Sunday Reading – 02/08/15


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.

The Obama Administration’s Net Neutrality Proposal Could Change the Internet Forever—but the FCC is Keeping it Secret – On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler announced a major new proposal to regulate the Internet as utility, and, in doing so, institute restrictive net neutrality rules on every major component of the Internet. Given the Obama administration’s unusual and aggressive effort to push the FCC chief into putting forth the proposal, it’s better thought of as the White House’s net neutrality proposal.

The proposal is extraordinary in many ways: According to an op-ed by Wheeler and other accounts, it would not only reclassify wired broadband service as a Title II utility, like the phone system, it would also apply to wireless data. In addition, it would give the FCC new authority over the Internet’s backend—the middleman services that transfer data between Internet service providers (ISPs). It would pave the way for new taxes to be applied to Internet service.

It would, in other words, be a fundamental break from the sort of relatively light federal regulation that has defined the Internet since its inception, and it represents a blatantly political reversal on the part of Chairman Wheeler, a technically independent agency head who plainly caved to White House pressure.

But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the proposal, which is 332 pages long, is that it is being kept secret from the public—and it will remain secret until after a vote later this month in which it is likely to pass on a 3-2 basis, with Wheeler and the FCC’s two Democratically appointed commissioners outvoting the two Republican-appointed commissioners. Read More > at Reason

What to Do Right Now If You’re One of the 80 Million Anthem Members Who Got Hacked – To the 80 million customers of Anthem whose personal information was stolen by hackers, security experts offer this advice: Keep a close eye on your medical-claims statements.

Identity thieves use plundered health-plan data to run up large bills in the victims’ names. Anthem disclosed yesterday, Feb. 4, that names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, medical IDs, street and e-mail addresses, and employee information, including income levels, were stolen in one of the biggest data breaches of a U.S. company.

Identity theft may not have been the main goal of the breach. Federal and private-sector investigators are pursuing evidence that points to Chinese state-sponsored hackers who are stealing personal data from health-care companies to seek information on the personal lives of defense contractors, government workers, and others, according to three people familiar with the probe. Still, the information of tens of millions of others has been compromised and can’t be considered safe.

…Watch for bogus billing

Consumers’ best defense will be the insurer’s vigilance over claims reports for signs of medical-identity theft, according to the security specialists. One of the biggest threats is the possibility of medical-identity theft, in which an impostor steals members’ insurance IDs or Social Security numbers and uses them to rack up thousands of dollars in health-care bills, said Geoff Hancock, chief executive officer of Advanced CyberSecurity Group in Washington.

Google yourself

Anthem members should also monitor bank statements, search online for their names and e-mail addresses, and look out for suspicious e-mails, since hackers often sell stolen addresses to malicious spammers sending viruses or fraudulent offers, said Carl Leonard, principal security analyst for Websense. ReadMore > at Bloomberg

How RadioShack Helped Build Silicon Valley – Steve Wozniak still laughs telling the story of the TV jammer. He’d built a tiny transmitter that he concealed in his hand, and he took it down into the basement of Libby Hall at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he was a freshman. Libby was where students would gather every night, around the only color television on campus. “I would jam the TV,” says Wozniak. “Then, a friend of mine would whack it, and it would go good. I would jam it again, fuzz up the picture. He’d whack the TV and it’d go good. Eventually, they stationed somebody next to that TV every night for weeks, and it was their job to fix the TV, adjust the tuning or whatever until it worked.”

Later, at school in Berkeley, he and Steve Jobs played more elaborate tricks: They’d convince their friends that the TV would only work if they pointed one arm pointed straight up, held a leg off the floor, or twisted their body into a pretzel. Once, Wozniak convinced his furious professors that another student was jamming all the TVs in their classroom by taking his finger off the transmitter right as the other guy left the room. “And the TAs pointed at him and said ‘there he goes.’”

When Woz first designed the jammer, the only part he had on hand was a tuning capacitor from an old transistor radio. So he went where he’d go whenever he needed something small and a little bit odd: RadioShack. “I walked there — it was a little bit of a long walk — and I looked at all the transistors they had.” He bought the highest-speed one he could find. “It worked out quite well,” says Wozniak. Except for the guy who picked the wrong day to leave class a few minutes early, anyway.

