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Scientists theorize aliens already here, but we don't recognize them…

Stargazing scientists have recently begun to focus on the prospect of encountering intelligent extraterrestrials, and the more they think about it the more they realize the first meeting probably won’t be with little green men in flying saucers.

What aliens might look like is a growing question among astrobiologists, who are increasingly conjuring up creatures more Lilliputian than mega-brained or reptilian.

“The intriguing possibility is they are, in fact, here, but we just don’t know it,” said Andrew Fraknoi, the emeritus chairman of the astronomy department at Foothill College who recently taught a course on aliens at the University of San Francisco’s Fromm Institute and believes space aliens could very well be microscopic or unrecognizable as a life-form.

Fraknoi is on the board of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, known as the SETI Institute, based in Mountain View, where questions about alien civilizations are often discussed. He has long speculated that members of a civilization billions of years old might by now have evolved into a mechanical-biological mix, like a robot with a brain, capable of living for thousands of years as they travel through space.

But it is also possible, he said, that advanced civilizations would have sent into space thousands of tiny canisters holding the germs of life programmed to incubate and grow when they encounter suitable conditions around a star.

“In all the mathematical models, a species that started early in the history of the galaxy and had the will and resources to diffuse could by now have filled many parts of the galaxy with its artifacts or biological spores,” Fraknoi said.

The otherworldly speculation comes after the recent discovery of two interstellar objects zipping past Earth prompted a surge of interest among scientists in space travel and alien civilizations.

A spinning, red, cigar-shaped object called 1I/Oumuamua was spotted in 2017, followed by the sighting last year of a comet named 2I/Borisov. They were the first verified sightings in human history of objects speeding by from outside our solar system.

The objects, by their very existence, brought home to many astronomers the reality that rocks or vessels potentially carrying biological spores from other solar systems could actually reach Earth.

The notion got a major boost from Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard University’s astronomy department. He co-wrote a scientific paper suggesting that Oumuamua’s odd, elongated shape and peculiar nongravitational acceleration could mean it is a mechanical probe — a light sail driven by sunshine — sent by an alien civilization.

The object, first spotted by the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, was, by all accounts, strange. Observations from Earth as it shot past the sun on Sept. 9, 2017, at a speed of 196,000 mph showed that it was slowly spinning, like a bottle on its side, and that it was missing the tail of gas or dust that would signify a comet.

Astronomers around the world immediately attacked Loeb’s hypothesis, and a subsequent study published in Nature Astronomy last year concluded that Oumuamua was a rocky conglomeration, not a space ship.

But Loeb said his point was that objects like Oumuamua and Borisov could have been synthetic and that humans would be well served by developing techniques for determining if such visitors were constructed. He believes the possibility of extraterrestrial life is too important for humans to discount without investigation, especially considering how useful it would be in figuring out the origin of life.

“Intelligent life is more recent in the Earth’s history, but at the same time, given that it happened here, there is the possibility that it exists elsewhere,” Loeb said. “I don’t think we should pretend that we are the only ones — the smartest kid on the block — because very likely we aren’t the smartest kid on the block.”

The questions about what form alien beings might take are rooted in what is known as the Fermi paradox, named after Italian American physicist Enrico Fermi, who created the first nuclear reactor. He asked during a casual lunchtime conversation in 1950 why aliens have never been spotted, given the high probability of their existence.

SETI has been searching the skies for radio signals or some other sign of life beyond Earth for nearly four decades without a single peep.

Despite the failure, belief in the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations has only increased since Fermi’s time. That’s largely because powerful telescopes have recently detected numerous planets orbiting their stars at a habitable distance, known as the Goldilocks zone. Calculations indicate there are habitable planets around at least a quarter of the tens of billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, possibly including the closest star, Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light-years from Earth.

Most astrophysicists believe life must have sprung up somewhere, some time, in the 13.5 billion years since the galaxy was formed. Given that our sun is 4.6 billion years old, Fraknoi said civilizations in other parts of the galaxy could have been using robotics, artificial intelligence and tapping the energy from their stars as many as 8 billion years before our solar system was created.

“In other words,” Fraknoi said, “there has been ample time for a civilization to become advanced enough to send alien microbes or micro-artifacts around the galaxy, including to our solar system.”

Astronomers have even concocted a sciency name, “directed panspermia,” to describe the act by an alien civilization of planting the seeds of life in another world.

