Mysterious great white shark lair discovered in Pacific Ocean

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE NEWSPAPER)

 

Mysterious great white shark lair discovered in Pacific Ocean

Photo of Peter Fimrite
A scientific mission into the secret ocean lair of California’s great white sharks has provided tantalizing clues into a vexing mystery — why the fearsome predators spend winter and spring in what has long appeared to be an empty void in the deep sea.
A boatload of researchers from five scientific institutions visited the middle-of-nowhere spot between Baja California and Hawaii this past spring on a quest to learn more about what draws the big sharks to what has become known as the White Shark Cafe, almost as if they were pulled by some astrological stimulus.
The sharks’ annual pilgrimage to the mid-Pacific region from the coasts of California and Mexico has baffled scientists for years, not just because it is so far away — it takes a month for the sharks to get there — but because it seemed, on the surface, to be lacking the kind of prey or habitat that the toothy carnivores prefer.

But the researchers made a remarkable discovery. Instead of blank, barren sea, the expedition, led by scientists with Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, found a vast community of tiny light-sensitive creatures so tantalizing that the sharks cross the sea in mass to reach them.

The primary lure, scientists believe, is an extraordinary abundance of squid and small fish that migrate up and down in a little understood deep-water portion of ocean known as the “mid-water,” a region skirting the edge of complete darkness that could provide an immeasurably valuable trove of information about the ocean ecosystem and climate change.

“The story of the white shark tells you that this area is vitally important in ways we never knew about,” said Salvador Jorgensen, a research scientist for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and one of the expedition’s leaders. “They are telling us this incredible story about the mid-water, and there is this whole secret life that we need to know about.”

The researchers’ focus, a 160-mile-radius subtropical region about 1,200 nautical miles east of Hawaii, was essentially unknown to science until marine scientist Barbara Block, of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, began attaching acoustic pinger tags to white sharks 14 years ago.

Block discovered that the local sharks, known as northeastern Pacific whites, feed on elephant seals and other marine mammals in the so-called Red Triangle, between Monterey Bay, the Farallon Islands and Bodega Head, from about August to December. She also tracked their movements into San Francisco Bay and around Guadalupe Island, in Mexico.

But then, each December, the acoustic tags showed a mass movement out to sea that was as confusing to the researchers as it was surprising.

Block found that the sharks were leaving the food-rich waters along the West Coast to spend spring and most of the summer in a patch of open ocean about the size of Colorado, a place that looked in satellite images like an empty, oceanic Sahara desert.

She named it the White Shark Cafe even though she wasn’t sure whether the sharks went there for food or sex.

To find out, Block organized the month long expedition in April and May aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor, which was equipped with high-tech instruments, sail drones and a remotely operated submarine. Last fall, before departure, her team of scientists tracked down 36 local sharks using acoustic signals and fitted them with high-tech satellite monitoring tags with locator beacons programmed to pop off and float to the surface during the cafe expedition.

The scheme worked. The researchers got data from 10 of the 22 tags that floated up and signaled the Falkor that they had detached and were bobbing around ready to be collected, an exercise that Jorgensen called “a white shark treasure hunt.” The scientists also obtained recorded information on shark movements and behavior over the previous months from six other great whites through radio uplinks. The rest only transmitted their location or were not recovered.

A great white shark was seen chomping on the carcass of a whale on July 19, 2018 by the crew of an All Water Charter boat.

Video: All Water Charter

The data on the recovered tags documented highly unusual diving behavior at depths scientists had rarely before seen in white sharks.

On the way to the cafe, the sharks made periodic dives 3,000 feet deep, a surprising discovery given that the big fish normally wouldn’t be able to stay warm enough to digest food in such cold, pressurized depths. The sharks, researchers found, were using warm circular currents to get down the water column, suggesting they were following prey. Still, it isn’t clear what they were eating.

Know your great white sharks

Great white sharks, known scientifically as Carcharodon carcharias, are protected under state legislation that makes it illegal to fish for them. The trade in shark parts — mainly jaws and fins — is also illegal internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

They average 15 to 16 feet in length, but can grow much larger. The biggest white shark ever recorded was caught in 1939 and it was 21 feet long and weighed 7,300 pounds.

Starting in late summer and fall, an estimated 220 white sharks feed offshore of the Farallon Islands, Año Nuevo and Drakes Bay, but at least 20 have been documented over the years inside San Francisco Bay, including one seen devouring a seal in 2015 just a few feet off Alcatraz Island.

Female sharks typically visit the Gulf of the Farallones in alternate years, suggesting that their migration pattern is tied to a two-year reproductive cycle.

DNA testing has shown the sharks off the coast of California are genetically unique compared with other great whites.

