crews from Discovery, National Geographic and the rest.)

So hear me out as I describe the exquisite and sometimes melancholy effect of watching Animal Planet’s “The Last Alaskans,” a superb, eight-part docuseries premiering Monday night. Without overblown narration or any of the other heavily produced tropes and techniques that viewers associate with the genre, “The Last Alaskans” quietly settles in with some of the last legal residents of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

What happens next? Not a whole lot, except for a patient rumination on the themes of independence and solitude in nature, minus the posturing and usual yammering about the Second Amendment, snow machines, gold fever, etc.

A Congressional act in 1980 banned further human occupation in the refuge, which is hundreds of miles from the nearest city and covers a vast and pristine chunk of the state’s northeast corner. According to the show’s intro, only seven cabin permits remain under a grandfather clause, entitling the occupants and their immediate descendants to continue living on the refuge.

“The Last Alaskans” embeds with four of these stalwart households, the members of which tend to arrive at the end of the summer (as floods and mosquitoes subside) and set about hunting for the red meat and fish that will sustain them through a bitterly cold winter that includes two months with hardly any sunlight.

Produced by Bethesda-based Half Yard Productions (whose other works include TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” and — get this — Bravo’s 2010 bomb “The Real Housewives of D.C.”), “The Last Alaskans” was filmed with minimal crew and an evident respect for its setting and subjects, who simply aren’t the sort of people who wait around hoping to get on TV.

Sport cameras attached to drones provide the viewer with an almost foreboding sense of how large and remote the refuge is — and how isolated the cabins are from each other, separated by more than 100 miles. Unlike other reality shows, there’s little sense that a producer is nudging a particular narrative this way or that; the subjects are entirely themselves and, given their loner instincts, remarkably willing to explain why they live here and how they manage it.

“It’s easy to die up here,” says Bob Harte. “Everything else is work.”

Harte, who is in his 60s, taught himself to fly what might be the most ramshackle single-engine airplane in the state, which gets him to and from Fairbanks for occasional supply runs. He’s the talkative heart and soul of “The Last Alaskans” and seems genuinely pleased to have the company.

The more you learn about Harte, the more you admire him — and also worry for him. Cameras or not, he’s a tad danger-prone (a plane crash here; a stalled boat motor in swift current there; a bear raid on his cabin in his absence) and he says he’d be perfectly happy to meet his end in these woods. He’s still nursing the hurt of a long-ago divorce and misses the daughter who was born in his cabin and yet shows no apparent interest in visiting anymore. One windy afternoon, Harte climbs a very tall tree to adjust an antenna that picks up a faraway radio station where callers leave messages to those living far off the grid. One night his ears perk up when his ex-wife leaves a greeting. It’s the only communication he has, and it’s decidedly one-way.

Elsewhere, Ray Lewis arrives with his wife, Cindy, and their three daughters for the fall and winter. The Lewis family spends summer in Fairbanks, which Ray describes as a marital compromise — while Cindy gets her city fix (and the family earns money) Ray itches to return. Now their daughters are getting old enough to move away and perhaps lose interest in sustaining the family’s claim on the cabin.

Bearing a striking resemblance to Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood,” Ray may have no idea how suited he is to TV or how elegant his deepest thoughts about nature and quietude must sound to those of us sitting on sofas shoveling lowfat yogurt into our maws.

Like everyone else on the show, he’s mostly just fixated on killing an animal big enough to provide the winter’s meals.

Speaking of meat, this is the first time in a long time I’ve felt any emotional investment while watching people hunt and fish on TV. In that regard, “The Last Alaskans” is in many ways an ideal program for a channel that stills calls itself Animal Planet. Even though it’s about people, they are inextricably linked to not only their pet dogs but the wildlife all around them. One couple, Tyler and Ashley Selden, are having issues with a grizzly who discovered their salmon cache.

Farther yonder, Heimo and Edna Korth are also prepping for winter. Heimo, who has appeared in previous documentary projects about the last few residents of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is especially patient with the camera team that follows him on prolonged and initially unsuccessful hunts for migrating caribou or moose. Edna busies herself at the cabin, glad to have returned from a trip to “town,” where, she says, “As soon as you get (there) you smell the exhaust. Out here there’s nothing.”

Most Alaska reality shows feature someone who, like Edna, speaks favorably about the freedom of isolation, but “The Last Alaskans” is one of the rare shows in which you can truly grasp what she means. Life in the refuge is both intoxicating and terrifying; the producers are smart enough to realize that this story doesn’t need jarring edits, loud music cues or cooked-up conflicts. This is what reality TV might have looked like had it not been so easy for the networks and viewers to give into the trashiest impulses.

Late in the first episode, a sad anniversary approaches for the Korths, whose 2-year-old daughter drowned in the river rapids in 1984. Although her body was never found, Heimo and Edna planted a cross for her, which they hike to during the fall in order to leave flowers and hug each other and weep. You’d think the memories of this tragedy might have discouraged them from wanting to live in the refuge.

On the contrary, Heimo says: It’s why they can never leave.

– – –

The Last Alaskans

(one hour) premieres Monday

at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet.

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