The Department of Veterans Affairs has systematically missed nearly all of its internal benchmarks for reducing a hulking backlog of benefits claims and has quietly backed away from repeated promises to give all veterans and family members speedier decisions by 2015.
Navy veteran Wallace Watson of Fremont, Calif., applied for veteran disability benefits in September 2010 and recently got an exam. (Erik Verduzco/Center for Investigative Reporting)
Internal VA documents, obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, show the agency processed 260,000 fewer claims than it thought it would during the past year and a half—falling 130,000 short in the 2012 fiscal year and another 130,000 short of its goal between October and March.
The result: At a time when the number of veterans facing long waits was supposed to be going down, it instead went up.
On April 29, the VA began to qualify its promise, made repeatedly since 2009, that “all claims” would be processed within four months by 2015.
In a weekly performance report posted on its website, the agency excludes a host of benefits from the promise—including veterans’ burial subsidies, pensions sought by survivors, and compensation claims from children of Vietnam veterans who have birth defects caused by the defoliant Agent Orange. Continue reading »
It's probably too late, but the inventor of the "gif" file format wants us to pronounce it "jif."
Like "jpg," the Graphics Interchange Format, or "gif," is used to display images on digital devices. The news came at the 2013 Webby Awards, where Steve Wilhite was honored for the invention. He dropped his bomb by gif, of course.
Two years ago this month, the California Department of Parks & Recreation announced a list of 70 parks it planned to close. Park lovers rallied, giving their time and money to pick up the parks the state was willing to drop off. There is no closure list now, and the department is under new management, but the financial crisis has not passed. Those park lovers are now wondering how long they’re going to carry an extra load.
Left to right: Rosemary Johnston, Rick Barclay, Bob Hillstead wear sun hats and sun screen on a regular basis to volunteer at Palomar Mountain State Park in San Diego County. (Credit KQED/Rachael Myrow)
This time of year, Palomar Mountain State Park smells wonderfully fragrant, a mix of oak and pine and earth. Woodpeckers chatter with each other in the trees, and purple lupine dots the landscape. Twelve miles of trails offer stunning vistas of valleys to the north and south of the park.
Those simple charms won over Rick Barclay of Temecula about 15 years ago. Somehow, he went from casual day hiking, to trail maintenance, to running Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park, established two years ago, after park system officials put Palomar on a closure list.
"We’re like parents," Barclay says. "You may have a kid, but I love my kid, and this is my kid we’re talking about. I’m sure all of the other parks have a lot of things going for them. I haven’t been to all of them, so I can’t say that this park is worthy of staying open more than every other park that there is, but this is my park." Continue reading »
Ale Ekstrom, who's been living in an "anchor-out" for more than 50 years. (Photo: Noam Eshel)
Marin County is one of the most expensive places to live in the Bay Area, which in turn is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. Unless you live in an anchor-out, that is—then your housing costs are practically nil. Anchor-outs are boats that people are living illegally off the coast of Sausalito, and they are not without controversy.
This 2012 Smithsonian Magazine piece addresses the checkered history of Sausalito's houseboat community, which includes both the anchor-out boats and those moored on the docks ...
During the 1950s and ‘60s, as the Beats gave way to the hippies, the chance to construct rent-free homes out of abandoned boats and flotsam was a siren song that drew a spectrum of characters. Some were working artists ... who bought and improved old boats. There were also musicians, drug dealers, misfits and other fringe-dwellers. The waterfront swelled into a community of squatters who, as [houseboat resident and Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart] Brand puts it, “had more nerve than money ...." Through the early 1970s, the Sausalito houseboat scene was a sort of anarchist commune.
As Airbnb continues to shake things up for the hotel industry, it's increasingly running into issues with the law, particularly in areas where the law is not clear cut. It's not just in New York—officials in the company's hometown of San Francisco are concerned about property owners potentially using its service to get around local tenant protections and land use codes.
The New York case of Nigel Warren shows how easily an Airbnb user could fall foul of the law, the New York Times reports.
... when he returned from a three-night trip to Colorado, he heard from his landlord. Special enforcement officers from the city showed up while he was gone, and the landlord received five violations for running afoul of rules related to illegal transient hotels. Added together, the potential fines looked as if they could reach over $40,000.
Super Bowl L will be held in San Francisco—or actually Santa Clara—in 2016.
The 49ers success in recent seasons contributed to the Bay Area's selection as host of the Superbowl. (Chris McGrath)
National media has referred to "San Francisco" in reporting the selection, but the National Football League championship game will actually take place in Santa Clara, where the 49ers are planning to be playing by next year.