Samantha Rolfe, a lecturer in astrobiology at Bayfordbury Observatory at the University of Hertfordshire in England, suggested recently that such organisms could be hidden inside what she called a microscopic “shadow biosphere” that is so different from ours that we don’t even recognize it as biological in origin.

“So why haven’t we found it? We have limited ways of studying the microscopic world as only a small percentage of microbes can be cultured in a lab,” she wrote in an article for the Conversation website. “We do now have the ability to sequence the DNA of unculturable strains of microbes, but this can only detect life as we know it — that contain DNA.”

Some have suggested that these alien life-forms could be small inactive spores floating in our solar system waiting for the right conditions to grow or as active monitors — transmitters — used by alien civilizations to determine whether Earthlings are a threat and might need to be eliminated.

Then again, a growing number of astronomers speculate that humanity itself might have originated somewhere else, possibly clinging to a chunk of rock ejected from a planet that was hit by a giant meteor.

“We know there are rocks on Earth that came from Mars, so you could imagine that microbes could have potentially survived the journey,” Loeb said. “So it’s possible we are all Martians. If you can do it from Mars, you can potentially bring life from other planets in other galaxies.”

Loeb recently published a paper calculating how asteroids could graze Earth’s atmosphere, scoop up microbes like the foamy cream off a latte, and potentially carry the seeds of life into outer space. Maybe, he and others suggest, this swapping of biological spores has happened since the beginning of time.

Either way, most experts believe an alien encounter is likely someday. The question, say those who think about such things, is whether humans will know it when they see it.

“Potentially, we could be part of an experiment where life was planted on Earth and someone is watching,” Loeb said. If that’s the case, “for sure they are disappointed. That would be my assessment by reading the morning newspaper.”

Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @pfimrite

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Cities weigh free public transit amid rising costs…

Michelle Wu, a City Council member in Boston, wants everyone to ride for free on subways and buses that crisscross the region.

Wu says the city is experiencing a “transportation crisis” as ridership declines, rush-hour traffic rises and the infrastructure of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority continues to crumble.

The transportation authority needs salvation and money for repairs, commuters and local transit advocates say, but instead of raising fares beyond the $2.90 it costs now if you pay for a subway ride in cash, Wu thinks a solution may lie in dropping fares altogether.

Her position is shared by other progressive lawmakers across the country who say mobility is a human right, like health care and education, and think residents should be able to freely move around their cities, no matter their income brackets. They propose eliminating fares on city buses, light rail and trains to achieve their vision of universal mobility. But some experts warn that free rides wouldn’t solve the issues besetting many public transit systems, including crumbling infrastructure, infrequent and unreliable service, and routes that take workers nowhere near their jobs.

Kansas City, Missouri, could become the first major city to eliminate bus fares in June under a proposal in the budget the City Council is expected to approve by the end of March.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said scrapping the $1.50 bus fare would be a windfall for working-class families that spend a good part of their incomes on transportation, and he believes it would benefit the city’s economy, allowing people to move around more easily and patronize local businesses.

New streetcars test new routes in Kansas City, Missouri, night traffic on April 28, 2016.peeterv / Getty Images

“Making transit free makes more job opportunities accessible for more people,” Lucas said. “We’re a car-based city, so if you don’t have a car or bus fare, you don’t get to where you need to be.”

The city would lose $8 million a year on fare-free transit, but Lucas insisted that it would not be “a significant amount” of Kansas City’s $1.7 billion budget. By not paying for maintaining and using a fare collection system, the city would save about $3 million a year, leaving Kansas City officials to come up with only $5 million to cover losses, Lucas said.

He said critics rarely ask where the money comes from for other projects, like the hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year on building and maintaining streets or the $325 million to renovate Arrowhead Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs play.

“That costs us and local government tens of millions of dollars a year,” he said. “So I think the real question people have to ask is ‘Do we care about the public?'”

Robbie Makinen, CEO of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, said public transit is the glue that holds a community together.

“The return on investment for social justice, compassion and empathy far outweighs the return on investment for asphalt and concrete,” he said.

The Kansas City transit authority partnered with the Center for Economic Information at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to analyze the economic impact of the proposed zero-fare policy. The study found that free transit would increase Kansas City’s regional gross domestic product by more than $13 million a year and improve the livelihoods of regular riders along with new riders encouraged to try public transit without the fare barrier.

