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.
Verizon’s internet TV service coming in mid-2015, may let you pick only channels you want - Verizon’s internet-based TV service will arrive sometime in mid-2015, CEO Lowell McAdam said today. And apparently the company is finding broad support for its effort. At that time, consumers will be able to subscribe to a programming bundle that includes the big four networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC), and also “custom channels.” McAdam didn’t expand on this much, according to Deadline, but he gave a nod to “very exciting” programming like DreamWorks Animation’s AwesomenessTV, which will presumably factor into Verizon’s plans.
There’s even better news, though. At least for, it sounds like Verizon doesn’t want to overwhelm customers with hundreds of channels they have zero interest in ever watching. “Everyone understands it will go to a la carte,” McAdam said. That might sound surprising coming from the boss of the company behind Verizon FiOS, which is just like any other traditional cable company when it comes to programming choice.
But moving pay-TV (or something resembling it) to the internet calls for a different approach, McAdam said. “The question is what does that transition look like,” he added. Verizon picked up the scraps for its internet TV project from Intel, which abandoned plans to launch its own platform after struggling to bring in the popular content people do want to see. Read More > at The Verge
New Mexico city plans to auction excavated vintage video games - A city in New Mexico where 1,300 unwanted vintage video games were discovered buried in a landfill has voted to auction off more than half of the cartridges in the run-up to Christmas.
Members of the Alamogordo City Council voted 7-0 late on Tuesday to offer some 800 of the Atari games found earlier this year for sale on eBay and the council’s own website.
The mystery behind who dumped the games in the landfill, and why, inspired the dig and a documentary film by Microsoft Corp’s Xbox Entertainment Studios.
The find included hundreds of “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” cartridges, considered by some the worst video game ever made.
It flopped after being rushed out to coincide with the release of Steven Spielberg’s 1982 hit movie, and it contributed to a collapse of the video game industry in its early years.
Atari is believed to have been saddled with most of the 5 million E.T. cartridges produced. The New York Times reported at the time that the game manufacturer buried the games in the New Mexico desert in the middle of the night. Read More > in Reuters
U.S. threatened massive fine to force Yahoo to release data - The U.S. government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day in 2008 if it failed to comply with a broad demand to hand over user communications — a request the company believed was unconstitutional — according to court documents unsealed Thursday that illuminate how federal officials forced American tech companies to participate in the National Security Agency’s controversial PRISM program.
The documents, roughly 1,500 pages worth, outline a secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle by Yahoo to resist the government’s demands. The company’s loss required Yahoo to become one of the first to begin providing information to PRISM, a program that gave the NSA extensive access to records of online communications by users of Yahoo and other U.S.-based technology firms.
The ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review became a key moment in the development of PRISM, helping government officials to convince other Silicon Valley companies that unprecedented data demands had been tested in the courts and found constitutionally sound. Eventually, most major U.S. tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Apple and AOL, complied. Microsoft had joined earlier, before the ruling, NSA documents have shown. Read More > in The Washington Post
Why Walking Helps Us Think - Since at least the time of peripatetic Greek philosophers, many other writers have discovered a deep, intuitive connection between walking, thinking, and writing. (In fact, Adam Gopnik wrote about walking in The New Yorker just two weeks ago.) “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!” Henry David Thoreau penned in his journal. “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Thomas DeQuincey has calculated that William Wordsworth—whose poetry is filled with tramps up mountains, through forests, and along public roads—walked as many as a hundred and eighty thousand miles in his lifetime, which comes to an average of six and a half miles a day starting from age five.
What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.
The way we move our bodies further changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice versa. Psychologists who specialize in exercise music have quantified what many of us already know: listening to songs with high tempos motivates us to run faster, and the swifter we move, the quicker we prefer our music. Likewise, when drivers hear loud, fast music, they unconsciously step a bit harder on the gas pedal. Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. When we stroll, the pace of our feet naturally vacillates with our moods and the cadence of our inner speech; at the same time, we can actively change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking more briskly or by slowing down. Read More > in The New Yorker
Why Is Terrell Suggs Still in the NFL? – On Feb. 15, Ray Rice was arrested after punching his wife in the face at an Atlantic City casino, knocking her unconscious. Two days later, the Baltimore Ravens held a press conference in which general manager Ozzie Newsome said that Rice “was still a big part of what we plan to do in 2014.” But the Ravens hadn’t brought in the media to talk about Ray Rice. Rather, the team was excited to announce that linebacker Terrell Suggs had signed a four-year contract extension with $16 million of guaranteed money. “It’s just a really great day for me, and I’m truly flattered,” Suggs said. “I’m honored that I get to be a Raven for life.”
