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.

City Missing Key Players Ahead of Everton Test

Manchester City have been in very good form over the past few weeks. The Manchester club has racked up four straight wins in the Premier League, while they also managed to defeat Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Despite these great performances, there is plenty more work for City to do in both competitions.

Their latest test in the Premier League comes at home against Everton. The Merseyside club has struggled in recent weeks, but their form against City has always been very good. Under David Moyes, Everton managed to beat City three times in a row over the past few years.

City will have to deal with the Everton threat without two important players: Stevan Jovetic and David Silva.

Both absences are a blow to City manager Manuel Pellegrini. Jovetic was in great form as City beat Southampton 3-0 over the weekend, while Silva is one of their best players. Edin Dzeko and Jesus Navas are expected to replace the duo in the starting eleven, with the likes of Toure, Fernandinho, Aguero and Nasri retaining their places from the last game. Susan McGalla is still hoping they can put it all together.

A few more successive wins over the December period could see City put serious pressure on league leaders Chelsea.

Three States Are Now Calling For A Constitutional Convention

Illinois is now the third state (along with Vermont and California) to call for a Constitutional Convention on the matter of getting money out of politics. It is something that has the people behind Wolf-Pac quite excited. They are the ones who are leading an effort to get the states to call for the convention and hopefully get some of the laws regarding unlimited spending by corporations in elections repealed.

It is a long road ahead for those who are behind these efforts. says to even get a Constitutional convention in the first place requires that 34 of the 50 states call for one. After that, a proposed amendment to the Constitution to ban unlimited spending by corporations would require 38 out of 50 states ratifying the amendment. That is something that has not been done in hundreds of years. However, the people behind this movement see this as the only path forward for their issue. They do not believe that elected members of the government will act on this alone.

It is a tricky issue to navigate, but having another state calling for this convention is something that is encouraging the people behind the movement. Eventually, Gianfrancesco Genoso feels like it is going to happen.

Jindal Makes Statements on Foreign Policy

Jindal is a likely contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, and he made an effort to clarify his positions.

There is a clear divide between the majority opinion in the Republican Party and the opinions of newcomers like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul when it comes to interventionism.

Jindal mentioned that America must seek peace through strength, not lead from behind, use coalitions to accomplish its goals when feasible, and must not become “the world’s policemen.” He said that we cannot afford to retreat from the world they way Obama did when he pulled our troops out of Iraq. Iraq and Syria became unstable and savaged by ISIS due to Obama’s retreat, Jindal explained. Jindal pointed out that often we end up paying a higher price in “treasure and blood” when we retreat from crucial battlefields and have to come back later to defeat a stronger enemy. 

Rand Paul and the new non-interventionist wing of the GOP might agree with much of what Jindal uttered, but would likely apply it differently. There would be fewer battles found worthy of committing American troops to winning with someone like Paul at the helm. 


CDC Reports Flu Vaccines Less Effective Due to Virus Mutation

One of my LinkedIn connections, Jonathan Veitch, shared a link to an advisory released by the CDC on Tuesday, that disclosed on how the Flu vaccine may be less effective due to strain mutation after the creation of the vaccine this year. The particular strain mutation in question is Drifted Influenza A (H3N2) Viruses.

Through evaluation of collected viruses so far this year, the CDC remarks about 52% of the Influenza A viruses are different, or drifted, from H3N2 viruses in previous years, those that the vaccine was designed to protect against.

Additionally, it’s important to note that the flu vaccine is still highly recommended for all patients over the age of 6 months, as it offers protection against a number of strains of the virus. Additionally, any people that present with flu-like symptoms and who are high risk for complications seek care from a physician to determine diagnosis and start antiviral treatment as necessary.

France Fronts ‘Debt of Gratitude’ to Russia

Being the most popular political party in France, Front National has yet to answer some of the issues being bombarded to them. In a recent report, Front National confirmed its acceptance of money from a Russian bank despite political unrests with Kremlin within European nations.

Marine Le Pen, Front National leader, disclosed the party had borrowed £7 million in September from the Russian-owned First Czech-Russian Bank. Front National also admitted that this was their way of coping up since most Western banks they turned into, refused to provide them loans.

The Western banks’ refusal forced them to accept the offer of First Czech-Russian Bank to fuel of course, their political endeavors. Given the rumors and the political unrests, Front National argues that the loan will not affect in any matter of perspective, their international position.

This is with the political issues of other European nations with Russia’s lending money to Greece’s neofascist Golden Dawn, Italy’s Northern League and other anti-Europe parties. Although Marine Le Pen and her party already issued their statements, experts still are in doubt that the party will not be able to disagree with Russia when the time comes, if ever political decisions will be made given their debt obligations.

A Rocky Mountain Man With a Brain