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.
So what is it like to drive with Nissan’s Smart rearview mirror? – Despite all the changes going on in automobiles lately, one thing that’s remained pretty consistent in every car I’ve driven has been the rearview mirror. We can check that one off now though, now that I’ve taken a test drive in a Nissan Rogue equipped with the new Smart rearview mirror. Due to roll out on the company’s cars in North America next year, it’s a simple augmentation that combines a traditional mirror with a video screen. Flipping the dimmer switch usually meant for night driving drops you into video camera mode, with a feed streamed directly from a 1.3MP camera mounted in the trunk that drops out the usual blockages from the car’s interior for a clear view of what’s behind you. Back up cameras are already common — and highly necessary if you have my (lack of) parallel parking skills — but is it time to change out something that’s worked pretty well for the last century or so? Read More > at Engadget
The tiny devices that steal credit card data are getting impossibly hard to detect - ATM skimmers, the miniature devices that stealthily help fraudsters capture your credit and debit card data, are getting smaller and harder to detect. Skimmers have always been designed to blend in with any ATM they’re attached to, but for years a discerning eye or tug of the card reader were often enough to uncover them. That’s not the case anymore. Krebs on Security has been researching a number of devices recovered in Europe this year, and several of them were small enough to fit inside the ATM card slot itself. The ultra-thin profile of these “insert skimmers” makes them far less obvious to your average person making a quick stop at the cash machine.
And thieves often pair them with hidden spy cameras that are equally difficult to spot; many victims never realize their banking data has been compromised until fraudulent charges begin showing up. Other modern skimmers include mobile chips capable of sending off your credit card data in a text message, so the perpetrator can avoid the risk of returning to the host ATM and picking up the device.
The United States and its snail-like pace to adopting chip and PIN debit / credit cards can be blamed for the growing skimmer problem. Until the US is fully on board, international banks have little choice but to keep manufacturing cards with the vulnerable magnetic stripe. For now, the best protection is covering an ATM’s keypad when entering your PIN — and keeping your eyes open for card slots that show signs of tampering. Read More > at The Verge
Four Times ESPN Went Off The Political Rails - ESPN got itself in hot water on Wednesday when Josina Anderson reported that Michael Sam had not yet showered with teammates. “But another Rams defensive player told me that ‘Sam is respecting our space,’” said Anderson. “From his perspective, he seems to think that Michael Sam is waiting to kind of take a shower, so as not to make his teammates feel uncomfortable.”
Now, ESPN has apologized for the report itself. “ESPN regrets the manner in which we presented our report,” the network stated. “Clearly yesterday we collectively failed to meet the standards we have set in reporting on LGBT-related topics in sports.”
But what, exactly, was ESPN’s great failure? Anderson reported what she had been told by one of Sam’s teammates – and nobody seems to have a problem with the generalized ESPN months-long obsession with Sam’s sexuality.
Presumably, ESPN’s offense was to report on a controversy that it and the rest of the leftist media created: a faux controversy about sexuality in the locker room that few seem to care about. As Chris Long, defensive lineman for the Rams, tweeted, “Dear ESPN, Everyone but you is over it.”
But this is hardly the first time that ESPN has stepped on a politically correct landmine. In fact, as ESPN moves further and further to the left, it risks offending its erstwhile politically correct allies more and more often. Read More > at Breitbart Sports
Sorry shorties, tall dudes have their pick of the dating pool - There is already a growing body of research suggesting that tall men are generally paid better and are viewed as more masculine and competent. A new paper suggests that their height advantage also spills over into their personal lives.
“There seems to be an almost universal agreement among men and women that they would prefer to be in a relationship where the man is taller,” said Abigail Weitzman, lead author of the study published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit organization that focuses on how the economy works.
That leaves short men with a smaller pool of women to date and marry. But it’s not all bad news for them. Their relationships tend to last longer, although that may have more to do with their partners’ choices.
The study found that tall men — guys over 6-foot-2 — marry at higher rates and are more likely to date and wed older, well-educated women. Short men, on the other hand, get married at the lowest rates, and they marry women who are less educated and younger than they are. They also marry women who are closer to their height — or taller. Read More > in The Washington Post
Union’s Blessing Paves Way For Passage of Plastic Bag Ban - Shortly before the state Assembly approved on Thursday a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, Republican Assemblyman Don Wagner pointed out the measure had failed on a floor vote just three days earlier.
