Sunday Reading – 05/31/15


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.

Two Faults Could Make One Big Earthquake – Ask Bay Area seismologists their most worrisome earthquake scenario, and many will say it’s not a repeat of the great San Francisco quake of 1906. They don’t think that’s likely. Instead, it’s a possibility considered unthinkable not long ago. That would be a rupture that tears the full length of the Hayward fault, between Pinole and Fremont, then jumps past the end to the next fault.

The next fault to the north is the Rodgers Creek fault, running from San Pablo Bay into Sonoma County. Scientists have made scenarios for big quakes on the combined Hayward-Rodgers Creek. The damage from shaking, fires and landslides would exceed $200 billion.

The next fault to the south is the Calaveras fault, running from east of San Jose past Hollister. But that combination hasn’t been modeled. Until a few years ago nobody thought this deadly combo was likely.

Where the two faults merge, geologists have mapped a complex snarl of ground fractures. The faults don’t appear to line up together well, which means they would prevent any rupture from pushing through. But our maps have been too imprecise to be certain.

Now UC Berkeley seismologist Estelle Chaussard has assembled the clearest picture yet of the Hayward-Calaveras merge. Her model, just published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, simplifies the intersection while showing that deep underground, the two faults line up dangerously straight together. But the same model helps us to simulate and plan for the hazard of a combined fault rupture. Read More > at KQED

California could soon legalize motorcycle lane-splitting – Motorcycle lane-splitting — the rush-hour time saver for bikers that enrages many drivers — may be poised for formal legalization..

California would be the first state to sanction the traffic-evading tactic, already widespread on traffic-choked freeways of Los Angeles.

The state Assembly is expected to approve the legislation as soon as Thursday, and supporters believe it will clear the Senate as well.

The measure would allow motorcycles to travel between cars at speeds up to 15 mph faster than the flow of traffic, up to a speed of 50 mph.

The bill’s legislative backers cite studies showing the practice is safer than trapping bikers behind cars, which leaves them vulnerable to more serious rear-end collisions. But their proposal has riled both detractors and supporters.

…Lane-splitting — a common practice in European nations — has been a fuzzy topic in California. The state has never expressly forbidden or allowed it.

Technically neither legal nor illegal, the practice has had the tacit approval of the California Highway Patrol and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

…Until recently, both the Highway Patrol and the DMV published guidelines for safe lane-splitting. But they removed the guidelines from their publications last year after opponents complained that the agencies appeared to endorse a practice that critics argued was not legal. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Report: NYC Cops Arrested Men for ‘Manspreading’ on the Subway – New York police allegedly arrested two men for “manspreading” (sitting with their legs far apart) on the subway, according to a report entitled “That’s How They Get You” released by the Police Reform Organizing Project.

“On a recent visit to the arraignment part in Brooklyn’s criminal court, PROP volunteers observed that police officers had arrested two Latino men on the charge of ‘man spreading’ on the subway, presumably because they were taking up more than one seat and therefore inconveniencing other riders,” the report states.

Metro Transit Authority rules ban people from taking up more than one seat “in a station, platform or conveyance when to do so would interfere or tend to interfere with the operation of the Authority’s transit system or the comfort of other passengers.”

MTA also placed signs on subway cars in December instructing people not to “manspread” as part of a larger campaign to encourage riders to be polite, which also included signs telling people not to hog poles or do their makeup on the train. The “no manspreading” rule in particular, however, got most of the publicity after feminist activists attacked “manspreading” as being not just rude and/or annoying but actually oppressive to women. Read More > at National Review

U.S. economy shrinks in first quarter, raising questions about underlying strength – The U.S. economy shrank at an annualized pace of 0.7 percent in the first three months of the year, according to government data released Friday morning, a tumble for a recovering nation that until recently seemed poised for takeoff.

The contraction, the country’s third in the aftermath of the Great Recession, provides a troubling picture of an economy that many figured would get a lift from cheap oil, rapid hiring and growing consumer confidence. Instead, consumers have proved cautious, and oil companies have frozen investment — all while a nasty winter caused havoc for transportation and construction and a strong dollar widened the trade deficit.

