Raising awareness with a ‘stache!

 

In 2003, a group of guys in Melbourne, Australia wondered aloud why so few men grew mustaches anymore. They decided that over the course of the month of November, which they started calling “Movember”, they would each grow a mustache and show off what they had grown by the end of the month. At first, it was all fun and games, but before long they decided to turn their game into a fundraiser for prostate cancer research and other men’s health issues. They were soon seeing just how many people they could get to jump on the “Mo” bandwagon.

Today, Movember has become an international event, with more than a million participants this year, including me:

The rules are simple. After registering online, participants start the month of November clean-shaven, and grow a mustache over the course of the month. Meanwhile, they try to raise funds for charities such as the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the LIVESTRONG Foundation, and the Global Action Plan. They can raise money as individuals or they can join a team and compete to see who can raise the most. I participated as part of The MBA Challenge, a competition between MBA programs at universities around the world. If you want to help me and my team, click here.

Obviously, growing a mustache isn’t necessarily feasible for the ladies, but there are ways for so-called “Mo Sistas” to participate, too. Mainly, it involves raising awareness and encouraging people to join.

Personally, I think this fundraiser is a really cool idea, and I enjoyed participating. I am pretty sure this will become an annual tradition of mine. Who would have guessed that watching facial hair grow was so much fun?

If you want to join Movember, click here. To donate, click here. For more information, click here.

Give Others a Reason to be Thankful

A Thanksgiving Editorial

I was at a local Chevron station, getting a cup of coffee because it was 7 a.m. and I was still quite tired. However, I was awake enough to notice something about the coffee I was buying. The smallest size they carried – smallest, mind you – was labelled “Large” and came in a 16 oz. cup. That’s a pound of coffee. That was their SMALLEST available size; they carried two even larger sizes: a 20 oz. cup labelled “XL” and a 24 oz. cup just labelled “24 oz.”

I had bought coffee from this particular Chevron before, and had never noticed this bizarre sizing practice. However, it struck me on this particular morning because the day prior, I had gone with my father to do some pre-Christmas “reconnaissance shopping”, going from store to store to think of gift ideas and compare prices. While we were out, we had brunch at our local IHOP restaurant, and when I ordered an omelette, I received a giant platter with a massive, hoagie-sized pile of eggs, sausage, and spinach. And if that wasn’t enough, I got three pancakes with it. I simply couldn’t finish my meal. Then, while looking at the kitchenware section of Kohl’s, my dad commented that the cereal and soup bowls that were being sold were several times bigger than they used to be. “Those used to be considered serving bowls,” he told me.

Is it any wonder, then, that 35.7% of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?

I mean, McDonald’s may have gotten rid of “Supersize” meals, but Americans have appeared to lose all sense of what an appropriate portion size at mealtime really is. This problem has gotten bad enough that the USDA recently completely revamped their nutrition guides, replacing the Food Pyramid with the MyFoodPlate, which emphasizes (surprise, surprise) portion control.

But I’m not here to tell you how to eat. I’m just as guilty as everyone else for eating too much at times, and I’m about to really pig out for Thanksgiving.

No, the reason I’m writing today is a far, far more disturbing statistic. Last year, 50.1 million Americans didn’t reliably have enough food to eat. This figure includes 16.7 million American children. In 36 states, at least one in five children were going hungry. Not only that, but 9 million Americans over the age of 50 were also going hungry.

In a nation with the resources to provide us with 24 oz. of coffee in the morning and omelettes the size of hoagies, this is absolutely unacceptable. If we have the resources to pig out on Footlong Quarter-pound Coney hot dogs from Sonic and wash it down with a Big Gulp from 7-Eleven, we have the resources to make sure every American has enough food to eat.

In my hometown, the local Catholic Church runs an annual Thanksgiving food drive, and my family does its part by donating two whole Thanksgiving meals – turkey and all. There are similar organizations in every community for those who are well-off to help those who are not so well-off, from Food Banks to the Salvation Army to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Every little bit helps, even if it’s just a can of vegetables.

Here, visit FeedingAmerica.org, a national network of Food Banks, and find out more information on what you can do and where you can help. I urge everyone who is able to help those in need, and give somebody who would otherwise go hungry have something to be thankful for this year.

Behind the Headline: New Leaders Take Over China

For the first time, the public and press meet China’s new rulers. From front to back: Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhenzheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli. Image from Reuters and Xinhua.

