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.
Physicists Explain Why Coffee Is More Prone to Spills Than Beer - Coffee simply does not like to stay in place. Restaurant servers soon learn to pour coffee at the table or to carry the poured cup and saucer separately, lest they wind up with a half-empty coffee cup sitting in a pool of spilled liquid.
Beer, however, presents no such challenge. Servers can maneuver through crowds while carrying a fully-loaded tray of beers fresh from the tap and filled to the top—all without spilling so much as a drop.
Both coffee and beer are liquids, however, so why is one of those beverages so much more prone to sloshing over the edge of its cup or glass than the other?
Curious physicists have now identified the answer—it all comes down to foam.
Just as solid foam reduces noise by absorbing sound waves, liquid foam does the same for motion. The researchers discovered foam’s insulating effects by performing controlled lab experiments on coffee and beer. They used high speed cameras to record the waves of motion that rocked through the surface of coffee, an amber beer and Guinness. The more foam that was present, they observed, the more energy was absorbed and the less sloshing occurred. Read More > in the Smithsonian Magazine
There’s No Room for Cinderella Teams in New College Football Playoff - You are invited to the biggest party of the year on the condition that you sit in the corner the whole time and don’t bring any of your friends. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.
And that’s roughly what happened behind closed doors in the making of the College Football Playoff. It’s why we are where we are now, with five conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, ACC) holding all the power and five known as the “group of five” (Mountain West, Sun Belt, American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American) not whining because they’re just happy to be invited, sort of.
It’s the dysfunction that explains why we have two undefeated teams so far apart in the rankings. One is Florida State, the defending national champs, ranked No. 3, and likely headed to this year’s playoff. The other is Marshall, unranked, with zero chance of getting into the playoff. It also had zero chance before the season even started.
It explains how college football has killed Cinderella. Read More > in the Bleacher Report
Is violence more common in same-sex relationships? – A study in the US suggests that same-sex relationships suffer higher levels of domestic violence than heterosexual ones. Why is this, and how are Americans dealing with the problem?
Last year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released figures showing people in same-sex relationships experience levels of domestic violence just as often as those in heterosexual relationships.
But the conclusions of another study this year by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago – a review of data from four earlier studies, involving 30,000 participants – go further.
“One of our startling findings was that rates of domestic violence among same-sex couples is pretty consistently higher than for opposite sex couples,” says Richard Carroll, a psychologist and co-author of the report. Read More > in the BBC
Social Security: Why the Nazi Controversy Matters More Than You Think - Tens of millions of Americans rely on Social Security benefits, and hundreds of millions more expect to receive those benefits at some point in the future. Yet a recent controversy concerning Social Security payments made to suspected Nazi war criminals has reopened a pressing question that could have broader implications in future years: when the government can take away your Social Security benefits.
The case at issue involves dozens of concentration-camp guards and others suspected of supporting the Nazi war effort and millions of dollars they received through Social Security. Under federal law, even those whom the government forced out of the country were allowed to keep their benefits as long as they were never formally deported, according to an Associated Press investigation. Many government officials didn’t approve of the practice, which was intended to head off extended deportation hearings and raise the number of former Nazis forced to leave the country, and the resulting international consequences led to tension among some U.S. allies.
…Few would argue that rewarding suspected war criminals with financial incentives to leave the U.S. was an intended use of Social Security funds. Yet the speed with which Congress is taking action raises questions that every American needs to ask: just how secure are your right Social Security benefits, and could lawmakers take them away from you as well?
…Yet the Supreme Court has already ruled that Americans don’t have a property right to their Social Security benefits. In a 1960 case with similarities to the current Nazi controversy, a man named Ephram Nestor was deported for being a Communist Party member, and a federal law required that deportees have their Social Security benefits stopped. Nestor pointed to the taxes he had paid as entitling him to benefits, but the Supreme Court disagreed, refusing to see Social Security as similar to a private annuity contract. Read More > at The Motley Fool
Secret California water deal left high and dry in D.C. – After months of secret negotiations and without a single public hearing, a bill that would have built dams and reservoirs in California – and rolled back environmental laws – has been shelved. At least for now.
California’s record drought prompted both the House and Senate to pass their own version of water bills. The House version – cosponsored by the entire CA GOP delegation - would roll back environmental protections and rewrite water contracts.