The numbers released Friday were a revision of earlier figures that had shown GDP growing in the first quarter at 0.2 percent. Markets had since expected the downward revision, in large part because of recent data showing the trade deficit at a 6½-year high.

Though the United States has shaken off nasty quarters in the past, including one year ago, this time the rebound doesn’t appear to be so dramatic. Halfway through the second quarter, economists say growth again appears to be below expectations. Many analysts expect the GDP to expand roughly 2 percent in the second quarter, while the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta takes an even darker view, predicting an expansion of just 0.8 percent. That would leave the United States with six months of economic standstill. Read More > in The Washington Post

Warriors’ win over Rockets sets up dream Finals matchup vs. Cavaliers – …These Finals set up not only as a matchup of new blood, but also as a showcase for how quickly fortunes can change. In 2012, the Warriors were coming off a 23-win season, and they inked Stephen Curry to a bargain basement rookie contract extension because persistent ankle problems had limited his availability and effectiveness. Less than three years later, the Warriors took the league by storm, becoming one of 10 teams in history to win 67 games and one of eight to post a +10 point differential, with Curry taking home MVP honors. Similarly, the Cavaliers were mired in a rough rebuilding patch as recently as last season, before the return of four-time MVP LeBron James led to a 20-win improvement.

The 2014 off-season marked a key turning point, when both franchises hired first-time coaches in Kerr and David Blatt. For Golden State, parting with Mark Jackson to hire Kerr was about going from good to great. For Cleveland, dumping Mike Brown to add Blatt was a search for a new voice and a better locker room dynamic. Ten months later, this Finals will mark the first time since 1947—the year the league came into being—that two rookie coaches will square off on the biggest stage.

The 2014 off-season marked a key turning point, when both franchises hired first-time coaches in Kerr and David Blatt. For Golden State, parting with Mark Jackson to hire Kerr was about going from good to great. For Cleveland, dumping Mike Brown to add Blatt was a search for a new voice and a better locker room dynamic. Ten months later, this Finals will mark the first time since 1947—the year the league came into being—that two rookie coaches will square off on the biggest stage.

Although this matchup was virtually impossible to foresee a year ago, the Warriors and Cavaliers both evolved into presumptive Finals participants as this season unfolded, even if their paths were different. Golden State has enjoyed a charmed season, largely avoiding injury and off-court drama as it stacked up victories and thrilled fans with its high-paced style and balanced, deep team. Read More > in Sports Illustrated

L.A. labor leaders seek minimum wage exemption for firms with union workers – Labor leaders, who were among the strongest supporters of the citywide minimum wage increase approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces.

The push to include an exception to the mandated wage increase for companies that let their employees collectively bargain was the latest unexpected detour as the city nears approval of its landmark legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

For much of the past eight months, labor activists have argued against special considerations for business owners, such as restaurateurs, who said they would have trouble complying with the mandated pay increase.

But Rusty Hicks, who heads the county Federation of Labor and helps lead the Raise the Wage coalition, said Tuesday night that companies with workers represented by unions should have leeway to negotiate a wage below that mandated by the law. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Davis regulates fast food in effort to reduce obesity – The city of Davis has taken to regulating fast-food restaurants in an effort to target childhood obesity.

Under a new measure passed by the Davis city council, milk or water will be the default drink in any kids meal ordered within city limits. Soda or juice will only be offered in parents explicitly request it.

The rule, which was passed unanimously this week, would go into effect on Sept. 1.

“A health expert said that one-fourth of Davis’ children are obese or overweight.

“One of the largest contributors to childhood obesity is soda consumption,” said Charlotte Dixon, the senior policy director for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which supports the ordinance.

Matthew Sutton, a spokesman for the California Restaurant Association, said that the ordinance is an overstep by Davis.

“We believe this approach is an overreach of government and is an overly simplistic tactic to address the complexities of childhood obesity,” Sutton said in a statement. Read More > at California City News

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How. – “Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily”, page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.”

I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

Here’s how we did it.

…After a round of questionnaires and blood tests to ensure that no one had eating disorders, diabetes, or other illnesses that might endanger them, Frank randomly assigned the subjects to one of three diet groups. One group followed a low-carbohydrate diet. Another followed the same low-carb diet plus a daily 1.5 oz. bar of dark chocolate. And the rest, a control group, were instructed to make no changes to their current diet. They weighed themselves each morning for 21 days, and the study finished with a final round of questionnaires and blood tests.

…Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a “statistically significant” result. Our study included 18 different measurements—weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being, etc.—from 15 people. (One subject was dropped.) That study design is a recipe for false positives.

Think of the measurements as lottery tickets. Each one has a small chance of paying off in the form of a “significant” result that we can spin a story around and sell to the media. The more tickets you buy, the more likely you are to win. We didn’t know exactly what would pan out—the headline could have been that chocolate improves sleep or lowers blood pressure—but we knew our chances of getting at least one “statistically significant” result were pretty good.

…It was time to share our scientific breakthrough with the world. We needed to get our study published pronto, but since it was such bad science, we needed to skip peer review altogether. Conveniently, there are lists of fake journal publishers. (This is my list, and here’s another.) Since time was tight, I simultaneously submitted our paper—“Chocolate with high cocoa content as a weight-loss accelerator”—to 20 journals. Then we crossed our fingers and waited.

Our paper was accepted for publication by multiple journals within 24 hours. Needless to say, we faced no peer review at all. The eager suitor we ultimately chose was the the International Archives of Medicine. It used to be run by the giant publisher BioMedCentral, but recently changed hands. The new publisher’s CEO, Carlos Vasquez, emailed Johannes to let him know that we had produced an “outstanding manuscript,” and that for just 600 Euros it “could be accepted directly in our premier journal.”

…So why should you care? People who are desperate for reliable information face a bewildering array of diet guidance—salt is bad, salt is good, protein is good, protein is bad, fat is bad, fat is good—that changes like the weather. But science will figure it out, right? Now that we’re calling obesity an epidemic, funding will flow to the best scientists and all of this noise will die down, leaving us with clear answers to the causes and treatments.

Or maybe not. Even the well-funded, serious research into weight-loss science is confusing and inconclusive, laments Peter Attia, a surgeon who cofounded a nonprofit called the Nutrition Science Initiative. For example, the Women’s Health Initiative—one of the largest of its kind—yielded few clear insights about diet and health. “The results were just confusing,” says Attia. “They spent $1 billion and couldn’t even prove that a low-fat diet is better or worse.” Attia’s nonprofit is trying to raise $190 million to answer these fundamental questions. But it’s hard to focus attention on the science of obesity, he says. “There’s just so much noise.”

You can thank people like me for that. We journalists have to feed the daily news beast, and diet science is our horn of plenty. Readers just can’t get enough stories about the benefits of red wine or the dangers of fructose. Not only is it universally relevant—it pertains to decisions we all make at least three times a day—but it’s science! We don’t even have to leave home to do any reporting. We just dip our cups into the daily stream of scientific press releases flowing through our inboxes. Tack on a snappy stock photo and you’re done. Read More > at io9

Janitors at Ross to share $1 million settlement – More than 2,400 janitors at Ross Dress for Less stores in California will share $1 million in the settlement of a lawsuit that accused the retailer and its contractor of cheating them out of minimum wages and overtime.

The janitors, mostly immigrants who worked at Ross between September 2009 and Feb. 10 of this year, were formally notified of their eligibility for payments Wednesday, six weeks after a federal judge in San Francisco gave preliminary approval to the negotiated agreement. The settlement also includes $1.3 million for attorneys’ fees and costs, lawyers said.

Ross, based in Dublin, operates about 300 discount stores in California and 1,000 nationwide. Funding for the settlement will come from USM Inc., a Pennsylvania firm with which Ross contracted to provide janitorial services. Both companies denied any wrongdoing.

The suit, filed in September 2013, alleged that Ross had directed USM to contract with individuals or small groups of janitors to clean the stores, but failed to include enough money to cover legally required wages for the hours to be worked. Lawyers for the janitors said it was the largest settlement of any case filed under a 2003 California law that requires companies contracting for janitorial services to provide adequate funding to comply with wage rules. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

California Budget Fight: Predictions More Than Programs – In the post-recession era of California budgets, there’s wide consensus that the state needs to “live within its means,” a jab at the spending that paved the way for almost a decade of deficits. But it’s also a talking point that seems almost obsolete, given how the spending saga is now overshadowed by who gets to define the “means.”