Today, RadioShack filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Part of a coming reorganization will involve co-branding as many as 1,750 stores with Sprint, one of the company’s largest creditors, and will almost certainly result in the closing of many others. While the RadioShack name may live on, its original spirit is probably gone for good. As it goes, so goes one of the unsung heroes of a generation of tinkerers and builders, a key piece of the Silicon Valley tech-boom puzzle.

Read about the biggest tech stories of the 20th century, and RadioShack keeps popping up: Long before he founded Netscape, Marc Andreessen learned to program tooling around on a TRS-80, one of the first affordable personal computers and one of the first devices RadioShack ever produced. Kevin Mitnick, the first hacker ever on the FBI’s most-wanted list, learned his trade on the demo models at RadioShack because he couldn’t afford a computer of his own. John Draper, the phone phreaker known as “Captain Crunch,” hacked his way into free long-distance calls using a Touch Tone dialer he bought from RadioShack. Read More > at Wired

Want budget stability? Property taxes may be the answer – Could making our state budget more dependent on property tax revenues be the key to eliminating the roller-coaster budgets of the last two decades?

Since the early 1990s, we’ve lived through the boom and bust cycles of the California budget. Today, we are more dependent than ever on personal income taxes. And those taxes are more progressive than they have been in years, meaning our economic stability is tied to the fate of the wealthy .

The top 1% pays more than 50% of our income taxes. And income taxes account for two-thirds of the state budget.

There’s been some suggestion from Sen. Robert Hertzberg and others that expanding the sales tax would stabilize our tax base. That approach was rejected when it was recommended by the Parsky Commission in 2009, but Hertzberg wants to have the conversation again.

Another possibility is moving toward a system that is more property-tax based.

Property taxes don’t technically go to the general fund, but in reality, they determine billions of dollars in state spending. Think of it as a $50 billion shell game. The locals raise and spend property taxes, with billions going to schools. But they are reimbursed for that school spending by Sacramento. Read More > at the Grizzly Bear Project

Port slowdown creating ‘devastating’ impact on agriculture, logistics – An ongoing labor dispute embroiling ports across the West Coast has taken a bite out of agricultural trade across California’s Central Valley. Some in the food and logistics industry fear a permanent loss of overseas business.

Since July, the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have entered an increasingly bitter dispute over a labor contract. Delays have slowed the movement of freight and a complete shutdown is looking increasingly likely.

California’s agricultural export business has been hit hard. Rice growers say shipments amount to about 20 percent of the year’s export crop have been delayed by up to eight weeks.

One concern, said a rice growers’ trade group, is that overseas importers may cut ties with California and begin importing from other countries – creating a permanent loss for the Sacramento region and elsewhere. Read More > in the Sacramento Business Journal

RB Joe Mixon rejoins Oklahoma football team – Joe Mixon is returning to the Oklahoma football team.

Almost exactly a year after Mixon signed with the Sooners as a five-star recruit in the class of 2014, Oklahoma offensive coordinator and running backs coach Cale Gundy said Mixon had been reinstated to the team.

“He’s been like a caged tiger, I can tell you that,” running backs coach Cale Gundy said Wednesday via the Tulsa World. “I know this, whenever we cut that lock off that cage, my man came out running.” Read More > at Yahoo! Sports

California lawmakers aim to limit vaccine exemptions – California lawmakers proposed legislation Wednesday that would require parents to vaccinate all school children unless a child’s health is in danger, joining only two other states with such stringent restrictions.

Parents could no longer cite personal beliefs or religious reasons to send unvaccinated children to private and public schools under a proposal introduced after dozens of people have fallen ill from a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states with such strict vaccine rules, though the California bill’s chief author said he would consider including a religious exemption.

Public health officials believe an immunization rate of at least 90 percent is critical to minimizing the potential for a disease outbreak. California’s kindergarteners met that threshold at the start of this school year, according to state statistics: 2 percent were exempted because of their parents’ personal beliefs and another half a percent were exempted because of their parent’s religion.