Dianne Feinstein’s Senate version, co-sponsored by California colleague Barbara Boxer, was a more middle-of-the-road measure — with some protections for the Sacramento River delta — but opened the door to negotiations with the House.
The battle attracted big money from the nation’s largest agricultural interests. Westlands Water District spent $600,000 on four different lobbying firms last year. The Fresno Bee reported that the head of Westlands, Tom Birmingham, was in Washington this week. Read More > at KPCC
The hyper-real robots that will replace receptionists, pop stars… and even sex dolls: Unnervingly human androids coming to a future very near you - Chillingly life-like robots are causing a storm in Japan – where their creators are about to launch them as actresses, full-size mechanical copies for pop idol fans, and clones of the dearly departed.
There is even talk that the naturalistic, even engaging, she-droids may be taken up as men as partners in the not-too-distant future.
Android Asuna was a star attraction at Tokyo Designers’ Week showcase earlier this month and she is one of a series of geminoids, as their inventor dubs them, that are ripe for commercialisation say their creator robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro.
Gobsmacked men attending the show told MailOnline that she was well made, very convincing and had a nice voice. One man joked that Asuna would make ‘a good date; a cheap date!’
From others, covering their mouths in astonishment at Asuna’s realistic skin and facial expressions, the frequent response from the public was ‘sukoi’ which translates as ‘amazing’ in English.
Asuna is so convincing that many bowed respectfully before requesting politely to take her photo or join a selfie. Read More > in the Daily Mail
How the War on Poverty Has Hurt American Marriage Rates - It is no accident that the collapse of marriage in America largely began with the War on Poverty and the proliferation of means-tested welfare programs that it fostered.
When the War on Poverty began, only a single welfare program—Aid to Families with Dependent Children —assisted single parents.
Today, dozens of programs provide benefits to families with children, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Women, Infants and Children food program, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, child nutrition programs, public housing and Section 8 housing, and Medicaid.
Although married couples with children can also receive aid through these programs, the overwhelming majority of assistance to families with children goes to single-parent households.
The burgeoning welfare state has promoted single parenthood in two ways. First, means-tested welfare programs such as those described above financially enable single parenthood. It is difficult for single mothers with a high school degree or less to support children without the aid of another parent. Read More > at The Daily Signal
RG3′s fall from grace as stunning as his meteoric rise to stardom - Less than two years ago some believed Robert Griffin III could change the way the United States was governed.
Not just change the football fortunes of the Washington Redskins, not just change the bottom line for Nike or Subway or anyone else who’d jumped in with a pleasant, charismatic and dynamic quarterback, not just change how his position is played, in his case with 4.3 speed and an accurate arm.
No, he could change American governance.
RG3 was such an overnight superstar that when it came out that he – young, black, exciting – might be a Republican, political types wondered if he could serve as an outreach for the party into a pool of voters it rarely attracts.
Griffin has never confirmed his political preferences, but it didn’t stop some from believing that he could swing elections locally and federally, if not just become the candidate himself.
“I think we will see RG3 run for office someday very soon,” Sarah Davis, a Republican state representative from Houston, predicted back then.
Two years later and Griffin probably couldn’t win a caucus in his own locker room. As for the fans, if chants during Sunday’s demoralizing 27-7 destruction to Tampa Bay count as a straw poll, then backup Colt McCoy would beat him in a landslide.
Once untouchable, unassailable, un-tackle-able, Griffin spent the past few days playing horribly, conveying his frustrations to the media by blaming [at least in part] his teammates and finally getting absolutely lit up by his rookie head coach. Read More > at Yahoo! Sports
Fallen Arches: Can McDonald’s get its mojo back? – Perhaps no episode captures what’s ailing the world’s largest restaurant company better than the Mighty Wings Debacle of 2013. In September of last year, McDonald’s launched an ambitious program to sell deep-fried chicken wings across its 14,000 U.S. locations. The wings were a staple in Hong Kong, where the crisp cayenne-and-chili-pepper coating was developed. And a similar version tickled palates in Atlanta during testing. One blogger wrote: “Holy crap, those are really freakin’ good.” The wings were giant (“bone in,” as the jargon went) and meaty. And by the end of the heavily advertised eight-week promotion, McDonald’s was left with 10 million pounds of unsold chicken, a whopping 20% of its inventory. The Mighty Wings didn’t flap.
At corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., executives began pointing fingers. Some blamed the coating, which was too spicy for broad American tastes, they said. Some blamed the price, at a hefty $1 per wing. A box of five Mightys cost a buck more than the equivalent number at KFC. McDonald’s ( MCD 0.29% ) had justified the lofty price because the wings were so immense, taken from its suppliers’ gigantic eight-pound chickens. The wings were arguably a bona fide deal. But this brings up problem No. 3: Customers didn’t make that connection. Cost-conscious diners gazing up at the menu didn’t realize they’d be getting “absurdly huge drumettes,” as the blogger put it. “This was quality for price,” a former executive tells Fortune, “but McDonald’s is known for quantity for price.” McDonald’s might have thought they were value. Customers simply viewed them as expensive.
CEO Don Thompson, then in the job for a little over a year, had needed the wings to be a hit. The company’s performance had slipped on his watch, suffering from disappointing sales growth and deteriorating margins. Since then things have gotten worse—much worse. In late October, McDonald’s reported a significant loss of market share and its fourth straight quarter of negative same-store sales in its U.S. operations. Overall, the company reported a distressing 30% decline in profit. Expenses were growing even as sales were falling—a big problem for any company.
Analysts are now predicting that 2014 will be the first year of negative global same-store sales since 2002. Read More > in Fortune
California Can’t Ask Sex Offenders to Report Their Internet User Names - A federal appeals court has blocked California from enforcing new rules requiring people in its sex offender registry to report their Internet activity.
Proposition 35, a ballot measure passed by a 4-to-1 margin in 2012, mandated that people on the sex offender list inform the state of “any and all Internet identifiers” they create or use. That includes user names, screen names, and e-mail addresses, according (pdf) to the law. Every time someone registered as a sex offender gets a new Internet service account or Internet identifier, Prop 35 also requires him to notify the government within 24 hours.
That runs afoul of the right to free speech, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in a decision (pdf) issued Tuesday, Nov. 18, upholding a lower court injunction. Prop 35, the court found, is too vague about what it requires, too lax about protecting the privacy of people’s Internet information, and too broad and burdensome. “There can be little doubt that requiring a narrow class of individuals to notify the government within 24 hours of engaging in online communication with a new identifier significantly burdens those individuals’ ability and willingness to speak on the internet,” Judge Jay Bybee wrote. Read More > in Bloomberg Businessweek
In California, West Nile deaths highest in nearly a decade - While much of the nation has been focused on Ebola recently, hundreds of Californians have been contracting another virus: West Nile.
There have been 752 cases of West Nile Virus reported in California so far this year. That’s more than three times the average number of annual cases over the past five years.
More than half of 2014′s cases have come from Los Angeles and Orange counties, according to state data.
Most people who are infected with West Nile don’t develop any symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in five people will develop a fever, with other symptoms like headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash.
Typically, less than 1 percent of people with West Nile will develop a serious neurologic illness, and about 10 percent of them will die, according to the CDC.
But California has recorded 27 West Nile-related deaths so far this year – about 3.5 percent of all cases. The state hasn’t seen that many fatalities from the virus since 2004, when 29 people died of the disease. Read More > at KPCC
America’s Casino-Saturation Problem - In the summer of 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie travelled by helicopter to Atlantic City for what the local media described as a historic press conference. The news out of the city had been growing steadily worse, and by the time of Christie’s appearance it was clear that, nearly four decades after it had legalized gambling in an attempt to avoid economic ruin, Atlantic City was back where it had started. Standing in front of Boardwalk Hall, next to the mayor and members of the city council, Christie declared, “Atlantic City is dying.” The city, once known as the World’s Playground, had become unclean and unsafe. The number of visitors had fallen, and casino revenues were plummeting. Christie then announced a plan to return Atlantic City to its rightful place as the East Coast’s premier entertainment destination. There would be a sparkling new tourist district, with more conventions, restaurants, retail outlets, and non-gambling attractions. Also in development were bold new marketing plans and nonstop air routes to deliver fresh gamblers. Atlantic City, the Governor promised, would become “Las Vegas East.”
