Feed aggregator

Blizzard Bears Down on Northeast

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 26, 2015 - 10:49pm
Officials declared states of emergency and ordered bans on travel starting Monday night, as the northeast braced for a potentially historic blizzard that was expected to bury the area in as much as 3 feet of snow.

Number of Science Graduates Stagnates

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 26, 2015 - 9:03pm
The number barely budged over the past decade, despite a national push to increase workers’ skills to boost the competitiveness of the U.S. economy.

ArtsBeat: Snowed In? Here’s What to Watch, Read or Listen To

NY Times Books - January 26, 2015 - 8:43pm
Streaming TV, movies, music and books to help you through a winter storm.






Obama's India Visit Is Message to China

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 26, 2015 - 7:55pm
U.S. President Barack Obama joined Indian leaders on the reviewing stand at a military parade in New Delhi in a display of strengthened ties between the world’s largest democracies as an increasingly assertive China shifts Asia’s power balance.

Covert CIA Mission to Arm Syrian Rebels Goes Awry

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 26, 2015 - 7:45pm
Plagued by red tape, skimpy supplies and the defection of some fighters, the U.S. is shifting the program’s focus to southern Syria.

Generation of Long-Lasting Mideast Rulers Produced Stability---and a Mess

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 26, 2015 - 7:38pm
Capital Journal: Washington Bureau Chief Gerald F. Seib examines the legacy of Mideast autocrats who ruled for decades and kept a lid on extremism but leave behind a cauldron of instability.

White House to Propose New Offshore Areas for Oil, Gas Drilling

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 26, 2015 - 7:36pm
The Obama administration is planning to propose opening up new areas of the nation’s federally owned waters to oil and natural gas drilling, including areas along the Atlantic Coast.

Employee split by pension panel eyed

Ventura County Star - Local News - January 26, 2015 - 7:23pm

The Ventura County pension board moved Monday toward potentially taking over authority for its top employees from county government.

Trustees of the $4 billion pension fund voted to seek a written proposal from a lobbyist who could shepherd legislation required for the split.

"It's an issue of control," Trustee Art Goulet told the Board of Retirement. "We have to control the compensation and benefits of our key employees."

Under draft legislation that Goulet recently presented to the board, the trustees could assume control for the retirement administrator, legal counsel, chief investment officer and other managers. They would become employees of the retirement system instead of county government.

County Executive Officer Mike Powers said he respects the board's right to seek the change, but that his office and the Board of Supervisors have a strong record of cooperation with the panel.

"In the last couple of years we have worked hard to support just about every request they have made," Powers said.

Supervisors have raised the salary range for the retirement administrator and added a position for a chief investment officer. Resolution of a debate over salary for the board's legal counsel is pending.

Four years ago, a previous retirement board voted 6-3 against a proposal to do the same thing that the current board is now investigating.

Tim Thonis, then the administrator, resigned immediately after the board's vote. It followed what appeared to be a long standoff between the board and top county officials' over his salary.

That issue has been largely resolved with the county's approval of a new pay range for the administrator. It has risen again because of questions over the compensation and independence of the board's legal counsel, trustees said.

Lori Nemiroff, an attorney in the office of County Counsel Leroy Smith, advises the board on most legal questions at a rate of roughly $185 an hour.

But with county supervisors and trustees at odds over how generously to define pensionable income under a law aimed at curtailing abuses, the trustees retained a private attorney. She charges almost $490 an hour.

Given their fiduciary responsibility for the pension plan, trustees must have independent advice, Chairman Tracy Towner said.

"We want independent, non-conflicted counsel as we believe any billion-dollar entity would have," he said.

Smith, though, said it is "very rare" for the county takes a different legal position than the retirement board.

"It is the first time that I know of," he said.

Trustees also say that Nemiroff is underpaid. Goulet originally raised the issue because Nemiroff had applied for a $239,000-a-year job at a comparable retirement system in Los Angeles. She was not hired for the position, but trustees are continuing to seek a significant raise.

In October, Goulet asked for an increase that would push maximum base pay for her position up by almost $50,000 to $196,596. Along with other senior county attorneys, she received a package of raises that will bring the salary for her position up to $168,000 by August, county officials said.

