Sunday Reading – 03/15/15


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.

A Bulldog’s battle – It was morning in Lithuania and Andrew Smith was getting dressed. As he put a shirt on, he caught an oddity in the mirror, a weird bump at the base of his neck just above the collarbone. The former Butler center was a newly married man playing foreign hoops in a faraway land, just three months into his first professional contract and living with his wife, Sam, and dog, Charlie.

…In a foreign country with doctors they did not trust, the Smiths weren’t getting clear answers. Tests were not immediately coming back with conclusive results. An initial biopsy came back negative for cancer, but still, Andrew reluctantly agreed to minor surgery because his neck’s discomfort was preventing him from being able to play.

…Doctors initially determined Smith had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which carries an optimistic 90-10 cure rate. Though a confirmation of the dreaded C word, this was good news, relatively speaking. Then, on Jan. 9, 2014, at 5 in the morning, Sam and Andrew squinted out of sleep to find a new doctor entering their room and delivering gloomier news before the sun even came up. While curable, Andrew’s condition was much more serious than his team previously suspected.

…It was T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a rare, acute condition of non-Hodgkin’s that gets 2,000 cases documented per year — primarily in children. Immature white blood cells come out of the marrow, and when that happens they’re vulnerable to mutating into a soft, cancerous mass. This coagulates around the heart and lungs, near the passageways. The cure rate for children is 50/50; for adults, it’s a different story.

…It was Andrew’s third day on the new job. Sam remembers now because it was the one time she forgot to tell him goodbye, to have a good day. But they did communicate. She sent off a text and then got a return message from Andrew in the early afternoon.

…Jennifer walks around the cubicle and sees Andrew Smith’s 6-foot-11 body unconscious, the whites of his eyes showing. Then his eyes close. Jennifer remembers her daughter’s seizures. But this isn’t a seizure. Andrew is going into cardiac arrest.

…Andrew’s heart is in ventricular defibrillation, or “VF.” When this happens, the brain swells and attempts to receive oxygen. Too much swelling leads to the stem of the brain to collapse, causing irreversible damage. Victims who go beyond five minutes in VF are at high risk to wind up brain-dead. At this point Andrew has more than doubled that, having been technically dead approximately 12 minutes.

…Andrew has been technically dead for 20 minutes. If he can even be brought back at this point, life as a vegetable is the overwhelming odds-on scenario.

…The overwhelming majority of people who go into VF do not survive, according to national statistics. Of those who do and are put into a coma, only 2 percent patients walk of out the hospital with zero physical or neurological effects.

When it comes to acute lymphoblastic lymphoma patients who lie dead for 22 minutes due to heart failure, there is not a data pool for survival rate. Read More > at CBS Sports

Raiders Stadium Solution In Oakland May Buck National Trend By Going Small – In Dallas, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones built a $1.3 billion stadium designed to be the greatest football venue in the country. In Minneapolis, construction is underway on the “Ice Palace,” a domed behemoth with an exterior style that evokes the region’s brutal winter landscape.

In Santa Clara, the 49ers opened Levi’s Stadium this year with insistence that it was the most technologically advanced stadium in the world. And just 33 miles to the north, the Oakland Raiders are making plans for a new stadium of their own.

But so far, the plans aren’t following the NFL’s “new normal.” Where so many teams are chasing bigger, better, more lavish stadiums — ones with significant funding from taxpayers, in many cases — the Raiders are taking a more modest approach.

They want a smaller stadium.

…The Raiders have no such fantasies. Any proposal for a new stadium would be modest. The team intends to draw up schemes for a 55,000-seat stadium, which is smaller than O.Co Coliseum — in fact, it would be the smallest in the NFL. And Kephart says it isn’t asking the city for a dime.

“The deal has always been, no new debt and no public taxes to pay for anything related to either of the sports teams,” Kephart says. The Raiders are prepared to provide as much as $500 million for a new stadium. Private financing is expected to cover the rest of the cost.

In other words, the city of Oakland and Alameda County could become the new home for a great revenue-generating venue — a source of profit for both governments. All that stands in the way is a formal convening of the city and the county, which jointly owns the land where the new property would be built. Read More > at Yahoo! Sports

Texas: From Shale Boom To Water Revolution – Texas is famous the world over for two things on a massive scale: oil and droughts. Now the slick but dry state is becoming famous for water: that precious element that both resolves the drought problem and also makes it possible to pump more oil out of the ground.

Not only does Texas have the Permian Basin and the Eagle Ford shale, but it also has the Gulf of Mexico and its massive oil deposits and endless gallons of seawater that are now economically treatable thanks to next generation water processing technology.

