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.
Restore San Joaquin River for salmon - The State Water Resources Control Board is considering ordering changes to how San Joaquin River water is allocated. The state board then will consider similar steps for the Sacramento River, which is the main salmon-producing river left in California. How the allocation goes on the San Joaquin is likely to affect not only those salmon, but by extension, Sacramento River salmon, too.
Like the Sacramento River, the San Joaquin flows into our Bay-Delta estuary and once produced hundreds of thousands of fat, commercially valuable salmon annually. These fish spawned in the San Joaquin and its tributaries, the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers. Today the San Joaquin is in sad shape due to dams and the fact that two-thirds of its water is diverted. Most of the salmon have disappeared.
The river and the salmon runs, however, can and should be restored.
The California’s State Water Resources Control Board clearly doesn’t relish having to order anyone to give up some water to rebuild salmon runs. Maybe that’s why on Dec. 31 the board proposed to only slightly increase natural river flows from approximately 31 percent (in a typical year) to 35 percent.
This is still far short of the 60 percent of the natural winter and spring flows the water board found in 2010 would be needed to rebuild salmon runs and restore the bay-delta, its water quality and its wildlife. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Expect relief from record February gas prices - The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.78 on Thursday, according to AAA, down about half a cent from the day before. But it was only the fourth day this month that prices declined, and gas is nearly 50 cents more expensive than it was at the beginning of the year.
“Gas prices increased at a dramatically faster pace than expected in February,” said Avery Ash, AAA spokesman. “Motorists unfortunately are paying more for gasoline than ever at this time of year.”
Major maintenance work at many of the nation’s refineries limited capacity and was responsible for much of February’s increase, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, which compiles price information for AAA.
…”Current prices are unsustainable,” said Richard Soultanian, co-president of NUS Consulting, an energy management firm. “I don’t think crude will remain this high, and demand for gas has been pretty sluggish.” He predicts average prices in the low $3 range in four to six weeks. Read More > at CNN Money
Who Killed JC Penney? – That’s how Henry Blodget described JC Penney’s last three months of 2012, as same-store sales took an epic 32 percent nosedive. To be clear about exactly what a disaster that is, it means that for every $100 dollars JC Penney sold in a store around Christmas 2011, it sold only $68 in that store in Christmas 2012. That doesn’t look like the beginning of the end for JC Penney. That just looks like the end.
To appreciate how we arrived at this moment, let’s rewind the tape about six years. It’s early 2007, Steve Jobs is about to introduce the world to “iPhone”, and JC Penney’s stock is on fire, having tripled since the turn of the century. With 99 percent of purchases being discounts, coupons are looking like an unbeatable business strategy.
Then the recession hits. The stock promptly falls by 75 percent. While competitors like Macy’s and Target limp back to recovery, JC Penney clings to its decade low.
Bill Ackman, the activist hedge fund manager who owns a sixth of the company, decides he wants to shake things up. He hires Ron Johnson from Apple. Johnson is a legend, having designed the world’s most famous sleek white showrooms and having made Target a discount fashion destination. Johnson is an Ideas Guy, and, naturally, he arrives at JC Penney with an Idea: No more coupon games, just low prices.
Why would JC Penney ever entertain the idea of blowing up their core coupon business? Brett Gordon, a professor at Columbia Business School, explained to me that for a company like JC Penney, there are two kinds of shoppers: the bargain-hunter and the clock-watcher. They need less of the first and more of the second to survive.
Bargain hunters don’t just like bargains. They also like the hunt. They’re cheap, they’re poor, and they’re not getting richer in the near future. This is JC Penney’s demographic, and it’s not a growth demographic. Winning the war for their slim pocketbook means competing against stores like Walmart that will beat you on price every time. It’s a losing game.
Johnson wants to journey upmarket. The clock-watcher likes a good bargain, but she really just wants to buy her kids’ clothes and get on with life. Her time is more valuable, because she is more valuable. She’s not so cheap and not so poor. This is the shopper Johnson decides he wants to attract by ditching coupons and moving to permanent low prices with occasional sales. Read More > in The Atlantic
Got Pimples? You May Need Better Bacteria - If you were plagued by pimples in your teen years, you may have bacteria to blame—but not all of them. Researchers have found that not all strains of the bacteria commonly associated with acne are created equal: Some may cause problem skin, but one appears to protect the skin and keep it healthy. The discovery may help dermatologists develop new, strain-specific treatments for acne, a common but potentially disfiguring disorder.
Although acne is practically a rite of passage—more than 80% of Americans suffer from the skin condition, which can cause pimples, cysts, and red, inflamed skin, at some point in their lives—it’s not entirely understood. Past studies have pointed to Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium that lives in the skin’s follicles and pores, as a potential culprit, but that work had not precisely revealed its role. So molecular biologist Huiying Li of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues decided to take a closer look at the microbe. Read More > in Science Magazine
TED 2013: 4D printed objects ‘make themselves’- At the TED conference in Los Angeles, architect and computer scientist Skylar Tibbits showed how the process allows objects to self-assemble.
It could be used to install objects in hard-to-reach places such as underground water pipes, he suggested.
It might also herald an age of self-assembling furniture, said experts.
TED fellow Mr Tibbits, from the MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) self-assembly lab, explained what the extra dimension involved.