Researchers tagged 37 great white sharks last year and have given them names including Torpedo, Scargirl, Sicklefin, OrcaFin and ShawShark Redemption. The oldest and longest studied shark is a 16-foot, 3,158-pound great white named Tom Johnson, which was first seen off the Farallon Islands in 1987.

The only reported fatal human-shark encounter off San Francisco shores occurred in May 1959, when 18-year-old Albert Kogler Jr. died after he was attacked in roughly 15 feet of water while swimming off Baker Beach.

Eleven people have been killed by sharks off the California coast since the first documented attack on a human in Pacific Grove in December, 1952. The body of a probable 12th victim was never found, so he isn’t counted.

Sources: Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station; Monterey Bay Aquarium; Schmidt Ocean Institute; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Once they reached their destination in late winter and early spring, the animals engaged in “bounce dives” down to 1,400 feet below the surface during the day and 650 feet at night, Jorgensen said.

In April, the male sharks started behaving very differently from the females, moving individually up and down the water in a V-shape as many as 140 times a day, Jorgensen said. The females, on the other hand, continued their previous behavior, diving deep during the day and shallow at night, he said.

The scientists still haven’t figured out the disparate gender behaviors.

“Either they are eating something different or this is related in some way to their mating,” Jorgensen said.

What’s clear so far is that, like the hidden community of specialized wildlife in the Sahara, the shark cafe is a swirling mass of tiny phytoplankton, fish, squid and jellies. They move up and down in a soupy layer deep under water, a kind of twilight zone just below where sunlight stops penetrating the ocean depths.

“It’s the largest migration of animals on Earth — a vertical migration that’s timed with the light cycle,” Jorgensen said. “During the day they go just below where there is light and at night they come up nearer the surface to warmer, more productive waters under the cover of darkness.”

It’s a surreal deep water world populated by bioluminescent lantern fish and other species that have evolved amazing adaptations to darkness, Jorgensen said.

Scientists in recent years have discovered hundreds of new species in deep water zones like this one. The uniquely abundant mass of fish draws all kinds of predators, like small cookie cutter sharks, which have evolved light-emitting organs called photophores on the underside of their bodies that act, to prey, like invisibility cloaks.

The white sharks aren’t the only large predators tracking the mid-water creatures. Squid-eating big eye tuna, blue and Mako sharks also frequent the cafe. Jorgensen said these larger fish may be what the white sharks eat, but there isn’t any definitive evidence of that.

“What we’ve learned through the progression of our research is that this mid-water layer is extremely important for white sharks,” he said. “They are swimming in these layers, tracking (prey) day and night. … It’s a game of hide-and-seek.”

Scientists say this little understood mid-water zone is a biological laboratory that, with more research, could lead to biomedical breakthroughs and yield clues to how the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide and how species adapt to climate change. There is also concern that it is ripe for exploitation, particularly long-line and drift net fishing.

Triggered by some cryptic mechanism, the sharks leave their mid-ocean sanctum during the summer and begin to gather along the coast of California around August.

Block said researchers will not know whether the sharks were feeding, mating or doing both during their time in the White Shark Cafe until the analyses are completed.

“We now have a gold mine of data. We have doubled the current 20-year data set on white shark diving behaviors and environmental preferences in just three weeks,” Block said. This “will help us better understand the persistence of this unique environment and why it attracts such large predators.”

Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:[email protected]. Twitter: @pfimrite

Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail, and this time it’s personal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES)

 

Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail, and this time it’s personal

Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail, and this time it's personal
Former President Barack Obama greets supporters as he campaigns in support of California congressional candidates. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

 

They used to call Bill Clinton the Big Dog, because wherever he went, people paid attention. His growl always drew a crowd.

Well, while President Trump was napping this week, the Sleek Dog got off the porch.

Finally.

Former President Obama had always planned to model his post-presidential life after the leads of other ex-presidents, like George W. Bush, who paints, or Jimmy Carter, who builds houses for poor people.

He was, he said the other day, “intent on following a wise American tradition of ex-presidents exiting the political stage, making room for new voices and new ideas.”

Turns out, the stakes are too high to remain above the fray.

On Friday, in a speech to students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and on Saturday at a rally in Anaheim for supporters of Democratic congressional candidates in contested Southern California districts, Obama made one thing clear: The muzzle is off.

And you know what else?

Since Trump has spent his presidency trashing Obama, dismantling his legacy piece by piece and making racists feel safe again, the Sleek Dog, whose aloof ways are legendary, has gotten downright snarly.

He called Trump shameless. A fear monger. A demagogue promising “simple fixes to complex problems.” A bully. He accused Trump of “toxic corruption,” of being responsible for the country’s “downward spiral.”