“Nothing has changed,” said the Irvine legislator. “We debated it, we voted it down, and nothing has happened to this bill to make it better. There have been no amendments that have been taken.”
What had changed, however, was that a powerful union had shifted its stance on the measure. And when the bill was called to a vote several minutes later, it had picked up six additional Democratic votes – enough to pass. The legislation will likely see a final vote in the Senate on Friday.
The bill’s brief death, swift resurrection and muddled reasons for renewed life are emblematic of the behind-the-scenes negotiations that dominate the final days of a legislative session.
So what happened? California’s United Food and Commercial Workers Union had voiced “serious concerns” about the latest version of the bag ban before Monday’s initial Assembly vote. UFCW’s problem: Recent amendments allow stores to keep proceeds from the 10-cent fee charged for paper or reusable bags given to customers. In a letter to lawmakers, the union wrote it was worried the bill lacked a “serious enforcement mechanism” to make sure stores were spending the money properly.
But on Wednesday, the union was back to supporting the measure. Sam Rodriguez, who’s representing UFCW at the Capitol, said the union had reached an understanding with executives at Safeway, one of California’s largest grocery chains — not on any amendments to the bill’s current language, but to make sure the fee revenue was being spent where it was supposed to: on the costs of complying with the new regulations; buying paper bags; and educational campaigns for consumers. Read More > at KQED
EPA says proposed Delta water tunnel would harm environment - In a sharp rebuke of state plans for a massive water tunnel system in Northern California, federal environmental officials say that the project would violate pollution standards and could worsen conditions for imperiled fish species..
The comments by the regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency echo concerns that have dogged the proposal to change the way Northern California water supplies are sent to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.
The proposal calls for the construction of new intakes on the Sacramento River as it flows into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the hub of the state’s water system. The river water would be diverted into two 30-mile tunnels running beneath the delta to existing pumping plants that now pull supplies from the interior delta.
Although proponents say that the new diversion point will improve delta conditions and ease pumping restrictions, the EPA concluded that it “would contribute to increased and persistent violations of water quality standards in the Delta,” harming the supplies of local farmers and municipalities. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
Home prices just hit a 70-month high. Now for the bad news - Home prices have soared over the past year, but the news isn’t all good on the home front.
According to data released Thursday by RealtyTrac, the median price of a residential property sold in the U.S. in July was $191,000, up 3% from June and 12% from a year ago. This is the highest level since September 2008. States like Michigan (24% increase), Ohio (20%) and Virginia (20%) saw especially high year-over-year increases in median sales prices, as did cities like Detroit (33%), Dayton, Ohio (31%), Stockton, Calif. (24%), Modesto, Calif. (22%), Cleveland (20%), and Miami (19%).
But behind those gleaming numbers lies an unsettling reality: Home price appreciation is slowing. In 65% of the markets measured by RealtyTrac, the rate of home price appreciation was less than it was a year ago–a trend that Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac, says will likely continue. “The 20%-30% appreciation we were seeing last year is not sustainable,” he says. “We know that incomes are not rising that fast, and when we look at affordability, many markets are getting back to their historic normal levels for affordability, an indication that price appreciation will slow down.” In general, a 5% — 6% rate of price appreciation over the long term is what’s normal, he adds, though of course in some years home prices don’t appreciate at all. Read More > at Market Watch
The Economic Impact Of the Napa Earthquake - But wine country’s slow recovery doesn’t mean it isn’t an important component of California’s (or even the nation’s) economy. There are roughly 800 wineries in the Napa Valley selling approximately 50 million cases of wine representing almost $6 billion in sales. Almost 35 percent of all California vineyard acreage is in the Napa Valley alone. On average, the Napa Valley sees over 13,400 visitors spending $3.82 million a day. Napa wine yields a total of $26 billion in economic activity for the state rising to $50 billion for the U.S. as a whole. Over 100,000 Californians are employed directly or indirectly because of Napa wine production, bringing in almost $5 billion in wages. And the Napa wine industry is responsible for $1.2 billion in state and local taxes.
Because of its role in the California economy and its stagnant economic growth, the Napa earthquake is going to create large challenges – in addition to those caused by the drought that UC Davis says could cost California $2.2 billion in lost economic activity.
