Sunday Reading – 03/08/15

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.

Activists win: Elephants to exit the Ringling Bros. circus ring – Bowing to 35 years of pressure from animal rights activists, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced Thursday that it will remove its traveling cadre of elephants from the Big Top.

By 2018, at the latest, the Greatest Show on Earth will no longer start with a string of elephants trotting around the ring with performers on their backs. It will no longer feature elephants tapping each other on the shoulder, or sitting on stools to curl their trunks and raise their front legs to wave goodbye.

According to Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Bros., the 13 Asian elephant performers currently on tour will soon join 40 elephants already at the Ringling Bros. elephant retirement farm in Florida. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

You’re Paying Too Much for Wireless – The average American mobile phone bill amounts to well over $1,000 a year. That’s more than home Internet and basic cable combined.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and your wireless company knows it. Startups like FreedomPop know it, too. Now, it seems, so does Google.

A Google executive confirmed this week that the company plans to announce a wireless service of its own in the coming months. The goal: “to drive a set of innovations which we think the system should adopt.”

Google isn’t going to take on Verizon and AT&T directly by building its own nationwide cellular network. Instead, it will partner with their smaller rivals, Sprint and T-Mobile, to show the industry leaders what it thinks the wireless plans of the future should look like. But that doesn’t mean, as some have mistakenly inferred, that it poses no threat to them. On the contrary, Google’s entry into the sector could upset the prevailing pricing model entirely.

Google isn’t talking details yet, but it isn’t hard to imagine what the Internet giant has in mind. What it has in mind, according to industry rumors and sources, is something like what FreedomPop and Republic Wireless are already offering: a “Wi-Fi first” service that could deliver adequate, if slightly spotty, coverage at a fraction of the prevailing cost. And that coverage is likely to get much better over time. Read More > at Slate

California Prosecutor Falsifies Transcript of Confession -When will they ever learn? Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski declared months ago in a much-quoted opinion that there is “an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land.” And yet, prosecutors continue to deny there’s a problem. Indeed, the Department of Justice gets outright indignant at the suggestion, and so do many state court prosecutors. They bristle at the very mention of the possibility.

But here’s another doozy: The People (of California) v. Efrain Velasco-Palacios. In this unpublished opinion from the Fifth Appellate District, the California Court of Appeal reveals that state prosecutors and California Attorney General Kamala Harris continue to be part of the problem. Kern County prosecutor Robert Murray committed “outrageous government misconduct.” Ms. Harris and her staff defended the indefensible—California State prosecutor Murray flat out falsified a transcript of a defendant’s confession.

Kern County prosecutor Robert Murray added two lines of transcript to “evidence” that the defendant confessed to an even more egregious offense than that with which he had been charged—the already hideous offense of molesting a child. With the two sentences that state’s attorney Murray perjuriously added, Murray was able to threaten charges that carried a term of life in prison.

Capitalizing to the maximum on his outright fabrication, state’s attorney Robert Murray committed his own crime against the defendant at the crucial time when defense counsel was consulting with the defendant on a possible plea.

Prosecutor Murray had ample time and opportunity to correct his lies and his falsification of the transcript, but instead, he let it go until defense counsel had encouraged his client to plead guilty based on this fabricated evidence. Not until after defense counsel requested the original tape recording from which the transcript was made did Mr. Murray admit that he had added the most incriminating statements to the transcript. Read More > at the Observer

The Historical Profile Of the NBA Player: 1947-2015 – With more than 65 years under its belt, there’s no denying the rich history possessed by the National Basketball Association. This post will take a closer look at the history of the NBA’s most important individual – the player. How have players, their origins, and their roles evolved over time? Keep reading to find out.

First let’s take a look at how the players themselves have changed over the years. We’ll keep this section short and sweet.

NBA players have gotten significantly taller since the earliest years of the NBA. In 1947, the average height was just 74.32″, since 1970, the average has dipped below 78″ just once (2010). 1980 also marks the year that the general increase in height stops. Since 1980, average height has been sporadic, but has generally stayed within the confines of 78″ and 80″.

We all know that the NBA is one of the more diverse major North American professional sports leagues. Players come from all over the world to play in the NBA and some of the league’s best players came from outside the continent. That’s what we’ll take a closer look at in this section.

Initially, we’ll keep it domestic.

