June’s Prop. 50 Was Inspired In Part By Former State Sen. Leland Yee’s Arrest

This story originally appeared at CBS Sacramento on Feb. 24, 2016

By Kyle Buis

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The sentencing of former State Sen. Leland Yee comes just over three months before a Constitutional amendment his arrest helped inspire.

On June 7, Proposition 50 will have California voters decide whether suspended members of the state’s legislature can be suspended without pay. Currently, that power is in a legal gray area.

The California Constitutional amendment was proposed by then state Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg after three embattled state legislators not only continued to receive their pay, but got raises despite facing criminal charges.

  • State Sen. Roderick Wright was indicted by a grand jury for voter fraud and perjury over his place of residence. He was convicted on Jan. 28, 2014, but a series of delays pushed his sentencing to Sept. 12. He resigned days later and served out his sentence on Oct. 30. His 90-day sentence was reduced to less than 90 minutes because it was a nonviolent offense.
  • State Sen. Ron Calderon was indicted in February 2014 on charges he accepted money for getting legislation passed. His trial has been delayed until May 10, nearly two years to the day when he decided to take an indefinite leave of absence.
  • Finally, Yee, a Secretary of State candidate with a strong gun control record, was arrested and his offices were raided on March 26, 2014 in connection with a gunrunning investigation where he accepted bribes and discussed helping an undercover FBI agent buy automatic weapons from the Philippines. He was sentenced to five years in prison as part of a plea deal on Wednesday.

The three were able to continue receiving their pay because of a legal opinion from the state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau that raised possible conflicts with the state Constitution, specifically 1990’s Proposition 112. The amendment meant to curb gifts and influence from lobbyists also created the California Citizens Compensation Commission, which would set pay and benefits for legislators.

Because of that rule and a court case in New Jersey, the bureau issued an opinion saying the Senate couldn’t touch the salary or benefits of the suspended Senators, since any wage changes were in the hands of the commission.

That commission meets once a year to decide changes to legislators’ compensation, and by law, can only make changes across the board, not for specific lawmakers. That left no room for it to strip suspended lawmakers of their pay, or exempt them from the 2 percent raise granted to legislators in June 2014.

Steinberg’s office proposed Senate Constitutional Amendment 17 to deal with the issue. With a two-thirds vote in the legislature, a lawmaker can be suspended and their pay and benefits can be stripped during the course of the suspension. Another two-thirds vote would be required to reinstate them.

SCA17 was intended to go on the November 2014 ballot, but a delay by the state Assembly pushed it back to this June’s general election.

Majora’s Mask Limited Edition 3DS And Game Bundles Will Be Available At Fry’s Electronics

Sometimes you complain into the wind and don’t expect to hear anything back.

After news that Target and Fry’s had both listed the Majora’s Mask Limited Edition 3DS systems briefly before selling out, I threw out this random thought

Well, someone at Fry’s was listening and gave me a glimmer of hope:

But dropping $200 on a new console didn’t seem like a good idea, especially with the rigmarole Nintendo puts users through to transfer digital purchases—the fact you need both systems at the time of transfer is a bit of a deal-killer. Throw in the fact I work nights, and lining up for an 8 a.m. opening for the system didn’t seem like a great idea.

However, Fry’s did entice me a little more

Yep, the limited bundle with the rare figurine will also be available.

Whether or not I make the trek to Fry’s that day, it’s good to see that both the system and the game bundle will be available in stores through at least one chain. Odds are, this will extend to Gamestop and Target, but in super-limited quantities.

Constitutional Amendment To Strip Suspended Lawmakers’ Pay Advances In Assembly

NOTE: This story originally appeared at CBS Sacramento.

A California constitutional amendment that would strip suspended lawmakers of their pay is a step closer to going before voters after it passed an Assembly hearing on Monday.

SCA17 was crafted in response to the recent legal troubles of three California state senators, and the inability of the state legislature to suspend their salaries. The three suspended senators have cast a pall on the crumbling Democratic supermajority in the state Senate.