Don’t think that our presidential election last week is the only major news regarding leadership transitions around the world this month. Indeed, the news out of China may soon be far more important. Yesterday, the public and press were introduced to the seven men who now rule China, and are likely to do so for the next ten years. China has undergone one of the most stunning periods of economic growth and social change in recent history, and it now is counted among the world’s superpowers, as evidenced by the fact it has the world’s third-largest economy.

Yet the country is also facing a number of crucial challenges that the country’s new leaders must face. The economy may still be growing, but it is slowing down, as the global recession’s impact sinks in. The rapid growth has brought wealth to a few and a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle previously unheard of to many, but poverty is still a huge problem as many are left behind by the changes. Corruption remains rampant, as evidenced by the huge scandal with the popular politician Bo Xilai when his wife Gu Kailai was accused and convicted of murdering a British businessman earlier this year. Chinese social media sites like Sina Weibo are showing that the people distrust their government and leaders. And on top of all of that, China’s relations with foreign countries could have a huge impact on the United States and the world.

The decisions the seven men in the above photo make could make the difference between whether China continues to be a major power or implodes and collapses, whether it remains peaceful or launches a potentially catastrophic war, whether its people continue to see a better future or are stuck in the despair of poverty, and whether China learns to work with the United States as friends or becomes our main global rival.

While Cat Flag can’t predict the future, it can take you Behind the Headline.

How does China pick its leaders, anyway?

Mao Zedong gained power by overthrowing Chiang Kai-Shek in a Communist revolution (okay, so he technically only drove him to Taiwan) and then ruled China until the day he died. There was then a struggle for power in the ruling Communist Party of China, which was won by Deng Xiaoping, who also ruled until he died. After that, the Party’s leadership decided they were done with strongmen ruling for life, and that power should be handed down to the next generation every few years. In 2002, then-ruler Jiang Zemin and his peers retired, and Hu Jintao became China’s new supreme leader. Now, it’s Hu Jintao’s turn to retire, and Xi Jinping will be taking his place.

This guy.

He will be China’s supreme leader, but he will be assisted by six other top officials, who together form the….

(*deep breath*)

…Central Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China.

This committee of seven will basically rule China for the next ten years, and then the cycle will be repeated again. Of course, China is not a democracy, it is a Communist dictatorship. (The word “Communist” is being used very loosely here, since, you know, you can find McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, Estee Lauder, and Levi’s all over China.) The people do not vote for who gets to be in the Central Politi- thingamajig.

The way it’s supposed to work, according to the Communist Party’s Constitution, is that Party members elect local and provincial Party congresses, who then elect the National People’s Congress, which then elects the Central Committee, which then elects the Politburo, and the super-mega-power-committee is a part of that Politburo. In effect, it’s a super-indirect election from bottom to top, kind of like our Electoral College, only bigger and more complicated.

But even that isn’t really how it works, either. It’s not really a secret at all that the multi-tier election system is just a big, scripted ceremony with no substance, and that all the decisions have been made long beforehand.

Wait, decided by whom?

That turns out to be one of the hardest questions to answer right now, because the Party’s internal proceedings are extremely secretive, and nobody who isn’t one of the Communist Party’s upper elite knows for sure what’s going on behind closed doors.

However, most people seem to agree that there are at least two (if not more) factions within the Party that struggle for power. These factions are based partly on their political agendas – reformers vs. conservatives, for instance – and partly by personal networking, as people who are hired or promoted by one guy are expected to back that guy up in future political struggles. For example, according to this analysis by the Economist, five of the seven members of this committee of awesomeness are members of the “princeling” faction (so-called because most of its members are children of top Party leaders of the past), including the top man Xi Jinping.

It is also widely believed that the older “retired” generations still have a lot of control over this process, basically arranging who their own successors will be.

So, who is Xi Jinping?

Photo by Feng Li of Getty Images.

The son of a war hero in the Long March, Xi is by all accounts an imposing guy. He is more than 6 feet tall, and by all accounts has a commanding presence when he walks in a room. He is pragmatic and down-to-earth; he is known to eat in canteens with ordinary workers.

When Xi was a youth, his father was sent to prison for falling foul of Mao Zedong, and like many educated youths from privileged families, he was put in a forced labor program called the “Down to the Countryside” movement, where he lived and worked on a peasant farm. Eventually, after the chaotic Cultural Revolution ended, he was able to study at Tsinghua University and get a degree in chemical engineering. He has moved up the Party ranks gradually over the years, attracting more and more attention from the top leaders.