Less than one-fifth of a percent of all students – about 1,000 – had a medical vaccine exemption that would be preserved under the bill. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

California drivers could face new $52-a-year fee – California drivers would pay a new “road user” fee to help fund $2 billion in annual road repairs under a plan unveiled Wednesday by state Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins.

At about $52 per year per car, the road user charge would generate an estimated $1.8 billion a year. Atkins said it has not yet been decided how the fee would be collected.

A road charge advisory committee is working on recommendations for the best method of collecting new revenue for roadways as taxes collected at the pump drop due to more fuel-efficient cars. Alternative ideas include per-mile charges, vehicle license fees or fees on car insurance bills.

The road user charge would use $1 billion of its estimated revenue to repay transportation bond debt. That debt is now paid for with commercial truck weight fees, which would instead be spent on road repairs.

The additional $800 million from the new fee would go toward roads and highways.

Gov. Jerry Brown said in his inaugural speech in January that deferred maintenance of the state’s roadways can’t be put off much longer. Much of the state’s highway system was built between 1950 and 1970. Brown said California has accumulated an estimated $59 billion backlog in upkeep and maintenance for roads and bridges. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Anthem Health Insurer Says Cyberattack Stole Data of Millions – Anthem, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, said late Wednesday that the personal information of tens of millions of its customers and employees, including its chief executive, was the subject of a “very sophisticated external cyberattack.”

The company, which is continuing its investigation into the exact scope of the attack, said hackers were able to breach a database that contained as many as 80 million records of current and former customers, as well as employees. The information accessed included names, Social Security numbers, birthdays, addresses, email and employment information, including income data.

Anthem said no credit card information had been stolen, and it emphasized that it did not believe medical information like insurance claims or test results were compromised. It said hospital and doctor information was also not believed to have been taken.

Still, the attack, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, could be the largest breach of a health care company to date, and one of the largest ever of customer information. Read More > in The New York Times

Brian Williams: Big, Fat Liar – NBC anchor Brian Williams had told his heroic narrative many times. It proved he wasn’t just some pampered talking head mouthing whatever words rolled up the teleprompter. He was also a seasoned war correspondent who selflessly put his life on the line for you, the American viewer.

Not only did Williams report from a hot zone, he claimed that he was almost killed doing it. Last week he again recounted his bravery to the dwindling Nightly News audience. “The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq,” he said, “when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG. Our traveling NBC News team was rescued and kept alive by an Armored Mechanized Platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”

Not since Hillary dodged sniper fire in Tuzla has there been such a gripping tale of civilian derring-do. Williams never used the word “hero,” but who is he to prevent you from granting him that title? Step aside, Chris Kyle, and give Brian of the Euphrates his due.

This just in — Williams made the whole thing up:

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years…

The admission came after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said. Read More > at Ricochet

The New FCC Internet Regulation Program

Senate District 7 – All Democrats, Hardly Boring or Predictable – About 9 months ago, the race for State Senate in District 7 seemed boring. Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla would face term-limited Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan. Each Democrat woman would garner predictable endorsements from labor unions as well as regional officeholders. It would be a horse race between two well established Democrat women, both of whom are friendly with organized labor.

…At 4:45 PM on the day of filing, several Republicans (including Meuser) seemed ready to enter the race. None were as credible as the county officials, but all came with good intentions. Few people expected “surprise” candidate, Orinda Councilman Steve Glazer to enter the race. He filed at 4:55 PM.

This week, the sole Republican filer, Michaela Hertle, suspended her campaign and endorsed Glazer. Hertle, a young technology professional from Pleasanton, realized like other Republicans how hard the race would be with only 6 weeks until the March 17th “top two” primary. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

The Conspiracy Theory Surrounding The Seahawks’ Last Play – …The theory goes something like this. Russell Wilson is your young clean-cut God-fearing media-perfect quarterback. If one was creating a superstar face to market for the twenty-first century, chances are they would look, sound and basically be Russell Wilson. He’s Derek Jeter with a Bible, someone who comes across like he has never spoken out of turn in his entire life.* Marshawn Lynch is… Marshawn Lynch, and if you haven’t figured out what that means after the past two weeks, then you haven’t been paying attention.

