The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.
Nelson Mandela: ‘Sport has the power to change the world’ - Sports can be a diversion. Sports can be a hobby. And, for a fortunate few, sports can change the world.
Nelson Mandela, the legendary South African activist and politician who died Thursday at 95, stands as one of the 20th century’s most notable figures for his efforts to end apartheid. And while he used a combination of methods to dismantle South Africa’s system of institutionalized racism, sports ranked high on the list. Mandela realized the transformative and unifying power of sports, and used that power to make changes that protests and diplomacy could not.
Mandela was a driven athlete, an amateur boxer who ran two hours every morning as a young man. He kept himself in excellent shape during his 27 years in prison. But it was a sport to which he had little attachment which would change his life and cement his legacy.
The key moment in Mandela’s sporting life, as John Carlin of Sports Illustrated noted, was the 1995 Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mandela had been sworn in as president of South Africa only the year before, the nation’s first black president, and there were plenty of heavily armed whites who were none too pleased with the tides that had changed their entire existence. The possibility of rioting, or worse, loomed large over the match between South Africa and New Zealand. As Mandela would say later, it was the most nervous he’d ever been in his life, even more so than the morning in 1962 where a captured Mandela would be sentenced to either life in prison or death by hanging.
Mandela had threaded a needle in the dark. In 1992, South Africa had been awarded the Rugby World Cup, and Mandela allowed the competition to proceed, even though rugby was a decidedly white-leaning sport. The South African national team, the Springboks, had only one nonwhite player, and blacks hated the team for many reasons, seeing their green jerseys as symbols of apartheid repression.
But Mandela convinced the nation to pull together as one and root for the Springboks, in part because of one astonishingly brave gesture: before a crowd of 65,000 that was almost completely white, Mandela strode onto the field wearing a Springboks jersey. The crowd, silent at first, began chanting “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!”
South Africa would go on to win the game, and South Africans both black and white celebrated the victory. Mandela had not just passed a test, he’d rewritten it … and in so doing, created a new, more hopeful future for his nation.
“Sport has the power to change the world,” Mandela said. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” Read More > at Yahoo! Sports
The Student Loan Debacle:a Clear Moral Hazard - Here, in a nutshell, is the human toll of the student-loan mess: it is forcing many recent grads to defer marriage and having children; it is hobbling many prospective entrepreneurs that our economy badly needs and may well delay the retirement of new grads by 11 or 12 years.
The total student-loan debt hit $1 trillion dollars two years ago, eclipsing total durable goods debt, and credit card debt. It is now one-fifth higher, at about $1.2 trillion. Student loan debt tripled between 2004 and 2012, with more than 40% of 25-year-olds now carrying student loan debt, averaging $24,000 per debtor. And remember, it is nearly impossible to discharge student-loan debt in bankruptcy.
By “debacle,” I mean this sad process: the ramping up of federal government guarantees for banks lending money to more and more students over the last 15 years (culminating in the complete nationalization of Sallie Mae in 2008), which led to an explosion in college tuition and consequently an explosion in total loan debt. Read More> at Minding the Campus
Microsoft Condemns US Government As An “Advanced Persistent Threat” - Microsoft has begun to combat some of these issues by physically building datacenter located in specific countries, giving an option for customers to not have their information ever leave that datacenter. In a post today by Microsoft’s Chief General Counsel Brad Smith, he promises a number initiatives the company is taking to protect customer data mostly revolved around transparency and strengthening encryption:
Many of our customers have serious concerns about government surveillance of the Internet.
We share their concerns. That’s why we are taking steps to ensure governments use legal process rather than technological brute force to access customer data.
Like many others, we are especially alarmed by recent allegations in the press of a broader and concerted effort by some governments to circumvent online security measures – and in our view, legal processes and protections – in order to surreptitiously collect private customer data. In particular, recent press stories have reported allegations of governmental interception and collection – without search warrants or legal subpoenas – of customer data as it travels between customers and servers or between company data centers in our industry.
If true, these efforts threaten to seriously undermine confidence in the security and privacy of online communications. Indeed, government snooping potentially now constitutes an “advanced persistent threat,” alongside sophisticated malware and cyber attacks.
In light of these allegations, we’ve decided to take immediate and coordinated action in three areas:
•We are expanding encryption across our services.
•We are reinforcing legal protections for our customers’ data.
