Friday, October 30, 2009

Willing to give up blue skies for climate fix?

Geoengineering gets closer look as a 'Plan B' in case emissions don't fall

Image: Illustration of several geoengineering techniques
Brian West / American Geophysical Union
A new study describes pros and cons of cooling Earth via a thin cloud of aerosols. Techniques cited to do that are, from left, artillery cannons, a miles-long tower, military aircraft and stratospheric balloons.

By Miguel Llanos
Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 3:58 a.m. MT, Fri., Oct . 30, 2009

We can probably engineer Earth's climate to cool the planet, scientists say, but are we willing to live with the downsides? Those could include creating more droughts, more ozone holes and, oh yeah, a thin cloud layer that obscures blue skies and gives astronomers fits.

With potential negatives like that it's no wonder that "geoengineering," as the technique is called, has few hardcore advocates.

Instead, a growing cadre of scientists is asking whether it should be a "Plan B" in case emissions of greenhouse gases aren't reduced in time to head off major consequences.
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Experts gathered Friday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were discussing just that at a seminar called "Engineering a Cooler Earth: Can We Do It? Should We Try?"

Two key geoengineering approaches have surfaced: removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and reflecting the Sun's rays away from Earth.

The former focuses on using the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide, which takes a long time and acidifies the seas, harming corals and shellfish.

The latter is seen as more realistic, especially the leading strategy of lobbing sulfur into the atmosphere the way volcanoes do. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines cooled the planet by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

While it doesn't remove CO2 — and as a result, ocean acidification would continue — adding sulfur could reduce temperatures quickly.

Weighing pros, cons
At issue, though, is whether the benefits would outweigh the costs.

In a study published this week on the sulfur approach, a Rutgers University team stacked benefits against costs. The key pros: a cooler planet; reduced or reversed melting of ice sheets and Arctic sea ice; and increased plant productivity.

The key cons: more droughts in Africa and Asia; oceans would still be acidifying; creation of ozone holes in the Arctic; reduced solar energy production; and those less blue skies and frustrated astronomers.

"We have not calculated how hazy yet, but it would be global," lead study author Alan Robock told msnbc.com. "Injection into the tropical stratosphere would produce a global cloud. It would have to be regular with the frequency depending on the injection method and the thickness of the desired cloud."

Writing in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters, the team concluded that, given existing technology, the best method of lobbing aerosols would be via high-altitude military jets at a cost of several billion dollars a year.

But it also warned that more needs to be learned before society is sufficiently informed to make a decision.

"Several billion dollars per year is a lot of money, but compared to the international gross national product, this amount would not be a limiting factor in the decision of whether to proceed with geoengineering," the authors wrote. "Rather, other concerns, including reduction of Asian monsoon rainfall, ozone depletion, reduction of solar power, psychological effects of no more blue skies, and political and ethical issues, will need to be compared to the potential advantages before society can make this decision."

'Last resort' strategy
Leading scientific groups have also taken stands on the technique.

The American Meteorological Society, for one, has endorsed the idea of researching geoengineering as a Plan B.

"Geoengineering will not substitute for either aggressive mitigation or proactive adaptation," it said in a adopting a policy statement this year, "but it could contribute to a comprehensive risk management strategy to slow climate change and alleviate some of its negative impacts."

But the society is also among those emphasizing that geoengineering should not become an excuse for policymakers to back off action that reduces emissions.

"The possibility of quick and seemingly inexpensive geoengineering fixes could distract the public and policymakers from critically needed efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," it warned.

The Institute of Physics, a nonprofit with 36,000 members, echoed that view. "Climate geoengineering at scale must be considered only as a last resort," it says in its own statement. "There should be no lessening of attempts to otherwise correct the harmful impacts of human economies on the Earth’s ecology and climate."

Geoengineering, it adds, "should be seen as a prudent precautionary measure in case all other attempts to control dangerous climate change fail or are inadequate — for whatever reason."