Managers are seeking additional information and continuing to work with the retirement board on the issue, Powers said.

Goulet, who represents retirees on the board, said he expected to return Feb. 23 with a written proposal for monitoring and promoting the legislation from Sacramento lobbyist Jim Lites.

The board composed of representatives of employees, elected officials, the public and retirees voted 7-1 to solicit the proposal from Lites.

Voting in favor were Goulet, Treasurer-Tax Collector Steven Hintz; employee representatives Craig Winter, Deanna McCormick and Chris Johnston; and public representatives Joe Henderson and Bill Wilson.

Supervisor Peter Foy voted no and retired Simi Valley City Manager Mike Sedell abstained. Both represent the public on the board.

Employee split by pension panel eyed

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 26, 2015 - 7:23pm

The Ventura County pension board moved Monday toward potentially taking over authority for its top employees from county government.

Trustees of the $4 billion pension fund voted to seek a written proposal from a lobbyist who could shepherd legislation required for the split.

"It's an issue of control," Trustee Art Goulet told the Board of Retirement. "We have to control the compensation and benefits of our key employees."

Under draft legislation that Goulet recently presented to the board, the trustees could assume control for the retirement administrator, legal counsel, chief investment officer and other managers. They would become employees of the retirement system instead of county government.

County Executive Officer Mike Powers said he respects the board's right to seek the change, but that his office and the Board of Supervisors have a strong record of cooperation with the panel.

"In the last couple of years we have worked hard to support just about every request they have made," Powers said.

Supervisors have raised the salary range for the retirement administrator and added a position for a chief investment officer. Resolution of a debate over salary for the board's legal counsel is pending.

Four years ago, a previous retirement board voted 6-3 against a proposal to do the same thing that the current board is now investigating.

Tim Thonis, then the administrator, resigned immediately after the board's vote. It followed what appeared to be a long standoff between the board and top county officials' over his salary.

That issue has been largely resolved with the county's approval of a new pay range for the administrator. It has risen again because of questions over the compensation and independence of the board's legal counsel, trustees said.

Lori Nemiroff, an attorney in the office of County Counsel Leroy Smith, advises the board on most legal questions at a rate of roughly $185 an hour.

But with county supervisors and trustees at odds over how generously to define pensionable income under a law aimed at curtailing abuses, the trustees retained a private attorney. She charges almost $490 an hour.

Given their fiduciary responsibility for the pension plan, trustees must have independent advice, Chairman Tracy Towner said.

"We want independent, non-conflicted counsel as we believe any billion-dollar entity would have," he said.

Smith, though, said it is "very rare" for the county takes a different legal position than the retirement board.

"It is the first time that I know of," he said.

Trustees also say that Nemiroff is underpaid. Goulet originally raised the issue because Nemiroff had applied for a $239,000-a-year job at a comparable retirement system in Los Angeles. She was not hired for the position, but trustees are continuing to seek a significant raise.

In October, Goulet asked for an increase that would push maximum base pay for her position up by almost $50,000 to $196,596. Along with other senior county attorneys, she received a package of raises that will bring the salary for her position up to $168,000 by August, county officials said.

Managers are seeking additional information and continuing to work with the retirement board on the issue, Powers said.

Goulet, who represents retirees on the board, said he expected to return Feb. 23 with a written proposal for monitoring and promoting the legislation from Sacramento lobbyist Jim Lites.

The board composed of representatives of employees, elected officials, the public and retirees voted 7-1 to solicit the proposal from Lites.

Voting in favor were Goulet, Treasurer-Tax Collector Steven Hintz; employee representatives Craig Winter, Deanna McCormick and Chris Johnston; and public representatives Joe Henderson and Bill Wilson.

Supervisor Peter Foy voted no and retired Simi Valley City Manager Mike Sedell abstained. Both represent the public on the board.

Dogs learn how to play well with others

Ventura County Star - Local News - January 26, 2015 - 6:05pm

First impressions are important in the dog world.