He blamed a spineless Republican Congress for allowing Trump to undermine the nation’s international alliances, to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin — “the former head of the KGB,” as Obama reminded the crowd — and for “actively blocking legislation that would defend our elections from Russian attack.”

“In a healthy democracy,” Obama said, “there’s some checks and balances on this kind of behavior, this kind of inconsistency, but right now there’s none.”

We are in a moment where no one who cares about the fate of the nation can comfortably sit on the sidelines.

Welcome back, Sleek Dog. What took you so long?

::

Doesn’t it seems like eons ago that Michelle Obama stood onstage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and delivered that memorable line about civility: “When they go low, we go high”?

It seemed so reassuring at the time. Turns out, the line was better as prophecy than as advice.

What followed was a torrent of pettiness and ugliness from Trump, his associates, and his fans. “Lock her up!” said the future national security advisor who later pleaded guilty to lyingto the FBI.

Nice is so overrated.

“We never know what kind of sludge is going to roll out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,” California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said Saturday as he welcomed about 750 Democrats to a small ballroom in the Anaheim Convention Center.

Obama strolled onstage Saturday, dressed casually in slacks and shirtsleeves. He was less bombastic than he’d been in Illinois the day before. Hey, Sleek Dog can only stay nasty for so long. Unlike our current president, it’s just not in his nature.

“There is no set of issues we can’t solve if we are working together,” Obama said, sounding very much like the optimistic cheerleader of years past. “It’s always tempting for politicians for their own gain and people in power to try to see if they can divide people, scapegoat folks, turn them on each other, because when that happens, you get gridlock and government doesn’t work and people get cynical and decide not to participate.

“And when people don’t participate, that vacuum is filled by lobbyists and special interests and we get into a downward spiral where people get discouraged and think nothing is going to make a difference. And that unfortunately is the spiral we have been on for the past couple years.”

::

If Democrats retake the House in November — and a handful of traditionally Republican seats in California could make the difference — many citizens will look upon Obama’s return to the political fray this week as the beginning of an American restoration.

A restoration of integrity.

Of decency.

Of honesty.

And, possibly even, of the ideal of bipartisanship, strangled by the current chief executive, then dumped by the side of the road in Crazytown, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s nickname for the White House, according to Bob Woodward in his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House.”

Trump’s response to Obama’s attack in Illinois? He said he fell asleep. It was his idea of a clever putdown. Instead, it inspired an outpouring of mockery on Twitter. (“Trump ‘fell asleep’ during Barack Obama’s speech because it wore him out looking up all those words in the dictionary,” quipped screenwriter Randy Mayem Singer.)

In truth, it’s the Sleek Dog who has been asleep.

“You can feel people saying, ‘Enough is enough,’” Obama said Saturday. “We’re going to kick off our bedrooms slippers, we’re putting on our marching shoes.”

Nap time is over.

Corporate concentration threatens American democracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE WORLD POST’)

 

Corporate concentration threatens American democracy

By Nathan Gardels, WorldPost editor in chief

Corporate concentration in the United States is not only increasing inequality but also undermining competition and consumers’ standard of living. Politically, the commensurate lobbying influence of big tech, big finance and other large conglomerates has created what political scientist Francis Fukuyama calls a “vetocracy” — where vested concerns have amassed the clout to choke off legislative reforms that would diminish their spoils.

Why the opposite is happening in the European Union is an unfamiliar tale of how governance one step removed from electoral democracy has been able to resist the lobbying of organized special interests to make policy that benefits the average person.

Active antitrust policies in the second half of the 20th century fairly leveled the playing field of American commerce. “But starting around 2000, U.S. markets began to lose their competitive edge,” Germán Gutiérrez and Thomas Philippon write, based on a new study of theirs.

“Now, Internet access and monthly cellphone plans are much cheaper in Europe than in America, as are flights. Even in Mexico, mobile data plans are better priced than in the United States. … Meanwhile in the United States, deregulation and antitrust efforts have nearly ground to a halt. The United States has not completed a major reform to the goods and services market since 1996, and as a result, its industries have grown increasingly concentrated.”

What explains this stunning shift is deliberate policy choices. As the authors relate: “European countries created the single market, which took effect in 1993, and deregulated their domestic markets. Today, most European Union countries score better than the United States in enacting policies that make industries more competitive. Not surprisingly, antitrust enforcement remains active in Europe, with two recent cases against Google resulting in over $7.7 billion in fines. European markets are also less concentrated than U.S. markets.”