“For those living paycheck to paycheck, as most Americans are, even an additional $50 (the cost of a monthly bus pass) per month of income can make the difference in deciding which bills to pay,” the study said.

Kansas City has embarked on similar but smaller experiments before. In 2017, it made transit free for veterans and the next year for ninth- to 12th-graders in four major school districts.

While advocates have championed the move, they say fare-free policies aren’t enough if transit isn’t accessible.

Comparing 100 metropolitan areas of similar size to Kansas City, a 2011 report from the Brookings Institution found that Kansas City’s transit system was among the 10 worst at connecting workers to their jobs, with only 18 percent of jobs in the metropolitan region accessible to job seekers by commutes of less than 90 minutes.

For that reason, city leaders should not look at eliminating fares as a “panacea” for transit problems, said Hayley Richardson, a spokeswoman for TransitCenter, a nonprofit group based in New York City that works to improve public transit around the country.

“A bus that comes once an hour that’s free isn’t useful to people,” Richardson said. “The way we make transit useful to people is by making it come frequently and reliable.”

Instead of eliminating fares, Richardson said, cities need to prioritize creating transit systems that actually serve their customers. The best scenario would be cities where buses arrive every five minutes in dedicated lanes and a country where most Americans can walk to transit.

“What’s holding transit in the U.S. back is largely it’s bad service,” she said.

If Kansas City has $8 million to spend on transit, Richardson said, it would be better spent on improving quality. Without better service, free transit would do little to ease car congestion and help the environment, she said.

“We reduce emissions by getting more people to ride transit,” said Richardson, who isn’t convinced free transit would increase ridership.

Wu said better and free transit is an environmental necessity. When her office surveyed Boston youth about how they’d like to travel in the future, the majority said they wanted to use cars because public transit was expensive and unreliable.

“If we are talking about climate change being a problem we need to fix and we are still not doing everything today to make sure people today — and especially our young people — are enjoying and experiencing transit at the level they deserve, we are in a lot of trouble,” she said.

Michelle Wu, a member of the Boston City Council, wants everyone to ride for free on subways and buses that crisscross the region.Courtesy Michelle Wu

Stances like Wu’s and Lucas’ are coming at a time when fare costs have been increasingly scrutinized around the world. Mass demonstrations swept Chile last fall after a group of students purposefully evaded fares in protest of a 4 percent fare hike.

In New York City, racial justice advocates have been protesting the addition of 500 police officers to patrol the subway system, supposedly to crack down on fare evasion. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it will save over $200 million that is lost to evasion in four years but will spend around $249 million to pay the officers enforcing fares over the same period.

Activists say the added officers serve only to further criminalize the city’s poor, as well as black and brown people, who are disproportionately targeted in fare evasion arrests and will be affected the most. Decolonize This Place, a group leading major protests against the addition of police officers, calls for free transit in its demands.

But it remains unclear how much of a boon free transit would be to ridership levels. In France, the city of Dunkirk experienced up to an 85 percent increase in ridership on bus routes after eliminating fares in 2018, but Richardson said transit systems in much of Europe are far more robust than in the U.S., making it difficult to compare the two.

Still, she acknowledged, free transit would be massively beneficial to low-income subway riders. But cities should consider alternatives to eliminating fares, Richardson said, suggesting that they decriminalize fare evasion, make sure fare inspectors are unarmed, offer low-income residents fare passes and provide all-door bus boarding to speed service.

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If Kansas City implemented those changes, it would improve service and guarantee mobility to more people while providing much-needed revenue to the public transit system, she said.

Lucas, the mayor, said he believes zero-fare transit is one of many policies that can address racial inequality in a city still grappling with a legacy of segregation. To this day, a dividing line, Troost Avenue, segregates much of the city’s population, with primarily black residents east of Troost and white residents west of it.

The annual average household income one block east of Troost is $20,000 less than it is one block west of the line, said Brent Never, a public affairs professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, adding that in some ZIP codes on the east side, people live 15 years less on average than in areas west of Troost.

But some transit experts are skeptical about how much free buses could collapse decadeslong racial disparities in Kansas City.

Wu of Boston said the zero-fare proposal is gaining steam there even though the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority says it gets one-third of its $2.2 billion annual budget from fares.

“This would be life-changing in terms of the opportunities it would open up, particularly for residents who are faced with the cost of being poor right now,” she said.