At this week’s Dogs Playing for Life demonstrations at the Ventura County Animal Services Camarillo Adoption Center, volunteers and staff are learning how to create play groups for dogs to help them socialize and ultimately find new homes.

During the three-day seminar that ends Tuesday, Aimee Sadler of Longmont, Colorado, director of behavior and training at Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation in Hampton Bays, New York, explained that dogs tend to fall into four general categories: gentle and dainty; rough and ready; push and pull; and see and destroy.

Teaching dogs how to interact with one another in a friendly, positive, playful way in a kennel situation, where the dogs are naturally under stress, will allow the animals to develop those characteristics that are sought-after by potential owners and guardians, she said.

The facility has already introduced some stress-relieving features. Randy Friedman, Ventura County Animal Services media liaison, said 67 speakers have been installed in the shelter to play classical music, which has been shown to slow the heart rates of frightened dogs. And under the leadership of new shelter director Tara Diller, volunteers recently built 165 hammock beds for the dogs.

But Sadler said one of the biggest problems at shelters — especially a shelter that has recently been declared a “no-kill” shelter, with a sustained rate of least 90 percent of animals being released alive — is dogs that have been labeled aggressive.

Sadler explained that the majority of these dogs are reacting to perceived threats. To help them, “we try to build their confidence,” she said. “But we will interrupt them by squirting them with water from squirt bottles, and we do have an air horn if they are stuck in an argument.”

As she demonstrated the formation of a canine play group, Sadler and Animal Control Officer Kimberly Flavin directed the dogs coming into the penned-in play area through a closed-off series of gates designed to prevent runaways. Then they observed the behavior of the animals as they came inside.

The first dogs identified are the “helper dogs,” or those dogs that have nice, non-aggressive dispositions. Subsequent dogs are introduced to the play area one at a time, and if a dog starts showing aggressive behavior, it is removed or placed in a holding area until it calms down.

Chloe Williamson, a shelter employee, tried to introduce a dark pit bull, Athena, into the training area, but Athena immediately started to mount another dog and show other dominating behavior. So Athena was given a time out.

Casey, another pit bull, tried to run away from his handler, and he too, ended up in another cage.

Eventually, through this process of elimination, the dogs in the pen were playing well with one another. And once this mellow, playful atmosphere was established, the more aggressive dogs were introduced and their behavior carefully monitored until they could also play well with others.

“Offensive, aggressive” dogs, Sadler said, are the hardest to train and will need advanced work. But with play groups, many of the dogs that are reacting to the stress of being lost or abandoned and housed at a kennel can be rehabilitated.

For information about Ventura County Animal Services, which runs the Camarillo Adoption Center at 600 Aviation Drive, go online to http://www.vcas.us/ or call 388-4341.

Dogs learn how to play well with others

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 26, 2015 - 6:05pm

First impressions are important in the dog world.

At this week’s Dogs Playing for Life demonstrations at the Ventura County Animal Services Camarillo Adoption Center, volunteers and staff are learning how to create play groups for dogs to help them socialize and ultimately find new homes.

During the three-day seminar that ends Tuesday, Aimee Sadler of Longmont, Colorado, director of behavior and training at Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation in Hampton Bays, New York, explained that dogs tend to fall into four general categories: gentle and dainty; rough and ready; push and pull; and see and destroy.

Teaching dogs how to interact with one another in a friendly, positive, playful way in a kennel situation, where the dogs are naturally under stress, will allow the animals to develop those characteristics that are sought-after by potential owners and guardians, she said.

The facility has already introduced some stress-relieving features. Randy Friedman, Ventura County Animal Services media liaison, said 67 speakers have been installed in the shelter to play classical music, which has been shown to slow the heart rates of frightened dogs. And under the leadership of new shelter director Tara Diller, volunteers recently built 165 hammock beds for the dogs.

But Sadler said one of the biggest problems at shelters — especially a shelter that has recently been declared a “no-kill” shelter, with a sustained rate of least 90 percent of animals being released alive — is dogs that have been labeled aggressive.

Sadler explained that the majority of these dogs are reacting to perceived threats. To help them, “we try to build their confidence,” she said. “But we will interrupt them by squirting them with water from squirt bottles, and we do have an air horn if they are stuck in an argument.”

