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Phony Navy SEAL buried with military honors

A man who claimed he was a decorated Navy SEAL was buried earlier this month will full honors at a cemetery reserved for military heroes.

But the man was a fake, KIRO-TV in Seattle reports.

The man never served a day in the Navy, and officials at Tahoma National Ceremony in Kent, Washington, were unaware of his bogus claims until KIRO-TV checked the man’s background and explained his phony documentation.

Now, outrage is growing among actual military veterans, and some are calling for his remains to exhumed.

John Marcus Alberti died in April and had no next of kin. A friend went through his belongings and found a military discharge paper called a DD 214. The paper detailed how Alberti served as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam, winning numerous medals for bravery.

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The document even said he was honored by President John F. Kennedy.

The friend, who believed Alberti served because of the document, took the paper to American Legion Post 78 in Auburn, Washington. Officials there worked with the Tahoma National Cemetery. Click here to download a PDF of Alberti's bogus military document.

On July 24, Tahoma National Cemetery gave Alberti a ceremony with full military honors. Post 78 originally posted pictures of the ceremony on its Facebook page.

But the paper has some glaring mistakes.

Navy SEAL veteran Don Shipley is dedicated to exposing fake Navy SEALs. “Not to me. I saw it."

“The guy couldn't even spell Saigon,” Shipley said.

For true military heroes to be buried at Tahoma National Cemetery, the cemetery needs a certified military discharge paper. But Alberti's fake discharge paper was good enough to fool the American Legion and cemetery staff.

Alberti was first exposed in 2008 by the POW Network. Alberti was homeless at the time and staying with a couple in Kent.  They sought out the POW Network, saying he told them stories of being a prisoner of war.  

The POW Network did a check to confirm his service and found Alberti was a phony.  At one point, the network posted his name on its other site, fakewarriors.org.

But in 2012, that site took down the names of those who’d been exposed as phonies.

KIRO-TV spoke to the director of Tahoma National Cemetery, who said the cemetery accepted Alberti, believing the fake military discharge paper was real.

In other cases, bodies have been removed from national cemeteries after officials determined the deceased were not eligible. A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman said the agency is still investigating Alberti's case.

“He needs to get out of there,” Shipley said.  “He's buried among heroes.”

Statement from American Legion Post 78

Prior to the interment of John Marcus Alberti and the Auburn-Reporter's published op-ed - written by a friend of Alberti - a Google search of his name produced little information aside from innocuous items such as FaceBook and LinkedIn pages. It was not until we were contacted by Don Shipley on Saturday (7/26) that we became aware of the "stolen valor" issue. On Sunday (7/27), a search of Alberti's name on the Fakewarriors.org website produced absolutely ZERO results.

Auburn Post 78 had no knowledge of, nor contact with, Alberti prior to his death in April 2014. Alberti died on 4/18/2014 and his body was turned over to the King County Medical Examiner's Office in Seattle. In late April, Alberti's girlfriend of about 7 years contacted our Post service officer for assistance as Alberti had no known family and she was not legally his next of kin. She provided the Post with a copy of a DD214, that she apparently found in his possessions with a VARO Seattle "true copy" stamp and signature on the back.  The DD214 was taken to Tahoma National Cemetery to schedule interment. A representative there researched him on their system and determined he was eligible to be interred at TNC.

At this time, all postings and pictures regarding Alberti have been removed from the websites and Facebook pages over which we have control. We at Auburn Post 78 are extremely distressed that we may have played a role in interring a "fake warrior" in our National cemetery; however the last we heard, the folks at TNC say he is an eligible Navy veteran (disclaimer: being eligible to be buried in the National Cemetery does not in any way imply that the service/training/awards listed on the DD214 are correct).

Carol Reed
Adjutant, Auburn Post 78

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 23:48:50 -0700

Vacaville rescue group saves 500 chickens from egg farm

Tucked in the foothills west of Vacaville is Rescue Ranch - a sanctuary for farm animals often saved from certain death.

It’s a ranch that is now home to 499 hens and 1 rooster saved from an egg farm on Friday.

“I’ve been to this egg farm before,” said Rescue Ranch manager Jan Galeazzi, “they live in very cramped metal cages about the size of a sheet of paper with about two to three birds per cage.  They live there their entire lives.”

The hens were considered spent, or no longer profitable, by the egg farm and were set to be euthanized.

“Gassing is the traditional way that they depopulate egg farms,” Galeazzi said.

Rescue Ranch is run by the non-profit Animal Place which has a policy of not identifying the egg farms that choose donation over euthanization.

“We like to continue to work these relationships with farmers so we can save lives so I can only say its somewhere in California.”

She says the rescued chickens are typically in poor health but quickly recover.

