- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Dec. 23

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on concussions:

The days of dismissing concussions in athletics as merely “getting your bell rung,” proceeded by “clearing the cobwebs” and returning to the playing field as soon as possible, are forever gone. Medical research has shown that concussions can have severe, lifelong effects, and it has changed the way sports - from the professional ranks on down - deal with head injuries.

However, even as public awareness has grown and protocols have been changed to protect athletes, there are gaps in the process that must be eliminated.

For instance, as The News-Journal’s Skyler Swisher and Annie Martin reported Sunday, the Volusia County school district has kept incomplete records of student concussions. The district has lost medical records, failed to monitor concussions on a systemwide basis and left it largely to principals and athletic directors to handle the issue.

As a result, it’s impossible to know how many concussions have occurred and where they are occurring, thus undermining efforts to prevent traumatic brain injuries.

But it’s not just a Volusia County failing. Florida does not require schools to keep records on concussions, despite the fact the state in 2012 passed a law requiring players with symptoms of a concussion to be removed from competition or practice until they receive written clearance from a licensed doctor. Then, they must gradually return to play.

Without thorough records, how can the state and local school districts know if the concussion protocols are working?

Volusia County’s 10 high schools have reported 167 concussions in 11 sports since the start of the 2012-13 school year, according to data The News-Journal received earlier this month. Yet, physicians believe that number to be low because of underreporting. Deltona High School, for example, which hasn’t reported a concussion in three years, discarded two years of records because the trainer’s room had been infested with rodents and needed to be thoroughly cleaned. DeLand High could not locate records for the previous two years because the athletic trainer was no longer employed by the district and could not be found.

Unknowns hover over the concussion issue. Last year, a report by the National Academy of Sciences and funded by the NFL found that the average high school football player is nearly twice as likely to suffer a brain injury as a college player. Officials struggled to explain why, though. One doctor speculated that high school athletes are more likely to report concussions because they are living at home with parents who are aware of the risks, while another noted that younger brains are more vulnerable to harm and take longer to recover from a concussion.

The authors of the study cautioned that their estimates are likely conservative because many concussions go unreported and because data on such injuries is limited.

Furthermore, Florida does not mandate that students undergo baseline testing before playing a sport so results can be compared to a similar exam that is administered if a concussion is suspected. Changes can occur even if there’s no single concussion. Research has shown that repeated minor contact to the head, such as an offensive and defensive lineman colliding on each football play or a soccer player heading the ball, can create “micro-traumas” that can be cumulatively damaging.

Before schools can tackle the funding challenges of increasing the number of athletic trainers to improve athlete safety, they must take the fundamental step of improving their record-keeping on concussions. The lack of data is an obstacle to learning about brain trauma and reducing its occurrence.




Dec. 22

Miami Herald on Venezuela:

As expected, President Obama last week signed legislation imposing sanctions on government officials in Venezuela responsible for violence and human-rights violations in the wake of anti-government protests early this year. It will allow the president to freeze assets and deny or revoke visas of Venezuelan officials.

The president’s signature is the culmination of a tireless and persistent effort by critics of the Venezuelan government, most prominently Sen. Marco Rubio, to do something substantive to demonstrate American displeasure with President Nicolás Maduro’s increasingly repressive and authoritarian government.

Even those with no love for Venezuela’s government had warned against sanctions, relying on the adage that when adversaries are doing a good job of self-destruction, by all means get out of the way and let them do so without interference.

Maduro and his cronies have been doing a pretty good job of running the country into the ground, all by themselves. Their currency is cheapening by the minute, down to 180 bolivars to $1, compared to the official rate of 6.3 to $1.

They are a generally incompetent lot, and corrupt to boot. Their mismanagement of the economy is rivaled only by their level of contempt for the civil liberties of the Venezuelan people.

Still, the decision to sign the sanctions bill, after months of resistance by the White House, represents a recognition that this country could no longer ignore the repression in Venezuela and limit its criticisms to stern admonitions aimed at Caracas.

It is an action commensurate with the democratic values that America upholds, including the right to self-expression and peaceful assembly. Venezuelan officials should be held accountable for their behavior.