No one is surprised by the most productive state – California. With about 45 more NBA players produced than any other state. In second, New York, the most populous State in the nation with 309. These two states are in a league of their own. Three states have have only produced 1 NBA player – New Hampshire, Maine and Alaska. Read More > at Seat Smart

Where Gas Prices Shot Up Nearly $1 Per Gallon in One Month – Everyone is paying more at the pump lately. But California drivers have seen gas prices soar at an unbelievably fast pace.

In mid-January 2015, the national average for regular gasoline was $2.03 per gallon, and there seemed to be a strong possibility that gas stations would average under $2 nationally within weeks, or even days. Instead, that period marked what appears to be the bottoming out of the cheap gas era. After four months of consistently plummeting fuel costs, drivers began seeing gas prices inch up steadily—and then spike very recently.

Over the past week, the national average has crept up 2¢ daily, from $2.33 to $2.47 as of Monday, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. AAA data indicates that gas prices have risen 35 days in a row, for a total rise of 39¢ nationally.

While all drivers are paying more for gas than they did in the very recent past—more than a dozen states were averaging under $2 per gallon a month ago, but none are today—California has experienced an extraordinarily fast hike in prices at the pump. Apparently, an explosion at one oil refinery in the state brought about enough of a decrease in supply to send gas prices skyrocketing.

As of Tuesday, the average in California for a gallon of regular was $3.41, a rise of 96¢ over the past month and 43¢ during the last week alone. Read More > in TIME

U.S. jobless claims rise; fourth quarter productivity revised down – The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits last week rose to its highest level since May, which could raise concerns about some weakness in the labor market.

Other data on Thursday showed nonfarm productivity contracted more sharply than previously thought in the fourth quarter as output failed to keep up with a jump in hours.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased by 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 320,000 for the week ended Feb. 28, the highest reading since mid-May, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

The Labor Department said there were no special factors influencing the report. Read More > in Reuters

You Look Hotter After 1 Drink, But Not 2 – People who are trying to impress a date with their good looks might want to limit themselves to one drink, a new study finds.

People in the study were rated as more attractive after one glass of wine, but not after two glasses of wine, compared with when they were sober, according to the study published Feb. 25 in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.

…”It suggests that, if it’s true, people are rated as more attractive once they’ve consumed a small amount of alcohol,” said the study’s senior researcher, Marcus Munafò, a professor of biological psychology at the University of Bristol. “But if they go on to consume more alcohol, they’re no longer rated as more attractive.”

It’s unclear why drinking a single glass of wine might increase a person’s appeal, but Munafò and his colleagues have several ideas. It could be that the participants’ faces showed greater pupil dilation (a trait that is usually perceived as positive by a viewer), or more muscle relaxation that made them look more attractive after one drink, but not after two, he said. Read More > at livescience

Contra Costa supervisors OK 7 percent raise, create salary committee – After a referendum led to them ditch their controversial 33 percent raises, Contra Costa County supervisors on Tuesday voted to give themselves 7 percent raises and created a committee to determine how salary increases should be handled in the future.

The 3-1 decision was supported by labor representatives, and supervisors said they hoped it would begin to heal fractured relationships following outcry over the much larger pay hike. Last year’s action by the board, which would have boosted supervisors’ pay from $97,483 to $ 129,216, infuriated union leaders who gathered signatures to rescind the vote.

The 7 percent increase, which if it survives a second vote will go into effect June 1, will boost supervisors’ salaries from $97,483 to $104,307, and will cost the general fund another $50,900 annually, of which $13,125 represents pension costs. The supervisors could have voted to tie their salaries to 56.5 percent of Superior Court judges’ salaries, ensuring a raise every time the judges got one, but they did not choose that option. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

Study: Salt not all bad –  Salt, the villain of numerous public health campaigns, including one in San Diego County, isn’t such a negative after all.

The sodium consumed with salt is widely supposed to raise blood pressure and increase the rate of cardiovascular disease. But that position, endorsed by the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control, has been disputed in recent studies in peer-reviewed journals that fail to find health risks for most Americans in their salt consumption.

Now a study published today points to an unexpected benefit of salt: It fights infections.

…The study is the latest chapter in research exploring the role of salt in the human body, a story that grows more complicated as more research is conducted. And the same thing can be said of the scientific status of other dietary nutrients as fat and cholesterol, each of which was pointed out as a cause of poor health. But the original stance has been undermined by recent research.