The chickens will be put up for adoption in the coming weeks and Galeazzi says she expects all of them to find a new home.

“500 chickens?  That’s no big deal around here.  We’re used to dealing with thousands of chickens.”

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 22:33:20 -0700

Troubled California refinery overhaul up for vote

Chevron's five-year quest to carry out a $1 billion upgrade of its troubled 1960s-era oil refinery, the largest in Northern California, was facing a decisive vote Tuesday by leaders of a San Francisco suburb.

Richmond, an industrial working-class suburb, plans to hold its City Council vote Tuesday evening in a large amphitheater to handle what is expected to be a big, heated public turnout on the refinery's future.

The refinery complex has weathered a series of toxic releases and other accidents over the years, environmental officials say, including a pollutant-laced 2012 fire that forced 15,000 Bay Area residents to seek treatment for breathing problems.

Chevron Corp. seeks the Richmond City Council's approval for technological upgrades that would allow the refinery to process higher-sulfur crude oil, among other changes. Oil company officials earlier this month agreed to a plan backed by state Attorney General Kamala Harris that would cap the plant's greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce levels of sulfur processing as part of the overhaul.

Chevron officials hope those concessions will be enough to persuade the Richmond council to reject still-tougher health and safety requirements that city planning officials have recommended.

Council members appeared split going into the vote, expected late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Swing voters on the council were pushing for Chevron to increase pledges of $60 million in community investments over 10 years.

The Chevron refinery was built before the pollution-curbing requirements of the federal government's 1970s Clean Air Act. Richmond has poverty levels nearly twice those of the U.S. and California as a whole, and Chevron's taxes make up about a third of the city's budget. Environmental groups and some residents say Richmond bears the brunt of toxic releases by the refinery complex.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 22:20:33 -0700

New Hilton Hotel proposal doesn't sit well with many Pleasant Hill residents

In its on-going redevelopment, the city of Pleasant Hill is now considering the creation of a new Hilton Hotel, but it is not sitting well with nearby residents.

The Ellinwood Park housing development is a peaceful place to call home.

A lush setting of more than 100 units, with ponds and fountains.

"A lot of foliage, a lot of trees. It feels like you're out in the country," said resident Christopher Georgeovich.

But the serene feel could change if Hilton Hotels gets its way. The company wants to create a four story extended stay - type hotel across the street. And right now, city officials are considering the project and its design.

"The benefit to the city is one to continue the economic development of the city. The lot's been vacant for about four years. It was a restaurant, a Chevy's Restaurant," said Pleasant Hill Mayor, Tim Flaherty.

Opposition is building against the project.

"You wake up and you see this monstrosity," exclaimed resident Pauline Lee. And it's mostly coming from across the street.

"Although I don't live on this side of the development, I'm on the other side, I feel terrible for my neighbors that have to see that," added Lee.

"To have a huge stucco building, up against the street, overlooking these homes, there was zoning for a reason," said Fenna Gatty who also lives in the area.

Pleasant Hill Mayor Tim Flaherty says the zoning will have to be changed from three stories to four.

"I don't have the luxury though of just looking at this project based on what the adjoining parcel owner or the residents across the street, I have to look at it through the viewpoint of 33,000 residents as well as the overall good of the city," Flaherty said.

One man said the hotel will actually help the city, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue. "With new business comes more money for the city," said resident Daryl Bareng.

Resident Christopher Georgeovich is opposed, but not rabidly so.

"It's not that we don't want the hotel, it's just it will be a big block like Downtown San Francisco, and it doesn't fit our neighborhood, and it's not that appealing," he said.

If it's approved, construction likely would not begin until next year. The next meeting, which could be contentious, is the planning commission, next week.

 

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:12:38 -0700

Key making apps provide convenience, but also risks

Key making is a daily grind for clerks at Brownie's Hardware Store in San Francisco. 

"On a slow day, twenty," clerk Alicia Ellis told KTVU. "On a busy day, in the hundreds easily. We do get a lot of people who say, 'Oh, I got drunk over the weekend and I lost my whole key ring,' and they'll have us make an entire set for them."

Websites and apps are now taking keymaking online. With a couple clicks of your cellphone camera, new keys can be made to order and mailed to your home.

In a year's time, San Francisco-based KeysDuplicated has created and shipped tens of thousands of new keys.

"The magic trick of taking a picture of something and then two days later getting an exact copy of it in the mail," said KeysDuplicated CEO Ali Rahimi. "You can just do this from your couch. You got a lot of things to do, you've got chores to do. And having one chore less to do is pretty nice. It's breathtaking when you get this object in the mail."

Some security analysts say these kind of services are putting people at risk.

"They're making it too easy for someone to copy your keys and be able to go into your house," Rambus Cryptography Research President Paul Kocher told KTVU Tuesday. "On one hand, there's a certain slightly scary creativity about it. But my general sense is the risks outweigh the benefits."

