Sunday Reading – 12/21/14

December 21, 2014

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

FCC rules ‘Redskins’ can stay on the air - The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday ruled the name “Redskins” is not profane or obscene.

In a formal ruling, the commission rejected calls to yank the broadcast license of a radio station owned by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder for excessively using the team’s name, which some find offensive.

The FCC can prohibit the use of profane or obscene language, but the team’s name does not fit the definition of either category, according to the FCC’s Media Bureau, which handled the case.

The FCC, following the Supreme Court, found obscenity must “depict or describe sexual conduct.” The team’s name also does not fit the commission’s definition of profane, which is limited to “words that are sexual or excretory in nature.” Read More > in The Hill

California drought: We need 11 trillion gallons of water in the bank - A series of rainstorms — one of which was powerful and destructive for residents statewide — helped deposit needed moisture to California, but it’s going to take 11 trillion gallons of water in storage to recover from the drought, NASA scientists said this week..

California must receive three seasons of above-average rainfall to get back to a “manageable situation,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water-cycle scientist of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

“We need 11 trillion just to get back to our normal, dry conditions,” he said.

The state receives an average 22 inches of rain annually — which translates into an estimated 60 trillion gallons — but two-thirds of it is lost to evaporation and runoff, the NASA scientist said.

“What is left behind is used for irrigation and for municipal and industrial use,” he said. “In short, we use it and there is very little left behind to increase storage.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

What made this Bay Area housing agency one of the worst in the country - There are 4,055 public housing agencies across the U.S., and we’ve spent the past year writing about one of the worst.

The federal government recently removed Richmond, California, from its worst-of-the-worst list, and we’re wrapping up our coverage. The two events aren’t related, but they make it a good time to take a look, by the numbers, at the troubles that plagued – and continue to plague – public housing in the city best known for its oil refineries and rancorous politics.

1 of the 44 worst in the country

Beginning in 2009, Richmond became part of the 1 percent of “failing” housing agencies, along with cities such as New Orleans and Detroit. The problems? It had a $7 million deficit, owed the feds $2.2 million for years of misspending money, and had serious management breakdowns. The problems stretched beyond the agency offices, as well.

Nearly 1 in 5 apartments at the two largest complexes were infested with insects and cockroaches.

Scores of elderly and disabled people lived in apartments overrun with mice, mold and cockroaches. We talked to one man who had raw sewage seeping into his home for weeks. After our stories came out, the housing agency inspected all of its apartments to document the problems. We created an interactive graphic so you can explore what inspectors saw at the largest housing project. Read More > at The Center for Investigative Reporting

City CarShare To Expand Carsharing in East Bay Through One Million Dollar Grant Awarded by Metropolitan Transportation Authority - City CarShare, a Bay Area nonprofit, will expand its carsharing network to underserved East Bay communities in collaboration with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) and the Bay Area Climate Collaborative (BACC). The program will deploy vehicles in Richmond, El Cerrito and Oakland, and includes electric vehicles, fuel-efficient hybrids, and a wheelchair accessible van. The program is partially funded through a $973,864 grant, awarded Wednesday, December 18 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

The program, called CarShare4All, will bring the Bay Area’s most affordable and environmentally focused carsharing service to low and moderate income areas. “The ongoing support of the MTC has enabled City CarShare to provide the most diverse and greenest fleet available to underserved communities,” said Rick Hutchinson, CEO, City CarShare. “This award will help us and our partners provide electric vehicles, new solar-charging technology, and our AccessMobile (wheelchair van) program to neighborhoods that deserve a lot more attention than they’ve previously received.”

The Contra Costa Transportation Authority, the lead applicant for the grant, will serve as fiscal agent for the project. City CarShare will own and operate the network and BACC will provide deployment support.

City CarShare, the nation’s largest nonprofit carsharing organization, serves nearly 16,000 members in the Bay Area. Over 60% of its locations are in designated low/moderate income neighborhoods. Nearly 200 of its cars are within walking distance of major transit lines and over 50% of its carsharing fleet is battery-based (hybrid, plug-in electric hybrid and all battery electric). The CarShare4All program supports a common goal among City CarShare, the CCTA, and BACC, which is to expand green transportation choices to all constituencies.

“Carsharing is a very important part of our strategy to provide transportation options,” said Kevin Romick, Chair of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, “This project with City CarShare and the Bay Area Climate Collaborative provides critical links to and from public transit, which provides multi-modal travel choices for Contra Costa residents.” Read More > at Business Wire

Oakland tribune editorial: Southern California’s sad water conservation effort – It’s hard to think about a drought after considering the amount of water we’ve seen this past week, but even if these storms continue into the New Year, California is still dangerously dry. That can only mean one thing: Southern California wants more water.

The Metropolitan Water District argues that Gov. Jerry Brown’s $25 billion twin tunnel water project is essential to guarantee drinking water for Los Angeles, San Diego and other Southern California urban areas.

The argument would have more validity if those areas were making a conscious effort to adhere to the governor’s January request to cut water use by 20 percent. Instead, they’re essentially thumbing their collective noses at the governor.

Los Angeles cut its water use by only 2.4 percent for the month of October, compared with the same month a year ago. And San Diego? It increased its water use by 2.6 percent. Meanwhile, in comparison, Bay Area residents slashed their water use by 15.5 percent. We can and should do better, of course. But it boggles the mind that Southern California’s urban water users are screaming that they need more Delta water.

It’s no secret how to get communities to conserve. The Stinson Beach County Water District is restricting water use to 125 gallons per day per residence and imposing a forced 20-percent water consumption reduction on commercial users. The city of Morgan Hill placed a limit on lawn watering and required residents to fix all water leaks immediately. The result: Morgan Hill is one of the state leaders in water conservation, using 24.4 percent less water in October than last year. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

BMW wants to park your car with a smartwatch - With BMW’s Remote Valet Parking Assistant may you never have to set foot in a parking garage again: The car should find a place to park on its own. The feature can be controlled from a smartwatch and will be demonstrated at the International CES trade show in January.

Cars that can park themselves once you have found a spot are becoming increasingly common, but BMW takes this to a whole new level with the Remote Valet Parking Assistant. The feature has been integrated in a research version of the electric BMW i3, and combines information from laser sensors with digital plans of multi-storey car parks to navigate.

The driver can just get out and activate the parking assistant on a smartwatch, for example. The sensors let the car recognize the structural features of the car park and avoid any obstacles that appear unexpectedly, such as incorrectly parked vehicles. Once the car has arrived at the parking space, it locks itself.

Once called back, the car will also drive itself out of the parking garage. The car can take account of how long it takes to drive out so as to time its arrival for when you are ready to leave, according to BMW. Read More > at Network World

How Facebook Is Going to Battle With YouTube - Facebook is well on its way to developing its next big cash cow, and it has nothing to do with the social network’s splashy billion-dollar purchases of messaging and virtual reality startups.

This year, the company dusted off its oft-neglected video feature and quickly made auto-playing clips ubiquitous in users’ News Feeds (with a big assist from the wildly viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge). People are now watching videos uploaded directly to Facebook one billion times per day — and that big number is starting to whet marketers’ appetites. As the social network ratchets up its plan to lure brands to place video ads on the site, its efforts could eventually threaten YouTube, which has dominated the online video space for nearly a decade. Read More > at TIME

Santa Claus deniers: why do they get so much airtime? – Santa-denial has surfaced again, this time on Australian television show The Project, in the guise of its guest Kitty Flanagan. It’s just the latest in a long line of controversies caused when Santa deniers are allowed to promote their views.

Why are these people tolerated in today’s modern media? Science has long shown that Santa Claus is real, and those who claim otherwise are invariably in the pocket of the big toy companies, who don’t want people thinking they can get free playthings and so will pay for their products.

But the evidence is beyond any reasonable doubt, and the arguments of the Santa deniers have been repeatedly debunked. But, just to refresh your memory, here are some of the more typical ones and why they’re wrong:

If Santa has a workshop at the north pole, why has nobody ever seen it?

Santa’s workshop is located in a very snowy region that very few people can access, so it’s unlikely that many people would get to see it.

How can a human survive prolonged periods in sub-zero conditions?

Santa has several features and properties clearly adapted for cold weather survival.

How is it possible for a sleigh with millions of toys in it, pulled by reindeer, to fly?

Admittedly, the whole “flying reindeer” thing does seem very far-fetched, and this is a fair accusation. Investigations suggest that the flying reindeer image is a distortion of the truth, in that reindeer are native to the Arctic so Santa may well keep reindeer on his premises and perhaps they did pull his sleigh originally. Read More > in The Guardian

How computers will replace your doctor - To understand why, the first thing you need to understand is that multiple studies have shown that software is better able to diagnose illnesses, with fewer misdiagnoses. Health wonks love this trend, known as evidence-based diagnosis, and medical doctors loathe it, because who cares about saving lives when you can avoid the humiliation of having a computer tell you what to do.

Then you need to look at companies like Theranos, which allow you to get a blood test cheaply and easily at Walgreens, and get more information about your health than you’d get in a typical doctor’s visit.

Then look at a company like Sherpaa, whose mobile app provides you diagnoses, helps you get your prescriptions filled, refers you to specialists, and so on. Right now, Sherpaa works with doctors. But there’s no reason to think it couldn’t eventually work with software (and in the meantime, work with cheaper Indian doctors rather than morbidly expensive American doctors).

But, you say, we won’t be able to get rid of the human general practitioner absolutely. People will still need human judgment, and the human touch.

You are right — absolutely right. But the human we need is someone with training closer to a nurse’s than a doctor’s, and augmented by the right software, would be both cheaper and more effective than a doctor. You might pay a monthly subscription to be able to treat this person as your family “doctor” — although most of your interaction would be with software via an app. They’d be better than a doctor, too — trained in general wellness and prevention, and being able to refer you to specialists if need be. Read More > in The Week

Why The NHL Lost Control Of Its Mumps Outbreak - This is the most baffling sports medicine story of the year: Thirteen NHL players and two referees have been diagnosed with mumps—a potentially severe and exceedingly viral infection that classically causes fever, body aches, malaise, and in about half of cases, parotitis (a painful swelling of the salivary glands). It’s gotten so bad in the NHL that Sidney Crosby set off a mumps alert last week when he spoke to reporters with a welt on his face. (On Sunday, the Penguins confirmed Crosby does indeed have the disease.) So what’s going on?

The story of this outbreak appears to have begun in early November, when Anaheim Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin noticed a swelling in his jaw after a game against the Arizona Coyotes on November 7th. A few hours later, he developed a fever, chills, muscle aches, and lost his appetite. Four days later, he was ten pounds lighter. By then, the virus was spreading around the Ducks locker room. Three of his teammates would catch the disease before it leapt to other teams: the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, and the Minnesota Wild, where five players came down with mumps, including all-star defenseman Ryan Suter.

