Thursday, March 31, 2011

Struggling stewardess exposed euro coin fraud ring

Struggling stewardess exposed euro coin fraud ring

FRANKFURT (Reuters Life!) – An airline stewardess struggling to lift her bag at a German airport led to the discovery of a 6-million euro ($8.4 million) coin fraud.
The customs officer who stopped the stewardess in early 2010 found thousands of one and two euro coins in her bag, Bild newspaper reported in its Thursday edition.
The incident sparked an investigation that has uncovered a forgery ring stretching to China and potentially implicating employees of German airline Lufthansa, the paper said.
The Frankfurt prosecutors' office said on Thursday it carried out dawn raids on offices and residences and arrested six people, four of whom are from China.
It suspects them of having smuggled coins that had been taken out of circulation or bits of those coins into Germany from China, where they had been sent as scrap metal.
The suspects then put the coins back together and exchanged them for a total of 6 million euros at the Bundesbank from 2007 to 2010, the prosecutors said.
Airline cabin crew do not have a weight limit on their baggage, prosecutors highlighted in a statement.
There was no suspicion of any wrongdoing on the part of Bundesbank employees, the prosecutors' office added.
The Bundesbank said in a statement it was aware of the investigation into the use of scrapped coins. It also said that no Bundesbank employees were subject to the investigation.
A Lufthansa spokesman on Thursday said it was aware that individual employees were under investigation, but said the group could not comment on the investigation.
Old euro coins are taken out of circulation by removing the inner part of the coin from an outer ring and thus effectively turning them into scrap metal.
The investigators recovered around 3 metric tons of coin pieces as well as a machine for putting them back together, prosecutors said in the statement.
The Bundesbank is the only institute in Europe that exchanges damaged euro coins for free, replacing them with new ones of the same value.

EPA boosts radiation monitoring after low levels found in milk

EPA boosts radiation monitoring after low levels found in milk

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 31, 2011 12:09 p.m. EDT
  • Isotope won't remain in humans' or animals' digestive systems, expert says
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is increasing monitoring nationwide
  • A milk sample from Washington state and California shows "miniscule" amounts of radiation
  • Tests confirm the milk is safe to drink, officials say
Washington (CNN) -- There is no health risk from consuming milk with extremely low levels of radiation, like those found in Washington state and California, experts said Thursday, echoing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"When we have a disaster like we've had with a nuclear power plant in Japan, we're probably going to find things that are truly not a public health risk, but I think it's very difficult for the public to assimilate this information and understand the risks," said Dr. Wally Curran, a radiation oncologist and head of Emory University's Winship Cancer Center.
The federal agency said Wednesday it was increasing its nationwide monitoring of radiation in milk, precipitation, drinking water, and other outlets. It already tracks radiation in those potential exposure routes through an existing network of stations across the country.
Results from screening samples of milk taken in the past week in Spokane, Washington, and in San Luis Obispo County, California, detected radioactive iodine, or iodine-131, at a level 5,000 times lower than the limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, officials said.
At that level, a person would have to drink 1,000 liters of milk to receive the same amount of radiation as a chest X-ray, said Dr. James Cox, radiation oncologist at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Contamination risks in Japan
Senate: Will Japan radiation hurt U.S.?
The I-131 isotope has a very short half-life of about eight days, the EPA said, so the level detected in milk and milk products is expected to drop relatively quickly.
"The good news about iodine is, it has a short half-life," said Curran. "It doesn't dwell in any biologic system, be it an adult, a child, a cow, for any significant period of time, and at those levels there's no evidence that there's any medical significance."
Radiation gets into the milk because it falls on grass eaten by cows. The milk does not itself absorb radiation.
FDA senior scientist Patricia Hansen also said the findings are "minuscule" compared to what people experience every day.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said tests confirmed the milk is safe to drink.
"This morning I spoke with the chief advisers for both the EPA and the FDA and they confirmed that these levels are minuscule and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children," Gregoire said in a statement.
"According to them, a pint of milk at these levels would expose an individual to less radiation than would a five-hour airplane flight."
Similarly, the California Department of Public Health reassured residents that the levels do not pose a threat.
"When radioactive material is spread through the atmosphere, it drops to the ground and gets in the environment. When cows consume grass, hay, feed, and water, radioactivity will be processed and become part of the milk we drink. However, the amounts are so small they pose no threat to public health," the department said.
At least 15 states have reported radioisotopes from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in air or water or both. No states have recommended that residents take potassium iodide, a salt that protects the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine.
Iodine-131 has been found in eastern states from Florida to Massachusetts as well as in western states like Oregon, Colorado, and California, according to sensors and officials in those states.
None of the levels poses a risk to public health, they said.
At high levels, the isotope focuses on and accumulates in a person's thyroid gland, Curran said. A medical test for thyroid health involves a person ingesting iodine-131 and undergoing a nuclear scan to examine the gland.
The Japanese plant has been leaking radiation since it was damaged in a tsunami that followed a massive earthquake March 11.

