Aug 25, 2010

Amnesty Int'l Finland: Israel scum state

The head of Amnesty International’s Finnish branch, Frank Johansson, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he stands by his statement that Israel is a “scum state.”

Writing in his blog, which appears on the Web site of Finland’s third largest newspaper Iltalehti, Johansson wrote on Monday that “A friend of mine who works in Israel was visiting [and] while piling wood in the shed, we got to [talking about] his favourite topic. [After] several years of residence in the Holy Land, he has come to the conclusion that ‘Israel is a scum state.’ Based on my own visit[s], which occurred during the 1970s and for the last time in the 1990s, I agree.”

An English translation of Johansson’s blog first appeared Tuesday on the Web site Tundra Tabloids, a pro-Israel blog that monitors anti-Israeli sentiments in the Finnish media and blogosphere. Speaking from Finland, Kenneth Sikorski, who runs the Web site and picked up Johansson’s remarks, told The Jerusalem Post that Johansson’s comments are “absolutely atrocious and indicative of a problem of systematic antisemitism.”

After decades of discrimination, attitudes to older workers are changing

THE common assumption that employers do not like hiring older people is wrong and many would in fact prefer someone over 55 to a younger worker from overseas, new research shows.

A government-funded study of 600 large organisations by Monash University researchers suggests that, after decades of discrimination, attitudes to older workers are changing.

Professor Philip Taylor's team found that when labour shortages bite 50 per cent of public sector employers put the recruitment of mature workers at the top of their agendas.

About 40 per cent of private-sector bosses surveyed said they too would look to the over-55s.

In contrast, less than a quarter of the employers surveyed - both public and private sector - said that they would seek to recruit migrant labour.

The research deviates sharply from previous studies which have found that a strong current of institutionalised ageism in Australian workplaces is responsible for the disproportionately high level of mature-age unemployment.

''I've been involved in surveying employer attitudes since 1991 and this is the first time I've seen such a willingness to employ older workers,'' said Professor Taylor, who heads the university's Research and Graduate Studies department.

''We had expected that, on the back of the economic downturn, employers would be less favourable toward older workers. This is a significant and surprising shift.''

Professor Taylor said that, rather than discrimination, a lack of relevant skills may be keeping mature workers out of a job.

The comments drew a strong response from organisations representing older Australians.

Charmaine Crowe of the Australian Pensioners and Superannuants Association said her organisation encountered many mature workers who struggled to find work regardless of their skills.

''I'm hopeful that attitudes are changing but I think we've got a long way to go,'' she said.

Matt Higgins of olderworkers .com.au said some industries were better than others, but Australia was behind much of the developed world when it came to mature-age people participating in the workforce.

Aug 22, 2010

Documents reveal aged care residents in Victoria are fed on $5 per day

NURSING home residents across Victoria are being fed a starvation diet costing a little more than $5 a day, leaked documents reveal.

The survey of residential aged care also shows that, on average, only 28c is spent on each person per day for leisure, entertainment and activity supplies - and only 21c a day in country nursing homes.

But more than $7 a day per head is spent on management costs, including consultants.

Nutritionists say an average $5.80-a-day diet would included a large amount of canned food and cheap carbohydrate, but little dairy or fresh protein - such as meat and chicken.

It is understood that three years ago the average spend per head on food in Victorian nursing homes was $7.50 - despite food prices having risen by more than 15 per cent in that time.

The survey, prepared by Bentley's Chartered Accountants for industry operators, also reveals residents get as little as eight hours' care per fortnight from properly qualified nursing staff while unqualified staff provide up to 32 hours a fortnight.

Aug 21, 2010

Roaming to excess

f you want to experience “bill shock” of the highest order, just take your mobile telephone on a 10-day trip overseas and spend 30 minutes a day on the internet.
If you have not heard about the costs of roaming, you are guaranteed to come back with a bill of a magnitude you hadn’t bargained on, probably in the hundreds of dollars, possibly in the thousands.
International roaming, whether it be calling home, sending and receiving SMS messages, or just surfing the internet, is by far the most expensive activity you can undertake on your mobile, and there’s no regulation to curb it.
Feiko Bouman, an architect from Balmain in Sydney, found this out the hard way. Bouman spent two weeks working in the Netherlands late last year and returned to bills from Telstra amounting to $6125. He says he had used his Telstra SIM card in his laptop during the period, using it to check emails and surfing the net for no more than 20 minutes a day.
Bouman says he was told at a local Telstra shop “not to worry” and that international roaming “was attached to his account”. In Australia his plan prices usage at nine cents per megabyte, overseas it was $15 per megabyte. That’s 150 times more expensive away from home. His normal monthly bill is about $195.
Bouman, who was eventually re-credited by Telstra after an eight month wait, believes he was one of the lucky ones. “I’m not what you call a serial complainer but I had to take this one on,” he says. He was advised to write directly to the Telstra company secretary. In his complaint, he told Telstra that he had sent copies of the same letter to the NSW Department of Fair Trading as well as the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN). The ploy worked. “I now have usage for the next several years,” he laughs.
In an area where price regulation is non-existent, charges are excessive. Most local carriers charge customers between $15 and $20 per megabyte of data usage when surfing the net overseas. The problem is, nobody quite knows what this means, and certainly, the telcos don’t proactively explain this.
Telstra did not respond to questions from SMH Online. Vodafone spokesman Greg Spears says that internet surfing or checking emails (without opening large attachments) “tends to be at the lighter end of the spectrum of data usage”. However, Spears says there are “many variables affecting data downloads from different types of websites”.
At least Gary Schwartz, an IT expert at jargonfreehelp.com, can give some clarity. He says a single megabyte is approximately 100 emails without attachments, that is emails sent and received.
“However, three emails with attachments usually takes about one megabyte and an email with a photo is about the same as that,” Schwartz says. “Maps that are commonplace on many phones can use three megabytes and I think that is where a lot of people get caught out.”
Schwartz says applications, Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging also add up. “One hour of web browsing can use, roughly, between 1.5 megabytes and 25 megabytes,” he says. “Use You Tube and other video and media-rich content and it can use a lot more.”