As she demonstrated the formation of a canine play group, Sadler and Animal Control Officer Kimberly Flavin directed the dogs coming into the penned-in play area through a closed-off series of gates designed to prevent runaways. Then they observed the behavior of the animals as they came inside.

The first dogs identified are the “helper dogs,” or those dogs that have nice, non-aggressive dispositions. Subsequent dogs are introduced to the play area one at a time, and if a dog starts showing aggressive behavior, it is removed or placed in a holding area until it calms down.

Chloe Williamson, a shelter employee, tried to introduce a dark pit bull, Athena, into the training area, but Athena immediately started to mount another dog and show other dominating behavior. So Athena was given a time out.

Casey, another pit bull, tried to run away from his handler, and he too, ended up in another cage.

Eventually, through this process of elimination, the dogs in the pen were playing well with one another. And once this mellow, playful atmosphere was established, the more aggressive dogs were introduced and their behavior carefully monitored until they could also play well with others.

“Offensive, aggressive” dogs, Sadler said, are the hardest to train and will need advanced work. But with play groups, many of the dogs that are reacting to the stress of being lost or abandoned and housed at a kennel can be rehabilitated.

For information about Ventura County Animal Services, which runs the Camarillo Adoption Center at 600 Aviation Drive, go online to http://www.vcas.us/ or call 388-4341.

Drone Crashes on White House Grounds

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 26, 2015 - 6:03pm
The person flying a drone that crashed onto White House grounds early Monday called the Secret Service after the incident was widely reported and has been cooperating with agents, the agency said.

Obama Aims to Raise Taxes on Inheritances

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 26, 2015 - 5:52pm
The president’s tax proposal is intended to raise taxes on the wealthy and reduce them for the middle class, but GOP opposition in Congress means the plan is unlikely to become law.

Fundraiser started for Ventura homeless man

Ventura County Star - Local News - January 26, 2015 - 5:26pm

An online fundraiser with a goal of raising $10,000 has been set up to help a homeless man set on fire at a Ventura beach earlier this month.

Dawn Alexander, 39, an insurance agent in Michigan, set up the effort through YouCaring.com to pay for an apartment once the man recovers from his burns. Alexander, who was raised in Ventura, said she wants him to have a safe place to go once he recovers.

“This story weighed really heavy in my heart,” Alexander said. “I couldn’t imagine somebody so far down in their luck, who has lost so much hope ... and to have people do something so horrific and brutal, it’s just not fair.”

Ventura police are still searching for three suspects who poured lighter fluid on the homeless man and set him on fire in the Pierpont neighborhood. A set of photos from a surveillance video was released last week showing three people in the area.

“We did get some response to the photos from people with some idea of who they might be,” said Sgt. Ryan Weeks. “Now we have some people to speak to.”

Weeks said the three people in the video are not suspects but rather people who were walking in the area around the time the crime occurred.

The homeless man, who suffered second- and third-degree burns to his torso and face, is recovering at the burn unit of the USC Medical Center. He is expected to survive but it is not known when he’ll be released.

Weeks said the hospital has not given a time frame as to when police can talk to him.

Alexander said she calls the hospital on a regular basis to leave uplifting messages for nurses to give to the man. She said as soon as she talks to him, she intends to partner with a social services organization to help him.

“It’s awesome she’s raising money to help this individual,” said Jim Duran, executive director of the nonprofit The City Center. “It’s sad it has to come to a tragedy like this to rally people.”

Duran said one thing to keep in mind when helping homeless people is that housing is typically just one of many concerns that need to be addressed. A case manager to help the person deal with day-to-day issues is crucial, too, Duran said.

“For $10,000, you might be able to house him for a year but with no job, he might be homeless again,” Duran said. “What good is that if we don’t set him up to succeed?”

As of Monday, more than $900 had been raised in the online fundraiser, which can be found on YouCaring.com, under search terms “Ventura homeless man.”

Fundraiser started for Ventura homeless man

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 26, 2015 - 5:26pm

An online fundraiser with a goal of raising $10,000 has been set up to help a homeless man set on fire at a Ventura beach earlier this month.

