Sunday Reading – 12/15/19

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

New USGS hazard map shows increased earthquake risks in San Jose and East Bay – The U.S. Geological Survey released a new seismic hazard map which puts areas of the East Bay and San Jose at a higher risk for damage, CBS station KPIX reports. Tall buildings in areas of the East and South Bay could be hit the hardest and it’s not necessarily the height of the buildings which has experts most worried.

It’s no secret that the Bay Area is due for a major earthquake. The USGS released a map Thursday that shows a 75 percent or higher chance of a damaging quake hitting the area in 100 years.

Geologists are extremely concerned about areas of Concord, Walnut Creek and San Jose. The USGS increased shaking estimates by up to 25 percent in the East Bay since its last update five years ago. The reason: the area sits on a sedimentary basin which amplifies an earthquake’s big slow waves. Long bridges and tall buildings are especially at risk. Read More > at CBS News

Evidence, alarm, and the debate over e-cigarettes – This is a moment for legitimate alarm at the intersection of two distressing but distinct epidemiological patterns
involving e-cigarettes (“vaping”): an increase in vaping among youth and a sudden outbreak of acute lung injuries and deaths in the United States, associated most strongly with vaping tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Discussions of vaping, however, often neglect distinctions between nicotine and THC; between adults and youth; and between products obtained through the retail and black markets. As we move to confront these challenges, we face the danger that justifiable alarm will turn alarmist, short-circuiting careful analysis of the full range of evidence and focusing attention on the most frightening, thus enhancing the prospect of adopting counterproductive policy. We suggest that the evidence warns against prohibitionist measures. Restricting access and appeal among less harmful vaping products out of an abundance of caution while leaving deadly combustible products on the market does not protect public health. It threatens to derail a trend that could hasten the demise of cigarettes, poised to take a billion lives this century

For years, some leaders in the public health community observed with concern the rise in the number of U.S. adolescents who are vaping flavored liquids. Debate centered on whether vaping devices, which do not burn tobacco but rather heat liquids containing some combination of flavors and/or nicotine and/or THC, should be viewed as an intolerable threat to nonsmoking youth, or whether they can be managed with reasonable regulations that give adult smokers access to less hazardous alternatives to deadly combustible cigarettes

This summer, the tone of the debate shifted markedly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported sudden clusters of serious and sometimes fatal respiratory injuries. As of 4 December 2019, the CDC reported 2291 cases and 48 deaths. The CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers not to vape THC or any liquids obtained off the streets or from unknown sources. In the ongoing investigation to determine the causes of illness and death, the CDC identified vitamin E acetate, a THC product additive, as “a chemical of concern.” Nicotine or flavored vaping liquids have not yet been implicated.

Even as the investigation was under way, interest in prohibitionist measures swelled. Massachusetts banned retail and online sale of all nicotine vaping products until January 2020. San Francisco will ban all nicotine vaping products in early 2020. Michigan has banned all flavors (except tobacco flavor, meant to make a vaping liquid taste like a traditional combustible cigarette) for nicotine products, but not for THC. Ohio may ban menthol and mint flavors in e-cigarettes while still allowing them in more harmful cigarettes and little cigars. The American Medical Association called for a total ban on all vaping products. New York City is poised to become the largest jurisdiction to ban all flavored nicotine vapes including menthol, although it chose not to enact a menthol ban for combustible products. As a measure of the magnitude of the urge to weigh in, even the White House has offered policy pronouncements, including a potential ban on all nicotine vape flavors except tobacco, from which it recently backed off. Such sweeping measures have been adopted in the face of continuing debate over the public health impact of such interventions. Read More > at Science Magazine

Scientists discovered 71 new species in 2019 including goblin spiders, sea slugs and a fish called Wakanda – DOZENS of new branches on Earth’s tree of life were discovered this year thanks to a team of researchers that scoured the globe for new species.

