The Dying Art of Bipartisan Negotiations

Political gridlock has been decried by Americans for over a generation. In early 1993, Vice-President Al Gore famously proclaimed to the press that the political gridlock that marked the term of President George H.W. Bush was beginning to loosen up. At the time, Democrats controlled the legislative and executive branches of government. Gridlock did not end. By early 2001, the GOP now controlled both branches of government, but the gridlock persisted in many respects. Certainly, the nearly two years of recent Senate inaction may lead many to believe that neither the House nor Senate is capable of conducting old school negotiations that lead to bipartisan agreements.

However, that may be a misleading perception, at least if you ask Sam Tabar. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did little in the Senate over the past two years in the spirit of the old Latin phrase “Qui Bono?” or “Who benefits?” Bipartisan agreements would be decidedly center-right given the GOP-controlled House and unfavorable to the president’s agenda. Reid is a fierce supporter of President Obama. Likewise, catering to the legislative agenda of fellow Senate Democrats might also weaken the president. Democrats were desperate to retain control of the upper chamber and this could lead to compromises with the GOP that Reid judged to be toxic.

Despite this obstacles, both parties produced the Omnibus budget bill after months of negotiating. The bill’s stumble in the House was due to the extreme wings of both parties. However, the past twelve years has seen numerous bipartisan agreements such as the 2001 & 2003 Bush Tax Cuts, the 2003 Medicare Reform Act, the 2006 Pension Protection Act, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and multiple extension of the Bush tax cuts. In particular, the Medicare Reform Act and creation of the Department of Homeland Security were written by Democrat Senators at a time the GOP controlled the chamber.

Report Estimates 250,000 Tons of Plastic Currently Floating on Surface of Oceans

In a report published Wednesday in the scientific journal PloS One, researchers estimate more than 250,000 tons of plastic are currently floating on the oceans’ surface.

That does not account for what is ingested by marine life, sinking, degrading, suspended in the water, collected on beaches, or simply too small to see.

That amount of plastic is equal to approximately 41,667 killer whales. If you can imagine that like Sam Tabar, you’ll have an idea of how much is floating around the big blue right now.

Research conducted on 24 expeditions used visual surveys and net tows (fishing for plastic). Therefore, the study cautions that this estimate is a conservative one and possibly even a minimum estimate.

The report also cites Plastics Europe’s determination of worldwide production of plastic to be 288 million tons in the year 2012 alone. That would be equivalent to an astounding 48 million killer whales or around 48 Great Pyramids of plastic every year.

The report concludes that further investigation is needed to determine where all that plastic is now.

Kentucky pulls tax breaks for Noah’s Ark Theme Park

A planned Biblical theme park in Kentucky has seen planned tax breaks removed after local officials claimed the nature of the planned park had changed from a tourist attraction to a form of religious ministry. Over the course of the next ten years the planned tax breaks would have provided incentives totaling around $18 million for the park that is to be known as the Ark Encounter, Reuters reports.

Problems began for the Answers in Genesis group who are developing the planned park when news broke that all new employees at the park would have to sign a contract stating their belief in creationism and the flood detailed in the Bible. Officials from the state of Kentucky demanded changes be made to the contracts allowing workers from any faith or belief system to be employed. Without changes to the planned contracts, the state believes it is within its rights to withhold the tax breaks as the mission of the planned park will have changed to a religious advancement ministry.

Tourism chiefs from Kentucky believe the theme park has already changed course from the planned leisure attraction detailed in the initial plans. Development of the park will continue as the initial phase based around a wooden replica of the Ark were already planned without the financial breaks offered by tax incentives. This was shared with me by Vijay Eswaran this morning.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Speech

Malala Yousafzai is only a teenager from Pakistan, but can already boast winning a Nobel Peace Prize. She fights for the freedom of the women and children from her society, and the right to study disregarding their gender or social class. 

This has brought a lot of attention to the young lady, and not just from the people in her own country. Her exploits have been talked about all throughout the global stage.