Gutiérrez and Philippon argue that “free markets are supposed to discipline private companies, but today, many private companies have grown so dominant that they can get away with bad service, high prices and deficient privacy safeguards. … If America wants to lead once more in this realm, it must remember its own history and relearn the lessons it successfully taught the rest of the world.”

Mario Monti — who was Italian prime minister from 2011 to 2013 as well as the E.U. competition commissioner from 1999 to 2004 and is famous for “shooting down mergers in flames” — agrees with Gutiérrez and Philippon. But he adds an important dimension they don’t discuss: how the much-maligned “technocratic” European Commission has been more able than American antitrust authorities to resist undue corporate influence over policy decisions.

While antitrust efforts in the United States are highly sensitive to election cycles and outcomes, Monti points out, the European Commission (which is indirectly elected by the European Parliament) operates at arm’s length from politics and can make decisions that are independent from lobbyist pressures on parliaments at both the national and European level. As he put it in a recent interview, “the more far away you are, the less you feel under pressure.”

The result is policy decisions that are more disinterested because the process is less politicized. This same technocratic distance in Brussels that has enabled a vigorous competition policy also applies to Europe’s landmark privacy regulation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), passed earlier this year.

Yet as Giovanni Buttarelli, the E.U.’s data protection supervisor charged with implementing the GDPR, laments, passing a law is only the beginning of reining in big tech abuses. “First came the scaremongering. Then came the strong-arming. After being contested in arguably the biggest lobbying exercise in the history of the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation became fully applicable at the end of May,” he writes from Brussels. “Since its passage, there have been great efforts at compliance, which regulators recognize. At the same time, unfortunately, consumers have felt nudged or bullied by companies into agreeing to business as usual. This would appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the new law.”

The challenge of implementing the law now, says Buttarelli, is continually challenging big tech. As he puts it, “The E.U. is seeking to prevent people from being cajoled into ‘consenting’ to unfair contracts and accepting surveillance in exchange for a service.”

Buttarelli is looking ahead to the next phase of reform. Under that reform, “Devices and programming would be geared by default to safeguard people’s privacy and freedom. Today’s overcentralized Internet would be de-concentrated, as advocated by Tim Berners-Lee, who first invented the Internet, with a fairer allocation of the digital dividend and with the control of information handed back to individuals from big tech and the state.”

While big tech lobbyists have so far frustrated privacy legislation at the national level in the United States, California has been able to pass curbs on abuses of personal data. Ironically, this was due not to technocratic insulation from politics but its opposite: the citizens’ ballot initiative. A San Francisco real estate magnate funded the gathering of qualifying signatures for a proposition that would impose the same kind of limits on use of personal data in California as contained in the GDPR, forcing big tech to come — reluctantly — to the table.

State legislators then negotiated and passed a measure this summer along GDPR lines that would be open to amendment as technology evolves. With legislation secured, the initiative was withdrawn from the public ballot. (If law is made by the citizens’ ballot initiative, it can only be amended by another vote of the public.) As state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D), who crafted the compromise between privacy advocates and the tech companies, notes, the law in effect makes California’s attorney general the nation’s “chief privacy officer,” since most of the big tech companies affected are located in Silicon Valley.

Making a market that works for the average citizen requires government that acts in the public interest, not at the behest of the largest players in the economy who underwrite the electoral and legislative process. To the extent that elected legislatures are captured by organized special interests, the “vetocracy” can be circumvented either by indirectly elected technocratic authorities or by direct democracy through the citizens’ ballot initiative.

The experiences with antitrust and privacy regulation examined in The WorldPost this week suggest that a mixed system that combines disinterested technocrats, elected representatives and direct democracy — each as a check and balance on the other — would be the most intelligent form of governance.

ABOUT US: The WorldPost is an award-winning global media platform that aims to be a place where the world meets. We seek to make sense of an interdependent yet fragmenting world by commissioning voices that cross cultural and political boundaries. Publishing op-eds and features from around the globe, we work from a worldwide perspective looking around rather than a national perspective looking out.

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EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Kathleen Miles, Jackson Diehl, Juan Luis Cebrian, Walter Isaacson, Yoichi Funabashi, Arianna Huffington, John Elkann, Pierre Omidyar, Eric Schmidt, Wadah Khanfar

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ADVISORY COUNCIL: Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei Kudrin, Pascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon Musk, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel Roubini, Nicolas Sarkozy, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter Schwartz, Amartya Sen, Jeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry Summers, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Zheng Bijian, Marek Belka, Tony Blair, Jacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar Issing, Mario Monti, Robert Mundell, Peter Sutherland, Guy Verhofstadt, James Cameron

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Court Rules Trump Sanctuary City Order Unconstitutional

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWS)

 

Federal appeals court rules Trump sanctuary city order unconstitutional

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A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump exceeded his authority when he threatened to withhold funds from “sanctuary cities” that do not fully cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities.