Anecdotal evidence suggests damage to both property and inventory is large. As of Monday, some 150 buildings have been either red- or yellow-tagged meaning they are either too dangerous to enter at all or can only be entered for limited purposes by the owners. Some vineyard owners are saying that upwards of 50 percent of their product has been damaged. Initial reports suggest that the costs will surpass $1 billion and could be as much as $4 billion. However, because just a fraction of Californians have earthquake insurance (and even fewer – approximately 6 percent – in Napa), insurers are only expected to cover between $500 million and $2 billion of the damages.
Repairing the damage and who pays for it, however, is just one challenge. The Wall Street Journal estimates a reduction in economic activity by as much as $100 million for the region due to reduced sales and tourism. And reduced tax revenues and possible relief aid from the state could severely impact an already-stretched state budget. In the longer-term, because vineyards were beginning to harvest this year’s crop and now will likely be delayed, vintage quality could be reduced leading to lower future sales. Read More > at Real Clear Markets
Beating Our Enemies By Energy Independence - It doesn’t take an international studies scholar to realize that the chaos level in the world is surging upwards. Sectarian violence in Iraq is on the rise once again. Syria is still mired in a bloody civil war with no end in sight. Russia continues to inflame tensions in Ukraine, even after its annexation of Crimea. And Israel and Hamas are once again clashing in Gaza.
For the most part, the US stock market has been fairly resilient, ignoring the rise in global unrest of late and trudging along without any major hiccups. Ultimately, there’s really no way to know whether the stock market would have performed better under more “normal” circumstances, especially given the improving labor market, strong corporate earnings, and encouraging industrial output numbers.
Longer term, however, the trend towards more global turbulence has made one thing crystal clear: The United States must achieve total energy independence. The fact that this is not a novel idea – yes, it’s been discussed during political campaigns and has served as the subject of countless articles and opinion pieces throughout the years – doesn’t make the pursuit of national energy independence any less of a strategic imperative.
The United States has always purchased its oil from countries with which we have, at best, a complicated relationship. Consider regimes such as Saudi Arabia. While the United States technically has a diplomatic relationship with the Saudis, they continue to tacitly (and sometimes, not so tacitly) support groups and policies that are hostile to Western culture in general and US interests in particular.
Such relationships could change. The United States will soon be the world’s largest oil producer, thanks to innovative new extraction technologies that have revitalized previously dormant wells and also led to a shale gas and oil boom that has galvanized into action a series of once sleepy communities across the upper Great Plains, Texas and beyond. Given such resources, we no longer have to fund our enemies.
The largest obstacle remains the existing infrastructure. It simply cannot support the current level output in terms of transporting, distributing and storing more oil and natural gas, and as such, it must be upgraded. What’s more, there has to be a more concentrated effort in tandem with any energy infrastructure overhaul to develop complementary renewable energy sources that have made great leaps forward in the technology needed to deliver on their promise, such as solar power. Read More > at Forbes
Court rules FedEx drivers in state are employees, not contractors - Some 2,300 past and present FedEx drivers in California are employees, not contractors, and are entitled to overtime and other benefits because of the extensive control the delivery company exercises over their work, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
FedEx contends that its drivers are independent contractors unprotected by California labor laws, and lower courts agreed. But the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned those lower-court rulings.
Wednesday’s decision covers all full-time FedEx Ground Package System drivers in the state between 2000 and 2007.
“This ruling will have seismic impact on this industry and the lives of FedEx Ground drivers in California,” said Beth Ross, the drivers’ attorney. She said it would allow the drivers to seek recoupment of work expenses for everything from their uniforms to the standardized trucks they’re required to buy.
Drivers for UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx’s main competitors, are classified as employees. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
State extends review of $25-billion delta plan; 30,000 pages not enough - Apparently 30,000 pages of environmental reviews and draft plans are not enough when it comes to the proposal to build two massive water tunnels in Northern California..
State officials announced Wednesday that more work is needed, signaling another delay in the biggest water supply project proposed in California in decades.
Backed by major urban and agricultural water districts, the project would change the way some Northern California supplies are sent south to the San Joaquin Valley and the Southland.
Sacramento River water would be diverted into two 30-mile-long tunnels and conveyed under the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta to existing pumping facilities.
The $25-billion project also includes extensive restoration of fish and wildlife habitat in the delta. Supporters say the changes will improve environmental conditions and in the process, ease pumping restrictions that have cut water exports.
