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.
Firefighters Sing “Frozen” Theme to Calm Girl During Rescue - When the daily headlines are dominated by scandal after scandal, it can be easy to forget that there is some good left in this world. At PublicCEO, not only do we strive to report when officials have breached the public trust but we work hard to ensure that good acts of service receive their moment in the spotlight.
Last month, 4-year-old Kaelyn Kerr got stuck in an elevator with her mother and her baby brother. However, the situation went from frightening to touching–thanks to the quick wit of a couple exemplary firefighters.
Firefighters in Reading, MA determined that the only plausible exit would require the family to climb out of the top elevator car and over a wall.
“When they put the ladder down that’s when she kind of started freaking out a little bit,” Kristin Kerr said, describing Kaelyn’s fear to MyFoxBoston.com.
Firefighter John Keough began talking to Kaelyn in order to calm her down. When he discovered that her favorite song was “Let It Go” from the animated hit Frozen, the team responded by soothing little Kaelyn with a song.
“It worked,” said Keough. “We got her to a point where she was comfortable with us and up the ladder we went, right up and over, no problem.” Read More > at Public CEO
The politics of drought: California water interests prime the pump in Washington - Last year, as California endured one of its driest years on record, the Westlands Water District made it rain 3,000 miles away — on Capitol Hill.
The nation’s largest agricultural water district, located in the Central Valley, spent $600,000 on lobbying efforts, according to an analysis by KPCC in partnership with the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That’s by far Westlands’ biggest annual expenditure for lobbying — about six times what it spent in 2010.
The lobbying comes as Congress and federal agencies consider how to respond to three years of drought conditions that have cut water supplies across the state and ratcheted up political pressure from the hard-hit agricultural sector, including many of Westlands’ customers.
California farmers grow nearly half the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. The California Farm Water Coalition, an industry group, estimates farmers — and the processors and truckers who get crops to market — could lose $5 billion this year due to the drought.
How important is this issue? Well, in recent months it’s brought the President, the House Speaker and the powerful House Natural Resources Committee to the Central Valley. Read More > at KPCC
Joe Montana, Tom Brady among best NFL quarterbacks ever - Johnny U.
Forget the three MVP awards. Forget that he engineered the biggest end-game drive in the first 50 years of the NFL. Forget the high-top shoes, or that he played until he was 40 … OK, we’ll allow you to remember that he threw a touchdown pass in an incredible 47 straight games. Unitas was simply THE MAN. You’ll also note that he won NFL.com’s Greatest Quarterback of All Time bracket.
And that’s what got us here … trying to rank the best signal-callers to ever play the pro game. Of course, with apologies to the CFL, we’re going to limit ourselves to the NFL — although if we had considered rival leagues, Doug Flutie might have snuck onto this list.
Speaking of sneaking, some QBs slipped under the radar in that NFL.com bracket — like Drew Bledsoe, who took down Troy Aikman in the first round. Between that and the fact that Peyton Manning also flamed out early, my editor asked that I rank the 20 best quarterbacks over the 94-year history of the NFL.
This is not meant to be a definitive list; after all, Aaron Rodgers is still out there winging it, and Tom Brady might play until he’s 50. That said, this is my best shot right now. Read More > at NFL.com
Brentwood to appeal court ruling in redevelopment lawsuit - Brentwood plans to appeal a court ruling that determined the city must pay $20 million to the state as a result of being on the losing side of a lawsuit involving redevelopment money that was spent to improve the downtown.
The appeal stems from a court ruling that determined the state Departmentof Finance did not violate Proposition 22, a voter-approved initiative that bars the state from taking local revenues, when it demanded that Brentwood pay back $20 million in redevelopment funds used to make city improvements that included better sidewalks, new utilities, tree planting and a park restoration.
The April 2 ruling by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner reversed a tentative ruling he first made in December that had sided with Brentwood.
At a special meeting this week, City Council members voted 4-0 to appeal Sumner’s final decision, with Councilman Gene Clare recusing himself due to a potential conflict of interest over concerns that the litigation may impact his employer. Appealing the case means the city does not have to pay back $20 million while the case is under review by a higher court. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times
Should You Change Your Password After Heartbleed? – If you’re struggling to understand the deluge of information about the Heartbleed vulnerability, you’re not alone. Some reports tell us to change all our online passwords immediately, others warn us that this could do more harm than good. There is a lot of misinformation out there.
It is essential that you do not panic but nor should you be complacent. We all need a good old fashioned mix of common sense and prudence.
On many of the servers and internet web services we use, there is a free and open source security technology called OpenSSL. In simple terms, when you see the padlock beside the web page URL, you have a secure and encrypted web connection that may have been managed by the OpenSSL software.