In a 2-1 decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Trump’s January 2017 executive order, cutting off federal funds to sanctuary cities, was unconstitutional. But the court also ruled that a lower court went too far when it blocked the order nationwide.

“Absent congressional authorization, the administration may not redistribute or withhold properly appropriated funds in order to effectuate its own policy goals,” Chief Judge Sidney Thomas wrote for the majority.

Our view: Both sides mischaracterize sanctuary cities

Oakland: Why we’re a sanctuary city

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said the executive order was a legal use of the president’s power. He called the 9th Circuit’s decision a victory for “criminal aliens in California, who can continue to commit crimes knowing that the state’s leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country.”

“The Justice Department remains committed to the rule of law, to protecting public safety, and to keeping criminal aliens off the streets,” he said.

Trump signed the executive order on Jan. 25, 2017, just five days after taking office, calling undocumented immigration a “clear and present danger” to national security. But U.S. District Judge William Orrick called the threat “coercive” and said spending powers belonged to the legislative, not executive, branch of government.

Orrick’s ruling was the result of lawsuits filed by two California counties – San Francisco and Santa Clara. His decision cited statements from Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which indicated that the order could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds. The government argued that the order only applied to three Justice Department and Homeland Security grants that would affect less than $1 million for Santa Clara and possibly no money for San Francisco.

Justice Department attorney Chad Readler told the 9th Circuit judges that the order was limited in scope and that public statements from Trump or other administration officials should not be given too much weight.

“When a president overreaches and tries to assert authority he doesn’t have under the Constitution, there needs to be a check on that power grab,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement Wednesday. “The courts did that today, which is exactly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.”

The administration’s fight against sanctuary cities also suffered a setback last week, when a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss the city of Chicago’s lawsuit over Sessions’ efforts to force cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officers.

In September, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber issued an injunction against Sessions’ order that required police to cooperate with federal agents or risk losing federal law enforcement grants. Session wanted to require local police to tell the government before releasing undocumented immigrants from custody, to allow federal immigration agents into city jails and to share people’s immigration status with federal officials.

Leinenweber’s injunction was initially nationwide, but in June the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals restricted it to Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The full appeals court will decide whether or not that injunction should be nationwide in September.

Contributing: Alan Gomez, Aamer Madhani, Richard Wolf,USA TODAY Network; The Associated Press 

More: Appeals court deals another blow to Trump effort to withhold funds from sanctuary cities

Everyone Has Many Alternate History’s: Just Think About The Realities

Open Your Mind To What Could Have Been

 

I believe that every one of us could have had many different lives than the one we now have, this is what I mean by alternate history’s. I also believe that we could all also have many different alternate futures lying before us, it is all a matter of choice. Do I believe as some do that as we speak and breathe that there are ‘alternate universes’ playing alongside the Realm we are living in right now, no. But I could obviously be wrong, it is not like I am God and know everything.

This article today is designed for the purpose of simply getting people to think, to contemplate their own personal past and even their future. For the purpose of opening up people’s minds I will start the process rolling using myself as an example. I will start at the age of 18 (44 years ago). I got my girl friend pregnant and we got married, the marriage lasted less than 2 years, we had 2 kids, one year and nine days apart. What if I had not gotten her pregnant and I had gone into the military at 17 or 18 instead of at age 20, how would my life have been different? Would I have gotten ‘fixed’ and have had no ‘blood’ kids of my own? Would I have met someone else while in the military and gotten married to them? Would I have gotten killed while in the military if I had tried to make it a life long career? Would I have never been hit by lightning if I had decided to not go into the military at all? If I had not gone into the military would I have stayed in the same States that I did, personally I doubt that one. Is it possible that if I had stayed a civilian that I could have walked into a store or a bar that was being robbed and the gunmen would have shot and killed me when I was just 18 or 20? Would I have gone to the ‘Sun Set School Of Preaching’ in Lubbock Texas and have been a lifelong Minister? What if I had done this and would have married a woman whose family was from Spain or Mexico or California, would I have moved to a Church near her family? Only God knows these answers, but I believe that the questions are all valid, for each of us.