As NASA predicts a decades-long ‘mega drought’ later this century, next generation water processing technology coming from within the oil industry promises not only to help solve Texas’ drought problem by accessing and desalinating brackish and slightly salty water sources deep under the dry Texan surface, but to go one step further by desalinating ocean water and turning dirty water into potable water.

While conventional desalination technologies only recover about 35% of fresh water from a gallon of seawater, new Dutch technology brought to Texas by a local company recovers approximately 97% of the fresh water at an economical cost. At the same time, the new technology uses no chemicals, rendering it quite possibly the ‘greenest’ water processing technology in operation today. Read More > at NASDAQ

6-week strike affecting East Bay refinery ends – Workers at the Tesoro refinery near Martinez are expected to return to work after steelworkers and oil executives agreed to end a six-week strike that also prevented kids from playing baseball on company-owned fields, union and company representatives said Thursday.

The United Steelworkers union announced it had reached a tentative contract agreement Thursday with a consortium of 12 U.S. oil companies represented by Royal Dutch Shell. The settlement should end the first nationwide refinery strike in more than three decades.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Patricia Deutsche, the spokeswoman for Tesoro Corp., told reporters. “The strike is not completely over yet until they all have their say, but hopefully we can get them back to work quickly.”

The labor dispute affected more than 3,800 refinery employees, mostly in Texas and California, but the situation in the East Bay was particularly divisive. After workers walked out Feb. 1, Tesoro shut down the plant near Martinez. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

California Consumer Affairs’ officials admit IT flop, ask for more money – Contrite officials with the Department of Consumer Affairs admitted Thursday that a 2-year-old computer system is a mess, then explained why lawmakers should give them another $17.5 million for it.

The BreEZe system, Consumer Affairs Director Awet Kidane told a Senate budget subcommittee, suffered from planning, implementation and oversight shortcomings outlined in a February state audit. He mentioned several times that not enough weight had been given to training employees who would work with BreEZe daily.

“Admittedly, the department failed miserably at change management,” Kidane said.

From the outset, BreEZe didn’t deliver the online convenience for consumers and deep data analysis promised when envisioned as a $27 million project six years ago. After 10 of its regulatory boards and bureaus launched BrEZe in 2013, backlogs ensued. Registered-nurse licensing bogged down, for example, and some nursing school grads lost job opportunities because of it. The system spit out unreliable data.

As delays and costs climbed, the Legislature upped the project’s budget to $77 million. The department has spent $37 million so far. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Secret Service agents disrupted bomb investigation at White House – Two Secret Service agents suspected of being under the influence while striking a White House security barricade drove through an active bomb investigation and directly beside the suspicious package, according to current and former government officials familiar with the incident.

These and other new details about the March 4 incident emerged Thursday from interviews and from police records obtained by The Washington Post.

The revelations spurred fresh questions Thursday from lawmakers about whether the newly appointed director of the Secret Service, Joseph P. Clancy, is capable of turning around the troubled agency.

…But shortly before 11 p.m., the two high-ranking Secret Service agents, returning from a work party at a Chinatown bar about eight blocks from the White House, drove their government car through the crime scene. According to people familiar with the incident, they drove through police tape and then hit a temporary barricade, using the car to push aside some barrels. An agency official said Thursday that the car was not damaged.

…Secret Service officers on duty that night considered the agents’ behavior to be erratic and suspected they were drunk, according to current and former officials familiar with the incident.

The officers wanted to arrest the agents — but a more senior supervisor at the complex told them to let the agents go, the officials said. Read More > in The Washington Post

Could the pension wars be headed to the 2016 ballot? – A coalition of business people and former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed are launching an initiative drive to reduce California’s public pensions, with the state’s largest retirement system a prime target.

Reed, a Democrat who led a voter-approved measure to reduce some pension benefits in San Jose, has flirted with the idea of a statewide measure in the past, but the funding to run such a campaign has never materialized.

If Reed and his allies go ahead with a 2016 measure, they will be defying political conventional wisdom. With a presidential race on the same ballot, turnout will be high, and the electorate will skew more Democratic than in an off-year election.

That would presumably be an electorate that would be more supportive of public pensions, and less open to the idea of business groups and out-of-state funders moving against public employee benefits.

Reuters reports, “The measure would take aim at California’s $300 billion giant Calpers, which has a near-iron grip on the state’s pensions. Calpers, America’s largest public pension fund and administrator of pensions for more than 3,000 state and local agencies, has long argued that pensions cannot be touched or renegotiated, even in bankruptcy.