•We are enhancing the transparency of our software code, making it easier for customers to reassure themselves that our products do not contain back doors. Read More > at Microsoft News
Routine council shift takes dramatic turn in Pleasant Hill - In a stunning rebuke, the City Council on Monday broke with the tradition of elevating the vice mayor to the mayor’s seat and bypassed Jack Weir, who has never held the top post.
On a 3-2 vote, Councilmen Ken Carlson, Tim Flaherty and Michael Harris rejected Councilman David Durant’s nomination of Weir to serve as mayor for the next year. The three did not offer any explanation for their vote.
The council members split the same way on Carlson’s motion to appoint Flaherty mayor.
Following the vote, Weir’s family, including his wife, son and brother, former Contra Costa County Clerk Steve Weir, filed out of the chamber in disgust. Later, Steve Weir denounced the council’s decision.
A clearly stunned Jack Weir said, “If you will excuse me, I’ll be leaving the council meeting at this point. I will be at future council meetings.”
“I am humiliated and I’m embarrassed for this council,” he added. “I think what you did is inappropriate and an embarrassment to this city.” Read More > in the Contra Costa Times
Antioch Taps Nearby City for New City Manager - Hercules City Manager Steve Duran will soon be departing for the same position in the City of Antioch. His selection was announced Monday by Antioch Mayor Wade Harper following a vote by the City Council.
Duran will be replacing City Manager Jim Jakel once the Council formally approves his contract. The final go-ahead is expected on December 10. Duran’s compensation package will include an annual salary of $230,000, which will be cut to $207,000 until city furloughs are discontinued.
Duran took over as Hercules’ top administrator in 2011 and has largely been credited with rescuing the cash-strapped city from bankruptcy. During his tenure, the city was able to eliminate a $1.1 million structural deficit, while restoring some of the confidence it had lost after years of alleged mismanagement and malfeasance by city officials. Read More > at California City News
California Needs More Champions of Manufacturing - California’s manufacturers are capable of meeting extraordinary challenges and will be the engine of job creation if they have the resources skilled workforce and the long term support of state and local communities.
California’s unemployment rate fell from 8.9 percent to 8.7 percent in October but California unfortunately lost another 5,600 manufacturing jobs according to this week’s Labor Market Information report.
Even with a few previous growth spurts in the Golden State’s manufacturing sector, the overall trend since 2010 shows a widening gap between the United States’ 4.59 percent manufacturing job growth and California’s 0.55 percent.
While the recent loss and the overall trendline vs the country does not bode well for California’s economy and middle class workers, there are positive developments that should be noted along with some of the previous job increases. Read More > at Fox & Hounds
Weekdays Following Black Friday Weekend Among Best to Shop, ShopperTrak Predicts - There are popular days to shop during the holiday season – and then there are the best days. With smaller crowds, the weekdays immediately following “Black Weekend” will be some of the best days to hit stores this year for those who like to avoid the crowds…
The following table shows ShopperTrak’s forecasted best days to shop, ranked from least-to-most retail shopper traffic:
House bill seeks to increase gas tax by 15 cents per gallon - With Congress facing a major shortfall in transportation funding next year, a House bill introduced Wednesday would raise the federal gasoline tax by 15 cents per gallon to close the gap.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) announced the proposal at a news conference, flanked by an array of labor, construction and business leaders. It would raise the federal tax on gas to 33.4 cents per gallon and on diesel to 42.8 cents.
The tax has not been increased since 1993, and the Highway Trust Fund, into which the revenue flows, has suffered because the tax has not kept pace with inflation. Plus, improvements in vehicle fuel economy have reduced consumption. Read More > in the Washington Post
Does smoking pot cause man boobs? – A young man in his 20s — let’s call him George — sits across from me in the exam room.
“Dr. Youn,” he says, “I have man boobs.”
I notice a not-so-unfamiliar smell wafting from his body. It’s the same odor that floated my way during a rock concert I recently attended.
“How long have you had a problem with this, George?”
“Hard to say. But it seems to have gotten worse over the past year or so.”
“George, the first thing you need to do is stop smoking pot. Marijuana could be causing your man boobs.”
Gynecomastia, otherwise known as man boobs (or moobs for short), is a condition that affects approximately 33% to 41% of men between the ages of 25 and 45. It’s even more common during puberty, affecting 60% of 14-year-old boys. Interestingly, it also affects 55% to 60% of men aged 50 and older.