But delta interests and some environmental groups are staunchly opposed, arguing that the tunnels will rob the delta of more water, compounding its many ecological problems and diminishing the quality of delta irrigation supplies. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
It’s Gut-And-Amend Time At The Capitol - It happens every year in the waning days of the California Legislature: A bill is amended to address a completely different subject, then brought up for a vote without going through the full legislative process. It’s known as “gut-and-amend.” And although the practice draws scorn from many, lawmakers insist there are good reasons to use it.
You might wonder what the Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles County has to do with gun buyback programs? Absolutely nothing, of course. But a couple weeks back, Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto took his reservoir bill and turned it into something else entirely. It would now require that guns brought to buyback programs be tested before they’re melted to assure they haven’t been used in crimes.
What Gatto did to the bill has a name at the Capitol: “gut-and-amend.” Sacramento State political analyst Steve Boilard says the practice is controversial because it short-circuits the normal legislative process – often at the last minute.
“A piece of legislation that’s been moving through the process – subject to committee hearings, exposed to the public – is suddenly stripped of all its provisions, and entirely new provisions go in.”
It may be legal… Read More > at Capital Public Radio
Hello Kitty is not a cat. Everything is a lie. – If you were wondering whether everything is a lie, the answer is: yes. Everything is a lie.
Hello Kitty is not a kitty. I repeat: Hello Kitty is not a kitty. According to Sanrio, Hello Kitty — whom you have seen on literally every consumer product at an increasing rate over the past 40 years — is in fact a human child.
This is as devastating as when they came out with Paper by Paperless Post.
Sanrio, Kitty’s manufacturer, corrected the curator of an LA exhibit on this ubiquitous icon when she tried to label Hello Kitty a cat, according to the LA Times. Curator and Hello Kitty expert Christine Yano said the company informed her that “Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.”
Hello Kitty is, in fact, according to Yano, a “perpetual third-grader.” She has a twin. “She lives outside of London. I could go on.” Read More > in The Washington Post
Judge finalizes ‘Sister Wives’ ruling as both sides prepare for appeals - Federal Judge Clark Waddoups in December struck the section of Utah’s bigamy statute that can be applied when someone “cohabits with another person” to whom they are not legally married. Utah law made such a union a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Waddoups said the ban violated the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution.
Waddoups let stand the portion of the statute that prevents someone from having more than one active marriage license.
In the final portion of his ruling Wednesday, Waddoups found the Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman violated the Browns’ constitutional rights when he oversaw a 2010 investigation into whether the Brown family was committing bigamy. At the time the Browns lived in Lehi. They have since moved to Nevada. Buhman eventually decided not to file criminal charges, but Waddoups said the investigation stifled the Browns’ rights to free speech, religion and equal protection.
Waddoups ordered Utah to pay the Browns’ attorney fees as a result of that finding.
In court filings and oral arguments before Waddoups, attorneys for Utah have argued polygamy is inherently harmful to woman and children and the state had an interest in deterring it. Read More > in The Salt Lake Tribune
The Playoff Bug - But there isn’t a college football team in the country I’ve cheered for more in the last decade-plus than the Boise State Broncos. Boise State has had some terrific players — Kellen Moore, Ryan Clady, Doug Martin — but it was about far more than just players. Boise State was the insurgent. In a corrupt BCS system that seemed designed to thwart fan satisfaction at every turn, one that appeared to get everything wrong on purpose, Boise State was the antidote. Everything it did was fun. The Broncos played on that crazy-ass blue turf. They won the Fiesta bowl on a Statue of Liberty play. (And of course ended the game with a marriage proposal, because why not? They’re still together too.) They even somehow bum-rushed the cover of the NCAA Football video game, with Jared Zabransky showing up in his Boise blue in 2008, the year after Reggie freaking Bush was on there. For most of the aughts, Boise State football was the best show in the country.
The one thing they could never do, though, was truly break down the castle gates. Boise State went undefeated in 2006 and 2009 and won the Fiesta Bowl each of those years, over Oklahoma and TCU respectively. It won every game on its schedule, each time. What did this get the Broncos? In 2006, it got them the No. 5 spot in the final AP poll. In 2009, it got them No. 4.
