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Tags: US | Top | Energy | Producer | Skills Gap Debunked | Baghdad Worst City to Live In | Millennials Most Politically Independent Generation

US Leads World as Energy Producer; 'Skills Gap' Debunked; Baghdad Worst City to Live In

By    |   Sunday, 30 March 2014 02:18 PM EDT

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Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. US Now World's Top Energy Producer
2. The 'Skills Gap' Called a Myth
3. Baghdad Named Worst City to Live In
4. Millennials Most Politically Independent Generation
5. US: Execution of 529 Brotherhood Members 'Unconscionable'
6. Three States Get Failing Grade for Charter School Laws

1. US Now World's Top Energy Producer

Thanks to fracking technology and horizontal drilling techniques, the United States has gone from a large-scale energy importer to the world's top producer — a development with far-reaching consequences.

America produced an average of about 12.1 million barrels of crude oil, natural gas liquids, and biofuels a day in 2013 — that's 300,000 barrels a day more than Saudi Arabia and 1.6 million more than Russia, the two previous leaders.

U.S. production of crude oil alone rose by a record 991,000 barrels a day last year, according to the International Energy Agency. And oil imports declined by 16 percent, from $310 billion to $268 billion.

Fracking has enabled shale-gas production in North Dakota, Texas, and the formation that crosses parts of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York to account for 44 percent of total U.S. natural gas output.

"The hydrocarbon boom in the United States is driven by fracking," according to a report from the Hoover Institution headlined "Three Cheers for Fracking."

In the 1970s, some experts predicted that America would run out of natural gas, and between the early 1990s and 2008, U.S. oil production fell steadily. World oil prices rose and American imports increased, especially from unstable, often unfriendly nations.

"Fracking has upended all of this," declared Gary D. Libecap, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and an economics professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Fracking and horizontal drilling enable drillers to extract hydrocarbon deposits that would otherwise be inaccessible or too expensive to extract.

As a consequence, fracking has:

  • Lowered overall energy prices
  • Increased U.S. exports of natural gas
  • Eliminated imports of liquid natural gas by the United States, saving $100 billion a year
  • Benefited most world economies by tempering oil and gas price increases
  • Lowered U.S. demand for oil from Venezuela, where rulers have been increasingly autocratic
  • Shown the way for new oil and gas production in Europe, reducing dependence on supplies from Russia
  • Expanded American manufacturing due to lower and more certain energy costs compared to other nations
  • Contributed to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as the country shifts from coal-fired energy plants to natural gas-fired facilities
  • Directly increased U.S. employment in oil and gas extraction by 28,000 jobs between 2007 and 2011 alone, and indirectly by 45,000 in new employment in support industries

 Fracking and natural gas production, Libecap concludes, have been "good for the economy, good for democracies worldwide, and good for the environment."

It could be even better. According to the Institute for Policy Innovation, the federal government owns 28 percent of U.S. land, including 62 percent of Alaska and 47 percent of 11 Western states. Companies would be willing to drill there, but the Obama administration has delayed and denied drilling permits, and production on federal lands has fallen 23 percent since 2007.

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2. The 'Skills Gap' Called a Myth

It's referred to as the "skills gap" — the idea that millions of jobs are unfilled because employers can't find workers with the skills to tackle them.

But is there really a skills gap? That's the question posed by Aaron M. Renn, founder of Telestrian, a data analysis and mapping tool.

"In select cases I'm sure there's a mismatch in skill, but for the most part I don't think so," he said.

Renn cites "one random example" of the perpetuation of the skills gap myth, an article in U.S. News & World Report last year that asserted: "Some 82 percent of manufacturers say they can't find workers with the right skills. Even with so many people looking for jobs, we're struggling to attract the next generation of workers."

But Renn declares: "I believe the purported inability of firms to find qualified workers is due largely to three factors: employer behaviors, limited geographic scope, and unemployability.

"It's in the best interest of employers to claim there's a skills gap. The existence of such a gap can be used as leverage to obtain public policy considerations or subsidies."

Employer behavior includes insufficient pay. "If you can't find qualified workers, that's a powerful market signal that your salary offer is too low," Renn writes in an article that first appeared in The Urbanophile. "Higher wages will not only find you workers, they also send a signal that attracts newcomers into the industry."

Other employer behaviors contributing to a perceived skills gap include extremely picky hiring practices — often used to legally justify hiring someone from offshore who can be paid less — and an unwillingness to invest in training.

Referring to "limited geographic scope," Renn asserts that America often has solved unemployment problems through migration, and people need to be willing to move to where the job opportunities are.

