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Madonna Badger’s ‘Today’ Interview Shouldn’t Ignore Fire’s Tragic Lessons

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There could be no television more wrenching than Matt Lauer's upcoming interview with Madonna Badger about the Christmas-morning fire that killed her three young daughters along with her parents.
 
And no decent person would want to offer anything but comfort to a woman who has suffered such unimaginable loss.

 Still, let's hope that NBC corrects a dangerous misconception contained in a portion of the interview made available in advance of Thursday's broadcast, scheduled to run in the morning on NBC's Today show and in prime time on Rock Center with Brian Williams.

The authorities in Stamford, Conn., have said that the fire was almost certainly started by fireplace embers placed in a paper bag by her boyfriend, Michael Borcina. He then deposited the embers in a plastic container in a mudroom adjoining the house.

According to the transcript of the interview on the MSNBC website, Badger tells Lauer, "I don't believe that the ashes started the fire."

She explains to Lauer: "The wind blew ashes out onto the hearth, and so we were cleaning up. I watched [Borcina] take them with his hand, the shovel, and put 'em into the bag. And then take his—I watched him put his hands in the bag...to make sure that there's nothing on fire in the bag."

"And you watched him do that?" Lauer asks.

"Oh yeah," Badger says.

"Do you blame him?" Lauer asks.

"No, I do not blame him," Badger says. "I don't believe that the ashes started the fire. So I don't blame him.

NBC might also interview Cpt. Joe Duran of the fire department in Chico, Califa. He had this to say to the local press after his department responded to a fire caused by fire embers placed in a plastic container beside a house—just two days before the Badger fire


"The ashes can stay hot for days. They may even feel cool but deep inside the ashes may have an ember."

Duran said Wednesday of the Chico blaze, "It was kind of like, 'How did this fire start?' The guy said, 'Yeah, I put some embers in there, but that was three or four days ago.'"

Fireplace ashes are a hazard for at least a day and can remain so for as long as a fortnight, Duran says.

"It could be two weeks," he says. "Slowly, slowly, it just cooks and doesn't go out. Finally, at some point, it gets enough oxygen to ignite...creates enough heat to go into free burning mode."

He recommends letting the ashes cool for considerably longer than the uninitiated might imagine necessary before placing them in a metal container far from any structure. There is no reason not to take one added precaution.

"Put water in it," Duran says.

In the Chico fire, nobody was hurt. Duran emphasizes that he is not seeking to place blame on Badger or anyone else for the horrific losses incurred in the Connecticut fire. He said he has only compassion for the family and agreed to speak to The Daily Beast with the hope of preventing other tragedies.

"It's just a safety message," Duran says. "We get fires every year like that."

Duran's warnings and advice are echoed by fire safety experts elsewhere, including those at the U.S. Fire Administration, which has a "golden rule" that embers should sit at least 24 hours before being removed from the fireplace.

"These embers really can hold their heat, hold their temperature enough to get things burning for a long time," says USFA spokesman Tom Olshanski.

If just a single ember remains hot at its core, Olshanski notes, the result can be an inferno. "It's all you need," he says, "It's a lot like a book of matches...One match can bring down the largest of structures."

In the June 5 statement accompanying his decision not to file criminal charges in the Badger fire, Connecticut state Attorney David Cohen says the blaze almost certainly started in the mudroom where Bocina placed the ashes.

"A 'V' burn pattern was found at the extreme northwest corner of the house near the rear porch enclosure," Cohen states, summarizing the finding of the Stamford fire marshal. "The only area of the basement showing any sign of fire damage was the ceiling area in the northwest corner, directly below the rear entryway to the house from the so-called mudroom."

He continues: "Additionally, examination of the electrical service in the basement ruled out any electrical malfunction as being the cause of the fire. It would appear, therefore, that the fire originated in the mudroom located at the northwest corner of the first floor. Most likely it was caused by the disposal of fire place ash at that location."

"These embers really can hold their heat, hold their temperature enough to get things burning for a long time."
Cohen allows that "other theories have been proposed such as an electrical fault where the electric lines enter the house or defective electric or gas meters," but are impossible to test because the city of Stamford hastily tore down the house and carted the wreckage away, citing safety concerns.

"Thus, other theories, however unlikely, cannot be definitively rebutted," Cohen says.