Rice and Suggs were teammates on the Ravens for six years. They’ve both gone to the Pro Bowl multiple times and won the Super Bowl. But that’s not all they have in common. Suggs, like Rice, is an alleged domestic abuser. Candace Williams, the mother of Suggs’s children, has filed for two protective orders against him in the last five years, both detailing a series of alleged violent acts. Shortly after one of those alleged incidents, Suggs and Williams got married, just as Rice and his fiancée Janay Palmer did not long after Rice punched his future wife in an elevator. In December 2012, the same week Williams got the second of those protective orders removed, Suggs wrote on his Facebook page, “Last night I married my best friend and the love of my life.” He added, “I’m a lucky, lucky man. Thank you God for all of your blessings and for showing me such amazing favor.”
For all those similarities, there’s one big difference between Rice and Suggs: The running back’s punch was caught on tape. The linebacker’s alleged actions were not. That explains why Rice was cut by the Ravens, while Suggs is being celebrated this week for wearing a funny T-shirt mocking Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. In the vast majority of domestic violence cases, there’s not a video. Ray Rice is an outlier. Terrell Suggs is not, and that’s precisely why his case is worth puzzling over.
The Ravens’ awareness and the NFL’s vow to “take a look at it” did not lead to any concrete actions. I was unable to find any follow-up reports from either the team or the league—what they found after “taking a look at it.” There have been no public reports that Suggs was fined, suspended, or otherwise punished by the Ravens or the NFL for either of these alleged domestic incidents. I reached out to both the Ravens and the NFL to ask whether either entity has conducted an investigation of Suggs, or whether he’s ever been subject to any discipline. I have not heard back from either the team or the league, but I’ll update this piece if I do get a response.
It’s not just the NFL that didn’t take the allegations of abuse seriously. Suggs’ case shows that without video evidence of an alleged crime, the press will move on, too. While his domestic disputes were covered amply in 2009 and 2012, the football media quickly pivoted to focus on Suggs’ goofy claim that he attended “Ball So Hard University.” Rice is a pariah; Suggs reads mean tweets on Jimmy Kimmel.
No criminal charges were ever filed against Terrell Suggs, Read More > in Slate
Report: Bay Area’s poor roads cost drivers big - A report released Thursday confirms what many Bay Area commuters may already suspect – the region’s overloaded roads are costing them thousands of dollars.
The study by TRIP – an organization that seeks to boost transportation funding and works on behalf of highway contractors and unions – found that crowded and deficient roadways in San Francisco and the East Bay cost the average driver $2,206 a year in vehicle operating costs, traffic-related delays and crashes.
The report breaks down the numbers as follows:
– Deficient roads cost California drivers $44 billion a year annually, including $17 billion on accelerated vehicle depreciation, repair costs, increased fuel consumption and tire wear due to driving on rough roads. That’s $795 per person.
– Motorists around San Francisco and Oakland waste 61 hours a year on average in traffic, which translates to $1,266 per person in opportunity costs.
– Roadway features probably contribute to one-third of serious and deadly traffic crashes. Those features include the number of lanes, lighting, rumble strips, shoulders, guard rails and barriers. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
August slowdown hits Bay Area housing market after red-hot year - After a red-hot start to the year, the Bay Area’s housing market is heading toward a fall and winter hibernation that should be easier for buyers battered by frenzied competition for a scant supply of homes for sale.
“We’re edging back to normalcy,” said Andrew LePage of CoreLogic DataQuick.
This year’s big annual price gains came early, with February recording a 30 percent yearly gain for Bay Area single-family homes; March, 28.7 percent; and April 17, percent, as homebuyers strove to outbid one another for the few homes on the market. Price gains began leveling off in June and July. And August continued the trend, with slowing sales and more moderate sales price gains — especially in the South Bay — the real estate information service CoreLogic DataQuick reported Thursday.