Mary Perry Hudson, Katy Perry's Mom, Has Book Proposal Leaked

Mary Perry Hudson, Katy Perry's Mom, Has Book Proposal Leaked

Katy Perrys Mom
First Posted: 03/28/11 01:45 PM ET Updated: 03/28/11 11:16 PM ET

Katy Perry makes the audience rise out of their seats, but her mom wants her delivering sermons, not songs.
Mary Perry Hudson, Katy's mother, is a California preacher who sees a different career path in her daughter's future. She and Perry's father, who is also religious, raised Perry in a conservative, religious home. Now, Hudson is shopping a book about raising Perry, and the NY Post reports that excerpts have been leaked from the proposal.
Seeing Perry in concert, Hudson writes that she envisioned her daughter not as a singer, but a "Kathryn Kuhlman type of healer."
Kuhman was a famed evangelist and faith healer.
"I recognized the psalmist gift in her performance," Hudson wrote. "Yet she sang out, 'I kissed a girl, and I liked it,' while thousands joined her. One part of my heart soared... the other part broke for the thousands of hungry souls being fed something that didn't nourish their spirit, but fed their flesh."
Perry, who in 2001 released a Christian pop album under the name Katy Hudson, has spoken about her faith on numerous occasions, describing herself as a work in progress. She spoke with a number of publications in 2009, including, which reported her take on her evolution.
"And I was raised with certain ideas, like you mentioned about what the Bible does say. But I definitely am now, as an adult, and in a whole new world, in a world I didn't even know existed, I definitely have different perspectives and am very much not a poster child for anything perfect or organized or cookie cutter. I have had my own relationship and my own beliefs and I'm continually on an upward search with all of that, and I really don't know the answers nor do I like to impress them on anybody else."
The book proposal also details Perry's mom's disapproval of her cleavage-showing performance outfits, as well as her displeasure with her daughter's then-fiance (and now husband), Russell Brand.

Former police officer David Warren sentenced to 25 years in Henry Glover shooting

Former police officer David Warren sentenced to 25 years in Henry Glover shooting

Published: Thursday, March 31, 2011, 9:16 AM     Updated: Thursday, March 31, 2011, 9:41 AM

Former police officer David Warren was sentenced to more than 25 years in prison this morning for the shooting of 31-year-old Henry Glover in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Evidence from the Federal Courthouse in New Orleans presented in the Henry Glover Trial - autopsy photo of charred remains found in back of car found on levee
The sentence of 309 months in prison was imposed by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk.
Africk told Warren that his use of deadly force against Glover was unnecessary and that he did not believe Glover charged at him in a menacing way, as Warren claimed on the witness stand.
"You killed a man ... Henry Glover was gunned down because you believed he was a looter," Africk said. He aded that every day Warren has lived since September 2005 is one more day than Glover had.
Africk said Warren's conduct was in contrast to that of most NOPD officers, who helped people and saved lives in the aftermath of the storm. Actions like Warren's, he said, erode confidence in law enforcement.
david-warren.JPGFormer N.O. police officer David Warren
Africk said a harsh sentence was necessary to deter other officers from such conduct.
In December, Warren was convicted of violating Glover's civil rights by shooting him, as well as using a gun in a crime of violence. A rookie police officer at the time of the storm, Warren had been guarding a police substation in Algiers on Sept. 2, 2005.
Warren shot Glover as he approached the substation, which was located on the second floor of a strip mall. Glover and a friend had gone to the mall to retrieve some items looted by friends.
Before issuing the sentence, Africk said that he had "given tremendous thought to this case. I can promise you, not everyone will agree with the sentence I impose," he added.
He promised, however, that the sentence would be fair.
Several friends of Warren asked the judge for leinency. "David is a man of God... a devout Christian," one said.
"He is not an evil man. He is not a racist," said another.
The Glover family, visibly devastated, then approached the podium and asked Africk to issue the maximum sentence allowed by law.
"I forgive these men," said Rebecca Glover, the victim's aunt, while holding a picture of her nephew. "If I don't, Jesus won't forgive me."

Warning About Pot Candy Bars After Student Sickened

Warning About Pot Candy Bars After Student Sickened

The bars look just like a regular candy bar, but contain hash oil.

VENTURA (KTLA) -- Teachers and parents in Ventura County are being warned about "candy bars" that contain potentially dangerous hash oil, after a student consumed part of one and became ill.

A teenage student ate part of a of Hubby's Edible Bar and collapsed, according to the Ventura County Office of Education. The student was taken to the emergency room by paramedics.

In another case, a student gave a teacher part of one of the candy bars. The teacher thought it was a normal candy bar and ate it, then became ill, the education office said.

The pot candy bars come in eight different flavors, and can be bought by anyone over 18 who has a medical marijuana card.

They are being sold in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, according to the Ventura County District Attorney's Office.

The DA has notified school nurses, teachers and administrators to be on the lookout for the bars.

Home Brings $100 Million

Home Brings $100 Million

Google Earth
The $100 million sale of a Los Altos Hills, Calif., home shows how some luxury properties are insulated from the U.S. housing slump.
A Russian billionaire investor paid $100 million for a French chateau-style mansion in Silicon Valley, marking the highest known price paid for a single-family home in the U.S.
The purchase of the 25,500-square-foot home in Los Altos Hills, Calif., underscores the strength of some luxury properties in an otherwise depressed housing market.