Morning commuters bustle in and out of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Orange Line in Boston on Dec. 9, 2019.Erin Clark / Boston Globe via Getty Images

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Solar Power Eclipsing Fossil Fuels…

BHADLA, India—In a dusty northwest India desert dotted with cows and the occasional camel, a solar-power plant is producing some of the world’s cheapest energy.

Built in 2018 by India’s Acme Solar Holdings Ltd., it can generate 200 megawatts of electricity, enough to power all the homes in a middle-size U.S. town. Acme sells the electricity to distributors for 2.44 rupees (3.4 cents) a kilowatt-hour, a record low for solar power in India, a country that data trackers say has the world’s cheapest solar energy.

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SKorea Tracks Patients' Travels — and Publishes Them Online…

SEOUL—As the Covid-19 virus began to spread last month, South Koreans didn’t have to wonder if they may have crossed paths with one of the country’s confirmed cases.

Patient No. 12 had booked seats E13 and E14 for a 5:30 p.m. showing of the South Korean film, “The Man Standing Next.” Before grabbing a 12:40 p.m. train, patient No. 17 dined at a soft-tofu restaurant in Seoul. Patient No. 21 drove her car to attend a weekday evening church service.

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Beijing Detains Activist Who Accused Xi of Cover-Up…

He portrayed China’s leader, Xi Jinping, as hungry for power. He accused Mr. Xi of trying to cover up the coronavirus outbreak in central China. In one of his most daring writings, he urged Mr. Xi to resign, saying, “You’re just not smart enough.”

Then, over the weekend, Xu Zhiyong, a prominent Chinese legal activist, went silent. The authorities in the southern city of Guangzhou detained him on Saturday, according to Mr. Xu’s friends, after he spent nearly two months in hiding. His girlfriend, Li Qiaochu, a social activist, went missing on Sunday, Mr. Xu’s friends said.

The activist is the latest critic to be caught up in Mr. Xi’s far-reaching efforts to limit dissent in China. The crackdown, which has ensnared scores of activists, lawyers, journalists and intellectuals, is likely to intensify as the ruling Communist Party comes under broad attack for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, one of its biggest political challenges in years.

Mr. Xu, a 46-year-old former university lecturer, has long railed against government corruption and social injustice in China. He went into hiding in December as the police began rounding up human rights activists who met with him in the eastern city of Xiamen.

While in hiding, Mr. Xu continued to publish blunt critiques of Mr. Xi on social media, accusing him of leading a dictatorship.

He also criticized Mr. Xi’s handling of the outbreak in the central province of Hubei that has killed at least 1,770 people in China and sickened more than 70,000. In one of his last writings before he was detained, Mr. Xu mourned the death of a doctor in Wuhan whom the police had silenced after he warned about the virus.

“In their hearts,” Mr. Xu said of party leaders, “there is no right and wrong, no conscience, no bottom line, no humanity.”

Mr. Xu, a firebrand who has spent decades pushing for political reforms, has long clashed with the Chinese government.

He was sentenced to four years in prison in 2014 for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” a charge that stemmed from his role organizing the New Citizens Movement, a grass-roots effort against corruption and social injustice in Chinese society.

It is unclear what charges the authorities might bring against Mr. Xu. The circumstances of the disappearance of his girlfriend, Ms. Li, were also ambiguous. The police in Guangzhou did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Xu’s friends defended his actions.

“It is within the scope of freedom of speech under the Chinese Constitution,” said Hua Ze, an activist based in New Jersey and a friend of Mr. Xu who confirmed his detention.

Faced with growing public anger over the coronavirus outbreak, China’s leader has cited a need to “strengthen the guidance of public opinion,” a term that often refers to blocking independent news reporting and censoring critical comments on Chinese social media.

Many free-speech activists worry that the party, which is concerned about maintaining its control, is tightening the reins of public discourse despite a growing perception that the silencing of doctors and others who tried to raise alarms has enabled the virus to spread more widely.

Two video bloggers who attracted wide attention for their dispatches from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, have gone missing.

Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization, said the detention of Mr. Xu showed that the authorities had no intention of loosening restrictions on speech.

“The Chinese government persists in its old ways: silencing its critics rather than listening to people who promote rights-respecting policies that actually solve problems,” she said.

The post China Detains Activist Who Accused Xi of Coronavirus Cover-Up appeared first on New York Times.

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Scientists switch monkey brains on or off using electricity…

Scientists have discovered the brain’s “on” switch, enabling them to turn the consciousness of monkeys on and off at will.

