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.
As bribery case continues, CalPERS reaps profits from tainted investments - It’s been one of the darkest chapters in CalPERS history, a bribery scandal that prompted a guilty plea from its former chief executive earlier this month.
It’s also been rather profitable.
America’s largest public pension fund has racked up sizable gains from investments brokered by Alfred Villalobos, the Nevada businessman accused of bribing top CalPERS officials. One $974 million investment midwifed by Villalobos is now worth $2.91 billion. A $701 million deal is valued on CalPERS’ books at $1.36 billion.
The track record on Villalobos’ deals represents one of the great ironies of the CalPERS influence-peddling scandal. During a six-year stretch that ended in 2008, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System poured more than $4.4 billion into investments marketed by Villalobos on behalf of Wall Street clients. Out of 11 separate deals, only one has lost money, a relatively small transaction in which CalPERS invested $75 million.
Experts say CalPERS’ investment profits don’t tell the whole story. They say Villalobos’ alleged misdeeds cost CalPERS money even though the deals he brought to the pension fund largely panned out. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
BART cracks down on sleeping, reclining at stations - BART police officers are cracking down on people sleeping, lying or sitting with their legs extended at San Francisco’s Powell Street station, and plan to enforce the ban at all stations, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The policy is not aimed at the homeless, officials say, but is intended to make stations safer.
Authorities want to be able to evacuate stations in four to six minutes during an emergency. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times
Court Tethers Old Man to SoCal for Letting Dog Off Leash - John Gladwin, a 69-year-old Army veteran, “must allow home visits by a federal probation officer, file monthly activity reports and … must get written authorization anytime he leaves the massive Central District covering most of Southern California,” details LA Weekly. The government chooses to monitor this retiree and restrict his movement, though he’s never committed a violent crime or sold illegal drugs or weapons. No, he let his dog, Molly, off her leash to play just beyond their yard in the vast expanse of Santa Monica Mountains.
The thing is, Molly has never actually caused trouble with hikers or others in these mountains, which are divided among four different authorities – California State Parks, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and U.S. National Park Service – and each have different rules. But he’s twice been caught in federal territory just hundreds of feet from his own property and has been prosecuted for violating a leash law. Now, “if he’s caught with so much as a foot in the park, which stretches 50 miles from the Hollywood Hills to Point Mugu, [Gladwin] will go to jail.”
Gladwin is riding out a 12-month probation for what seems like a few unfortunate encounters with officials on power trips. From the Weekly:
Supervisory Park Ranger Bonnie Clarfield, of the U.S. Department of Interior, testified against Gladwin at his November 2013 and April 2014 trials. Colleagues have teasingly dubbed her the “dog narc” — for her strict enforcement of leash laws during her 33 years on the job. Read More > at Reason
Poll: Californians support global warming rules – unless gas prices rise - Californians continue to strongly support their state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases – until they find out it involves higher gasoline prices, according to a new poll released Wednesday.
The Public Policy Institute of California’s annual environmental survey also found majorities oppose the greater use of fracking for oil exploration (54 percent), increased offshore oil drilling (51 percent) and building more nuclear power plants (64 percent).
California’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will include fuels as of Jan. 1. That has prompted an oil industry-backed campaign for a delay or repeal amid predictions that the cost of gas could rise by 15 cents or more per gallon. Though a group of moderate Democrats in the Legislature has asked for a delay, Gov. Jerry Brown has shown no interest in doing so.
More than two thirds of adults and 60 percent of Californians likely to vote this year support the state’s greenhouse gas efforts, according to the poll. Three-fourths of adults like emissions limits on power plants and clean fuel requirements on gasoline. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
What’s Up With That: Why Does Sleeping In Just Make Me More Tired? – Oversleeping feels so much like a hangover that scientists call it sleep drunkenness. But, unlike the brute force neurological damage caused by alcohol, your misguided attempt to stock up on rest makes you feel sluggish by confusing the part of your brain that controls your body’s daily cycle.
Your internal rhythms are set by your circadian pacemaker, a group of cells clustered in the hypothalamus, a primitive little part of the brain that also controls hunger, thirst, and sweat. Primarily triggered by light signals from your eye, the pacemaker figures out when it’s morning and sends out chemical messages keeping the rest of the cells in your body on the same clock.
Scientists believe that the pacemaker evolved to tell the cells in our bodies how to regulate their energy on a daily basis. When you sleep too much, you’re throwing off that biological clock, and it starts telling the cells a different story than what they’re actually experiencing, inducing a sense of fatigue. You might be crawling out of bed at 11am, but your cells started using their energy cycle at seven. This is similar to how jet lag works.