Very Willing Buyers

Some past sales of high-end residential properties in the U.S.
In 2008, an investment company linked to Russian fertilizer billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev paid $95 million for an estate owned by Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Fla.
Former Global Crossing chairman Gary Winnick in around 2000 acquired a Los Angeles estate in the Bel Air neighborhood in a deal worth more than $90 million.
Housing tycoon Dwight Schar bought an 11-acre oceanfront compound in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2004 and 2005 for $85.6 million, from financier Ron Perelman.
Builder Mohamed Hadid sold a Bel Air estate in 2010 for $50 million. The 48,000-square-foot house, known as Le Belvedere, has 11 bedrooms, 19 fireplaces and a swan pond.
In 2006, private-equity figure J. Christopher Flowers paid $53 million for a Manhattan townhouse on East 75th Street.
In 2007, developer Harry Macklowe paid $51.6 million to piece together a roughly 13,000-square-foot-condominium on the seventh floor of Manhattan's Plaza Hotel.
In 2007, Edgar Bronfman, Jr. sold a Manhattan townhouse on East 64th Street to Russian oil magnate Len Blavatnik for $50 million.
In 2006, music executive Tommy Mottola paid $47 million cash for Crystal Island Ranch, a 900-plus-acre ranch near Aspen, Colo.
Hollywood mogul Peter Guber in 2004 sold his 650-acre Mandalay Ranch for $46 million to mortgage-company executive Roland Arnall and his wife, Dawn.
Juliet Chung and Josh Barbanel
The buyer, Yuri Milner, 49, who heads Digital Sky Technologies and whose investments include Facebook Inc., Groupon Inc. and Zynga Inc., had no immediate plans to move into the home, said a spokesman.
Mr. Milner is the stocky founder of DST, a Moscow-based fund that's made a splash in Silicon Valley via its investments. Its first in the U.S. was a $200 million check for Facebook in 2009. His primary residence is in Moscow, where he lives with his wife and two children.
The sky seemed to be the limit for Mr. Milner's new house, a symmetrical limestone mansion with San Francisco Bay views that was inspired by 18th-century French chateaux.
The home has indoor and outdoor pools, a ballroom and a wine cellar. The grounds include a tennis court and inside are chandeliers and a frieze around a skylight in the entryway, among other details.
"There wasn't a real budget," said one of the architects, William Hablinski.
Mr. Milner's deal for the home offers a stark contrast to the national real-estate market. Housing data show that prices continue to fall, and economists have forecast further declines between 5% and 10% for much of this year. While the high end has not been immune to deep discounting and distress sales, industry watchers say it has been relatively insulated, Luxury buyers often pay cash, allowing them to bypass tighter lending restrictions.

Big Buys

David O. Marlow
Builder Mohamed Hadid sold a Bel-Air estate in 2010 for $50 million. The 48,000-square-foot house, known as Le Belvedere, has 11 bedrooms, 19 fireplaces and a swan pond.
See other major transactions.
Sales of homes over the $1 million mark rose nearly 4% in February year over year, according to the National Association of Realtors. That compares to a nearly 8% decline in sales volume for homes priced between $100,000 and $250,000.
"The crummy real estate market is not in the high end. It's only in the lower end and the middle," said Cristina Condon, a real-estate agent at Sotheby's International in Palm Beach, Fla., who was not connected to the Silicon Valley transaction.
On Wednesday, Ms. Condon closed on the highest sale in Palm Beach County since 2008, a $26.4 million oceanfront home.
The sale of the Los Altos Hills home was previously reported by the website TechCrunch. Design plans for the house began in 2001 and the home was completed around 2009, according to Mr. Hablinski, who worked on the project with his then-partner Richard Manion.
Mr. Milner bought the home through a limited-liability company; the home wasn't on the market, according to people familiar with the deal.
Mr. Milner, who studied theoretical physics in Moscow and attended the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, began his career in Moscow in the 1990s. By 1999, he had focused on the Internet after dabbling in everything from private equity to a macaroni-and-cheese factory.
The sellers are Fred Chan and his wife, Annie, who declined to comment through a representative. According to published reports, Mr. Chan founded Fremont-based ESS Technology, which designs and markets audio and video products for consumer markets, according to the company website.
They have been involved with condominium developments in Hawaii and have an educational foundation, according to published reports.
The Chans are helping to finance the house, having accepted a $50 million note on the house, according to Loren Goldman of First American Title, who reviewed documents related to the deal. The Chans planned to use the estate as their primary home and traveled to Asia and Europe to acquire specific items for the house, Mr. Hablinski says.
In Hawaii, the Chans own a 5.4-acre oceanfront estate on Oahu for which they were recently asking $80 million; the property, first developed by industrialist Henry Kaiser, is not currently listed.
Few deals are known to that rival this one in size. In 2007, investor Ron Baron paid $103 million in East Hampton, N.Y. for 40 acres of vacant land. In 2008, an investment company linked to Russian fertilizer billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev paid $95 million for an estate owned by Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Fla.; Mr. Trump had been asking $125 million. Former Global Crossing chairman Gary Winnick around 2000 acquired a Los Angeles estate in the Bel-Air neighborhood in a complex deal involving money and property for more than $90 million.
—Sarah Tilton and Anupreeta Das contributed to this article.