The theory goes that there were major financial, public relations and football reasons for Russell Wilson and not Lynch to be the one who ends the game in glory. If he throws that touchdown for the victory, Wilson is almost certainly the Super Bowl MVP. He gets the commercial. He gets to stand with the commissioner. And oh, by the way, he also gets his new contract, one that will fasten his prime, at only 26 years old, to the Seattle franchise. Marshawn Lynch is also due a new contract. Marshawn Lynch, had he punched that ball over the goal line, would probably get to be the one handed the MVP trophy. Marshawn Lynch also maybe gets on the mic to say Lord knows what.

…The conspiracy theory lies in the fact that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll believed that the last yard the Seahawks needed for that Super Bowl victory was a gimme and, all things being equal, much better to have the iconic Super Bowl moment go to Russell Wilson than to Marshawn Lynch. Coaches setting certain favored players up for glory is as old as football itself. In addition, the politics of race, respectability, public relations and what’s in the best interest of a $2 billion corporation all played into this. That’s the theory. Read More > in The Nation

Here’s One Theory for Why Oil Is Going Nuts – Brent oil surged to $58 a barrel on Tuesday. It is now 24 percent higher than it was just a few weeks ago, meeting the technical definition of a bull market. (Some perspective: Prices are still down 50 percent since June.)

One possible reason for the recent surge: an industry in despair. U.S. drillers idled 94 rigs last week, the most in data going back to 1987, according to Baker Hughes. In the past eight weeks, 352 rigs were idled. BP on Tuesday said it will reduce spending to $20 billion this year, compared with previous guidance of as much as $26 billion. The cuts bring renewed focus to rig counts and raise questions about how low prices can go and still sustain the U.S. oil boom.

The history of oil prices follows a golden rule: What goes down must come up. Goldman Sachs in December identified almost $1 trillion in investments in future oil projects that are no longer profitable with oil under $70 a barrel. Eventually, supply will shrink and prices will rise again. Read More > in Bloomberg

Tesoro Refinery in Martinez Closing Due to Steelworkers Strike – In response to a strike by the United Steelworkers at nine oil refineries nationwide, a Martinez refinery is suspending operations indefinitely.

The Tesoro refinery in Martinez, which processes as much as 166,000 barrels of crude oil per day, is expected to entirely stop production by the end of the week.

The refinery was coming off of some planned maintenance that limited output, and expected to be getting the refinery back up to its maximum output this week. But in response to the strike, Tesoro officials decided it would be safest to shut the refinery down entirely, Tesoro Martinez spokeswoman Patty Deutsche said.

United Steelworkers walked off the job on Sunday when industry-wide talks broke down and their contract expired. The union represents workers at 65 U.S. refineries but all but nine are operating on rolling 24-hour contract extensions for now, union officials said. Read More > at Claycord

Timm Herdt: What if Democrats call a bad play – Last Friday and Saturday, an assemblage of California’s top political operatives and analysts gathered in Berkeley, where they spent considerable time discussing a perennial postelection question in this dark-blue state: Are Democrats destined to forever dominate?

The consensus answer: It sure looks that way, if not forever, then at least for a very long time.

The numbers are overwhelming: 43-28-23. Those are the percentages of registered voters who are, respectively, Democrats, Republicans and have no party preference.

USC Professor Sherry Bebitch Jeffe showed she can do the math. “Republicans,” she said, “appear to be on the brink of third-party status in this state.”

…First, there is the question of whether Democrats will be able to sustain recent enthusiasm among the voting group that has been almost solely responsible for converting California from what was once a politically competitive state to, for all practical purposes, a one-party state. This group, of course, is Latino voters.

Latinos account for well over a third of state Democratic voters. When they turn out in large numbers, as they did in 2008, 2010 and 2012, Democrats at the top of the ticket in California win by landslides, even when they lose among non-Hispanic whites. That was twice the case with President Barack Obama, and also with Gov. Jerry Brown in 2010.

But what would happen if California Latinos were to tune out of politics? Read More > in the Ventura County Star

The 5.6% Unemployment Rate Is A ‘Big Lie,’ Gallup Boss Says – We at IBD often get lambasted for our gloomy take on the monthly jobs data that emerge from the government. After all, if the government puts it out, it can’t be inaccurate, can it? And it must be honest, right?