A third problem is unemployability. "If you're a high school dropout, a drug user, etc., you are going to find it tough slogging to find work anywhere, regardless of skills required," Renn observes.

He concludes: "I hope this gives you a sense of some of the trends that explain why there can be persistent unemployment with many job openings without recourse to a skills gap to explain it."

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3. Baghdad Named Worst City to Live In

Each year the human resources consulting firm Mercer ranks the world's major cities according to a number of factors to determine their desirability or undesirability as places to live.

And for the 11th consecutive year, Baghdad, Iraq, is at the bottom of the list.

Mercer's rankings are designed "to help multinational companies and other employers compensate employees fairly when placing them on international assignments," according to the company's website.

Factors considered include political stability, crime rate, air pollution, media censorship, limitations on personal freedom, medical services, public transportation, traffic congestion, recreation, and climate.

Baghdad, the violence-plagued Iraqi capital, again ranks last, at No. 233 out of 233 cities, followed by Bangui, Central African Republic (No. 222); Port-au-Prince, Haiti (221); N'Djamena, Chad (220); and Sana'a, Yemen (219).

Vienna, Austria, is rated as the best city to live in, followed by Zurich, Switzerland; Auckland, New Zealand; Munich, Germany; and Vancouver, Canada.

The German cities of Dusseldorf and Frankfurt are also in the top 10 of the Mercer Quality of Living Survey 2014.

"European cities enjoy a high overall quality of living compared to those in other regions," said Slagin Parakatil, senior researcher at Mercer. "Healthcare, infrastructure, and recreational facilities are generally of a very high standard."

The lowest-ranked city in Europe is Tbilisi, Georgia, at No. 191 overall.

In North America, Ottawa, Canada, is second behind Vancouver, at 14 overall, followed by Toronto (15) and Montreal (23) in Canada, and San Francisco (27).

Mexico City is the lowest in North America, at No. 122, followed by Detroit (70), St. Louis (67), Houston (66), and Miami (65).

The top-ranked cities in Central and South America are Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe (69), and San Juan, Puerto Rico (72). The lowest-ranked after Port-au-Prince are Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Caracas, Venezuela.

Singapore is tops in Asia (25), followed by Tokyo (43). At the bottom is Dushanbe, Tajikistan (209).

In the Middle East and Africa region, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is highest-ranked at 73, and Baghdad, of course, is the lowest.

"The Middle East and especially Africa remain one of the most challenging regions for multinational organizations and expatriates," said Parakatil.

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4. Millennials Most Politically Independent Generation

An extensive survey by the Pew Research Center finds that millennials — those Americans born after 1980 — share views that can be strikingly different from previous generations.

Pew compared four generations on a number of issues: the Millennial Generation, Generation X (born 1965 to 1980), Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964), and the Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945).

"The Millennial Generation is forging a distinctive path into adulthood," Pew reported. "Now ranging in age from 18 to 33, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry — and optimistic about the future.

"In all these dimensions, they are different from today's older generations."

The Pew report was based on a new survey and an analysis of other Pew surveys conducted between 1990 and 2014.

In regard to political affiliation, 50 percent of millennials consider themselves independents, compared to 39 percent of gen Xers, 37 percent of boomers, and 32 percent of silents.

That's not surprisingly considering that 26 percent of millennials believe there is "hardly any" difference in what the Republican and Democratic parties stand for, and 39 percent think there is only "a fair amount" of difference.

That contrasts sharply with the silents — 58 percent say there is "a great deal" of difference and just 19 percent say there is "hardly any."

As for religious affiliation, 29 percent of millennials are religiously unaffiliated, compared to 21 percent of gen Xers, 16 percent of boomers, and just 9 percent of silents.

In a similar vein, 11 percent of millennials do not believe in God, about twice the percentage of the older generations, and another 28 percent say they believe but are not certain.

Only 26 percent of millennials are married, while 36 percent of gen Xers were married when they were the age that millennials are now, as were 48 percent of boomers and 65 percent of silents.

Due perhaps to their reluctance to wed, millennials lead all generations in the share of out-of-wedlock births — in 2012, 47 percent of births to millennial women were out of wedlock.