Robock, for one, wants increased spending. "Absolutely," said the environmental sciences professor at Rutgers. "We need a research program now to evaluate different potential engineering designs and to look in much more detail at the climate and other effects."

In the United States, policymakers are starting to listen to the scientific discussion. The House Science Committee next Thursday will hold its first hearing on the implications of geoengineering. Robock is among those set to testify.

"The hearing is by no means an endorsement of deploying geoengineering, but an effort to begin a thoughtful, in-depth conversation," committee spokesman Alexandria Dery Snider told msnbc.com. "We don’t want to shy away from the issue because it is complex and potentially controversial."

"It’s important to note that we are not looking at geoengineering as an easy way out of changing how we consume energy," Dery Snider added. "Geoengineering may, however, be a stopgap to buy us some time, if we find ourselves in a dire situation."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Anderson Institute revealing information on Time Travel

Welcome to the Anderson Institute ...where history is becoming an experimental science.

Time Travel and Time Control at the Anderson Institute
Imagine, traveling in time. Some process that would let you go backward in time to witness the events that changed history, or into the future to see if mankind survives, and then to return to the present with the knowledge of what will happen tomorrow. The process is intriguing, even mind boggling, but the science is more real than imagined.

Explore the possibilities on the exciting new frontier of time control and time travel with the Anderson Institute, dedicated exclusively to advancing the study and development of time control capabilities.

The Anderson Institute is a private research and development laboratory whose resources are targeted specifically at the time control applications using time-warped field technology in its proprietary time reactor systems (patent pending).

In addition to leading-edge development research and development activities a key goal of the Institute is to actively support education initiatives. The Institute promotes and supports the ongoing collection, correlation, communication and development of scientific information and theories on time control and time travel. A three-part strategy to achieving its goals in education that includes:

The World Time Research Association The World Time Research Association (WTRA) provides an easy and free networking opportunity for students, scientists and teachers from around the world to monitor, study and advance the development of time control capabilities. The WTRA also encourages the free exchange of educational materials for teachers. Membership is easy and free.

The World Encyclopedia of Time, Time Control, and Time Travel The "World Encyclopedia of Time" is hosted on this website as a free educational resource representing the largest collection of information on time, time control and time travel in the world. The encyclopedia addresses not just the science of time control and time travel but also concepts of time and its use in religion, philosophy, literature, art and culture.

Lecture by David Lewis Anderson Educational programs and lectures are supported with selected universities, organizations and youth programs via the World Genesis Foundation and its association with the United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organization.

The greatest scientific development in the history of mankind is now underway and leading to discoveries that will change our world and reality in ways difficult to comprehend. We invite you to join us in the largest effort to network time control information and interests from around the world.

We wish you success in your research and studies and thank you for visiting our site.

Sincerely,

at the Anderson Institute
New Mexico, UNITED STATES of AMERICA

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Chimpanzees' grief caught on camera in Cameroon

Grief-stricken chimpanzees mourning the death of a fellow ape: Group of chimps 'grieve' for dead friend
Grief-stricken chimpanzees mourning the death of a fellow ape Photo: MONICA SZCZUPIDER/SOLENT

More than a dozen chimps stand in silence watching from behind their wire enclosure as Dorothy, a chimp in her late 40s who died of heart failure, is wheeled past them.

The chimps are from the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon. Locals from the village work as "care-givers" for the orphaned animals whose mothers were all killed for the illegal bushmeat trade.

The photo was taken by Monica Szczupider, who was working at the centre.

Speaking about Dorothy, Miss Szczupider, 30, said the chimp was a "prominent figure" within a group of about 25 chimps.

"Chimps are not silent. They are gregarious, loud, vocal creatures, usually with relatively short attention spans", she said.

"But they could not take their eyes off Dorothy, and their silence, more than anything, spoke volumes."

The scene, which can be seen in November's issue of National Geographic, is reminiscent of the gorilla Gana, who grieved of the loss of her baby in her compound at Muenster zoo in northern Germany. Gana fiercely held on to the corpse of her three-month-old baby Claudio until zoo keepers were eventually able to retrieve his body.