In an opinion article in The New York Times last week, Diosdado Cabello, president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, wondered if the sanctions were “an attempt to distract public opinion from the exposure of rights violations by United States law enforcement officers,” pointing to demonstrations around the United States against the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.

That belongs in the Hall of Fame of lame arguments.

First, we doubt that anyone was “distracted” by Washington’s move to impose sanctions on Venezuela. We daresay few Americans even know about it. Even for those who follow events in Latin America, the move was overshadowed by the decision to renew diplomatic ties with Cuba.

Second, the wholesale repression of Venezuelan civil society, complete with fraudulent elections, press censorship and jailing of political opponents, does not begin to compare with the generally peaceful street protests over police shootings in this country that remain under investigation by the Department of Justice.

And third … well, that’s just a dumb argument.

Cabello said that the Venezuelan government recently “extended an olive branch” to Obama by naming an ambassador to Washington and inviting the U.S. administration to name an ambassador to Caracas.

He missed the point: Maduro should extend an olive branch to the people of Venezuela, not Washington, allow political opponents like Leopoldo López to leave prison and otherwise start behaving like the leader of a real democracy - which Venezuela once was. Until then, the sanctions should remain in place.




Dec. 24

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on Sony:

The electronic burglary of Sony’s data banks is an event of more significance than suggested by either the government’s subdued response or by the pointless criticism that the company should have ignored chilling threats to audience safety.

A new type of foreign invasion left a large business electronically paralyzed while its private files were copied and tossed into the public arena.

The crime deserves to become a watershed event in how effectively corporations shield themselves against the relentless attack of malicious codes.

Security throughout America has been undermined by the inability of our communications network, and companies who use it, to keep private data absolutely safe. Over half of all Americans were issued new credit cards last year to replace those compromised by crooks, The New York Times reports. Worldwide, the identities of 552 million people were stolen.

In the current episode, not much sympathy is being expressed for Sony Pictures, even though the FBI says clues from last month’s attack and gigantic dump of proprietary data point straight to North Korea. Among other things, the code was written in Korean.

Embarrassing private emails also were leaked, which the U.S. press found newsworthy and the public gobbled up like popcorn.

Other companies should note that class-action lawsuits accuse Sony of inadequately safeguarding employee medical records and Social Security numbers.

Critics who say Sony was cowardly for giving in to extortion discount the reality that the company seems to be up against something more dangerous than a disgruntled worker or home-based hacker bent on mischief.

No one knows who the actual hackers are or who might be crazy enough to sympathize with their widely publicized demand to stop distribution of a Sony movie. Every news outlet helped spread the bizarre threats of terrorism at theaters.

Theater chains didn’t want to risk putting a damper on Christmas attendance and told Sony to keep its film. Had Sony insisted it be shown, the company could have been criticized for putting its own profits ahead of safety.

The film in question, “The Interview,” is a dark, lowbrow comedy about the assassination of the North Korean dictator. The mysterious outfit claiming responsibility for the attack says stopping the movie was its goal.

Eventually, in some format, the bluff will be called, and the film will be seen. Free speech in America is not seriously threatened.

A bigger issue is what to do about the hackers and their ilk. The White House has spoken of a proportional response, as if North Korea had a film industry worth hacking. An effective reaction will be more useful than bluster and overreaction. The recent disruption to North Korea’s Internet service, surely no coincidence, is a start, but certainly did not make North Korea leaders quake in fear.

What happened to Sony is a costly outrage but certainly no cyber Pearl Harbor. Nor is it cause to hit private companies with intrusive new cyber rules and inspections.

The government’s responsibility is to expose the villains, punish them if appropriate, limit the damage they can do and get useful cooperation from other counties, such as China, whose leaders aren’t all in the loony bin. Internal corporate security here at home is best left to the private sector.

Hackers fail most of the time, but they succeed often enough to make the cyber vault of sensitive information seem at this point as vulnerable as a cardboard box. The Internet has grown rapidly into our lives and businesses with too little consideration of all the security implications.

The public must demand that the new pirates of privacy and property be locked out, no matter what flag they fly.



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