“We’re proposing that the fourth dimension is time and that over time static objects will transform and adapt,” he told the BBC.
The process uses a specialised 3D printer made by Stratasys that can create multi-layered materials.
It combines a strand of standard plastic with a layer made from a “smart” material that can absorb water.
The water acts as an energy source for the material to expand once it is printed.
“The rigid material becomes a structure and the other layer is the force that can start bending and twisting it,” said Mr Tibbits. Read More > in BBC News
Unique challenges for transgender player - When the Mission College Lady Saints tip off their playoff game Friday night, 51-year-old Gabrielle Ludwig will mostly be worried about her injured ankle and how it might affect her team’s winning streak.
The home team, City College of San Francisco, might be more concerned about Ludwig’s height. At 6-foot-6, she’s unusually tall even for a female basketball player – though someone that size would fit right in on a men’s team, like Ludwig did three decades ago, in another life.
Ludwig, a freshman at the Santa Clara school, is believed to be the first transgender person ever to play community college basketball in the United States. Having struggled for acceptance in her personal life since she began living as a woman in 2007, she was prepared for skepticism and worse on the court – and got it in large doses.
When she played her first game in December, the national media descended on the team, and fan vitriol quickly followed. Spectators called her “it” and shouted that she should be playing with the men. Online commenters joked that they could undergo castration and dominate in a women’s league. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
BART fares and parking fees go up, so how much will you pay? – BART passengers will pay more to ride the popular rail line next year — and those who drive to the station will be particularly hard hit.
The agency’s board of directors Thursday approved a 5.2 percent fare increase, which will raise the average one-way fare from $3.59 to $3.78 starting Jan. 1. That will cost the average daily BART commuter about $50 over the course of a year.
Most of the agency’s 370,000 daily one-way riders take round trips. The most expensive round-trip fare, between San Francisco International Airport and Pittsburg-Bay Point, will rise from $22.10 to $23.30. The cheapest fare, for a variety of short trips, will inch up from $3.50 to $3.70 for a round trip.
The fare hike is tied to the rate of inflation. BART, which last increased ticket prices two years ago, says it needs the money to help replace its aging rail cars and other infrastructure.
Similar inflation-adjusted fare increases are set for 2016, 2018 and 2020, continuing BART’s policy of raising ticket prices slightly every other year. In all, the fare increases are projected to generate an additional $325 million over eight years.
In addition, the board voted to increase parking fees as soon as June 1. The cost to park at stations that are at least 95 percent full will rise 50 cents every six months, with a cap of $3 a day, except at West Oakland, where it already costs $5. If stations are not full, the cost will drop by 50 cents every six months. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News
California raises excise tax on gas by 3.5 cents a gallon - No matter what market forces do to California gasoline prices in the near future, Golden State motorists will be paying a few pennies more per gallon four months from today.
The State Board of Equalization on Thursday approved raising the excise tax for gasoline to 39.5 cents a gallon, a 3.5-cent increase that will take effect statewide July 1.
Approval by a 3-2 vote came on the third and final day of the board’s meeting in Culver City.
The excise tax is the byproduct of laws, signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010, that created a new tax structure for gasoline and mandated that the board adjust the state gas excise tax rate by March 1 of each year. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
Consumer spending up, income drop largest in 20 years - U.S. consumer spending rose in January as Americans spent more on utilities, with savings providing a cushion after income recorded its biggest drop in 20 years.
The Commerce Department said on Friday consumer spending increased 0.2 percent in January after a revised 0.1 percent rise the prior month. Spending had previously been estimated to have increased 0.2 percent in December.
January’s increase was in line with economists’ expectations. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity and when adjusted for inflation, it gained 0.1 percent after a similar increase in December.
…Income tumbled 3.6 percent, the largest drop since January 1993. Part of the decline was payback for a 2.6 percent surge in December as businesses, anxious about higher taxes, rushed to pay dividends and bonuses before the new year.
Taking into account the higher taxes that went into effect at the start of the year, the squeeze on households was even greater. The income at the disposal of households after inflation and taxes plunged a 4.0 percent in January after advancing 2.7 percent in December.
Excluding the unwinding of the dividend and bonus boost, disposable income increased 0.3 percent in January.
With income dropping sharply and spending rising, the saving rate – the percentage of disposable income households are socking away – fell to 2.4 percent, the lowest level since November 2007. The rate had jumped to 6.4 percent in December.
Savings were the smallest since December 2007. Read More > in Reuters
Is Yahoo’s telework ban shortsighted or savvy? Data says both - Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telecommuting at Yahoo ignited a firestorm of criticism for the CEO, who has been accused of sending the company back to the digital dark ages by eliminating flexible work arrangements. Employee morale will plummet, Yahoo will lose key people, and Mayer’s efforts to enhance collaboration will backfire, critics predict.
There’s plenty of research that seems to back up these dire predictions. Employees consistently rank telework among the most valued perks, and pro-telework organizations are overflowing with data that makes the business case for workplace flexibility. Workers are happier, productivity rises, and people achieve a better work/life balance when they have the option to telework, advocates say.
But not all research comes to the same favorable conclusions about telecommuting. Other data finds employees view work more positively when their bosses are physically present, people tend to lie more when they’re communicating virtually as opposed to face-to-face, and teleworkers are hard to hold accountable for their performance.