One way Xi is remarkably different from his predecessors is his mouth. Chinese politicians usually speak very carefully in a jargon-filled, meaningless bureaucrat language. This is an actual quote from outgoing leader Hu Jintao’s speech: “We should improve the way in which income is distributed, protect lawful income, increase the income of low-income groups, adjust excessively high income, and prohibit illicit income.”

Xi Jinping, however, has a habit of telling it like it is and calling a spade a spade. In 2004, he scolded Party members by saying, “Rein in your spouses, children, relatives, friends and staff, and vow not to use power for personal gain.” In 2009, he famously ranted before a crowd in Mexico, “There are some well fed foreigners who have nothing better to do than point fingers at our affairs. China does not, first, export revolution; second, export poverty and hunger; third, cause troubles for you. What else is there to say?”

This openness and brutal honesty may be off-putting to Communist Party elite, but it seems to endear him to the Chinese public.

Another way Xi is a different kind of leader is that he spent some time living in the United States, at a farm in Iowa. He also has a daughter studying at Harvard University. His wife, Peng Liyuan, is a folk singer.

Who are the other members of this committee?

Li Keqiang is a true rags-to-riches story of a man who rose from the bottom rungs of Chinese society. He is to be the second-in-command of the new order. The favorite of outgoing leader Hu Jintao, Li is a champion of China’s poor.

 

 

 

Zhang Dejiang was probably picked because of how he tackled the fallout from the Bo Xilai scandal earlier this year, demonstrating his ability to keep a cool head in a crisis. While his boss Xi Jinping has ties to the United States, Zhang has ties to North Korea, having studied there for two years and started his career near the border between the two countries.

 

 

Yu Zhengsheng is probably one of China’s most well-connected figures, with close ties to the last three rulers of China. His father was also briefly married to Jiang Qing, who would go on to be Mao Zedong’s wife. He is also co-founder of two of China’s most successful businesses: Haier electronics and Tsingtao beer.

 

 

Liu Yunshan is the man in charge of China’s propaganda and censorship machine. In China, freedom of the press as Americans understand it doesn’t exist, and based on things Liu has said in public it seems he intends to keep it that way.

 

 

 

Wang Qishan is the most familiar face among the group, at least to American businessmen and diplomats. For years, he has traveled extensively to represent China at economic summits, trade negotiations, and the like. The former banker is said to have a “wicked sense of humor”.

 

 

 

Zhang Gaoli is the dark horse of the group. Little is known about him or his opinions, and he has kept a low profile until now. He was, however, very close to former ruler Jiang Zemin, which may in part explain his appointment.

 

 

 

These six officials will be something like our President’s cabinet, except that our President chooses who is in his cabinet while it is unclear just how much choice Xi Jinping had in picking his committee. Whatever happens, these seven men will have to learn to work together for China’s, and the world’s, greater good.

Information from BBC News, the Economist, and Business Insider.

Obama, Capps, Marx re-elected, and a 51st state on the way?

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama embrace on hearing the news that the president’s victory. Image from President Obama’s Facebook page.

To the chant of “Four More Years!” and the tune of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”, President Obama gave a speech to his supporters in Chicago in celebration of his victory last night. The president won 303 electoral votes to challenger and former Gov. Mitt Romney’s 206, with Florida’s votes still being counted and too close to call as of press time. To win, a presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes.

President Obama isn’t the only candidate who will get to keep his job. Voters on the Central Coast re-elected U.S. Representative Lois Capps (D) in a tight race against former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado (R). As of press time, with all precincts reporting, Capps won 51.53% of the vote in the 24th Congressional District, to Maldonado’s 48.47%. Maldonado congratulated Capps on her victory, before giving a short speech thanking his campaign workers. “It wasn’t easy, but nothing ever worth fighting for ever is,”he said. Capps told Bob Cuddy of The Tribune “It’s about what works for people… making a difference in people’s lives.”

And all three incumbent candidates in San Luis Obispo’s City Council election won their racesMayor Jan Marx by 62.87%, Dan Carpenter with 31.97% of the vote, and John Ashbaugh with 31.07% of the vote. (The top two candidates win seats in the city council.) Ashbaugh told AnnMarie Cornejo of The Tribune that the fact all three incumbents were re-elected is a vote of approval for the job they have been doing and the agenda they have for the coming term.