How would your life be different if you would have made different choices? The choices could be as simple as times we chose to go right instead of going left. There was a time down in Florida that I was checking trailers late at night and my flashlight had gone dead and I was at a drop yard way out in the country. As I started to check the first trailer as I was walking toward the back I happened to hear a very loud rattle. As I started to put my right foot down I heard the rattle get louder and louder, so I withdrew that step, then another step and another and the rattle stopped. What if I was wearing ear buds and was not paying any attention, would I have still been here today? As I said earlier I do not believe that there is another parallel universe, singular or plural running in ‘threads’ alongside this one but that concept is not what I am speaking of today. I am just asking you to think about the ‘what if’s’ of life. What if you had married a different person than the one you did, how would your life have changed? What if you never got married at all, or if you have never married, what if you had? How would your life be different? There are all of these past tense ‘what if’s’ and there are future one’s also, choices, life always comes down to choices, as well as other people’s choices in matters that concern us as well in ways that we can’t even contemplate.

 

 

Affordability Crisis Prices National Park Service Office Out of San Francisco

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF KQED NEWS)

 

THE CALIFORNIA REPORT

Affordability Crisis Prices National Park Service Office Out of San Francisco

Park rangers meet in front of Yosemite Falls. (David Calvert/Getty Images)

Federal officials plan to relocate an office that helps oversee 60 national parks throughout the western United States from downtown San Francisco to Vancouver, Washington, in a move they say could save millions of dollars.

Staff at the National Park Service Pacific West Regional Office were told this week that the local unit is expected to move out of the Financial District building it has been stationed at since 2011.

Agency leaders say relocating will mean they can stop paying rent and pay their staff less.

“We have struggled with recruitment in San Francisco for years due to the high cost of living,” said Stan Austin, the region’s director, in a staff memo obtained by KQED.

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The Pacific West Regional Office manages parks in eight states and several U.S. territories, spanning close to 13 million acres and visited by more than 66 million people annually.

The region includes popular parks in California, like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods National Monument and Yosemite National Park, as well as the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

About 150 people work in the regional office’s current space at 333 Bush St., where the rent is $2 million a year, according to the park service. The 10-year lease on the space ends in 2021.

The park service plans to move the Pacific West Region staff to a vacant building it owns at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Federal officials believe they will save money, not only by not having to pay rent, but by paying reduced salary and benefits to its workers after the move takes place.

The agency says it will save $1.8 million a year by paying their staff less.

“The NPS considered various factors in making this decision, including the more favorable cost of living, the expected long-term taxpayer savings from using an NPS-owned building rather than leasing, and the preservation benefits of adapting a historic building for modern use,” said Park Service spokesman Andrew Munoz in an email.

The Interior Department approved the relocation plan, which is now awaiting approval from Congress.

It is unclear how many current employees will make the move to Washington state.

“We recognize that many of you are thinking about what this move means personally, as well as what this means in terms of the service we provide and the relationships we have,” Austin wrote in his memo.

California Now Has a Bigger Economy Than the United Kingdom

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

 

By JONATHAN J. COOPER / AP

May 5, 2018

(SACRAMENTO) — California’s economy has surpassed that of the United Kingdom to become the world’s fifth largest, according to new federal data made public Friday.

California’s gross domestic product rose by $127 billion from 2016 to 2017, surpassing $2.7 trillion, the data said. Meanwhile, the UK’s economic output slightly shrunk over that time when measured in U.S. dollars, due in part to exchange rate fluctuations.

The data demonstrate the sheer immensity of California’s economy, home to nearly 40 million people, a thriving technology sector in Silicon Valley, the world’s entertainment capital in Hollywood and the nation’s salad bowl in the Central Valley agricultural heartland. It also reflects a substantial turnaround since the Great Recession.

“We have the entrepreneurial spirit in the state, and that attracts a lot of talent and money,” said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University Channel Islands. “And that’s why, despite high taxes and cumbersome government regulations, more people are coming into the state to join the parade.”

All economic sectors except agriculture contributed to California’s higher GDP, said Irena Asmundson, chief economist at the California Department of Finance. Financial services and real estate led the pack at $26 billion in growth, followed by the information sector, which includes many technology companies, at $20 billion. Manufacturing was up $10 billion.

California last had the world’s fifth largest economy in 2002 but fell as low as 10th in 2012 following the Great Recession. Since then, the largest U.S. state has added 2 million jobs and grown its GDP by $700 billion.

California’s economic output is now surpassed only by the total GDP of the United States, China, Japan and Germany. The state has 12 percent of the U.S. population but contributed 16 percent of the country’s job growth between 2012 and 2017. Its share of the national economy also grew from 12.8 percent to 14.2 percent over that five-year period, according to state economists.

California’s strong economic performance relative to other industrialized economies is driven by worker productivity, said Lee Ohanian, an economics professor at University of California, Los Angeles and director of UCLA’s Ettinger Family Program in Macroeconomic Research. The United Kingdom has 25 million more people than California but now has a smaller GDP, he said.

California’s economic juggernaut is concentrated in coastal metropolises around San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.