Some workplace metrics are impossible to measure, and some measurable metrics are subject to bias. What’s certain is the success of telecommuting depends on the individual employee, company, and job that needs to get done. With that in mind, here are a slew of figures, stats and research findings related to telework adoption, employee preferences, and workplace habits. Read More > in NetworkWorld
Brennan: NFL teams out of bounds on questions to players - Nick Kasa, a tight end from Colorado hoping to be drafted by the NFL this spring, went to the scouting combine the other day to get timed in the 40, jump vertically and horizontally, get in as many bench press reps as possible and be asked about his sexuality.
“They ask you like, ‘Do you have a girlfriend? Are you married? Do you like girls?’ Those kinds of things, and you know, it was just kind of weird,” Kasa told ESPN Radio Denver, via ProFootballTalk, on Tuesday. “But they would ask you with a straight face, and it’s a pretty weird experience altogether.”
Pretty weird, indeed. Invasive and unacceptable also are adjectives that would apply. And there’s one more word that works even better: Illegal.
What Kasa says happened at the NFL combine is not legal.
The NFL and the NFL Players Association don’t always agree on issues big or small, but this time, they sure do, responding quickly Wednesday with statements saying this is not the way the league should be doing business. Read More > in USA Today
Renewable Energy: Bringing Blackouts Back to California? – The epidemic of power outages and “rolling blackouts” which nearly shut down California in the early 2000s may be returning. Back then, the culprits were unscrupulous energy providers like Enron and a poorly-thought out process of deregulation. This time, renewable energy would be to blame, as the state has pushed to increase the use of solar and wind energy without ensuring that there is enough traditional power generation to keep the grid stable on cloudy, windless days.
Although the blackouts haven’t happened yet, some are warning that they could begin to strike in the next couple of years. The Wall Street Journal explains the problem:
The surplus generating capacity doesn’t guarantee steady power flow. Even though California has a lot of plants, it doesn’t have the right mix: Many of the solar and wind sources added in recent years have actually made the system more fragile, because they provide power intermittently.
Electricity systems need some surplus, so they can cover unexpected generator outages or transmission-line failures, but having too much can depress the prices generators can charge for electricity. In part because of low power prices, many gas-fired generation units aren’t profitable enough to justify refurbishments required by pending federal regulations under the Clean Water Act. That means they are likely to be shut by 2020, adding to the state’s power woes. Read More > at The American Interest
Androids are going to take our jobs, and that’s great! – Andrew McAfee of MIT says that, sooner or later, our world is going to be heavily populated with robots and androids. “Our machines are demonstrating skills that they have never, ever had before,” he noted onstage at the TED2013 conference on Wednesday. “The day is not too far off that androids are going to be doing a lot of the work we do now.” This is the new machine age.
McAfee, a management theorist at MIT’s Center for Digital Business, proclaimed that “this is the best economic news on the planet these days,” for two main reasons. First, he explained, “technological progress allows us to continue this amazing run we are on” in which prices go down and products and quality explode. “This is abundance!” he said. Second, McAfee believes that once the androids take on a large number of job functions, we won’t have drudgery and toil any longer. We will have a new society.
“What could possibly go wrong?” he asks. The future won’t be Skynet. “I’ll worry about robots becoming aware and taking over when my computer becomes aware of my printer,” he joked.
The economic challenges are perhaps more obvious, McAfee admitted. Machines make it tough to “offer labor to your economy,” and jobs vanish. “Returns to capital are at all time high while wages as percentage of GDP are at an all time low,” he said to the audience. This is ultimately not sustainable, as mass unemployment destroys economies. According to McAfee, we’re already seeing that “the middle class is under huge threat” as medium incomes have decreased over the last 15 years. Read More > at Ars Technica
Brentwood school board votes to fire superintendent - The Brentwood school board fired Superintendent Merrill Grant on Wednesday night, following a 4-1 vote in closed session.
“Dr. Grant will not return to his duties as superintendent,” school board President Carlos Sanabria announced when the open meeting resumed.
Former long-time Brentwood schools superintendent Doug Adams will return as the interim superintendent while the district begins an immediate search for a permanent replacement, Sanabria said.
“It has been clear for the need for change in the district,” Sanabria said. Those changes include improved mandated reporter training for staff and the expansion of the community involvement within the district, he said. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times
Public records law faces budget ax - The public’s right to know may again become the victim of California’s budget troubles.
Last year, the state decided it would not reimburse local governments for the cost of notifying the public about government meetings, to save about $20 million a year. Because the California constitution prevents the state from imposing mandates without funding them, the cut in funding suspended parts of open-meetings law.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget to take effect this summer continues that situation — and would now invalidate certain public-records requirements as well.
A state commission has ruled that the state must reimburse local governments if it requires them to assist the public with records requests and respond within 10 days to them. Brown’s budget says the state will cover no such costs, again lifting the legal requirements. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune
American student punished for refusing to recite Mexican pledge of allegiance? – A Texas high school student has filed a federal lawsuit against her school after her Spanish teacher allegedly gave her a failing grade for refusing to recite the Mexican pledge of allegiance.