In August, the median sale price of a single-family home in the nine-county Bay Area was up 10.5 percent to $650,000 from a year earlier. That compares with a 35.2 percent year-over-year price gain in August of last year, according to the Irvine-based company. Read More > at Inside Bay Area
Ships without crew set for the seas - Marintek, part of the SINTEF group based in Norway, is one of a number of partners working on developing systems which can operate without the need for humans. The “Seatonomy” project is looking to have ships sailing without human crews in the next 10 to 20 years.
The 12 million kroner ($1.9 million) research investment by SINTEF could actually improve ship safety as human error causes more than 75 percent of today’s vessel accidents.
Researcher Ørnulf Rødseth said on ScienceNordic.com: “There aren’t many willing to believe it, but if the project partners succeed in overcoming the challenges we are currently working with, vessels such as this will in fact be safer than many of those on the high seas today.”
The team are looking at integrating satellite communications and anti-collision technology to create ships that sail themselves. The major focus is on creating a system that is safe enough to satisfy the industry. Read More > in The Local
Why GE Is Walking Away From Your Kitchen - General Electric Co. is selling its appliances unit to Sweden’s Electrolux AB. As an electrical-appliance hobbyist, I can’t help but feel a little wistful.
I understand why it’s doing it. GE entered the appliance business as a way to sell more electricity; the first toaster actually plugged straight into a light socket. The company has always been split between the part that manufactures dynamos and electric train engines for big companies and the part that manufactures demand for more dynamos.
The consumer-facing side seems to make pretty good appliances.1 But GE no longer needs to gin up extra demand for electric power. A vast array of companies now specialize in manufacturing devices that will run your electric bill into the stratosphere and keep it there.
GE’s consumer business has a very different orientation than its corporate business. For example: Sell a stove to a consumer, and you’ve gotten all the money you’re ever going to get out of the transaction; any further interaction generally means expensive warranty repairs. Corporate contracts, on the other hand, deliver ongoing revenue streams for maintenance and support. Covering two such different groups with one brand can be a tricky marketing feat. Finding management talent who can oversee them is also potentially challenging. Read More > at Bloomberg View
Improving the Vote-by-Mail System - For the first time in eight years, there is no incumbent running for California secretary of state. This offers a great opportunity to step back and consider where California’s elections are, and where they ought to go next.
Any such assessment must take a hard look at voting by mail. We see more voters using this option in every passing election, with the growth actually accelerating in recent primaries. If the trend continues, about 57 percent of the ballots in this fall’s election will be cast this way.
The question is no longer whether vote-by-mail is a sensible way to run our elections; it is now how best to manage the vote-by-mail elections we already have.
…All vote-by-mail? When 70 percent of the ballots in an election are vote-by-mail, one wonders whether it’s time to abandon the old polling place approach and mandate the vote-by-mail system for everyone. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington use such a system, and it has generally worked well. There are a number of arguments for the change. The persistence of a dual system may add to the complexity of counting ballots, especially with yet another system—same-day registration—coming on-line in the next few years. Moreover, while the evidence for vote-by-mail’s effect on voter turnout is mixed, it generally suggests a small but positive effect. Finally, given the fact that county registrars continue to struggle with small budgets and increasing demands, an all vote-by-mail system would offer a much-needed cost savings. Read More > at Public CEO
Are High Housing Costs Restraining California’s Growth? – It’s no secret. California is expensive. But is it a little more nuanced than that; coastal California is very expensive while inland California is just moderately expensive. Yet, despite being a well-known fact, Sacramento doesn’t appear too concerned with California’s growing price tag even though there is evidence it could be slowing the Golden State’s economic growth.
Real estate is typically the go-to indicator to gauge how expensive a state is. And California has, arguably, the most overvalued real estate market in the country. Based on analysis by Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Trulia, 8 of the top 10 most overvalued markets are in California cities. Possibly more problematic for California is that both coastal and inland California home prices are well above the national median. The average listing price nationwide is just approximately $341,000. Meanwhile, California’s average listing price is over twice that. Even excluding the non-coastal counties, California’s median average listing price is still about 10 percent higher than the nation as a whole. This is problematic since there is evidence of a clear correlation between California’s high home prices and domestic out-migration from the Golden State.