Scientists have previously discounted opinions of those who claim animals feel emotions as overly anthropomorphic. But a number of have also recognised that we must be anthropomorphic when discussing animal emotions.

Dr Marc Bekoff, of the University of Colorado, previously wrote for The Telegraph: "That animals and humans share many traits including emotions is merely an extension of Charles Darwin's accepted ideas about evolutionary continuity, that the differences between species are differences in degree rather than differences in kind. The seemingly natural human urge to impart emotions on to animals, far from obscuring the "true" nature of animals, may actually reflect a very accurate way of knowing."

He has previously published observations of a magpie 'funeral' where a group of four magpies took it turns to approach the corpse of a dead bird, before two flew off to return with a piece of grass and lay it down beside the body. He also claims to have seen emotions in elephants.

Read more...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Obama Declares Swine Flu A National Emergency

October 24, 2009

The White House on Saturday said Obama signed a proclamation that would allow medical officials to bypass certain federal requirements. Officials described the move as similar to a declaration ahead of a hurricane making landfall.

Swine flu is more widespread now than it's ever been and has resulted in more than 1,000 U.S. deaths so far.

Health authorities say almost 100 children have died from the flu, known as H1N1, and 46 states now have widespread flu activity.

The White House said Obama signed the declaration on Friday evening.

Monday, October 19, 2009

To spot an alien, follow the pollution trail

Intelligent beings live here (Image: Joseph O. Holmes/portfolio.streetnine.com/Flickr/Getty)

19 October 2009 by David Shiga
New Scientist

DO ALIENS pollute their planets? Let's hope they do, as this would give us a promising way of spotting where they live.

Radio noise may be too short-lived to help us find aliens, if our own activity is any guide. During most of the 20th century, our television transmission antennas leaked a lot of their energy into space. More recently, they have begun to be supplanted by satellites that beam their transmissions at the ground, as well as by cable. Inquisitive aliens searching for signs of intelligent life on Earth may soon have to look elsewhere.

Light pollution from cities might still give us away. "Observed over interstellar distances, they would reveal to the observer the presence of a technology," say a team of astronomers led by Jean Schneider of the Paris Observatory at Meudon, France. In a paper to appear in Astrobiology, they suggest we should look for a similar glow on alien planets.

This wouldn't be easy. Even if all the electricity we generate was used to produce light, it would still be thousands of times fainter than the glint of sunlight reflected from Earth's surface. To reliably detect even this massive amount of artificial light on a planet orbiting a relatively nearby star - say 15 light years away - would require an array of telescopes with a combined light-collecting area of 1.5 square kilometres, Schneider's team calculates.

Our presence on Earth also leaves other traces that could be observed from afar. The chemicals known as CFCs strongly absorb infrared light at characteristic wavelengths, making them detectable in the atmosphere even when present at concentrations of only parts per trillion. CFCs do not form naturally, so detecting them on a world orbiting another star would be good evidence of alien technology.

"CFCs are a very interesting idea to look for advanced civilisations," agrees Lisa Kaltenegger of Harvard University. But an exceptionally sensitive telescope would be needed to pick them up - more sensitive even than NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder and the European Space Agency's Darwin mission, the most ambitious space telescopes now being planned. Kaltenegger says it may be feasible "in the far future with a flotilla of infrared telescopes in space".

There is, of course, no guarantee that any alien civilisations will have been spewing CFCs into their planet's atmosphere. The damage CFCs have done to Earth's ozone layer in the few decades they have been used led to a worldwide ban on their manufacture, and they are slowly disappearing from our atmosphere. "Do all intelligent civilisations make the same mistakes?" Kaltenegger wonders.