“Ten percent of our team population contracted it,” Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher recently said. “As far as I know, everybody received the immunization when they were young.” If that’s true, what’s the explanation? We know that the mumps vaccine unquestionably works—cases in the United States declined by 99 percent following its introduction in 1967—so why is an outbreak in hockey happening now?

…Dr. Judith Aberg, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai blames the outbreak on the nature of the game. “You see the hits that they have, and sometimes the spraying of saliva,” she recently said. “I think they are high risk. I am surprised we haven’t actually seen this before.”

Saliva spray may be part of it, but there’s plenty of that at the line of scrimmage and you don’t see the NFL dealing with a mumps outbreak. (The NFL has its own outbreak problems.) A more complete explanation of hockey’s mumps conundrum involves something called waning immunity. Put simply, the vaccine loses strength over time. We know this because of some fascinating observational studies from the last major mumps outbreak. Read More > at Regressing

Top 10 Measures Likely to Appear on November 2016 California Ballot - The General Election ballot in 2016 is likely to have more statewide ballot measures on it than California voters have seen in a long time. The main reason for this is that the number of signatures needed in order to qualify a statutory measure or even a constitutional amendment have plummeted with the pathetically low turnout in last month’s election (the signature requirement is 5% of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election).

To be specific, it previously took 504,760 valid signatures to place a statutory initiative on the ballot. It will now take less than 370,000. For a constitutional amendment, the number has dropped from 807,615 to less than 590,000. A couple of years ago, a law was signed that requires that all measures placed on the ballot by signature petitions must appear on the November–not the June–ballot.

Below are the top ten measures most likely to appear on the November, 2016 ballot:

PLASTIC GROCERY BAG BAN – In a naked profit grab supported by the California Grocers Association, the legislature passed and Governor Brown signed into law a bill that would ban single-use plastic grocery bags and would mandate that stores charge at least ten cents for every paper bag given to a customer.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA — In 1996, California voters passed a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana. Now the push is on to put another measure before Golden State voters that would decriminalize recreational marijuana use and regulate it, much the same way that alcohol use is currently regulated.

BATHROOM BILL — In 2013 a law was signed, referred to as the transgendered bathroom bill, that would have allowed students to play on gender-segregated school sporting teams, or use bathrooms based on their gender identity rather than their biological gender. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Where campaign spending was highest, disdain for it is bipartisan - The priciest congressional election in the country wasn’t a slugfest in some silk-stocking district or free-for-all on the pricey Westside of Los Angeles. It was fought here in Northern California, where the American River winds from Folsom through the workaday suburbs of Sacramento..

Nearly $24 million was spent in the fiercely contested race between Republican Doug Ose and Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, who won a second term by a mere 1,455 votes out of 184,000 cast, or a margin of less than 1%.

It’s debatable, though, how much of a difference all those millions made.

When asked how they made up their minds, not one person in three dozen interviewed cited anything they had heard or seen in any of those TV spots, or mentioned a single thing they read in the blizzard of campaign pieces that choked 7th District mail boxes.

In an age of deeply bred partisanship, voters — not surprisingly — reverted to form. Democrats, such as Logan Costa, voted for Bera. “He’s really down to Earth and more up my aisle,” said the 53-year-old retired social worker.

Republicans, such as Rollie Peterson, voted for Ose. “I didn’t like Ami Bera’s leanings and I never have,” the 67-year-old Fair Oaks attorney said.

The disaffected remained disaffected. John Johnston, 60, a prep cook and assistant manager at a Round Table pizza in Carmichael, didn’t bother voting, skipping this election as he has every one since 1986. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Study proves high heels do have power over men - — The well-heeled Marilyn Monroe reportedly once said if you give a girl the right shoes, she can conquer the world.

The allure of high-heeled shoes is no secret among women, who have used them to entice men from the streets of Ancient Rome to the New York City sidewalks of Carrie Bradshaw. Heels have also been a controversial symbol in the battleground of sexual politics.

Now a scientific study in France has measured their power.

Scientists from the Universite de Bretagne-Sud conducted experiments that showed that men behave very differently toward high-heeled women. The results, published online in the journal “Archives of Sexual Behaviour,” may please the purveyors of Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo shoes — yet frustrate those who think stilettos encourage sexism.

The study found if a woman drops a glove on the street while wearing heels, she’s almost 50 percent more likely to have a man fetch it for her than if she’s wearing flats.

Another finding: A woman wearing heels is twice as likely to persuade men to stop and answer survey questions on the street. And a high-heeled woman in a bar waits half the time to get picked up by a man, compared to when her heel is nearer to the ground. Read More > at WTOP

The Government’s Mandatory Calorie Counts May Be Hazardous to Your Health - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims it is helping America stay healthy with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s mandate to display calories on restaurant menus and vending machines. Recent studies have shown that this mandate actually has little or no impact on the ordering behaviors of the general population. What has yet to be addressed, however, is the deleterious effect of this mandate on the estimated twenty million women and ten million men who struggle with eating disorders during their lifetimes (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, and Hudson, 2011). For those working toward recovery, this policy impedes a foundational part of their efforts.

Our culture is by no measure unaware of health and weight. In fact, by elementary school, 40-60 percent of girls are already concerned with their weight or afraid of being fat (Smolak, 2011). The cultural saturation of messages promoting thinness combines in a subset of individuals with genetic, biological, and social factors that make them vulnerable to the mental health condition most associated with fatality. Eating disorders can manifest in wide range, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Many people with eating disorders develop an obsessional focus on numbers: weight, clothing size, calories, fat grams, and body measurements. The preoccupation with numbers can consume their lives in a never-ending effort to count, cut, and control. Calorie counting is rampant among the various forms eating disorders can take. Unfortunately, this behavior is not only a potential symptom of an eating disorder—it is one that exacerbates the disease. When people are deprived or restricted, they are at dramatically increased risk of binge eating. This is because of a built-in survival mechanism that tells people to seek sources of fat and sugar for energy to prepare for the next famine. When they experience deprivation, efforts to store energy kick into gear, which can lead to a cycle of binge eating, guilt and shame, restriction, and in some cases purging. At this point the body once more perceives deprivation, and the cycle begins again. Read More > in Reason

Peru Is Indignant After Greenpeace Makes Its Mark on Ancient Site - An expression of concern by the environmental group Greenpeace about the carbon footprint was marred this week by real footprints — in a fragile, and restricted, landscape near the Nazca lines, ancient man-made designs etched in the Peruvian desert.

The Peruvian authorities said activists from the group damaged a patch of desert when they placed a large sign that promoted renewable energy near a set of lines that form the shape of a giant hummingbird.

The sign was meant to draw the attention of world leaders, reporters and others who were in Lima, the Peruvian capital, for a United Nations summit meeting aimed at reaching an agreement to address climate change. The meeting was scheduled to end Friday but negotiations were expected to continue into Saturday.

Greenpeace issued a statement apologizing for the stunt at the archaeological site, about 225 miles south of Lima. Its international executive director, Kumi Naidoo, flew to Lima, but the Peruvian authorities were seething over the episode, which they said had scarred one of the country’s most treasured national symbols. Read More > in The New York Times

Planning for Tri Delta Transit’s Future – 2015 Public Workshops

December 19, 2014

tridelta logo

Help chart the future of Tri Delta by providing your ideas at one of the following scheduled workshops:

Saturday, January 10th
11:30am – 1:30pm
Antioch Communuity Center
4703 Lone Tree ay, Antioch

Wednesday, January 28th
6:30pm – 8:30pm
City of Oakley Council Chambers
3231 Main St. Oakley

Thursday, January 29th
6:30pm – 8:30pm
Ambrose Community Center – Auditorium
3105 Willow Pass Road, Bay Point

Saturday, December 20, 9am – 11am, Breakfast with Santa

December 18, 2014

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Avoiding Holiday Stress

December 17, 2014

The gift of choice: Loading up on obligations, or spending time with people you don’t really want to, sets yourself up for stressful situations. Give yourself the gift of choice so when you do accept an invitation, help someone out, invite people over for dinner or choose to buy presents – you will be happy in the knowledge that you gave yourself the gift of choice and you’ll be more likely to experience these events joyfully.

Imperfection: The holiday season can be stressful enough without the added pressure of having to have the food, the gifts, the decorations, or anything else be ‘perfect’. So you burned the cookies or forgot to get the greeting cards out in time? Lucky for you, cookies abound at most grocery stores around the holidays. And who wouldn’t rather hear from you in February with a funny tale about a smoked-out kitchen on Christmas Eve? Strive to do the best you can and you’ll realize that it is enough.

Do what you like and like what you do: You’ve heard the saying before but most of us don’t adhere to the message. Do the things that make you feel good – play a musical instrument, meditate, read a book, run, etc. And be mindful when you’re doing them. Rushing to fit in ‘you’ time isn’t the same as slowing down to appreciate the few moments you have to do what you like to do. Savor the moments.

Keep balance and set priorities: When you prioritize what’s most important to you, you’ll have an easier time balancing your work, play, family and social life. Everything else becomes secondary. Be aware of situations that trigger tension and keep them off of your priority list!

Keep it simple: From cooking, planning and decorating to invitation lists and shopping, one thing is for sure – keep it simple. The idea of baking cookies or illuminating the street with holiday lights can sound comforting and festive. But actually doing these things can simply get complicated. Keep it simple. Adorn a single tree. Put lights on the front porch – but don’t commit to lighting up the street and lamp posts. Keep your meals simple and ask others to pitch in by bringing their favorite dish. Do what you can to minimize your ‘to do’ list so you spend more time with loved ones – and in better balance.

Be honest: Being honest with yourself and others helps you from over extending yourself physically, financially and emotionally. Learn to graciously decline invitations and feel comfortable offering suggestions for price limits on gifts. Others will likely appreciate the input, too!

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Scam Of The Week / A Spike in Hoax News Stories

December 16, 2014

The year 2014 has seen a boom on hoax news stories, as these are particularly successful social engineering tactics used by hackers to get people to click on links, and worse, share the news with their friends and become part of the infection vector. Many of these hoax stories infect the device with some kind of malware. It’s particularly bad at the moment.

As an illustration how hoax news has boomed, since Facebook’s shift into becoming a major news platform, it attracted so much cybercrime interest that Facebook decided to cut a deal with ESET to automatically scan Facebook’s user’s devices for malware.

Facebook software engineer Chetan Gowda stated: “If the device you’re using to access our services is behaving suspiciously and shows signs of a possible infection, a message will appear offering you an anti-malware scan for your device.”

