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Making the toughest climb

By the time they reach the top of El Capitan, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell will have sore thumbs. Sore fingers, too. They also will be the first to complete one of rock climbing’s greatest challenges — a free climb of the Dawn Wall. The first climbers reached the summit of El Capitan in 1958, and park visitors now congregate on the valley floor to watch climbers on their way up the 3,000-foot granite monoliths. There are about 100 routes to the top, and the Dawn Wall is considered the most challenging. Jorgeson, from Santa Rosa, and Caldwell, from Estes Park, Colo., would be the first to “free climb” the Dawn Wall — using just their hands and feet, with ropes only to protect them from falls. After months of planning and 17 days of climbing, they hope to reach the summit by Friday. You can read regular updates on their progress at pressdemocrat.com.

Who’s minding the administrators?

The years 2009 to 2013 were said to be extremely difficult ones for California public agencies, a time of deep budget cuts amid severely reduced tax revenue. Not so with the administrative office of California’s court system, according to a scathing audit released last week.

While other state agencies were slashing budgets, cutting staff and freezing wages, the Administrative Office of the Courts was spending generously, including paying eight of its nine office directors a salary of more than $179,000 a year. That’s more than the salary of Gov. Jerry Brown. In all, the audit questioned $30 million in compensation expenses and other costs that the office approved in the four-year span, money that could have gone to the state’s cash-strapped and back-logged court system.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who heads the Judicial Council, said the audit “give us another useful tool to help us make progress.” Verdict: That’s a major understatement.

The hero in the basement

Call him the man who went into the cold and came out a hero. He’s Lassana Bathily, a 24-year-old employee of the Hyper Cacher grocery store in Paris. When an Islamic extremist opened fire in the kosher store Friday, Bathily ushered customers into a walk-in freezer. He urged them to stay calm and turned out the lights. After that, he slipped out by way of a supply lift. After he persuaded security forces he wasn’t an accomplice, he provided valuable information about what was happening inside the store.

By the way, Bathily, a native of Mali, is Muslim. During a TV interview, he rejected the religious hatred expressed by the terrorists. “We are brothers,” he said. “It’s not a question of Jews, or Christians or of Muslims. We’re all in the same boat. We have to help each other to get out of this crisis.” Amen.

A tidy 11-figure profit

When the Federal Reserve started buying bonds in a bid to jump-start a stalled economy in 2008, the predictions of doom roared to life. An open letter to then-Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, signed by a bold-faced name list of academics and fund managers, warned that program, known as quantitative easement, would result in currency debasement and inflation. Seven years later, and three months after the Fed halted the program, citing a stronger economy, the dollar is in good shape, inflation remains near historic lows and, by the way, taxpayers are enjoying a windfall. The Fed earned a record $97.8 billion in profits in 2014, most of it in interest payments on the bonds it purchased. That money goes to the U.S. Treasury.

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