Four years later, Christie’s plan has failed. Four of Atlantic City’s twelve casinos have gone out of business this year, including Revel, an estimated $2.3-billion jewel that opened just two years ago; another, the Trump Taj Mahal, has announced that it could close within weeks. An estimated eight thousand jobs have already been lost, and thousands more seem likely to follow. Since Christie’s 2010 press conference, the assessed value of all the property in the city has declined by nearly half.
While it would be easy to conclude that Atlantic City’s demise is the predictable result of decades of well-documented greed, corruption, and incompetent leadership, the city is in fact one of the first casualties of a nationwide casino arms race. Eager for new jobs and new revenues that don’t require raising taxes, states from coast to coast have turned to gambling: in 1978, only Nevada and New Jersey had commercial casinos; today, twenty-four states do. Atlantic City once had the densely populated Northeast all to itself, but now nearly every state in the region is home to casinos. And with both New York and Massachusetts poised to open massive new gambling resorts, the competition for the fixed number of gamblers there will only get tougher. “It’s a war,” Father Richard McGowan, a professor of management at Boston College who studies the gambling industry, said. “It’s remarkable to me how the states are fighting each other for gambling revenue.” Read More > in The New Yorker
California’s illegal immigrant population drops, still largest – California still has, by far, the nation’s largest population of illegal immigrants, but it declined between 2009 and 2012, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.
The overall number of illegal immigrants in the nation was virtually unchanged at 11.3 million in 2012, Pew said, but it increased in seven states while declining in California and 13 other states, largely due to a sharp drop in immigration from Mexico.
The estimated drop in California was fairly scant, down 50,000 to 2.45 million, about 6.4 percent of the state’s overall population. However, Pew says illegal immigrants are 9.4 percent of California’s labor force, second only to Nevada’s 10.2 percent. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
BART line to San Jose lurching into view, in fits and starts - Long considered a good idea, getting BART to San Jose continues to be a struggle — despite the generosity of South Bay voters, who have twice raised their sales taxes, and support from the tech industry.
After already curtailing plans for a Silicon Valley BART extension once, South Bay transportation officials are retrenching and considering cutting back again, this time by eliminating two stations from a future extension now seeking funding.
The original plan for BART to San Jose, hammered out between BART and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in 2001, envisioned a line taking off from Fremont, now the end of the line, and extending all the way to Santa Clara, passing through a subway beneath downtown San Jose en route.
Two key stretches of that line are under construction. BART is extending its tracks to the Warm Springs area of south Fremont, near the Tesla plant, and expects to start running trains to the new station late in 2015. At the same time, the VTA is building a 10.2-mile extension that BART will operate south to Berryessa in northeast San Jose. VTA expects it to open near the end of 2017.
But the dream of taking BART to downtown San Jose — or beyond, first envisioned in the 1960s — clashed with reality and had to be scaled back to improve the project’s chances of winning federal funding. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Are We Doomed To Arctic Winters In America? – There’s an unwelcome guest on your doorstep, America.
It comes from the north, dragging frigid air and awful commutes like an terrible shroud over the continental United States, from the Rocky Mountains all the way to the Atlantic. While the East Coast saw temperatures about 10 degrees below average, snow hit much of the Midwest following a 40 degree drop over just a couple days in Chicago, and a region stretching from Denver to Montana saw sub-zero chills and record lows.
This morning, in the stairwell of an apartment building, even New York City’s relatively mild mid-30s weather prodded a father into a shouting match with his weeping child: “But I don’t want to go to school today! It’s too cold to go outside!” “Put your coat on, now!” And in the halls of climate research centers and weather stations across the nation, the cold snap is spurring a more technical, but no less divisive debate — one that matters to millions of Americans who remember the last awful winter: Is this the new normal?
…All other things being equal, meteorologists expect a weak but warming El Niño effect to render this winter a relatively mild one, though forecasters have lowered the probability from 65 to 58 percent at last measure.
Hoerling, along with most other researchers, says there’s no reason to expect the current cold snap to portend a trend this season. But Francis isn’t so sure.
“It all depends on what happens with El Niño — if it does form, what we’re seeing right now will probably end,” she says. But she says it looks more and more likely that won’t happen. “The pattern of surface temperature in the North Pacific look a lot like last winter.”