The lawsuit says the McAllen Independent School District violated 15-year-old girl Brenda Brinsdon’s constitutional rights, saying that the “Supreme Court forbids teachers from compelling schoolchildren to pledge their allegiance to a country.”
The complaint also states that the student was not allowed to recite the American Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish in front of the class as an alternative assignment. The teacher, Reyna Santos, gave her a different assignment on the Independence of Mexico to which she received 13 out of 100 points.
The school district has a policy that prohibits a school from compelling students to recite the American Pledge of Allegiance or text from the Declaration of Independence if the student “as determined by the district, has a conscientious objection to the recitation,” Fox News’ Todd Starnes reports. Read More > in the Washington Times
Forum on Delta braces residents for battle against state water tunnel plan - The future of the Delta hangs in the balance, and it will take an extensive grass-roots effort to stop state plans that would negatively alter its ecosystem.
That was the message relayed often Wednesday night to a capacity crowd of more than 200 concerned East Contra Costa residents who packed the Discovery Bay Elementary School gymnasium for a town hall forum.
Presented by environmental organization Save the California Delta Alliance, it featured updates on pressing Delta issues from Contra Costa Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho, of Discovery Bay, and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, and what they are doing to curtail a plan that would divert water from the region.
Concerns center around Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to build a pair of 37-mile-long tunnels that would convey water from the Sacramento River south of Sacramento near Courtland to Clifton Court Forebay near Byron, bypassing the Delta.
The price tag is unknown, but estimates range from $14 billion to $20 billion. It also is uncertain who would pay for the project. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times
Robotic turtle comes out of its shell - This meter-long autonomous underwater navigation creation, naro-tartaruga, comes from the minds at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. They say building a turtle is easier than building a robotic fish, and that the turtle’s stout torso is great for housing batteries and sensors, which could be used to measure everything from water temperature to water leaks. -
What’s behind the gas price runup? Depends on whom you ask - The forces driving gasoline prices upward are clear. It just depends on who you ask.
Some lawmakers and regulators pin the blame on financial speculators trading futures contracts for oil.
Others attribute the spike to seasonal changes, as refiners begin switching from producing winter grade fuels to more expensive summer blends.
Or it could be a collision of planned maintenance and unexpected outages at some of the nation’s refineries, which are keeping gasoline supplies low, despite a boon in domestic crude production.
A Fox Business piece suggests the run-up in prices is because oil companies typically slash their inventories late each year, in a bid to avoid state taxes on their stockpiles.
Still another explanation comes from the government’s Energy Information Administration, which says most of the rise in gasoline costs is tied to the widening gasoline crack spread, the difference between the wholesale price of gasoline and the price of crude oil. Late last year, those crack spreads sometimes dipped into negative territory, as a barrel of gasoline was sometimes worth less than a barrel of Brent crude. But the cost of Brent crude has climbed about $6 per barrel between Jan. 1 and Feb. 19, the EIA noted.
The truth is, gas prices are complex and the forces driving them up and down are tough to pinpoint. Read More > at Fuel Fix
Oakland Neighbors Policing Their Own Streets As They Lose Faith In Cops - Oakland’s crime problems have gotten so bad that some people aren’t even bothering to call the cops anymore; instead, they’re trying to solve and prevent crimes themselves.
KPIX 5 cameras caught up with a half dozen neighbors in East Oakland’s Arcadia Park neighborhood Monday as they walked the streets on the lookout for crime. The vigilance has never seemed more necessary than now; 25 homes in the neighborhood have been burglarized over the last two months alone.
In a neighborhood that has started to feel like the wild west, people have even started posting “wanted” signs. Read More > at KPIX 5
Randy grands take over online realm – number of seniors playing the field more than doubles - Old folks hunting for flings exploded last year as seniors gleefully look to play the field online.
Ourtime.com membership sprung from 1 million to 2.5 million singles in just the last nine months, and now the three biggest love sites for grannys and granpops — Senior People Meet, Seniors Meet and Ourtime.com — share more than four million people combined.
…And the fun leaps right from the computer into the bedroom. Seniors are catching STDs at record rates; the number of 50, 60 and 70 year olds getting chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea doubled in the past decade. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports cases of chlamydia and syphilis in older kin ballooning to more than 19,000 and 2,500, respectively.
Longer life expectancy, climbing divorce rates and recharged libidos are behind the surge in online and offline love affairs. Read More > in the New York Post
Time to Emigrate to Mexico? – …Fears that America will be overrun by a mass of poor workers from Latin America are looking more and more like yesterday’s news. Birthrates in Mexico are falling, and the economic situation continues to improve. At 5 percent, Mexico’s unemployment rate is nearly three points below ours. In 2012, its GDP grew by nearly 4 percent, and foreign investors, encouraged by the turnaround, poured $57 billion into stocks and bonds in the first nine months. Forthcoming reforms in the telecommunications and energy sectors may also help those industries to boom. The country’s economic forecasts are so promising that the Financial Times has dubbed it the “Aztec tiger.”