Well, we’re not alone in casting aspersions on the dicey employment numbers. As we’ve said many times, properly measured, the current unemployment rate is somewhere north of 10% — depending on how you slice the numbers.

Now, in an unprecedented column on the Gallup website, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton rips into the government’s jobs data in a piece not so subtly titled: “The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment.”

In it, Clifton calls the Labor Department jobs data “extremely misleading” and scores the White House, Wall Street and the media for their incessant cheerleading on the official decline in unemployment from around 10% to the current 5.6%.

“Right now,” says Clifton, “as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely unemployed. Trust me, the vast majority of them aren’t throwing parties to toast ‘falling’ unemployment.” Red More > in Investors Business Daily

New York Attorney General Targets Supplements at Major Retailers – The New York State attorney general’s office accused four major retailers on Monday of selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements and demanded that they remove the products from their shelves.

The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.

…Among the attorney general’s findings was a popular store brand of ginseng pills at Walgreens, promoted for “physical endurance and vitality,” that contained only powdered garlic and rice. At Walmart, the authorities found that its ginkgo biloba, a Chinese plant promoted as a memory enhancer, contained little more than powdered radish, houseplants and wheat — despite a claim on the label that the product was wheat- and gluten-free.

Three out of six herbal products at Target — ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and valerian root, a sleep aid — tested negative for the herbs on their labels. But they did contain powdered rice, beans, peas and wild carrots. And at GNC, the agency said, it found pills with unlisted ingredients used as fillers, like powdered legumes, the class of plants that includes peanuts and soybeans, a hazard for people with allergies. Read More > in The New York Times

Iceland to build its first temple to the Norse gods in 1,000 years – Icelanders will soon be able to publicly worship at a shrine to Thor, Odin and Frigg with construction starting this month on the island’s first major temple to the Norse gods since the Viking age.

Worship of the gods in Scandinavia gave way to Christianity around 1,000 years ago but a modern version of Norse paganism has been gaining popularity in Iceland.

“I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet,” said Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, high priest of ‘Asatruarfelagid’, an association that promotes faith in the Norse gods.

“We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.”

Membership in Asatruarfelagid has tripled in Iceland in the last decade to 2,400 members last year, out of a total population of 330,000, data from Statistics Iceland showed. Read More > in Reuters

Legion of Bums Takes the ‘Class’ Out of Classic – The New England Patriots, portrayed as the Super Bowl villains by the national media as a result of Deflate-gate, traded their black hat to the Seattle Seahawks at some point during Sunday night’s Super Bowl.

The good guys won, or, if you’re from Baltimore, New York, or any of the 28 other NFL cities and can’t quite admit that, just concede that the bad guys lost.

The Seahawks, or at least their most flamboyant players, have demonstrated a lack of class in victory. Richard Sherman chasing down Tom Brady to ask, “You mad, bro?” several seasons ago and gratuitously digging at Michael Crabtree after the 49ers defeat in last season’s NFC Championship Game, come to mind. So, too, does the crotch-grabbing exclamation points Marshawn Lynch affixes to his touchdown runs. At the Super Bowl, the lack of class previously shown in victory by the Seahawks reared its head in defeat.

Sore loserdom represents the flipside of taunting. Read More > at Breitbart

Exactly How Much Sleep Is ‘Enough’? – Today the National Sleep Foundation released new guidelines, serving to clarify the meaning of “enough” in the tedious rejoinder, “Most people don’t get enough sleep.” The sleep-advocacy foundation convened a panel of experts, led by Harvard professor Charles Czeisler, to review hundreds of studies, reminding us that too little sleep can lead to weight gain, depression, and relative deficits of attention—and that too much sleep is, likewise, inadvisable. The recommended sleep allotments are:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours (previously 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (previously 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (previously 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours (previously 11-13)
  • School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours (previously 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours (previously 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours (previously the same)
  • Older adults (65 and older): 7-8 hours (new age category)