To date, OpenSSL has worked incredibly well. Network engineers and users like you have been more than happy with the service it has provided. But Google Security and Codenomicon recently discovered a flaw in the system now dubbed Heartbleed and announced this to the world on 7 April 2014. The bug may have existed unnoticed for the past two years.
…Do check with the websites you use. Most sites are announcing if they have made any changes or have recognised a problem. IFTTT, the popular social media mash up service, has already emailed its entire user base, informing them that the services they offer have been secured.
If you are technically inclined and would like to see for yourself, you can use many different Heartbleed checking sites that check if the service you use is vulnerable. There are sites that are now listing vulnerable web sites. This is good news in some respects but it also means that the sites that are vulnerable have also been announced to potential cybercriminals. If your site is on these lists, read the advice with care, as some are saying they do not believe they have any issues. Read More > at Real Clear Technology
If He Looks Stupid, He Probably Is - In a new study, both male and female subjects were able to accurately evaluate the intelligence of men simply by viewing photographs of their faces.
While many avow that you can’t judge a book by its cover, researchers Karel Kleisner, Veronika Chvátalová, and Jaroslav Flegr, all based out of Charles University in the Czech Republic, showed that if that book is a man, you probably can.
For the study, which is published in PLoS ONE, 80 science students from Charles University — 40 men and 40 women — took an in-depth exam to gauge their IQ and were subsequently photographed with neutral face expressions. Another 160 participants assessed the photographs, judging the subjects’ attractiveness and intelligence on a scale of 1 (the highest ranking) to 7 (lowest ranking).
When Kleisner, Chvátalová, and Jaroslav Flegr tore into the data, they returned an intriguing finding.
“Raters were able to estimate intelligence with an accuracy higher than chance from static facial photographs of men but not from photos of women.” Read More > at Real Clear Science
Federal bill calls for expanding Los Vaqueros Reservoir near Brentwood - Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Brentwood would be tripled in size to provide Californians with more insurance against water shortages and drought, under a federal bill introduced Thursday.
Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez, and Jim Costa, D-Fresno, sponsored the bill for the expansion of the reservoir that the Contra Costa Water District just expanded in 2012 to meet local water quality and supply needs.
Enlarging the reservoir south of Brentwood again could provide water for other Bay Area water districts, federal wildlife refuges, farmers and perhaps others, Miller and Costa said in a joint statement.
“The devastating impacts of this drought throughout California highlight the critical need to increase water storage across the state,” the representatives said.
The release did not have any cost information. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times
California students illegally here could get school loans - California public universities could lend money to students unable to take out federal loans because of their immigration status under a law proposed Wednesday.
The latest move to help California students brought to the country illegally as children, state Senate Bill 1210 would establish loan programs at the state’s two public university systems for students who have no access to the relatively low-interest federal student loans.
Initial funding for the California Dream Loan Program would be $9.2 million — $2.3 million from the universities and $6.9 million from the state, according to a news release from the office of the bill’s author, Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Huntington Park/Long Beach. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News
No campaign cash for fighting criminal charges, says Jerry Hill - Politicians facing criminal charges would not be allowed to use campaign funds to pay their legal bills under an amendment Sen. Jerry Hill said he plans to introduce in the wake of the indictment of his colleague Sen. Leland Yee on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons.
Under current law, politicians have wide latitude on how they spend campaign funds. Expenses have to have a legislative, governmental or political purpose, but can be used for everything from hiring campaign consultants and TV ads, to travel and paying legal bills.
Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, proposes several changes to the rules regarding how politicians can use campaign funds in his Senate Bill 831. Among them: prohibiting officials from giving campaign funds to nonprofits operated by their political colleagues and banning the use of campaign funds for things like rent, utility bills, vacations, tuition and gifts to family members. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
Oregon Judge Says Flashing Lights Is Free Speech - Hauling a truckload of logs to a Southern Oregon mill last fall, Chris Hill noticed a sheriff’s deputy behind him and flashed his lights to warn a UPS driver coming the other way.
The deputy pulled over Hill on U.S. Highway 140 in White City and handed him a $260 ticket for improperly using his headlights, saying another deputy had seen the flashing lights from behind the UPS truck and alerted him to stop the log truck because of the signaling.
Outraged, Hill decided to fight the ticket, and on Wednesday, a Jackson County Justice Court judge dismissed the citation, finding that motorists flashing their headlights amounts to speech protected by the Oregon Constitution.
Judge Joseph Carter determined the law covering the use of high beams was valid, but was unconstitutional as it was applied by the deputy. Read More > at CBS News
Sriracha hot sauce factory smell deemed a public nuisance by Irwindale - The popular Sriracha hot sauce found itself in hot water Wednesday night when the City Council unanimously declared the factory that produces the sauce a public nuisance.
After giving Huy Fong Foods six weeks to work with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to conduct testing at the factory, the City Council determined the odor coming from the factory has created a problem for residents. The council also determined the Sriracha factory breached its contract with the city.