“At the moment, there is a spike in hoax news stories that spread malware and infect your phone and computer. The bad guys use all the tricks in their black book to get you to click on and share hoax stories with your friends. This happens on Facebook, popular websites, they are sent straight to your inbox, and even major news outlets are sharing them unthinkingly. So, be on the lookout for these five hoaxes:

  1. Stories that urge you to share something before you have even read them. Step away from that keyboard.
  2. Celebrity deaths are increasingly being used to shock people into clicking on links and making a zombie out of their PC or lock their smartphone with ransomware. Recent example: Will Smith.
  3. Very violent video news reports that draw your attention with “Warning: Graphic Content” and lurid titles like “Giant snake swallows zookeeper”. Don’t touch ‘em.
  4. Outrageous stories about Facebook itself, like it will start charging for the service, it sells your personal information, a way to show you who looked at your page, or other claims that might upset you and lure you to click on a link.
  5. And last, especially in this season of charity, heartrending reports about dying girls that beg you for “likes” so they can obtain drugs or hospital treatment. Think Before You Click!

Cybercrime is moving into mobile malware with astonishing speed so be especially careful clicking/tapping on suspicious things on your smartphone. Anything you received but did not ask for, watch out because your phone may get locked with mobile ransomware.

This information is provided by Knowbe4

Highway 4 Construction Work – Week of December 15, 2014

December 15, 2014

The SR-4 corridor construction area is a 55 mph zone and a double fine zone so remember to slow for the cone zone!

Full Freeway Closures

Eastbound:
There are no eastbound full freeway closures planned for this week.

Westbound:
There are no westbound full freeway closures planned for this week.

State Route 160:
There are no eastbound or westbound full freeway closures of State Route 160 planned for this week.

Highway Lane Closures

State Route 4:
There will be highway lane closures in the eastbound direction of State Route 4 between Somersville  Road and the State Route 160 Connector Ramp on Monday through Thursday evenings from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am and Friday evening from 11:59 pm to 6:00 am.

There will be highway lane closures in the westbound direction of State Route 4 between Somersville Road and the State Route 160 Connector Ramp on Monday through Thursday evenings from 9:00 pm to 4:00 am and on Friday evening from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am.

There will be highway lane closures in the eastbound and westbound direction of State Route 4
between Sand Creek Road and Balfour Road on Monday through Thursday evenings between 8:00 pm and 4:00 am.

State Route 160:
There are no SR160 lane closures planned for this week.

Ramp Closures

State Route 4:
The State Route 4 westbound on and off ramps at Sand Creek Road will be closed on Monday through Thursday evenings between 10:00 pm and 4:00 am.

State Route 160:
There are no ramp closures for State Route 160 planned for this week.

Local Street Closures

Cavallo Road will be closed in all directions between Sunset Drive and East Tregallas Road underneath the State Route 4 overpass on Thursday and Friday evenings between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am.

Small road header used to dig the cross passages at the Caldecott Tunnel.

There will be single lane closures on Lone Tree Way in both directions between the State Route 4 on and off ramps Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

ramp

Questions or comments can be directed to the Highway 4 widening hotline at (925) 756-0721 or visit our web site at http://widensr4.org.

Sunday Reading – 12/14/14

December 14, 2014

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

Jerry Brown As The Nation’s Leading Democrat - The big story of 2015 may be the emergence of Gov. Jerry Brown as the new national leader of the Democratic Party. That’s not due to anything Brown has done, but rather the thrashing the Democrats suffered in 2014 that has left them a leaderless party with both a weakened President and an uncertain President-in-Waiting.

After November, California is practically the only bright spot left of the Democrats. Go beyond this state’s borders and the Democratic wreckage is nothing short of astounding. Just look at Nevada, a state carried twice by President Obama. This year Republicans swept every statewide office, ousted one of the state’s two Democratic congressmen, and won overwhelming majorities in both houses of the Nevada legislature.

Republicans now control 69 of the 99 state legislatures; Democratic legislative control is at its lowest point since the end of Reconstruction – and that was 1876. Republicans now have more members of Congress than at any time since Herbert Hoover was President.

…How does this affect Jerry Brown; the Democratic wreckage has left the party leaderless in congress and statehouses, and with no stars in their party save perhaps Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), darling of the anti-Wall Street populist progressives. None of their 18 surviving governors except Brown are national figures. There is a huge power vacuum within what’s left of the Democratic Party.

…Gov. Brown’s embrace of climate change and all things green plays very well with wealthy liberal white Democrats; he has special appeal to Latinos that turned out to be a less than solid Democratic constituency in 2014. And he has California. With 4,388,368 votes, 60 percent of the total, Gov. Brown in 2014 received by far more votes than any other Democrat in the United States; his closest successful Democratic governors were Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York, with 1,706,438 votes, and Gov-elect Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania, with 1,920,355 votes. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Gun-control advocates are seriously losing public opinion - For the first time since Pew began asking the question two decades ago, a majority of Americans now say that gun rights are more important than gun control — a striking shift in public opinion over both the last generation and just the last few years. As recently as December 2012, in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, 51 percent of people surveyed by Pew said it was more important to control gun ownership than protect the rights of gun owners.

That consensus has since disappeared, confirming the fears of many gun-control advocates that outrage after Newtown wouldn’t last long.

What’s most striking in Pew’s new data is that views have shifted more in favor of gun rights since then among nearly every demographic group, including women, blacks, city-dwellers, parents, college graduates, millennials and independents. The two groups that haven’t budged? Hispanics and liberal Democrats. Read More > in The Washington Post

McNugget Secret Ingredient: Molded Chicken Mush - Admit it: You’ve eaten a McDonald’s Chicken McNugget. And if you have, you’ve wondered exactly what it’s made of. The texture isn’t anything like you’d expect from your Aunt Amy’s deep fryer, and the four available shapes are … odd for chicken.

So in the context of battered domestic sales and negative rumors about its products, McDonald’s decided to create a video of how McNuggests are actually made, just as the company previously created a video about its popular McRib sandwich, Today reported. Whether it soothes the concerns of consumers is yet to be seen.

The background for the onslaught of forthcoming candor is the financial performance of McDonald’s. It reported steeper-than-expected falls in same store sales, according to USA Today. Same store sales is a retail measure of how popular a company remains with consumers. On Monday, the company noted the biggest same store drops in a decade. That was even more than the biggest-in-a-decade drops reported in October, as Daily Finance reported. Read More > at Aol Jobs

More Than 1,000 People Have Been Killed by Police in 2014 - There are no frills to be found at http://www.killedbypolice.net. The site is just a simple spreadsheet. The information it contains, though, is invaluable. It is a list of every single person documented to have been killed by police in the United States in 2013 and 2014. There are links to a media report for every single death, as well as their names, ages, and when known, sex and race.

The site is so valuable because, as we’ve noted previously, there is no reliable national database for keeping track of the number of people killed by police each year. The FBI tracks homicides by law enforcement officers, but participation is voluntary, and many agencies don’t participate. As I noted last week, Eric Garner’s death at the hands of a New York Police Department won’t show up in the FBI’s statistics for 2014 because the state of New York does not participate in the program.

The FBI’s statistics for 2013 say that law enforcement officers killed 461 people that year. Killedbypolice.net apparently got its start last year. Using their system of monitoring by news report, they have calculated that police actually killed 748 people between May and December. That’s 287 more than the FBI reports for the whole year. Read More > at Reason

Jim Harbaugh headlines nine guys who should be on the way out - It’s over. It’s all over. Even though it’s pretty clear where this is headed, seeing how Harbaugh just doesn’t seem to be on the same page with owner Jed York and GM Trent Baalke, I always hoped, for the sake of the great 49ers fans, that they would find a way to salvage the relationship, because Harbaugh is a fantastic coach who rescued the franchise from the Dennis Erickson/Mike Nolan/Mike Singletary abyss.

Then, on Sunday, the 49ers lost to the lowly, cross-Bay rival Raiders.

Oh, it’s over alright. And it’s going down in flames.

Colin Kaepernick has completely regressed. He is no longer “great,” despite what Harbaugh tells the press. Kaepernick doesn’t throw or run with the dominance or consistency he used to display.

While Harbaugh appears to have a frosty relationship with his bosses, he was quite chatty with Raiders owner Mark Davis before the game, further fueling speculation he could coach in Oakland next year.

Once mighty, the 49ers are now inexplicably 7-6, and it would take a miracle for them to make the playoffs. They are, for all intents and purposes, cooked.

It will be tough for San Francisco to find a better coach than Harbaugh, who took the Niners to three straight NFC title games (and a Super Bowl) in his first three years on the job. But the play of this team, the underachievement and the constant drama — in conjunction with Harbaugh’s cantankerous personality — has made this a divorce that needs to happen. It has sucked the life out of this organization. Read More > at NFL

The vending machine of the future is here, and it knows who you are - The vending machine brought an element of anonymity to snacking: you could scoff chocolate all day and no shopkeeper would know just how many bars — or cigarettes, or ice creams, or lottery tickets — you’d already gone through that day.

But that’s all about to change, because the vending machine of the future is here, and it knows who you are.

The Luce X2 Touch TV vending machine, which was debuted to industry professionals in Hertfordshire in October, is claimed to be the first in the world to use facial recognition technology.

The machines are able to identify and greet a user, remember a person’s preferences and even refuse to vend a certain product based on a shopper’s age, medical record, dietary requirements or purchase history. Read More > in The Telegraph

Whooping Cough Back With a Vengeance in California - California is again the the grips of a whooping cough outbreak, and this time it’s even worse, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state is facing its worst outbreak in 70 years and has nearly 1,000 more cases than it did in 2010. As of Nov. 26, the state had 9,935 reported cases.

“The last time a series of outbreaks occurred across the country, California started the parade,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. “And so this is a harbinger we are fearful of.”

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is caused by bacteria and considered cyclical because cases peak every three to five years. It’s especially serious in infants, who are more likely to catch it. About 50 percent of all children under a year old who catch whooping cough need to be hospitalized, and up to 2 percent of them die, according to the CDC.

Since children aren’t due for their whooping cough vaccine — called TDaP — until they are 2 months old, the CDC recommends it for pregnant women so they can pass along the immunity to their unborn children. Van Tornhout said her doctor never told her about it, but now she works as an advocate for Every Child by Two, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about vaccine-preventable diseases. Read More > at ABC News

Causes of Calif. drought natural, not man-made: NOAA - Natural weather patterns, not man-made global warming, are causing the historic drought parching California, says a study out Monday from federal scientists.

“It’s important to note that California’s drought, while extreme, is not an uncommon occurrence for the state,” said Richard Seager, the report’s lead author and professor with Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. The report was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report did not appear in a peer-reviewed journal but was reviewed by other NOAA scientists.

“In fact, multiyear droughts appear regularly in the state’s climate record, and it’s a safe bet that a similar event will happen again,” he said.