Yet, California’s real estate isn’t the only pricey item that could be causing the state problems. Looking at purchasing power across the country reveals that a dollar doesn’t go very far in California. Purchasing power is how much of the same thing a dollar can buy in different areas. California’s purchasing power is 112.9, which means California is 13 percent more expensive than the national average. Another way to think of this is how much $100 can buy in each of the states. For California, $100 can only buy $88.57 worth of goods, while, for example, $100 can purchase $101.21 in neighboring Oregon. And again, both inland and coastal California have weaker purchasing power than nationwide; indeed, while inland California is just slightly more expensive than the national average, coastal California is about 5 percent more expensive than inland. Read More > at Real Clear Markets
Man arrested on drug charges after butt-dialing 911 … and this happens a lot - A Tennessee man is facing minor criminal charges after his butt-dialing 911 allowed police to overhear a restaurant conversation in which he allegedly discussed visiting a drug dealer.
And before you say something like “no way” or “get out” or whatever, please be advised that butt-dialing 911 leads to police overhearing stuff that gets people arrested all the time. Or so say the police and Google.
In Tennessee last Friday, the bummed-out butt-dialer was charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, according to a TV news report. “Officers told News 2 the suspect had no idea he accidentally called 911 until they told him.”
That’s how butt-dialing works most of the time. Read More > at Network World
Why Apple Devices Will Soon Rule Every Aspect of Your Life - The biggest thing Apple showed off Tuesday wasn’t a product, or even a product line. It was the way all of Apple’s products—and thousands more from other developers, manufacturers and services—now mesh together. It is like a huge ubiquitous computer now, all around us, all the time. The interface is the very world we live in.
“The product isn’t just a collection of features,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said, announcing his company’s new iPhone, “it’s how it all works together.” And really, this is true of the entire Apple line, the entire Apple experience.
Tuesday’s announcements laid open the scope of Apple’s ambitions in making everything in your life work together. A computer on every desk? Chump change. With the new iPhones, Apple Watch, Apple Pay, HomeKit, HealthKit, iBeacon and even CarPlay, Apple is building a world in which there is a computer in your every interaction, waking and sleeping.
A computer in your pocket. A computer on your body. A computer paying for all your purchases. A computer opening your hotel room door. A computer monitoring your movements as you walk though the mall. A computer watching you sleep. A computer controlling the devices in your home. A computer that tells you where you parked. A computer taking your pulse, telling you how many steps you took, how high you climbed and how many calories you burned—and sharing it all with your friends. A computer in your car. All of it the same computer: The computer in the sky that connects to the computer in your pocket and on your wrist and in your car, your office, and your home. Read More > at Wired
Double standard: We condemn Ray Rice; but what about Mayweather? – One plays football. Or played football, anyway. A video released this week shows him striking his then-fiancée, now-wife, in an elevator, knocking her unconscious. It’s impossible to watch the footage and not feel sick to your stomach.
The other is a boxer. He has been accused of domestic violence on multiple occasions, including recently. He has gone to jail for assaulting one mother of his children, the charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. As recently as Tuesday, speaking specifically about the other athlete’s video, he told reporters, “I think there’s a lot of worse things that go on in other people’s households, also. It’s just not caught on video, if that’s safe to say.”
…Mayweather turned the month before he went to jail into a documentary. He fought soon after his release. No suspension. No year off. And only one incident of public outrage, at the news conference before his bout against Robert Guerrero, in which Guerrero’s father, Ruben, repeatedly screamed “woman beater!” and similar things at Mayweather, at which point Mayweather’s own father went after Guerrero’s dad, and they spent the next hour comparing who had been shot at or stabbed more often. People will say “only-in-boxing” about that moment, surreal as it was. I wrote that at the time. I shouldn’t have, and that’s the problem, the trivialization of something that should never be trivialized. We see that far too often with domestic violence.
In a Washington Post story published this week, Mayweather said, “Things happen. Malcolm X been to jail; Martin Luther King been to jail. The list goes on and on. You live and you learn. But I think the main thing, I think people should just learn from the mistakes that are made. And I’m not saying that when I went to jail it was a mistake. But things happen and you live and you learn.”
I don’t know where to even start with that. I mean, really?