…Salt was fingered as a culprit decades ago, when governments and private health organizations decided that excessive salt intake caused high blood pressure, a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Some studies pointed to this association, however, they were observational studies, not scientifically controlled studies. Performing such research on large numbers of people is very difficult.

A fraction of the population is genetically salt-sensitive; as salt intake rises, so does blood pressure. These people are well-advised to rigorously control their intake of salt. African-Americans are disproportionately salt-sensitive. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta could get U.S. ‘heritage’ protection – The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, 700 square miles stretching from Vallejo on San Pablo Bay to Sacramento and Stockton, would get added federal protection for its historical and environmental assets under legislation introduced Tuesday by California’s two U.S. senators.

As the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast, albeit one entirely reshaped by humans, the delta would be designated a national heritage area. The category was created during the Reagan administration for “nationally important landscapes” that fall considerably short of the pristine conditions required for national parks or even recreation areas.

The designation is used for “lived-in” areas — something the delta certainly is, with a population of some 400,000 people — that are seen to have exceptional value that warrants some federal protection.

National heritage areas operate under the National Park Service, but the agency plays only an advisory role to the local commissions set up to manage them. The designation operates through public-private partnerships that leverage federal funds for such things as historic preservation, natural resource conservation, and educational and recreational projects.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer said in a statement that the designation would have no effect on property rights or water rights, always a sensitive concern in California and never more so than during a drought. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

The secret, smelly science of handshakes – Businessmen, politicians and self-important college freshmen, take note: That firm-but-friendly handshake you’ve been perfecting over the course of your career — the one that’s supposed to say “I am a proper, professional person doing proper, professional things” — conveys more than you think it does.

Far from being merely a polite greeting between two members of civilized society, a handshake may be an evolutionary adaptation to promote the exchange of body odors between acquaintances. In other words, it’s the human equivalent of two dogs sniffing each other’s hindquarters.

These revelations about the smelly scientific origins of handshakes were published by the Olfactory Lab at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. There, researcher Idan Frumin and his team examined the handshake behavior of nearly 300 test subjects (who were not told that they were participating in a study on body odor). Researchers would come into the examination room and introduce themselves, some shaking the subject’s hand, some not.

Video footage from the study shows that subjects who had shaken hands would lift their hands to their noses to investigate the olfactory leftovers of the interaction almost as soon as the researcher left the room. Measurements of nasal airflow showed that participants inhaled through their noses twice as deeply when their hands were raised to their faces, indicating that they were indeed sniffing for odors exchanged during the handshake. Read More > in The Washington Post

Nepal official says human waste on Everest a major problem – Human waste left by climbers on Mount Everest has become a problem that is causing pollution and threatening to spread disease on the world’s highest peak, the chief of Nepal’s mountaineering association said Tuesday.

The more than 700 climbers and guides who spend nearly two months on Everest’s slopes each climbing season leave large amounts of feces and urine, and the issue has not been addressed, Ang Tshering told reporters. He said Nepal’s government needs to get the climbers to dispose of the waste properly so the mountain remains pristine.

Hundreds of foreign climbers attempt to scale Everest during Nepal’s mountaineering season, which began this week and runs through May. Last year’s season was canceled after 16 local guides were killed in an avalanche in April.

Climbers spend weeks acclimatizing around the four camps set up between the base camp at 5,300 meters (17,380 feet) and the 8,850-meter-high (29,035-foot-high) summit. The camps have tents and some essential equipment and supplies, but do not have toilets.

“Climbers usually dig holes in the snow for their toilet use and leave the human waste there,” Tshering said, adding that the waste has been “piling up” for years around the four camps. Read More > at Yahoo! Sports

Smoke Break: New Studies and Proposed California Legislation Offer Hints of a Way Forward for E-Cigarette Regulations – …E-cigarettes (or e-cigs, for short) are battery-powered tube-like devices, often built to look like traditional cigarettes. They release water vapor laced with “e-juice” from a container. That “e-juice” typically includes propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavorings and varying amounts of pure nicotine. Starter kits for e-cigs run between $30-$100, with replacement cartridges costing around $600 per year (as compared to around $1,000 per year for a pack-a-day cigarette habit). E-cig use has grown over the last few years, jumping from 10 percent of cigarette users in 2010 to 21 percent in 2011.

