Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Law Tomorrow

indiegainesville

Okay, first off: if you’re still texting and driving, stop. Seriously.  You have less than 24 hours to give that up, too, because starting tomorrow (October 1, 2013), Florida’s law against texting and driving goes into effect.

The law was passed to keep the roads as safe as possible.

What you need to know about the law:

1. Don’t text and drive EVER. (Okay, so that’s just seemingly common sense…)

2. Texting while driving (TWD?) isn’t enough to get you pulled over. TWD is a secondary offence, which means there has to be another reason for you to be pulled over.

You must be in violation of another law first, like speeding, not wearing your seatbelt, your taillight is out, etc.

3. You may not TWD, but you can: use your phone for music, navigational apps, or to pick up a call.

4. Texting while driving will be a no…

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New Study Finds High Levels of Arsenic in Groundwater Near Fracking Sites

Samuel Mutch

by Theodoric Meyer ProPublica, Aug. 8, 2013, 10:45 a.m.

A recently published study by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington found elevated levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in groundwater near natural gas fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale.

frackingWhile the findings are far from conclusive, the study provides further evidence tying fracking to arsenic contamination. An internal Environmental Protection Agency PowerPoint presentation recently obtained by the Los Angeles Times warned that wells near Dimock, Pa., showed elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater. The EPA also found arsenic in groundwater near fracking sites in Pavillion, Wyo., in 2009 — a study the agency later abandoned.

ProPublica talked with Brian Fontenot, the paper’s lead author, about how his team gasdrilling 2carried out the study and why it matters. (Fontenot and another author, Laura Hunt, work for the EPA in Dallas, but they conducted the study on their…

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Morality: is it Public and Private or Joint Morality?

One pundit claims the United States is “still legislating and regulating private morality, while at the same time ignoring the much larger crisis of public morality in America.”

I agree to a point but I also believe that there is only one type of morality and that is a morality that is both private and public, thus it is a joint morality.

If people on Wall Street and within the securities and banking businesses had their own private morality it would have carried over into the public sector and there would be no need for us to legislate “Public Morality.”

Last week, JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s and one of the world’s largest banks, was found to have misled its shareholders and the public about its $6 billion “London Whale” losses in 2012.  There an officer of the bank thought “greed” was the only manner in which to get ahead in the business, even after seeing what happened in 2008.  She covered-up a $ 6 billion “mistake.”

This is the same JPMorgan that’s leading the charge against the Dodd-Frank Act, designed to protect the public from another Wall Street meltdown and taxpayer-funded bailout.

Lobbyists, or the “Amoral Army,” for the giant banks have been systematically kicking the teeth out of Dodd-Frank, leaving nothing but the gums.  Our federal legislators are still dependent on the Amoral Army, is that a surprise?

The so-called “Volcker Rule,” intended to prevent the banks from making risky bets with federally-insured commercial deposits — itself a watered-down version of the old Glass-Steagall Act — still hasn’t seen the light of day.  If the people had their way the Glass-Steagall Act would be reenacted.

Last week, Republicans and Democrats, in a surprising act of bipartisanship, on the House Agriculture Committee passed bills to weaken Dodd-Frank — expanding exemptions and allowing banks that do their derivative trading in other countries (i.e.,JPMorgan) to avoid the new rules altogether.  But why you ask, is the House Agriculture Committee dealing with derivative trading?  Ask the Amoral Army and your local farm state representative in Congress.  $$$

Meanwhile, House Republicans voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act in its entirety, as part of their budget plan.  Speaker Boehner (correct pronunciation in Saxon German is “bo-ner.”)

And still no major Wall Street executives have been held accountable for the wild betting that led to the near meltdown in 2008.  Attorney General Eric Holder says the big banks are too big to prosecute.  Maybe they are too big to serve.  Maybe they are too big to bank in the United States.

Our friend the pundit calls the members of Congress who speak about private morality out of one side of their mouth and then vote for against public morality the “Morality Brigade.”  Why doesn’t the Morality Brigade complain about the rampant greed on Wall Street that’s already brought the economy to its knees, wiping out the savings of millions of Americans and subjecting countless others to joblessness and insecurity — and seems set on doing it again?

What people do in their bedrooms shouldn’t be the public’s business. Women should have rights over their own bodies. Same-sex couples should be allowed to marry and adopt children who need two parents.  People should have the right to say what they believe-in.  The Amoral Army and Congress should look at Newtown and say enough is enough.

Is what powerful people do in their boardrooms is the public’s business?  Our democracy needs to be protected from the depredations of big money to keep the Amoral Army from running Congress. Our economy needs to be guarded against the excesses of too-big-to-fail banks.

In recent weeks right-to-life state legislators, most of whom are male, have decided to thwart the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right control their own bodies and to keep old men from legislating what woman can do and not do with their bodies.

Now woman can have an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy, and later if medically necessary.  The common law recognized that a fetus was not a person and a person was only a living person, a baby who had been delivered.  That was until some old men in our various legislators made fetuses living people in the Nineteenth Century.