In other words, let’s hope that unwelcome guest packs up and leaves for good. But if it comes back, bringing with it plunging mercury, snot-icicles, and general misery, you’d best be ready. Shiver Read More > at Popular Science
Results Are In! Voters Stayed Away - Look at the results of this last election here in California. There were 100 state legislative seats up for election – the entire Assembly of 80 members and half the Senate’s 40 members. Of those ‘competitions’ – as we used to think of elections – about 10 of them were in play between two reasonably competitive candidates. The rest were either cakewalks or exhibited no opposition to speak of. A total of only about 4 million votes were tallied for these legislative races. This, for a legislative body more than a majority of citizens feels is dysfunctional.
…Should we be concerned that so few registered voters showed enough interest to cast a ballot? Just when you realize that this is a dangerously low number of interested citizens, we should remind ourselves that this percentage is only of REGISTERED voters. There are vast numbers of people – the estimate is north of 6 million people – who are eligible to vote but for one reason or another don’t even bother to register.
…This leads to another question – is this lack of participation a bad thing? Some may argue that as long as there is a cadre of informed voters who participate, it is disruptive and potentially harmful for a group of uninformed participants to muddy the process. Is that what we want? Is that what makes our democracy more powerful?
This would surely be news to the Founders. They sought independence from a King who wielded power arbitrarily. They envisioned an active democracy that involved citizens exercising an informed power at the voting booth. Madison and Jefferson didn’t see political activity as a business; they regarded it as a sacred duty of a free people.
They were correct. Freedom isn’t free. The price of a lack of informed involvement on the part of the electorate is a government that imposes its will without popular support. It is likely a government ruled by corruption and cronyism, much as we see in less developed nations or banana republics. While the United States is considered far removed from that category, we are a country with serious problems and in need of reform in many areas, reform that is potentially stifled by special interests funders committed to preserving a status quo from which they benefit. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
Crime Trends in California - California’s violent crime rate is at its lowest level since 1967.
After increasing slightly in 2012, California’s violent crime rate dropped by 6.5% in 2013, to a 46-year low of 397 per 100,000 residents. From 1960 to 1980, the state’s violent crime rate increased from 239 to 894 violent crimes per 100,000 residents—a staggering 274% rise. After declining in the early 1980s, the rate rose to a peak of 1,120 in 1992. Since then, violent crime has declined substantially. Nonetheless, in the most recent national data (from 2012), California’s violent crime rate of 422 per 100,000 residents was higher than the national rate of 387 and ranked 16th among all states. In 2013, 59% of violent crimes in California were aggravated assaults, 35% were robberies, 5% were rapes, and 1% were homicides.
After a noticeable uptick in 2012, the property crime rate decreased in 2013.
The 2013 property crime rate of 2,665 per 100,000 residents is down 3.9% from 2012 and close to the 50-year low of 2,594 reached in 2011. Like violent crime, property crime increased dramatically between 1960 and 1980—from 3,177 per 100,000 residents in 1961 to a 50-year peak of 6,939 in 1980. But the property crime rate fell in the 1980s and ’90s, and by 2011 it was down almost 63%. Despite a 6.6% increase in 2012, California’s property crime rate remained below the national rate and ranked 24th among all states. Of all reported property crimes in California in 2013, 61% were larceny thefts, 23% were burglaries, and 16% were auto thefts. Read More > at Public CEO
Reimer: Legalizing sports gambling is a good bet - We’re a nation of gamblers, and it’s time we admit it. Betting on sports is an American tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation.
Granddad used to place wagers with his bookie, Dad runs his office’s fantasy football league, and his millennial son has several accounts on gambling websites.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recognizes this, which is why he’s calling for the national legalization of sports gambling.
“I believe sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated,” Silver writes in The New York Times.
The NBA and the other three major professional leagues have fought to stop the spread of legalized sports gambling since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was passed in 1992. PASPA prohibits sports betting in every state except Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.