“Calpers has dedicated itself to preserving the status quo and making it difficult for anybody to reform pensions,” Reed said in an interview. “This is one way to take on Calpers, and yes, Calpers will push back.” Read More > at California City News

Lure of the Caliphate – …Above all, it has been able to attract unprecedented numbers of young recruits from the West itself—not least by drawing on apocalyptic currents in Islamic culture and thought in which the region of Greater Syria, known as Bilad al-Sham, is given paramount importance.

According to Europol, some five-thousand European nationals—mainly from the wealthier countries of northern Europe—have now joined the group, with around one thousand each from Britain and France. Among them are hundreds of young men and women still in their teens. Meanwhile, the caliphate’s tentacles now stretch from Afghanistan, to Yemen and to Libya, with Sunni affiliates and tribal groups making their allegiance (baya) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph of ISIS. As Sarah Birke has recently written in The New York Review, US officials are wondering why “ISIS has attracted so many fighters—the most rapid mobilization of foreign fighters so far, outstripping recruitment in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and the war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq.”

It is easy to see how ISIS, with its brutal executions and message of violent retribution against those who do not share its values, might appeal to individuals such as Amedy Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers, the young men who perpetrated the killings in Paris in early January. (The Kouachis were also influenced by al-Qaeda in Yemen.) They were petty criminals and archetypal “losers,” living a marginal existence in a country whose Muslim immigrants have high levels of joblessness, low education attainment, and often difficulty finding social acceptance.

But many European jihadists do not seem to fit this template. On Thursday, it was revealed that “Jihadi John,” the London-accented ISIS executioner, is a university graduate trained in computer programming from a relatively comfortable London suburb. The casual brutalism of his online videos—he decapitated five Western and two Japanese hostages as well as numerous Syrian soldiers, and posed with the severed heads—suggests the insidious way that a generation brought up in cyberspace may have lost the connection between the real and its representation. Others who go to Syria have no Muslim background at all. In August 2013, it was estimated that 250 French citizens had joined jihadist groups there, and as many as forty of them (between 15 and 20 percent) were thought to be converts to Islam, a highly disproportionate number given that only 1 percent of Muslims in France are converts.

Recent reports in the international press have highlighted the extent to which ISIS has depicted Syria as the central battlefield in the final struggle between Islam and its enemies. Less known to Anglophone readers, however, is how these apocalyptic ideas have been especially effective in luring to Syria European teenagers who may have little prior exposure to mainstream Islam. Nor is this ideology exclusive to ISIS; Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria and sometime rival of ISIS, has also used messianic rhetoric to attract large numbers of recruits from Europe. In France, those most likely to be vulnerable to such indoctrination are between sixteen and twenty-one years old—children on the threshold of adulthood. Read More > at NYR

Can California Actually Get ‘Greener’? – California may be the greenest state in the nation. The Golden State’s renewable portfolio standard is among the nation’s most aggressive, the state’s cap-and-trade program is likely the most developed, and each legislative session lawmakers grapple over dozens of new environmental-based bills. In some cases environmental protection is the rationale to pass bills that will only have a minimal impact at best (for instance, plastic bag bans), but then legislators exist to create laws. So it didn’t come as any surprise that during his 4th (and final) State of the State address, Jerry Brown focused heavily on taking California’s already aggressive climate change action to the next level.

In about two weeks the Hoover Institution will be unveiling its new bi-monthly Eureka publication, which will feature commentary on a policy topic every other month. The inaugural issue examines Brown’s three proposed climate change actions: 1) increase the renewable electricity mandate to 50% by 2030, 2) reduced vehicle petroleum use by 50%, and 3) double the energy efficiency of California’s buildings. What remains, however, is how difficult it will be for the Golden State to get greener.

Renewable Mandate: Currently, California’s electrical utilities must increase the percentage of electricity coming from eligible renewable sources to 33% by 2020. The eligible sources include solar thermal and photovoltaics, wind, biomass, geothermal, even tidal and wave energy, but exclude non-carbon energy sources like nuclear power and large hydro-electric generation. The allowed renewables made up approximately 20% of California’s in-state electrical generation in 2013, but if nuclear and large hydro-electric were allowed, that level would have doubled. The main problem with increasing the eligible renewable percentage is that these energy sources are intermittent – their power generation cannot be controlled to match electricity demand. This puts immense pressure on the grid to maintain consistent power. Increasing the mandate to 50% only exacerbates this problem. Until there is a cost-effective way to store excess renewable generation (or a willingness to allow nuclear and large hydro-electric), this is a puzzle that California’s electrical grid has yet to solve. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

The U.S. Has Too Much Oil and Nowhere to Put It – Seven months ago the giant tanks in Cushing, Okla., the largest crude oil storage hub in North America, were three-quarters empty. After spending the last few years brimming with light, sweet crude unlocked by the shale drilling revolution, the tanks held just less than 18 million barrels by late July, down from a high of 52 million in early 2013. New pipelines to refineries along the Gulf Coast had drained Cushing of more than 30 million barrels in less than a year.