Aug 12, 2010

Bank fraud: know your rights

Short of being physically held up by thieves, one of the more disquieting modern day experiences is being pilfered electronically.

Anyone who has had an account stripped clean of cash, either online, through credit card fraud or by card skimming, will know all about the panic and fear that ensues.

These were the emotions that overcame Peter Westhuyzen* when he discovered on a Monday morning earlier this year that his cheque account at St George had been plundered of $4000.

He immediately phoned St George, who asked him to report the theft to his branch in central Sydney. He knew one thing – he only ever used a single ATM in Sydney’s CBD. When he arrived early at the branch, Westhuyzen discovered about 30 other people waiting outside who had been similarly hit over the weekend.

All had used the same ATM and all had had money stripped via another ATM based in Canberra. Some had even been double-fleeced, once from the Canberra ATM and a second time from another in London.

It is believed a skimming device had been fitted at the “mouth” of the machine to copy the person’s card details. A micro-camera would then have been installed by the thieves to capture the pin number as the person keyed it in. The gang would have then transferred the skimmed data to a counterfeit card and the robberies were easily perpetrated remotely.

Most new machines have shields placed onto their key pads, or are chip and pin “capable”. That is, they use computer chips to store information rather than the more easily-cloned magnetic stripes. All Australian ATMs must be chip and pin “capable” by January 1, 2011. Westhuyzen was swiftly reimbursed as it was clear the fraud had occurred on a large scale. Generally, in obvious cases such as the above, banks refund quickly.

What basic protections do customers have? Banks, credit unions and building societies must subscribe to the Electronic Funds Transfer Code, which protects consumers who use electronic banking such as ATMs and Eftpos, or telephone and internet banking, to transfer funds.

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission has a detailed “Fido” page on its website, which clearly details the rights of customers – and the obligations of banks – when fraud occurs.

Customers are only liable if they are said to have acted with “extreme carelessness”. This may mean that they had given their pin number or online contact details to a friend or family member, but questions may also arise if a theft has not been promptly or accurately reported.

ANZ has a Fraud Money-Back Guarantee which will fully re-credit a customer’s account “as long as they have not contributed to the loss and have notified the bank promptly”. The bank will reimburse claims of up to $10,000 within five business days of receiving completed documentation.

In most cases customers are sent out dispute forms and asked to indicate which transactions were fraudulent. “We send this through to customer repatriation and people generally get their money back within a week," says Brett Small, head of financial crime at National Australia Bank.

Online, things are less clear. Is responding to a convincing “phishing” email tantamount to “extreme carelessness”? In these cases customers are sent an email, and from there induced by a fake website to give out account details. If a bank site has been cloned, is it the fault of the bank or personal negligence on the customer’s part?

Gary Schwartz, an IT expert who runs the website jargonfreehelp.com, says it is worth having up-to-date security software on personal computers to help disprove any possible charge of negligence. All the same, he agrees software plays only a small part in protecting bank, credit card details and other accounts like PayPal, where money is moved.

"Common sense plays the biggest part in all this," Schwartz says. "If you get an email with links to your bank, PayPal or any other website that requires a login to an account, do not click on the link, go to your browser and type in the website address to see if it is the real thing."

Banks claim their protective technology is now more proactive than reactive. Small says NAB can now detect 90 per cent of fraud cases “within minutes or seconds”. The big four banks use technology that throws up red flags when transactions fall outside the customer’s normal usage patterns – patterns based on geography, amount and time.

“It would ask why a transaction is happening at 2.00 am, and why in the UK? We can see hundreds of anomalies in real time and stop it in real time if necessary,” Small explains.

There are now also extra layers of security such as tokens which display changing numbers that must be punched in to complete an online transfer, as well as SMS alerts to inform customers of any large money movements.

There are times when the bank will question the validity of a fraud, and in these situations, things may not go so smoothly. Small says a bank has to protect itself from false “victims” and the bank has a highly trained team of fraud examiners which will question customers – politely, of course.