Looking for CFCs might be a way to look for other civilisations - if aliens make the same mistakes we did

Other artificial compounds, including less damaging substitutes for CFCs, also have characteristic infrared fingerprints, says Jim Kasting of Pennsylvania State University, University Park. "There's a whole host of things we make industrially as solvents, cleaners and refrigerants - they certainly have absorption lines," he says. "If you had a big enough telescope, you could detect them."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Judge's order blocks forced flu shots

ALBANY - As the fight against mandatory flu shots for health care workers gained momentum, it was inevitable the battle would arrive in a court room.

In state Supreme Court in Albany Friday, those opposed to the shots won the first round. Judge Thomas McNamara issued a temporary restraining order against the mandate. That means, for the time being, the state Department of Health regulation is on hold.

"We are very pleased by this decision at this time," Public Employees Federation attorney William Seamon said.

PEF, along with New York State United Teachers and a group of nurses represented by attorney Terry Kindlon argued that New York's health commissioner overstepped his authority by mandating the shots.

"Only the Legislature under its public power, police power, has the authority to enact this type of requirement," Seamon said.

"Our second claim is that this 'emergency regulation' has been in the works for approximately two years and we think that clearly undermines and undercuts any argument that this was needed for an emergency basis," he added.

Nurses rallied twice at the state Capitol in opposition to the mandate. While many agree to have the shot, they vehemently disagree with being forced to have them and have their jobs on the line if they don't comply.

In a statement, the Health Department said the restraining order is only temporary and it's confident their policy will be upheld.

"The Legislature of this state has charged the commissioner of health with the responsibility of making hospitals safe places to get well. These regulations are tailored to accomplish that end," the statement said.

So between now and Oct. 30 both sides will bolster the arguments they bring into court for a formal hearing.

Until then the restraining order will remain in place.

"Absolutely, it is cast in stone," Kindlon said.

Kindlon and Seamon say they feel confident they will win at the Oct. 30 hearing.

In the meantime, hospital officials say they'll continue offering flu shot clinics for staffers who want the shots.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dollar loses reserve status to yen & euro

Ben Bernanke's dollar crisis went into a wider mode yesterday as the greenback was shockingly upstaged by the euro and yen, both of which can lay claim to the world title as the currency favored by central banks as their reserve currency.

Over the last three months, banks put 63 percent of their new cash into euros and yen -- not the greenbacks -- a nearly complete reversal of the dollar's onetime dominance for reserves, according to Barclays Capital. The dollar's share of new cash in the central banks was down to 37 percent -- compared with two-thirds a decade ago.

Fed boss Ben Bernanke may be forced to raise rates in order to restore faith in the dollar — and help bring the euro and the yen back to earth.
Getty Images
Fed boss Ben Bernanke may be forced to raise rates in order to restore faith in the dollar — and help bring the euro and the yen back to earth.

Currently, dollars account for about 62 percent of the currency reserve at central banks -- the lowest on record, said the International Monetary Fund.

Bernanke could go down in economic history as the man who killed the greenback on the operating table.

After printing up trillions of new dollars and new bonds to stimulate the US economy, the Federal Reserve chief is now boxed into a corner battling two separate monsters that could devour the economy -- ravenous inflation on one hand, and a perilous recession on the other.

"He's in a crisis worse than the meltdown ever was," said Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital. "I fear that he could be the Fed chairman who brought down the whole thing."

Investors and central banks are snubbing dollars because the greenback is kept too weak by zero interest rates and a flood of greenbacks in the global economy.

They grumble that they've loaned the US record amounts to cover its mounting debt, but are getting paid back by a currency that's worth 10 percent less in the past three months alone. In a decade, it's down nearly one-third.

Yesterday, the dollar had a mixed performance, falling slightly against the British pound to $1.5801 from $1.5846 Friday, but rising against the euro to $1.4779 from $1.4709 and against the yen to 89.85 yen from 89.78.

Economists believe the market rebellion against the dollar will spread until Bernanke starts raising interest rates from around zero to the high single digits, and pulls back the flood of currency spewed from US printing presses.

"That's a cure, but it's also going to stifle any US economic growth," said Schiff. "The economy is addicted to the cheap interest and liquidity."