A team co-led by Yuri Saalmann, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, discovered that stimulating a tiny chamber deep in the brain called the central lateral thalamus would instantly wake up a monkey that had been knocked out with a powerful anaesthetic.

Tiny electric shocks “switched on” the brains of the macaque, awakening them in seconds.

Saalmann said: “We found that when we stimulated this tiny little brain area, we could wake the animals up and reinstate all the neural activity that you’d normally see in the cortex during wakefulness.”

The electrical stimulation woke unconscious macaques instantly

“They acted just as they would if they were awake. When we switched off the stimulation, the animals went straight back to being unconscious.”

The experiment sounds cruel almost to the point of nastiness, but there is a valuable purpose to it, according to Michelle Redinbaugh, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

Redinbaugh, who was one of the leaders of the study explained: “The overriding motivation of this research is to help people with disorders of consciousness to live better lives.”

The electrodes were focused on an area deep inside the brain called the central lateral thalamus

“We have to start by understanding the minimum mechanism that is necessary or sufficient for consciousness, so that the correct part of the brain can be targeted clinically.”

“There are many exciting implications for this work,” she added. “It’s possible we may be able to use these kinds of deep-brain stimulating electrodes to bring people out of comas.

“Our findings may also be useful for developing new ways to monitor patients under clinical anaesthesia, to make sure they are safely unconscious.”

Macaques are frequently used in animal experimentation labs

The team’s paper, published in scientific journal Neuron, details the experiment. The monkeys were anaesthetised for a full two hours before being “switched on” by the micro-electric shocks.

As soon as their brains were stimulate they opened their eyes, stretched their limbs and reacted normally to sound and light.

When the electricity was switched off, they immediately lost consciousness again.

Animal health was monitored by veterinarians at the WNPRC. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approved all procedures, which conformed to the National Institutes of Health Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

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Should cars be banned in downtown LA?

Banning cars from downtown streets is beginning to catch on in major U.S. cities, with New York and San Francisco moving to free up space for transit vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

But the trend hasn’t come to Los Angeles — yet.

A proposal introduced by Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar could change that. The councilman asked city officials last week to study the feasibility of a ban on driving and parking along a 1.5-mile stretch of Broadway between 1st and 12th streets.

Broadway is “an ideal street to go car-free,” Huizar said, because narrower roadways and expanded space for pedestrians have already begun to transform the iconic corridor. Eliminating private cars could make the street safer and more efficient for a streetcar that the city plans to build, officials said.

If approved, the ban would be the biggest transportation change along Broadway since the region’s streetcars were ripped out after World War II and the Metro subway opened in 1993.

Broadway would be the first major street in Los Angeles to go car free. Last month, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office proposed a dramatic overhaul of Hollywood Boulevard along the Walk of Fame that could include far less space for private cars.

Business owners, residents and tourists along Broadway said the proposal intrigued them but was short on details. To succeed, they said, the car ban would need buy-in from residents, theater operators, hotels, restaurateurs and small businesses trying to hang on as rents rise.

“Some ideas are great and can still have unintended consequences,” said Blair Besten, the executive director of the Historic Core business improvement district, who said she was intrigued by the proposal. “We will need to reflect on how it will impact a major urban center.”

The study will include an analysis of how the city could ensure access to residential parking garages and commercial loading zones for bars, restaurants and retail stores.

Numbered cross streets would not be closed to traffic at Broadway, so cars, trucks and other vehicles could still cross Broadway at intersections with traffic signals, Huizar’s motion said. Fire trucks, police cars and buses would still be allowed.

It will take time to collect feedback from city departments and from the community, so “it is premature at this point to offer a specific timetable, what the final recommendations will be or what is expected to be the final cost,” Huizar spokeswoman Laura McKinney said in an email.

Huizar, first elected to the City Council in 2005, must step down in November because of term limits. He hopes that his successor “will take up the baton after his term ends,” McKinney said.

Broadway was the heart of pre-World War II Los Angeles, and later became the region’s premier shopping destination for Latino families before falling into disrepair at the end of the 20th century.

If the changes were approved, city planners face the challenge of redesigning a street long oriented toward the automobile, while still retaining the energy that families remember, said James Rojas, an urban planner who worked at the May Co. department store on Broadway in high school.

“Broadway is part of the cultural DNA for people whose families have been here for generations,” Rojas said. “You have to find a way to make this major change and still keep the vibrancy, the interest, the activity.”