But oversleep isn’t just going to ruin your Saturday hike. If you’re oversleeping on the regular, you could be putting yourself at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Harvard’s massive Nurses Health Study found that people who slept 9 to 11 hours a night developed memory problems and were more likely to develop heart disease than people who slept a solid eight. (Undersleepers are at an even bigger risk). Other studies have linked oversleep to diabetes, obesity, and even early death. Read More > at Wired
No more `permanent’ emails with new service - Since the dawn of the Internet, email users have been haunted by the finality of hitting the “send” button.
What could be the foremost of all First World problems — the inability to retrieve or delete an ill-conceived email — is now a thing of the past for users of Pluto Mail, according to the Harvard law student who created it.
“I’ve been annoyed with the fact that any email I send lasts forever, and I think Snapchat popularized the more-forgettable Internet, and I thought it would be great to bring it to email. It’s a very salient problem. I think everyone has had this ‘uh oh’ moment,” said David Gobaud, founder and CEO of Pluto Labs Inc. “Basically the Pluto service turns your emails into dynamic ones that you can maintain control over. I built a new email server that turns an email into a living document.”
Gobaud said Pluto Mail allows people with sender’s remorse to edit, delete or set an expiration date on their emails. The product, which was released in early March, already has thousands of
users and continues to grow by the day, he said.
Pluto Mail isn’t an email provider but allows users to apply the service to their own email addresses — including Gmail, Outlook and Apple Mail — and then send messages as they normally would. But once the send button is hit, the Pluto Mail user can delete an email’s content, edit it or set an expiration time. The service also informs the sender if the recipient has already opened it. Read More > in the Boston Hearld
The drought of young California home buyers: Unaffordable housing reigns supreme as first time home buyers squeezed out of market. – It is safe to say that the momentum of 2013 has fizzled out in the housing market. Sales are down and prices are reaching a plateau. Part of this has come from the slowdown of investors purchasing homes in the state. An interesting end of the year study by the California Association of Realtors (CAR) found that 82 percent of investors that bought in 2013 had the intention of turning the home into a rental. The other 18 percent were giving the old flipper lottery a try. This helps to explain why inventory continues to remain lowbecause in more typical markets, a person selling the home would usually also buy another home in the ragtime favorite trend of property laddering your way into a bigger home. In other words, two transactions with one move. Today, you have many investors buying foreclosures from banks with a one and done deal (buy the home from bank and then put it on the market for rent). Yet from contacts in the housing industry, the lack of first time home buyers is dramatic. In 2013 the argument was that pent up demand for young buyers was going to give housing another dramatic run higher. In reality, 2013 gave us a massive run from investors and with them slowly pulling back, the market is already entering into a tipping point. Flippers buy for appreciation so what happens when prices stagnant or turn lower which is typical in these boom and bust cycles? In reality, first time buyers are absent because they can’t afford to buy in California. Read More > at Doctor Housing Bubble
What Is Holding Up California Ethics Reform? – 2014 has seen numerous corruption stories in California government. Suspended State Senator Rod Wright awaits sentencing for eight felony counts of perjury and voter fraud. The FBI charged state Senator Ronald Calderon with accepting bribes. And most recently, suspended state Senator Leland Yee was indicted on federal corruption and gun running charges, along with a notorious San Francisco criminal figure memorably known as “Shrimp Boy.” All three senators have been suspended indefinitely.
The three cases started a public clamor for ethics reform, resulting in several pieces of legislation being introduced earlier this year. But as the San Jose Mercury News reports, enthusiasm for tough ethics reform seems to be waning, despite the stark reminders of the need for public trust in elected officials.
Since the political drama unfolded in Sacramento, more than twelve ethics reform bills have been introduced. From banning fundraising events at lobbyist’s homes to doubling statutory fines for bribery, these measures all aim to promote greater government transparency and prevent public corruption.
But so far the process to ensure the public’s trust has been slow. Many reform bills are being heavily revised or quietly being tucked away. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
We’re heading into a jobless future, no matter what the government does - Within two decades, we will have almost unlimited energy, food, and clean water; advances in medicine will allow us to live longer and healthier lives; robots will drive our cars, manufacture our goods, and do our chores.
There won’t be much work for human beings. Self-driving cars will be commercially available by the end of this decade and will eventually displace human drivers—just as automobiles displaced the horse and buggy—and will eliminate the jobs of taxi, bus, and truck drivers. Drones will take the jobs of postmen and delivery people.
The debates of the next decade will be about whether we should allow human beings to drive at all on public roads. The pesky humans crash into each other, suffer from road rage, rush headlong into traffic jams, and need to be monitored by traffic police. Yes, we won’t need traffic cops either.