Gov. Jerry Brown's Plan A to end the state budget crisis collapsed — and there's no Plan B.

There's blame to go around

Gov. Jerry Brown's Plan A to end the state budget crisis collapsed — and there's no Plan B.

George Skelton
Capitol Journal
March 31, 2011
From Sacramento

It's another sorry saga in Sacramento: Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature botching the governor's Plan A for healing the bleeding budget. Who's to blame? And what now?

The first question is easy to answer: Blame everyone and everything.

Blame the Democratic governor and, to a lesser extent, Democratic legislators. Blame short-sighted Republican lawmakers.

Blame the labor unions that intimidate Democrats. Blame the hate-mongering radio entertainers and a Washington-based anti-tax demagogue (Grover Norquist) who petrify Republicans.

Blame a governing system that invariably produces gridlock. And blame the voters for creating the ungovernable system.

What now? Nobody knows. "Exploring all our options," Brown and Democratic leaders are saying. But there is no Plan B. More on that later.

Brown's at fault because of his foolish campaign promise last year to give voters the final say on any tax increase. To do that, he needed a special election. And he needed a two-thirds majority — meaning at least two Republicans in each house — to authorize the election.

Because labor unions were needed to bankroll an election campaign, they had huge sway over any deal the governor might cook up with the GOP. Big problem. Brown couldn't deal directly with Republicans. He had to run stuff by union leaders.

But I repeat myself from previous columns.

As it turned out, Brown and a handful of Republicans came close to cutting a deal that would have allowed a June election. Both sides agree they were inches from a pact on two "reforms" that the GOP demanded: on public employee pensions and business regulations.

"We were very close on those two items," says Sen. Bill Emmerson (R-Hemet), one of the GOP Five who had been bargaining with Brown for weeks. "I'm very disappointed that it blew up."

The blowup came over a proposed state spending cap, Emmerson says.

Republicans demanded a tight spending cap tied to population and inflation growth. And they accepted the Democrats' formula for measuring inflation: per-capita income growth. But they wanted any surplus revenue to go toward retiring certain debt and building infrastructure. And they said the cap should stay in effect until the debt was paid off. They figured that would be 2017.

Then after the debt was retired, Republicans insisted, a looser spending cap should take effect, one that the Legislature already has passed and is scheduled to be on next year's ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment.

Brown and labor balked at all this, especially placing the second cap in the state Constitution.

Crazy! Here they are that close to a deal that potentially could have righted the sinking ship of state and they get distracted by the color of life preservers.

There's no money. A tight spending cap for a few years seems moot. It could even be a good thing. Compromise and end it when Brown's higher taxes expired. Brown asked for five years of higher taxes. Republicans had offered three. Can anyone say four?

There also were other disagreements, but none that couldn't have been resolved. You'd think.

Republicans, of course, blew yet another chance to be relevant in this blue state by not capitalizing on their clout over a two-thirds vote. A little give here and there and they could have had pension rollbacks, business regulatory relief and even a spending cap. All for just putting a tax question on the ballot.

Democratic legislators essentially did their job. They basically cut in half a $26-billion deficit, mostly with spending cuts principally aimed at the poor, the disabled, the aged and the tuition-paying university students. Republicans wouldn't even vote for all that whacking.

But Democrats can be faulted for fantasizing that they're more powerful than they really are. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) lectured lawmakers during a budget floor debate that "elections matter." Because voters had elected a Democratic governor and huge Democratic majorities in the Legislature, Republicans "shouldn't overreach," he cautioned.

Elections don't matter as much as they should, however, when a governor discounts the value of his office by abdicating some of its power to the voters. And they don't matter as much when a two-thirds legislative vote is required for tax increases.

The system is especially at fault.

California is one of roughly a dozen states that require a two-thirds vote for taxes. Back when Sacramento actually governed, taxes could be hiked on a majority vote. That changed with Proposition 13 in 1978. The property tax-cutting measure also led, unfortunately, to more Sacramento control and funding of local government and schools.

Also blame the voters' failed experiment with term limits. Inexperienced lawmakers just don't seem to have the know-how or courage to make a deal that might upset someone, such as a labor boss or radio shock jock.

That malady is compounded by uncompetitive legislative races, which should change next year when independent redistricting and an open primary system kick in.

But what now? No lawmaker wants to solve the deficit entirely with cuts.

Democrats, however, should forget any notion of slipping a tax measure through the Legislature on a majority vote. It would be challenged in court. And they'd look like jerks.

There's talk of a November election to vote on some labor-sponsored tax initiatives. Sounds like a certified loser without bipartisan business support. And don't count on that.

My Plan B: Forget an election. Democratic leaders should buy off enough Republican votes — yes, it's possible — and send a tax extension down to Brown's desk. Dare him to veto it. He wouldn't. But if he did, override the veto.

Budget talks fold, and California GOP's influence fades further

Budget talks fold, and California GOP's influence fades further

Several major Republican priorities were within reach as four GOP lawmakers negotiated on Gov. Jerry Brown's budget plan. When talks broke down, they lost a rare window of opportunity.