Mediterranean ants, goblin spiders, sea slugs, flowering plants and coral were just some of the 71 new species researchers at the California Academy of Sciences uncovered this year.

In total, 17 fish, 15 geckos, eight flowering plants, six sea slugs, five arachnids, four eels, three ants, three skinks, two skates, two wasps, two mosses, two corals, and two lizards were discovered by scientists across five continents and three oceans.

Researchers made the incredible finds by “venturing into Croatian caves, diving to extreme ocean depths, and surveying savanna forests,” the academy said in a statement. Read More > in The Sun

Boris Johnson And Conservative Party Win Large Majority In U.K. Parliament – British voters delivered a stunning victory to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party in Thursday’s general election, giving the Brexit backer a large majority in the House of Commons and the support he needs to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union in January.

“The Conservatives picked up 47 seats,” NPR’s Frank Langfitt reports from London. “This is the biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s win in 1987.”

The Conservatives now have an 80-seat majority after snaring 365 seats in the 650-seat chamber, giving Johnson a firm mandate. The opposition Labour Party suffered its worst defeat in more than 80 years, losing 59 seats. Read More > at NPR

As California thins forests to limit fire risk, some resist – Buzzing chainsaws are interrupted by the frequent crash of breaking branches as crews fell towering trees and clear tangled brush in the densely forested Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco.

Their goal: To protect communities such as Redwood Estates, where giant redwoods loom over the houses of tech workers who live in the wooded community just 20 miles from the heart of Silicon Valley. With California’s increasingly warm, dry and overgrown landscape, wildfire has become a perpetual danger.

Among the most important tools the state has against fires is to mimic their effects: thinning trees and brush by hand to reduce the amount of vegetation that would become fuel in a fire, and using controlled burns to keep undergrowth and shrub lands in check.

State lawmakers committed more than $200 million annually to fire prevention efforts and Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to spend even more, motivated by infernos such as one last year that killed 85 people in Paradise, California, some who died in their cars while trying to flee.

Yet officials say efforts to make areas such as this road corridor in Northern California more fire safe are undercut by property owners who refuse to let fire crews work on their property. Offered the choice between clearing vegetation-choked areas or retaining greenery that acts as a shield against the din of the nearby highway, a small minority opted for privacy over safety or said they’d do the work themselves.

That means patches of low-lying shrubs and some thickets of trees will remain when the job wraps up next year. As a result, future fires will retain potential avenues to spread into residential areas and threaten people and property. Read More > from the Associated Press

5 Unsettling California Tax Rules – If you live in California—or even if you don’t—you probably know something about California taxes. They are high, the highest in the nation. And the state’s tax man is aggressive too, way more aggressive than you might think. Think the IRS is tough? California’s Franchise Tax Board is generally regarded as more uncompromising when it comes to tax disputes. What else should you know about California taxes? Consider these five things.

California Capital Gain Taxes Are Among the Highest in the World. With a top income tax rate of 13.3%, California taxes hurt. But one of the biggest complaints I hear is not about the top rate, it is about capital gain. With the IRS, the top capital gain rate is 20%. Add the 3.8% net investment tax under Obamacare, and you have 23.8% to the IRS. But do you get any kind of capital gain break in California?

Nope, Californian’s pay up to 13.3% on their capital gain too. By paying 23.8% plus 13.3%, Californians are paying more on capital gain than virtually anyone else in the world. Those disproportionately high California taxes are an increasingly large share of the tax burden. It is one reason that California’s 13.3% tax on capital gains inspires move then sell tactics. Moving to no-tax Texas, Florida, Nevada or Washington can look pretty good.

There are More Millionaires and Billionaires in California than Anywhere Else. Forget per capita rates and other statistics. California has more than a million millionaires! That is hands down more than any other state. But hey, the Golden State has more billionaires than any other state too. Yes, that means paying lots of California taxes.