Other findings of the Pew survey include:

  • 81 percent of millennials are on Facebook, and their median number of friends is 250.
  • Just 19 percent of millennials say that most people can be trusted, compared to 31 percent of gen Xers, 40 percent of boomers, and 37 percent of silents.
  • 49 percent of millennials say the country's best years are ahead, a view held by 42 percent of gen Xers, 44 percent of boomers, and 39 percent of silents.
  • In another optimistic note, 53 percent of millennials say that while they don't earn or have enough money now, they will in the future, and 32 percent say they earn or have enough now. Just 14 percent say they don't earn or have enough now and won't in the future, less than half the percentage of the other three generations.
  • Millennials are the best-educated generation in American history — one-third of those ages 26 to 33 have a four-year college degree or more. But two-thirds of recent bachelor's degree recipients have outstanding student loans, with an average debt of about $27,000.
  • A slight majority of millennials — 51 percent — describe themselves as supporters of gay rights. But just 32 percent say they are environmentalists, the lowest percentage among the four generations.

Editor's Note:

5. US: Executions of 529 Brotherhood Members 'Unconscionable'

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said it would be "unconscionable" for Egypt to carry out the death sentences a court handed down to 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, warning that the executions would "impact" American aid.

The court sentenced the members of the outlawed Islamist group on Monday after a two-day mass trial, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Most of the defendants at the hearing were detained during clashes that erupted in the southern province of Minya after the forced dispersal of two Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo in August. They were accused of murder and other offenses.

The death sentences "represent a flagrant disregard for basic standards of justice," said the State Department's Marie Harf.

"The imposition of the death penalty for 529 defendants after a two-day summary proceeding cannot be reconciled with Egypt's obligations under international human rights law, and its implementation of these sentences would be unconscionable."

Secretary of State John Kerry said on March 12 that he would decide "in the days ahead" whether to resume American aid to Egypt, which was suspended last year over the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Said Harf: "We are determining if this assistance will stay suspended, if more will be suspended, if some will be brought back on line. And suffice it to say, things like [these] outrageous, shocking, unconscionable actions that the Egyptian government is taking will, of course, have an impact on that decision."

Only 123 of the defendants were in court. The rest were either released, out on bail, or on the run.

The day after the sentences were handed down, Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and 682 others went on trial in the same court.

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6. Three States Get Failing Grade for Charter School Laws

More than half of U.S. states earn a grade of C or below for their charter school laws — and just five earn an A, according to a new report.

"With the length of the average charter school waiting list increasing to nearly 300 students, there absolutely needs to be a sense of urgency around creating strong charter school laws that will accelerate the pace of growth to meet demand," said Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform (CER), which released the 15th edition of its Charter School Laws Across the States report.

And Alison Consoletti, the CER's executive vice president and lead author of the report, said: "While it is true the charter school sector in the United States has grown at a steady, linear pace since the first charter school law was passed in 1991, we know the highest charter school enrollment growth is in jurisdictions with strong charter school laws."

The CER assigns a numerical value to four major charter school law components that have an impact on the creation and development of charters:

  • Multiple authorizers — does the school board authorize charters, or does the state permit independent authorizers to create and manage charter schools.
  • Number of schools allowed — is the number capped and do the caps impede the growth of charters.
  • Operations — how much independence do charter schools and teachers have.
  • Equitable funding — do charters receive the same amount of money for each student and do they receive financial support from the same sources as other public schools.

States also gain or lose points according to their accountability and how well they implement the law.

These rules must be codified in law, "otherwise they fall prey to the whims of politicians," Kerwin said. "We are seeing this play out right now in New York City under Mayor Bill de Blasio," who announced plans to slash funding for charter schools.

Among the 43 states (including the District of Columbia) that have charter school laws, five receive an A grade from the CER: Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, Arizona, and the District of Columbia. They all receive high marks for multiple authorizers and number of schools allowed.

States receiving a B grade are New York, Florida, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Missouri, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Eight states earned a grade of D: Rhode Island, Illinois, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Alaska, Connecticut, Maryland, and Wyoming.

Virginia, Iowa, and Kansas received an F grade from the Center. They scored very poorly in teacher freedom and school district autonomy.

The other 18 states got a C grade.

Mississippi showed the biggest improvement from last year, moving from an F to a C. Arizona rose from a B to an A, and Wisconsin improved from a C to a B.

"As the nation celebrates 20-plus years of charter schools, history suggests state laws need to be modeled after success, not theory," Kerwin said. "There should be no excuses from elected officials now that we have powerful evidence of what works."

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US,Top,Energy,Producer,Skills Gap Debunked,Baghdad Worst City to Live In,Millennials Most Politically Independent Generation,Execution of 529 Brotherhood Members Unconscionable,Failing Grade for Charter School Laws
Sunday, 30 March 2014 02:18 PM
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