…I asked Jackson’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, her opinion on the difference between the outrage sparked by Rice and the lack of it over Mayweather. In an email, she wrote that she agreed the video was the reason. She noted the lack of a national boxing commission to come down on Mayweather the way the NFL eventually (after an epic public relations disaster) came down on Rice. “State boxing commissions seem to tolerate much more violence against women by boxers,” she wrote. “That is my conclusion, because they do not impose any consequence as a result of it. Their inaction makes me wonder if they think it is OK for boxers to use their wives or intimate partners as punching bags. Is promoting boxing and making money more important than women’s lives?”
Indeed, in 2012 a Las Vegas judge agreed to let Mayweather postpone his 90-day sentence for battery of Josie Harris so that his scheduled bout against Miguel Cotto could take place. Read More > in Sports Illustrated
Surrogacy Gives Birth to an Unusual Alliance - New York state, Minnesota and Washington, D.C., all have pending legislation that would legalize the practice of commercial surrogacy—paying someone to have a baby on your behalf. Reproductive technology has made surrogacy possible since the 1980s, but it remained relatively rare until recent years as the technology improved and the legalization of same-sex marriage increased the number of childless couples eager to have children.
The Catholic Church has long opposed surrogacy, whether paid or unpaid. Nowadays, with increasing pressure for the legalization of paid surrogacy, the church has found itself with an unfamiliar ally: feminists.
The Catholic Church and women’s rights groups are accustomed to clashing over policy matters involving contraception and abortion. But now the two camps can often be found working hand in hand when it comes to protecting both women and children from being exploited in the growing and largely unregulated fertility industry.
Recent episodes involving surrogacies gone wrong have shown that there is reason for concern. Most prominently, the plight of “Baby Gammy” caused world-wide headlines this summer when an Australian couple rejected the boy, born with Down syndrome, but kept his healthy twin sister after a Thai woman they hired gave birth.
Catholic feminist Lucetta Scaraffia took to the pages of the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romana, to describe the Baby Gammy story as evidence of the “throwaway culture” that Pope Francis has decried. “We should not be surprised,” she wrote, “if parents who have ordered a baby and rented a woman’s womb refuse it at birth if it is not healthy and perfect.” Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
America’s new class system - We’ve heard a lot of election-year class warfare talk, from makers vs. takers to the 1% vs. the 99%. But Joel Kotkin’s important new book, The New Class Conflict, suggests that America’s real class problems are deeper, and more damaging, than election rhetoric
In a nutshell, Kotkin sees California, once again, in its role as an indicator of where the nation is headed. And it’s not an attractive destination.
Once a state where the middle class reigned supreme, the apotheosis of the American Dream, California now has the wealth distribution — and, in some disturbing ways, the political underpinnings — of a Third World country. In Silicon Valley, a group of super-wealthy tech oligarchs live lives of almost unimaginable wealth, while only a few miles away, illegal immigrants live in squalor.
The oligarchs feel free, and even entitled, to choose the direction of society in the name of a greater good, but somehow their policies seem mostly to make the oligarchs richer and more powerful. Meanwhile, once-prosperous middle-class communities, revolving around manufacturing industries that have now moved overseas, either sink into poverty or become gentrified homes for the lower-upper class. The middle class itself, meanwhile, is increasingly, in Kotkin’s words, “proletarianized,” with security vanishing and jobs moving downscale.
The oligarchs are assisted in their control by what Kotkin calls the “clerisy” class — an amalgam of academics, media and government employees who play the role that medieval clergy once played in legitimizing the powerful, and in implementing their policies while quelling resistance from the masses. The clerisy isn’t as rich as the oligarchs, but it does pretty well for itself and is compensated in part by status, its positions allowing even its lower-paid members to feel superior to the hoi polloi. Read More > in USA Today
BART advised to start talks earlier, avoid abrasive negotiators - BART and its unions need to make scores of changes to avoid strikes, including agreeing to arbitration, starting talks earlier and easing out abrasive negotiators, according to a report commissioned by the transit agency.
The 224-page report, ordered by BART’s Board of Directors after labor negotiations last year led to two strikes, calls on the agency and its workers to “break the cycle of adversarialism” dating to the 1970s.
The consulting outfit Agreement Dynamics made 63 recommendations in the report it will deliver to directors at their meeting Thursday. Among them:
– Agree with unions on a form of interest arbitration, either binding or nonbinding, to avoid a strike if negotiators can’t reach a deal.