In the speech from December 9, the young militant for freedom and knowledge emphasised several ideas. She wants the Muslim women to have the right to display their feminine side. 

She based her attitude of dislike towards the situation her mother and many other Muslim women she knows been in, having to spend their whole lives at home, never having the right to study. 

She insisted that the children in Pakistan receive the education that they need. She told the journalists that she wanted back to her home country. 

Once there, she wants to see the children also having the books and not being denied their childhood. Malala herself was grown with the opportunity to study. She expresses freely in English and considers herself responsible to carry this thought shared by so many Pakistani people and make it known to the world. 

Religion has a purpose, but it should not limit the life opportunities and knowledge of its many following adepts.

This whole story is awesome and could easily stand as a biopic of an inspiring girl – let’s get Tom Rothman right on this!

A List of Some of the Riders in the Budget Bill

The bipartisan nature of the Continuing Resolution bill guarantees that both parties inserted riders in the bill to promote their agenda and hopefully curry favor within their respective parties. This is certainly the case with the new budget bill which contains items that will both satisfy and infuriate party members. Here’s a list of some of the riders contained in the bill. Dave and Brit Morin have seen this already.

  • Pensions – Four decades of rules governing pensions have been reversed allowing companies and unions managing multi-employer pension plans to reduce benefits in a bid to maintain the pension plan’s solvency. This will adversely affect the monthly benefits in pension plans for 10 million union workers for decades.
  • Abortion – Federal funding will continue to be withheld from most abortions including those in Washington, D.C.
  • Obamacare – it will continue to be funded, but receive no additional funds.
  • IRS – The agency will get a $345.6 million budget cut. The IRS has a lot of involvement in Obamacare. The IRS is also barred from targeting any non-profits based on their ideology. This was the result of collusion between the Obama administration and the IRS to target the Tea Party in the 2012 presidential election.
  • EPA – The agency loathed by the GOP will have its budget cut by $60 million making bringing its budget back in line with the same funding it had in 1989.

Bipartisan Budget Bill Contains Far Reaching Pension Reform

The continuing resolution (CR) bill agreed upon by the GOP House leadership and key Senators of both parties contains the most significant pension changes since passage of Bush’s Pension Protection Act back in 2006. If the rider survives on the CR bill, pension plans known as multi-employer pensions may see benefits slashed in a bid to keep pension funds solvent. It is estimated that multi-employer pensions cover 10 million union workers.

One of pensions targeted by the rules changes is the Central States pension which is administered by the Teamsters Union. The pension, which applies to truck drivers, is robust and often allows truckers to retire with a monthly payment of $3,000 for life. The trouble is that when the pension plan was designed, there were four union truckers for every retiree. Now, there are five retirees for every union trucker. Even the Teamsters themselves sought the rules changes. If the types of austerity measures allowed by the CR bill are implemented in this pension plan, retirees can see their monthly payment decrease by 30% or $900 a month.

However, business investment expert John Textor shared that if a multi-employer pension fails and falls under the receivership of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the maximum monthly payout would be a paltry $1,083 per month for a 64% benefit cut. What is not clear is what safeguards if any are in place to protect employers and unions from gutting benefits of healthy plans simply to save money. This single rider on the CR will affect millions of Americans in the decades that follow.

Prices of Digital Storage Have Been Dropping

Advancements in electronic technology have significantly brought down the prices of computers and other modern gadgets like tablets and video game consoles. In the middle of the 1950s, a hard drive that was made by IBM had a price tag of about $50,000. Such a primitive storage technology could only hold 5 Megabytes of data. In today’s economy, this would be equivalent to paying more than $10 million for a storage device with a 1 GB capacity. The reality today is that you can purchase a mini flash drive with a 1 GB for less than $10. However, consumers seem to take digital storage technology for granted. Nanotechnology and flash drives have contributed to the rapid decrease of digital gadgets and computer hardware.