This is good news. As the Mexican economy improves, immigration pressures will continue to abate. Who knows? If the trends continue, maybe we’ll even see southbound migrants outnumbering northbound ones. Read More > at The American Interest
Eying Apple - Not long ago, Apple was almost universally venerated. It was the most profitable tech company in the world, and commentators predicted that it might be the first trillion-dollar company in U.S. history. What a difference a few months make. Since September, the stock has tumbled thirty-five per cent, losing more than two hundred billion dollars from its market cap. January’s earnings report disappointed investors, and analysts are cutting earnings estimates. Now there’s a deluge of forecasts stating that Apple is “in big trouble,” “losing its cool,” and just plain “doomed.” And it’s not only pundits: the activist hedge-fund manager David Einhorn has capitalized on the crisis by pushing the company to hand over its giant cash reserves to shareholders.
So why the sudden fall from grace? There were a few missteps: a tepid launch for the iPhone 5, followed by the Maps fiasco. And Steve Jobs’s absence is obviously preying on people’s minds. But there’s a more concrete reason: Apple’s competitors are finally doing a better job of making the kinds of phones that customers want. The most notable of these is an oversized phone dubbed “the phablet”—Samsung’s Galaxy Note is the leader in the category. The phablet is bigger than a traditional phone, smaller than a tablet, and as ungainly as its name—too big to fit comfortably in your pocket and cumbersome for making calls. In the U.S., the phablet is still very much a niche product, but overseas, particularly in Asia, sales exploded in the second half of last year. And, unfortunately for Apple, there is no iPhablet. Read More > in the New Yorker
The Porn Myth: Uncovering the Truth about Sex Stars - …”The average span of a performer’s career is usually only about six to 18 months, so the benefit of participating in these things isn’t usually apparent to the people who are in it at the time,” Kayden Kross, an adult film actress and writer, told LiveScience.
…The stereotypical porn actress — with enormous breasts and blonde hair — doesn’t match reality, Millward found. In fact, the most common bra size among porn stars is a 34B, compared with 36C for the average American woman. High obesity rates among the public may explain some of the discrepancy in breast size; porn actresses are also thinner than the average American woman. According to the numbers given on Internet Adult Film Database profiles, the average female porn star weighs 117 pounds (53 kilograms), which is 48 pounds (22 kg) less than the average American woman. [5 Myths About Women's Bodies]
The average male porn star weighs 167.5 pounds (76 kg), 27 pounds (12 kg) less than the national average of 195.7 pounds (89 kg) for men.
Nor are blondes as dominant as might be expected. Only 32.7 percent of porn actresses have blonde hair, whether natural or dyed. About 39 percent have brown hair, 22.5 percent have black hair, and only about 5 percent are redheads.
Nikki is the most common name for female porn stars, Millward found, and David is the most common name for men. Read More > at Live Science
Boonville’s quirky dialect fading away - Wes Smoot was bahl harpin’ the other day with some kimmies at a gormin’ region – i.e., chatting with pals at a restaurant – and nobody more than 4 feet away could understand what he was saying.
Soon, in all likelihood, nobody will understand any of the words he was using.
That’s because the 80-year-old Smoot was speaking Boontling, one of just two homegrown languages in the United States – and it is close to becoming extinct.
After 160 years of people speaking the oddball, cornpone-inflected dialect invented in and around the tiny, forested outpost of Boonville, Smoot and 11 others are the only ones left who still know Boontling down pat. And the younger generation shows no interest in it.
In Boontling, that means the language is pikin’ to the dusties. That is, getting ready to die. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Drakes Bay Oyster Co. gets reprieve - A federal appeals court granted a reprieve Monday to an oyster farm that challenged the federal government’s refusal to renew its lease at Point Reyes National Seashore, site of a proposed marine wilderness.
Drakes Bay Oyster Co. has raised “serious legal questions” about the Interior Department’s action, said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The court also said the company and its employees would suffer hardships by having to shut down while the case was pending.
The court’s injunction allows the company to stay at least until mid-May, when a different panel will hear its appeal of a judge’s ruling in the government’s favor. Monday’s order was issued by Judges Alfred Goodwin, Kim Wardlaw and Mary Murguia.
Drakes Bay runs California’s only oyster cannery, and plants and harvests at least one-third of the state’s oysters. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
California bill would cut tax exemptions for Boy Scouts, other youth organizations that prohibit gay members - State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, has proposed removing the tax-exempt status of the Boy Scouts of America if the group continues to forbid gay, bisexual and transgender members.
The “Youth Equality Act,” or SB 323, would end an exemption on corporate taxes on donations or other income the Boy Scouts and certain youth groups receive, if they discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Lara said that the tax break was intended to reward youth groups that benefit all Californians.
“We’re not saying you have to let folks in, but if you choose to actually discriminate against somebody for being LGBT, we shouldn’t be giving you the privilege of a tax exemption that is supported by all California,” Lara said Monday.
A Boy Scouts of America spokesman said Monday the organization was aware of the legislation but had no comment. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News
Why Should Taxpayers Give Big Banks $83 Billion a Year? – On television, in interviews and in meetings with investors, executives of the biggest U.S. banks — notably JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon — make the case that size is a competitive advantage. It helps them lower costs and vie for customers on an international scale. Limiting it, they warn, would impair profitability and weaken the country’s position in global finance.
So what if we told you that, by our calculations, the largest U.S. banks aren’t really profitable at all? What if the billions of dollars they allegedly earn for their shareholders were almost entirely a gift from U.S. taxpayers?
Granted, it’s a hard concept to swallow. It’s also crucial to understanding why the big banks present such a threat to the global economy.