– Start talks six months before the old contract expires instead of the current three months.
– Use neutral “facilitators” and possibly state or federal mediators from the start, rather than bringing them in when talks go bad.
– Don’t negotiate through the media.
– Avoid using negotiators with “historically combative and/or adversarial styles.” The report also suggests “test-driving” chief negotiators during attempts to reform labor relations before hiring one.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican said the agency is analyzing the recommendations and has already taken steps to improve relations with its unions. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
14 Million Refugees Make the Levant Unmanageable - There are always lunatics lurking in the crevices of Muslim politics prepared to proclaim a new caliphate; there isn’t always a recruiting pool in the form of nearly 14 million displaced people (11 million Syrians, or half the country’s population, and 2.8 million Iraqis, or a tenth of the country’s population). …Many of them will have nothing to go back to. When people have nothing to lose, they fight to the death and inflict horrors on others.
That is what civilizational decline looks like in real time. The roots of the crisis were visible four years ago before the so-called Arab Spring beguiled the foreign policy wonks. Hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian farmers already were living in tent camps around Syrian cities before the Syrian civil war began in April 2011.
The Arab states are failed states, except for the few with enough hydrocarbons to subsidize every facet of economic life. Egypt lives on a$15 billion annual subsidy from the Gulf states and, if that persists, will remain stable if not quite prosperous. Syria is a ruin, along with large parts of Iraq. The lives of tens of millions of people were fragile before the fighting broke out (30% of Syrians lived on less than $1.60 a day), and now they are utterly ruined. The hordes of combatants displace more people, and these join the hordes, in a snowball effect. That’s what drove the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648, and that’s what’s driving the war in the Levant.
When I wrote in 2011 that Islam was dying, this was precisely what I forecast. You can’t unscramble this egg. …The raw despair of millions of people ripped out of the cocoon of traditional society, bereft of ties of kinship and custom, will feed the meatgrinder. Terrorist organizations that were hitherto less flamboyant (“moderate” is a misdesignation), e.g. the Muslim Brotherhood (and its Palestine branch Hamas), will compete with the caliphate for the loyalties of enraged young people. The delusion about Muslim democracy that afflicted utopians of both parties is now inoperative. War will end when the pool of prospective fighters has been exhausted. Read More > at Spengler
Mosquito-Borne Viruses Hit Japan and the U.S. – Mosquito-borne viruses are showing up unexpectedly in affluent countries where they have been largely unknown.
Yoyogi Park, a popular oasis in downtown Tokyo, was closed last week after authorities realized it was the center of Japan’s first outbreak of dengue in 70 years.
Dengue is also called breakbone fever for the severe joint pain it causes. Repeat infections can cause dengue hemorrhagic fever, which can be lethal. Since Japanese authorities detected the first case Aug. 27, 65 more have been found, most of them associated with Yoyogi Park. The victims included two models covering the outbreak for a local television station.
Fear of the virus is spreading. In Yokohama, officials closed a large beach park after one local woman infected in Tokyo said she was later bitten by a mosquito there.
In the United States, more than 750 cases of another painful disease, chikungunya, have been reported this year. Almost all have been in tourists returning from the Caribbean, where the disease is rampant, particularly in the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique and Puerto Rico. Nine million Americans visit the Caribbean each year.
But Florida residents who had not traveled were infected this summer, and the virus was found in a Texas mosquito, meaning that it is becoming established in the United States.
Chikungunya was unknown in the Western Hemisphere until late last year. Read More > in The New York Times
Judge Upholds Santa Clarita’s Cumulative Voting System Proposal - A Superior Court Judge has given Santa Clarita the green light to pursue an innovative cumulative voting system which allows individuals to cast as many votes for a single candidate as there are open seats.
The new system is part of a settlement agreement between the city and a group of activists who filed a California Voting Rights Act suit last year. The at-large system employed by the city and the Santa Clarita Community College District dilutes minority votes, they contended, making it nearly impossible to get adequate Latino representation.
While the new voting method was agreed upon by both parties, there was some question as to its legality immediately following the settlement. On Monday, however, Judge Terry A. Green assuaged those concerns, ruling that the proposed voting system is a legal one.