Under current rules, the state Senate and Assembly can’t take a suspended lawmakers’ salary, because of a state constitutional amendment, Steinberg’s office contends.

Sens. Roderick Wright, Ron Calderon and Leland Yee were suspended on March 28 after all three refused to step down from their positions.

Wright was convicted of eight counts of perjury and voter fraud in January after his 2010 grand jury indictment. At the time, Senate President Pro Tem declined to suspend Wright, instead opting to wait for his sentencing. Since then his sentencing was delayed in March and again in May until July 21.

Calderon and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, were indicted on Feb. 21. Ron Calderon was charged with accepting $100,000 in bribes, lavish trips and no-show jobs for his children in exchange for pushing legislation to benefit a hospital engaged in billing fraud and participating in a film industry tax scheme that actually was an FBI sting. He’s since pleaded not guilty.

Calderon, like Wright, wasn’t suspended initially by Steinberg. Instead, the indicted state senator decided to take a leave of absence in early March.

But following aspiring secretary of state candidate Yee’s March 26 arrest in connection with a gunrunning operation, Steinberg’s office held a forceful press conference demanding the three senators step down. Two months to the day of Wright’s conviction, the California Senate voted 28-1 to suspend the three senators.

The Senate, however, couldn’t touch the lawmakers’ salaries, according to Steinberg. His office instead says an opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau has his hands tied on the issue.

According to documents obtained by CBS13, the legislative office ruled the Senate couldn’t touch the suspended senators’ salaries, because that power falls under the California Citizens Compensation Commission. The legislative office pointed to a New Jersey court ruling in favor of a suspended state senator whose pay was stripped by that state’s senate.

In the months since the suspensions, the commission approved a 2 percent pay raise for state legislators and officers, including Yee, Wright and Calderon. One caveat of the commission is it must act unilaterally on all legislators’ salaries and can’t pick and choose who it goes after. That means raises for everyone, even if they’re suspended.

SCA17 has passed the state Senate, and will be scheduled for a floor vote in the Assembly. If it passes, the measure would then move on to voters on a future ballot.

Follow Kyle Buis on Twitter

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Why Did Three Suspended California Senators Get A Pay Raise?

NOTE: This story originally appeared at CBS Sacramento.

The California Citizens Compensation Commission met on Friday and approved a 2 percent raise for California lawmakers and state officials, including embattled state Sens. Ron Calderon, Leland Yee and Roderick Wright.

As CBS13 reported exclusively reported on March 28, the three senators facing legal troubles have been officially suspended, but are still being paid because of a legal opinion from the state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau.

The legislative bureau suggested to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s office that a state Constitutional amendment from 1990 meant to curb gifts an influence from lobbyists prevented the Senate from taking action. That fell under the California Citizens Compensation Commission‘s jurisdiction after Proposition 112 added this language to the constitution:

“Until a resolution establishing or adjusting the annual salary and the medical, dental, insurance, and other similar benefits for state officers takes effect, each state officer shall continue to receive the same annual salary and the medical, dental, insurance, and other similar benefits received previously.” (Article III, Section 8, subdivision i)

The commission approved Friday’s 2 percent raise for state officials and legislators, but took no action on the three embattled senators.

Why would the one commission who has jurisdiction over the legislators’ pay not take up the issue?

CBS13 got answers from Steinberg’s office and found out while the commission determines if legislators get a pay bump, and how big of a pay bump, the change must be done across the board. The commission cannot change individual legislators’ pay, including stripping Yee, Calderon and Wright of their taxpayer-funded salary.