But that law has been a losing battle for the same reason true-blue Massachusetts voters refused to repeal the casino law. It’s also why Massachusetts and New York are ready to roll out billion-dollar gaming palaces even though New Jersey casinos have been going belly up. Read More > in the Boston Herald
High court allows delta water contracts to be challenged - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed environmentalists to challenge the government’s renewal of 41 long-term contracts for irrigation water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, in a lawsuit seeking greater protection for the endangered delta smelt.
Water districts had asked the justices to review a ruling in April by a federal appeals court in San Francisco. That ruling reinstated a suit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups claiming the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation should have consulted with government biologists before renewing contracts with farms and water districts for as long as 40 years. The justices denied the districts’ request on Monday.
The Bureau of Reclamation first granted long-term contracts in 1964 for water from the Sacramento River and the Delta-Mendota Canal. When the contracts came up for renewal in 2004, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists said the deliveries would not jeopardize the delta smelt, a 3-inch fish whose numbers are considered an indicator of the estuary’s health.
The biologists re-examined the issue in 2008 and reached the opposite conclusion. The environmental groups argued that the Bureau of Reclamation should have consulted the scientists, regardless of their changing views, before renewing the irrigation contracts in 2004-05. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Here’s how NFL players and coaches use Microsoft’s custom-built Surface tablets on the sidelines – Thanks to Microsoft’s $400 million, five-year contract with the NFL, players and coaches this season have started ditching the traditional paper black-and-white images of plays used to review previous possessions, and instead are taking advantage of a customized Surface Pro 2 that Microsoft built specifically for NFL sidelines.
We had a chance to check out the devices today, and the first thing I noticed was the sheer weight of the waterproof tablets, which have sturdy casings that add about two pounds and can withstand temperatures ranging from 120 to negative 45 degrees.
…I spent a few minutes playing with the software, and it’s easy to see why these tablets are more efficient than the traditional paper printouts — 15 times faster, Tran noted. Images from each play — on offense, defense, and special teams — are labeled, with the ability to make annotations on each photo with the Surface Pen. Players and coaches can “favorite” specific screenshots that they want to bookmark.
Traditionally, images would be sent to a printer, and a team assistant would have to print the photos and compile them into a binder.
That’s all changed with the Surface. Tran noted that while some are adapting the digital tools slower than others — it seems some commentators haven’t caught on yet, either — 95 percent of coaches in the booths don’t user their printers anymore because they’re relying on the tablets. Read More > at GeekWire
Rising retirement costs help drive UC plan to raise tuition - When the University of California Board of Regents on Wednesday debates a plan to raise tuition by up to 5 percent annually over each of the next five years, they will focus on how the revenue could benefit the university’s academic mission: expanded course offerings, more support services, 5,000 more slots for California students.
But UC officials say the system also needs the money to help rescue its pension fund – neglected for two decades and facing $7.2 billion in unfunded liabilities – and to cover the growing cost of retiree health benefits.
“They’re going to have to ramp up contributions considerably over the next few years in order to maintain the financial health of the system,” said Adam Tatum, a retirement systems specialist at California Common Sense, a nonpartisan policy research organization. “What is certain is that the UC needs more money to pay off these unfunded liabilities – if not now, then in the future. That’s inevitable.”
This year, UC will pay about $1.3 billion to the pension fund, about 5 percent of its overall operating budget. UC officials want the state’s general fund to pick up nearly a third of the payment, which would cover the university’s portion of pension contributions for faculty and other employees who are paid from state funds. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
San Jose pension reform: new players, new ruling - In what looked like a referendum on a voter-approved pension reform, a supporter, Councilman Sam Liccardo, was narrowly elected mayor of San Jose. He defeated a union-backed reform opponent, Supervisor Dave Cortese, who conceded last week.
Local, state and national public employee unions reportedly spent more than $800,000 to defeat Liccardo with a campaign warning that pension cuts were causing the city to lose police officers, endangering public safety.
…The widely watched San Jose reform, approved by 69 percent of voters in June 2012, could lead to a state Supreme Court review of “vested rights” and whether pensions current workers earn in the future can be cut, while benefits already earned are protected.
“Public unions assert that pensions are inviolable, but California’s high court has never decided whether future benefits are protected under the state constitution,” a Wall Street Journal editorial about Liccardo’s victory said last week.
A series of state court decisions, a key one in 1955, are generally believed to mean the pension offered public employees when hired becomes a “vested right,” protected by contract law, that can only be cut if offset by a new benefit of comparable value.