The fear is that a stranger can simply photograph someone's keys, upload the images to a keymaker website and have the copies sent to the address of his or her choosing.

Rahimi said his company's system is set up to fight fraud.

"We try to ensure that whoever's taking a picture of the key has physical access to the key. Part of the reason we ask for both sides of the key is to make sure they have enough access to turn it around. You type in an email, you give us your address and a few other pieces of identifying information. And you clear a few security barriers and we send you an email telling you the keys on the way," said Rahimi. "[A thief] would then have to type in their credit card and their mailing address which leaves a pretty long paper trail which points to them."

But Kocher said anyone can copy keys providing they have a few moments of access, a cellphone and prepaid credit card.

"A thief can also get a prepaid credit card from a grocery store, it's untraceable to any particular identity," said Kocher. "If you give your keys to a valet, they can easily copy your keys and they might know where you live through your car registration, for example."

KeysDuplicated said it doesn't store shipping addresses for the keys it creates to ensure there's no record of which keys unlock which homes.

Rahimi said anxiety about the safety of such services is "legitimate" but added thieves have long had easier ways to enter homes.

"It's going to be a lot easier for them to just use an old fashioned crowbar. We are not an easy way for someone to gain illicit access to your home," Rahimi said.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:30:47 -0700

Popular restaurant puts up controversial kid-unfriendly sign

A popular restaurant in Monterey is defending a controversial policy that bans “noisy children.”

Many tourists complain the policy is unfair, but the owner at the Old Fisherman’s Grotto says that’s not hurting his bottom line.

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the Monterey’s Peninsula’s biggest tourist attractions and some say the sign at the restaurant is sending the wrong message.

The sign reads, “No Strollers. No High Chairs. No Booster Chairs. Children crying or making loud noises are a distraction to other diners, and as such are not allowed in the dining room.”

The owner of the restaurant says he doesn’t care if people are offended and if people don’t like it, they are welcome to eat elsewhere.

“If a place has the rules, that's what the rules are, you go in and abide by the rules or you find a place that's more suitable to your dining," Chris Shake said.

The owner says this policy has been in place for two years and they’ve had two signs up since then. They recently added the third.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 19:27:32 -0700

Officials look to address gun violence in Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood

Gun violence has killed four people in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood this month alone.

City Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the Bayview, introduced a proposal to the board of supervisors Tuesday. It would create a new task force to address gun violence prevention.

"We must create a sense of urgency around the issue and maintain a resolve that this is not going to be tolerated," said Cohen from the steps of City Hall.

Cohen is proposing the formation of a 17 member task force composed of law enforcement, mental health workers, the school district and community leaders.

Joe Marshall, founder of the acclaimed Omega Boys Club, says the task force can help reduce crime.

"Violence has been going down in San Francisco. And this task force says lets push it to the next level," he said.

"We have too many task forces when Mayor Willie Brown was in office, when Gavin Newsom was in office. So why create another task force," said Shawn Richard who started Brothers Against Guns and who is running against Cohen for her supervisor's seat in November.

He says people need boots on the ground help, not task forces.

"We need services out here. Job services employment services, mental health services," said Richard.

Cohen says the task force will focus on getting illegal guns off the street and identifying young people who may be at risk of falling into street violence.

"You've law enforcement talking here, you got prosecution over here, you've got defense over here, I’m looking to bringing everyone together so we can come up with a strategy," she said.

Mattie Scott lost her son to gun violence in 1996. 

She says it doesn't take a task force to attack the root causes.

"Housing is a major issue. If you don't have a place to live your are subject to do violence," she said. 

Citywide homicides are down about 20 percent from last year.

Cohen says she hopes to have the task force in place by mid-September.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 19:11:00 -0700

Future of Gleneagles golf course uncertain

The drawn out drama of a rundown golf course in a rundown San Francisco neighborhood will come to a head this week when the city decide if and how Gleneagles can survive. 

Though the city owns the property, it has been an absentee landlord for decades, blaming the tenant for its poor condition. And so, on Tuesday the folks from San Francisco's tough Sunnydale district brought their case to the golfers at the city's toney Harding Park, demanding equal treatment for Gleaneagles Golf Course in McLaren Park. They want the city to provide labor, services and water as it does at its other five courses.

"To be here in Harding Park and see how beautiful and how much potential a golf course has, we definitely want that in Sunnydale," says Jackie Flynn and activist with the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Gleneagles brings kids in from the neighborhood to learn the game and is working with labor unions on training kids for jobs in the field.

"It means a lot to us because it helps us for employment too: the community as well as our organization," says Jose Parra, a trade union member.