By Evan Halper and Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times
March 31, 2011

Reporting from Sacramento -- After years of sitting on the bench, watching much of the state's business being conducted with little regard for their input, California Republicans in recent months had an opportunity to share the reins of government.

Now, that appears to be gone.

The Democratic governor and legislative leaders offered the GOP a rare chance to shape key policies — and mitigate several that were forged on the other side of the aisle over more than a decade. GOP legislation was suddenly on the front burner. Rolling back government employee pensions, easing regulations on business, limiting the growth of government all seemed within reach.

The price for this potential bounty was four votes, the ones Gov. Jerry Brown needed to place a tax measure before voters. Not an endorsement of more taxes, just a vote to let voters decide the matter.

Today, after the collapse of those negotiations, many in the Capitol are asking whether, in declining to provide those four "ayes," the Republicans have cemented their fate as a dying minority party in this largely Democratic state.

"These opportunities don't come up too much in Sacramento," said Bill Whalen, a GOP political consultant who was an advisor to former Gov. Pete Wilson.

"If I'm the Republicans … I would argue for a minimalist approach," he said. "Be able to declare victory and retreat. … That should have been part of the calculus."

Brown's calculations also came up short. The veteran policymaker had expressed confidence since taking office in January that he could scrape together enough support for his ballot plan. He apparently misjudged the cost of even the most limited GOP sponsorship.

He also may have underestimated how little ground he could give before Democrats would squawk and threaten to withdraw their support. Budget talks were not shackled by such intense partisanship when Brown negotiated his last state spending plan three decades ago.

Duf Sundheim, a moderate Republican and former state party chair, said the breakdown of negotiations "hurts everybody. … It doesn't help Republicans. It doesn't help Jerry Brown. It doesn't help Democrats. It's why people are so disgusted with the process."

The Republicans say they walked away from the negotiating table when it became clear the governor was willing to go only so far. In the rush to negotiate sweeping policy changes under a crushing deadline, they began to fear that the concessions on offer could be rolled back later or would not be as far-reaching as they wanted.

In a puzzling eleventh-hour shift, they lifted the veil of secrecy on the talks and released the sprawling list of GOP demands that had been brought to the negotiating table. It spilled over seven pages and veered into such topics as when the state should hold its presidential primary. It included the continuation of billions of dollars in corporate subsidies and tax breaks that Brown wants to eliminate to balance the budget.

The public move appeared intended to show that Republicans were being serious and reasonable. But the Brown administration seized on the GOP document to make the opposite case.

In addition, the pressure from anti-tax activists on the GOP not to cut a deal was so intense that only a handful of the Legislature's 41 Republicans would even engage with the governor.

"One could easily picture the political attacks that would have followed, even if those Republicans won big, substantial concessions," said GOP political analyst Jack Pitney. "A lot of activists would have accused them of selling their birthright for a mess of pottage."

The collapse of talks was a major victory for the activist core of the party, including the bloggers and talk radio hosts who make it their mission to keep GOP lawmakers from drifting toward the political middle.

"No Budget Deal is Much Better Than A Bad Budget Deal," trumpeted a headline on the Flash Report, the sacred online text for party activists. "There is NO public policy trade off that makes it okay to then vote to place taxes onto a special election ballot," the article said.

It referred to the five GOP Senate Republicans who had been involved in budget negotiations with the governor as the "Rogue 5."

As hardliners have tightened their grip on California's Republican Party, it has continued to lose ground. The GOP has no statewide officeholders and a thin bench.

Last year, as Republicans swept statehouses across the nation, in California the party lost the two statewide offices it held and a legislative seat it had held for two decades. The highest state office Republicans now hold in California is on the Board of Equalization.

Less than a third of California voters, 30.9%, are registered Republicans, down from 39% two decades ago. And when Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's star power offered the party a bridge to wider acceptance, officials irked by his failure to hew to their conservative platform worked to diminish his clout.

If Republicans had forged a deal with Brown, it might have been the foundation of an enduring partnership. Now, the centrist governor who was open to some of the Republican agenda could be pulled to the left.

If Brown decides to get his tax measure on the ballot by gathering signatures for a citizen initiative, the costs will be substantial — and he'll rely on Democratic interests to help bankroll the effort. They, in turn, will have a bigger hand in helping shape the measure.

Alternatively, the governor could decide to scheme with Democrats to exploit one of the legal loopholes the Legislature's attorneys have identified to jam through by simple majority a budget that contains new taxes. That would be an end run around the constitutional requirement that tax hikes be approved by two-thirds of both houses.

Either way, Republicans would be cut out of the process, unless they scraped together funds for competing ballot measures. That could prove difficult, as some of the business organizations that tend to fund their causes have endorsed Brown's tax plan.

It could be a long time before Republican lawmakers have another opportunity to move their policies forward, said Barbara O'Connor, emeritus director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Cal State Sacramento.

"The end result of all this," she said, "is they will become even more irrelevant."

Toyota Prius dealers see demand rise and inventories fall

Toyota Prius dealers see demand rise and inventories fall

Rising gasoline prices have revved up sales of the hybrid, but production disruptions in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami are rippling across the globe. Some dealers have no Priuses left.