Despite their growing use and popularity, there is still relatively little regulation of e-cigs at the federal level. Currently, the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research only regulates e-cigs that are marketed for therapeutic purposes. Though the FDA plans to regulate e-cigs, the agency has announced that there needs to be more studies on e-cigs to determine their potential risks, and so it has declined to step in until more information is available. There are several options for potential regulation, including: banning sales to minors, prohibiting free samples, banning sales through vending machines, requiring warnings about nicotine and its addictive properties, requiring listing the ingredients of the “e-juice” on labels and prohibiting health-related claims without evidence to corroborate them.

The State of California appears to be ramping up for regulation, and has dropped several hints at what those may look like, including a new study and several new pieces of legislation. That new study, “State Health Officer’s Report on E-Cigarettes: A Community Health Threat,” advocates for increases in education to counter the marketing of e-cigs to teens, and argues they should be regulated in a comprehensive manner consistent with how we approach traditional cigarettes. According to the study, in 2014, teen use of e-cigs surpassed the use of traditional cigarettes for the first time, with more than twice as many 8th and 10th graders reporting using e-cigs as traditional cigarettes. Among 12th graders, 17 percent reported using e-cigs vs. 14 percent using traditional cigarettes. Read More > at Public CEO

Google+ as We Knew It Is Dead, But Google Is Still a Social Network – As a Facebook and Twitter competitor, Google+ never really stood a chance. By some combination of odd design, confusing nomenclature—remember Circles? Sparks?—and the simple fact that no one ever really used it, Google’s grand plan to unite its many products into a single social product just didn’t pan out. So it should surprise no one that three and a half years after its launch, Google has re-organized the product, and put Bradley Horowitz, Google VP and one of Google+’s key architects, in charge of “Google’s Photos and Streams products.” Sources confirm that Google has no immediate plans to ditch the name “Google+,” but what that name represents is about to dramatically change. It appears Photos and Streams will cease to be simply features of Google+, and will become two distinct products under Horowitz’s watch. (Google wouldn’t elaborate on its plans except to say no product changes are happening right now.)

The change comes on the heels of Google SVP Sundar Pichai telling Forbes that “I think increasingly you’ll see us focus on communications, photos and the Google+ Stream as three important areas, rather than being thought of as one area.” Google+ was originally supposed to be a one-stop shop for all the ways we interact with each other. Clearly the vision has changed.

But don’t write the obituary yet. It would be a mistake to call this a retreat, or an admission of failure. This is actually Google doing what Google does best: relentlessly optimizing its products based on data and feedback. There’s a small but very dedicated core of Google+ users, for whom Streams will now simply be a cleaner, more focused product. (At least, until Google kills it off, as is its ruthless tendency with power-user products like Reader. Actually, let’s not talk about that, I’m still not ready.) The truth is that when Google launched Google+, it actually launched three things. What it didn’t realize was that the two that weren’t “the social network,” Hangouts and Photos, were actually the future of social networking. Read More > in Wired

How to end one-and-done and give the NBA a real minor league – The path that most top amateur basketball players take between high school and the NBA is untenable. The league’s age minimum, instituted in 2006, has forced nearly all top prospects into one year of NCAA competition. The so-called one-and-done rule — one year in college, and then the NBA Draft — is reviled by most involved in college basketball.

…The NBA adopted the minimum in the first place for a few reasons. The biggest was that teams were forced to take incredible risks in drafting 17- and 18-year-old players who had played primarily against non-NBA talent. Scouting high school kids accurately was much more difficult than scouting college players. Watching everyone go through the NCAA ringer would allow teams to make more educated decisions and not waste so many roster spots and salary dollars on extremely raw projects.

…But the other issues that contributed to the age minimum can be mitigated. Teams don’t want to tie up roster spots and valuable cap space on 18-year-old players who aren’t ready to battle full-grown men. That’s understandable. Every roster spot matters. Every dollar under the cap matters.

So what’s the solution for that?

Each team with a one-to-one D-League affiliate receives up to three Development Roster spots. These spots come in addition to the teams’ 15-spot roster. The minimum salary for a player on the Development Roster is equal to half of the NBA minimum salary, which is tied to years of service. (Years of service on the Development Roster count as years of NBA service under my plan.)