“The non-coastal areas of CA have not generated nearly as much economic growth as the coastal areas,” Ohanian said in an email.

The state calculates California’s economic ranking as if it were a country by comparing state-level GDP from the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce with global data from the International Monetary Fund.

 

Not Just The VA That Is A FRAUD Against Combat Veterans: Its The DOD, Army Also?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS AND THE LOS ANGELES TIMES)

AMERICA

U.S. Soldiers Told To Repay Thousands In Signing Bonuses From Height Of War Effort

The Pentagon is seeking millions of dollars from nearly 10,000 current or former soldiers in the California National Guard, saying they didn’t deserve re-enlistment bonuses. Here, soldiers from the state’s Guard force are seen in 2010, resting during transport in northeastern Afghanistan.

Brennan Linsley/AP

In most cases, when an employer pays a signing bonus to attract new workers, that payment is understood to be essentially unrecoverable. But the Pentagon has a different understanding — and it’s ordering the California National Guard to claw back thousands of dollars paid to soldiers who reenlist to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And in many cases, an employer would also have a tough time arguing that decade-old lapses in its own oversight should trigger wage garnishment’s and tax liens against its workers. But again, this is the U.S. military, and its officials say the law requires them to reclaim the over payments.

That’s the gist of a report by The Los Angeles Times, which says nearly 10,000 soldiers are now scrambling to pay back signing bonuses that helped the Pentagon cope with the task of using an all-volunteer service to fight two prolonged international conflicts.

In addition to doling out cash for re-enlistment, the Pentagon offered student loan repayments. The incentives were seen as crucial to the military’s effort to keep its ranks flush, but auditors say that the rules should have limited the largest payments to certain skill areas — and that in the rush to staff the war effort, the bonuses were given out too liberally, the L.A. Times reports.

Responding to the newspaper’s story Sunday, the California National Guard points out that the repayments are part of a federal program run by the National Guard Bureau and the Department of the Army.

The state military service says:

“The California National Guard does not have the authority to unilaterally waive these debts. However, the California National Guard welcomes any law passed by Congress to waive these debts.

“Until that time, our priority is to advocate for our Soldiers through this difficult process.”

In its statement, the service adds that its adjutant-general, Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, created an assistance center that has helped some of its soldiers “retain $37 million dollars of original bonus payments.”

The problem of improper use of military troop-level incentives isn’t limited to California — but the state has emerged as a focal point because of two factors: the large size of its Guard force, and a history of over payments.

A scandal over the California Guard’s use of bonus money was first unearthed in 2010, when the Sacramento Bee reported that its incentive program had misspent as much as $100 million. The program’s one-time leader, former master sergeant Toni Jaffe, was later sentenced to 30 months in prison, after pleading guilty to making $15 million in false claims.

When it was first discovered, that scandal was deemed “war profiteering” and was said to have benefited Guard members who hadn’t logged any combat duty; high-ranking officers were mentioned. But in the years since, lower-ranking service members have complained about garnished checks and a prolonged review process, saying they’ve done nothing wrong.

With the work of 42 auditors who reviewed the California cases now complete, the repayments are back in the spotlight — and service members and veterans, as well as members of the public, have been venting their anger.

On the California Guard’s Facebook page, several people hijacked a post about training to comment on the bonus repayments, with one man writing, “The officials who screwed over our service members need to do the right thing and pay back the money. DISGUSTING.”

And after the Guard responded to the Times story today, a commentor criticized its stance, writing, “Meanwhile vets are suffering while one bureaucracy waits to ‘welcome’ another bureaucracy to take responsibility and force it to do the right thing. Pathetic.”

Revelations about fraud and mismanagement in the Pentagon’s retention program emerged after the program’s budget swelled between 2000 and 2008 — when the Defense Department went from spending $891 million for selective re-enlistment bonuses to spending $1.4 billion on them, according to a 2010 research paper by the RAND defense institute. By the end of that period, the military was also spending $625 million yearly to pay enlistment bonuses.

It’s not unusual for signing bonuses to have strings attached. But in the civilian world, conditions for repayment are often limited to cases where an employee spends less than a year in their new job. In the case of the California National Guard, soldiers who say they held up their end of the contract — serving the required three or six-year re-enlistment period — are being told to repay a key incentive.

One of them is Robert Richmond, who has begun an online petition that calls for the Army to “stop stealing back signing bonuses 10 years later.”

Richmond says he signed the contract in good faith, and in his petition, he describes a scenario that’s reminiscent of the recent Wells Fargo cross-selling scandal, saying that a lower-ranking figure has been punished for committing fraud that was motivated at least in part by a need to meet targets set by her superiors.