Some workers spilling out into the sunshine for their lunch hour said they feared that a car ban on Broadway, one of downtown’s few two-way streets, could send traffic spilling onto parallel routes, like Main and Spring streets. Car lanes there have been reduced to make space for protected bike lanes.

“Traffic is already really bad,” said Jorge Rivera of Montebello as he and two other construction workers split a tray of sopes at a sidewalk table near the Orpheum Theatre. The changes could be nice for tourists, he said, but many workers who need trucks and tools “can’t just stop driving.”

Broadway is one of the busiest downtown streets for pedestrians, which means good business at lunchtime, said Cristy Alvarez. The food truck operator did a brisk business selling hot dogs, Fritos and soda to office workers and sweaty tourists near the Globe Theatre.

Alvarez said she had watched with alarm as mom-and-pop businesses at the Grand Central Market closed down. Many were replaced by their pricier, hipster counterparts: Cold-pressed juice instead of aguas frescas; hand-scooped $1 ice cream edged out by a Santa Barbara creamery.

Perhaps, she said, the city could carve out space for a few loncheras in the pedestrian-only zone. Food trucks, she said, are “here to make food, not traffic.”

Outside the Grand Central Market, tourist Anna Roy said Denver has seen that a pedestrianized street can be a success. The 16th Street Mall, which allows buses and pedestrians, has streets and sidewalks designed by I. M. Pei and has been closed to car traffic since 1982.

Roy and her boyfriend had taken a “very hairy” scooter ride from their Airbnb in South Park that morning, unsure whether the sidewalk or the street was safer, she said.

“It would be a lot more relaxing if cars weren’t part of the equation,” said Roy, 32, as she ate a coddled egg on toast from the breakfast restaurant Eggslut. And, she said, as drivers honked in the background, it would be quieter.

On a sell-out night at the historic Orpheum a decade ago, the parking lots nearby would be full, said Steve Needleman of Anjac Fashion Buildings, a real estate firm that owns the theater, as well as office space, residential buildings and parking lots downtown.

Today, at least half of the audience arrives by Uber, Lyft or subway, Needleman said. That change in consumer habits, plus the surge of people walking and shopping at night, opened his mind to the idea of closing Broadway to cars after years of being “adamantly against it,” he said.

The plan has downsides, Needleman said, including the possibility of parking lot operators losing business. “But looking at what is best for Broadway, we have to give it a shot,” he said.

Needleman is also the chairman of Los Angeles Streetcar Inc., the nonprofit that plans to build a trolley line between the Civic Center and the Staples Center.

Earlier plans for the streetcar did not include a separate lane, meaning the vehicles would have been at the mercy of traffic congestion, accidents and idling vehicles. The average estimated speed was 6 mph. Without private cars, the line would operate more efficiently, Needleman said.

The streetcar is slated to receive $200 million through the sales tax Measure M in 2053. The city “is in discussions with Metro to expedite this funding,” McKinney said, and Needleman said Los Angeles Streetcar Inc. is pursuing a private partnership and a federal grant to build the project more quickly.

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Elton John breaks down in tears and leaves stage after suffering pneumonia…

Music legend Elton John was forced to leave the stage in tears after being unable to sing due to illness.

Elton, 72, had been performing in Auckland, New Zealand as part of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour when his voice gave in.

After pushing on for as long as possible, the visibly distressed star was left with no choice but to call it quits.

Fighting back tears, the Oscar winning singer managed a heartfelt ‘sorry’ before being helped back to his dressing room.

According to fans online, Elton reportedly said: “My voice has completely gone, I’m so sorry.”

As he did, the understanding crowd cheered and supported him.

Taking to Twitter to explain his situation, Elton wrote: “I want to thank everyone who attended the #EltonFarewellTour gig in Auckland tonight.

Elton John has been diagnosed with walking pneumonia

“I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia earlier today, but I was determined to give you the best show humanly possible.

“I played and sang my heart out, until my voice could sing no more. I’m disappointed, deeply upset and sorry. I gave it all I had.”

The I’m Still Standing singer added in a later post: “Thank you so much for your extraordinary support and all the love you showed me during tonight’s performance.

“I am eternally grateful. Love, Elton xx”

Elton John was escorted off stage in Auckland after being unable to sing

Walking pneumonia is a less severe version of pneumonia.

The illness is a bacterial infection that is often found in an individual’s lower and upper respiratory tract.