These new recommendations do little in the way of upsetting the old, with minor variations and clarifications for older adults and young children. And the numbers may vary among people with medical conditions, and among the few outliers who still function optimally outside of these ranges. But these are the amounts that the panel wants people to consider “rules of thumb.” The issuance of new guidelines, however familiar they are, serves at least in an effort toward awareness amid an ongoing public-health effort to rebrand sleep deprivation as less of a testament to mettle and more of a serious medical hazard. Read More > in The Atlantic

How to survive a disaster – … He has found that in life-threatening situations, around 75% of people are so bewildered by the situation that they are unable to think clearly or plot their escape. They become mentally paralysed. Just 15% of people on average manage to remain calm and rational enough to make decisions that could save their lives. (The remaining 10% are plain dangerous: they freak out and hinder the survival chances of everyone else.)

Stories about survival often focus on the 15%, and what is so special about them that helps them stay alive. But Leach thinks this is the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking, why do so many people die when they need not, when they have the physical means to save themselves? Why do so many give up, or fail to adjust to the unfolding crisis? In most disaster scenarios, he says, you don’t need special skills to survive. You just need to know what you should do. “My role as a combat survival instructor is to teach people how to survive. My role as a psychologist is to teach people not to die.”

…One of the most graphic examples of crowd passivity in recent times occurred in New York’s Twin Towers after the hijacked planes hit them on 9/11. You’d have thought those who survived the initial impact would have headed for the nearest exit pretty quickly. Most did the opposite: they prevaricated. Those who eventually got out waited six minutes on average before moving to the stairs, and some hung around for half an hour, according to a study by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Unprepared for what was happening to them, they either carried on as normal or hung around to see what would happen, waiting for others to move first. One study found that half of those who survived delayed before trying to escape, making phone calls, tidying things into drawers, locking their office door, going to the toilet, completing emails, shutting down their computer, changing their shoes. One woman accustomed to bicycling to work even returned to her office to change into her tracksuit before trying to leave.

…This explains why in emergencies people often fail to do things that under normal circumstances would seem obvious. So the only reliable way to shortcut this kind of impaired thinking, most survival experts agree, is by preparing for an emergency in advance. “Practice makes actions automatic, without [the need for] detailed thinking,” says Chertkoff. This means making a mental note of the fire exits when you go to the cinema (and imagining yourself using them), reading the evacuation guidance on the back of the door when you stay in a hotel, and always listening to aircraft safety briefings however frequent a flyer you are. “Every time I go on a boat the first thing I do is find out where my lifeboat station is, because then if there is a problem I just have to respond, I don’t have to start thinking about it,” says Leach. Typically, survivors survive not because they are braver or more heroic than anyone else, but because they are better prepared. Read More > in the BBC

Wealthy L.A. Schools’ Vaccination Rates Are as Low as South Sudan’s – When actors play doctors on TV, that does not make them actual doctors. And that does not mean they should scour some Internet boards, confront their pediatricians, and demand fewer vaccinations for their children, as some Hollywood parents in Los Angeles have apparently been doing.

The Hollywood Reporter has a great investigation for which it sought the vaccination records of elementary schools all over Los Angeles County. They found that vaccination rates in elite neighborhoods like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills have tanked, and the incidence of whooping cough there has skyrocketed.

Parents in these schools are submitting a form called a “personal belief exemption,” which states that they are not vaccinating their kids due to “a diffuse constellation of unproven anxieties, from allergies and asthma to eczema and seizures,” reporter Gary Baum writes.

In some schools, up to 60 to 70 percent of parents have filed these PBEs, indicating a vaccination rate as low as that of Chad or South Sudan. Unlike in Santa Monica, however, parents in South Sudan have trouble getting their children vaccinated because of an ongoing civil war.

And lo, it is these very same L.A. neighborhoods that are experiencing a resurgence of diseases like whooping cough, otherwise known as pertussis. Measles cases have also hit a high in California this year. Read More > in The Atlantic

Measles: Misinformation Gone Viral – …A similar triumph occurred with the development of reliable vaccines for measles, a childhood disease that poses a serious threat to the health and life of those who become infected. Before the measles vaccine in 1963, the death rate from measles was close to twice that from polio. Fortunately, the new vaccine turned the situation around. In 1963 and 1964, there were over 800,000 cases of measles in the United States. By 1982, vaccination had largely eliminated the disease. Measles made a modest comeback around 1990, and then fell quiescent—until the recent outbreak of measles cases at Disneyland in California, which, as it spreads, puts the issue of vaccines back on the table.