This has always been the fundamental flaw of college football. There is literally no other sport on earth — with the possible exception of Calvinball — in which a team can win every single game it plays and still never even be afforded the opportunity to be called the champion. (Probation and postseason bans excluded.) This includes other levels of college football: Just the top one has this problem. In 2006 and 2009 it was Boise State. In 2004 and 2008 it was Utah. In 2010 it was TCU. These were teams that defeated every team they played — literally, the absolute most they could do — and were never even given the chance to win a national title. This remains insane. This is in opposition to everything we claim to care about in sports. But we allowed this to happen, because it was intrinsic to the game itself, because of all sort of self-justifying excuses from the BCS powers. These are college students. They only play so many games. We’re just trying to determine the best team, as if sports were some sort of form of measurement rather than the thrill of competition. Read More > at Sports on Earth
Apply now: Amazon to hire 200 more employees for Tracy warehouse - Amazon plans to hire more than 200 additional permanent full-time employees at its 1.2 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Tracy.
The online retailer says it needs more workers to keep up with growing customer demand. Amazon spokeswoman Ashley Robinson said the Tracy facility employs “hundreds of associates,” but she declined to be more specific.
Last year, Amazon opened a giant fulfillment center in Patterson. It recently leased space in Redlands for its fifth California center, expanding its warehouse space in the state to nearly 5 million square feet.
The first California fulfillment center opened in San Bernardino in October with more than 600 positions and now has more than 1,000 jobs.
The bulk of the positions at Amazon fulfillment centers reportedly are for warehouse floor workers, called “fulfillment associates” by the company. Read More > in The Modesto Bee
Audit: State government errors give employees $6.3 million in unearned leave - State agencies gave their employees nearly 200,000 hours of unearned leave credits worth almost $6.4 million over five years, and the self-inflicted taxpayer expense will only grow until the government fixes the errors, according to a new state audit.
Accounting mistakes, misinterpretations of labor contract requirements and a lack of accounting controls at state agencies and the California State University are to blame, State Auditor Elaine Howle said in the report. Meanwhile, it’s likely that some overpayments to departed employees can’t be recouped, she said, because the recovery law is vague.
Most departments highlighted in the audit agreed to fix their leave-accounting systems. State Controller John Chiang’s office, which collects the leave data that auditors analyzed, embraced some fixes but said others were unworkable or redundant and questioned the audit methodology. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
Last Call The end of the printed newspaper - The Roanoke Times, the local paper in my family home, is a classic metro daily, with roots that go back to the 1880s. Like most such papers, it ran into trouble in the middle of last decade, as print advertising revenue fell, leaving a hole in the balance sheet that digital advertising couldn’t fill. When the 2008 recession accelerated those problems, the Times’ parent company, Landmark, began looking for a buyer, eventually selling it to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Media Group in 2013. The acquisition was greeted with relief in the newsroom, as Buffett had famously assured the employees at his earlier purchases “Your paper will operate from a position of financial strength.” Three months after acquiring the Times, BH Media fired 31 employees, a bit over a tenth of the workforce.
Many people have lamented the unpredictability in the media environment occasioned by the arrival of digital devices and networks, but the slow implosion of newspapers has been widely and correctly predicted for some time now. Print ad revenues have fallen 65% in a decade, 2013 saw the lowest ever recorded, and 2014 will be worse. Even a company like BH Media, with deep pockets and a long term outlook, can’t make a profit without cutting expenses, and can’t cut expenses without cutting jobs.
What happened in Roanoke — gradual financial decay punctuated by bouts of firing — is the normal case at papers all over the country, and more is coming. The next wave of consolidation is already upon us; big media firms like Tribune and Gannett are abandoning their newspapers (“spinning them off”, in bloodless business parlance.) If you are a journalist at a print publication, your job is in danger. Period. Time to do something about it.
…Contrary to the contrived ignorance of media reporters, the future of the daily newspaper is one of the few certainties in the current landscape: Most of them are going away, in this decade. (If you work at a paper and you don’t know what’s happened to your own circulation or revenue in the last few years, now might be a good time to ask.) We’re late enough in the process that we can even predict the likely circumstance of its demise. Read More > at Medium
Burger King and the Whopper About Taxes - Let me explain. Or actually, in the case of Burger King’s planned acquisition of Tim Hortons, let my colleague Matt Levine explain, because he is smarter and funnier and a better writer than I am, and has already nicely summed things up:
The purpose of an inversion has never been, and never could be, and never will be, “ooh, Canada has a 15 percent tax rate, and the U.S. has a 35 percent tax rate, so we can save 20 points of taxes on all our income by moving.” Instead the main purpose is always: “If we’re incorporated in the U.S., we’ll pay 35 percent taxes on our income in the U.S. and Canada and Mexico and Ireland and Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, but if we’re incorporated in Canada, we’ll pay 35 percent on our income in the U.S. but 15 percent in Canada and 30 percent in Mexico and 12.5 percent in Ireland and zero percent in Bermuda and zero percent in the Cayman Islands.”