Robots are already replacing manufacturing workers. Industrial robots have advanced to the point at which they can do the same physical work as human beings. The operating cost of some robots is now less than the salary of an average Chinese worker. And, unlike human beings, robots don’t complain, join labor unions, or get distracted. They readily work 24 hours a day and require minimal maintenance. Robots will also take the jobs of farmers, pharmacists, and grocery clerks. Read More > in The Washington Post
California Highway Patrol Seizes Medical Records Of Woman An Officer Was Caught On Tape Beating - Why the CHP would need to seize the records, rather than just view them, is completely inexplicable. The person served the warrant noted that it was issued to grab “property or things” as part of a felony investigation, which apparently included communications with her doctor about her well-being and “references to her attorney.”
I’m sure the ongoing investigation will clarify the CHP’s need to violate its victim’s privacy before this debacle is wrapped up. That’s how it works. But it looks like an uphill battle. The statement released by the CHP commissioner sounds like even he was caught off-guard by this bizarre, smells-like-a-cover-up records seizure.
“I think what they’re trying to do is, they don’t have a statement from her, and they’re trying to find that out,” Farrow said. “I don’t think the CHP is trying to put her on trial or make it an issue about her. What I’m looking at is entirely about the circumstances, we all saw what happened. Our job is to find out the why and the how.”
So, the CHP gets statements by hospitalizing someone and seizing their medical records. While these records may offer some insight as to why she didn’t immediately follow the officer’s instructions, they really don’t fill the “statement” void — unless the CHP is going to further violate her privacy by releasing a statement on its own behalf using information gleaned from the seized records. As it stands now, it looks exactly like the CHP is planning to “make it an issue about her.” If it isn’t, then perhaps it might quid pro quo with the release of the disciplinary records of involved officers. Read More > at Tech Dirt
IRS now not sure if backup emails exist, but claims more hard drives crashed - The “lost” emails of Lois Lerner, former Director of the Exempt Organizations Division at the IRS, has been an ongoing drama, with some people debating whether it is a huge conspiracy or the IRS has the worst IT department ever. So far in the congressional investigation into the IRS allegedly targeting Tea Party and conservative groups who applied for tax-exempt status from 2010 to 2012, not only are Lerner’s emails “lost” after her hard drive crashed, and the IRS still doesn’t know if backups of those emails exist, but now more IRS officials claim to have experienced computer crashes.
IRS officials previously testified that “back-up tapes from 2011 no longer exist because they have been recycled.” Yet according to transcribed congressional testimony, IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Thomas Kane is not so sure about those backups now…and, oh yeah, more IRS officials – “less than 20” – experienced hard drive crashes.
Kane testified, “There is an issue as to whether or not there is a ‑‑ that all of the backup recovery tapes were destroyed on the 6‑month retention schedule.” When asked if some of those backups still exist, Kane replied, “I don’t know whether they are or they aren’t, but it’s an issue that’s being looked at.”
The backups could put an end to the “search for America’s most-wanted hard drive,” although there is a question of “whether Lerner’s hard drive, which supposedly contains copies of the lost emails, could be tracked using a serial number and then restored.” IRS IT experts testified that IT staff wiped Lerner’s hard drive and then recycled it via an “unnamed outside contractor that likely ‘shredded’ the device.” Politico added, “Another unnamed contractor was able to identify the serial number for the hard drive, but according to the court declaration, IRS never kept track of those numbers.”
Getting rid of all damning digital traces would be a huge undertaking, but then again, after three years surely people working to diligently destroy all electronic evidence could have pulled it off? Is this a massive conspiracy or does the IRS have some of the most incompetent IT staff/procedures ever? Read More > at Network World
What Recovery? Home Building Took a Dive in June - Remember when 2014 was going to be the year home building finally got out of the doldrums and accelerated back toward health — or at least to filling something closer to its usual role supporting growth? Yeah, never mind.
That’s right, another disappointing reading on the housing market was released Thursday morning. The number of housing units that builders started work on fell 9.3 percent in June, to an 893,000 annual rate. The number of housing permits issued by local governments, a forward-looking measure that government statisticians consider less prone to measurement error, fell 4.2 percent. Forecasters had expected both numbers to rise.
For context, economists think the United States needs to build something on the order of 1.5 million new housing units a year to keep up with a growing population and older homes falling into disrepair. The nation hasn’t consistently built more than 1 million a year since the 2008 recession. Instead, home-building activity has mostly been bouncing around in the 900,000 to 1 million range since the start of 2013, not exhibiting any clear signs of acceleration.