…Gynecomastia is caused by a hormone imbalance between testosterone and estrogen. When the ratio between testosterone and estrogen tips in favor of estrogen, the body responds by creating excessive breast tissue. Hence, man boobs.
Animal studies have shown that exposure to the active ingredient in marijuana can result in a decrease in testosterone levels, a reduction of testicular size, and abnormalities in the form and function of sperm.
In humans, the effects of marijuana on testosterone and estrogen levels aren’t as clear. Lower testosterone levels have been reported in chronic marijuana users compared to nonusers, but not all studies support this. Read More > at CNN
American Jurisprudence Has Made A Mess Of Religious Freedom - The first clauses of the First Amendment have been gutted of their power, resulting in an exemption culture which views religious conviction as idiosyncratic; something to be tolerated, but not celebrated. The clash of religion and sex in debates over marriage, abortion, employment policy, and public accommodations shows the inadequacy of current religious freedom law. This should be of concern to all who love liberty.
Pew’s David Masci recently argued there is no cause for concern among Christians about the same-sex marriage movement because “each of the 12 states that have passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage also protects religious groups and clergy who do not want to solemnize or participate in same-sex weddings.” Religious people should place no faith in these laws.
…In response to Smith, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and a number of states passed similar legislation. These laws shift the burden back to the government to prove its infringement is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling state interest. Yet free exercise jurisprudence is as unpredictable and inconsistent as ever (see Rehnquist’s dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree for a classic accounting of the mess), a far cry from the robust culture of diverse religious expression the first amendment guarantees.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing this summer for the majority in Windsor, made clear that there is no rational basis for opposing same-sex marriage. Siding with same-sex activists, Kennedy argued that those who hold such a view are animated by hate, ignoring the record number of amicus briefs submitted proving otherwise. If you believe as Kennedy and the revisionists do there is no tolerance for such hate, not even if grounded in sincere religious belief. Read More > at The Federalist
Pension Ruling in Detroit Echoes West to California - The ruling by Judge Steven W. Rhodes, who is presiding in Detroit’s bankruptcy case, that public pensions are not protected from cuts could alter the course of bankrupt cities like Stockton and San Bernardino, Calif., that had been operating under the assumption that pensions were untouchable.
Stockton’s bankruptcy case, for instance, is further along than Detroit’s, and until Tuesday it seemed likely to leave public pensions fully intact. Stockton sought bankruptcy protection last year and has already filed a plan of debt adjustment with the bankruptcy court in Sacramento. Its plan, which is subject to court approval, would leave city workers’ pensions unchanged: They would continue to accrue benefits at the same rate as they did before the bankruptcy. (A new state law does permit Stockton to provide smaller pensions to workers hired after Jan. 1.)
That is a better deal than workers at bankrupt companies often receive. City leaders based it on the thinking that public workers had already sacrificed enough, given that the plan of adjustment already calls for them to give up contractual pay increases and valuable retiree health benefits. Read More > in The New York Times
Watch How “1984″ Becomes Real Life - …Even if some future government stepped over one of the last remaining red lines in our world and simply assassinated whistleblowers as they surfaced, others would always emerge. Back in 1948, in his eerie novel 1984, however, Orwell suggested a far more diabolical solution to the problem. He conjured up a technological device for the world of Big Brother that he called “the memory hole.” In his dark future, armies of bureaucrats, working in what he sardonically dubbed the Ministry of Truth, spent their lives erasing or altering documents, newspapers, books, and the like in order to create an acceptable version of history. When a person fell out of favor, the Ministry of Truth sent him and all the documentation relating to him down the memory hole. Every story or report in which his life was in any way noted or recorded would be edited to eradicate all traces of him.
In Orwell’s pre-digital world, the memory hole was a vacuum tube into which old documents were physically disappeared forever. Alterations to existing documents and the deep-sixing of others ensured that even the sudden switching of global enemies and alliances would never prove a problem for the guardians of Big Brother. In the world he imagined, thanks to those armies of bureaucrats, the present was what had always been — and there were those altered documents to prove it and nothing but faltering memories to say otherwise. Anyone who expressed doubts about the truth of the present would, under the rubric of “thoughtcrime,” be marginalized or eliminated.