While cumulative voting is new to California, it has a long history in other states like Illinois.
As part of settlement, Santa Clarita also agreed to move its council elections from April to November. The Sulphur Springs School District, which was also sued for its at-large system, has decided to move to district-based elections, which is the most common and preferred method for boosting minority representation. Read More > at California City News
Who Are California’s Independent Voters? – The partisan composition of California’s electorate continues to evolve as an increasing number of voters register as independent or decline-to-state. Today, independents make up 21 percent of the electorate, while Democrats make up 43 percent and Republicans 28 percent. Since 2006, the share of voters registering as independent has increased 2 points, while Republican registration has declined 6 points and Democratic registration has not changed. Looking back further, we see that independent registration has more than doubled since 1994 (10% to 21%), while Democratic registration has declined 6 points and Republican registration is down 9 points.
What do we know about independent voters in California?
Among independents considered likely to vote by the PPIC Statewide Survey, about three in 10 identify themselves as liberal and the same number say they’re conservative. Four in 10 say they are middle-of-the-road. About four in 10 independent likely voters say they lean toward the Democratic Party, while about three in 10 lean toward the Republican Party. Three in 10 say they lean toward neither major party. Read More > at Public CEO
Credit card details at risk as The Home Depot confirms it was hacked - The Home Depot today confirmed that its payment systems were breached by hackers earlier this year. The company is yet to outline the details of the attack, but used vague language to suggest that customers who used credit or debit cards at its retail stores in the US and Canada over the last five months may have had their card details compromised. The breach appears to have been carried out using a similar method to recent attacks on companies such as Target, P.F. Chang’s, and Neiman Marcus. The perpetrators of such attacks uploaded malicious software to cash registers and other point-of-sale systems in order to siphon off card details, which could be sent off-site and could be used to make fraudulent purchases.
The Home Depot says its investigation into the breach began on September 2nd, the same day that reports surfaced that said the retailer was the next in a string of large companies to be targeted by hackers. The hardware giant is focusing its investigation from April onwards, suggesting that the hackers behind the breach were able to skim customer data from the stores’ payment systems for up to five months without being detected. The company is yet to say specifically that credit card details were stolen, but the measures it has offered to affected customers suggests that’s the case. Those who shopped at Home Depot stores in North America have been offered credit monitoring and ID protection services for free by the company, and Frank Blake, The Home Depot chairman and CEO, said customers would not be responsible for any fraudulent charges to their accounts.
The implication of the breach is yet to be confirmed, but Home Depot says there’s no evidence that credit and debit card PINs were stolen. The scale of the breach is also still unclear, but it could affect more people than any previous attack. US retailer Target was the victim of a similar attack last year which made credit card details for 40 million people available to hackers. Target has 1,800 branches across the US; Home Depot has 2,200. Read More > at The Verge
US is awash in new oil. So why are gas prices still so high? – With oil and natural gas production soaring in the US, consumers might expect lower prices at the pump and on their electric bills.
But that’s not happening. The summer driving season was the fourth most expensive on record, and residential electricity costs ballooned in the first half of 2014.
Meanwhile, US oil and natural gas production surges, fueled by innovative drilling in states like Texas, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. Today, the US is the world’s largest producer of natural gas, and oil production rivals energy giants like Russia and Saudi Arabia.
So why are American consumers paying more, even as the supply of American fuel expands? Unquenchable global demand is the problem, analysts say, along with inclement weather and infrastructure bottlenecks that have prevented burgeoning energy stores from reaching consumers.
“As along as global demand remains strong, we’re going to see gas prices in the US remain relatively expensive,” says Michael Green, spokesperson for automotive group AAA, in a telephone interview Thursday. “Places like China have really increased the amount of petroleum they use.”
AAA’s latest gas report indicates that the average gas price this summer was $3.58 per gallon, making it the fourth most expensive summer on record.