By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
March 31, 2011

Rising gas prices have reignited sales of the fuel-sipping Prius hybrid, and dealers are getting more money for the Toyota sedan. There's just one problem — they are starting to run out of cars.
Some don't have any in their showrooms for shoppers to drive home. Others say their stock is dwindling quickly.
Continuing disruptions caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan are rippling across the globe. Toyota Motor Corp. restarted the Prius factory early this week but closed it down again Wednesday to reassess its part supply. The world's largest automaker plans to resume Prius production Thursday, but it is not expected to run anywhere near full speed.
Elsewhere, Honda Motor Co. is periodically shutting down its U.S. factories to conserve its supply of auto components. Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. is slowing production of Subaru brand cars at its Lafayette, Ind., plant because of component shortages. And Toyota has told repair shops that it's going to ration more than 200 spare parts that are in short supply.
Research firm IHS Automotive said production and part supply issues could affect as much as a third of the global auto industry over the next several months.
"This may ultimately rank as the largest peacetime disruption of world auto production," said James Rubenstein, an auto industry analyst and geography professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
The combination of rising gasoline prices and consumers worrying they won't be able to get their car of choice is prompting some to start shopping now.
Irma Vega, an account supervisor at a Los Angeles advertising agency, pulled the trigger Sunday, buying a Prius to replace her aging Chevrolet Malibu.
"I figured I need to go check it out. The sooner the better," Vega said, prodded by the steady rise in gas prices and reports about the production problems in Japan.
Shoppers such as Vega have helped the Prius rival the Camry sedan as the bestselling Toyota model in Southern California. Both cars are selling at a rate of about 2,000 a month in the region. California is the biggest Prius market in the nation.
The bottleneck in Prius inventory has dealers nervous. Many report they have less than a two-week inventory.
"It is a dwindling supply and getting worse," said Dianne Whitmire, fleet director at Carson Toyota.
Whitmire estimated that Prius shipments headed to Southern California were going to fall behind by at least 1,200 cars in the coming weeks and that the number could approach 2,000 through April.
Prius sales should be brisk this weekend, putting an extra crimp in supply, said Billy Rinker, general sales manager at Toyota Santa Monica, one of the nation's largest hybrid sellers.
That's because a $500 rebate on the car and other financing and lease specials put in place prior to the Japan crisis are set to run through Monday, and it's unlikely the automaker will renew them amid supply problems, Rinker said.
"For the next month I think we will have real slim pickings," he said.
Earl Stewart Toyota of North Palm Beach, Fla., doesn't have any new Priuses to sell. The cars sitting on its lot are either used or already sold, waiting for the buyers to pick them up.
The franchise had been selling as many as 40 Prius sedans a month. But when gas prices started to go up sales soared to more than 80 of the hybrids this month, owner Earl Stewart said. He expects to get a small shipment in April, but is worried about shipments into May.
Steven Levine, a financial planner, got a new Prius from the Florida dealership two weeks ago to replace one that was going off lease months from now. He's glad he made the move, especially because the price of the car is rising as the supply shrinks.
"Gas prices keep going up, and I like the car.... People are pulling them off the lot," he said.
Prius prices have risen more than $700 to an average of $26,100 in the last week since the earthquake, according to's listing of upfront "no haggle" deals.
The supply of other Toyota models could also shrink in coming weeks.
"We have good availability on everything but Prius. But that will change toward the end of April depending on what parts shortages crop up," said Fritz Hitchcock, who owns Toyota franchises in Puente Hills, Northridge and Santa Barbara.
Others also expect supply issues will spread to more car models and brands.
Most parts from Japan leave in container ships that take several weeks to cross the Pacific Ocean. That means the worst effects of the disruption are still weeks off, said Rubenstein, the Miami University professor.
Automakers are having trouble getting a handle on the severity of the disruption. Some of that has been caused by power shortages because of the problems at damaged nuclear power generating stations in Japan.
Although the auto companies know the status of hundreds of their key suppliers, Rubenstein said they're still unsure of how many second-tier Japanese suppliers are back up and producing parts.
A typical car contains roughly 20,000 parts. The lack of a single component can shut down an assembly line.
"Each carmaker is scrambling to find new sources of parts to replace suppliers that are out of commission," Rubenstein said.

IT'S NOT JUST GLENN BECK: FOX News Has Lost 21% Of Its Audience This Year

IT'S NOT JUST GLENN BECK: FOX News Has Lost 21% Of Its Audience This Year

beck phone

Fox News has the top 12 most-watched shows so far this year.
Which is perhaps not totally surprising since this marks the network's ninth straight year as the number one channel in cable.
That is not to say it's all rainbows and unicorns.  (Or cupcakes and caliphates.) All of Fox's top shows posted double digit losses year over year.
Glenn Beck suffered the biggest drop, losing 30% of his audience compared to the first quarter last year.  But he wasn't alone.  Top ranking O'Reilly lost 14% of his audience, Sean Hannity, up a spot from 2010, lost 19%, and Bret Baier, who pushed Beck out of the top three, lost 13%.
Greta Van Susteren, who has been bleeding viewers to Anderson Cooper this month, is down 22.86%.
All in all Fox News actually lost 21% of its primetime audience during the quarter.
Compare this to CNN which is up 28% in primetime and MSNBC which is up 9% (Rachel Maddow increased by 16.65% and Anderson Cooper by 18%) and then take into consideration all the breaking news there's been since Christmas, and one might begin to draw the conclusion that people are beginning to turn elsewhere for news news coverage.
Another explanation, of course, is that this time period last year was dominated by the health care debate and for much of that period Fox operated as an extension of the opposition.   Now that the nation's focus is international it's harder to figure out an angle where Obama is bad and...nuclear meltdowns and Qadaffi are good.