Increasingly, most of us now get our news, books, music, TV, movies, and communications of every sort electronically. These days, Google earns more advertising revenue than all U.S. print media combined. Even the venerable Newsweek no longer publishes a paper edition. And in that digital world, a certain kind of “simplification” is being explored. The Chinese, Iranians, and others are, for instance, already implementing web-filtering strategies to block access to sites and online material of which their governments don’t approve. The U.S. government similarly (if somewhat fruitlessly) blocks its employees from viewing Wikileaks and Edward Snowden material (as well as websites like TomDispatch) on their work computers — though not of course at home. Yet.
Great Britain, however, will soon take a significant step toward deciding what a private citizen can see on the web even while at home. Before the end of the year, almost all Internet users there will be “opted-in” to a system designed to filter out pornography. By default, the controls will also block access to “violent material,” “extremist and terrorist related content,” “anorexia and eating disorder websites,” and “suicide related websites.” In addition, the new settings will censor sites mentioning alcohol or smoking. The filter will also block “esoteric material,” though a UK-based rights group says the government has yet to make clear what that category will include. Read More > at RealClearTechnology
A Major Setback for California’s High Speed Train - …Nor is this the end of the litigation. A second phase of the case is to begin shortly over allegations that the project has strayed significantly beyond the 2008 promises of the Proposition 1A bond measure and that the Authority’s plan for a “blended system” of high-speed trains on Caltrain’s commuter tracks in the Bay Area and Metrolink tracks in the south cannot meet the performance requirements of Proposition 1A—notably a nonstop trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2 hours 40 minutes and provisions that the system operate without public subsidies.
Whatever the ultimate consequences of the two Court rulings, their impact on public opinion and on the confidence of the financial community in the project’s fiscal integrity are unquestionable. Further delays in the project’s groundbreaking (already more than a year behind schedule), the prospect of multiple challenges over bond validation, Congressional opposition to providing further federal funds, and, most importantly, inability to identify credible sources of non-federal money to complete the entire Initial Operating Segment, all add up to a very uncertain future for this “transformative” project.
(Note: The day after the Court decision, two influential members of Congress, Jeff Denham, Chairman of the Railroads Subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Tom Latham, Chairmanm of the House Transportation Appropriation Subcommittee have requested the General Accountability Office (GAO) to review the federal grant agreements with the California High Speed Rail Authority. Denham has been an outspoken critic of the high-speed rail project. Read More > at Fox & Hounds
Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal - Scientists have drawn on nearly 1,000 brain scans to confirm what many had surely concluded long ago: that stark differences exist in the wiring of male and female brains.
Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women’s brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men’s brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions.
Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes, with men’s brains apparently wired more for perception and co-ordinated actions, and women’s for social skills and memory, making them better equipped for multitasking. Read More > in The Guardian
The Next North Dakota: 5 States About to Go Oil Boom - The black-gold rush in North Dakota—a technological revolution in oil production—is creating a new class of rugged millionaires. North Dakota might be grabbing headlines, but horizontal drilling and “fracking” to tap into newly accessible oil reserves is by no means limited to that state.The shale revolution is still in its “early innings,” as a recent report by Credit Suisse put it. OPEC’s 2013 World Oil Outlook, published last month, said that new oil supply from the U.S. and Canada would hit nearly 5 million barrels a day within five years, up from last year’s forecast of 1.7 million barrels a day by 2018. As that boom plays out, tens of billions of dollars in new infrastructure and development will likely be invested in the coming years.
TEXAS Though Texas has already been booming, it’s expected to nearly double its production in the coming year and is on pace to surpass Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates by 2015.
CALIFORNIA Four times larger than North Dakota’s Bakken, the Monterey Shale in southern California has oil companies from all over the world clamoring for the crude trapped some 15,000 feet below the surface.
OKLAHOMA After North Dakota and Texas, Oklahoma is the third-fastest growing state for oil production, doubling its output since 2010.
COLORADO Colorado has a number of emerging oil shale plays. This year, the state approved over 1,200 new permits to drill horizontal wells in Colorado, surpassing the number in 2012.
LOUISIANA Spanning 2.7 million acres across central Louisiana is the Tuscaloosa Marine shale, estimated to hold 7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Read More > in The Fiscal Times
Unemployment benefits will soon expire for 1.3 million workers. Where will they go? – Our story so far: Some 1.3 million out-of-work Americans will lose their unemployment insurance unless Congress extends an emergency aid program that’s set to expire Dec. 28. (Another 800,000 or so workers will fall out of the program in the months after.)