The players assigned as such play for the team’s D-League affiliate. Their salaries do not count against the cap so long as the players are in the D-League. Only if they are called up to the team’s 15-player NBA roster do they count against the cap. Of course, if a player making less than the NBA minimum is called up, his salary must be adjusted upward at a pro-rated amount per usual. Read More > at SB Nation

This could shock US housing market: Bove – The Treasury Department is looking to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but without these organizations, there would be few buyers for 30-year fixed rate mortgages, bank analyst Dick Bove told CNBC on Tuesday.

Banks would be happy to step in and offer variable rate five- and 10-year mortgages, but those shorter maturities would increase monthly payments for borrowers and lower the overall cost of housing—a situation that would send shock waves through the U.S. housing market, said Bove, vice president of equity research at Rafferty Capital.

Bove said banks have admitted to him privately that they cannot make money on 30-year fixed-rate home loans anymore due to new rules on capital reserves and securitizing mortgages.

Consequently, the industry wants to make loans that it can sell to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he said. The two government-sponsored enterprises help increase the number of loans that can be made by buying mortgages from banks so they can reinvest in new loans.

However, the Treasury Department is aiming to phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by 2018.

“So the question becomes, ‘Who’s going to buy these mortgages?’ And if we’re talking about 30-year fixed rate mortgages, which are yielding less than 4 percent, who’s going to be crazy enough to buy [them] or put [them] on their balance sheet?” Bove asked. Read More > at CNBC

Oakland new minimum wage law now in effect – Oakland’s minimum wage hike went into effect Monday providing a significant raise to the city’s lowest paid workers.

The law raises the minimum hourly wage from $9 as set by the state to $12.25. Workers also are now entitled to paid sick days under the law that was approved by 82 percent of voters last November.

Oakland now temporarily has the highest minimum wage in the state. San Francisco’s minimum wage is currently $11.05 per hour. It will go up to $12.25 on May 1 and rise to $15 per hour over several years. Oakland’s minimum wage increases will be tied to inflation. Read More > in the Oakland Tribune

State Supreme Court Upholds Limits on Sex Offender Law – California’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that the state cannot prohibit all registered sex offenders in San Diego County from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.

The court said the restriction has greatly restricted sex offenders’ access to housing in the county, increasing the incidence of homelessness and depriving them of access to services available to parolees. The court said sex offenders could still be forced to live more than 2,000 feet from schools, but the decision would have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

“Blanket enforcement of the residency restrictions against these parolees has … infringed their liberty and privacy interests, however limited, while bearing no rational relationship to advancing the state’s legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators,” the court said in a decision written by Associate Justice Marvin Baxter.

The court said the department could impose residency restrictions “as long as they are based on the specific circumstances of each individual parolee” — a condition upheld by both the state Court of Appeal and Monday’s Supreme Court ruling. Read More > from the Associated Press

Red tape keeps some bad gov’t workers from being fired – In the private sector, if you’re caught viewing porn on company time or intimidating a co-worker, you’d probably be fired immediately; not so if you’re a federal employee.

A CBS News investigation looks at how hard it is for the U.S. government to discipline or fire employees who behave badly. With examples ranging from extravagant to explicit, civil service rules meant to protect public workers from political pressure may be backfiring, and costing you big, reports CBS News correspondent Don Dahler.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), red tape is preventing the removal of a top level employee accused of viewing porn two to six hours a day while at work, since 2010. Even though investigators found 7,000 pornographic files on his computer and even caught him watching porn, he remains on the payroll.

At a Congressional hearing, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy was asked why she hadn’t fired the employee and said, “I actually have to work through the administrative process, as you know.”

The administrative process meant to prevent against politically motivated firings is the civil servant protection system. The rules give employees the right to appeal a termination, a process that can take up two years. Read More > at CBS News

Free-range parents found responsible for ‘unsubstantiated’ child neglect – The Maryland parents who let their children walk home from a park in Silver Spring were found responsible for “unsubstantiated” child neglect in a decision that has not fully resolved their clash with authorities over their views on parenting and children’s safety.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv hoped the nationally debated case — which has lit up social media and brought a dozen television film crews to their home — would be dismissed after a two-month investigation by Montgomery County Child Protective Services.

But the finding of unsubstantiated child neglect means CPS will keep a file on the family for at least five years and leaves open the question of what happens if the Meitiv children — ages 10 and 6 — get reported again for walking without adult supervision.