Dawn Alexander, 39, an insurance agent in Michigan, set up the effort through YouCaring.com to pay for an apartment once the man recovers from his burns. Alexander, who was raised in Ventura, said she wants him to have a safe place to go once he recovers.

“This story weighed really heavy in my heart,” Alexander said. “I couldn’t imagine somebody so far down in their luck, who has lost so much hope ... and to have people do something so horrific and brutal, it’s just not fair.”

Ventura police are still searching for three suspects who poured lighter fluid on the homeless man and set him on fire in the Pierpont neighborhood. A set of photos from a surveillance video was released last week showing three people in the area.

“We did get some response to the photos from people with some idea of who they might be,” said Sgt. Ryan Weeks. “Now we have some people to speak to.”

Weeks said the three people in the video are not suspects but rather people who were walking in the area around the time the crime occurred.

The homeless man, who suffered second- and third-degree burns to his torso and face, is recovering at the burn unit of the USC Medical Center. He is expected to survive but it is not known when he’ll be released.

Weeks said the hospital has not given a time frame as to when police can talk to him.

Alexander said she calls the hospital on a regular basis to leave uplifting messages for nurses to give to the man. She said as soon as she talks to him, she intends to partner with a social services organization to help him.

“It’s awesome she’s raising money to help this individual,” said Jim Duran, executive director of the nonprofit The City Center. “It’s sad it has to come to a tragedy like this to rally people.”

Duran said one thing to keep in mind when helping homeless people is that housing is typically just one of many concerns that need to be addressed. A case manager to help the person deal with day-to-day issues is crucial, too, Duran said.

“For $10,000, you might be able to house him for a year but with no job, he might be homeless again,” Duran said. “What good is that if we don’t set him up to succeed?”

As of Monday, more than $900 had been raised in the online fundraiser, which can be found on YouCaring.com, under search terms “Ventura homeless man.”

Spotlight on Oxnard's audit Tuesday

Ventura County Star - Local News - January 26, 2015 - 5:24pm

Oxnard's new — and temporary — finance chief will make his first presentation to the City Council on Tuesday night.

The discussion will cover the city's audit for the fiscal year that ended last June. With recent news that Oxnard's upcoming budget deliberations could include facing down a $2.9 million deficit, the review of the so-called Comprehensive Annual Financial Report might generate more interest than usual.

Interim Chief Financial Officer Dave Millican, a consultant with Management Partners Inc. who started the job this month, will steer the city's financial reins until a permanent director is recruited. The former finance chief, Jim Cameron, retired Jan. 9, one of several top managers to leave since new City Manager Greg Nyhoff arrived June 1. Nyhoff has said he plans to reshape Oxnard's culture, one dogged for years by a reputation for opaque, insular operations.

Nyhoff on Monday called Millican "very sharp" and said he looks forward to his in-depth analysis once Millican has time to settle in.

The annual financial report summarizes the status of the city's various funds. The document for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which ended June 30, contains no bombshells. But it does show general fund reserves remain below the council's desired target and the city's overall financial position has remained static in recent years even as the national economy improved.

The council is also scheduled to take up matters postponed from its last meeting, including restructuring the Commission on Homelessness and distributing $150,000 in public art funds. Committee assignments for council members and citizen advisory groups such as the Planning Commission are on the agenda as well.

The council meets at 6 p.m. at 305 W. Third St. following a 4:30 p.m. closed session on legal matters.

Spotlight on Oxnard's audit Tuesday

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 26, 2015 - 5:24pm

Oxnard's new — and temporary — finance chief will make his first presentation to the City Council on Tuesday night.

The discussion will cover the city's audit for the fiscal year that ended last June. With recent news that Oxnard's upcoming budget deliberations could include facing down a $2.9 million deficit, the review of the so-called Comprehensive Annual Financial Report might generate more interest than usual.