As quickly as it emptied out, Cushing has filled back up again. Since October, the amount of oil stored there has almost tripled, to more than 51 million barrels. As oil prices have crashed, from more than $100 a barrel last summer to below $50 now, big trading companies are storing their crude in hopes of selling it for higher prices down the road. With U.S. production continuing to expand, that’s led to the fastest increase in U.S. oil inventories on record. For most of this year, the U.S. has added almost 1 million barrels a day to its stash of crude supplies. As of March 11, nationwide stocks were at 449 million barrels, by far the most ever.

Not only are the tanks at Cushing filling up, so are those across much of the U.S. Facilities in the Midwest are about 70 percent full, while the East Coast is at about 85 percent capacity. This has some analysts beginning to wonder if the U.S. has enough room to store all its oil.

If oil supplies do overwhelm the ability to store them, the U.S. will likely cut back on imports and finally slow down the pace of its own production, since there won’t be anywhere to put excess supply. Prices could also fall, perhaps by a lot. Morse and his team of analysts at Citigroup have predicted that sometime this spring, as tanks reach their limits, oil prices will again nosedive, potentially all the way to $20 a barrel. With no place to store crude, producers and trading companies would likely have to sell their oil to refineries at discounted prices, which could finally persuade producers to stop pumping. Read More > in Bloomberg

California a majority Latino state? Not so fast… – California is no longer on track to become a majority Latino state – at least not before 2060, according to projections from the state Department of Finance.

Demographic estimates are constantly updated, but recent projections about the state’s population had us becoming a majority Latino state before the middle of this century.

The slower projected growth of the state’s Latino population – due to a number of factors including improvement in the Mexican economy, which has led to zero net migration between California and Mexico in recent years — has led demographers to reduce their projections for overall state population growth.

While it doesn’t change dramatically the narrative about our state’s future, it does underscore the volatility of these projections. The complete demographic picture also tells a more nuanced, and I think more interesting, story about the future of the people of California.

But much of our future growth will be Latino – mostly, presumably, the future children of those who are already here. We are expected to be a state of 50 million by 2050, up from about 39 million today. In that time, the state’s Latino population is set to go from 15.2 million to about 23.7 million.

As the state population grows by 11 million people, the Latino population will grow by 8.5 million – nearly 80% of the state’s overall projected growth.

Other trends are also expected to continue: The state’s white population will continue to decrease – not just as a percentage, but in real numbers — and the state’s Asian population will also continue to climb. Read More > at the Grizzly bear Project

Why West Coast Recyclers Think Sewage Water Might Make Good Beer – When it comes to the mellow mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle,” the laid-back West Coast is hard core.

Garden-variety plastic bag and bottle bans or now-ubiquitous electronics and pharmaceuticals recycling efforts are old news. In Portland’s suburbs, a plan is brewing to craft boutique beer from purified sewage water.

In San Francisco, thirsty residents are being asked to BYOB to a growing network of “hydration stations” where they can fill water bottles. And in Seattle, garbage haulers also serve as compost cops, slapping red tags on bins containing too much compostable material—banana peels, soggy salads, coffee grounds—a scarlet letter for sustainability sinners.

Then there is perhaps the most extreme recycling notion yet: The Urban Death Project. Proposed by Katrina Spade, a Seattle designer and “climate fellow” with the nonprofit Echoing Green, it would allow the deceased to go to their eternal rest as compost themselves.

Creative stabs at sustainability pop up regularly across the U.S., from cigarette-butt recycling bins in New Orleans to a Gilbert, Ariz., company that recycles bras. Cities increasingly pick through ways to divert trash from landfills.

…Purified wastewater is already on tap in some places. Southern California’s Orange County in 2007 opened what was believed to be the world’s largest plant devoted to transforming sewage into drinking water. Each day, it produces about 100 million gallons of potable water that flows to residents’ faucets, according to the county’s water district. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Throw the Penalty Flag in Football and Politics – The campaigns for the Senate District 7 special election and building a Los Angeles area football stadium are two rough and tumble affairs that have something in common – the need to throw a penalty flag on deceptive plays in the campaigns.