Richmond also appears in the L.A. Times story; here’s a sample from his petition:

“Like many other soldiers, I honorably completed my contract in 2012 and two years later they sent me a letter stating I had to pay the money back. Each contract has a different excuse. They stated the reason I was not eligible for the contract was because I had over 20 years of service at the time. I had originally signed up more than 20 years prior, but had breaks in service and only had 15 credible years of service, not 20. Although at the time, they informed me I was eligible for a bonus, now they are saying I was not.”

Like other veterans who are refusing to pay up, Richmond is now incurring interest on the repayment amount.

In its General Rules about the recovery of pay and bonuses, the Department of Defense states, “As a general rule, repayment will not be sought if the member’s inability to fulfill the eligibility requirements is due to circumstances determined reasonably beyond the member’s control.”

But after dozens of auditors reviewed its system that had paid soldiers bonuses without determining their eligibility, the California National Guard’s veterans started getting repayment notices.

“People like me just got screwed,” a 42-year-old veteran tells the Times.

That veteran, former Army captain Christopher Van Meter, fought in Iraq. He tells the newspaper he refinanced his mortgage to repay $25,000 in re-enlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments.

Another veteran — former Army master sergeant Susan Haley, who served in Afghanistan and spent more than 25 years in the service — tells the newspaper that she’s now sending the Pentagon $650 each month to repay $20,500 in bonuses.

“I feel totally betrayed,” Haley says.

To put those dollar figures in perspective, we can look at the Army’s payment and retention policy — specifically, a summary of its Selective re-enlistment Bonus program that was laid out early in 2006:

“The objective of the SRB program is to increase the number of re-enlistment in critical MOS’s [Military Occupational Specialty] that do not have adequate retention levels to man the career force. Although Department of Defense policy permits SRB payments of up to $45,000.00, soldiers may be paid bonuses up to six times their monthly basic pay at discharge, times the number of years of additional obligated service, or $20,000.00, whichever is less.”

While some veterans are working to repay the money, others are filing appeals, engaging in what’s likely to be a prolonged fight against the service to which they once belonged. California Guard officials tell the Times that they’ve been helping veterans through the appeals process.

“We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts,” Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard, tells the Times. “We just can’t do it. We’d be breaking the law.”

One of the earliest reviews of the Army’s post-Iraq invasion bonus system came in 2007, when the Defense Department’s Inspector General examined the program called the re-enlistment, Reclassification, and Assignment System (RETAIN) . But at the time, the central issue wasn’t whether too much money was being paid, but rather whether the service was paying out bonuses quickly enough.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Recovering After Heart Surgery

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron as he receives the One Planet Summit's international leaders at Elysee Palace on December 12, 2017 in Paris, France.
Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron as he receives the One Planet Summit’s international leaders at Elysee Palace on December 12, 2017 in Paris, France.
Aurelien Meunier—Getty Images
By MAHITA GAJANAN

2:21 PM EDT

Arnold Schwarzenegger is recovering after he underwent heart surgery.

The 70-year-old Hollywood superstar and former governor of California went to Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles on Thursday for a pulmonic valve replacement, a spokesperson said in a statement. Originally replaced in a 1997 heart surgery, the valve had “outlived its life expectancy” and had to be replaced again, according to the statement.

The statement contradicts an earlier report from TMZ suggesting that Schwarzenegger had undergone emergency open heart surgery during the replacement procedure.

Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson said an open-heart surgery team was prepared in the event the replacement was not able to be performed. According to the statement, the valve was replaced successfully and Schwarzenegger is in stable condition.

Schwarzenegger, the star of iconic films including Terminator, Predator and Twins, opened up about his 1997 heart surgery after breaking his ribs in a 2001 motorcycle crash, to say going under the knife was not as bad as the fractures.

“It was very painful, much more painful than the heart surgery,” he said. “A rib breaking is, like, the worst.”

Couple Fleeing Immigration Officials Killed in Crash, Police Say

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

 

By ASSOCIATED PRESS

11:12 AM EDT

(DELANO, Calif.) — Police in central California say a couple fleeing immigration officials died after losing control of their sport utility vehicle and crashing onto a power pole.

The Delano Police Department says in a statement that federal immigration agents Tuesday activated their emergency lights Tuesday at the couple’s SUV and it pulled over.

The statement says the SUV raced away when the agents exited their vehicle.

The SUV veered onto a dirt shoulder, overturned and crashed into a power pole, killing them.

The department identified the couple as 35-year-old Santo Garcia and 33-year-old Marcelina Garcia.

United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez says they were farmworkers living in Delano, a rural town 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of Los Angeles.

Rodriguez says they were looking for work Tuesday and leave behind six children.

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