The persistent weather pattern over the past several years has featured a warm, dry ridge of high pressure over the eastern north Pacific Ocean and western North America. Such high-pressure ridges prevent clouds from forming and precipitation from falling.

The study notes that this ridge — which has resulted in decreased rain and snowfall since 2011 — is almost opposite to what computer models predict would result from human-caused climate change. Read More > in USA Today

KURTZ: Rolling Stone’s Rape Story – A Bigger Journalistic Train Wreck Than We Thought - One of the dangers of investigative reporting is falling in love with your source — and your story.

You spend days, weeks or months cultivating a whistle-blower or plaintiff and accuser and becoming convinced that it’s your duty to tell the tale. There is a natural human tendency to minimize inconsistencies in the person’s account. The excitement of breaking a big one begins to build.

That’s why you need a Jason Robards editor to say, “You ain’t got it, kid.”

And that’s what Rolling Stone was lacking in deciding to publish Sabrina Erdely’s 9,000-word dramatization of an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, essentially based on the word of a single source. The editorial brain trust royally screwed up.

…But it’s on the reporting where Rolling Stone fell down, and the magazine, which initially stood by the story, has now quietly changed and expanded its apology—while removing Dana’s name as the author.

Gone is the blame-shifting language about having lost “trust” in Jackie, the first name of the accuser who said she was gang-raped at a fraternity party in 2012. Instead, in a statement that was likely massaged by lawyers, there was this:

“We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie’s request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. In trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault, we made a judgment – the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day. We should have not made this agreement with Jackie and we should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story. These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.” Read More > at FOX Nation

Turns Out the Dot-Com Bust’s Worst Flops Were Actually Fantastic Ideas - If you had to pick one really annoying sock puppet to represent the imploded excesses of the dot-com boom, it would be the microphone-wielding mascot of online pet food retailer Pets.com.

For a few months back in the late 1990s, he was everywhere—the Super Bowl, Live with Regis and Kathy Lee—and then he was gone, sucked into a black hole of dot-com debt.

But the bust was so big and so widespread, there are so many deliciously ideal symbols for this dark time in the history of the internet, a period when irrational exuberance trumped sound business decisions. Fifteen years on, people—particularly people in Silicon Valley—still talk about these epic failures. In addition to Pets.com, there was WebVan, Kozmo.com, and Flooz.

The irony is that nowadays, they’re all very good ideas.

Now that the internet has become a much bigger part of our lives, now that we have mobile phones that make using the net so much easier, now that the Googles and the Amazons have built the digital infrastructure needed to support online services on a massive scale, now that a new breed of coding tools has made it easier for people to turn their business plans into reality, now that Amazon and others have streamlined the shipping infrastructure needed to inexpensively get stuff to your door, now that we’ve shed at least some of that irrational exuberance, the world is ready to cash in on the worst ideas of the ’90s. Read More > at Wired

Oakley Veterans Memorial Bricks Available for Limited Time Only

December 12, 2014

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Thanks to community and business support, Oakley unveiled the long anticipated Veterans Memorial on Veterans Day of 2014. To see photos of the completed memorial visit our flickr by clicking here.

The corner of Norcross Lane and Main Street, which had long been designated as the site for a memorial is now home to the newly dedicated memorial. The Memorial has five, red granite, squared columns that surround a blue granite base which supports the American Flag. Each of the representative columns bear the insignias of the five branches of the United States military; Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. At the head of the monument stands a white granite “Victory Eagle.”

It’s not too late to be a part of the memorial. To purchase an engraved brick mail your completed purchase form and payment asap! New orders will be accepted through January 30th. Thereafter it is uncertain if they will continue to be available, so act today!

Click here to access your printable purchase form.

If you have any questions please contact Nancy Marquez-Suarez at marquez@ci.oakley.ca.us.

Housing in the East Bay – from the East Bay Economic Alliance

December 11, 2014

Even though home price appreciation has cooled considerably in the East Bay thus far in 2014, the housing market in the region remains relatively heated. The median price of existing single-family homes grew 17.7%, to $611,400, from the second quarter of 2013 to the second quarter of 2014 in Alameda County, while prices increased by 12.4%, to $451,000, in Contra Costa County. In comparison, prices rose by 13.6% in San Francisco and by 10.5% in the South Bay. Declines in distressed sales in the East Bay have contributed to the cool down, as the number of distressed properties sold at a discount has taken up a smaller share of the overall housing mix in the region. At the same time, demand for housing, which has been boosted by the continued relaxation of lending standards, historically low interest rates, and a gradually healing economy explains why the housing market has remained heated in 2014.

Home and condominium sales in the East Bay continued their slide through the second quarter of 2014. Sales are down 8.9% year-over-year in Alameda County and 11.0% in Contra Costa County. Sales are down in the East Bay primarily because of the tight supply of housing in the region. Another critical factor is the decline in the number of distressed properties on the market. As such, sales will continue to lag in the East Bay until greater efforts are made to alleviate the ongoing shortage of housing supply in the region.

Much like the housing market, demand for apartments in the East Bay has continued to grow in 2014. The region’s apartment vacancy rate declined by 10 basis points from the second quarter of 2013 to the fourth quarter of 2014, to 2.7%, and has been relatively stable during this time. Meanwhile, rental prices increased by 4.6% over the year, to an average rent of $1,517 per unit. The cost of rent in the East Bay accounts for an average of 39.1% of the median household income for renters in the area, compared with 43.3% in San Francisco and 35.1% in the South Bay. However, rental prices in San Francisco (6.8%) and the South Bay (6.2%) grew at a faster rate than they did in the East Bay during this time, widening the affordability gap between the East Bay and the rest of the Bay Area, thus making the East Bay more attractive to renters.

Read More at http://www.eastbayeda.org/business-services/economic-reports.page?

Clipper Survey: Help Plan the Future of Fare Payment

December 10, 2014

clipper

Where would you like to use Clipper, and how would you like to use it? That’s what the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Bay Area transit agencies want to know.

Clipper is the transit fare payment system for the San Francisco Bay Area and is currently accepted for payment on 13 transit agencies. The reloadable card was launched in 2006. Today, the system has more than 1.4 million cards in circulation and is used for more than 700,000 daily trips.

Whether you use Clipper right now or not, you can provide valuable feedback that will help MTC and its partner agencies design the fare payment system that best serves Bay Area transit riders.

Visit futureofclipper.com and click the link to take a survey to provide your feedback. You can also share your experiences with Clipper and what you’d like to see in the future via email at feedback@futureofclipper.com or via voicemail at 510.817.5680. Surveys and comments are due by January 15, 2015.

Clipper is a service provided by Bay Area transit operators and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

Year End Closure for Oakley City Offices

December 9, 2014

The City of Oakley is implementing a Holiday Closure for non‐public safety City Services.
Oakley City Hall Offices will be closed beginning at noon on Thursday, December 18, 2014
through Friday, January 2, 2015. Normal business hours will resume at 8:00 a.m. on
Monday, January 5, 2015.

In an effort to ensure the public that safety is not impacted, sworn personnel in the Police
Department will continue to serve the public at normal staffing levels.

Additionally, the Building and Code Enforcement Division will be providing limited
Inspection Services on: Monday, December 22nd, Tuesday December, 23rd, Monday,
December 29th and Tuesday, December 30th.

If you need an inspection please call (925) 625‐7005 and leave a voice‐mail with: your name,
call back number, property address and permit number. Staff will be checking the voicemail
periodically throughout the closure and return calls as necessary.

For Code Enforcement concerns please call (925) 625‐7031 and leave a voice‐mail with a
description of your concern, address (with a cross street, if possible), as well as a call back
number (optional).

christmas09

Highway 4 Construction Work – Week of December 08, 2014

December 8, 2014

The SR-4 corridor construction area is a 55 mph zone and a double fine zone so remember to slow for the cone zone!

Full Freeway Closures

Eastbound:
There are no eastbound full freeway closures planned for this week.

Westbound:
There are no westbound full freeway closures planned for this week.

State Route 160:
There are no eastbound or westbound full freeway closures of State Route 160 planned for this week.

Highway Lane Closures

State Route 4:
There will be highway lane closures in the eastbound direction of State Route 4 between Somersville Road and the State Route 160 Connector Ramp on Monday through Thursday evenings from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am and Friday evening from 11:59 pm to 6:00 am.

There will be highway lane closures in the westbound direction of State Route 4 between Somersville Road and the State Route 160 Connector Ramp on Monday through Thursday evenings from 9:00 pm to 4:00 am and on Friday evening from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am.

There will be highway lane closures in the eastbound and westbound direction of State Route 4
between Sand Creek Road and Balfour Road on Monday through Thursday evenings between 8:00 pm and 4:00 am.

State Route 160:
There are no SR160 lane closures planned for this week.

Ramp Closures

State Route 4:
The State Route 4 westbound on and off ramps at Sand Creek Road will be closed on Monday through Thursday evenings between 10:00 pm and 4:00 am.

ramp

State Route 160:
There are no ramp closures for State Route 160 planned for this week.

Local Street Closures

Cavallo Road will be closed in all directions between Sunset Drive and East Tregallas Road underneath the State Route 4 overpass on Thursday and Friday evenings between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am.

Small road header used to dig the cross passages at the Caldecott Tunnel.

There will be single lane closures on Lone Tree Way in both directions between the State Route 4 on and off ramps Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Questions or comments can be directed to the Highway 4 widening hotline at (925) 756-0721 or visit our web site at http://widensr4.org.

Sunday Reading – 12/07/14

December 7, 2014

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

Thin Mints via thin devices: Girl Scout cookie sales finally go digital - On Monday, the Girl Scouts of the USA announced a new digital initiative in select cities and markets, meaning much of its cookie-selling fleet will soon peddle Do-Si-Dos, Thin Mints, and other popular cookies by either a mobile device or an invite-only website. The news came during a New York press event which included, we kid you not, a staffer whose official title is “chief digital cookie officer.”

“Online is where entrepreneurship is going,” Girl Scouts CDCO Sarah Angel-Johnson said to the Associated Press, whose report also laid out the fine print for how digital cookie sales will work. Over one million scouts will be able to take the digital cookie plunge, and each participating council can elect to use either a mobile app or a personal website system—not both. On the former, scouts will essentially enter customer information just like they might on the old pencil-and-paper system, only more efficiently and with credit card options.

With the latter option, girls create individual, private sites that can only be accessed by way of a direct e-mail invitation, a limitation meant to protect scouts’ privacy. (Those pages will only display a scout’s first name as well, but they can also include a video statement from the scout in question.) Both digital purchase methods have one cool thing in common, so long as a local troop supports it: delivery options! However, the Girl Scouts aren’t launching a general sales option through its national website. If you aren’t directly nagged by a scout with a digital sale offer, consider grabbing the non-profit’s Girl Scout Cookie Finder app for either iOS or Android. Read More > at arc technica

Who killed Black Friday? – Black Friday weekend is just not what it used to be.