It’s a change in the budget debate that, so far, seems to have further strengthened the hand of the governor.

To understand this evolution, you have to first remember that the state government’s annual fiscal blueprint is drawn not with real data but with projections about tax revenues. Officials take the economic pulse of California twice a year (an antiquated system, as it’s been suggested) and then forecast tax revenues for both the near and not-so-distant future.

It’s those estimates on which all state government revenue decisions are made, including how to interpret two voter-approved mandates — one old and one new — governing the use of tax dollars: 1988’s Proposition 98 and 2014’s Proposition 2.

Prop. 98 gives K-14 education the first call on tax revenues, while Prop. 2 sets aside money for a reserve fund and state debt. And in the budget pecking order, they come before just about everything.

…The governor’s cautious revenue projections have sparked some grumbling in the Legislature, but he’s generally gotten his way. In each of the last three enacted budgets, general fund revenues were pegged to within $200 million of the number that was forecast by Brown prior to legislative negotiations.

Just as consistent, though, has been the failure of those forecasts to reflect the uptick in tax revenues, especially from high-income earners who account for the largest single share of the revenue pie.

That explains reaction to last week’s LAO analysis that argues the governor’s latest tax revenue projection is — once again — too low. Read More > at KQED

Here’s how badly we’re getting ripped off by our mobile phone providers – It is hard to overstate how much I love the British mobile provider Three and how I wish it would come to the United States.

My fellow Americans, let me (again) re-iterate how badly we’re all getting overcharged: Three offers a 30-day prepaid plan with unlimited data, unlimited texts, and 200 minutes of domestic calling, all for £20 ($31). That’s about one-third less than what I pay right now Stateside.

Last month, I traveled to the United Kingdom for a reporting trip on the new Welsh drone startup behind the Zano handheld drone. Before I left California, I had my new Ars UK colleague Sebastian Anthony go to a Three shop, buy a SIM, and send it to me in the mail (or post, whatever). He didn’t have to register it or show an ID. When I landed at Heathrow, I could just pop it in, and boom, I was off and running.

As I learned on this trip, I was also able to roam to Ireland at no extra cost. Seriously, zero. Three has a list of countries, which it calls “Feel At Home”—including the US, Israel, Indonesia, Hong Kong—where your plan (even my prepaid one) that you had in the United Kingdom stays with you. Heck, I could even roam and use this sweet data plan back to the US, if I didn’t mind the hassle of only having a +44 phone number in my pocket, for less than what I currently pay.

I have yet to find any American company, whether one of the Big 4 (T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint), or a prepaid mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), that comes anywhere close to Three’s offering at this price. Read More > at Ars Technica

Robot highway considered for autonomous trucks – While Google and Uber and who knows who else are all working on bringing self-driving cars to public streets, there’s also different robo-car plan in the works. Why not just build a giant robot highway for 18-wheelers from Mexico to Canada? It actually could happen.

The project is currently being considered by members of the Central North American Trade Corridor Association (CNATCA), and would consist of a robot-only corridor running along Route 83 through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and on into Manitoba.

One of the main reasons for a robot road like this, according to Marlo Anderson of the CNATCA, is that North Dakota produces a lot of oil right now, and doesn’t have a great way to get it all where it needs to go. Sure, there are trains, but there’s not enough space to be had. That, and the jury-rigged cars that carry the oil keep exploding. Trucks can help ease the pressure, especially if they don’t need drivers.

The smart trucks are already starting to show up. Just the other week Freightliner announced the first self-driving rig to be street legal in Nevada. It’s not quite advanced enough to go on real roads with no one in the cab yet, but on a robot road of its own? Maybe. Read More > at Road and Track

Body Cameras On Cops: Do They Work? – The mere presence or absence of a camera does not deter violent behavior. We know this through decades of research on CCTV demonstrating that video monitoring has little to no effect on violent crime and modest effects on other types of crime. We also know this from our own observations of city-centers at the weekend: innumerable cameras, plenty of violence.