Raises Effective Dec. 2014

Position Current Salary New Salary
Governor $173,987 $177,467
Lieutenant Governor $130,490 $133,100
Attorney General $151,127 $154,150
Secretary of State $130,490 $133,100
Controller $139,189 $141,973
Treasurer $139,189 $141,973
State Superintendent $151,127 $154,150
Insurance Commissioner $139,189 $141,973
Board of Equalization $130,490 $133,100
Speaker of the Assembly $109,584 $111,776
Senate Pres. Pro Tem $109,584 $111,776
Minority Floor Leader $109,584 $111,776
Majority Floor Leader $102,437 $104,486
Junior Minority Leader $102,437 $104,486
All Other Legislators $95,291 $97,197

Steinberg’s office has put forward another state Constitutional amendment, SCA17, that would allow the same body that suspends a legislator to also suspend that legislator’s salary.

The amendment has already passed the state Senate and is set for an Assembly Rules Committee hearing on Thursday.

REVIEW: Mario Kart 8 Is The Kick In The Pants Nintendo Needed For The Wii U

mario kart

This review originally appeared at CBS Sacramento.

After nearly a week of playing Mario Kart 8, it appears this entry is the best to come out of the two decades of the game. Nintendo has shown it is more than capable of showcasing what its systems can do through its first party titles.

Most of the complaints I have about the game are small and have already been addressed in plenty of other reviews:

The Battle mode has been nerfed. While I enjoyed occasionally turning a race into an all-out battle fest with my nephews, having tracks double as battle courses severely cripples the mode. Even with 12 racers, tracks can feel barren and opportunities to hit your opponent are few and far between. It doesn’t help that this game doesn’t have an onscreen map.

Lack of customization. Mario Kart 8 provides plenty of ways to change your kart. Unlockable options include new bodies, new wheels and even new gliders. But the differences between those parts are few and far between. Up to four of the wheels can offer the same statistics, with the only differences being cosmetic. Mix in that the 30 character options boil down to heavyweight, medium-weight, and lightweight and there just aren’t that many directions to go.

Online waiting times. I’ll give Nintendo credit, they’ve gotten better with online systems since the last generation. But I’ve encountered too many times where I’ve been ready to jump into a random online race, only to be greeted by the beginning another race. While it’s nice to see other racers compete, these wait times can cause competitors to drop out and shrink the field you’re racing against.

But even with those issues and my long-winded dissections of them, the eighth installment in this franchise is just the thing the Wii U needs to get out of its funk. The console’s been bogged down by headlines about its poor sales and even calls for Nintendo to pull a Sega and kill the Wii U off Dreamcast-style.

That last idea seems more like click-bait than reality. Still, the console’s lifetime sales are locked between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, despite a one-year advantage.

Nintendo reported that more than 1 million copies of Mario Kart 8 sold in the opening weekend alone, giving the company a solid boost, though there was no official breakdown of how many new console sales came from the game.

One thing Mario Kart 8 shows off that will help push console sales is just how it looks. While Sony and Microsoft had more powerful consoles in the previous generation than the original Wii, and even more powerful entries this generation, Mario Kart 8 shows the Wii U’s graphical capabilities are nothing to sneeze at in the right hands. The game runs buttery smooth at 60 frames per second in 720p, even in two-player races (Nintendo still hasn’t cracked the smooth four-player race yet). The result is an experience that looks the most advanced of this generation so far.

But those are just a bunch of numbers that don’t do the game justice. Instead, here’s a video showing of the reimagining of the Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road course at the 1:05 mark.

This is all in-game footage. It’s not the sort of pre-rendered sizzle reel that doesn’t exist on the disc you’ll see plenty of at next week’s Entertainment and Electronics Expo.

Following Rainbow Road on that video is another retro track—the game features 16 of them, as has been the norm—from Super Mario Kart (SNES). Instead of simply creating a graphically updated version of the older courses, Nintendo’s gone and redone them, incorporating the game’s new features, like zero-gravity stretches and underwater plunges.

The best example of the drastic change is the update to Moo Moo Meadows, as shown in this video. The track on the left is from the Wii version released last generation:

In addition to the retro courses, there are 16 new courses for a total of 32 tracks that each have their own distinct feel. One race you’ll be gliding by a castle, the next you’ll be dodging streetcars in an oceanside city, and another you’ll be watching Shyguys rave in the Electrodome (sadly, no glowsticks, just a ton of neon).