In total, Elton cut the show short by an hour due to the illness.

He is still set to play two more gigs in Auckland, one Tuesday and Thursday.

Elton John is currently on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour

The mammoth global trek is will see Elton play 270 dates over two years.

The tour is due to reach the UK in November 2020.

In October last year, Elton was forced to cancel a show in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis due to illness.

In a statement at the time, the venue said: “Due to illness, Elton John’s concert slated for tonight, Saturday, October 26, 2019 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse has been rescheduled for Thursday, March 26, 2020.

“We do apologise for any inconvenience caused by this necessary change and wish Elton a speedy recovery.”

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Woman arrested over sex tape that sank ally of France's Macron…

Paris (AFP) – French police have arrested the girlfriend of a Russian activist who released a sex video of a prominent ally of French President Emmanuel Macron, prosecutors said on Sunday.

Pyotr Pavlensky’s girlfriend was arrested on Saturday evening on charges of invasion of privacy and publishing images of a sexual nature without consent, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.

Her arrest stemmed from the release by Pavlensky, a protest artist best known before now for nailing his scrotum to Red Square in Moscow, of a video of a man masturbating accompanied by screengrabs of racy text messages sent to a woman.

Pavlensky claimed the messages were sent by former government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, who was the candidate of the ruling Republic on the Move party (LREM) for Paris mayor in next month’s municipal elections.

His girlfriend, who was not named by investigators, is suspected of having received the video.

Griveaux dropped out of the race on Friday in the wake of the video’s release, saying he wanted to protect his family.

Pavlensky, who claimed political asylum in France in 2017, was detained on Saturday.

Investigators said his arrest was over a fight at a Paris apartment on December 31 in which two guests apparently suffered stab wounds and he is accused of wielding a knife.

However, they may also question him over the sex tape.

– ‘Family values’ –

On Friday, Pavlensky told AFP on Friday that he had posted the footage online in order to expose the “hypocrisy” of 42-year-old Griveaux and planned to post more material on a newly created “political porn platform”.

Griveaux “is someone who constantly brings up family values, who says he wants to be the mayor of families and always cites his wife and children as an example. But he is doing the opposite,” he told the Liberation daily.

Politicians from across the French spectrum took a different view of the matter, however, calling the video an intolerable invasion of Griveaux’s privacy.

Macron’s LREM, which is poised for a drubbing in the municipal elections according to opinion polls, has been left scrambling to find another candidate to try topple Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist.

Pavlensky has a track record of causing outrage.

His Red Square protest made global headlines in 2013 and two years later doused the doors of the FSB secret police headquarters with petrol and set them on fire.

In October 2017, he set fire to the offices of the Bank of France on Place Bastille, site of the attack on an infamous prison at the start of the French revolution in 1789 — later receiving a jail sentence for the stunt.

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Billionaire Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign on Saturday downplayed a report that he is considering 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as his pick for vice president.

The Drudge Report, citing a source close to Bloomberg’s campaign, reported that Clinton was under consideration after internal polling found that a Bloomberg-Clinton ticket would be a “formidable force.”


The conservative news aggregator, which came to prominence in the 90s for first reporting the Monica Lewinsky scandal, reported that Bloomberg would consider changing his residence to a home he owns in Colorado or Florida, “since the electoral college makes it hard for a POTUS and VPOTUS from the same state.”

But the Bloomberg campaign quickly tamped down that report but fell short of denying it outright.

“We are focused on the primary and the debate, not VP speculation,” Bloomberg communication director Jason Schechter said in a statement.

A source familiar with Clinton’s thinking said the former Secretary of State hasn’t closed the door on politics and would seriously consider joining a VP ticket.

“She wants back in,” the source told Fox News.

The spotlight has increased on Bloomberg in recent days as he has shifted up the polls. He entered the race late — and is skipping the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary, Nevada caucuses, and South Carolina primary — the four early voting states that kick off the nominating calendar in order to focus on the Super Tuesday states in March.


The RealClearPolitics average of national polls currently has him in third place behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden.


There has been considerable speculation about Clinton’s political future, and she said last year she was under “enormous pressure” to run again. But recently on “The Ellen Show”, she poured cold water on speculation she could be on the ticket again in November as VP.

“Well that’s not going to happen, but no, probably no,” she said.

Fox News’ Kelly Phares and Mark Meredith contributed to this report.

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