Economists warn that a jump in rates will clobber stocks and cripple the already stalled housing market.

"Bernanke's other choice is to keep rates at zero, print even more money and sell more debt, but we'll see triple-digit inflation that could collapse the economy as we know it.

"The stimulus is what's toxic -- we're poisoning ourselves and the global economy with it."

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Scientists identify bacterium that helps in formation of gold

October 09, 2009
Australian scientists have found that the bacterium Cupriavidus metallidurans catalyses the biomineralisation of gold by transforming toxic gold compounds to their metallic form using active cellular mechanism.

According to Frank Reith, leader of the research and working at the University of Adelaide, “A number of years ago we discovered that the metal-resistant bacterium Cupriavidus metallidurans occurred on gold grains from two sites in Australia.

“The sites are 3500 km apart, in southern New South Wales and northern Queensland, so when we found the same organism on grains from both sites we thought we were onto something,” he said.

“It made us wonder why these organisms live in this particular environment. The results of this study point to their involvement in the active detoxification of Au complexes leading to formation of gold biominerals,” he added.

The experiments showed that C. metallidurans rapidly accumulates toxic gold complexes from a solution prepared in the lab.

This process promotes gold toxicity, which pushes the bacterium to induce oxidative stress and metal resistance clusters as well as an as yet uncharacterized Au-specific gene cluster in order to defend its cellular integrity.

This leads to active biochemically-mediated reduction of gold complexes to nano-particulate, metallic gold, which may contribute to the growth of gold nuggets.

By determining what elements there are, scientists can see where the gold is located in relation to the cells.

For this study, scientists combined synchrotron techniques at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the Advanced Photon Source (APS) and molecular microbial techniques to understand the biomineralisation in bacteria.

It is the first time that these techniques have been used in the same study, so Frank Reith brought together a multinational team of experts in both areas for the success of the experiment.

This is the first direct evidence that bacteria are actively involved in the cycling of rare and precious metals, such as gold.

These results open the doors to the production of biosensors.

“The discovery of an Au-specific operon means that we can now start to develop gold-specific biosensors, which will help mineral explorers to find new gold deposits,” said Reith.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Will your D.N.A. be the new barcode?

Posted by ArsMoriendi on October 6, 2009

George Orwell couldn’t have dreamed this up.

IBM scientists are working on ambitious research where nano-sized holes will be drilled into computer chips and DNA passed through to create a ‘genetic code reader’.

IBM said that experts from nanofabrication, microelectronics, physics and biology are working together to master a technique where a long DNA molecule passes through a three nanometer wide hole (a nanopore).

As the molecule passes through the nanopore one unit of DNA at a time, an electrical sensor can ‘read’ the DNA.

The challenge of the silicon-based ‘DNA Transistor’ would be to slow and control the motion of the DNA through the hole so the reader could decode what is inside it.

IBM claimed that if the project was successful it could make personalized genome analysis as cheap as $100 to $1,000, and compared it to the first ever sequencing done for the Human Genome Project, which cost $3 billion.

For any doubter out there, ‘Big Blue’ has released a video of its own discussing the possible implications, and some of the processes involved:

Interesting, and slightly scary, stuff!

Ken Eakins of http://sittingnow.co.uk

Monday, October 5, 2009

The demise of the dollar

In a graphic illustration of the new world order, Arab states have launched secret moves with China, Russia and France to stop using the US currency for oil trading

By Robert Fisk

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Iran announced late last month that its foreign currency reserves would henceforth be held in euros rather than dollars.

Rex

Iran announced late last month that its foreign currency reserves would henceforth be held in euros rather than dollars.

    Saturday, October 3, 2009

    Paid to do nothing

    11,000-plus postal workers idle at any given time
    September 07, 2009
    The U.S. Postal Service, struggling with a massive deficit caused by plummeting mail volume, spends more than a million dollars each week to pay thousands of employees to sit in empty rooms and do nothing.