If You Don’t File a Tax Return in California, the State Can Audit You Forever. OK, maybe this isn’t bizarre, but it’s still important. If you don’t file a California tax return, the state can come after you forever. The statute of limitations never runs. California can go back ten or even twenty years. If you want closure, one strategy is to file non-resident tax returns reporting just your California source income. Read More > at Forbes

Why Walmart Should Worry About Dollar General’s Success – Although Dollar General and Walmart are both technically in the same general merchandise retailing arena, they’re not quite seen as head-to-head competitors. Walmart operates fewer but bigger stores, and Dollar General’s strategy involves establishing more, smaller remote locations where competition is minimal. Dollar General stores are meant to offer the basics in a convenient format.

The world’s biggest retailer may want to look over its shoulder, though. Dollar General is plowing through the so-called retail apocalypse like it’s not even happening. It’s able to do so because it’s doing so many things right. Though not an existential threat, Dollar General could end up spoiling Walmart’s plans for unfettered growth.

…Dollar General is still boasting better (relative) growth, however, by virtue of an amazing pace of new store openings. It added 258 new stores to its network in the three-month stretch ending in October, maintaining an expansion pace that was set as far back as 2017. CEO Todd Vasos says he intends to open another 1,000 locations over the course of the coming year.

Yes, Dollar General is to be applauded for capitalizing on the same growing value mindset that’s steered consumers away from mall department stores and toward the “treasure hunt” experience offered by off-price retailers like TJ Maxx, a TJX Companies subsidiary. But given that Dollar General’s most direct competitor, Dollar Tree, isn’t keeping pace with Dollar General by almost any measure, it’s not the value orientation alone that’s made it a champion within the general merchandise retailing category.

Rather, it’s the sum total of doing several little things right that has made Dollar General a juggernaut. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Hundreds of California voters are being registered with the wrong party. Is DMV to blame? – At least 600 Californians, including lifelong Republicans and Democrats, have had their voter registration unexpectedly changed, and several county elections officials are pinning much of the blame on the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Elections officials across the state are linking many of the reported complaints to the state’s new Motor Voter program, which launched ahead of the 2018 midterms to automatically register eligible voters when they visit the DMV. The 2015 law was designed to help boost participation, but a rushed launch prompted 105,000 registration errors to occur following its roll-out.

Janna Haynes, public information officer for Sacramento County Voter Registration & Elections, said the department has received “close to 200 calls from people saying they don’t think they were registered NPP” after the county recently sent out postcards to about 200,000 other people earlier this month.

Haynes noted two-thirds of the 200 complaints the department received came from people who have recently done business with the DMV.

While it’s unclear what happened to the people who didn’t visit the DMV, other errors may have occurred from voters wrongly filling out government documents or election workers inaccurately entering voter data. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Why Ring Doorbells Perfectly Exemplify the IoT Security Crisis – There’s been a lot of creepy and concerning news about how Amazon’s Ring smart doorbells are bringing surveillance to suburbia and sparking data-sharing relationships between Amazon and law enforcement. News reports this week are raising a different issue: hackers are breaking into users’ Ring accounts, which can also be connected to indoor Ring cameras, to take over the devices and get up to all sorts of invasive shenanigans.

In Tennessee, a local news channel reported on Tuesday about a case where hackers hijacked an indoor Ring camera one family had placed in a bedroom and used it to talk to three young girls. And as Motherboard first showed, there are tools available online for breaking into Ring accounts by strategically guessing the login credentials. When account thieves record enough juicy audio from people’s Ring feeds, there’s even a podcast where they can broadcast it.