So, what will happen to all those workers? There’s a real possibility they will just drop out of the labor force entirely.
That’s the conclusion of a new research note from JP Morgan chief economist Michael Feroli, who argues that many of those 1.3 million workers may simply give up looking for jobs once their benefits lapse. That, in turn, could reduce the “official” U.S. unemployment rate by between 0.25 and 0.5 percentage points. But it won’t mean the economy is getting any better. Read More > in the Washington Post
Fast-food strikes aim at 100 US cities - Fast-food workers in about 100 cities will walk off the job on Thursday, organizers say, which would mark the largest effort yet in a push for higher pay.
The actions are intended to build on a campaign that began about a year ago to call attention to the difficulties of living on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or about $15,000 a year for a full-time employee.
The protests are part of a movement by labor unions, Democrats and other worker advocacy groups to raise pay in low-wage sectors. Last month, President Barack Obama said he would back a Senate measure to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Protesters are calling for $15 an hour, although many see the figure as a rallying point rather than a near-term possibility. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Why US baby boomers are retiring in Latin America - Mr. Cummiskey’s story is being repeated thousands of times – minus perhaps the sale of a personal plane – as more and more Americans retire to countries all over Latin America. Lured by sun-dappled landscapes and cheap living costs, they are settling in culturally vibrant towns in central Mexico, beach communities in Costa Rica, high-rise enclaves in Panama, and mountain retreats in Nicaragua.
Even Medellín, once the drug and murder capital of the world, has transformed itself into something of an urban showcase, attracting baby boomers to a place where cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar used to carry out his ruthless craft.
Though the phenomenon of Americans retiring in Latin America began 25 years ago, it has accelerated in the past five to 10 years. Call the region America’s new “Sun Belt.”
…The exodus south is being driven by a confluence of factors. The baby boom generation – the largest in history – is reaching retirement age, and millions are looking for places to spend the next phase of their lives. As the most educated, well-traveled, and adventurous generation in history, many of these boomers are deciding to retire outside the country – including in Latin America.
They’re also looking for places that will allow them to stretch their 401(k)s after they lost a lot of money in the last stock market collapse. With the US economy remaining so tentative, and health-care costs so aggressive, retirees want to live where they can afford greens fees and where a trip to the emergency room won’t bankrupt them. Read More > in The Christian Science Monitor
Amazon Prime Air - maybe 5 years away – We’re excited to share Prime Air – something the team has been working on in our next generation R&D lab. The goal of this new delivery system is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles. Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations. This is footage from a recent test flight.
Retiree Health: Bigger Budget Bite than Pensions? – The rapidly growing cost of state worker retiree health care, a more generous benefit than received by active state workers, soon could be taking a bigger bite out of the state general fund than pensions.
As if trading places, a new forecast expects the annual general fund payment for state worker retiree health care, now $500 million less than the payment for pensions, to be $500 million more than the pension payment in six years.
A forecast from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office last month projects that a $2.3 billion general fund pension payment to CalPERS this fiscal year will grow to $2.8 billion in fiscal 2019-20.
State general fund spending on retiree health care for state workers, $1.8 billion this fiscal year, is projected to grow more than 10 percent a year during the same forecast period, nearly doubling to $3.3 billion. Read More > in Public CEO
Puerto Rico, with at least $70 billion in debt, confronts a rising economic misery - Boxes and wooden crates filled with household items bound for the U.S. mainland are stacked high in the Rosa del Monte moving company’s cavernous warehouse, evidence of the historic rush of people abandoning this beautiful island.
The economy here has been in recession for nearly eight years, crimping tax revenue and pushing the jobless rate to nearly 15 percent. Meanwhile, the government is burdened by staggering debt, spawning comparisons to bankrupt Detroit and forcing lawmakers to severely slash pensions, cut government jobs and raise taxes in a furious effort to avert default.
The implications are serious for Americans outside Puerto Rico both because a taxpayer bailout would be expensive and a default would be far more disruptive than Detroit’s record bankruptcy filing in July. Officials in San Juan and Washington are adamant that a federal bailout is not on the table, but the situation is being closely monitored by the White House, which recently named an advisory team to help Puerto Rican officials navigate the crisis. Read More > in the Washington Post