Cali - Budget Woes Could Mean Big Cuts at Community Colleges

Budget Woes Could Mean Big Cuts at Community Colleges

Community colleges facing $800 million in funding cuts

Community College Cuts
Community college classes and enrollment could be slashed next year. (KTLA-TV)

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- California's budget problems could mean significant class reductions at community colleges across the state.

As budget talks stall in Sacramento, the 112 community college campuses are facing $800 million in funding cuts for the coming school year. That is double the amount suggested in Governor Jerry Brown's budget proposal.

Chancellor Jack Scott says that could mean that 400,000 fewer students would be able to enroll.

Long Beach State may be forced to cut 222 classes in the fall, turn away 1,000 students and eliminate more than 30 staff positions, President Eloy Oakley told the Los Angeles Times in a telephone briefing.

The three community colleges in San Diego plan to cut more than 1,000 classes and turn away 20,000 students, Chancellor Constance Caroll said in the same briefing.

The budget plan being debated in Sacramento would raise community college student fees from $26 to $36 per unit.

Those fees could climb even higher if a budget compromise is not reached.

Santa Anas Bring Summer Weather to Southern California

Santa Anas Bring Summer Weather to Southern California

Cooling expected beginning on Friday


LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- The Southland enjoying hot summer weather thanks to warm Santa Ana winds.

Temperatures reached the upper 80s in many parts of Southern California on Wednesday, and they're expected to climb even higher Thursday.

The mercury hit 88 degrees in Chatsworth on Wednesday, and Pasadena reached 86 degrees. The high in downtown L.A. was 81 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Things stayed a bit cooler along the coast. Redondo Beach recorded 68 degrees, and Santa Monica topped out at 61 degrees.

Farther inland, the high in Ontario was 88 degrees and Chino reached 80 degrees.

Temperatures could approach the 90s on Thursday, forecasters said, before cooler coastal air brings temperatures down starting Friday.

Report: Charlie Sheen Offers $30,000 to Join "Porn Family"

Report: Charlie Sheen Offers $30,000 to Join "Porn Family"

The check was supposedly written during his now-infamous 36-hour binge.

Check reportedly paid to porn star from Charlie Sheen. (TMZ)
Check reportedly paid to porn star from Charlie Sheen. (TMZ)

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- Charlie Sheen allegedly offered a porn star a $30,000 check -- because he felt like it -- hours before he was admitted to a hospital for a hernia early Thursday morning.

A check obtained by TMZ was supposedly written in the middle of his now infamous 36-hour-binge that has now forced Sheen to enter rehab and halt production on the CBS sitcom "Two And A Half Men," for which Sheen's starring role reportedly earns him $2-million per episode.

The check, written out to "Cash," was given on good faith to the porn star in exchange that she join the "porn family" Sheen wants to create.

TMZ claims that the check successfully cleared when she took it to the bank -- with permission from Sheen and one his business associates.

TMZ also claims that Sheen had a briefcase full of cocaine delivered to the party, which included several porn stars, a business associate and several other women.

The group allegedly drank for hours while Sheen "was throwing money around like crazy," TMZ reported.

Stan Rosenfield, Sheen's representative, told TMZ, "I can't comment because I have no idea if it's true. You choose to believe your source. I don't."

Clinic Accused of Leaking Porn Performers' Personal Info

Clinic Accused of Leaking Porn Performers' Personal Info

The names, birth dates and stage names of 12,000 performers were leaked online.

AIM Medical Associates P.C.
Health clinic catering to porn industry under fire after
information leaked (Los Angeles Times)

SHERMAN OAKS (KTLA) -- A health clinic catering to the porn industry is under fire after personal information about thousands of performers ended up on a website.

The names, birth dates and stage names of more than 12,000 current and former adult film performers were posted on earlier this year.

Many now say that information could only have come from the clinic where many performers get tested, AIM Medical Associates P.C., formerly known as the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation.

An article was posted on alleging that the information came from AIM. That article was based on information from adult industry blogger and performer Mike South.

A lawyer for the clinic had no comment about the allegations.

Pornwikileaks is registered in the Netherlands, but it's not clear who owns the site.

Porn performers are required to have tested negative for HIV within 30 days of filming. Producers and directors have access to AIM's database to check results.

AIM was closed last December by health officials in Los Angeles County. The shut-down came after state health officials denied its application to operate as a community clinic for "business-related issues."

The facility was sold and then reopened last month under the new name.

It is now part of a doctor's office regulated by the Medical Board of California.