The Council is expected to give Huy Fong Foods 90 days to address the odor problems before city officials enter the factory to fix the problems themselves.
The council heard testimony at a Feb. 26 public hearing from several residents who complained about the strong chili odors coming from the factory and more than a dozen factory employees who implored the council to keep the factory open. Read More > in The Pasadena Star-News
California’s Taxing Dilemma - As the April 15 deadline for filing taxes looms, we asked Californians in the latest PPIC Statewide Survey how they view their state and local tax burden. Their responses point to a disconnect between public opinion and the views of many fiscal reformers.
A record-high 60 percent say that they pay more than they feel they should in state and local taxes. Just two years ago, 46 percent held this view. Today, six in 10 Californians also have the perception that California currently ranks above average or near the top in state and local tax burden per capita. And they are correct: A Tax Policy Center report recently ranked California’s 2011 state and local tax burden as the 11th highest in the nation.
Further, a record-low 50 percent of Californians say that the present state and local tax system is very or moderately fair. In contrast, 57 percent said it was at least moderately fair two years ago. Across income categories today, perceptions of the fairness hover around 50 percent.
What changed in the last two years? For one thing, voters passed Proposition 30, temporarily raising the state sales tax, as well as state income taxes on wealthy residents. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers - The share of mothers who do not work outside the home rose to 29% in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23% in 1999, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data.1 This rise over the past dozen years represents the reversal of a long-term decline in “stay-at-home” mothers that had persisted for the last three decades of the 20th century.2 The recent turnaround appears to be driven by a mix of demographic, economic and societal factors, including rising immigration as well as a downturn in women’s labor force participation, and is set against a backdrop of continued public ambivalence about the impact of working mothers on young children.
The broad category of “stay-at-home” mothers includes not only mothers who say they are at home in order to care for their families, but also those who are at home because they are unable to find work, are disabled or are enrolled in school.
The largest share consists of “traditional” married stay-at-home mothers with working husbands. They made up roughly two-thirds of the nation’s 10.4 million stay-at-home mothers in 2012. In addition to this group, some stay-at-home mothers are single, cohabiting or married with a husband who does not work. Read More > from the Pew Research Center
Majority of Pensions Headed for Bankruptcy - Investment returns may be up since the recession, but public pensions are still in deep, deep trouble. On Wednesday, the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates released the results of a “stress test” on American public pension plans, and they weren’t pretty. According to the report, 85 percent of all plans are on track to go bankrupt within 30 years unless their average rate of return increases to 9 percent. Barring something truly miraculous, that’s unlikely to happen: Bridgewater expects the rate to be closer to 4 percent, and even the unrealistically optimistic estimates given by pension funds themselves rarely exceed 8 percent. As USA Today notes, the potential shortfalls are staggering:
Public pensions have just $3 trillion in assets to invest to cover future retirement payments of $10 trillion over the next many decades, Bridgewater says. An investment return of roughly 9% a year is needed to meet those onerous obligations.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that 85 percent of pension plans will actually go bankrupt. These numbers depend on public officials not taking the necessary actions. States and cities are slowly realizing that they have a major problem on their hands. Many will take preventative measures, either by cutting benefits or by increasing contributions to the plans (more likely a combination of the two). Read More > at The American Interest
San Francisco Cuts ‘Cruising’ for Parking in Half With Market-Clearing Prices - For years UCLA professor Donald Shoup has pushed the idea that to stop drivers from aimlessly circling around our dense urban cores in search of underpriced parking, cities should simply start charging market-clearing rates to park your multi-ton hunk of metal. Cities should aim to price parking, Shoup argued in his monumental tome on the subject, The High Cost of Free Parking, such that 15 percent of spaces are free. In other words, curbside parking should be costly enough that it will always leave one or two spots per block for those who need them, but not so expensive that it creates an oversupply and too many spaces go empty.
The idea is simple enough — the national economy, after all, runs on market-clearing prices, as do the countless private garages that offer structured and underground parking — but as with all things, convincing citizens to pay for what has traditionally been free (or nearly free) is not easy.
Finally, Shoup has someone willing to listen: San Francisco. While the city can be slow to implement certain reforms — whether that’s upgrading its busiest bus route or approving small infill development — San Francisco has nevertheless been a leader in many areas of in-city transportation, parking among them.
SFpark, the city’s variable-rate parking program, is perhaps the most complete implementation of Shoup’s ideas to date. Started three years ago, the program gradually adjusts rates on electronic parking meters in the most congested parts of the city. (All are near downtown.) Rates can differ by time of day and day of the week, and are adjusted every month or so. Even then, they can only rise or fall by 25 cents after each adjustment period and are capped at $6 per hour, which costs less than nearby garages, where hourly rates can reach into the double digits. Read More > at Public CEO