Much attention has been paid to the disingenuous nature of mailings by the Asian American Business PAC supporting the candidacy of withdrawn Republican candidate Michaela Hertle funded by the public employee unions who hope to cripple the chances of Democrat Steve Glazer who is willing to take on the unions.

Judy Lloyd commented on the mailings sent to Republicans on this site. Many others have also commented as well. A couple of examples: Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association writing in FlashReport that the funding of the mailers reveals the “powerful public sector labor organizations will stop at nothing to advance their narrow interests”; Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee wondering if the plan will backfire because of all the heavy media attention.

The state Republican Party is suing over the use of a logo on the mailer that the lawsuit says is representative of the party, which does not endorse the mailing.

Maybe the court will throw a flag with the lawsuit. But the use of the logo is a narrow issue related to the misinformation campaign. The big penalty comes if the voters show their contempt for these shenanigans by ignoring the mailers and voting for the candidates who are still in the race. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Government No. 1 problem in the country, Americans say – Government has been named the most important problem facing the country for four straight months and has widened its lead over the second-ranking issue of the economy compared to last month, a Gallup poll said.

Eighteen percent of Americans named dissatisfaction with government the most important problem facing the country, followed by the economy at 11 percent and jobs at 10 percent.

In February, government was still tops at 17 percent, but was followed closely by the economy at 16 percent, then healthcare at 10 percent.

Health care was tied for fourth with immigration/illegal aliens at 7 percent in the latest survey.

“While dissatisfaction with government is by no means a new issue to the American people, it has not in recent months been as clearly the leading problem as it is now, given that fewer Americans mention the economy,” Gallup’s Justin McCarthy wrote. Read More > in The Washington Times

52 senators warn of sweeping ammo bans, say Second Amendment ‘at risk’ – A majority in both the Senate and House — 52 senators, 238 House members — have joined to oppose the Obama administration’s move to ban a popular type of ammo used in the top-selling AR-15 rifle and pistol because it pierces police body armor.

A week after the House members, led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, sent a letter of opposition to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley echoed that in his own letter signed by 51 others.

In their letter, the senators said that the 5.56 M855 “green tip” cartridge was exempted in a 1986 law, along with other rifle ammo from bans on armor-piercing rounds. The reason: popular rifle ammo is not used in shootouts with police.

They also raised new concerns that the administration appears poised for a much wider ammo ban.

“Second Amendment rights require not only access to firearms but to bullets. If law-abiding gun owners cannot obtain rifle ammunition, or face substantial difficulty in finding ammunition available and at reasonable prices because government entities are banning such ammunition, then the Second Amendment is at risk,” said Grassley’s letter. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Why chivalry may not always be what it seems: Men who hold doors open and smile may actually be sexist, study claims – If you’re the sort of gentleman who holds the door open for a lady – or the sort of woman who expects him to – then be warned.

Such acts of chivalry may actually be ‘benevolent sexism’ in disguise, according to researchers.

Experts say this type of sexism is harder to spot than the ‘hostile sexism’ we are more familiar with – because it often masquerades as gallantry. It is typified by paternal and protective behaviour, from encouraging smiles to holding doors open.

US researchers argue that while women may enjoy being showered with attention, benevolent sexism is ‘insidious’ and men who are guilty of it see women as incompetent beings who require their ‘cherished protection’.

Professor Judith Hall, of Northeastern University in Boston, said: ‘Benevolent sexism is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing that perpetuates support for gender inequality among women.

‘These supposed gestures of good faith may entice women to accept the status quo in society because sexism literally looks welcoming, appealing and harmless.’ Read More > in the Daily Mail

The OU Debacle and the Case for Private Institutions – Yesterday the president of the University of Oklahoma (OU) expelled two students who had been caught on camera leading a bus full of their fraternity brothers in disgustingly racist song. Despite agreement from all corners that their behavior was worthy of condemnation, legal experts and First Amendment advocates quickly pointed out that, well, um, kicking students out of a public college for something they said almost definitely violates the Constitution.

“The university president wrote that the students are being expelled for ‘your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others,'” wrote the law professor Eugene Volokh on his blog at The Washington Post. “But there is no First Amendment exception for racist speech, or exclusionary speech, or…for speech by university students that has created a hostile educational environment for others.”

As my colleague Robby Soave put it, “You can’t expel students at a public university for their words. It’s that simple.”

This specifically applies here because the University of Oklahoma is a public, state-run entity. Like a teacher at a public elementary school, or a worker at the Oklahoma City Social Security office, OU’s president, David Boren, is a government employee. And the government is explicitly prohibited from “abridging the freedom of speech.”