Radiation in Seawater Off Japan Plant at All-Time Highs

Radiation in Seawater Off Japan Plant at All-Time Highs

A utility official says contamination came from a leak or ground seepage

Officials say there is no clear sense of what's causing the radiation spike or how to stop it.
Officials say there is no clear sense of what's causing the
radiation spike or how to stop it. (Getty Images / March 31, 2011)
TOKYO, Japan -- The levels of radiation in ocean waters off Japan's embattled Fukushima Daiichi plant continue to skyrocket, the nation's nuclear safety agency said Thursday, with no clear sense of what's causing the spike or how to stop it.

The amount of radioactive iodine-131 isotope in the samples, taken Wednesday some 330 meters (361 yards) into the Pacific Ocean, has surged to 4,385 times above the regulatory limit. This tops the previous day's reading of 3,355 times above the standard -- and an exponential spike over the 104-times increase measured just last Friday.

Officials have downplayed the potential perils posed by this isotope, since it loses half of its radiation every eight days.

Yet amounts of the cesium-137 isotope -- which, by comparison, has a 30-year "half life" -- have also soared, with a Wednesday afternoon sample showing levels 527 times the standard.

"That's the one I am worried about," said Michael Friedlander, a U.S.-based nuclear engineer, explaining cesium might linger much longer in the ecosystem. "Plankton absorbs the cesium, the fish eat the plankton, the bigger fish eat smaller fish -- so every step you go up the food chain, the concentration of cesium gets higher.

On Thursday, Hidehiko Nishiyama, a Japanese nuclear safety official, reiterated that seawater radiation doesn't yet pose a health risk to humans eating seafood.

Fishing is not allowed within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the plant, and he claimed that waterborne radiation should dilute over time.

Still, authorities don't know where the highly radioactive water is coming from or how it reached the sea.

The contamination may be coming from either a leak or ground seepage. The high levels suggest the release of radiation into the atmosphere alone couldn't be the lone source, an official with the nuclear facility's owner Tokyo Electric Power Company said Thursday.

Tokyo Electric has announced plans to spray a water and synthetic resin mix around the complex to envelop radioactive particles, so they can't spread any further. Still, persistent rain and wind forces authorities to postpone the start of that effort Thursday.

The Japanese utility and the government have gotten new help from beyond its borders.

Gen. Ryoichi Oriki, chief of staff for Japan's Self-Defense Force, said Thursday about 140 U.S. military members will arrive soon. The soldiers specialize in detecting, medically treating and decontaminating radioactive material.

A French nuclear group, Areva, has sent five specialists who are experts in treating contaminated water, the group said Wednesday.

And the U.S. Department of Energy deployed about 40 people and more than 17,000 pounds of equipment to Japan to help with the crisis, said Peter Lyons, the department's acting assistant secretary for nuclear energy.

The nuclear plant has been in a state of perpetual crisis since being rocked by the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, and there's no clear end in sight.

This has all left the plant's owner reeling, with the ordeal taking a significant toll on both its reputation and bottom line.

On Wednesday -- the same day the company announced that its president, Masataka Shimizu, had been hospitalized due to "fatigue and stress" -- Tokyo Electric's chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said it had no choice but to decommission four of the plant's six reactors.

He acknowledged reports that Japan's government is mulling nationalizing the company after the disaster, saying, "We want to make every effort to stay a private company."

Beyond the recovery and clean-up expenses, Tokyo Electric will likely be asked to pay those who suffered because of the nuclear crisis.

A report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates the utility firm will face 1 trillion Japanese yen ($12.13 billion) in compensation claims if the recovery effort lasts two months, rising to 10 trillion yen if it goes on for two years, said Takayuki Inoue, a spokesman with the financial giant.

That might include farmers, their livelihoods shattered after the detection of high radiation in several vegetables prompting the government to ban sales. Contaminated tap water also has prompted officials to tell residents in some locales to only offer bottled water to infants. Businesses have been hit hard, too, by rolling blackouts tied to the strained power grid.

But those most affected have been the thousands, living within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the stricken plant, who have been ordered to evacuate.

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday urged Japanese authorities to "carefully assess the situation" -- and consider expanding the evacuation zone further -- after high radiation levels were found in Iitate, a town of 7,000 residents 40 kilometers northwest of the nuclear facility.

The U.N. agency did not say how much radiation it had detected, though the environmental group Greenpeace said Sunday it found levels more than 50 times above normal.

Koboyashi Takashi, Iitate's manager for general affairs, said radiation levels in soil and water were decreasing. Residents had temporarily evacuated, but later returned to take care of livestock, he said.

Another village official, who declined to be named, was irked Thursday after the earlier radiation readings surpassed the IAEA's evacuation criteria but not those of the Japanese government. He said local officials have urged tests on soil from 70 locations around the village.

"We (have to) believe what the government tells us," said the Iitate village official in apparent frustration. "There is no other way."

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters Thursday the "IAEA results will be taken into consideration," but said "there is no plan" to expand the evacuation zone to 30 kilometers or beyond.

"There is no immediate health hazard," Edano said, adding later that the government may offer free medical check-ups to those near the plant. "If the exposure continues for a long period of time, (a negative) impact can occur. We will continue to survey the situation."

Meanwhile, Japan's deputy finance minister said Thursday that this month's catastrophic quake and tsunami could cost the government in excess of 25 trillion yen ($300 billion).

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 11,400 were confirmed dead from the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the National Police Agency said.