So if cameras don’t deter violence by the public, why would we expect that passively monitoring police-citizen encounters will cause behavior change? CCTV tells us part of this story, but dashboard mounted cameras, already widely used by police forces, and smart-phone films of police by members of the public, are much more informative.

…That is, each and every time police were wearing a camera they were supposed to inform the citizen that they were doing so and that their encounter was being recorded. We haven’t yet reviewed the thousands of hours of footage recorded as part of this experiment to assess compliance with this element. But if we assume that this was true most of the time, then excitable discussions about the effectiveness of cameras (or otherwise) are missing an important point. Namely, both officer and citizen are being reminded about the monitoring of their behavior prior to their interaction starting.

This verbal warning could sensitize people leading them to modify their behavior. It could also serve to remind people of the rules that are in play –- politeness being the bare minimum –- but other rules such as laws. Similarly, the verbal prompt may jolt individuals into thinking a little more before they act, becoming more deliberative and reflecting on future consequences. In short, there could be lots of mechanisms that account for changes in behavior when camera and verbal warning are used together. Read More > at Popular Science

FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Sepp Blatter Isn’t Among Them – Swiss authorities conducted an extraordinary early-morning operation here Wednesday to arrest several top soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on federal corruption charges.

…The charges, backed by an F.B.I. investigation, allege widespread corruption in FIFA over the past two decades, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals.

…The arrests were a startling blow to FIFA, a multibillion-dollar organization that governs the world’s most popular sport but has been plagued by accusations of bribery for decades.

The inquiry is also a major threat to Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s longtime president who is generally recognized as the most powerful person in sports, though he was not charged. Blatter has for years acted as a de facto head of state. Politicians, star players, national soccer officials and global corporations that want their brands attached to the sport have long genuflected before him.

…The Department of Justice indictment names 14 people on charges including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. In addition to senior soccer officials, the indictment also named sports-marketing executives from the United States and South America who are accused of paying more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for media deals associated with major soccer tournaments. Read More > in The New York Times

Supreme Court could deal California ‘a one-two punch’ on redistricting – Next month, the nation’s highest court will rule on a case challenging the legality of independent commissions to draw congressional districts. On Tuesday, the court said it would consider whether state and local voting districts should be based on total population or eligible voters.

Both cases could have enormous implications in California, where voters first approved citizen-led redistricting panels nearly seven years ago and where the state’s burgeoning immigrant population has contoured the political map, regardless of eligibility to vote.

Should the Supreme Court issue rulings overhauling the redistricting process, it would be a “one-two punch to the gut to California,” said Bruce Cain, professor of political science at Stanford University.

California has adopted a “top-two” primary system, altered legislative term limits and created an independent redistricting panel to strip partisanship from the crafting of political maps. All those changes were approved by voters.

…If the court strikes down independent commissions, it could set off a scramble in the Legislature to redraw California’s congressional map. (Legislative districts, which were also determined by the citizens panel, would not be affected).

…The second court case — on how political districts are to be drawn — may have even larger reverberations when it is decided next year.

If the court rules that only citizens who are eligible to vote should be counted to determine districts, it could shift political power away from areas with large Latino populations. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

San Andreas Ready to Blow – In Theaters and In Real Life – The new film, San Andreas, depicts the rupture of an unknown fault near the Hoover Dam in Nevada, which gets the destructive ball rolling by setting off powerful earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault. And although earthquakes are nothing new to Californians, and pose serious threats along the famous fault, Hollywood has once again thrown caution (and science) to the wind in order to feed our catastrophic needs.

The San Andreas Fault is a very real hazard. At almost 800 miles long, the fault marks the boundary where the North American plate meets the Pacific plate. And it’s the movement of these plates against each other that cause the powerful quakes characteristic to the region.

A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey shows the inevitability of just such a quake, which is predicted to hit within the next couple of decades.

“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,” lead author of the study and USGS scientist, Ned Field says. “This is a significant advancement in terms of representing a broader range of earthquakes throughout California’s complex fault system.”

The study shows that the likelihood of a magnitude 8 or larger earthquake in the next 30 years has risen from about 4.7 percent to around 7 percent, based on recent findings. However, the area most at risk is along the southern end of the fault, not the northern end near San Francisco. Read More > at Science Times

Florida teen who took NFL player to prom dies – The Florida teen whose dream came true when an NFL player escorted her to the prom has died, hospital officials announced Friday.