Let’s start with a bit of background. Banks have a powerful incentive to get big and unwieldy. The larger they are, the more disastrous their failure would be and the more certain they can be of a government bailout in an emergency. The result is an implicit subsidy: The banks that are potentially the most dangerous can borrow at lower rates, because creditors perceive them as too big to fail. Read More > at Bloomberg
Conn Carroll: What happened to the Golden State? – More Americans now emigrate from California to other states than immigrate from other states to California. This exodus has cost California more than 1.5 million residents since 2000. And the reason is simple — the jobs are fleeing first.
In his state of the state speech, Brown claimed, “California lost 1.3 million jobs in the Great Recession, but we are coming back at a faster pace than the national average.” The first half of Brown’s statement is true, but the second half is not. California has only gained back 556,000 jobs since the recession ended, or 42 percent of those lost — well below the national average of 60 percent regained. As a result, California’s unemployment rate is still near double-digits at 9.8 percent. By comparison, Texas, which lost 427,000 jobs during the recession, has gained them all back and created an additional 265,000.
California is no longer a model that other states want to or should emulate. It currently has the nation’s third highest unemployment rate, its highest poverty rate and more than one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients.
What happened? Read More > in the Washington Examiner
Conn Carroll: The California spending rush - California’s budget is balanced … or at least that is what Gov. Jerry Brown wants you to believe, now that he “temporarily” hiked taxes on all Californians by $6.8 billion last year.
This past November, after voters approved Brown’s income and sales tax hike through a referendum, the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office projected that California would still end fiscal year 2014 with a $1.9 billion deficit. In January, just two months later, Brown claimed in his State of the State address not only that “the budget is balanced,” but that the Golden State was on track to end the fiscal year with a billion-dollar surplus.
So what exactly happened in the span of two months that added $2.9 billion to California’s bottom line? Did the economy suddenly turn around? Was spending cut? Not at all. What happened is that Brown simply made up new numbers.
Brown’s budget not only assumes $1.1 billion in higher income and sales tax revenues than the November projections, but it also takes advantage of an additional $1 billion in revenues that will supposedly be created by the state’s new cap-and-trade program and the elimination of certain development tax breaks.
But Brown was hardly in a position to make such assumptions. Before his speech, the first round of cap-and-trade auctions had already taken place, producing only 14 percent of expected revenue. In addition, California’s state controller had already released numbers in December showing that actual tax collections were 10.8 percent below projection. Read More > in the Washington Examiner
California In Crisis: California’s expensive education failure - “Nothing is more determinative of our future than how we teach our children,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said in his January State of the State address. “If we fail at this, we will sow growing social chaos and inequality that no law can rectify.”
Bad news, governor: California is already failing its children. And it wasn’t always this way.
According to RAND Corp., as late as the 1970s California’s public schools still had an “excellent” reputation. Then, in 1975, Brown (in his first stint as California’s governor) signed the Rodda Act, giving government unions the power to take money directly out of government employees’ paychecks.
…But all of that money for teachers salaries hasn’t helped students in the classroom. By 1992, the first year for which state-by-state comparisons are available, California ranked second to last among states tested (ahead of only Mississippi), in reading proficiency among fourth-graders.
Since then, California per pupil education spending has continued to rise, and student test scores have not. In 2011, the most recent year available, California eighth-graders finished 48th in reading, ahead of just Louisiana and Mississippi, and 48th in math, ahead of just Alabama and Mississippi. Perhaps California should change its state motto to “Thank God for Mississippi.” Read More > in the Washington Examiner
California in Crisis: Golden State’s green jobs bust - … For starters, California now has the highest gas prices in the country. As of the third week in February, the price of regular unleaded was 40 cents more ($4.15 per gallon) than the national average ($3.74).
There are two main reasons for this. First, California has special clean-air rules that essentially make the state a boutique gasoline market year-round. Second, thanks to other environmental regulations such as the California Environmental Quality Act, only 14 refineries are still operating in the state, down from 27 in 1980. As California’s cap-and-trade program kicks in this year, the number of refineries will continue to go down, and the price of gasoline will continue to rise.
California already has some of the nation’s highest electricity prices — 39 percent higher than the national average — and those will continue to rise as the state begins to enforce both its renewable energy mandate and cap-and-trade programs.
The cap-and-trade law will at least spare residential consumers and utility companies part of the added pain with rebates and special allowances. But it does so at the expense of businesses and manufacturers, who are simply are out of luck. Cap-and-trade will cost them about $1 billion a year, according to the California Chamber of Commerce. Read More > in the Washington Examiner
California in Crisis: Green state chokes off its middle class - One reason is the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970. Modeled after the federal National Environmental Policy Act, CEQA was intended to make infrastructure planning easier. As the accompanying chart shows, it is anything but an easy law to follow. Unlike most state environmental planning laws, CEQA allows plaintiffs to recover attorney’s fees from defendant infrastructure developers (whether they be state, city or private actors).
This has created an entire environmental lawsuit industry — a very profitable one that chills development. According to the California Chamber of Commerce, CEQA has become “a morass of uncertainty for project proponents and agencies alike.”