…An unsubstantiated finding is typically made when CPS has some information supporting a conclusion of child neglect, or when seemingly credible reports are at odds with each other, or when there is insufficient information for a more definitive conclusion, she said. Read More > in The Washington Post

Santa Clara Supervisors Approve Controversial Cell Phone Tracking System – Despite grave concerns from civil rights advocates, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has approved a plan to purchase a portable cell phone tracking system known as StingRay.

Tuesday’s vote was 4 to 1 with Supervisor Joe Simitian dissenting. Simitian said there had not been enough public discussion on the matter.

“What model are we purchasing? Didn’t have an answer to that question,” he said. “Do we have policy or procedures? No. Did you have a chance to chat about constitutional issues? No.”

The plan comes at the behest of Sheriff Laurie Smith at a cost of $502,889. The county will use state Homeland Security grant funds to secure the purchase.

The device, which acts much like a cell phone tower, will allow law enforcement to track fugitives and missing persons, the department said. Still, some civil rights advocates worry it could be used for more nefarious purposes.

“After the revelations of mass surveillance by the NSA, the public deserves to know as much as possible as soon as law enforcement is even considering acquiring any sort of surveillance technology,” said Will Matthews, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union. Like Simitian, the ACLU said the single 30-minute public meeting on the issue was not enough warrant approval of the program.

With those concerns in mind, county officials have said the department will be unable to utilize the device until a policy for usage has been put in place. Critics, however, argue that such a policy should have been finalized before the purchase was approved. Read More > at California County News

Ditching Your Smartphone Bill and Going Wi-Fi Only – It is almost impossible to imagine life without a cellphone. But imagining life without a cellphone bill is getting a lot easier.

For 30 days beginning in January, I disconnected my iPhone from AT&T Inc. and lived entirely off the free Wi-Fi connections that are available nearly everywhere. It wasn’t exactly seamless. An effort to dump extra tickets to the NCAA College Football Championship game in Dallas was more stressful than it would have been with an always-connected phone. On occasion I had to lean on friends who were still on the network. But with a few changes in habits, it was definitely doable.

So doable, in fact, that it would be surprising if wireless carriers aren’t already starting to worry that their industry could one day face a version of the cable-television business’s cord-cutter problem.

If millions of TV watchers are making do with a money-saving patchwork of online shows, over-the-air broadcasts and services like Netflix Inc. how long will it be before wireless subscribers decide they can get by making calls with Google Voice, sending texts via WhatsApp and asking for the Wi-Fi password every time they enter a bar?

The question isn’t theoretical. Thousands of people in the U.S. already are. In addition, the majority of mobile data traffic flows over Wi-Fi, and more access points are being built daily. There are commercial efforts to build cellphone businesses on Wi-Fi, too, from companies such as startup FreedomPop and pay-TV heavyweight Cablevision Systems Corp. Read More > at Nasdaq

Vitamin B.S. – How people came to believe the myth that nutritional supplements could make them into better, healthier versions of themselves.

In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt summoned hundreds of scientists, doctors, and food manufacturers to Washington, D.C. to discuss a weapon that would help the U.S. win World War II: vitamins.

“There was this idea of optimization: ‘What do we need to do to optimize Americans’ health, to make sure we have enough pep and vigor to get us through this war?’” said Catherine Price, the author of Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection. “There were all these rumors that the Nazis were restricting vitamins in their conquered people’s foods and giving their young men vitamin supplements and basically race-building through vitamins.”

Three ideas emerged from the National Nutrition Conference for Defense that still exist today. One was the creation of the Recommended Daily Allowances, the first set of guidelines for how much of each nutrient a person ought to consume. The other was the practice of enriching the country’s flour supply with vitamins and minerals—particularly, Price said, with thiamin, or vitamin B1: “There was a huge trend with thiamin, the idea that all of America was deficient in thiamin, and, ‘Oh my god, if we don’t put thiamin in flour, then we’re not going to be able to fight the Nazis.’”

The third idea wasn’t new, and wasn’t born from the conference so much as strengthened by it: the notion that vitamins were the key not only to health, but to a state of health-plus, with the ability to boost bodies past sick, past normal, and into something even better. In recent years, researchers have debunked, over and over, the idea that vitamin supplements confer any measureable benefit at all—but still, around half of Americans take them regularly. Together with other dietary supplements, they enjoy a reputation for nutritional power that stretches far beyond their true capabilities. Read More > in The Atlantic

Why Robots Will Be The Biggest Job Creators In World History – …The fears of economists, politicians and workers themselves are way overdone. They should embrace the rise of robots precisely because they love job creation. As my upcoming book Popular Economics points out with regularity, abundant job creation is always and everywhere the happy result of technological advances that tautologically lead to job destruction.