"This is not just a golf course for the golfers.  This is a San Francisco golf course in a very troubled neighborhood. And our job, our moral obligation is to help lift up this neighborhood." says Tom Hsieh, a San Francisco native and the current lessee operator of Gleneagles, a course Lee Trevino once said was one of the hardest courses in the nation.

But Hsieh's ten year lease is about to expire and he says he can't go on without the city's help which he's had some recent success in negotiating but, he says, he and the city are about $100,000 apart.

"We are asking them to go further so that we cannot just survive out here, we want this golf course to thrive,” says Hsieh.

Sarah Ballard, an executive with the San Francisco Parks & Recreation Department says if it cannot work a deal with Hsieh, it has a backup.

"We intend to keep Gleneagles open whether Mr. Hsieh is operating it or someone else" says Ballard.

The city lays the problem on Hsieh.

"He essentially walked away from the table," says Ballard.

Hsieh counters, "I've pledged I'm ready to sit down at the table anytime."

"Our hope is to have that agreement.  We're continuing negotiations," concedes Ballard. 

But, the locals say they don't trust the city much or just any other operator. 

"I don't think there was a conversation with the community for years too really develop a community partnership," says activist Jackie Flynn.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:55:13 -0700

Water shut off at popular pond amid algae concern

The water was shut off at a popular East Bay pond because of concerns about algae contamination. Adding to those concerns was confusion about which government agency is in charge of the pond and the water in it that hundreds of children play in every summer.

The pond at Frog Park, in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland near Claremont and Hudson avenues is usually full of water and children.

Dressed in his swim shirt and trunks, 6-year-old Riley Duncan came to Frog Park prepared.

“I thought the water was going to be on,” he said, disappointed that the pond was dry.

“We were going to have a play date and play in the water, all our six kids together, so this is kind of disappointing,” said his mother, Kristine Duncan.

Normally, water is pumped into this pond from an underground culvert, but officials with the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District turned that pump off on Friday, after the neighborhood group that oversees the park found out about health concerns with the water source. The water in the culvert that is pumped into Frog Pond, comes from Lake Temescal.

A toxic algae bloom at Lake Temescal has kept the water here off limits to swimmers since Thursday.

After the members of the Friends of the Rockridge Greenbelt, or FROG Committee learned about the closure, there was confusion about whom to call to shut off the water pumps.

“This has never happened before, there wasn't exactly a road map for, oh, call this person, do this,” FROG committee member and Frog Park co-founder, Theresa Nelson said.

KTVU learned that Alameda County is in charge of the water, they have a license agreement with the City of Oakland to operate the land as a park, but no one is in charge of testing the water on a regular basis to make sure it’s safe to play in.

Oakland Public Works officials told KTVU the same is true for any creek, pond or stream that's not a designated swimming area.  

Hank Ackerman with the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District said his agency does test the water when there is a report of a spill or other unusual event.

Neighbors are hoping to change that with help from of the city and possibly, volunteers. Behr said the committee is also relying on support from residents and volunteers to make other improvements to the park, like new play structures and swings sets. Last month, the committee began fundraising the last of the $50,000 needed to add the new features.

“We're a community group and we're doing our best to work with the city,” said FROG park chair Carol Behr, “we’d like to see  who's going to take responsibility for testing, and when will it be tested and get the water tested hopefully on a more regular basis.”

After Behr and KTVU brought the issue up, Alameda County water officials did test the water Tuesday to see if algae is a problem. They won't have the results until later this week.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:08:59 -0700

PG&E charged with obstruction in deadly San Bruno explosion investigation

Pacific Gas & Electric was charged Tuesday with lying to regulators in connection with a fatal pipeline explosion that leveled a suburban Northern California neighborhood in 2010.

The U.S. attorney in San Francisco announced the obstruction of justice charge and 27 related counts, which are in a new indictment charging the utility with felonies. It replaces a previous indictment that contained 12 counts, but not obstruction.

Prosecutors say PG&E hampered the investigation by lying to regulators immediately after the blast. In particular, PG&E officials are accused of telling National Transportation Safety Board investigators that the safety procedures being followed were correct and approved.

The other charges accuse the utility of failing to act on threats in its pipeline system even after the problems were identified by its own inspectors.

PG&E faces hundreds of millions of dollars in fines if found guilty.

The utility announced in June that it was expecting the new indictment. PG&E spokesman Greg Snapper said company officials had not yet seen it.

"However, based on all of the evidence we have seen to date, we do not believe that the charges are warranted and that, even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe and reliable energy," he said in a prepared statement.

PG&E said in May that it has committed $2.7 billion over the next several years for safety-related work following the incident.