What is he talking about? The U.S., unlike most developed-world governments, insists on taxing the global income of its citizens and corporations that have U.S. headquarters. And because the U.S. has some of the highest tax rates in the world, especially on corporate income, this amounts to demanding that everyone who got their start here owes us taxes, forever, on anything they earn abroad. Read More > at Bloomberg View
Napa earthquake shines light on Bay Area’s hazardous old masonry buildings - Nearly 30 years after California adopted a law designed to spur the retrofitting of buildings at risk in an earthquake, thousands of Bay Area structures still are not updated, a laggard pace officials attribute to the complex politics and economics of making old buildings safe.
Many of these so-called “unreinforced masonry buildings” dot the downtowns of cities like Napa, where a 6.0 earthquake early Sunday morning seriously damaged more than 170 structures and injured more than 200 people.
Nearly half of the Bay Area’s 6,580 unreinforced masonry buildings had not been retrofitted as of 2006, the last time the California Seismic Safety Commission looked at statewide efforts. Officials say that since then, progress has been slow — increasing by perhaps 1 percent a year statewide.
In 1986, the state required cities to inventory unreinforced buildings and develop programs for addressing them, said Danielle Hutchings Mieler, earthquake and hazards program coordinator with the Association of Bay Area Governments. But the law leaves it to the cities and counties to determine how to retrofit the buildings. “The result we see is a pretty piecemeal approach,” she said.
According to the 2006 survey, 1,520 masonry buildings remained unreinforced in Alameda County; in Contra Costa County, 329 hadn’t been reinforced; in San Mateo County the figure was 43; and in Santa Clara County, 102 buildings had yet to be reinforced. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News
Senate leader: No delay in cap-and-trade plan - An attempt to delay inclusion of transportation fuels in California’s program to fight greenhouse gases has been blocked by the leader of the Senate, who said any delays would harm the public’s health and diminish air quality.
Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the bill, AB 69 by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, would not receive a hearing before the legislative session adjourns on Aug. 31, a move that virtually assures the measure’s demise. Steinberg serves as chair of the Senate Rules Committee, the powerful panel that assigns bills in the Democrat-controlled house. He said “a measure of this importance should not be considered in the final weeks of a two-year session.”
The petroleum industry and a number of lawmakers in both parties surged that the scheduled Jan. 1 startup for including transportation fuels in the state’s landmark law to curb carbon emissions be delayed three years to 2018. Regulations written to put the law, AB 32 of 2006, into effect include a system in companies buy, sell and trade credits at auction to allow them to continue to operate while they gradually ratchet down on carbon emissions. The law requires greenhouses to be cut to 1990 levels by 2020.
California’s air-quality enforcer, the Air Resources Board, and environmentalists had opposed the delays, while the fuel companies said the cost of the credits could force double-digit increases in the cost of gasoline. Perea said increases in the cost of fuels would have an adverse impact on the economic. Read More > at Capitol Weekly
Life at the Epicenter: Preparing for the California Mega-Quake - The past few years have been turbulent ones for the planet. Earthquakes have caused massive devastation, killing 86,000 people in Pakistan in 2005; 87,000 in China in 2008; and close to 100,000 in Haiti in 2010. In the two highest-profile earthquakes of the past decade—the 2004 Sumatra quake and the 2011 Tohoku event in Japan—most of the death and destruction were caused by a subsequent tsunami, a rare geological phenomenon that to most Americans seemed as bizarre and otherworldly as an asteroid strike. Four of the 13 most deadly earthquakes in history have occurred since 2004—a statistic that says less about Earth than about how humans live on it. Growing populations and dense urban centers create greater hazards from natural disasters. (Even the strongest earthquake poses little danger to a person alone in a field.) When major quakes strike, as they inevitably will, people-packed cities like L.A. are most vulnerable.