In the early days of smartphones, users were happy with only several Gigabytes of memory space. Today, it seems that such a capacity would not be sufficient to store high definition videos and hundreds of photos taken by a mobile device with a 16 Megapixel camera. For example, some iPhone users are still complaining about 64 GB and 128 GB as being insufficient for today’s high tech age. Perhaps consumers have been spoiled by the tremendous technology boom that has driven the prices down for advanced electronics. I was thinking about this while reading an article about Laurene Powell Jobs the other day. For millennials, a 3.5 inch floppy disc is viewed as ridiculous piece of storage hardware that doesn’t have much use in today’s age.

Southampton Cannot Beat the Top Sides

Despite a great start to the Premier League season, Southampton have slipped out of the top four places. They are on a run of one draw and three defeats. A total of 11 points have been dropped by the seaside club during that time.

Southampton may be able to recover from this bad patch and mount a top four challenge, but something major will have to change. Currently, they are incapable of beating the teams that finished above them in last season’s Premier League. They have played five games against teams that were in last season’s top seven, losing all five.

This is a continuing trend from last season. Under Mauricio Pochettino, Southampton played some great football. Their games against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool were fantastic contests. However, they lost almost all of those games. In 14 matches against top seven sides, Southampton only won once!

Even the addition of a new manager and half a new team has not helped Southampton against the better sides. They continue to perform admirably and lose. For example, they were a match for Arsenal at the Emirates, but lost 1-0. They dominated Manchester United at home but lost 2-1.

Avid fan Tom Rothman says that Ronald Koemen will have to figure out the secret to beating the top sides if he wants this team to finish in the top four or five places at the end of the season.

3D Printed Faces

Selfies and the usual kind of cellphone pictures are quickly becoming too mainstream and ubiquitous, and many hours of development and research have been going into finding new ways to capture the world via apps and other such novel programs. The world is going to a new level of imagery. I heard about this while I was at an AWC wine tour with Stephen Williams.

The new trend among people is to get 3D printed shapes with their faces on it. It is so much nicer to use an image and instead of giving someone that boring vase or random souvenir to present a shape that is personalised and represents an important moment in their life. For example, baby 3D prints would look really cute if you want to make a present to the new parents.

Booths where you can get your ‘3D selfies’ are spreading throughout stores in the US, and are becoming a very popular staple there. A place in California even recreates ultrasound pictures of the babies in the womb. 

Just find a place and don’t forget your imagination when you get to the place. You can ask for your face to be printed on a Star Wars figurine, or whatever better can be fancied by your own imagination. 

The usual pictures are known to flatten and elongate faces. Besides that, they may not render some details. The more realistic 3D shapes are a step ahead for those who want more life for their images.

Lawmakers from Both Parties Defend the President’s Failed Rescue Mission

Had the hostage rescue mission President Obama ordered on Sunday safely brought the hostages home, the president would be a national hero today. However, the mission failed with both hostages, Luke Somers and Pierre Korkie, getting killed by their hostage takers. Somers was an American photojournalist, and Korkie was a South African school teacher. Ransom had already been arranged for Korkie who was set to be released later that same day.

Lawmakers from both parties were quick to voice their support for President Obama’s hostage rescue attempt. Some critics are saying the failed mission underscores the need to pay the terrorists ransom money. However, GOP Congressman Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, and Rep. Adam Schiff, who sits on the same committee, explained that paying ransom to Al Qaida is to fund their operations. They cited the atrocities that the terrorist group commits such as rape, forced slavery & marriage, and the targeted killing of innocent men, women, and children.

While a ransom will certainly benefit the person being held hostage, the lawmakers pointed out the hidden cost in such actions which result in nations encouraging more hostage taking activity.  That is easy to say, but no one has offered up solutions as to how these missions could be improved. As per Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the Pentagon conducts immensely thorough preparation for such missions.

A Rocky Mountain Man With a Brain