Cohen goes on to report that "a fire had been lit in the fireplace at the home sometime in the afternoon of Dec. 24, and maintained throughout the day and early evening until approximately 8 p.m. when it was decided not to add any further wood."

Badger's daughters, 10-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins, Sarah and Grace, went to bed, as did her parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson. Badger and her boyfriend went out to the garage to wrap presents. They returned around 3:30 a.m.

"At that time, Mr. Borcina cleaned out the fireplace, shoveling the ash into a paper bag," Cohen says. "He says that he then smoothed out the ashes in the bag with his hand. This was confirmed by Mrs. Badger, who stated that this allayed any concern that she might have had that there were live embers present. The bag was placed in a plastic storage box, which was then placed just inside the exterior door in the mudroom, the point of origin of the fire. Badger and Borcina retired separately at about 4 a.m. The fire was reported at 4:41 a.m."

However likely it may be that the fire was started by the ashes, Cohen does not believe this translates into blame.

"It is my opinion that there is insufficient evidence to establish that either Mrs. Badger or Mr. Borcina were aware of and consciously disregarded a risk that there was a possible live ember in the ash that could result in a catastrophic fire," he says. "It stretches belief to think that they would consciously disregard the danger and go to sleep, much less that they would disregard any danger to the Badger children or Mrs. Badger's parents."

If that is so, then it can be assumed Badger and Borcina would never have put the embers in the bag if they were cognizant of the danger. Cohen was unable to determine whether there were working fire alarms in the house. Badger reportedly says in the Lauer interview that there were. Neighbors and the responding firefighters have said they did not hear any, but Cohen says it seems impossible that Badger and Borcina would have been so foolhardy with kids in the house.

"It would be difficult for a jury to believe that anyone would knowingly disable smoke detectors and then use the fireplace," Cohen suggests.

Meanwhile, Badger has filed notice that she intends to sue the city of Stamford for tearing down her burned house and carting the evidence away before the initial findings of the fire marshal could be independently verified and other possibilities fully explored.

Whether or not the ashes caused the fire, there is no doubt they constituted a hazard. It's a message that both NBC and Badger might try to spread during Thursday's broadcasts.

Daily Beast 

Automatic Speeding Tix

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For many New York City drivers, the cadences of the common speeding ticket can be unfamiliar. Rare is the need to haggle with a police officer, pleading to be let off with a warning, or presenting the pregnant wife as Exhibit A in a bid for leniency. Rarer is the stretch of urban streetscape where an officer might safely approach an offending vehicle, as he would on a highway shoulder.

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Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

A camera on New York Avenue in Washington. Traffic deaths are down 56 percent since cameras were installed there in 2001.

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Under a proposal now gaining traction in Albany, though, New Yorkers may soon be answering to an authority more suited to the city’s topography: cameras that record the speed of a passing car and issue violations automatically.

Though similar programs have already been put into effect for red-light and bus-lane violations in the city, the bill could signal a sweeping shift for drivers accustomed to a city whose traffic laws can be hard to enforce, cutting against an ethos of getting from here to there as quickly as possible.

The proposal initially calls for as many as 40 cameras to be mounted high across the city, of which 20 can be rotated, ensuring that drivers are never certain when their speed is being tracked.

Only those who exceed the city’s speed limit, typically 30 miles per hour, by more than 10 miles per hour would be given tickets, receiving a $50 fine. For those who exceed the limit by more than 30 m.p.h., the fine doubles to $100. Drivers would not be docked points on their licenses.

Transportation advocates, as well as the city’s Transportation Department, have long lobbied for a speed-camera policy, but supporters say the bill has finally cleared a significant hurdle: gaining a Republican sponsor, Andrew J. Lanza of Staten Island, in the State Senate.

“We live hurried lives,” Mr. Lanza said in an interview. “If people know these are out there, they’ll think twice. Nobody wants to pay a fine.” He was confident that the bill would pass the Senate before the legislative session ends this week; a similar bill in the Assembly, sponsored by Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, also required passage.

Proponents say the math is simple: Scores of New Yorkers are killed each year inspeeding-related crashes, and the use of cameras has already proved effective in other cities. Since speed cameras were installed in Washington in 2001, the police said traffic fatalities had fallen 56 percent, though it was unclear how much of the shift was attributable to the cameras. (In New York City, there were 243 traffic fatalities in 2011,about a 38 percent reduction from 2001.)