And the decline in housing starts was entirely concentrated in the Southern states, the region that by the census’s definition stretches from Delaware to Texas. Housing starts actually increased in each of the other three census regions, but fell by a 158,000 annual rate in the South. That could be an aberration, but it bears watching in future months. Read More > in The New York Times
Massive raid to help Yurok tribe combat illegal pot grows - The California National Guard on Monday joined more than a dozen other agencies to help the Yurok tribe combat rampant marijuana grows that have threatened the reservation’s water supply, harmed its salmon and interfered with cultural ceremonies.
Law enforcement officers began serving search warrants at about 9 a.m. in the operation, which came at the request of Yurok officials and targeted properties in and near the reservation along the Klamath River.
“They’re stealing millions and millions of gallons of water and and it’s impacting our ecosystem,” he told the officers. “We can’t no longer make it into our dance places, our women and children can’t leave the road to gather. We can’t hunt. We can’t live the life we’ve lived for thousands of years.”
Yurok Interim Public Safety Chief Leonard Masten said tens of thousands of plants are likely to be eradicated over the next week and a half. They will be chipped on-site.
Though growers in the region once “brought their fertilizer in in batches in the dark,” O’Rourke said dump trucks now enter reservation land with impunity in broad daylight and use heavy equipment to carve roads on tribal land. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
New law tackles high school football collisions head-on - California schools will be forced to limit the number of hours and days their football programs’ young athletes can practice tackling and other game-speed hitting plays under a bill signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown that responds to concerns over brain injuries that affect thousands of students.
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1 and applies to all middle and high schools, including private schools, is being welcomed by some coaches but criticized by others, who caution that it could result in more injuries as lesser-prepared athletes take the field.
The law limits full-contact practices to two 90-minute sessions per week during the season and preseason, and prohibits full-contact practices during the offseason. Currently, coaches can hold full-contact practices daily. The law also forces schools to bench players for at least a week if they suffer a concussion. Current rules allow players to return within a day. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Why Seven Hours of Sleep Might Be Better Than Eight - Experts generally recommend seven to nine hours a night for healthy adults. Sleep scientists say new guidelines are needed to take into account an abundance of recent research in the field and to reflect that Americans are on average sleeping less than they did in the past.
Several sleep studies have found that seven hours is the optimal amount of sleep—not eight, as was long believed—when it comes to certain cognitive and health markers, although many doctors question that conclusion.
Other recent research has shown that skimping on a full night’s sleep, even by 20 minutes, impairs performance and memory the next day. And getting too much sleep—not just too little of it—is associated with health problems including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease and with higher rates of death, studies show. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
Aerosol Cake Batter Is Real Now and Nothing Will Ever Be the Same - People have shoved a lot of weird things in aerosol cans over the years, but Harvard Student John McCallum ignored weird and saw the potential for something wonderful. After learning about the chemistry behind what makes cakes rise, the 20-year-old decided to see if the accelerant in aerosol cans, which releases bubbles into the product as it comes out, would also allow cakes to rise without any baking soda or baking powder. Luckily for us, it did.
And after spending months perfecting the recipe in his dorm, McCallum is now in the process of patenting what he ultimately dubbed Spray Cake. Meaning that this could actually become a real thing on your grocery store shelf, and that there’s still some hope for the human race yet.
McCallum and his business partner/lady friend Brooke Nowakowski assured The Boston Globe that their fully microwavable product has the same mouthfeel as traditional cakes. And since it comes out pre-risen, it cooks in a fraction of the time (about one minute for a full cake). Read More > at Gizmodo
UPDATED: Shasta County supervisors vote unanimously to learn more about “chemtrails” – The Shasta County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to seek more information on “chemtrails” after nearly four hours of public comment on the issue.
Supervisor Pam Giacomini put the item on the agenda, and a number of so-called chemtrail experts addressed the panel, followed by dozens of speakers who blamed a host of personal and environmental ills on airplane exhaust.
Activists claim the government is targeting populations with airplane exhaust laden with heavy metals added secretly to planes at airports and military bases. This effort, which activists also call “geo-engineering,” pollutes the earth and waterways when those metals eventually make their way back to earth.
In response to that concern, supervisors also voted to further research the capabilities of air quality testing currently taking place in the North State, particularly if techniques used at a test location in the Lassen Volcanic National Park can test for aluminum, barium and other heavy metals in question on the nano-level. Read More > at Redding.com
California Has Little Say Over Oil Train Safety - The number of trains carrying crude oil across California is increasing rapidly, and two official reports say the state is not ready. Regulators are preparing, with funds for disaster response and more track inspectors, but they’re limited in how much they can do to make rail transport safer.