In fact, the very purpose of the expulsions was to abridge speech—to make it clear that the language the students used is unwelcome on the OU campus. But if Volokh and the others are right that this is unconstitutional, it’s hard to imagine any punishment university administrators could have meted out—demanding a public apology, say, or requiring members of the fraternity to perform community service—that wouldn’t have had the practical effect of chilling students’ speech, thus leaving the school vulnerable to legal challenge. In other words, public university administrators are toothless—the law gives them few if any avenues for taking disciplinary action against a student for inappropriate speech, no matter how heinous his or her words might be. Read More > at Reason

Like it or not, the DH is coming to the National League – … Installation of the designated hitter in the National League is a collective bargaining issue, and talks for a new CBA are expected to begin next winter. Traditionally, the DH has been viewed as something that the owners could use as a bargaining chip to extract something they wanted from the players, because DH jobs have tended to go to highly paid veteran sluggers, and opening more than a dozen such jobs in the National League would be nice for the union.

Now, though, there is incentive for the owners to want to add the DH to the National League, and not just from a competitive equity standpoint in pennant races.

New commissioner Rob Manfred has been looking at the major leagues’ recent dip in offense as something that is troublesome, and while that notion is debatable, what is very clear is that an easy way to boost scoring would be to take 15 pitchers’ spots out of batting orders and replace them with men paid exclusively to swing bats.

Even if there are owners who debate the notion that offense needs to be pumped up, or who cling to love of strategy and double-switches, there is another factor that should sing to them: protecting your investment. The only two nine-figure contracts given out in free agency this winter went to National League pitchers — Jon Lester with Chicago and Max Scherzer with Washington, while Brandon McCarthy and James Shields also were among the 10 most lucrative signings, going to Los Angeles and San Diego, respectively. Read More > in the Sporting News

IG Audit: 6.5 Million People With Active Social Security Numbers Are 112 or Older – Many people are living longer, but not to age 112 or beyond — except in the records of the Social Security Administration.

The SSA’s inspector general has identified 6.5 million number-holders age 112 — or older — for whom no death date has been entered in the main electronic file, called Numident.

The audit, dated March 4, 2015, concluded that SSA lacks the controls necessary to annote death information on the records of number-holders who exceed “maximum reasonable life expectancies.”

…“It is incredible that the Social Security Administration in 2015 does not have the technical sophistication to ensure that people they know to be deceased are actually noted as dead,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“Tens of thousands of these numbers are currently being used to report wages to the Social Security Administration and to the IRS. People are fraudulently, but successfully, applying for jobs and benefits with these numbers. Making sure Social Security cleans up its death master file to prevent future errors and fraud is a good government reform we can all agree on,” Johnson said.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee’s ranking member, called the findings a “major problem” that wastes taxpayers’ money, exposes citizens to identity theft and undermines confidence in government Read More > at CNSNEWS

Risk of 8.0 earthquake in California rises, USGS says – Estimates of the chance of a magnitude 8.0 or greater earthquake hitting California in the next three decades have been raised from about 4.7% to 7%, the U.S. Geological Survey said Tuesday..

Scientists said the reason for the increased estimate was because of the growing understanding that earthquakes aren’t limited to separate faults, but can start on one fault and jump to others. The result could be multiple faults rupturing in a simultaneous mega-quake.

Stated another way, the chance of an 8.0 or greater quake in California can be expected once every 494 years. The old forecast calculated a rate of one 8.0 or greater earthquake every 617 years.

“The new likelihoods are due to the inclusion of possible multi-fault ruptures, where earthquakes are no longer confined to separate, individual faults, but can occasionally rupture multiple faults simultaneously,” said USGS seismologist Ned Field, the lead author of the report.

“This is a significant advancement in terms of representing a broader range of earthquakes throughout California’s complex fault system.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

The 9 biggest things from the Apple Watch and MacBook announcement – After months of fanfare, Apple finally announced a date for its smartwatch: April 24th. The timepieces are one of the riskiest ventures Apple has made in years, and they’re going to play a big role in either making smartwatches the new smartphones or sending them back to the panels of Dick Tracy. They’re a push towards blending fashion and tech, with customizable bands; multiple models made of steel, aluminum, and gold; and price tags that range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. And they take Apple’s personal computing to new, sometimes slightly creepy levels. Or, as Tim Cook put it, “Apple Watch is the most personal device we have ever created. It’s not just with you, it’s on you.”