Before the program began in Washington, one in three drivers exceeded the speed limit at the locations where cameras were later installed, the police said. Today, one in 40 drivers speeds. (Washington does not make broad use of the element of surprise: a list of locations where the cameras may be is available on the city’s Web site.)

Louisiana, Ohio and Oregon are among the states to put speed camera initiatives into effect in recent years.

Anne McCartt, the senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said many areas of New York City were particularly well-suited for speed cameras.

“There are lots of traffic situations where it’s not practical or it can even be dangerous for traditional speed enforcement,” she said.

Still, some drivers said they retained a certain romantic attachment to the rare interactions with officers and their radar guns; the surge of pride derived from talking one’s way out of a ticket; the tacit kinship forged between drivers who slow in unison at the sight of a patrol car in the distance.

Wendell Kornegay, 48, from East New York, Brooklyn, said cameras could never capture the context of a traffic scene as an officer could. “I don’t think it’s fair,” he said, parking his vehicle near Rockefeller Center one day last week as his 1-year-old daughter, Melaine, sat quietly in her car seat. “If a cop was sitting there, you can see if someone was trying to catch the light to clear the intersection.”

Though he acknowledged the difficulty of even approaching 40 m.p.h. on many city streets, Mr. Kornegay wondered whether speeding was truly dangerous along desolate stretches where pedestrian traffic can be minimal at certain hours.

Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, said such criticisms were a “nonstarter.”

“That’s when the problems are really at their highest danger,” she said. “We’re looking to put these cameras in places that have documented speeding problems.”

Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said the measure was simply another tactic to raise revenue for the city. In 2011, the city issued more than 820,000 red-light camera violations, the Transportation Department said, down from more than one million in 2010. The city has also issued 86,180 bus-lane camera violations since the program was begun in late 2010.

Ms. Desai said many cabdrivers had received bus-lane violations after performing what they thought were legal pickups or drop-offs in bus lanes.

“With a camera, who do you argue against?” she said.

Chrishna Sooknanan, 26, a cabdriver from Flatbush, Brooklyn, was among the bus lane offenders, he said. But the speeding legislation presents a more complicated wrinkle: How does a New York City cabby — that avatar of manic roadway efficiency and lead-footedness — tell needy passengers that he is afraid to speed?

“They complain like crazy,” he said of his riders, particularly those who travel from the financial district and Midtown. “They say, ‘You’re going to make me late.’”

But there is perhaps another group of New Yorkers with even less patience for speed-conscious driving. Ramon Reyes, 62, from Woodside, Queens, is a longtime driver for the United Nations. He has whisked diplomats from as far away as Angola around the streets of Manhattan, and his current assignment is to tend to the central African country of Chad’s mission to the United Nations, on East 36th Street.

While Mr. Reyes’s current boss is “a good guy,” he said, not all dignitaries are so understanding.

“They don’t get this is New York,” he said. “They leave two minutes before and say, ‘Why am I late?’ ”

Lisa's Job Requirements

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The other day on the show I itemized my list of must- have job skills.  If you don't know these basic essentials, then go out right now and take a continuing education course at your local high school.  These are the list of things you MUST be PROFICIENT in for any basic office job today:

1. Microsoft Office Package- including Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Picture Manager.  You need to know how to create and save a file in Word. You need to know how to do a basic spreadsheet in Excel, and a basic powerpoint (slide show) presentation in Powerpoint.  You need to know how to open, crop and save a photo in Picture Manager. Nothing fancy, just the basics.
2. Google. You must know how to ACCESS any information in the world in two seconds.
3. The entire Google system, meaning Google Chrome (browser), Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Docs.
4. Facebook, Twitter, Linked In.  Your employer expects you to be BETTER at this than he or she is.  You should be the teacher. Add any other apps to this that are already essential that I haven't heard about yet.    
5.  Mac AND PC.  Today's boss expects you to know both and not be afraid of either. Include with this Ipad, Iphone, Blackberry (becoming extinct) and Droids.
6. Typing.  Not with two fingers, but with all ten.  Fast is good, accurate is better.
7. Spelling.  Spell check won't get you out of a homonym you do not know.
8. Basic Percentages. It is shocking to me how many people cannot do 15 percent in their heads. Learn how.
9. How to Address an Envelope.  Don't laugh. I had  a 22 year old college student intern who did not know how to do this.  
10. How to Look Someone in the Eye, Shake his or her Hand, say Hello & Goodbye.
11. How to Take Notes. If the boss is talking, and you aren't taking notes, you aren't doing your job.  So figure out ahead of time what your most efficient way to do this is.