    It’s a practice called “standby time,” and it has existed for years — but postal employees say it was rarely used until this year. Now, postal officials say, the agency is averaging about 45,000 hours of standby time every week — the equivalent of having 1,125 full-time employees sitting idle, at a cost of more than $50 million per year.

    Mail volume is down 12.6 percent compared with last year, and many postal supervisors simply don’t have enough work to keep all employees busy. But a thicket of union rules prevents managers from laying off excess employees; a recent agreement with the unions, in fact, temporarily prevents the Postal Service from even reassigning them to other facilities that could use them

    So they sit — some for a few hours, others for entire shifts. Postal union officials estimate some 15,000 employees have spent time on standby this year.

    They spend their days holed up in rooms — conference rooms, break rooms, occasionally 12-foot-by-8-foot storage closets — that the Postal Service dubs “resource rooms.” Postal employees use more colorful names, like “holding pens” and “blue rooms.”
    “It’s just a small, empty room. … It’s awful,” said one mail processing clerk who has spent four weeks on standby time this summer. “Most of us bring books, word puzzles. Sometimes we just sleep.”

    Employees interviewed said they hate the practice, which relegates them to hours of boredom each day. Postal managers don’t like it, either — but they say declining mail volume makes it necessary.
    “Volume has dropped, we don’t get the same mail receipts we used to get, and our overtime is already pretty much nil,” said Edward Jackson, the plant manager at the mail processing facility in Washington, D.C. “But we still have to keep them in a pay status. So we put them in the standby rooms.”

    ‘The employees resent it’
    Standby time has mostly affected employees represented by the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), which represents roughly 220,000 full-time postal employees, mostly clerks and maintenance workers at post offices and large processing centers. The Postal Service’s collective bargaining agreement with APWU includes a no-layoff clause for employees with more than six years on the job. It also includes a guarantee of eight hours’ pay for eight hours’ work.
    Lately, though, supervisors have been forced to stretch the definition of work.

    “They just instruct employees to report to these holding areas,” said William Burrus, APWU’s president. “The employees resent it. ... They can’t work, they can’t read, they just sit there.”
    The employees are still available to work; Some spend a few hours on standby and then move back to the floor when a shipment of mail arrives.

    But others clock in, report to the resource rooms, and clock out eight hours later — never once interacting with customers or touching a piece of mail.

    Letter carriers haven’t been affected by standby time. That’s partly because the delivery network keeps growing, by 1.5 million addresses each year, and partly because the Postal Service recently consolidated delivery routes, eliminating more than 2,000 city carrier positions.
    Employees are often forbidden from doing almost anything while on standby time. In some facilities, the employees aren’t allowed to do anything they couldn’t normally do on the job. That means no books, no playing cards, no watching television.

    “We want to make sure they uphold the rules and regulations of the Postal Service,” Jackson said. “So we try to rein them in while they’re in those rooms.”

    Nor can supervisors require employees to brush up on their training. One mail handler in Pennsylvania said a supervisor used to force employees on standby time to read postal manuals.
    “The local union shop filed a grievance against the Postal Service,” said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous because of concerns about retaliation. “We’re on standby time, not training time. Standby time is different. ... You can’t make people read training materials on standby time.”

    Several mail handlers said that recently — after weeks or months of standby time at their mail processing facilities — supervisors started allowing employees to break the rules and read or play cards.

    “We’re just sitting in an empty conference room. It’s not even a break room,” complained one clerk in Fort Myers, Fla. “But at least when I’ve been in there I’ve been able to read my own books.”

    A union local elsewhere in Florida installed a television in a resource room to provide some entertainment for employees.
    A growing problem

    It’s impossible to say how many resource rooms exist around the country. Neither the Postal Service nor the unions keep track of them at a national level. It’s clearly a national problem, though: Federal Times interviewed employees from more than a half-dozen states, from New York to Texas, who have been placed on standby time.

    The problem is worst in Florida, because mail volume has fallen much faster than the national average. Several regions in Florida have reported drops as high as 18 percent compared with last year.