Khameyea Jennings, 18, of Jacksonville, who was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2013, died Thursday, the Florida Times-Union reported, citing Wolfson Children’s Hospital spokesman Cindy Hamilton.

Earlier this month, Jennings went to her prom with Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks. The pair wore matching white and gold formalwear and drove to the Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology prom in Marks’ Lamborghini.

…“She said this is a day to be normal,” Laquandra Jennings told the Times-Union at the time, “not to have to worry about needles, chemo, potassium levels. Just a day to be a teenager and enjoy the prom.”

“I really want to make a difference,” Marks said on prom night. “I want to do something where you actually make someone’s day, to make a difference in someone’s life.” Marks stayed in close contact with Khameyea Jennings and her family until the end. Read More > at Fox News

Richmond council passes resolution supporting ban on space-based weapons – The Richmond City Council passed a resolution Tuesday supporting a ban on space-based weapons after a lengthy discussion over whether individuals are being psychologically and physically harmed by exotic government-patented attacks from high in the sky.

Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), introduced the resolution, saying it begins to address concerns of a Richmond resident who claims she’s been targeted by “remote transmission” from space-based weaponry. Others claiming to have suffered physical and psychological attacks traveled from around the country to speak at Tuesday’s council meeting. One speaker claimed to have been zapped multiple times right before his testimony at council.

…Conspiracy theorists believe the resolution is a step toward ensuring secret weaponry such as chemtrails, which are trails left in the sky by high-flying aircraft that supposedly emit a chemical or biological agent, can no longer target unwitting citizens. For RPA members on the council, the resolution is also an anti-war initiative.

RPA members on council, Gayle McLaughlin and Eduardo Martinez, also voted in favor of the resolution. Vice Mayor Jael Myrick and Councilmember Nat Bates were the final two yes votes, although Bates claimed he was confused by the discussion.

“I’m going to support the resolution for the simple reason that we have voted on a lot of dumb ideas,” Bates said.

Mayor Tom Butt voted no, saying he believes the conspiracy theory behind space-based weapons is above the heads of city leaders and has taken time away from more pressing city matters such as the budget deficit, potholes, and crime. Butt has complained in the past about the RPA attempting to hijack council sessions to push a radical agenda regardless of whether the issues are important to Richmond residents. Read More > in The Richmond Standard

Time Inc.’s Bad Case of Loser Denial – It’s not a secret that Sports Illustrated and its parent company, Time Inc., are in deep financial trouble.

But despite the fact SI is an aging dinosaur experiencing the lowest point of its 61-year history, the gold standard of sports journalism can still be saved if Time Inc. comes to its senses and sells the magazine.

But first, take a look at why this needs to happen.

As recently as 2006, Time Inc. — which also owns Time, People and many other brand-name periodicals — had $1 billion in earnings. Over the last decade, those earnings have fallen off a cliff due to the shift in readers and ad dollars from print to digital.

In 2013, Time’s earnings were down to $370 million — most of which came from People magazine. You don’t have to be an investment banker to know that earnings dropping by 63% is a catastrophe. As a result, Time Warner — the fourth-largest media conglomerate in the world — cut the dead weight by spinning off its magazine division into a separate company, the new Time Inc., so it wouldn’t continue to be a drag on the parent company’s future and stock price.

…Predictably, Time Inc. has tried to slash costs wherever it can, twice laying off some 500 employees, once in 2013 and again in 2014 . This past January, Sports Illustrated infamously and ironically laid off its entire photo staff because it’s much cheaper for them to work as freelancers than full-time employees. Read More > at The Cauldron

California gas tax increase: Is this the year Jerry Brown pushes it through? – Since taking office in 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown has helped to resolve some of California’s toughest fiscal challenges — mainly huge structural deficits and old, forgotten debts.

But this year he appears ready to take on Mission Impossible — getting Democrats and Republicans to agree to increase the state’s gas tax to fix California’s crumbling roads and bridges.

Hiking the gas tax has always been politically risky, especially in a state where cars are still king and that -gave birth to the anti-tax revolution in the late ’70s.