Last week legislators in North Dakota passed a bill banning abortions after six weeks or after a fetal heart beat had been detected, and approved a fall referendum that would ban all abortions by defining human life as beginning with conception.

Wait a minute. WHO is running North Dakota? the people, the legislators or has the state succeeded and joined the Holy See?

Lawmakers in Arkansas have banned abortions within twelve weeks of conception–that never happened when Bill Clinton was governor!

The Morality Brigade worries about fetuses, but not what happens to children after they’re born.

They and other conservatives have been cutting funding for child nutrition, healthcare for infants and their mothers, and schools. See how WIC was one of the first victims of the sequestration?

The new House Republican budget gets a big chunk of its savings from programs designed to help poor kids. The budget sequester already in effect takes aim at programs like Head Start, designed to improve the life chances of poor kids.  The Amoral Army and its Morality Brigade are on the warpath.

Meanwhile, the Morality Brigade continues to battle same-sex marriage.  Why? Are they afraid they may have to fess-up and marry their boyfriends? Are they afraid homosexuality is contagious?

Despite the Supreme Court’s willingness to consider the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, no one should assume a majority of the justices will strike it down. The Court could just as easily decide the issue is up to the states, or strike down California’s law while allowing other states to continue their bans.  In the past the only time the federal government interfered with state control of marriage was when it kept Utah a territory until it banned polygamy.  Why did those Nieteenth Century Legislators who were well known cocks-men, ban a practice that they practiced but called it adultery?

Morality Brigade and the Amoral Army don’t want women to have control over their bodies or same-sex couples to marry, but they don’t give a hoot about billionaires taking over our democracy for personal gain or big bankers taking over our economy.

Yet these violations of public morality are far more dangerous to our society because they undermine the public trust that’s essential to both our democracy and economy.

Three years ago, at the behest of a right-wing group called “Citizens United,” the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in politics by deciding corporations were “people” under the First Amendment.  Does the corporations heart ever beat?

A record $12 billion was spent on election campaigns in 2012, affecting all levels of government.  Much of it came from billionaires like the Koch brothers and casino-magnate Sheldon Adelson, hardly a member of the Morality Brigade but surely a member of the Amoral Army, by seeking fewer regulations, lower taxes, and weaker trade unions.

Morality Brigade and the Amoral Army didn’t entirely succeed but the billionaires established a beachhead for the midterm elections of 2014 and beyond.

If people had private morality there would be no need for public morality.  Yet, no one should confuse the two.  Many publicly amoral people may have a private morality that does not see stealing from the poor to give to the rich as amoral.  What the pundit is saying is that this country needs to merge its public and private morality and be as generous with our neighbors as we would have them be to us.

GRU vs. cyberwarfare

My post, via

Over the past decade I have become more concerned about cyberattacks to U.S. defenses, industry, infrastructure and my own companies’ IT systems. As a Gainesville resident for 39 years and a former city planning director, I am also very concerned about cyberattacks against the city, Gainesville Regional Utilities and the systems that make up “command centers” for our governmental infrastructure within the city.

About two years ago an Iranian cyberwarfare group attacked the IT system of the Saudi Arabian national oil company Aramco. This attack destroyed more than 30,000 individual computers, all internal networks, the storage capacity for the information technology of that company and its ability to recover its information. This was not well publicized, as most cyberattacks are not publicized. Aramco was able to renew its IT system but at great expense and great loss of income.

A recent cyberattack was made on the Federal Reserve System. This attack retrieved the computer passwords used by bankers and banking institutions to obtain access to the Federal Reserve’s IT system, placing our monetary supply at risk. This was in fact an attack by a belligerent power against the finances of the U.S. and the entire world.

Last May, I attended a conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. One of the main presentations was from the newly appointed department head for the Department of Cyber-Warfare at the academy. His department is teaching a class for the entering plebe class (freshman class) and one to the first-class midshipmen (senior class). Those classes are the limits of the department’s capabilities at present. He emphasized that within three years there would be an academic major provided for midshipmen in cyberwarfare. An entirely new building will house this department.

The computers within the department are not connected to the Internet nor are they even connected to the academy’s intranet. The department does this so there can be no hacking into its programs or systems.

There are thousands of attempts each day to hack into the computers of the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, among other federal departments and agencies. The Defense Department and other agencies responsible for national defense have thousands of “troops” involved in identifying cyberattacks and countering them. Most of these attacks originate from China, Iran, countries of the former Soviet Union and such non-state belligerents as al-Qaida.

The easiest way to destroy the ability of the United States to defend itself from a paralyzing “first strike” is to attack two sectors of our economy that are poorly defended. An attack against our financial markets would throw the entire world economy into chaos and could make the great recession of 2008 look like a minor financial fluctuation.

The second and most important sector of the economy that is at risk is the U.S. electrical grid. We all remember the blackout of 2002 when one transformer or circuit switch in Ohio brought down most of the grid in the entire Northeast United States for about a day.