Only once has the Bay Area hosted a Super Bowl, in 1985 at Stanford Stadium, where the 49ers beat the Dolphins 38-16.
"I think with the new stadium ... we can host a Super Bowl there," Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice told The Associated Press. "It's going to be awesome ... To stay competitive in the NFL, this is something we have really needed for a long, long time, and I think it's going to be awesome."
by Marcy Gordon and Peter Svensson, AP Business Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate dragged massively profitable Apple Inc. into the debate over the U.S. tax code Tuesday, grilling CEO Tim Cook over allegations that its Irish subsidiaries help the company avoid billions in U.S. taxes.
Apple CEO Tim Cook testifies before the U.S. Senate. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Cook said the subsidiaries have nothing to do with reducing its U.S. taxes, a message he struggled to convey to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
"We pay all the taxes we owe — every single dollar," Cook said. "We don't depend on tax gimmicks."
It was the first time an Apple CEO testified before Congress. Cook did so voluntarily.
The senate subcommittee released a report Monday that held up Apple as an example of the legal tax avoidance made possible by the U.S. tax code. It estimates that Apple avoided at least $3.5 billion in U.S. federal taxes in 2011 and $9 billion in 2012 by using its tax strategy, and described a complex setup involving Irish subsidiaries as being a key element of this strategy.
But Cook said the Irish subsidiaries don't reduce the company's U.S. taxes at all. Rather, the company avoids paying the 35 percent federal tax rate on profits made overseas by not bringing those profits back to the U.S., a practice it shares with other multinationals. Continue reading »
LOS ANGELES (AP) — University of California medical center workers began a two-day strike Tuesday that could involve thousands of employees and prompted postponement of some surgeries.
Striking workers whistled on the picket line at UC San Francisco. (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)
The union representing some 13,000 hospital pharmacists, nursing assistants, operating room scrubs and other health care workers began the walkout at 4 a.m. Tuesday at medical facilities in cities including San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Francisco and Sacramento, home to UC Davis Medical Center.
Green-shirted picketers were in place at the Los Angeles facility.
The union is battling over staffing and pension issues.
"We care about our patients and we feel that we're chronically understaffed and we need additional help," Ruben Gomez, a radiation therapist in Los Angeles, told KCBS-TV. Continue reading »
A simple cable lock (in red) looped through the action of an unloaded AR-15 semiautomatic rifle renders the weapon inoperable, in case a child or other unauthorized person gains access to it. (Elaine Korry/KQED)
Accidental gun deaths have topped news headlines lately, with young people the most likely victims. In Sacramento, several Democratic state lawmakers are sponsoring bills to cut down on these tragic accidents, by making gun owners more accountable for how their weapons are secured.
One measure would make gun owners liable for any harm done by their firearms—regardless of who caused it. Right now they can be held liable if a child gets a hold of their loaded weapon and harms someone. But the proposed law goes further, in that gun owners could be penalized if they leave a loaded weapon unsecured, so that a child simply could access it.
Assembly Whip Jimmy Gomez, a co-sponsor of AB231, wants gun owners to take more precautions. “Keep your gun in a lock box, have a trigger lock, keep the bullets away from the gun itself, and that way if something happens and somebody tries to use your gun, it’s less likely that they’ll be able to get a hold of it, and then actually do something dangerous with it,” said Gomez.
Many gun owners say of course they’re responsible for their firearms, but they don’t need new laws to spell out how to make them safer. “If you have a gun, common sense, without anybody even telling you anything, is to lock it up so there’s no access from anybody that’s not authorized to use a firearm,” said Scott Jackson, a firearms owner and safety instructor in the Bay Area city of Burlingame.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California would take steps to regulate the sale of medical marijuana under a bill approved Monday by the state Senate, restricting cannabis dispensaries that federal prosecutors say have grown out of control.
Richard Lee's Oaksterdam was among the marijuana dispensaries targeted by federal agents.(Manny Crisosotomo/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images)
California voters first supported legalizing marijuana to treat illness in 1996, but federal prosecutors recently cracked down. They said the industry has grown enormously profitable and has made marijuana essentially available for recreational use.
The Senate sent the bill to the Assembly on a 22-12 vote and without any Republican support.
The legislation makes it clear that dispensaries cannot operate at a profit, but that the owners can receive reasonable compensation and reimbursement for expenses.
"This bill is not about the legalization of marijuana,'' said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "It does seek to assure that patients who need medical cannabis have access to it. It is intended to assure that drug cartels and other criminals do not benefit from the lack of regulation.'' Continue reading »