Its profits were weighed down in its most recent quarter by $40 million in legal and safety improvement costs tied to its natural gas business.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:32:26 -0700

Broken water main floods UCLA; 5 people rescued

A broken water main near the UCLA campus Tuesday sent a geyser of water some 30 feet into the air, trapping people in underground parking garages and covering some of the best-known parts of campus in water, including the school's famed basketball arena.

The 30-inch, 93-year-old pipe that broke under nearby Sunset Boulevard made a raging river of the street and sent millions of gallons of water across the school's athletic facilities, including the famed floor of Pauley Pavilion, as well as a pair of parking structures that took the brunt of the damage.

The arena — where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Reggie Miller and Kevin Love starred and John Wooden coached for 10 years — recently underwent a $132 million renovation that was completed in October 2012. At least an inch of water covered the floor Tuesday night, and its locker rooms were also flooded.

"It's painful. It's painful," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said at a news conference. "We just refurbished Pauley just a few years ago. And it's a beautiful structure. It's of course, a symbolic structure for this entire campus."

Administrative Vice Chancellor Jack Powazek said the school may need to make contingency plans, but "luckily we're not in the middle of basketball season."

The water break came amid a severe drought in California, where under new regulations residents are subject to fines up to $500 a day for wasting water.

Firefighters, some using inflatable boats, saved at least five people who were stranded in the underground parking structures.

People saw the water and started rushing down the stairwells to rescue their cars, and authorities had to keep them out as water rose up to the wheel wells of vehicles, many of which were stranded, city fire spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

Firefighters have been searching cars in the structures to make sure nobody was still inside, Humphrey said. No injuries have been reported.

As many as 100 cars were stranded in the garages, officials said.

Beth Schoenborn, 49, and her daughter Kelly Schoenborn, 17, of Portland, Oregon, were on a campus tour that was brought to a halt when the water started flowing.

Their rental car was in one of the flooded parking structures. They got to it and started driving but couldn't exit because a dip was blocked by water.

"We moved it up to the highest point," Beth Schoenborn said as she stood outside the parking structure.

The water pipe, which carries 75,000 gallons per minute when it's functioning, broke at about 3:30 p.m. and was shut off about 3 1/2 hours later, Department of Water and Power spokesman Jim McDaniel said. An estimated 8 million to 10 million gallons were released, McDaniel said.

"Unfortunately, we lost a lot of water, around 35,000 gallons a minute, which is not ideal in the worst drought in the city's history," City Councilman Paul Koretz said, "so we ask everybody to try harder to conserve water."

Three buildings were damaged. In addition to Pauley Pavilion, the Wooden Center, which has training facilities for students, and the J.D. Morgan Center, which houses the school's sports trophies and athletics offices was also flooded.

Fire and police officials swarmed the chaotic scene that featured helicopters hovering overhead and backpack-bearing students wading across campus in ankle-deep water. Meanwhile, some fun-seekers went in the water with body boards.

Patrick Huggins and Matthew Bamberger, two 18-year-olds who live in nearby Westwood, said they were having a boring summer day until Huggins' mother told them about the water.

"It was about up to my thigh, and I thought this is a good day for a little dip," Huggins said.

The two shot video of themselves diving and splashing in the badly flooded practice putting green used by the golf team.

Paul Phootrakul of the UCLA Alumni Association, who was in business attire for an evening event, took off his dress shoes and dress socks, and rolled up his slacks in an attempt to wade to his car. Firefighters stopped him, saying the parking structure was not steady because of the weight of all the water.

"I was trying to move my car without getting wet so I'm presentable for this event," he said. "I definitely know that the cars on the bottom floor, my best bet, are gone or totaled. I don't have much hope for my car."

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:42:01 -0700

Watch: Two women escape death by diving under train

Dramatic surveillance video shows two women running for their lives on a railroad bridge, then dropping down on the tracks just before the train runs them over. Amazingly, both women survived.

"When the trains topped, the two women crawled out from under the engine, started running this way," Eric Powell, with Indiana Railroad, said. “(The conductor) yelled back and asked them, 'Are you okay?' One yelled she had stubbed her toe, (but was) otherwise fine. I'm sure their nerves were as shattered as his were." (WTHR.com)

Watching the video, It’s hard to believe that a stubbed toe was the worst of their physical injuries.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvpnqT1wtvM

The incident happened earlier this month on the Indiana Railroad bridge northeast of Bloomington at Lake Lemon. The bridge is 80 feet high. There are no walkways because pedestrians are not allowed.

The 100-car coal train braked hard, Powell said, but was across the bridge before it was able to stop.

Indiana Railroad plans to prosecute the two women for criminal trespass to send a message to others.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:15:33 -0700

How your face can leave a good or bad first impression

Researchers in England are saying your physical appearance largely impacts how others perceive your personality. 