Though it sounds shocking, the situation with Ring is far from unique. At the beginning of the year, for example, hackers launched similar attacks against Nest cameras, complete with incidents where hackers were creepily talking to children through the devices. The manufacturers behind these devices—Amazon and Google, respectively—are both billion-dollar tech giants with massive development resources. The fact that their cameras regularly feature in these kinds of cases reflects a broader industry failure to produce trustworthy internet-of-things devices that are easy for consumers to set up in a secure and private way. Read More > at Wired 

Bipartisan House Agriculture Bill Is a Win for Both Farmers and Immigrants – A bipartisan bill that would provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who work in agriculture passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday, providing a glimmer of stability to America’s farmers in the midst of an ongoing trade war and an immigrant labor crackdown.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed the House in a vote of 260-165, with 34 Republicans voting in favor. In its current form, the bill would permit undocumented aliens to obtain permanent residence if they have worked in domestic agriculture for at least 10 years and are willing to continue working in the industry for an additional four years. After that period, they would be eligible for a green card and could seek employment in another industry. Immigrants with less than 10 years of experience would need to commit to working in agriculture for an additional 8 years to be eligible for permanent residence.

The bill would also expand the H-2A visa program, which allows farmers to legally hire foreign guest workers. Farmers could employee guest workers year-round, rather than just seasonally. Although the former would be subject to an initial 20,000 visa cap per year for the first three years, it could expand after that period. The reform provides for 40,000 additional green cards for those working in agricultural, permits H-2A recipients to be sponsored for a green card, and allows them to apply for that legal status directly, all of which encourage them not to overstay their visas in violation of immigration law. It also cuts some of the red tape and bureaucratic overview processes that slow down such applications, decreasing time in processing and cutting the associated costs. A pilot program would increase flexibility to a small degree, allowing H-2A recipients to switch jobs if they are able to secure employment in their first two months in the U.S., provided that they continue to work in the agricultural sector. Read More > at Reason

‘Scratching the surface’: Education Department uncovers $1.3B in foreign university funding – An Education Department investigation revealed universities failed to report more than a billion dollars in foreign funding, which officials believe is only a sliver of the unreported overseas donations flowing onto campuses.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the Washington Examiner she had launched a preliminary investigation into six universities but already turned up an alarming $1.3 billion in foreign funding over the past seven years from nations such as China, Russia, and Qatar that the schools hadn’t told the federal government about, despite their legal requirement to do so.

“It is already a reporting requirement for schools to report all foreign contributions. From my perspective, it’s a simple requirement: Report all foreign money you get.” DeVos said. “We’re going to continue to raise the flag on this, and we think, just given what we’ve seen scratching the surface, there’s a lot there that has gone undetected.” Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Feds Collect Record Taxes Through November; But Still Run $343.3 Billion Deficit With Second-Highest Spending in Nation’s History – The federal government collected record total tax revenues of $470,706,000,000 in October and November, the first two months of fiscal 2020, according to the Monthly Treasury Statement released today.

Despite collecting that record amount in taxes, however, the federal government still ran a deficit of $343,360,000,000 during October and November because it spent $814,012,000,000 in those two months.

That was the second-highest federal spending in the October-November period in the history of the United States. The only time the federal government spent more in the first two months of the fiscal year was in fiscal 2009 (October and November of 2008), when Congress enacted the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to bailout insolvent banks.

That year the federal government spent $861,137,350,000 in constant November 2019 dollars. (Dollar values in this story were adjusted into constant November 2019 values using the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.) Read More > at CNSnews

5 TV trends to retire in 2020 – We’ve almost made it to the end of the year — and the decade — which means, of course, that it’s time to reflect. While 2019 and the 2010s in general have been a period of great achievement for the televisual arts, even a medium at its peak can fall prey to bad habits. To that end, fellow TV fans, let’s take a look at the television trends that are no longer needed in the 2020s and beyond.

1) Franchise Creep

“Brand recognition” has long been a cornerstone of Hollywood’s idea-generation process. Viewers, the thinking goes, are far more willing to try something new if that “new” thing looks a lot like something they already love. Hence, once NBC’s Law & Order proved to be a stalwart ratings performer, the network launched five spinoffs between 1999 and 2017 (six, if you count the scuttled Law & Order: Hate Crimes).