    Standby time is allowed under the Postal Service’s collective bargaining agreements with its workers. But union leaders say it is supposed to be an occasional, unplanned event, a way to fill a couple of hours at the end of a slow day. The Postal Service agrees; officials say standby time was supposed to be used sporadically — and only for a few hours at a time, not for entire shifts.
    Postal workers say that provision is routinely ignored. Sam Wood, the president of the APWU local in southwest Florida, said 58 employees from the Fort Myers processing facility — roughly 10 percent of its workforce — have been told they will be placed on standby until they can be reassigned to another facility. Employees say it will likely be months until that reassignment happens.

    The Postal Service says it has no choice but to use standby time because of its union contracts. Postal workers suspect otherwise. Some say they believe management wants them to resign in protest; others think the Postal Service will try to eliminate the no-layoff clause in the next round of contract talks slated for next year.

    “I think they’re trying to prove that they don’t need people in the stations,” Wood said. “Management says, ‘We can do without these employees.’ ”

    Standby time, for now, is largely confined to mail processing facilities — though it is beginning to spread to retail post offices. The three post offices in Key West, Fla., employ 27 people. But under a schedule recently drafted by postal supervisors, 15 of them would spend at least part of their week on standby time.

    “Not everybody will be in there for the whole day, but the majority of [the 15 people] will spend most of the day in there,” said Jack Baldwin, a window clerk at the Key West post office.
    Postal supervisors in Key West — like several other supervisors around the country — did not respond to requests for comment.

    Standby time has also been used, albeit rarely, as a form of punishment. Bob Patterson, an APWU union steward in Oregon, said an employee was put on standby time earlier this year for three or four hours a day as punishment for complaining about working conditions. The punishment lasted several months; the resource room, in this employee’s case, was a 12-by-8 storage closet.

    “There was productive work she could be performing,” Patterson said.

    Trimming the workforce
    Managers say standby time is a response to falling mail volume — and the fact that there are simply too many employees.

    They’ve been trying to trim the workforce for more than a year, offering four rounds of early retirements since the beginning of 2008. And on Aug. 25, the Postal Service announced $15,000 buyouts for all employees willing to leave, including those not yet eligible for retirement. The Postal Service, which currently employs 636,000 full-time employees, is hoping as many as 30,000 workers will accept the offer.

    “Thirty thousand employees, that’s how much we’re overstaffed,” said Mark Saunders, a spokesman for the Postal Service. “That’s a big reason behind our incentives. … The majority of the employees who are asking to leave right now, they work in our [mail processing plants],” the same facilities that have problems with standby time.

    The Postal Service, which is facing a $7 billion deficit this year, is taking a number of increasingly desperate measures to cut costs. Management is on pace to cut 100 million work hours this year. The agency is under a nationwide hiring freeze. And Postmaster General John Potter has asked Congress for permission to switch to five-day mail delivery.

    Union leaders admit the Postal Service has too many employees — and they’re hopeful the recent buyout offer will lead to a cutback in standby time.
    Standby time “is clear evidence that we have a surplus of employees,” Burrus acknowledged. “I hope our people accept the buyouts.”

    Postal supervisors can sometimes avoid standby time through reassignments, a practice called “excessing.” But that practice has been suspended until Oct. 9 under the terms of the buyout agreement between the Postal Service, APWU, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.
    That means even more postal employees are likely headed for standby rooms. Employees at the mail processing facility in Lakeland, Fla., for example, say 20 to 25 employees will be serving standby time for the next few months. The Postal Service is trying to consolidate the Lakeland facility with one in nearby Tampa; the employees on standby in Lakeland will eventually be reassigned to other facilities.

    One clerk at the facility said the employees have been told “they will not be allowed to listen to personal audio devices, no reading of nonpostal materials, and that talking will be at a minimum.”
    Standby time is likely to become an issue on Capitol Hill once Congress returns from its recess this week: Jenny Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the committee “will look into [these] concerns.”

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