The best new feature this game has to offer isn’t its graphics, or its tracks, or its new items (finally one that can destroy a blue shell!).

It’s the highlight videos.

After each race, you can view a 30-second reel of the best moments from the race. It ranges from tricks to hits to daring passing moves. It even shows when one of your green shells happens to wipe out your girlfriend’s cart a good six seconds after you launched it. Or that time she plowed you into a cable car.

The highlights range from 30 seconds to the entire race and allow you to focus on certain racers. This, combined with the intensity of Luigi’s facial expressions, has created a small Internet phenomenon revolving around Luigi’s death stare.

But really, the entire reason I’m writing this is to show off my own highlight video. I had to make sure to bury it this far in so you wouldn’t get suspicious.

Check out that hangtime.

Why Is The Internet In Danger And How Can I Help Keep It From Turning To Crap?

The Federal Communications Commission has essentially thrown its hands in the air and is asking for public input for how to solve the open internet/net neutrality/Internet fast lane debate.

The unfortunate thing is how little people know and understand about this very important issue for how the Internet should work.

RELATED: Text of FCC’S proposed rules

First a little background.

This latest round of debate got started early this year when the Supreme Court struck down the FCC’s ‘net neutrality’ rules, saying the commission lacked the authority to enforce the 2010 regulations.

Those rules were put in place to make sure Internet Service Providers couldn’t prioritize certain traffic over other traffic, or simply block others. An example of this would be if Comcast, who now owns NBC and has its own TV services, would decide to downgrade service going toward Netflix or other Internet video in favor of its own offerings. In this instance, they’d be essentially kneecapping a competitor by taking advantage of the fact they provide both Internet and video services.

The Supreme Court did leave an avenue open where the FCC could classify ISPs as common carriers. Essentially that would mean treating networks the same way as phone lines: While a company may lay its wire, the network itself is open to competition because it uses public rights of way.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tried to strike a balance between solutions by introducing the idea of an Internet fast lane—ISPs would be allowed to charge companies for better access to their networks. One example would be Netflix paying Comcast for better access to its network, but that’s totally never going to happen, right?

In addition, he proposed that ISPs “shall not engage in commercially unreasonable practices. Reasonable network management shall not constitute a commercially unreasonable practice.

This all sounds good on paper, but there are three big flaws:

Kiss innovation goodbye. OK, maybe that’s putting it a little strong, but in addition to what it already takes to get the next YouTube or Netflix off the ground in terms of manpower, ideas and red tape, any Internet video startup would have to also pay the ISP for better access. Otherwise, their customers wouldn’t be able to get the level of service needed for their product to get off the ground.

Did I say ISP? I meant plural ISPs. If one company is going to charge for prioritized access, you better believe there will be others wanting companies to pony up too.

Just the Supreme Court throwing out the FCC net neutrality rules and talk of an Internet fast lane is already hurting the start up market, as venture capital firms are already shying away from video or otherwise data intensive companies.

What is a “commercially unreasonable” practice? In theory any maneuver a company makes could be called commercially reasonable if they are publicly traded. After all, if it’s a move to increase their profits that doesn’t serve customers well, they can still make the argument that it benefits shareholders, who they are legally obligated to help.

No blocking doesn’t require network upgrades. One of the big issues that’s arisen with Netflix on different ISPs has been if the companies’ infrastructure can handle it. All it takes is a switch here and a hub there not being updated, and suddenly there’s just not enough bandwidth to meet demand. If companies are making money on their prioritized network, there’s no financial incentive for them to improve the “slower lane.”

The good news is people have a chance to get involved and have their voices heard.

The FCC is accepting public comment on the issue through September by emailing openinternet@fcc.gov. Thursday’s 3-2 vote on the guidelines was simply a step to open public commenting. If the FCC doesn’t hear a loud enough outcry against these proposed rules, they will become the law of the land and won’t be overturned without a protracted legal fight.