Local government smart-growth plans have made it next to impossible for developers to build single-family homes near job centers such as the Bay Area or Los Angeles. As a result, real estate prices along California’s coast are among the highest in the nation, forcing many middle-class families to downsize or move elsewhere.
California’s once-famous highway system is also failing to serve the state’s population. According to the Federal Highway Administration, only 28 percent of the state’s highways were rated in good condition in 2010. Another 48 percent of the state’s highways were rated acceptable, while 24 percent were rated poor.
The highways are only expected to get worse. California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that $6 billion a year is needed to replace the degraded portions of the state’s highways. But Gov. Jerry Brown has only budgeted $1.5 billion annually for this purpose.
Instead of spending on highways, the Democratic governor has committed $5 billion to a high-speed rail plan that was originally sold to voters as a $40 billion project. The train, which supposedly would allow riders to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours, saw its costs balloon to more than $100 billion before its scope had to be significantly limited, reducing costs to $68 billion. Read More > in the Washington Examiner
Gun Debate Overtaken by Budget Fights - Senate action on two of President Barack Obama’s top priorities this year — gun violence and immigration — will likely be delayed until April at the earliest, as budget issues yet again consume all of Washington’s political oxygen and capital.
Though Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., on Monday announced a Thursday markup for a series of gun bills, Congress must first address a March 27 deadline to avoid a government shutdown, the implementation of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts this year and a budget resolution. That means any gun violence measure is unlikely to hit the floor for another six weeks and that any immigration overhaul would be slated following the gun debate. Read More > at Roll Call
Giant Goldfish Found In Lake Tahoe
Paroled sex offenders disarming tracking devices - Thousands of paroled child molesters, rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in California are removing or disarming their court-ordered GPS tracking devices — and some have been charged with new crimes including sexual battery, kidnapping and attempted manslaughter.
The offenders have discovered that they can disable the monitors, often with little risk of serving time for it, a Times investigation has found. The jails are too full to hold them.
“It’s a huge problem,” said Fresno parole agent Matt Hill. “If the public knew, they’d be shocked.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
A grass-roots revolt on green energy - …The meeting was at the Bedminster home of Jeff Bolash. The term “Not In My Backyard” is often used to disparage homeowners like Bolash. But he will wear the NIMBY label proudly if it will help him avoid looking out his back window and seeing “The Somerset Hills Power Plant.”That’s what the group is labeling a proposal they’re fighting that would turn 53 acres of farmland into a solar-energy array to power the Sanofi-Aventis office complex on the other side of Interstate 287.
Calling such a setup a power plant may sound like an exaggeration. But in many ways solar power can be more of a nuisance than conventional power. A gas-fired plant on just one acre could provide more power than this entire array would produce. That would leave 52 acres for nature.
…They’re talking about them now. These things are being fought all over the state. Several legislators from rural areas reacted with a bill that would make it clear that solar is considered an “inherently beneficial use” for zoning purposes only when sited on rooftops, brownfields, etc. Farms and open space would not qualify.
The Sierra Club position on Assembly Bill 3218? Opposed. Re More > at New Jersey On-Line
What Happens To Your Brain When You Get Black-Out Drunk? – Anyone with a strong familiarity with booze has either had a blackout themselves, or knows someone who has. But not all blackouts are created equal; there are two types, “en bloc” and “fragmentary.” As their names imply, fragmentary blackouts cause the drinker to not recall moments for small periods of time, whereas en bloc refers to larger periods.
People who experience fragmentary blackouts, sometimes referred to as “brownouts,” can typically recall forgotten events once they’re reminded of them. En bloc blackouts aren’t so lucky. But both types are believed to be caused by the same thing, namely a neurophysiological, chemical disruption in the brain’s hippocampus, a region integral to memory formation.
…As is the case with many drinking-related woes, having a full stomach helps. Not eating will cause your blood alcohol level to elevate more quickly. Drinking less and slower also obviously helps. Studies show a blackout’s main culprit to be a fast, dramatic spike in blood alcohol content; they usually kick in at blood alcohol levels of at least 0.15 percent. That’s roughly twice the legal limit for driving. And the trouble really begins when this level is reached quickly.
Women may have a harder time avoiding blackouts since their blood alcohol content increases more quickly than men’s. Not only do they tend to have less water in their bodies to disperse the alcohol, but they also have less gastric dehyrogenase, an enzyme that breaks down alcohol. Read More > at Gizmodo
Ariz. court ruling upholds DUI test for marijuana - An appeals court has issued a ruling that upholds the right of authorities to prosecute pot smokers in Arizona for driving under the influence even when there is no evidence that they are actually high.
The ruling by the Court of Appeals focuses on the chemical compounds in marijuana that show up in blood and urine tests after people smoke pot. One chemical compound causes drivers to be impaired; another is a chemical that stays in people’s systems for weeks after they’ve smoked marijuana but doesn’t affect impairment.
The court ruled that both compounds apply to Arizona law, meaning a driver doesn’t have to actually be impaired to get prosecuted for DUI. As long as there is evidence of marijuana in their system, they can get a DUI, the court said.
The ruling overturns a decision by a lower court judge who said it didn’t make sense to prosecute a person with no evidence they’re under the influence.