But if anything, American consumers can thank the oil boom for preventing more volatile pricing at the pump and on their electric bills. Read More > in The Christian Science Monitor
Autism Symptoms Disappeared With Behavioral Therapy In Babies - Parents using ground-breaking new techniques with infants essentially cured their babies of developmental delays
For the first time, researchers report that treating early signs of autism in infants as young as 6 months can essentially help them to avoid developmental delays typical of the disorder. And the intervention doesn’t involve pills or invasive surgery but an intensive behavioral therapy provided by the babies’ parents, according to the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
…The results also suggest that the progression of autism isn’t inevitable, and that its symptoms aren’t entirely biologically or genetically preordained. “If a baby doesn’t smile at you, doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t respond pleasurably to your many interactions or doesn’t ever call for your attention, you don’t know if you’re on the right track,” she says of the typical early signs of autism. “If the message you get from them is that they aren’t interested, then you’re not going to continue.” Over, time, she says, that limits the number of social learning opportunities that the babies have, and they may spiral deeper and deeper into their own world. “Over time, the parents and children accommodate the child’s interest in objects and lack of interest in people.” Read More > in Time
US job market’s lingering weak spot: Stagnant pay - The U.S. job market has steadily improved by pretty much every gauge except the one Americans probably care about most: Pay.
The unemployment rate has sunk to a nearly normal 6.1 percent. Employers have added a robust 2.5 million jobs the past 12 months. Layoffs have tumbled.
Yet most people are still waiting for a decent raise. Friday’s August jobs report confirmed that average hourly pay has crept up only about 2 percent a year since the recession ended five years ago — barely above inflation and far below the gains in most recoveries.
Just why pay has been so weak and when it might strengthen are key issues for the Federal Reserve in deciding when to raise interest rates.
The trend has mystified analysts. Read More > in the Associated Press
Redevelopment: Back with a vengeance? – The same Jerry Brown who ended California’s controversial redevelopment agencies in 2011 is now considering legislation that would bring back something similar, but arguably with fewer restrictions on eminent-domain abuse and debt spending.
Redevelopment agencies sprung from the state’s 1940s-era urban-renewal law — designed to help local officials clean up blighted inner cities. But they morphed into a financing tool by which officials could clear away homes and businesses and float bonds that help developers build tax-generating shopping centers sought by city officials.
Redevelopment died in California — not because of official concern about the abuse of eminent domain, but because Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature needed a source of funds to balance the budget. These agencies diverted 12 percent of the general-fund budget from traditional public services through a mechanism known as Tax Increment Financing, which sent property-tax growth to the redevelopment agencies.
Redevelopment revivalists have promoted the use of Infrastructure Financing Districts as a partial replacement for the defunct agencies. This bill would create something called Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts that puts those districts on steroids.
…These new infrastructure districts are pitched as a way to help cities upgrade roads, sewer pipes and levees. But nearly anything will be OK including “sustainable communities strategies,” “brownfields restoration,” “watershed land” and commercial property uses. Redevelopment offered wide latitude to publicly fund private development projects — and this bill could make it even wider. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune
Taxpayers and workers gouged by labor-law dodge - The largest government infusion of cash into the U.S. economy in generations – the 2009 stimulus – was riddled with a massive labor scheme that harmed workers and cheated unsuspecting American taxpayers.
…Reporters from eight McClatchy newspapers and its Washington bureau, along with ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization in New York, also visited work sites, spoke with hundreds of workers and dozens of company owners, and interviewed economists, union leaders, policymakers and some of the highest-placed government overseers in Washington.
The investigation found:
• Companies using stimulus money routinely snubbed labor law and the Internal Revenue Service by treating workers as independent contractors in a clear violation of what’s allowed.
• The scofflaws undercut the bids of do-it-right competitors who refused to push their roofers, painters and electricians off their payrolls and into limbo.
• Laborers got swindled. They lost unemployment insurance and, in many cases, workers’ compensation benefits and fair wages. Some didn’t even know they were being hurt.
• All this happened under the noses of government officials. From the White House down to county-level agencies, regulators could have stopped it. Some top government officials admit they didn’t.
The scam is so simple it can be done with the scrawl of a pen. Here’s how it works for companies doing public business:
The companies declare on a routine form that the hourly wage earners working for them aren’t employees, as laws and several federal regulations require them to be, but rather are independent subcontractors. Those companies then don’t withhold income tax or file payroll taxes. They don’t pay unemployment tax. And they aren’t obliged to provide workers’ compensation.
The temptation is obvious: less hassle, big savings. Scofflaws can save 20 percent or more in labor costs by treating employees as independent contractors. Read More > at McClatchy DC