…Meanwhile, Americans have been reminded that earthquakes aren’t purely a California hazard. In August 2011, a 5.8-magnitude tremor struck near Richmond, Va. That quake, felt from Georgia to Quebec, was the largest to hit the Southeast in more than a century. Using new paleoseismic data and more complex computer-forecasting techniques, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is refining risk estimates for places such as the Cascadia subduction zone off the Pacific Northwest coast, the Wasatch fault near Salt Lake City, and the New Madrid seismic zone, extending from southern Illinois into Arkansas, which experienced four magnitude-7 quakes back in 1811 and 1812. Of course, probabilities tend to have less impact than personal memory of actual events, and throughout the U.S., it’s been a time of relative quiet. The last earthquake to cause significant havoc was the 6.7-magnitude Northridge quake, which killed 57 people and delivered $20 billion in damage to the Los Angeles area in 1994. That mild Easter Sunday tremor in 2010 turns out to have been the most powerful earthquake to touch Southern California in nearly 20 years. Read More > at Popular Mechanics
Fresno federal judge: State’s 10-day wait to buy firearms unconstitutional for some - A federal judge in Fresno on Monday ruled the state’s 10-day waiting period for buying firearms is unconstitutional for those who’ve previously purchased weapons and cleared background checks.
U.S. District Court Judge Anthony W. Ishii issued the ruling after a March bench trial, as well as deposition testimony and numerous briefings that concluded at the end of June. Last December, he had denied a request by state Attorney General Kamala Harris to throw out the lawsuit. Harris, along with the California Department of Justice, were defendants in the suit.
A spokesman for Harris’ office said the ruling is currently under review and no decision had been made on an appeal.
Ishii’s decision comes more than two and a half years after the lawsuit was initially brought by gun owners Combs, Jeff Silvester and Michael Poeschl, as well as The Calguns Foundation and The Second Amendment Foundation. Two of the plaintiffs are local: Besides Combs, Silvester lives in Kings County. Poeschl lives in Orange County. Read More > in the Fresno Bee
California passes law mandating smartphone kill switch - Smartphones sold in California will soon be required to have a kill switch that lets users remotely lock them and wipe them of data in the event they are lost or stolen.
The demand is the result of a new law, signed into effect on Monday, that applies to phones manufactured after July 1, 2015, and sold in the state.
While its legal reach does not extend beyond the state’s borders, the inefficiency of producing phones solely for California means the kill switch is expected to be adopted by phone makers on handsets sold across the U.S. and around the world.
The legislation requires a system that, if triggered by an authorized user, will lock a handset to essentially make it useless. The feature must be installed and activated in new smartphones, but users will be able to deactivate it if they desire, and it must be resistant to attempts to reinstall the operating system.
Police can also use the tool, but only under the conditions of the existing section 7908 of the California Public Utilities Code. That gives police the ability to cut off phone service in certain situations and typically requires a court order, except in an emergency that poses “immediate danger of death or great bodily injury.”
The law doesn’t specify how the system locks the phone, nor what happens to the data on the phone when it’s locked. Each manufacturer can come up with their own system. Read More > at Network World
CalPERS Bucks Brown on Pension Spiking Issue - The nail that apparently can’t be hammered down, pension spiking, popped up again last week when a divided CalPERS board approved union-backed pay regulations for new hires, despite objections from Gov. Brown and the League of California Cities.
Brown said the vote “undermines” his pension reform two years ago, and he asked his staff to determine what protective actions can be taken. State Controller John Chiang’s office said his audit of CalPERS spiking controls will be issued soon.
The governor objected to pensions boosts from a “temporary upgrade” to a higher-paying job. Much of the media focus has been on pension boosts from regular extra pay for nearly 100 things, some seeming like part of the job and others of little value.
The CalPERS board approved “pensionable compensation” regulations for calculating pensions for new hires under the governor’s reform, which among other things aimed to curb “spiking” or the improper manipulation of pay to boost pensions. Read More > at Public CEO
Caltech-based seismologist says Napa earthquake damage predictable, preventable - Much of the significant damage caused by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake that struck near Napa Sunday could have been prevented, US Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones said Sunday.
The earthquake occurred at 3:20 a.m. Sunday around 6 miles southwest of Napa and resulted in at least 89 injuries and left three in critical condition. It is the largest earthquake to shake the Bay Area since the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta quake in 1989, according to the USGS.