Good Luck, feel free to add your essentials to this list.

Walker Survives Wisconsin Recall Vote

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WAUKESHA, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker, whose decision to cut collective bargaining rights for most public workers set off a firestorm in a state usually known for its political civility, easily held on to his job on Tuesday, becoming the first governor in the country to survive a recall election and dealing a painful blow to Democrats and labor unions.

Mr. Walker soundly defeated Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, the Democrats’ nominee in the recall attempt, with most precincts across the state reporting results. The victory by Mr. Walker, a Republican who was forced into an election to save his job less than two years into his first term, ensures that Republicans largely retain control of this state’s capital, and his fast-rising political profile is likely to soar still higher among conservatives.

Here in Waukesha, some Republican voters said the result ended the most volatile partisan fight in memory, one that boiled over 16 months ago in the collective bargaining battle and expanded into scuffles about spending, jobs, taxes, the role and size of government, and more. Democrats, some of whom are already pledging to mount strong challenges for state lawmakers’ seats in November, seemed less sure about the meaning of Mr. Walker’s victory.

“Tonight, we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions,” Mr. Walker said, delivering a victory speech to supporters here. “But now it is time to move on and move forward in Wisconsin.”

In his concession speech in Milwaukee, Mr. Barrett said: “We are a state that has been deeply divided. It is up to all of us — our side and their side — to listen, to listen to each other.”

The result raised broader questions about the strength of labor groups, who had called hundreds of thousands of voters and knocked on thousands of doors. The outcome also seemed likely to embolden leaders in other states who have considered limits to unions as a way to solve budget problems, but had watched the backlash against Mr. Walker with worry.

 Some Republicans said they considered Mr. Walker’s victory one indication that Wisconsin, which President Obama won easily in 2008 and which Democrats have carried in every presidential election since 1988, may be worth battling for this time.

“Obviously, Scott Walker winning tonight means that the Republicans are here for real,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Conservatives are here for real.” Mr. Priebus was attending Mr. Walker’s victory party at the Waukesha County Exposition Center, where “We Stand With Walker” signs were all around.

But even with the Republican victory on Tuesday, it remained an open question whether Mitt Romney, the party’s presidential nominee, can assume the momentum of Mr. Walker’s campaign. In exit polling of voters, 18 percent of Walker supporters said they favored Mr. Obama, and the president led in a matchup against Mr. Romney. Voters in the exit surveys also said they saw Mr. Obama as better equipped to improve the economy and help the middle class.

Republicans prevailed in at least four recall elections on Tuesday for other offices, including a race for lieutenant governor, which the incumbent, Rebecca Kleefisch, won. Scott Fitzgerald, the State Senate’s majority leader, who had ushered much of Mr. Walker’s agenda through the Legislature, also survived. Late Tuesday, votes were still being counted in one State Senate race in Racine, an outcome that will determine which party narrowly controls the chamber, at least until November.

Mr. Walker, who raised millions of dollars from conservative donors outside the state, had a strong financial advantage, in part because a quirk in state law allowed him months of unlimited fund-raising, from the time the recall challenge was mounted to when the election was officially called. As of late last month, about $45.6 million had been spent on behalf of Mr. Walker, compared with about $17.9 million for Mr. Barrett, according to data from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group that tracks spending.

“What it shows is the peril of corporate dollars in an election and the dangers of Citizens United,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, a school workers’ union, referring to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that barred the federal government from restricting political expenditures from corporations, unions and other groups.

Voters went to the polls in droves, and some polling places needed extra ballots brought in as long lines of people waited. One polling location was so swamped, state officials said, that it found itself using photocopied ballots, which later had to be hand-counted. The final flurry of television advertising — with Mr. Walker outspending Mr. Barrett seven to one — seemed to have little impact on the outcome. Nearly 9 in 10 people said they had made up their minds before May, according to exit poll interviews.

The recall race carried implications well beyond Wisconsin, particularly in the escalating fight between wealthy conservative donors and labor unions. Many Republican contributors from across the country who have invested millions in the presidential race also sent checks to Mr. Walker, hoping to inflict deep wounds on organized labor, a key constituency for Democrats.