The best solution in my opinion is going back to what the Supreme Court hinted at: Extending common carrier rules to ISPs.

The biggest issue the Internet has right now aside from net neutrality is a severe lack of competition. Most markets have two options: A cable provider that is really fast and an DSL provider that hasn’t upgraded much in the past decade. It used to be that ISPs were required to open their pipes and allow access to local competitors. Over the course of the last decade, however, those provisions have been neutered to the point that competition no longer exists.

If the lines are opened up to competition, most of the issues that have arisen will be resolved. Prices will drop, data caps will be harder to enact, and pay-to-play double-dipping deals won’t happen.

It’s not hyperbole to say the future of the Internet rides on these proceedings. If ISPs are allowed to collect twice from companies connecting to their network—once to connect to the network and once to connect to customers—it’s going to undo what’s made the Internet the powerful tool it is today.


Text Of FCC’s Proposed Rules: ‘Protecting And Promoting The Open Internet’

The FCC has a long document about its efforts to change the way Internet providers can handle traffic. I’ll have a post later about how these rules will affect users, but for now I’ve chopped out the most relevant portion of it and placed it here in a more reader-friendly format.

Proposed Rules

Part 8 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:

No Blocking.
No Commercially Unreasonable Practices.
Other Laws and Considerations.
8.11 Definitions.
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. §§ 151, 152, 154(i)-(j), 303, 316, 1302

§ 8.1

The purpose of this Part is to protect and promote the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission, and thereby to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability and remove barriers to infrastructure investment.

§ 8.3

(a) A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose
accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services, in a manner tailored

(i) for end users to make informed choices regarding use of such services,
(ii) for edge providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings, and
(iii) for the Commission and members of the public to understand how such person complies with the requirements described in sections 8.5 and 8.7 of this chapter.

(b) In making the disclosures required by this section, a person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall include meaningful information regarding the source, timing, speed, packet loss, and duration of congestion.

(c) In making the disclosures required by this section, a person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose in a timely manner to end users, edge providers, and the Commission when they make changes to their network practices as well as any instances of blocking, throttling, and pay-for-priority arrangements, or the parameters of default or “best effort” service as distinct from any priority service.

§ 8.5
No Blocking.

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.

A person engaged in the provision of mobile broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network management.

§ 8.7
No Commercially Unreasonable Practices.

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not engage in commercially unreasonable practices. Reasonable network management shall not constitute a commercially unreasonable practice.

§ 8.9
Other Laws and Considerations.

Nothing in this part supersedes any obligation or authorization a provider of broadband Internet access service may have to address the needs of emergency communications or law enforcement, public safety, or national security authorities, consistent with or as permitted by applicable law, or limits the provider’s ability to do so.

Nothing in this part prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity.

§ 8.11

(a) Block. The failure of a broadband Internet access service to provide an edge provider with a
minimum level of access that is sufficiently robust, fast, and dynamic for effective use by end users and edge providers.

(b) Broadband Internet access service. A mass-market retail service by wire or radio that provides the capability to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all Internet endpoints, including any capabilities that are incidental to and enable the operation of the communications service, but excluding dial-up Internet access service. This term also encompasses any service that the Commission finds to be providing a functional equivalent of the service described in the previous sentence, or that is used to evade the protections set forth in this Part.

(c) Edge Provider. Any individual or entity that provides any content, application, or service over the Internet, and any individual or entity that provides a device used for accessing any content, application, or service over the Internet.

(d) End User. Any individual or entity that uses a broadband Internet access service.

(e) Fixed broadband Internet access service. A broadband Internet access service that serves end users primarily at fixed endpoints using stationary equipment. Fixed broadband Internet access service includes fixed wireless services (including fixed unlicensed wireless services), and fixed satellite services.

(f) Mobile broadband Internet access service. A broadband Internet access service that serves end users primarily using mobile stations.

(g) Reasonable network management. A network management practice is reasonable if it is appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service.