Pension reform advocates, such as the watchdog Little Hoover Commission, say state and local governments need to be allowed, like private-sector employers, to control unaffordable costs by cutting pensions current workers earn in the future. Read More > at Calpensions
Vallejo’s Struggles Capture CA City Perils - After three years spent in bankruptcy, 2008-11, running the city of Vallejo is still a struggle.
Facing a weakened police force and a failed experiment in citizen-driven budgeting, Vallejo’s structural challenges have persisted. In the wake of the pension crisis that helped plunge the city into bankruptcy, residents have become resistant to spending more money.
Hungry for cash, the City Council has turned its attention to a raft of proposals for big-ticket projects like large new casinos. Meanwhile, law enforcement has attempted to staff up even while suing the city for modifying proposed pension benefits during its bankruptcy proceedings.
All told, this portrait of a precarious, ailing city has cast doubt even on bankruptcy as a reliable fix for the budgetary woes imposed by public pensions — a challenge still unmet across California. Read More > at Public CEO
Alzheimer’s Test Detects Disease Decade Ahead of Onset in Study - A new blood test for Alzheimer’s appears to detect the disease as many as 10 years before clinical diagnosis is possible — far sooner than other tests in development.
The test, described publicly for the first time yesterday, could soon be used to identify and treat patients with Alzheimer’s earlier in their disease progression. Those people could participate in clinical trials to help find new treatments. Already, the test distinguishes between patients and healthy elderly with 100 percent accuracy. Read More > in Bloomberg
WSJ: California State Bar in Turmoil After Shake-up Triggers Whistleblower Claim - The California State Bar was thrown into turmoil this week after its ousted executive director struck back with retaliation claims alleging that he was fired for complaining about ethical breaches inside the organization.
Joseph Dunn, a Democratic former California state senator, claims in a whistleblower lawsuit filed in California state court Thursday that the state bar fired him from his job last week after he accused the bar’s top disciplinary officer of lying about the organization’s handling of attorney misconduct complaints.
The bar’s leadership won’t say what was behind the shake-up, and Mr. Dunn says he wasn’t given an explanation when the bar notified him of his termination when was in San Francisco giving a speech on Nov. 7.
The bar put out a statement Thursday saying that it had terminated Mr. Dunn and that the bar’s president, Craig Holden, and a deputy executive director would be assuming Mr. Dunn’s duties on a temporary basis. It did not have an immediate comment on Friday.
The bar, an arm of the California Supreme Court, is the state’s legal gatekeeper, overseeing bar admissions and managing the state’s attorney discipline system for its 181,000 active members.
Mr. Dunn alleges that the bar’s chief trial counsel, Jayne Kim, who oversees investigations into complaints about attorneys, “unlawfully removed” backlog cases from official reports. “This was done to benefit Ms. Kim in her upcoming evaluation and to fraudulently inflate the productivity of her office,” the complaint says.
Ms. Kim, the lawsuit says, retaliated by filing an internal complaint against Mr. Dunn. The bar then retained an outside firm that billed it $300,000 — at $800 an hour — to conduct an evaluation of Mr. Dunn, according to his complaint. Read More > at Tax Prof Blog
Federal drug agents launch surprise inspections of NFL teams following games - Federal drug agents conducted surprise inspections of National Football League team medical staffs on Sunday as part of an ongoing investigation into prescription drug abuse in the league. The inspections, which entailed bag searches and questioning of team doctors by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, were based on the suspicion that NFL teams dispense drugs illegally to keep players on the field in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, according to a senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation.
The medical staffs were part of travel parties whose teams were playing at stadiums across the country. The law enforcement official said DEA agents, working in cooperation with the Transportation Security Administration, inspected multiple teams but would not specify which ones were inspected or where.
The San Francisco 49ers confirmed they were inspected by federal agents following their game against the New York Giants in New Jersey but did not provide any details. “The San Francisco 49ers organization was asked to participate in a random inspection with representatives from the DEA Sunday night at MetLife Stadium,” team spokesman Bob Lange said in an e-mailed statement. “The 49ers medical staff complied and the team departed the stadium as scheduled.” Read More > in The Washington Post