In other local elections, Roberta Fonzi and Bob Kelleywon their races for Atascadero City Council; Debbie Peterson won the race for mayor of Grover Beach with 74.92% of the vote in that city, and with Karen Bright and Jeff Lee joining her on the city council; Steven W. Martin and Fred Strong won their races for the Paso Robles City Council; and Ed Waage and Erik Howell won their races for the Pismo Beach City Council.

Interestingly, the people who will represent California’s Central Coast in the State Legislature include a Democrat and a Republican, and both won by landslides. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) will represent the 17th District in the state Senate, and Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) will be representing the 35th District in the Assembly.

Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) smiles as he learns he won the seat for the 35thDistrict in the California State Assembly. Image by David Middlecamp for The Tribune.

In California’s ballot initiatives, Propositions 30, 35, 36, 39, and 40 passed. Proposition 30 creates temporary taxes on Californians who earn more than $250,000 and a 1/4 cent increase in sales tax to fund education and local public safety officials. Prop 35 strengthens California’s human trafficking laws, Prop 36 amends the “Three-Strikes Law” so that it doesn’t apply to nonviolent offenses, and Prop 39 raises taxes on multi-state business who operate in California in order to fund green energy projects and research. Prop 40 is a simple referendum to approve a redistricting plan drawn up by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

California voters rejected Proposition 31, which would have given California a two-year budget cycle and given the Governor stronger powers in a fiscal emergency; Prop 32, which would have banned labor unions from supporting candidates with union dues; Prop 33, which would have allowed insurance companies to base a customer’s rates on their driving history regardless of who their prior insurance provider was; Prop 34, which would have banned the death penalty in California; Prop 37, which would have required foods that use artificially-genetically-modified crops be labeled as such; and Prop 38, an alternative to Prop 30 that would have raised income taxes across the board and guaranteed that the taxes go to the state’s schools.

Far away from California, another referendum is receiving the attention of the national media for its surprising result. Puerto Rico, the “Commonwealth in Free Association with the United States” in the Caribbean, has voted to become America’s 51st state. Sort of.

First of all, the ballot was non-binding. Any change to Puerto Rico’s status would have to be approved by Congress, although President Obama has said he will respect the island’s decision. Second, the referendum had two parts. Voters were first asked if they wanted to maintain Puerto Rico’s current relationship with the U.S., where they aren’t a state but are represented by the U.S. government in foreign policy and protected by our military, and where they have no vote for the presidency and only a nonvoting “delegate” in Congress but also don’t have to pay federal income taxes. After answering that question, they were then asked which of three futures they wanted for their island if it were to change its status: statehood, independence, or something called “sovereign free association” that would give them more control over their local affairs without full independence. The voters could vote for the second question however they wanted, even if they voted in favor of maintaining the status quo for the first one.

The results showed that 54% of voters were unsatisfied with the current arrangement, and 61% preferred statehood as the best alternative. Add to this the fact that many blank ballots were turned in – up to a third according to CNN – and the picture becomes far more complicated.

Still, the vote will put pressure on Congress to discuss Puerto Rico’s status. Hypothetically, if it did become a state, Puerto Rico would become the 29th most populous state and get two senators and five representatives in Congress. Its four million residents would start paying income taxes, while their government would be eligible for federal subsidies and grants of up to $20 billion. Supporters of Puerto Rican statehood also point out that Hawaii’s economy grew substantially after it joined the Union in 1959.

In the meantime, news analysts are already trying to piece together why President Obama won and why Mitt Romney lost. According to exit polls, Mitt Romney performed poorly among young voters and minority voters – according to CNN, Romney lost the Hispanic vote by a 44% margin. This article from Fox News says Obama won 93% of the African-American voteMore than a few voices argue that the Republicans are perceived far too much as the “white guys” party, in a country that is becoming less white demographically. This pundit says Mitt Romney failed to be anything more than “the acceptable alternative”, while this one said Romney was defeated by his opposition to the auto industry bailouts in 2009. This BBC reporter says Romney lost, at least in part, because he was seen as “not caring” about the middle class.

Whatever the reasons, President Obama now has to tackle the upcoming “fiscal cliff”, a set of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that will take effect on January 1 if the President and Congress don’t hammer out an alternative. The public demand for its leaders to find a solution will be high. It looks like the president will have to get right back to work.