U.S. wholesale prices flat in November, show little inflation in the pipeline – The wholesale cost of U.S. goods and services were flat in November, offering more evidence that inflation is tame and likely to remain so in the near future.

The producer price index was unchanged last month, the government said Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had predicted a 0.2% increase.

Wholesale inflation has risen just 1.1% in the past year, marking the lowest rate since 2016. The yearly rate had touched a seven-year high of 3.4% just a year and a half ago. Read More > at MarketWatch

More Americans Are Dying at Home Than in Hospitals – For the first time over a half century, more people in the United States are dying at home than in hospitals, a remarkable turnabout in Americans’ view of a so-called “good death.”

In 2017, 29.8 percent of deaths by natural causes occurred in hospitals, and 30.7 percent at home, researchers reported on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The gap may be small, but it had been narrowing for years, and the researchers believe dying at home will continue to become more common.

Americans have long said that they prefer to die at home, not in an institutional setting. Many are horrified by the prospect of expiring under florescent lights, hooked to ventilators, feeding tubes and other devices that only prolong the inevitable.

Advocacy groups have encouraged families to have difficult conversations about end-of-life care, which often reveal that older relatives do not want heroic measures to extend their lives in hospitals.

About 45 percent of older people have completed advance directives, which often specify that doctors should not take extreme measures to prolong life. Read More > in The New York Times

Californians Need Health Insurance By Jan. 1 Or Risk Paying A New Penalty – But starting Jan. 1, 2020, Californians must enroll in a health insurance plan or risk paying a penalty when they file taxes in 2021. The penalties start at $695 for individuals and $2,085 for a family of four, according to the California Franchise Tax Board. There are allowances for some low-income Californians, and people who are without coverage less than three months. Non-citizens and members of federally-recognized Indian tribes including Alaskan Natives are also exempt.

Gov. Gavin Newsom pushed for the state mandate, arguing fewer uninsured people would lead to a healthier California. He also proposed using the revenue from the penalty — estimated at about $317 million for next year ­— to subsidize health insurance for low and middle income patients buying through Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange.

But some experts have questioned whether the threat of a penalty will be enough to convince the state’s remaining 3.5 million uninsured to enroll in coverage. A large portion of that group — roughly 1.5 million according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office — is not eligible for most health insurance due to immigration status. Read More > at Capital Public Radio

IHOP To Launch Fast-Casual Concept For Urban Markets In 2020 – IHOP is adding a new offering that it hopes will bring it more in line with modern trends in casual dining.

The International House of Pancakes announced on Wednesday that it will be launching a fast-casual, counter service-based concept called Flip’d in Atlanta in April. The company is also considering sites in New York, Washington, D.C., Denver and San Francisco, it said in a press release.

Flip’d will have both staff and digital touch screens taking orders, with a focus on to-go orders and online delivery, while still retaining some hallmarks of original IHOP restaurants. Those holdovers, like pancake dishes and 24-hour service, may set it apart from other fast-casual eateries that have flooded many urban markets. Read More > at Bisnow

Supreme Court Declines To Hear Challenge to Local Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance – The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a case challenging the way local government across the U.S. deal with home developers.

Cherk v Marin County. is a lawsuit brought by Dart and Esther Cherk against Marin County, California, in which the pair challenged the county government’s $40,000 fee to subdivide a vacant plot of land they owned and had hoped to sell.

The fee was part of a Marin County ordinance that requires people subdividing parcels of land to either devote a portion of that land to affordable housing or else pay an in-lieu affordable housing fee.

The intention of the law was to combat the sky-high housing costs in Marin County, which is located just north of San Francisco. The Cherks countered that subdividing their land did nothing to make housing less affordable, and therefore there was no reasonable relationship between the fee they were being charged and the problem the county was trying to address.