The outcome was also being closely monitored in Boston by Mr. Romney’s campaign and in Chicago at Mr. Obama’s re-election headquarters for a signal of how the electorate is viewing the big issues in the race for the White House. The president kept his distance from Wisconsin, to the dismay of many Democrats in the state, in an effort to avoid alienating independent voters he hopes to win over in the fall.

A snapshot of the Wisconsin electorate, gleaned through surveys with voters as they left the polls, found that a majority of men had supported Mr. Walker, while most women had voted for Mr. Barrett. Almost a fifth of the electorate was 65 or older, with only about one in 10 voters of college age. The recall race unfolded against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, with only 2 in 10 voters saying their family’s finances have improved in the two years since Mr. Walker was elected. About a third said their financial situation had grown worse, and more than 4 in 10 said their finances had stayed the same.

The political war in Wisconsin began in February 2011 when Governor Walker, only weeks into his first term, announced that he needed to cut benefits and collective bargaining rights for most public workers as a way to solve an expected state budget deficit of $3.6 billion.

Tens of thousands of union supporters and Democrats protested in Madison, the capital, and the State Senate’s Democrats — who were a minority in the chamber but had enough members to prevent a quorum — went into hiding in hotels and houses in Illinois to try, unsuccessfully, to prevent a vote on the measure.

By January, critics of Mr. Walker delivered more than 900,000 signatures on petitions to recall him, far more than the one-quarter of voters from the last election that state law requires.

The election, which cost local governments as much as $18 million to carry out, has raised another debate over the appropriateness of using a recall vote to remove officials.

“Recall was never meant to be used just because you don’t like the way the other side is governing,” said Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, which made tens of thousands of calls to voters in recent days in support of Mr. Walker.

Around the nation, numerous efforts have been made over the years to recall governors, but only three, including the push to remove Mr. Walker, met the requirements to place the matter on the ballot. In California, Gov. Gray Davis was removed in 2003, and in North Dakota, Gov. Lynn Frazier was recalled in 1921.
NYTimes By  and  

Does Facebook Wreck Marriages?

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg changed his status to “
married” Saturday and received over one million “likes” from his followers. But the site he founded isn’t always so marriage-friendly.  In fact, lawyers say the social network contributes to an increasing number of marriage breakups.

More than a third of divorce filings last year contained the word Facebook, according to a U.K. survey by Divorce Online, a  legal services firm. And over 80% of U.S. divorce attorneys say they’ve seen a rise in the number of cases using social networking, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “I see Facebook issues breaking up marriages all the time,” says Gary Traystman, a divorce attorney in New London, Conn. Of the 15 cases he handles per year where computer history, texts and emails are admitted as evidence, 60% exclusively involve Facebook.

“Affairs happen with a lightning speed on Facebook,” says K. Jason Krafsky, who authored the book “Facebook and Your Marriage” with his wife Kelli. In the real world, he says, office romances and out-of-town trysts can take months or even years to develop. “On Facebook,” he says, “they happen in just a few clicks.” The social network is different from most social networks or dating sites in that it both re-connects old flames and allows people to “friend” someone they may only met once in passing. “It puts temptation in the path of people who would never in a million years risk having an affair,” he says. Facebook declined to comment.

Even when extra-marital affairs develop with no help from Facebook, experts say the site provides a deceptively comfortable forum for people to let off steam about their lives and inadvertently arouse the suspicions of spouses. “The difference with Facebook is it feels safe, innocent and private,” says Randy Kessler, an Atlanta, Ga.-based lawyer and current chair of the family law section of the American Bar Association. (See Facebook and Divorce Discussed in WSJ.) “People put an enormous amount of incriminating stuff out there voluntarily.” It could be something as innocuous as a check-in at a restaurant, he says, or a photograph posted online.

When couples do end up in divorce court, lawyers say Facebook posts are used to determine alimony and child custody. Last year, a superior district court judge in Connecticut ordered a divorcing couple to hand over the passwords of their respective Facebook to the other’s lawyers. Kessler says it’s an extremely useful vehicle to gather evidence. “It helps me cross-examine a witness,” he says. Any pattern of behavior that’s recorded on Facebook relating to parenting skills, excessive partying or even disparaging remarks about a spouse that violates a court order could be admissible in court. Of course, it’s not Facebook’s fault it’s being dragged through divorce court, he says, “It’s the people who use it.”
smartmoney.com 

 

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