But hell might be about to freeze over: For the first time in decades, even anti-tax Republicans are open to raising prices at the pump to start cutting into the state’s $59 billion backlog of roadway maintenance. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

California Assembly leaders single-handedly dictate spending – California Assembly leaders control a large annual operations budget that they regularly tap into to boost services of their choosing without a single hearing or vote.

They defend the practice as a responsible way to plug funding gaps for worthy causes, but government watchdogs warn that such spending has little oversight and a high potential for abuse.

“This allows one person to have complete power of the purse strings,” said Jessica Levinson, a government ethics expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Money for state-funded programs that do everything from providing meals to the elderly to helping poor people pay for child care typically comes from the state budget after a series of debates and votes.

California Assembly leaders control a large annual operations budget that they regularly tap into to boost services of their choosing without a single hearing or vote.

They defend the practice as a responsible way to plug funding gaps for worthy causes, but government watchdogs warn that such spending has little oversight and a high potential for abuse.

“This allows one person to have complete power of the purse strings,” said Jessica Levinson, a government ethics expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Money for state-funded programs that do everything from providing meals to the elderly to helping poor people pay for child care typically comes from the state budget after a series of debates and votes. Read More > from the Associated Press

Bob Woodward: Bush did not lie about WMD in Iraq. – Today, on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Bob Woodward about the questions the GOP candidates have been getting about Iraq: Was the 2003 invasion a mistake? Woodward answered:

[Y]ou certainly can make a persuasive argument it was a mistake. But there is a time that line going along that Bush and the other people lied about this. I spent 18 months looking at how Bush decided to invade Iraq. And lots of mistakes, but it was Bush telling George Tenet, the CIA director, don’t let anyone stretch the case on WMD. And he was the one who was skeptical. And if you try to summarize why we went into Iraq, it was momentum. The war plan kept getting better and easier, and finally at the end, people were saying, hey, look, it will only take a week or two. And early on it looked like it was going to take a year or 18 months. And so Bush pulled the trigger. A mistake certainly can be argued, and there is an abundance of evidence. But there was no lying in this that I could find.

Woodward was also asked if it was a mistake to withdraw in 2011. Wallace points out that Obama has said that he tried to negotiate a status of forces agreement but did not succeed, but “A lot of people think he really didn’t want to keep any troops there.” Woodward agrees that Obama didn’t want to keep troops there and elaborates:

Look, Obama does not like war. But as you look back on this, the argument from the military was, let’s keep 10,000, 15,000 troops there as an insurance policy. And we all know insurance policies make sense. We have 30,000 troops or more in South Korea still 65 years or so after the war. When you are a superpower, you have to buy these insurance policies. And he didn’t in this case. I don’t think you can say everything is because of that decision, but clearly a factor. Read More > at Althouse

Electric Cars Running on Empty – There were supposed to be one million electric vehicles (EVs) cruising America’s roads this year, but we’ve fallen well short of that 2009 goal. Today there are just 300,000 EVs in the U.S., and in March the government quietly revised downwards its EV goals for government fleets.

That nice, round target was set in the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse. The newly inaugurated President Obama was full of hope and still promising change, and desperate auto company CEOs had been forced to beg Washington to save the auto industry with massive bailouts. Those circumstances allowed the President and his allies to set what, if we’re being kind, might be called a “stretch goal”: one million EVs by 2015. But here we are, and less than one third of the President’s 2009 target have been purchased in the past six years. By contrast, it takes Ford fewer than six months to sell as many F-150s, a single truck in its entire fleet of autos.

Consumers aren’t buying EVs, despite the generous heaping of government support such eco-friendly purchases might net them (each electric vehicle buyer gets a federal tax credit of $7,500 plus state incentives, all of which can add up to several thousand more depending on the circumstances). For its part the federal government has bought more than its fair share of electric vehicles.

Range is still an issue for EVs, and even Elon Musk’s super-hyped Supercharging stations take 30 minutes to recharge a spent battery (every other option takes significantly longer). Researchers haven’t produced batteries capable of replicating the job gasoline does for us, a job we may take for granted but when put in the proper perspective is truly extraordinary. Read More > at The American Interest

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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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