Despite falling gas prices, stock prices posting records, and buoyant consumer confidence, Thanksgiving weekend sales — in stores and on-line — were down about 11 percent from last year.

Years ago, retailers attracted shoppers to malls the day after Thanksgiving by offering limited supply door openers — one-day deep discounts. These days more stores open on Thanksgiving Day, offer equally good deals the days before and after Black Friday, and keep cutting prices to clear out inventory before Christmas rather than hold back for January sales.

Black Friday simply isn’t special anymore, unless a shopper is scooping up that deeply discounted home theater whose availability may disappear. It may be a great day to get out and have fun with friends, but Black Friday is often not the best day to get the best deal.

…Black Friday — and Cyber Monday — are now about getting good deals, and retailers have increasingly made the days around Thanksgiving less attractive by the even better deals yet to come. Americans — living on more constrained budgets and scarred by the financial crisis — are more inclined to wait until the days just prior to Christmas

Just as baseball once reigned supreme, only to be replaced by college basketball and pro football, a new sensibility is reducing Black Friday weekend to the status of only a major holiday — not the day of days in America’s consumer culture. Read More > at CNBC

It’s official: California storm didn’t cure the drought - Despite a “respectable” amount of rain this week across all of California, it wasn’t enough for federal agencies to improve the state’s drought picture, new data released Thursday show..

In a report that likely surprises very few, the U.S. Drought Monitor said of the storm that hovered over California since Monday: “More than this is needed to offset the accumulated deficits.”

Southern California has seen as little as 5% and, at most, 75% of its average rainfall depending on the location. Snowpacks in the northern half of the state are less than half of what they typically are.

Meanwhile, the entire state is considered to be in some state of drought. Nearly 80% of California is in “extreme” drought, and more than 55% falls into the agency’s harshest condition, “exceptional” drought, according to the report.

Only a few scattered areas of the state are showing surplus water, thanks to recent rain. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

These retailers could use some holiday cheer - The holiday shopping season is always a make-or-break period for struggling retailers.

But this year, the fight to grab shoppers has intensified, making it difficult for stores to use the season that accounts for about 20 percent of the retail industry’s annual sales to bounce back.

Stores face cautious shoppers who are juggling stagnant wages and higher costs for food and health care. And Web-savvy customers are using information easily available on their smartphones to hold out for ever-better deals. All of that means that stores have had to discount more – and earlier – this holiday shopping season.

Here, four retailers with years of sales declines that could use a good holiday season:

SEARS HOLDINGS CORP.:

The problems: The Hoffman, Illinois-based company, which operates Kmart and Sears, has been struggling for years as it faces increasingly stiff competition from Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot. Critics say Sears has failed to update shabby and tired stores.

RADIOSHACK CORP.

The problems: Long known as a destination for batteries and obscure electronic parts, RadioShack’s problem has been that the functions of so many products it sold have been taken up by smartphones

AEROPOSTALE INC.

The problems: Teen retailer Aeropostale reported a widening loss and falling sales on Thursday, and its forecast for the holiday quarter mostly fell short of analysts’ predictions.

J.C. PENNEY CO.

The problems: J.C. Penney is still trying to recover from a botched transformation plan spearheaded by former CEO Ron Johnson that sent its sales in a freefall and resulted in mounting losses. Read More > in the Associated Press

Harvard Economist: Lefties Earn Less Than Righties - A new study by a Harvard University economist says lefties generally make less money than righties, and they may be worse off in other areas of life, too.

Harvard public policy professor Joshua Goodman writes in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that there’s a popular perception that lefties can be unusual talented — for example, four of the last seven American presidents are left-handed.

But by using data sets from the United States and United Kingdom that show handedness, test scores and salaries, Goodman determined that lefties have 10 to 12 percent lower annual earnings than righties.

Median annual earnings for male lefties in the U.S. are about $2,500 lower than male righties, and female lefties make about $3,400 less than female righties, Goodman finds. Read More > at CBS Boston

Law Puts Us All in Same Danger as Eric Garner - On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.

I wish this caution were only theoretical. It isn’t. Whatever your view on the refusal of a New York City grand jury to indict the police officer whose chokehold apparently led to the death of Eric Garner, it’s useful to remember the crime that Garner is alleged to have committed: He was selling individual cigarettes, or loosies, in violation of New York law.

The obvious racial dynamics of the case — the police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, is white; Garner was black — have sparked understandable outrage. But, at least among libertarians, so has the law that was being enforced. Wrote Nick Gillespie in the Daily Beast, “Clearly something has gone horribly wrong when a man lies dead after being confronted for selling cigarettes to willing buyers.” Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, appearing on MSNBC, also blamed the statute: “Some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes, so they’ve driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive.”

The problem is actually broader. It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right. I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand. Read More > at Bloomberg View

The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On - When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” this year, ABC News said it was the latest example of the out-of-control divorce rate, “50 percent and climbing.”

When Fox News anchors were recently lamenting high poverty levels, one of them blamed the fact that “the divorce rate is going up.”

And when Bravo introduced its divorce reality show, “Untying the Knot,” this summer, an executive at the network called it “a way to look at a situation that 50 percent of married couples unfortunately end up in.”

But here is the thing: It is no longer true that the divorce rate is rising, or that half of all marriages end in divorce. It has not been for some time. Even though social scientists have tried to debunk those myths, somehow the conventional wisdom has held.

Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.

About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist (who also contributes to The Upshot). Read More > in The New York Times

NFL Execs would take Derek Carr over Colin Kaepernick - The 49ers will definitely be the more talented team on the field when they play the Raiders on Sunday, but do they have the more talented quarterback?

It depends on who you ask.

Former NFL scout John Middlekauff asked several NFL executives and quarterback coaches who they’d rather have under center going forward: Derek Carr or Colin Kaepernick — Two players who were both taken 36th overall in the NFL Draft, but three years apart.

Despite the fact that Carr is the quarterback of a 1-10 team, all five people asked by Middlekauff said they’d take Carr.

Carr and Kaepernick have actually put up similar numbers this season, even though they’re in two completely different situations.

Kaepernick has a stronger arm and is a better athlete, but the argument for Carr seems to be that he has a higher ceiling. Read More > at CBS Sports

Eat within 12-hour window to lose weight, say scientists - Dieters hoping to shed the pounds should watch the clock as much as their calories after scientists discovered that limiting the hours we eat stops weight gain.

Confining meals to a 12 hour window, such as 8am to 8pm, and fasting for the remaining day, appears to make a huge difference to whether fat is stored, or burned up by the body.

Researchers at The Salk Institute in the US, said it adds more evidence to studies which show that eating late at night causes weight gain.

They suggest restricting eating hours could help fight high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. Read More > in The Telegraph

As Gas Prices Fall, Auto Buyers Abandon Greener Cars - Plummeting gas prices have pushed car buyers away from smaller, greener cars and back into their traditional comfort zone: big SUVs and light-duty trucks.

Amid robust sales last month, automakers saw consumers flock toward larger cars, while shunning traditional small cars. And although the strong sales are good news for carmakers right now, that could create problems later as the manufacturers work to meet tightening federal fuel economy standards.

“It is a fact that sales of our most energy-efficient vehicles mirror gas prices,” said Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Auto Alliance, the lobbying arm for American carmakers. “When gas is more costly, sales of high-mileage vehicles rises too, and vice versa. While low energy prices offer good news for our customers, it makes the steep climb to [fuel economy] compliance even more challenging.”

Thanks in part to dealers’ promotions and a rebounding economy, auto sales were strong in November, with Subaru and Chrysler both reporting 20 percent increases over the previous month. General Motors, Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen all saw gains as well, as the industry is on track to finish with annual sales higher than in 2013. Read More > in the National Journal

Mandatory DNA collection during arrest is unconstitutional, court says - A state appeals court decided unanimously Wednesday that California’s practice of taking DNA from people arrested for felonies — though not necessarily convicted or even charged — violates the state constitution.

The decision, handed down by an appeals panel here, is likely to be appealed to the California Supreme Court.

A three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal struck down a portion of a 2004 law passed by voters permitting the state to take and store DNA profiles from people arrested for felonies.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a more limited Maryland law under the federal Constitution.

But Wednesday’s decision was based on the California Constitution, which specifically gives residents privacy rights. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Sign of the spillover: Luxury home sales surge 68% in Oakland - The number of million-dollar houses sold has surged by almost 68 percent in Oakland over the past year, giving the East Bay city a larger chunk of the luxury home sales market that San Francisco and the South Bay are known for.

The quarterly report of luxury home sales released by Redfin on Wednesday gives a clear picture of the much-hyped Oakland spillover from San Francisco or Peninsula buyers priced out of some of the most expensive cities in the country.

“The prices in the Peninsula and San Francisco, being where they’re at, are pushing younger, first-time buyers out this way,” said Tom Hendershot, a Redfin real estate agent who works in Oakland and Berkeley. “The majority of who I’m working with right now are first-time home buyers. The perception is you get more bang for your buck in the Oakland-Berkeley area.”

Hendershot said the million-dollar home sales are concentrated in neighborhoods like Rockridge, Montclair and Piedmont. Since 2011, the number of million-dollar home sales has more than quadrupled in Oakland, Redfin said. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

First U.S. Gas Station Drops Below $2 a Gallon - An Oncue Express station in Oklahoma City was selling the motor fuel for $1.99 a gallon today, becoming the first one to drop below $2 in the U.S. since July 30, 2010, Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy Organization Inc., said by e-mail from Chicago.

“We knew when we saw crude oil prices drop last week that we’d break the $2 threshold pretty soon, but we didn’t know if it would happen in South Carolina, Texas, Missouri or Oklahoma,” said DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy. “Today’s national average, $2.74, now makes the current price we pay a whopping 51 cents per gallon less than what we paid a year ago.”

Gasoline is sliding after OPEC decided last week not to cut production amid a global glut of oil that has already dragged international oil prices down by 37 percent in the past five months. Pump prices have fallen by almost a dollar since reaching this year’s high on April 26. Read More > at Bloomberg

CalPERS says retirees will soon outnumber public employees - The number of retirees receiving benefits from the California Public Employees Retirement System will soon outnumber those paying into it.

The ratio of employees paying into CalPERS to retirees taking money out fell 25 percent in the last decade, according to a recent report to the fund’s board. It is a trend that is expected to continue, according to CalPERS analysts.

Workers used to outnumber retirees 2-1. It is now about 1.5-1, and is expected to flip in the near future. Eventually retirees will outnumber active workers by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1 in some CalPERS retirement plans.