The resurgence of measles is largely attributable to the confluence of two separate factors. On the one side there is a strong, if unacknowledged, effort on the part of some people to free ride off the vaccination of others. The self-interested calculations of many conscientious parents can run as follow: Of course, measles is a contagious disease, but it only spreads if there is a sufficiently large population of unvaccinated people in any given community. Taking any vaccine, including the measles vaccine, necessarily carries with it some risk of adverse outcomes. Vaccines could be impure or improperly administered, and even in the best of times, there is always a residual risk that the vaccine itself will transmit the very disease that it is supposed to prevent. So long as other individuals are vaccinated, the rational free rider decides that it pays not to vaccinate his or her own children. They receive the protection afforded by herd immunity, without subjecting their loved ones to the risks, however small, that vaccinations always present.

The second factor that reduces vaccination levels is the spread, sometimes deliberate, of misinformation that overstates vaccination risks. This sentiment is often fueled by powerful suspicions that drug companies are greedy and governments corrupt. This entire episode was fueled by fraudulent studies published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in 1998 in Lancet magazine, which twelve years later the journal eventually retracted, but only after much of the damage was done. Those studies, which had been funded in part by plaintiffs’ lawyers suing vaccine manufacturers, purported to find a (nonexistent) link between vaccines that were manufactured using a mercury-based compound, Thimerosal, and autism. Unfortunately, Lancet’s forthright retraction of the article did not quell the uneasiness about vaccines in either Britain or the United States. Indeed, it may well have fueled populist concerns of an ever-wider conspiracy among establishment figures. Read More > from the Hoover Institution

Should We Have A Tax Convention? – At the moment California is enjoying a bit of prosperity after years of retrenchment when the deficits reached $20 billion prior to Jerry Brown’s re-assumption of the governorship.

But as any sensible politician or economist knows, the good times will not last forever and if long-term structural reforms are not made, we can return quickly to the same trough.

California is a vulnerable boom or bust state which puts excessive reliance on personal income taxes that result in massive pendulum swings that can go downward fast when stock portfolios take a big dip. Although high net worth earners are only tiny percentage of the overall population, their impacts are out-sized.

…Governor Brown should bring together a thoroughly bi-partisan group of the best minds in the state across a multi-disciplinary spectrum to examine an antiquated tax system and make recommendations that both the legislature and voters would support. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Brown’s tunnel vision could sink taxpayers – In his fourth and final term, Gov. Jerry Brown intends to start drilling two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Estimated cost: $25 billion.

Californians might consider the pitfalls of a smaller tunnel project in Seattle, subject of a recent article by the Washington Post. The dig will move two miles of State Route 99 underground and, according the state Department of Transportation, “clear the way for new public space along Seattle’s downtown waterfront.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray support the tunnel, launched in 2009 at a cost of $2.8 billion. The project was slated for completion in 2015, but that is not going to happen.

“Bertha,” a 2,000-ton boring machine created specifically for the project, has advanced about 1,000 feet but quit a year ago with more than 8,000 feet to go. Trouble is, Bertha is unable to reverse itself. Engineers will have to excavate from above and remove the machine for repairs.

This could push the completion date into 2017. On the other hand, local officials estimate that 70 percent of the money has already been spent. Seattle politicians fear they will be stuck with the bill. Read More > in the Orange County Register

Seahawks’ Super Bowl repeat unravels long before fateful play – The Seahawks used up eight of their lives two weeks ago against the Packers in the NFC championship game. Against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, they used up their ninth life with one of the great, dramatic and momentum-changing catches in the game’s history.

And then the Seahawks blew it.

The Seahawks were brilliant against the Packers in the final five minutes and overtime, when they charged back from 19-7 down (and 16-0 at halftime) to win and reach the Super Bowl. This time, though, long before the Seahawks threw away a chance at repeating as Super Bowl champs, with an interception at the goal line with 20 seconds left to seal their 28-24 loss, they committed multiple mistakes that let the Patriots take the game from them.