"Facial features like the shape of a person's jaw, mouth and eyes can almost instantaneously contribute to what kind of personality we sum up someone with. ... A lot can ride on a single selfie." (Via ABC)

It's no wonder people are taking so many darn selfies right now — apparently, a lot rides on those photos. 

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says, "Despite enormous variation in ambient images of faces, a substantial proportion of the variance in first impressions can be accounted for through linear changes in objectively defined features."

Yeah, that sounds like a bunch of scientific gibberish. So let's break it down. Researchers took 1,000 faces from the Internet and showed them to at least six people, who then rated their perceptions of the photo subjects' intelligence and other characteristics.

"They tracked 65 facial features, noting the subtle differences in the jaws, the eyes, the mouth and the cheekbones." (Via CBS)

Using that data, researchers built a model of how someone's face could quickly give impressions of three main characteristics: approachability, dominance and attractiveness. (Via Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

Once the cartoon faces were created, it was test time again.

As BBC notes, the researchers' cartoons evoked the appropriate responses from people.

"When the researchers quizzed more participants about their impressions of the artificial, cartoon faces, the ratings matched. People said that the computer's cartoon prediction of an approachable face was, indeed, approachable - and so on."

Medical Daily points out previous studies have found links between facial expressions and first impressions, and this one follows suit. 

"The researchers suggest that the study could have implications for people who have to provide photos of themselves to get jobs, such as actors, models, and the like. For these people, putting their best face forward could mean the difference."

OK, so they've figured out an approachable facial expression. Does that mean we should wax our eyebrows into a perfect arch for first impression's sake? (Via jon collier / CC BY SA 2.0)

Eh, not really. The BBC quoted a doctor from the study who said, "It's very difficult for us to pin down with certainty that a given feature of the face is contributing to a certain social impression."

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:44:25 -0700

US, Europe impose tough new sanctions on Russia

Spurred to action by the downing of the Malaysian airliner, the European Union approved dramatically tougher economic sanctions Tuesday against Russia, including an arms embargo and restrictions on state-owned banks. President Barack Obama swiftly followed with an expansion of U.S. penalties targeting key sectors of the Russian economy.

The coordinated sanctions were aimed at increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his country's support for separatists in eastern Ukraine whom the West blames for taking down the passenger jet nearly two weeks ago. Obama and U.S. allies also warned that Russia was building up troops and weaponry along its border with Ukraine.

"Today Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress," Obama said. "It does not have to be this way. This a choice Russia and President Putin has made."

Tuesday's announcements followed an intense lobbying effort from Obama aimed at getting European leaders to toughen their penalties on Russia and match earlier U.S. actions. Europe has a far stronger economic relationship with Russian than the U.S., but EU leaders have been reluctant to impose harsh penalties in part out of concern about a negative impact on their own economies.

However, Europe's calculus shifted sharply after a surface-to-air missile brought down the passenger jet, killing nearly 300 people including more than 200 Europeans. Obama and his counterparts from Britain, France, Germany and Italy finalized plans to announce the broader sanctions Monday in an unusual joint video conference.

European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said the sanctions sent a "strong warning" that Russia's destabilization of Ukraine cannot be tolerated.

"When the violence created spirals out of control and leads to the killing of almost 300 innocent civilians in their flight from the Netherlands to Malaysia, the situation requires urgent and determined response," the two top EU officials said in a statement.

Obama, responding to a question after his announcement at the White House, said, "No, it's not a new cold war."

Still, U.S. officials say sanctions already rippling through Russia are having a detrimental impact on the country's economy. Russia's growth projections have been downgraded, and Obama said $100 billion in capital was already expected to flee Russia even before Tuesday's joint U.S.-European announcements.

The sanctions, Obama said, "have made a weak Russian economy even weaker."

Yet it remains uncertain whether the tougher penalties will have any impact on Russia's actions in Ukraine — nor was it clear what other actions the U.S. and Europe were willing to take if the situations remains unchanged. U.S. officials said they believe economic pressure remains their most effective tool, and Obama reiterated his opposition to sending lethal aid to the Ukrainian military.

The new European penalties include an arms embargo on Moscow and a ban on the unapproved sale to the Russians of technology that has dual military and civilian uses or is particularly sensitive, such as advanced equipment used in deep-sea and Arctic oil drilling.

To restrict Russia's access to Europe's money markets, EU citizens and banks will be barred from purchasing certain bonds or stocks issued by state-owned Russian banks, according to EU officials.

The specific targets of the EU actions will be published Thursday, when they will take effect.

U.S. officials said they expected Europe's list of targets to include some of the same energy companies, defense entities and financial institutions the Obama administration hit with sanctions the day before the Malaysian airliner was shot out of the sky. The White House has been pressing Europe in recent days to bring its penalties in line with the U.S., both to increase the economic pressure on Moscow and present a united Western front.