We, the owners of Gainesville Regional Utilities, need to know if there has been a national emphasis on protecting the infrastructure grid for electrical power. One strength of our electrical system is that electrical power can be transferred from one utility to another depending upon demand. However, this interconnection is one of the major dangers.

Grids are controlled by stations that permit power to flow from one utility to the next. If a cyberattack were to be made upon one or more of these centers, the U.S. grids could be brought down and equipment could be destroyed. The U.S. would be placed into a situation that it has not been in since the turn of the 20th century, when most of the country was not served by an electrical system.

Think of what would happen to industry, transportation, health care and the other sectors of the great American economy. Manufacturing industries would be shut down until energy could be restored. Traffic signals around the U.S. would be nonfunctional and traffic would gridlocked in urban areas. All transportation would come to an end once the fuels available to each vehicle were consumed and if there was no electricity to pump fuels at service stations. You can imagine the problems with health care, education and all the other sectors of the economy that depend on electricity.

My concern for GRU is whether it has a plan for the effects of a cyberwarfare attack upon the electrical grids. The City Commission, as the GRU board of directors, must ensure that senior management will immediately look into this issue.

A cyber-defense bill has never made it through Congress. With the stalemate in Congress, I believe that it is imperative as a progressive community, like Gainesville, to immediately address this issue. We will all face cyberwarfare and the effects of attacks as this form of warfare becomes more prevalent in the future. Gainesville needs to act before it is engulfed in the international cyberwarfare that is presently in its beginning stages.

Samuel Mutch lives in Gainesville.

Markets are Surging, Is Now the Time to Increase Risk? A Prospective on Investing

February 2013.

With major stock markets climbing back to within a few percentage points of their record highs in 2008, many investors are just now increasing risk by adding more stocks to portfolios.  Certainly, recent mutual fund flow data reported by Investment Company Institute show investors are loading-up on stock mutual funds at rapid rate.

By itself, a spike in equity fund flows may be viewed as a contrary indicator, with a negative influence on future returns.  That is the contrarian point of view to which many “investment advisors” were proponents of prior to the Great Recession.  Theoretically, when so many investors are bullish, they have already bought, which leaves relatively few new buyers.  Any bad news could cause a stampede of sellers, without enough off-setting buyers.  In this scenario, prices cannot help but decline. 

However, there is a great amount of pent-up demand for the market and stocks after five years of a recession.  That also means there is cash in peoples’ pockets which is making 1.0% to 1.5% in returns if they are lucky.       

It seems many investors are chasing performance, investing in the asset classes that did well in the recent past. Many investors missed much of the move up in stocks since the Great Recession in 2008, because they were overly fearful.  Now some of these investors run the risk of getting back in near the high point of the Market.  Not surprisingly, “buying high” after a market rally is not a strategy recommended by most successful investors.  It can be a recommendation of investment advisers who only want to make a buck from their clients.

At this time, organizations, like the Gainesville Charitable Foundation, may be inclined to chase the markets higher by increasing exposure to risky assets. This is NOT a prediction of pending market doom or a recommendation to sell all stocks. Positions in equities (stocks) maintain should make-up a healthy allocation in most investment portfolios. My suggested approach includes the following:

  • Disregard the elation that comes along with market rallies
  • Dodge the urge to “buy high”
  • Be ready to buy at the next “panic in the market”
  • Stick to your long-term market plan for the percentage of assets in each type of investment

For now, the trend is definitely to the upside.  Should stock prices continue higher, the Gainesville Charitable Foundation should be poised with a portfolio that will participate.

The Gainesville Charitable Foundation must determine the direction it wishes to go.  Don’t listen to people who make their money churning the account of the Gainesville Charitable Foundation.  The Gainesville Charitable Foundation board of directors must be pleased with the overall strategy during the 2012 year of investing.  Compare the Gainesville Charitable Foundation’s portfolio with the market indicators.   Did Gainesville Charitable Foundation generally benefit from last year’s and January 2013’s strong market?  What does the Gainesville Charitable Foundation believe were the soundest asset allocation decisions it made over the past thirteen months?

 It is important to note that there can be many good reasons to consider increasing risk.  Not all risk is bad.  Most investors need to accept some level of risk to achieve their financial goals. The circumstances of the Gainesville Charitable Foundation may very well make it prudent to shift towards a more aggressive portfolio.  If so someone needs to assist the board of directors to make that switch.  I believe the key is to focus on a long-term strategy based on research, not emotional factors such as fear and greed.  I also don’t believe the “black box” approach but a real investment strategy than which the investment adviser   

 

Major Markets

Total Returns

 

1-Month

12-Month

Vanguard Total Bond Index Fund

-0.72%

2.40%

Vanguard 500 Index Fund

5.18%

16.61%

iShares Russell 2000 Index Fund

6.24%

15.71%

Vanguard Total International Index Fund

3.34%

13.81%

Source: Morningstar (data as of 1/31/2013)

The index funds in this chart are provided for informational purposes only and should not be used as the basis for making an investment decision.