Robots will ultimately be the biggest job creators simply because aggressive automation will free us up to do new work by virtue of it erasing toil that was once essential. Lest we forget, there was a time in American history when just about everyone worked whether they wanted to or not — on farms — just to survive. Thank goodness technology destroyed lots of agricultural work that freed Americans up to pursue a wide range of vocations off the farm.

With their evolution as labor inputs, robots bring the promise of new forms of work that will have us marveling at labor we wasted in the past, and that will make past job destroyers like wind, water, the cotton gin, the car, the internet and the computer seem small by comparison. All the previously mentioned advances made lots of work redundant, but far from forcing us into breadlines, the destruction of certain forms of work occurred alongside the creation of totally new ways to earn a living. Robots promise a beautiful multiple of the same. Read More > in Forbes

Central Valley, Delta water rights under scrutiny – Hundreds of property owners across California’s Central Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are scrambling to prove they have a right to divert water from the region’s streams, the result of a state order that comes due in just four days.

The order from the State Water Resources Control Board is driven by a longstanding dispute over scarce water supplies, one that has intensified as California appears likely to face a fourth straight drought year. But proving those water rights may be difficult: In many cases, the proof lies buried in county parcel maps and other property records dating as far back as the 1850s.

Property owners who fail to submit the required proof by Friday could be ordered to stop diverting water entirely.

The dispute focuses primarily on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a troubled estuary that is the heart of California’s complex water diversion system. State and federal agencies divert water from the Delta to serve about 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland across the state. But their water rights are actually inferior to those held by property owners in the Delta itself. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Stockton Bankruptcy’s Unsettled Pension Legacy – On the day that Stockton emerged from bankruptcy last week, ending 32 months of debt protection, the final court argument was about the “cram down” imposed on the only creditor that did not cut a deal.

Is Franklin bonds getting a 12 percent payment from Stockton for a $36 million loan or, as the city contends, a 17 percent payment?

The answer depends on whether $2 million of the loan, held in reserve like a “last month’s rent” security deposit, is counted along with a $4 million city payment to Franklin or simply regarded as the bond fund reclaiming its own money.

…Larger questions remain, however, from the judge’s first-of-its-kind ruling that CalPERS pensions can be cut in a municipal bankruptcy, even though in this case Stockton chose not to do so.

Will CalPERS appeal the pension ruling or let it stand unchallenged, possibly clouding the sense of security of state and local government employees, encouraging future bankruptcies and giving management leverage in labor negotiations?

And does Stockton’s decision not to cut pensions in bankruptcy risk future insolvency, as Moody’s credit rating service warned a year ago, possibly putting the city on a path to future budget deficits, which Vallejo has faced since its bankruptcy? Read More > at Public CEO

Foreign workers fill hundreds of Sacramento-area IT jobs – …It’s a $200 million Employment Development Department project, but with the exception of two managers, everyone inside the office is from outside of the U.S. They are employed by Deloitte, a major U.S. IT company hired by the state to create and manage its Unemployment Insurance Modernization project. The mostly Indian nationals are allowed to work here under a visa program called H-1B.

Tech companies like Microsoft, Intel, Google and Facebook say they need hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to fill jobs here because American colleges can’t crank out computer science grads fast enough. In 2013, the industry lobbied Congress on the issue to the tune of almost $14 million.

Those companies, who need workers with highly specialized knowledge like computer expertise, are awarded the visas through a lottery process. It’s allowed under the Immigration and Nationality Act and administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. The visas can be valid as long as six years.

…U.S. Department of Labor data shows more than 1,100 H-1B visas were certified for workers in the Sacramento area in 2014. The largest number was for Accenture, an IT company that is currently holding state contracts totaling more than $1 billion. It has 125 H-1B visa holders in Sacramento. Deloitte has another 28, and there are four dozen of them filling positions in state offices in the Capital City.

There’s no way to say exactly how many of the visa holders are doing work directly or indirectly with the state. Hundreds of the local H-1B visa holders were awarded to third-party contractors known as “body shops.” Body shops apply for the visas and then farm them out to larger IT companies looking to hire more foreign workers. Read More > at News 10


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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