Besides the watch, Apple also wrapped up a couple of other long-rumored announcements. While the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are still around, there’s a new 12-inch laptop known only as the MacBook. It’s absurdly thin and light, and it strips out pretty much everything that’s not a screen, trackpad, or keyboard. And there was a surprise announcement for, of all things, HBO: come next month, you’ll finally be able to watch Game of Thrones without a cable subscription. This wasn’t necessarily Apple’s biggest event, but it was one of the more satisfying ones — a chance for the company to finally show off some significantly new hardware.

As we learned last year, the Apple Watch comes in three models: the Sport, the Apple Watch, and the Apple Watch Edition. The sport is the cheapest, starting at $349 for the 38 mm and $399 for the 42mm. Cases are made from anodized aluminum. The Apple Watch is stainless steel, starting at $549 for the 38mm and $599 for the 42mm, but going as high as $1,099 depending on the band. Finally, the Apple Watch Edition, the 18-karat gold version, starts at a whopping $10,000. Preorders begin on April 10th, and watches will be available on April 24th.

Without a good battery, a smartwatch is nothing — they’re supposed to stay on your wrist, not in a dock. But Apple promises that this isn’t going to be an issue with the Apple Watch, because it’s supposed to have an 18-hour battery life. That’s a lot shorter than super-low-power products like the Pebble, and won’t necessarily outshine some Android Wear gear, but it’s not bad. Read More > at The Verge

Everyone Is Guessing When It Comes to Oil Prices – Predicting and diagnosing the trajectory of oil prices has become something of a cottage industry in the past year. But along with all of the excess crude flowing from the oil patch, there is also an abundance of market indicators that while important, tend to produce a lot of noise that makes any accurate estimate nearly impossible.

First there is the oil price itself. The crash began last summer, and accelerated in November. Since then, predictions for oil prices for 2015 have been all over the map – from Citigroup’s $20 per barrel, to T. Boone Pickens’ prediction of a return to $100 per barrel. OPEC’s Secretary-General even said prices could shoot up to $200 in the coming years as a result of overly drastic cutbacks and a failure to invest in new production. With those estimates at the extremes, most analysts think prices will continue to seesaw within a rough band of $40 to $70 for the rest of the year. Still that is quite a large range, highlighting the fact that everyone is merely guessing.

Aside from oil prices, the weekly measurement of the number of rigs still in operation has become one of the most watched indicators out there. Weekly rig counts from Baker Hughes have sparked the Twitter hashtag #Rigcountguesses, to which energy analysts post their predictions. For the week ending March 6, another 75 oil and gas rigs were pulled from operation, taking the total down to 1,192. That is the lowest level in years, and 43 percent lower than its 2014 peak. While the rig count metric has garnered a lot of attention as a leading indicator of a potential cut back in oil production, it has also been criticized for not being an entirely accurate portrayal of output. Drillers have become more efficient, able to use fewer rigs for the same amount of production. So the notion that a falling rig count will necessarily lead to a fall in production may be a bit more complicated than it seems. Read More > at Oilprice

Who Knew? Girl Scout Cookies Differ By County – This Sunday marked the end of the beloved Girl Scout Cookie Program—a campaign which rakes in nearly $800 million per year and adds countless inches to the waistline. But as you glance over your stockpile of newly-purchased sweets, consider this: not all Girl Scout cookies are created equal.

In fact, it turns out that your Thin Mints—the most popular brand among American Girl Scout cookie consumers—differ slightly, depending on the county you bought them in. In Orange County, for instance, the confections are crunchier with a trefoil-like shape. In Los Angeles, they come in a perfectly round form with a far smoother texture. So, what gives?

It all comes down to the bakers, the organization says. The cookies sold in Orange County are made by a company called ABC Bakers, whereas L.A.’s cookies originate from Little Brownie Bakers. This accounts for their differences in shape and texture.

In other parts of the country, the differences are even more stark. Some Florida consumers get Tagalongs, while others get Peanut Butter Patties. The cookies are similar—both equipped with chocolate-peanut butter goodness—but their appearances and names differ. The coconut Samoa cookie is also not available to everyone. In fact, around 97.5 million Americans will get a more chocolatey version called Caramel deLites. Read More > at California County News

Does daylight savings actually save energy? – In 1784, Benjamin Franklin jokingly suggested that Parisians could save money on candles if they started their days when the sun came up.

As timekeeping became more precise, the concept of Daylight Savings Time moved from satire to reality. Conceived of independently in many nations around the turn of the 20th century, the most frequently stated aim of DST is to conserve electricity by allowing workers to return home to sunlight-filled homes. Beginning with Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1916, nearly 70 countries observe some form of DST within their borders today.