The lower court judge cited the proliferation of states easing their marijuana laws, but the Court of Appeals ruling issued Tuesday dismissed that by saying Arizona’s medical marijuana law is irrelevant regarding DUI. More than 35,000 people in Arizona have medical marijuana cards. Read More > in the Denver Post
ObamaCare and the ’29ers’ - Here’s a trend you’ll be reading more about: part-time “job sharing,” not only within firms but across different businesses.
It’s already happening across the country at fast-food restaurants, as employers try to avoid being punished by the Affordable Care Act. In some cases we’ve heard about, a local McDonalds has hired employees to operate the cash register or flip burgers for 20 hours a week and then the workers head to the nearby Burger King or Wendy’s to log another 20 hours. Other employees take the opposite shifts.
Welcome to the strange new world of small-business hiring under ObamaCare. The law requires firms with 50 or more “full-time equivalent workers” to offer health plans to employees who work more than 30 hours a week. (The law says “equivalent” because two 15 hour a week workers equal one full-time worker.) Employers that pass the 50-employee threshold and don’t offer insurance face a $2,000 penalty for each uncovered worker beyond 30 employees. So by hiring the 50th worker, the firm pays a penalty on the previous 20 as well.
These employment cliffs are especially perverse economic incentives. Thousands of employers will face a $40,000 penalty if they dare expand and hire a 50th worker. The law is effectively a $2,000 tax on each additional hire after that, so to move to 60 workers costs $60,000.
A 2011 Hudson Institute study estimates that this insurance mandate will cost the franchise industry $6.4 billion and put 3.2 million jobs “at risk.” The insurance mandate is so onerous for small firms that Stephen Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association, predicts that “Many stores will have to cut worker hours out of necessity. It could be the difference between staying in business or going out of business.” The franchise association says the average fast-food restaurant has profits of only about $50,000 to $100,000 and a margin of about 3.5%. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
The Hollywood Tax Story They Won’t Tell at the Oscars - At the Democratic National Convention last year, actress Eva Longoria called for higher taxes on America’s rich. Her take: “The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy’s flipping burgers—she needed a tax break. But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not.”
Actually, nowadays an Eva Longoria who flipped burgers would probably qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit and get a check from the government rather than pay taxes. It’s the movie set where she works these days that may well be getting the tax break.
With campaign season over, you’re not likely to hear stars bringing up taxes at this weekend’s Academy Awards show. But the tax man ought to come out and take a bow anyway. Of the nine “Best Picture” nominees in 2012, for example, five were filmed on location in states where the production company received financial incentives, including “The Help” (in Mississippi) and “Moneyball” (in California). Virginia gave $3.5 million to this year’s Oscar-nominated “Lincoln.”
Such state incentives are widespread, and often substantial, but they don’t do much to attract jobs. About $1.5 billion in tax credits and exemptions, grants, waived fees and other financial inducements went to the film industry in 2010, according to data analyzed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Politicians like to offer this largess because they get photo-ops with celebrities, but the economic payoff is minuscule. George Mason University’s Adam Thierer has called this “a growing cronyism fiasco” and noted that the number of states involved skyrocketed to 45 in 2009 from five in 2002. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
There’s no shortage of ideas for reforming higher education–the National Association of Scholars has 100.- It is getting harder to ignore the fact that American higher education is in great need of reform. Academia is lurching along unsteadily down an unsustainable and uncertain future—with rising student debt, suffocating political correctness, falling standards, and unrestrained debauchery. Change is inevitable; whether it will come from deliberate policy changes or as an inevitable collapse remains to be seen.
The problems do not come from a shortage of viable ideas to set academia on the right path, but, rather, from Ivory Tower intransigence and denial. Ideas for reform are everywhere; some are proven, some are untried, some are still up for judgment, but many can certainly improve the status quo.
In celebration of the 100th issue of Academic Questions, a publication of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), 100 academics, higher education critics, and independent scholars were asked for their suggestions on how to improve this obstinate and arrogant institution, the Ivory Tower. The results appear in the 100th issue, entitled “One Hundred Great Ideas for Higher Education.” The publication of these ideas coincides with the NAS’s 25th anniversary celebration. (For more information about that celebratory event in New York City on March 1-2, 2013, please visit the organization’s website.) Read More > at the John William POPE Center
Party Dominance Doesn’t Last - The chorus out of Washington, from the chattering classes to conservatives themselves], is that the sky is falling on the Republican Party.
If only those people would look at a diagram of our electoral history, they would see that nothing is permanent in American politics.
“While it may seem as though the Democrats have secured a dominant position over the Republicans, political party fortunes in America regularly change abruptly,” says Dr. Lara Brown, an expert on electoral politics.
Brown, the author of Jockeying for the American Presidency, points to the most startling turnaround in modern times – the eight-year revolution between Lyndon Johnson’s reelection in 1964 (he won more than 61 percent of the popular vote, and 44 states and the District of Columbia; Goldwater won only six states and 38 percent of the vote) and Richard Nixon’s reelection in 1972 (he won close to 61 percent of the popular vote and 49 states; McGovern won only Massachusetts and D.C.).
And last year’s presidential election was no runaway or realigning election, folks, despite all the hyperbole to the contrary. Remember, President Obama lost votes between 2008 and 2012, not normally an indication of an ascendant party.
Americans’ oscillation has been in hyper-drive for 20 years. Read More > at Real Clear Politics