…The state can’t set speed limits on crude oil trains. It can’t tell railroads to choose less hazardous routes. It can’t tell oil companies not to bring trains carrying the volatile crude through cities. It can’t tell oil companies to ship that crude in stronger tank cars. It can’t require upgraded braking systems.
Neither can local governments, though the cities of Davis, Richmond and Berkeley have all passed resolutions expressing their opposition to the transport of crude oil by rail.
Trains carried nearly 6.3 million barrels of oil into California in 2013. That’s more than five times more than in 2012. According to the California Energy Commission, by 2016 that number could balloon to more than 100 million barrels.
That’s because there’s an oil boom in the middle part of the continent, and to get that crude from Alberta and North Dakota to California, oil companies have to use trains. Read More > at KQED
Political shakeup looms in California - The rumblings are early but unmistakable: A political earthquake is — finally — headed to California.
For decades now, Democrats and Republicans here have experienced statewide politics as an interminable waiting game, thanks to a gang of 70- and 80-somethings from the Bay Area who have dominated government for a generation.
In a state famed for its youth and vitality, home to Hollywood and the Silicon Valley gospel of economic “disruption,” boasting an ultra-diverse population that presaged the country’s larger ethnic transformation — California’s leadership looks much the same as it did in the late 20th century.
Rising stars in both parties have come and gone, but the state’s chief power players have remained the same: Jerry Brown, California’s 76-year-old governor, is running for reelection this year to a post he first won in 1974. The two senators — Barbara Boxer, 73, and Dianne Feinstein, 81 — have held their jobs since the early 1990s.
The most prominent member of the congressional delegation, 74-year-old House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, started out as chairwoman of the California Democratic Party when Ronald Reagan was president. The current party chairman, 81-year-old John Burton, is a former congressman who first went to Washington in the 1974 post-Watergate revolution. Read More . in Politico
With liberals pining for a Clinton challenger, ambitious Democrats get in position - Even as Hillary Rodham Clinton looms as the overwhelming favorite for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, the party’s base is stirring for a primary fight. There’s a pining for someone else, and a medley of ambitious Democrats are making moves — many of them previously unreported — to position themselves to perhaps be that someone.
In stark contrast to the overt maneuvering on the Republican side, the 2016 Democratic presidential sweepstakes has been largely frozen in place as Clinton decides whether to run. But with the former secretary of state’s book-tour stumbles exposing a serious vulnerability with grass-roots voters, small cracks are beginning to emerge.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) will test her folksy politics next month in Iowa, home to the first-in-the-nation caucuses. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) is coming out this fall with a book, “Off the Sidelines,” that is part political memoir, part modern-feminist playbook and certain to generate presidential buzz. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also is publishing a memoir this fall with a wink-wink title: “All Things Possible.”
Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley seems to respond yes to every party speaking invitation that comes his way and is slated to address Democrats in Nebraska and Mississippi in coming weeks. He also endeared himself to liberals in recent days by breaking with President Obama on how to deal with an influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border. Read More > in The Washington Post
A Tale of ‘Too Big to Fail’ in Higher Education - For the last two years, the City College of San Francisco has operated in the shadow of imminent death. It is the city’s main community college, with 77,000 students, and in June 2012 its accreditor warned that chronic financial and organizational mismanagement threatened its future. If the problems weren’t fixed in short order, the accreditor said, it would shut down the college. A year later, the accreditor decided that City College’s remedial efforts were too little, too late, and ordered the campus to close its doors this July.
The political backlash was fierce. The faculty union lodged a formal complaint with the Department of Education against the accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, challenging its right to exist. A separate lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial this year. Politicians including the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, whose district includes part of City College, issued public condemnations. Finally, last month, with the scheduled closing date weeks away, the accreditor gave in. The college was granted two more years to improve, and most observers assume that the threat of dissolution has passed.
Most of City College’s problems, however, remain unsolved. Its brush with mortality illustrates a much larger problem in higher education. Millions of students are enrolled in colleges accountable to no one other than accreditors that lack the will and authority to govern them. Because the consequences of closing these institutions are so severe, they have become, in effect, “too big to fail.”
…A result has been chaos and dysfunction in many places. With no state leadership, and with boards and faculty unable to resolve their many differences, institutions like City College have achieved terrible results for students. According to the Department of Education, almost 70 percent of City College students fail to graduate on time, and only 14 percent transfer elsewhere. The widely used Community College Survey of Student Engagement found that City College’s academic practices are below par on every available measure, including levels of student-faculty interaction and teaching methods that foster active and collaborative learning. The faculty-dominated college, the accrediting commission noted, had hired many more tenured professors than it could afford to pay. Read More > in The New York Times