They led by 10 points with 4:54 left in the third quarter. From then on, little by little, they lost their toughness, swagger and poise.

…The defense, especially the Legion of Boom secondary, now is just a one-hit wonder, much like the 1985 Bears and 2000 Ravens, who couldn’t pull off the second straight win to secure their place in the pantheon. The Steel Curtain of the four-time champion Steelers of the 1970s are still safe.

It’s all because of a stunning sequence of mishaps by a team that mentally melted down with a second straight Lombardi Trophy less than 20 minutes away. Read More > in the Sporting News

Have Teacher-Student Sex Crimes Become A National Crisis? – In 2014 alone, the media reported nearly 800 sex crimes against students by school employees in the United States, an average of 15 per week. The perpetrators were math teachers and choir directors, football coaches and teachers of the year. They were male and female, married and single, and all of them preyed on the very children they were paid to nurture and protect.

Terry Abbott, a public relations executive and former chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Education, has spent the past year combing through news reports of these cases with his PR firm, Drive West Communications, in an unprecedented effort that has generated some seriously troubling results. Throughout his long career in education, Abbott would hear about teachers sexually victimizing students from time to time, but nothing could prepare him for a number as high as 781 in a single year.

To put that statistic in perspective, according to a review by America’s Catholic bishops, 4,400 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 to 2002, which is an average of 84 per year.

…We should point out that Abbott’s data is not wholly inclusive, as it was gleaned solely from media reports. However, this also means it’s likely an underestimate, since over 90 percent of child sex crimes go unreported. “I suppose the problem is a whole lot bigger than we are even able to measure at this point,” he says. Read More > at vocativ

Why college isn’t always worth it – …College is still worth it for the average student. But Benson’s study found returns are particularly modest for young men at the CSU system, mostly because of high dropout rates, delayed graduation and a lower effect on labor force participation compared with women.

“The return to a college degree in 2010,” researchers wrote, “could be less than the interest on unsubsidized Stafford loans.”

More students than ever are going to college. But the nation’s overall college graduation rate has stayed low. (Check out this Jeff Guo piece about the heart-breaking forces driving this problem.)

In 2013, 65.9 percent of graduating high school seniors enrolled in a two- or four-year college, a level Benson noted is “only modestly” above the percentage in the early 90s. Weak enrollment could be a symptom of college sliding down on the public’s Worth It scale.

Those who do graduate are taking longer and longer to earn diplomas: Less than 60 percent of full-time students who are enrolled in college for the first time graduate within six years, according to the Institute of Education Sciences. (Part-time, older, low-income and minority students tend to have an even lower completion rate.) Read More > in The Washington Post

Why More Americans are Killing Themselves – Over 40,000 Americans took their own lives in 2012—more than died in car crashes—says the American Association of Suicidology. Mondays in May see the most incidents. The rates are highest in Wyoming and Montana, perhaps because guns—which are more effective than pills—are so common there (see chart). Nationally, guns are used in half of all successful suicides.

What drives people to self-destruction? Those who suffer from depression are, unsurprisingly, most at risk. The suicide rate also rises when times are hard. During the Depression it jumped to a record 19 per 100,000. It grew after the recent financial crisis too. “Even just uncertainty over employment” makes people worry a lot, notes Yeats Conwell, a psychiatrist at the University of Rochester Medical Centre.

The over-75s have historically been most likely to kill themselves, especially if they are lonely or ill. But now it is the middle-aged who are most at risk. In 2012 the suicide rate for Americans aged 45-54 was 20 per 100,000—the highest rate of any age group. For those aged 55-64 it was 18; for the over-65s it was 15. The middle years can be stressful, because that is when people realise that their youthful ambitions will never be fulfilled.

Women make nearly four times as many suicide attempts as men, but men succeed four times as often. Men favour bloodier methods: most use a gun, whereas less than a third of women do. Women may be better at asking for help; overall, they are two and a half times more likely than men to take anti-depressants. Whites are nearly three times as likely as African-Americans to kill themselves. Blacks are five times more likely to be murdered with a gun than to kill themselves with one; for whites it is the other way round. Read More > in The Economist

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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