The report also states that “employers are exposed to a considerable amount of contribution rate volatility and a risk of further changes in funded status. Contribution rates are expected to remain high for an extended period unless there is a period of exceptional returns in the markets.”

“Our current amortization policies are expected to fully fund the plans over the next 30 years but to do so require the high contribution levels shown in this report. On a hypothetical termination basis, funded levels are even lower. This means that members will be exposed to significant or even devastating benefit reductions should employers elect to terminate their plans unless employers are able to make up the shortfall.” Read More > at California County News

Whodunnit? Why North Korea Is Suspected in the Sony Hack - Sony (SNE) was warned. After learning of the company’s plans to release a James Franco-Seth Rogen comedy about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong Un, North Korea declared war in June. At the time, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said all North Koreans were determined “to mercilessly destroy anyone who dares hurt or attack the supreme leadership of the country, even a bit.”

Thanks to threats like that, North Korea is a prime suspect in the hacking attack that crippled Sony Pictures last week. The attackers made off with several new Sony movies, including Brad Pitt’s Fury and the remake of Annie, and they apparently made them available online. One movie that the hackers haven’t leaked is The Interview, the Franco and Rogen film that got the North Koreans so outraged with Sony in the first place.

An investigation is underway, with the FBI taking part, and it’s too early to say whether Kim’s regime had any role in the hack. But “the facts and the evidence really point to the East on this one,” Joe Loomis, CyberSponse chief executive officer and founder, told Bloomberg Television. The incident is an example of a “new type of warfare coming along now,” he added, “where you have a foreign country attacking a corporation.” Read More > at Bloomberg Business Week

Millionaire Grocery Clerks: The Amazing WinCo Foods Story - In Corvallis, Oregon, a couple miles north of the Oregon State University campus, sits a WinCo Foods discount supermarket and, unless you’re in need of groceries, you might drive by without noticing it. I assure you, however, it’s an extraordinary building, a laboratory of capitalism worthy of pilgrimages by the world’s great business schools.

Inside the store labor 130 employees of WinCo – grocery clerks, shelf stockers, display builders, bakery workers – and their combined retirement savings roughly comes to an astounding $100 million. And that figure is growing rapidly, such that in a few years the average wealth of these employees could easily exceed $1 million. Quite a few individual workers already have account balances above that level.

Outside of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, the WinCo store represents an unusually concentrated – and unlikely — grouping of millionaires. The secret to their wealth is employee ownership. Since 1985, WinCo, which operates 98 stores across eight states from its headquarters in Boise , Idaho, has been employee owned, with an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP, as the vehicle for its workers’ main retirement savings. (WinCo also has a 401k and about 70% of workers participate.)

The company is by all indications well managed, grows steadily and provides its clientele of families on a budget a combination of low prices, wide selection and efficient and friendly service. Sales for fiscal 2015 are expected at about $6 billion. Same store sales growth and expansion into new markets have propelled WinCo’s profits and thus its ESOP stock past competitors and, indeed, past most growth stocks. The shares have risen at a compounded annual rate of about 20% since 1986. Purchased for $10 million from its former owners in 1985, company workers today hold shares valued at close to $3 billion. Read More > in Forbes

America defiant in ‘oil war’ with OPEC - America’s energy industry is battling OPEC with a ferocity not seen since the 1980s. So far, it’s not backing down.

The oil cartel’s decision last week not scale back on production was widely seen as an attempt to choke off the U.S. shale boom. OPEC figures that by driving down oil prices, North American producers will collapse.

Both sides are feeling the heat as oil prices stay below $70. Oil rich nations are losing out on much-needed revenue to bankroll their budgets, and many domestic energy players are feeling the pressure as well.

But those who came to get rich in America’s 21st Century oil rush shouldn’t start packing their bags just yet. The U.S. is producing the most crude oil in 30 years, and prices would need to get much worse before the shale boom dies off. Read More > at CNNMoney

Pedophile Panic at the Salvation Army: No Teen Boys Allowed, Too Dangerous - When it comes to helping families in need, the Salvation Army turns a cold shoulder to one class of people: Teenage boys. A family in Johnson City, TN, found this out recently when, on a freezing cold night, they asked the organization for shelter. But because their family of five contained a 15-year-old boy, they were turned down.

As the dad, Tim Lejeune, explained to WMC Action News 5:

“They said he’s too old to stay on the women’s side, because of the women running around in their pajamas and they said he’s too young to stay on the men’s side in case some pervert wants to do whatever,” Lejeune said.

Lejeune says his wife, their 15 year-old son, 16 year-old daughter and five year-old son, all down on their luck, have been living in their car for the last several weeks.

So instead the family headed to their car. The temperature: 18 degrees.

Somehow, local police officers came upon them and brought them to the Johnson Inn. The officers then pooled their money to pay for a room. When the night clerk figured out what was going on, he comped the room, so the officers’ money went to groceries for the family.

Meantime, 911 dispatchers who had been in on the action pooled their money to provide the Lejeunes some more food.

And after that, the Salvation Army did take the family in—minus the teen boy.

He’s not sleeping on the streets. He’s now in a mental health facility. He had a breakdown, his dad says, because he thought it was his fault the family was turned away from shelter. Read More > at Reason

Berkeley Eyes Cell Phone Safety Warnings - Well, they’re at it again! The city that just brought us the nation’s first soda tax now wants residents to think twice before using their cellular phones.

In a 7 to 2 vote, the Berkeley City Council recently approved the crafting of a new ordinance requiring health safety warning sheets to be distributed when mobile devices are sold. The pamphlets are meant to inform consumers about the potential safety risks posed by radiation and other emissions from cell phones. In particular, they would remind users to read their manuals prior to use and recommend a “separation distance” to prevent the phones from being held too close to the body.

Prior to the vote, the council heard from ten members of the public who believe cell phone use is inexorably linked to cancer and other ailments. Among the speakers was Professor Joel Moskowitz of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. He called the ordinance a logical next step for the notoriously health conscious city.

Critics of the proposal include Berkeley Chamber of Commerce CEO Polly Armstrong and Dmitri Belser, Executive Director at the Center for Accessible Technology and president of the Ed Roberts Campus. The FDA, they note, is already reviewing the issue extensively. So far, “there is no scientific evidence that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer or a variety of other problems, including headaches, dizziness or memory loss,” according to the FDA website. Read More > at California City News

The Future of Cars: Batteries Included? – Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla, has done what GM couldn’t when, 20 years ago, EV1 was introduced as the first (failed) mainstream, all-electric car. Tesla has moved electric vehicles (EVs) from cult to elite status. Seductively designed and impressively engineered, the nearly $100,000 Tesla is a must-own for one-percenters.

Could Tesla, in particular, with its to-be-released cheaper plug-in sedan, along with the other dozen major EV manufacturers, be the portent of an automotive revolution that finally displaces the vilified internal combustion engine? Or has Musk created—no small feat—a modern Maserati? (The latter celebrates its centennial on December 1, 2014.) At present, the wisdom of the stock market gives Tesla a value approaching that of GM, which produces as many cars in a week as Tesla does in a year.

One thing is certain about the future of personal transportation: People like it. So, in two decades, there will be 1 billion more cars on the road, up from today’s 800 million. Even in America there will be more cars. It turns out that the notion that bicycle-loving millennials eschew cars is wrong; the downturn in auto ownership breathlessly flagged by New Economy mavens turns out to have, instead, been about money. As the Great Recession slowly recedes, millennials are buying cars and surveys show they want them roughly as much as their boomer parents did. (Different styles to be sure, but there’s no evidence they’d prefer to bike, hitchhike, take the bus or walk.)

For cars, the future is determined by realities in two domains. First, physics determines what engineers can do at a price that most people will pay. Second, psychology determines what people want and pay for.

Start with psychology. Consumers want cars to provide five things well: comfort, convenience, reliability, safety, and style. All of it, and cheap. Real-world data show that fuel economy and environmental attributes are valued, but only a tiny niche elevate them to the detriment of cost and the five core attributes. And now there is a sixth attribute that surveys show young buyers often value more than fuel mileage—digital features and connectivity. Read More > at Real Clear Politics

State Republicans take another jab at cap-and-trade - Stressing the hit to small businesses and motorists in rural areas, Republicans from both houses of the state Legislature lined up another offense against California’s cap-and-trade program Monday.

Depending on dueling estimates, the pollution-reduction program is expected to raise gas prices next year between a few pennies and 76 cents per gallon. Legislation introduced Monday would ward off that increase by eliminating a provision in the law that inserts gas and diesel fuels into the program.

The legislation duplicates another GOP bill from this year that didn’t earn as much as a policy hearing under the Democratic-controlled Senate. This newest vehicle appears to face just as steep a climb — with Gov. Jerry Brown a big supporter of cap-and-trade. But GOP legislators said Monday they are undeterred. Read More > in the Sacramento Business Journal

As oil prices plunge, wide-ranging effects for consumers and the global economy - Tumbling oil prices are draining hundreds of billions of dollars from the coffers of oil-rich exporters and oil companies and injecting a much-needed boost for ailing economies in Europe and Japan — and for American consumers at the start of the peak shopping season.

The result could be one of the biggest transfers of wealth in history, potentially reshaping everything from talks over Iran’s nuclear program to the Federal Reserve’s policies to further rejuvenate the U.S. economy.

The price of oil has declined about 40 percent since its peak in mid-June and plunged last week after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries voted to continue to pump at the same rate. That continued a trend driven by a weak global economy and expanding U.S. domestic energy supplies.

The question facing investors, companies and policymakers is how low oil prices will go — and for how long. Every day, American motorists are saving $630 million on gasoline compared with what they paid at June prices, and they would get a $230 billion windfall if prices were to stay this low for a year. The vast majority of that will flow into the economy, with lower-income households living on tight budgets likely to use money not otherwise spent on gas to buy groceries, clothing and other staples. Read More > in The Washington Post

Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates - Can you believe there are only 700 days until the next presidential election? Since it’s never to early for baseless speculation about what the future holds, we’re re-upping this piece from July. The headline tells you pretty much all you need to know about the prospective 2016 field:.

Hillary Clinton currently has the highest net favorability of any 2016 White House contender. But to put her 19 percent favorable rating in context, she’s tied with Boba Fett, the bounty hunter who froze Harrison Ford in carbonite.

None of the 2016 hopefuls is polling higher than Darth Vader. You’ll recall that Vader chopped off his son’s arm and blew up an entire planet, but evidently in the eyes of the American public these are minor sins compared to Benghazi, Bridgegate and Gov. Rick Perry’s hipster glasses. These numbers suggest that if “Star Wars” were real and Darth Vader decided to enter the 2016 presidential race, he’d be the immediate front-runner. Read More > in The Washington Post

Why Did a Law Intended to Regulate Massage Parlors Have the Opposite Effect? – Judging by our streetscapes, this is a state of massage. It has become nearly impossible to drive a thoroughfare anywhere in California without encountering multiple massage parlors. Since the 2007 arrival of the Great Recession, no retail business sector has grown faster, with hotbeds in San Francisco, San Mateo, Fresno, and Sacramento and Orange counties.