As part of that effort, Obama also announced an expansion of the U.S. sanctions on Russian economic sectors. Among the targets were three major Russian banks: the Bank of Moscow, Russian Agricultural Bank and VTB Bank, Russia's second largest bank.

Administration officials said 30 percent of the Russian banking sector's assets were now targeted by U.S. sanctions. The main function of the sanctions is to curtail the financial institutions' ability to access U.S. debt markets, not to block individual users from using their accounts or credit cards, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sanctions by name.

Chris Weafer, an analyst at the investment firm Macro Advisory, said the banking sanctions would have the most immediate impact on Russia and could trickle down to individuals.

"It will certainly tighten the local debt market," he said. "It will make it very difficult for small enterprises and individuals to access debt."

The U.S. also targeted the St. Petersburg-based United Shipbuilding Corporation, a defense technologies firm, and was blocking future technology sales to Russia's oil industry.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:50:38 -0700

Eviction attempt leads to tense SWAT standoff in Hayward neighborhood

A SWAT standoff in Hayward ended at 5:30 Tuesday evening when law enforcement determined no one was inside the home in the 27000 block of Gainesville Boulevard.

It started just before 10:00 a.m. when Alameda County Sheriff's deputies went to serve an eviction notice to a tenant. Hayward police say when deputies entered the home, they found suspicious notes indicating there were explosives inside the home. That's when the bomb squad and SWAT where called to the scene, and streets were blocked off to traffic.

Neighbors in the surrounding homes were told to evacuate. One of them told KTVU she text messaged with the man, who police aren't identifying yet.

"When I text him I just said, 'the bomb squad is here, cops are here'," Jenny Raisler said reading their text exchange on her phone. "I was just saying, 'Look, if you went crazy and made a bomb, let me know so I can get out of here!' He just said, 'I have no idea what they're (law enforcement) talking about'."

Several times law enforcement could be heard shouting through a loudspeaker for the man they believed was inside the home to come out, promising law enforcement wasn't going away until that happened. SWAT teams entered the property several times. There were snipers behind armored vehicles and on rooftops, and the bomb squad sent in three different robots.

Another neighbor couldn't believe what she was seeing. "Oh, he's a good guy! And sometimes he fix our car," said Eleanor Corpuz. "I don't know what's really going on."

In the end, law enforcement determined there was no one home, and no bombs inside. Officers did recover weapons and will be checking to see if they are registered.

Hayward police are not releasing the name of the man who they believed was in the home, but said they are still looking for him.

 

 

 

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:36:39 -0700

Board of Supervisors approve A's new lease

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an agreement to extend the Oakland A's lease at the O.co Coliseum for another 10 years.

The vote is the next-to-last step in an often-contentious 14-month-long negotiating process aimed at keeping the baseball team in Oakland.

The final step is a vote by the board of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Joint Powers Authority on Aug. 6.

The JPA's attorney, Jon Streeter, said he expects the board to approve the agreement because it voted to approve an earlier version of the lease on July 3.

The agreement approved by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Tuesday includes changes that the Oakland City Council made two weeks ago and were approved by the A's last week.

Streeter said he was happy with the original agreement but the changes made by the City Council were "a net improvement" that better protects the interests of the city and the county.

The lease agreement includes an escape clause that allows the A's to leave the Coliseum after the 2018 Major League Baseball season.

However, the team would still have to pay rent at the Coliseum until the end of the agreement in 2024 unless it moved to another site in Oakland.

The agreement also allows the city to force the A's out of the Coliseum if a deal to develop the site and build a new football-only stadium there for the Oakland Raiders materializes.

The most significant amendment made by the City Council and approved by the A's and the Board of Supervisors would free the city of Oakland and Alameda County from liability if the Raiders violate the terms of their lease at the Coliseum.

Describing the lengthy negotiating process, Supervisor Wilma Chan said it has "gone through more twists and turns than any road anyone has ever seen."

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:53:27 -0700

Suspect arrested in San Leandro attempted child abduction

Alameda County Sheriff's deputies have arrested a 53-year-old man on charges that he attempted to kidnap an 11-year-old girl, authorities announced Tuesday.

Investigators say the girl was walking in the area of 163rd Avenue and East 14th Street early Monday afternoon.

According to Sgt. J.D. Nelson, Martin Gonzalez tried to grab the girl and pull her into his car.

“This is the stuff that nightmares are made of," Nelson told KTVU. "Here's a guy. He's in his car, pants down around his ankles, and here's an 11-year-old girl, minding her own business and she gets grabbed by a stranger. It's every parent’s nightmare." < p /> Investigators told KTVU that the girl fought back. She was able to break away and run to Ashland Youth Center to seek help.