“We ask the customer to fill out a statutory declaration and also a police report. These are measures designed to make them think twice [about committing a fraud],” he says.

*Not his real name.

Aug 11, 2010

State health chiefs list reform fears

LEAKED documents have revealed tension between Victorian and Commonwealth health bureaucrats over what the federal government's $7 billion reform package will mean for the state's health system.

An email exchange, obtained by the Victorian state opposition, has detailed a long list of concerns raised by executives from Victoria's health department during a meeting with Commonwealth representatives last month.

The email, sent between senior figures within the Commonwealth department, said Victoria had claimed it was ''extremely difficult'' to look at primary healthcare organisations proposed by the reform package because it was ''hard to tell what the Commonwealth was trying to do''. Victorian health services were also anxious about a lack of detail on the reforms, the email said.

According to the document, Victoria had refused to change its hospital network legislation and the structure and names of its networks to fit in with the federal government's plan. It also had concerns about state-specific matters that ''simply do not fit'' with the reform plans for primary care.

The email also revealed that Victoria was worried about:

■ How the new funding arrangements would work, including whether individual hospitals' revenue from car parking should be factored into the state's expenditure.

■ Not being included in discussions about the draft boundaries for Medicare locals. Medicare locals will be networks of primary healthcare organisations responsible for providing better integrated care to specific areas.

■ How specialist hospitals would fit into local hospital networks.

■ Whether Medicare locals would be private companies or statutory bodies.

Victorian opposition health spokesman David Davis said the email showed the Victorian government had blindly signed up to a deal without knowing the details of it.

''It's been mismanaged from start to finish and the impact on Victorian networks was agreed to sight unseen,'' he said.

''Why wasn't this detail worked out before John Brumby signed on? … He has sold Victoria out.''

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Daniel Andrews said the government had always said there would be further discussions about the plan's implementation.

"The Brumby Labor government was pleased to sign the historic health reform that will deliver better health services for Victorians,'' she said.

"David Davis needs to explain to Victorians why he supports Tony Abbott's plan to rip up the health reform and lose out on $900 million to improve our health system."

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Nicola Roxon said it was inevitable that some bureaucrats would resist change when implementing such historic reforms.

Aug 7, 2010

Court sides with 'old fuddy-duddy' in Google lawsuit

Google, which runs the world's most popular internet search engine, was ordered to defend itself against a lawsuit by a former manager who said he was fired for being too old, clearing the way for a trial.

The California Supreme Court unanimously agreed that a trial court erred in dismissing a complaint by Brian Reid, who was hired in 2002 as a director of operations and engineering, and fired less than two years later at age 54 after being told he was not a good "cultural fit".

The ruling upheld a state appeals court decision that the trial court erred in dismissing the lawsuit, and said the trial court should have considered "stray remarks" from Reid's colleagues, including that he was an "old man" and "old fuddy-duddy", that might be seen as evidence of bias.

The ruling means the case returns to the trial court.

"Brian Reid was not laid off based on his age," said Andrew Pederson, a spokesman for Mountain View, California-based Google, in an emailed statement. "We look forward to demonstrating in court the legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons why Mr Reid was let go."

Reid was instructed by his lawyers not to speak to the media, however in an interview with this website in 2007, he spoke about his humiliating experience at Google.

"They do everything they can to get you to spend all of your waking hours there," Reid said in a telephone interview, describing the company's work culture.

"I don't dye my hair orange and ride a unicycle to work," he said. "But I'm very good at what I do. I don't consider that I was incompatible with that job."

Reid is a former associate professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University who had helped develop the AltaVista search engine.

He had alleged that while at Google, he was subjected to put-downs by a 38-year-old vice president who told him his ideas were "obsolete" and "too old to matter", and that he was "slow", "fuzzy", "sluggish" and "lethargic".

The plaintiff also said other colleagues made fun of his age, including a joke that a CD jewel case used as his office placard should instead be an "LP", court records show.

The issue for the Supreme Court was whether to apply in California employment bias cases a federal court doctrine under which courts ignore "stray remarks" by non-decision-making co-workers or by supervisors outside the decisional process.

That term had been coined in a 1989 concurring opinion by US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Writing for the California Supreme Court, Justice Ming Chin said there is much disagreement on how to apply the stray remarks doctrine, and that it is better instead to consider such remarks in the context of other facts in a case.

In this case, he said this included statistical evidence of bias at Google, and changing rationales for Reid's firing after a performance review that said he "consistently met expectations".

He said this evidence also included emails between Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and Wayne Rosing, who hired Reid, on a proposal on "getting Reid out," as well as an email from Rosing to Google co-founder Sergey Brin about the hunt for "a senior Director (note I did not capitalize Sr.) or VP level person to run this operation."

"The Court of Appeal properly considered evidence of alleged discriminatory comments made by decision makers and co-workers along with all other evidence in the record," Chin wrote in his 44-page ruling.