Then there’s California’s massage capital, the San Gabriel Valley, where I live. The city of San Gabriel has gone from one to 53 massage parlors in a decade, while little old ladies in Pasadena can now choose from more than 100 massage parlors (that’s one for every 1,300 residents), up from nine a decade ago, according to thePasadena Star-News. My own neighbors in South Pasadena also seem to have a lot of stress in need of relief. On a recent walk, I counted 10 parlors within six blocks of our house, with names like Massage Place, Shiatsu of Zen, King Spa, Massage Villa, Gifted Hands Therapeutic Massage, Massage Envy, and Happy Feet Foot Massage.

…Massage regulation is one small, but telling, part of the story. The surge of massage parlors came after 2008, when the state legislature enacted a “reform” bill to clean up the massage industry in local communities. But the law actually prohibited cities from treating massage businesses any differently from other licensed professional services, like law and medical practices. Instead, power over massage parlors was centralized in a new California Massage Therapy Council, an industry-friendly entity that handles licensing. The result: Massage parlors became one of the easiest businesses to open in the state, precisely because cities couldn’t do much to stop them.

This September, under pressure from cities, the legislature gave municipalities back some power to shut down massage parlors that don’t obey local rules. But the legislation also kept the Therapy Council in place. So massage parlors should remain a prominent part of our landscape for quite some time. Read More > at Public CEO

Drug Smuggling On the Rise in County Jails - California county jails have witnessed an explosion in illegal drug smuggling over the past three years, officials say. Now, they’re pointing the finger at opportunistic criminals bolstered by the state’s realignment law.

Since 2011, 7 of the 10 most populous counties in the state have seen a significant uptick in jail narcotics cases. In San Bernardino, intra-jail drug seizures climbed 102 percent between 2010 and 2012. During the same time period, drug cases at Orange County jails jumped from 91 to 378, while Los Angeles saw an increase of about 10 percent. The figures are no coincidence, according to county officials. In fact, they say many parolees are purposely getting themselves arrested in order to distribute narcotics behind bars.

Officials have placed most of the blame on the 2011 realignment law, which introduced a rougher level of inmates into county jails. In particular, they point to a provision known as “flash incarceration,” which allows parole violators to spend 10 days in county jail rather than months in state prison. Criminals, they say, have used it to smuggle contraband into the system for profit before returning to the streets.

While narcotics have always been a problem for the jails, sheriff’s officials say they’ve never seen anything quite like this. Read More > at California County News

The Holiday Season Brings a New Scam – “Shipping Problem “

December 2, 2014

We have Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us. After losing ground to online competitors, brick-and-mortar retailers have struck back with incredible online deals. Wal-Mart said Thanksgiving was its second biggest day ever for online sales and Target’s online buying was up 40% over last year.

This is the time of year that people buy new smartphones, TVs and new game consoles because they are able to get killer deals and now they are dying to get their hands on these new goodies.

What you may not know is that similar to a magazine’s editorial calendar, criminal hackers have a “scam calendar” which focuses on events exactly like this. They have campaigns planned and ready to roll starting TODAY for the rest of the month.

Scammers are preying on people that have just made a lot of online purchases on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. There are several scam campaigns being sent right now.

  1. Be on the lookout for “Shipping Problem” emails from from FedEx, UPS or the US Mail, where the email claims they tried to deliver a package from (for instance Apple Computer) but could not deliver due to an incomplete address. “Please click on the link to correct the address and you will get your package.” If you do, your computer is likely to get infected with malware. Warn everyone in the family, especially teenagers.
  2. Watch out for alerts via a TEXT to your smartphone that “confirm delivery” from FedEx, UPS or the US Mail, and then asks you for some personal information. Don’t enter anything.
  3. And to reiterate a warning sent out a few weeks ago, there is a fake refund scam going on that could come from a big retailer. It claims there was a “wrong transaction” and wants you to “click for refund” but instead, your device will be infected with malware.

Especially in these times, Think Before You Click!

Highway 4 Construction Work – Week of December 01, 2014

December 2, 2014

The SR-4 corridor construction area is a 55 mph zone and a double fine zone so remember to slow for the cone zone!

Full Freeway Closures

Eastbound:
There are no eastbound full freeway closures planned for this week.

Westbound:
There are no westbound full freeway closures planned for this week.

State Route 160:
There are no eastbound or westbound full freeway closures of State Route 160 planned for this week.

Highway Lane Closures

State Route 4:
There will be highway lane closures in the eastbound direction of State Route 4 between Somersville  Road and Lone Tree Way/A Street on Sunday through Monday evenings from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am and Tuesday evening from 10:00 pm to 4:00 am.

There will be highway lane closures in the westbound direction of State Route 4 between Somersville Road and Lone Tree Way/A Street on Sunday through Tuesday evenings from 9:00 pm to 4:00 am.

State Route 160:
There are no SR160 lane closures planned for this week.

Ramp Closures

State Route 4:
The State Route 4 eastbound off ramp at Contra Loma Boulevard will be closed on Sunday through Monday evenings from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am and Tuesday evening from 10:00 pm to 4:00 am.

eastbound offramp closure

The State Route 4 westbound on ramp at Contra Loma Boulevard will be closed on Sunday through Tuesday evenings from 9:00 pm to 4:00 am.

westbound offramp closure

State Route 160:
There are no ramp closures for State Route 160 planned for this week.

Local Street Closures

There are no local street closures planned for this week.

Questions or comments can be directed to the Highway 4 widening hotline at (925) 756-0721 or visit our web site at http://widensr4.org.

Sunday Reading – 11/30/14

November 30, 2014

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

Silicon Valley’s Power Over the Free Press: Why It Matters – A big shift happened in news and information over the past few years: The people who write news and information no longer control the distribution of it. Technology companies do.

Specifically it’s Facebook and Twitter — the large social platforms created in Silicon Valley.

“We have reached a point of transition where news spaces are no longer owned by newsmakers,” Emily Bell told an audience at the University of Oxford recently. Bell, who led the digital transition of The Guardian, is currently at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. (Here’s her Guardian column version of the speech.)

Previously, Bell says, “the pioneers of journalism were also pioneers of communications technology.” Today, the press no longer controls the platforms by which our stuff gets to audiences, she says. Instead, Bell says, they are controlled by private companies that are “unaccountable” to the public in the same way, since they’re fundamentally accountable to commercial interests. Read More > at KQED

Triumph of the Status Quo – California’s education reformers had high hopes for Marshall Tuck’s insurgent campaign against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. The 41-year-old former investment banker and charter school president tried to paint the 65-year-old incumbent, former legislator, and fellow Democrat as a creature of the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. Tuck wasn’t wrong, though both candidates spent a great deal of energy and money attacking one another’s character. And the race did expose a growing fissure between traditional union-aligned Democrats and an emerging faction of pro-business, pro-reform Democrats. But the biggest difference between Torlakson and Tuck—their respective plans for reforming the state’s tenure and dismissal statutes—didn’t galvanize voters.

The day before the election, a Reuters analysis called the nominally nonpartisan state superintendent’s race the “most expensive political contest in California . . . for an office nobody’s heard of.” The candidates and their allies poured more than $30 million into the election—more than three times what Governor Jerry Brown and his Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, spent on their campaigns combined. The California Teachers Association alone spent $11 million, including at least $2 million on independent radio and TV ads touting Torlakson and denouncing Tuck. Meantime, about a dozen well-heeled education reformers, including Los Angeles real estate developer Eli Broad and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, contributed nearly $10 million to an independent campaign committee backing Tuck.

Yet in the end, Torlakson bested Tuck by a margin of 181,489 votes out of more than 4.3 million ballots cast. Not a landside, but not a nail-biter, either. What happened? Read More > in the City Journal

San Francisco surges past L.A. as home to ‘ultra rich,’ survey finds - San Francisco saw its “ultra-rich” population jump 12% this year, pushing it past Los Angeles as the California home to those worth $30 million or more, a survey said.

The survey, by the research firm Wealth-X in partnership with Swiss banking giant UBS, says San Francisco has 5,460 ultra-rich residents in 2014, up from 4,840 a year ago. Los Angeles has 5,135, up 4% from 4,945. The survey offered no reason for the burgeoning growth of San Francisco’s ultra-rich, but one likely reason is an infusion of wealth from the tech industry.

New York led all cities with 8,655, up 8% from a year earlier, the report said.

Among states, California led the nation in the number of residents defined as “ultra rich” with 13,455, up 7% from a year ago. New York state was second with 9,530. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Wild turkeys have made a comeback and are ruffling some suburban feathers - Wild turkeys were nearly extinct a century ago, but a ­decades-long effort to restore their population has been so successful that the feathered fowl are showing up with varying degrees of friendliness in unlikely places — wandering into suburban backyards, pecking across Trader Joe’s parking lots, even strutting along Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia.

In the 1950s, the country’s wild turkeys numbered less than 500,000, wildlife experts say. But now more than 7 million roam the American landscape. Their impressive comeback is the result of an inventive effort to trap and move the elusive birds with rocket-controlled nets.

The soaring population has been a godsend for hunters, who are killing record numbers of wild turkeys, even in mostly suburban counties like Montgomery. But their resurgence is not without drama. Sometimes small delegations of wild turkeys wander into residential neighborhoods on failed exploratory missions for good grub or companionship. For people unaccustomed to seeing turkeys, their appearances are entertaining and occasionally unnerving.

Videos and photos of turkeys pecking at sliding glass doors, chasing reporters, strolling through New York City and attacking mail trucks — they seem to really despise the U.S. Postal Service — have been posted to YouTube and Instagram with hashtags such as #avianthugs. Read More > in The Washington Post

Renewable energy ‘simply WON’T WORK': Top Google engineers - Comment Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that renewables will never permit the human race to cut CO2 emissions to the levels demanded by climate activists. Whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.

Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren’t guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or “technology” of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company. The duo were employed at Google on the RE-C project, which sought to enhance renewable technology to the point where it could produce

RE-C was a failure, and Google closed it down after four years. Now, Koningstein and Fork have explained the conclusions they came to after a lengthy period of applying their considerable technological expertise to renewables, in an article posted at IEEE Spectrum. Read More > at The Regsiter

TIGTA: 50% of IRS Employees With Outside Jobs Do Not Obtain Required Approval; 93% of Employee Computer Records Are Out of Date - The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has released Controls Over Outside Employment Are Not Sufficient to Prevent or Detect Conflicts of Interest (2014-10-073):

Generally, IRS employees are allowed to engage in outside employment or business activities after obtaining written approval. Effective controls over outside employment can reduce the risk of conflicts of interest that could result in decisions that are not in the best interest of American taxpayers. …

IRS records indicate that, in Calendar Year 2011, nearly 3,000 of the more than 6,000 active, full-time IRS employees who held jobs or participated in business activities outside the IRS did not obtain documented approval, as required by Department of the Treasury regulations and IRS policies. IRS Human Capital Office management was generally not aware of the number of employees with unapproved outside employment because responsibility has not been assigned for overseeing the overall outside employment process. In addition, the IRS stated that it does not have authorization to use taxpayer information (e.g., Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement) to identify employees with unapproved outside income because Internal Revenue Code Section 6103 does not clearly provide that tax data can be used for this purpose.

It will be difficult for the IRS to monitor outside employment because 93 percent of the existing records in the database used to compile outside employment requests are out of date. Moreover, approval of outside employment requests is not always documented on the database or in Official Personnel Folders, in part because of confusing and incomplete guidance. Read More > at TaxProf Blog

Do You Know Your Flood Risk?

November 28, 2014

aerial-view-of-jones-tract-break_dwr

The Central Valley is home to more than 1,600 miles of State-Federal levees. In many areas protected by this levee system, the risk of flooding is greater than the risk of fire.

Consider these facts:

  • Since 1950, flood disasters have been declared in every California county at least ten times, with some counties having as many as 29 state and federal disaster declarations.
  • Since 1983, Central Valley State-Federal project levees have been breached and overtopped more than 70 times.
  • Local, State and Federal agencies are continuing to improve the State-Federal project levee system. But, there will always be some flood risk.
  • Just one foot of flood water can cause more than $54,000 in damages to a $150,000 single-family home and its contents in the Central Valley; three feet of flooding could cause more than $93,000 in damages.

Entering an address on the Levee Flood Protection Zone maps gives an estimate of the maximum area for that address that may be flooded if a State/federal levee fails with flows at maximum capacity that may be reasonably conveyed.

Thanksgiving – 2014

November 27, 2014

Twas the night of Thanksgiving,
but I just couldn’t sleep.
I tried counting backwards,
I tried counting sheep.
The leftovers beckoned -
the dark meat and white,
but I fought the temptation
with all of my might.

Tossing and turning with anticipation,
the thought of a snack became infatuation.
So, I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door,
and gazed at the fridge, full of goodies galore.
Gobbled up turkey and buttered potatoes,
pickles and carrots, beans and tomatoes.

I felt myself swelling so plump and so round,
’til all of a sudden, I rose off the ground.
I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky,
with a mouthful of pudding and a handful of pie.
But, I managed to yell as I soared past the trees….
happy eating to all – pass the cranberries, please.

May your stuffing be tasty,
may your turkey be plump.
May your potatoes ‘n gravy have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious.
May your pies take the prize,
may your Thanksgiving dinner stay off of your thighs!!

Happy Thanksgiving to all

Cost of Thanksgiving dinner rises, but is still under $50 for 10 people – from the American Farm Bureau Federation

November 26, 2014

2014-Thanksgiving-Graphic_1920x1080-1024x765

 

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 29th annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $49.41, a 37-cent increase from last year’s average of $49.04.

The big ticket item – a 16-pound turkey – came in at $21.65 this year. That’s roughly $1.35 per pound, a decrease of less than 1 cent per pound, or a total of 11 cents per whole turkey, compared to 2013.

“Turkey production has been somewhat lower this year and wholesale prices are a little higher, but consumers should find an adequate supply of birds at their local grocery store,” AFBF Deputy Chief Economist John Anderson said. Some grocers may use turkeys as “loss leaders,” a common strategy deployed to entice shoppers to come through the doors and buy other popular Thanksgiving foods.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10. There is also plenty for leftovers.

Foods showing the largest increases this year were sweet potatoes, dairy products and pumpkin pie mix. Sweet potatoes came in at $3.56 for three pounds. A half pint of whipping cream was $2.00; one gallon of whole milk, $3.76; and a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $3.12. A one-pound relish tray of carrots and celery ($.82) and one pound of green peas ($1.55) also increased in price. A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar and flour) rose to $3.48.

In addition to the turkey, other items that declined modestly in price included a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.54; 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, $2.34; two nine-inch pie shells, $2.42; and a dozen brown-n-serve rolls, $2.17.

The average cost of the dinner has remained around $49 since 2011.

“America’s farmers and ranchers remain committed to continuously improving the way they grow food for our tables, both for everyday meals and special occasions like Thanksgiving dinner that many of us look forward to all year,” Anderson said. “We are blessed to be able to provide a special holiday meal for 10 people for about $5.00 per serving – less than the cost of most fast food meals.”

The stable average price reported this year by Farm Bureau for a classic Thanksgiving dinner tracks closely with the government’s Consumer Price Index for food eaten at home (available online at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm), which indicates a 3-percent increase compared to a year ago.

A total of 179 volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 35 states. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers are asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as spending $50 and receiving a free turkey.

Shoppers with an eye for bargains in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages. Another option for busy families without a lot of time to cook is ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meals for up to 10 people, with all the trimmings, which are available at many supermarkets and take-out restaurants for around $50 to $75.

The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986. While Farm Bureau does not make any scientific claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation. Farm Bureau’s survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.

Link to full story

Oakley’s Veteran’s Memorial Unveiling – November 11, 2014

November 25, 2014

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Over the last couple of weeks I have been asked on several occasions for a copy of my comments at the unveiling ceremony.

Soon after World War I ended there was a movement to create a route across the country, 168roughly along the 40th parallel. The route was called the Victory Highway. The idea was that along the route, whenever it crossed a county line a memorial would be placed. Each memorial would be identical; a bronze eagle, hovering at the edge of a nest, with wings spread out, protecting two eaglets. A bronze plaque listing the fallen heroes from each county was to be attached to the memorial. For whatever reason only six memorials were created. One was placed at the intersection of Bridgehead Road and Main Street and dedicated in 1926. It stood at that location for 50 years. In 1976, a new bridge was constructed. During this construction the memorial was removed.

In 1999 the city of Oakley incorporated. In 2007 the new Civic Center was completed thatdads-pics-0011 included a park. The original design of the Civic Center had the council chamber located between the oak trees. New City Manager Bryan Montgomery tinkered with this design, moved the council chambers and created the park. The corner of Norcross and Main was left for a future memorial.

A few years later Councilmember Pat Anderson and I were told of the missing memorial. We found it in plain sight – at the entrance to the fairgrounds in Antioch. We both thought it would be great addition to our community and should be returned to Oakley. We attended the board meeting for the fairground and asked them to return the memorial. We were basically told that possession was nine tenths of the law and that we couldn’t have it back. By the way, none of the six memorials currently sit where they were originally located.

248The pursuit for a new memorial began with a discussion I had with Nicholas Welzenbach. Nicholas is the managing partner of the Oak View Memorial Cemetery who immediately suggested we contact Bobby Mattos of Bras & Mattos Monument Company. We met with Bobby and had some discussions, then brought in the Patriot Sentinel Riders for consult and together we developed a concept for this memorial. The concept was then taken to the Oakley City Council, who unanimously approved it. Our thanks to Bras & Mattos for their insight and hard work in the creation of the memorial.

With a concept in hand and dollar figure of $70,000 we needed a fiscal sponsor before we could raise money. If you ever wondered why you were writing checks out to Wingz to Fly Inc, Wingz to Fly was the fiscal sponsor of the project. Our thanks go out to Josie Monaghan, who operates the East County Veterans and Military Families in Antioch, who graciously allowed use of Wingz to Fly for the project’s fiscal sponsor.

With that detail resolved we were ready to raise the funds. Stepping up to the task was the Patriot Sentinel Riders, in particular Dick Lamb and Jeff Denny, who took to the streets, more accurately, the grocery stores to solicit community donations and brick sales. Their efforts increased the Memorial’s visibility and ultimately resulted in dollars coming in to help finance the memorial.

After a few months, the fundraising efforts of our 2 person team slowed down. We needed new1979151_10152064550783381_1076551873_o ideas and helpers to execute them. Up stepped Laura Cunha, of Stonecrest Lending, also known as the VA specialist who not only sponsored one of the Memorial benches, but also helped reenergize our fundraising efforts by offering her Staff to pull off fundraising tasks and furthermore, donated a brick for every mortgage loan closed in 2014. Her contributions exceeded over $6,500.

At about the same time, we launched a business sponsorship program. 250 letters were sent out to Oakley’s business community to request their financial support. Three sponsorship levels were made available Gold- being $5,000, Silver, being $3000 and Bronze, being $1000. These businesses will forever be associated with this tribute that was made possible in great part because of their generosity.

Gold– $5,000
Chevron (Boparai Plaza)
La Costa Taqueria
Oakley Disposal
Terra Care Associates

Silver– $3,000
DeNova Homes
Stonecrest Lending
Shupe Family

Bronze– $1,000
Subway
Mountain Mikes
Brookfield Homes
Cypress Veterinary
Oakley Press
Claremont Homes-
Diablo Vista Dental Care-
Delta Fence

Please remember to thank them next time you visit their establishments.

So it came time to build the memorial! Turns out these beautiful pillars weigh 3,000 pounds a257 piece! The existing foundation wouldn’t have been able to support their weight without cracking. At this point we engaged the Swisher Concrete brothers to request quotes for the demolition and repaving of a new foundation. They enthusiastically accepted to help. That “Yes” turned out to be more expensive than originally planned. In an effort to express our gratitude, and still falling short we added the Platinum Sponsorship level for these gentlemen. Also making the Platinum sponsorship level is Bear Electrical Solutions. Thanks to Bear Electrical Solutions who provided the lighting for the Memorial, which again was a plentiful donation of labor and materials.

I would be remiss not to mention one final person. Her persistence to detail is unparalleled. Her dogged determination to ensure that bricks and benches were correctly inscribed helped alleviate potential problems for families on this day of celebration. I can honestly say that without Nancy Marquez the project would not have been completed by this date. Thank you Nancy.

To wrap it up, thank you to all who purchased a brick that is now a part of this memorial. We are working on a process to sell bricks. We recently ran into complications. You can pick up an order form and leave contact information at the city booth.

Here’s what we will do-
We’ll unveil the Eagle first. This will be done by representative of the supporting businesses.

Doing the honors of unveiling each of the Branch columns are retired or active duty service personnel.

Coast Guard- Petty Officer Phillip Will
Air Force -Senior Master Sergeant Jeffrey Jacobsen
Navy- retired Lieutenant John Fulton
Marine Corps- retired First Sergeant Eugene Lopez
Army- Ret. Sergeant Randy Smith, President of the Veterans of Oakley

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