Interim Chief Financial Officer Dave Millican, a consultant with Management Partners Inc. who started the job this month, will steer the city's financial reins until a permanent director is recruited. The former finance chief, Jim Cameron, retired Jan. 9, one of several top managers to leave since new City Manager Greg Nyhoff arrived June 1. Nyhoff has said he plans to reshape Oxnard's culture, one dogged for years by a reputation for opaque, insular operations.

Nyhoff on Monday called Millican "very sharp" and said he looks forward to his in-depth analysis once Millican has time to settle in.

The annual financial report summarizes the status of the city's various funds. The document for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which ended June 30, contains no bombshells. But it does show general fund reserves remain below the council's desired target and the city's overall financial position has remained static in recent years even as the national economy improved.

The council is also scheduled to take up matters postponed from its last meeting, including restructuring the Commission on Homelessness and distributing $150,000 in public art funds. Committee assignments for council members and citizen advisory groups such as the Planning Commission are on the agenda as well.

The council meets at 6 p.m. at 305 W. Third St. following a 4:30 p.m. closed session on legal matters.

U.S. Spies on Millions of Cars

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 26, 2015 - 5:15pm
The Justice Department has been building a database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret intelligence-gathering program that scans hundreds of millions of records about motorists.

Keystone Pipeline Bill Stalls, Prolonging Debate

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 26, 2015 - 5:14pm
The Senate on Monday rejected a procedural motion to advance legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, prolonging the chamber’s debate over the project.

D.A. offered lesser charge in Laut murder case

Ventura County Star - Local News - January 26, 2015 - 5:05pm

Attorneys for an Oxnard woman accused of murdering her former-Olympic-athlete husband in 2009 say prosecutors were willing to reduce the charge to manslaughter and accept a six-year sentence if she pleaded guilty but she refused.

Jane Laut’s trial was scheduled to begin this week before Superior Court Judge Nancy Ayers, but defense attorney Ron Bamieh filed a motion Monday seeking a new judge.

Laut, 57, is charged with murder and a special enhancement of intentionally discharging a firearm and causing great bodily injury. Prosecutors allege she fatally shot her husband, Dave Laut, 52, at their Oxnard home on Aug. 27, 2009.

Dave Laut was the athletic director at Hueneme High School and a former shot putter who won the bronze medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

In a motion Monday, Bamieh said the prosecutor assigned to the case, Rameen Minoui, indicated Jan. 7 that if Laut pleaded guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge, the District Attorney’s Office would accept a six-year prison sentence.

If found guilty of murder and the enhancement, Laut could face 50 years to life in prison.

According to the motion, Minoui asked Bamieh to write a letter indicating Laut would accept the six years. That afternoon, however, Laut said she would not accept the lesser charge and preferred to go to trial, the motion says.

The motion says Ayers should be disqualified from presiding over Laut’s murder trial because of a statement the judge made during another case involving domestic violence.

Laut’s attorneys, Bamieh and Danielle De Smeth, said that in the transcripts, Ayers said she was “always puzzled” when people, such as the defendant in that case, have church and family resources but stay “in a relationship if it’s as bad as indicated in the police reports and the trial testimony.”

Laut’s defense will center around claims that her husband repeatedly emotionally, physically, mentally and sexually abused her during their 29 years of marriage.

Laut’s attorneys said the transcripts from the other trial showed Ayers has bias against domestic violence victims and “does not appreciate the forces surrounding intimate partner battering and is not qualified to impartially adjudicate Ms. Laut’s murder case.”

“The transcript confirmed that Judge Ayers made statements to a domestic violence victim that essentially blame the victim for being involved in an abusive relationship and evidence Judge Ayers’ lack of understanding as to why victims involve themselves in or remain in abusive relationships,” Bamieh and De Smeth wrote.

Jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday, but Ayers asked both sides to return to court Wednesday to discuss the recusal motion. Minoui was not present during Monday’s hearing, but was represented by Senior Deputy District Attorney Stacy Ratner.

If Ayers decides she is unbiased and can continue presiding in the case, Bamieh on Monday said he would contest that decision and the recusal motion could go before Presiding Judge Donald Coleman. Coleman then could decide if the motion should be heard by a judge in Ventura County or one in another jurisdiction, Bamieh said.

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