But does DST really save energy? The results are mixed.

According to the US Energy Information Administration’s “Annual Electric Power Industry Report,” residential energy consumption accounted for close to 40 percent of American energy use in 2012. But reports show that, through readjusting to the time change, Americans and others who adopt daylight savings tend to negate any possible energy savings on the back end at night after work by waking up early, according to Forbes writer Tom Zeller Jr. who has covered energy related topics for numerous national publications such as National Geographic and the New York Times. Read More > in The Christian Science Monitor

Fresh Out of Bankruptcy, City Announces Multimillion-Dollar Housing Project – A judge may have approved the bankruptcy reorganization plan for Stockton, California, but he forgot to cut up the city’s credit card.

Just a week out of Chapter 9 bankruptcy and the city is already throwing around the kind of money that landed it in financial ruin in the first place.

City officials announced plans this week to fund a $14 million public and private investment in “affordable” housing units and retail stores, with construction possibly beginning as soon as the end of the month. It’s unclear how much will actually be privately funded.

“The reality is, no matter how compelling an item is, we can only afford what we can afford,” Stockton city manager Kurt Wilson said last week, shortly after a federal judge approved the bankruptcy plan. Stockton owes $1.6 billion in unfunded pensions, but apparently the city leadership thinks a shiny new housing project counts as something they can afford. Read More > at Reason

Prosecutors protect themselves first – …That’s what happened in the California case of The People v. Efrain Velasco-Palacios. In the course of negotiating a plea bargain with the defendant, a Kern County prosecutor committed what the California appeals court called “outrageous government misconduct.”

What prosecuting attorney Robert Murray did was produce a translated transcript of the defendant’s interrogation to which he had added a fraudulent confession. The defense attorney got a copy of the audio tape of the interrogation, but it “ended abruptly.” Eventually, Murray admitted to falsifying the transcript, presumably in the hopes of either coercing a plea deal, or ensuring a victory at trial.

When the trial judge found out, charges against the defendant were dismissed. Incredibly, the State of California, via Attorney General Kamala Harris, decided to appeal the case. The state’s key argument: That putting a fake confession in the transcript wasn’t “outrageous” because it didn’t involve physical brutality, like chaining someone to a radiator and beating him with a hose.

Well, no. It just involved an officer of the court knowingly producing a fraudulent document in order to secure an illicit advantage. If Harris really thinks that knowingly producing a fraudulent document to secure an illicit advantage isn’t “outrageous,” then perhaps she slept through her legal ethics courses.

The California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District didn’t buy Harris’s argument, and upheld the dismissal of charges. That means the defendant went free.

…Meanwhile, Murray suffered no actual punishment for his wrongdoing. As a report in the New York Observer notes: “For reasons beyond comprehension, he still works for the District Attorney Lisa Green in Kern County, Calif.” Murray does face the possibility of discipline from the California bar, but even disbarment would be a light punishment for knowingly producing a false document in a criminal proceeding. Read More > in USA Today

Berkeley Finds It’s Not Easy Imposing Soda Tax – The city of Berkeley, Calif., is finding it’s not so easy imposing a soda tax. Since the tax’s Jan. 1 imposition, retailers find it’s a burden changing prices for just one type of item in one city.

Measure D, officially the City of Berkeley Sugary Beverages and Soda Tax, last November overwhelmingly was passed by 76 percent of city voters. The tax is a penny per ounce. So a 16-ounce Coke would be hit with 16 cents. There are exceptions for small businesses.

…But things are turning out more complicated than expected. Camilo Malaver co-owns the San Francisco-based Waterloo Beverages company, reported Berkeleyside. “In January, when the tax was implemented, Malaver decided to stop restocking his supply of craft sodas and naturally sweetened beverages in Berkeley to avoid further confusion. … His frustration was aimed primarily at the city for what he saw as a poor job relaying information on how to comply with the tax.”

Malaver said, “Berkeley is a good city to do business with the university, but now, it’s tough. We’re in limbo. Everybody’s lost and [we] don’t know what to do.” The university itself, as a state entity, is exempt from Measure D.

A problem is that the soda market has changed from the days when the market mainly was such Big Soda suppliers as Coca-Cola and Pepsi. As with the craft brew markets for beer, “craft sodas” have popped up like those sold by Malaver.

When potentially hundreds of different items are involved, that complicates trying to figure out if a beverage is taxed, or is exempt. For example, the ordinance taxes “heavily presweetened tea,” but not regular tea, or slightly sweetened tea. Read More > at Public CEO

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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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