Much of the damage in Sunday’s earthquake occurred to brick buildings, which are the most vulnerable in earthquakes, she said. In Los Angeles, all brick buildings have been retrofitted. While that doesn’t keep them from falling down, it does help prevent injuries, she said. Jones said she did not know whether the brick buildings damaged in the Napa area had been retrofitted or not.
In addition, fires in mobile home parks happen after just about every large earthquake, as they did in the Napa quake, because gas lines moving into mobile homes get shifted off their foundations. Jones said she has seen a mobile home park in the Coachella Valley where the homes are put in a slight depression rather than on stilts so they don’t shift during an earthquake.
Broken water mains also can be prevented by replacing pipes with new ones specifically designed not to rupture during earthquakes. However, to replace all of them is “a pretty expensive proposition” and in Los Angeles alone, would take up to 300 years because of the city’s pipe replacement schedule, she said. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News
Charging for paper bags isn’t justified - There’s logic missing in the battle of bags now raging in the California Legislature..
Flimsy plastic bags are evil, we’re told. They don’t biodegrade. They hang around forever, fouling the environment and gagging fish. They must be banned.
Paper bags are biodegradable. They eventually disintegrate and return to nature. Yet their use must be discouraged by charging shoppers for them.
The preferred bags? Thicker plastic bags peddled by stores. They’re reusable for awhile but also eventually pile up in landfills.
Or maybe a store-purchased cloth bag, a combo of petroleum-based substance and water-guzzling cotton. Let’s not even get into that environmental impact.
It all just seems like another nanny-state harassment of stressed citizens.
Now we’re being forced to keep our vehicles stocked with bacteria-collecting, reusable grocery bags in case we decide to stop at the market while fighting our way home in traffic.
Ban plastic? OK. Might as well outlaw plastic garbage bags too. And plastic cups.
…The paper people point out that none of the bag bucks will be used for recycling or any other environmental cause.
The reason is simple: If retailers collected the money and turned it over to government for an environmental program, that would constitute a tax. Then a two-thirds legislative vote would be required, meaning some Republican support. And it would never happen. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
Coming to Your Dinner Table: California’s Drought - If California’s agriculture has to scale back, the first and most obvious effect is that the quality of food would decline to something closer to, though still at least somewhat better than, what you get in a major urban area in the Mid-Atlantic states. The second and almost as obvious effect would be on the rest of us: Much of the produce in your supermarket would become dramatically more expensive, especially in the winter. The Midwest could basically take over the job in the summer, and imports from South America could probably make up some of the remaining difference, but most of us would be relying a lot more on frozen fruit and vegetables, and a lot less on fresh.
That’s not all bad — I actually prefer frozen fruit for cooking, because it’s picked and frozen ripe, rather than picked green and rotten by the time it hits store shelves. But it would be a massive change in how many of us cook. It would also widen the divide between how the upper middle class and beyond eat, and how the rest of the country does.
Of course, I hope it doesn’t come to that; I hope that wise water management and greater snowfall in the Sierras can save our fresh produce for many decades to come. But just in case, it wouldn’t hurt to find some recipes that use frozen vegetables. Read More > at Bloomberg View
Alzheimer’s patients to be treated with the blood of under-30s - This October, people with mild to moderate levels of Alzheimer’s disease will receive a transfusion of blood plasma from donors aged under 30.
The trial, run by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine in the US, follows their revolutionary study involving lab mice, where the blood plasma of young mice was injected into old mice, resulting in a marked improvement in their physical endurance and cognitive function. Completed earlier this year, their research, combined with independent studies by a handful of research teams around the world, pin-pointed a plasma-borne protein called growth differentiation factor 11 – or GDF11 – as a key factor in the young blood’s powers of rejuvenation.
“We saw these astounding effects,” lead researcher and professor of neurology at Stanford, Tony Wyss-Coray, told Helen Thomson at New Scientist. “The human blood had beneficial effects on every organ we’ve studied so far.”
Getting approval for their October trial has been fairly straightforward, he said, because blood transfusion therapy has such a long history of safe use in medical procedures, but the team will still keep a very careful eye on how the patients are progressing once they’ve received the young blood. “We will assess cognitive function immediately before and for several days after the transfusion, as well as tracking each person for a few months to see if any of their family or carers report any positive effects,” he told Thomson at New Scientist. “The effects might be transient, but even if it’s just for a day it is a proof of concept that is worth pursuing.” Read More > at Science Alert