Ashley Pryor was at the reception desk when the girl came looking for help.

"When she walked in she was very, very calm,” she told KTVU. “That’s the best word. She wasn't like I'm scared … she had the tools to deal with a situation like this."

Deputy Priscilla Silva teaches self-defense at the youth center and says she trained the 11-year-old to fight back.

"When I found out it was this female in particular I was very proud of her," said Silva. "I mean, she was one of the smallest, but if you were ever in this class she was the most energetic."

Deputies flooded into the area and were able to locate Gonzalez and arrested him.

Investigators say he has no criminal record in Alameda County and that he splits his time between living in unincorporated San Leandro and Mexico.

Because of the nature of the crime, they are looking to see if Gonzalez is a suspect in other jurisdictions, and are checking with Mexican law enforcement officers as well.

He is facing attempted kidnaping as well as other felony charges.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:47:39 -0700

Father kills, skins family dog for dinner

46-year-old Salvador Martinez told police he killed, skinned, and refrigerated Onyx, the Chihuahua-dachshund mix because he was worried there wasn’t enough food for everyone living at his house.

 His girlfriend told cops in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that wasn’t true.

 Martinez was committed. He went so far as to use the Internet to find ways to cook the family pet.

 “It is extremely disturbing to know that someone would be that brutal with a family animal," Torrance County Sheriff Heath White told KRQE.

 White added there were several children home at the time and they “had full knowledge of what was taking place with their family pet." However, a woman identifying herself as the ex-girlfriend of Martinez posted in the comments section of the KRQE story that her grandchildren were not present at the time of the grisly discovery.

 White confirmed "the carcass was still inside the refrigerator being prepped for dinner," when Martinez was taken into custody.

 Eating a dog is legal in New Mexico, but he will be charged with extreme animal cruelty and child abuse.

 However, Martinez will probably land in the slammer for another reason.

 In 2003, he was convicted for transporting cocaine into the US from Mexico.  His current arrest landed him in federal custody for probation violation.  

More here.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:37:52 -0700

Climate change could cost billions, according to White House

According to President Barack Obama, "Climate change is no longer a distant threat. It has moved firmly into the present." (Via The White House)

The White House has long warned against inaction on climate change.  

But a report out Tuesday puts a whopping price tag on it: about $150 billion a year. It comes from the president's Council of Economic Advisers. 

Basically, the council urged quick action — and also put a price on delay, saying for every decade action isn't taken to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the cost increases 40 percent. 

Which earned the report lots of scary headlines but not much explanation within the coverage. (Via Time)

So here's what's included in that number: the cost of severe weather damage, an anticipated drop in crop yields and the cost of new programs to fight climate change. But it's hard to discuss the issue in the current political climate.

Case in point: The conservative Washington Times' first paragraph characterizes the new report as "an attempt to justify [the Obama administration's] controversial actions."

Controversial actions like an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to limit carbon emissions from the nation's power plants — who say it will cost them so much, the new guidelines could cripple the industry. (Via Getty Images)

So really, when it comes to both sides of this argument, the issue tends to come down to the cost of action versus the cost of inaction. But putting a price on either is where things get sticky. 

For example, climate change proponents figure in things like the combined $122 billion in congressional aid for damages following hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. (Via Proud Novice / CC BY SA 3.0)

Problem there is you could argue it wouldn't be accurate to attribute all that damage to climate change. But in a Washington Post op-ed, former Council on Foreign Relations co-chair Robert Rubin argues the environmental and the economic are tied together, despite the difficulty of putting an exact number on it:

"​We do not face a choice between protecting our environment or protecting our economy. We face a choice between protecting our economy by protecting our environment," the opinion piece said.

In any case, prepare for more budget battles in the fight to win the public relations war. 

The Hill's Laura Barron-Lopez says the new report shows "the White House is now starting a debate on climate change around expenses in the federal budget." 

This week the EPA will hold several public hearings on its plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants. And Tuesday a Senate Budget Committee hearing will debate "The Economic and Budgetary Consequences of Climate Change."

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:25:43 -0700

Dad accidentally delivers baby into toilet

A Connecticut baby has arrived with a splash, right into a toilet bowl.

The baby's father, David Davis, tells WVIT-TV that he was forced to deliver the newborn in the bathroom of his West Haven home Friday morning after his wife, Lillie, went into labor.

He says the baby slipped through his hands during the delivery, but luckily went into the water. He says she began crying and it was the best sound he'd ever heard.

Davis says the couple had gone to a hospital earlier in that morning, but had been sent home after it was determined his wife was not ready to give birth.

She began feeling strong labor pains a few hours later. Livia weighed in at 7 pounds, 6 ounces — soaking wet.

Published: Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:18:31 -0700