…If the Cherks had been able to get their case before the Supreme Court and convince a majority of the justices to rule in their favor, local governments around the U.S. would no longer be able to condition permits on the creation of affordable units. This is broadly the standard the Supreme Court has taken in past land use cases, holding that regulatory requirements put on building permits must bear a rational, proportional relationship to the impacts they seek to mitigate.

Lower courts, however, have been reticent to apply this test to inclusionary zoning ordinances, reasoning that these laws are not intended to mitigate the effects of new development, but are instead meant to further the government’s legitimate interest in making housing affordable. Read More > in Reason

97% of local governments are behind on RHNA goals – How many cities and counties are on track to meet state-mandated housing permit goals? Just under 3% (15 jurisdictions), according to a new analysis from the Southern California News Group.

SCNG scored California’s cities and counties on their Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) progress. The color-coded scores were based on the Housing Element Annual Progress reports that they provide.

97% of jurisdictions are behind on RHNA goals and nearly two-thirds are less than 50% on track, SCNG concluded.

“The problem is worse for low-income housing: Just 22% of the state’s jurisdictions are on track for permitting low-income housing, while 45% are on track for upper-income housing.”

Over half of local governments were given D or F grades.

RHNA Figures are controversial and many local governments complain that they simply aren’t realistic. Nevertheless, legal pressure is growing on local governments to fall into compliance — fast. Read More > at California County New

Sacramento City School District At Tipping Point: Insolvency Next Year – California’s State Auditor recently reported that the Sacramento City Unified School District is facing insolvency as early as next year. “Because It Has Failed to Proactively Address Its Financial Challenges, It May Soon Face Insolvency,” the auditor wrote.

The primary cause and effect is as the teachers union maintains complete control of the budget, “Sacramento Unified has not proactively addressed its financial problems and is close to insolvency—it projects facing a $19.1 million shortfall in fiscal year 2021–22.”

The Auditor reported:

The Sacramento City Unified School District serves about 41,000 students and employs 2,200 teachers. Since fiscal year 2016–17, its expenditures have exceeded its ongoing revenue by $9 million to $25.9 million each year.

During this same time period, it has increased spending in three main areas—teacher salaries, employee benefits, and special education—without taking sufficient action to control these costs.

“When you read the audit, you think to yourself, ‘this wouldn’t fly in my homeowners association!” said Robert Fellner with Transparent California in a California Globe interview. “This is a major, major school district. Everyone was aware of the problems. The Sacramento County office of Education warned them repeatedly.” Read More > at California Globe

San Jose and Milpitas BART off until April – No fooling—BART riders won’t get their long-awaited extension into the South Bay until at least April 2020, four months after what both BART and Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) previously touted as the final deadline for opening the two new stations.

San Jose Mercury-News reported the latest delay, basing it on what both transit agencies said about the time needed to properly test the new parts system leading to Milpitas Station and San Jose’s Berryessa Station.

Previously, BART and VTA had proposed an accelerated testing schedule that would have seen the new stations barely open on time by the end of this year. But in November they scrubbed that plan and decided to do it the old-fashioned way, even if it meant resigning to a 2020 finish.

April is not, however, the official new service date for either station. In fact, there is no new date—BART has thus far declined to designate a 2020 target for opening, simply saying that the agency is working as fast as it can.

The 10-mile, $2.3-billion extension of the lines that currently end at Warm Springs Station has been delayed seemingly since day one, originally breaking ground in 2012 and hoping to reach the point of rider service by 2015. Read More > at Curbed San Francisco

How to Lower Student Loan Defaults: Simplify Enrollment in Income-Driven Repayment Plans – U.S. student debt now exceeds $1.6 trillion, and default rates are higher than for any other type of household debt. Yet even as many students struggle to make their monthly payments, few take advantage of a federal program that would make them more affordable. A variety of income-driven repayment (IDR) plans allow borrowers to pay a fixed percentage of their income, rather than a fixed amount, which reduces monthly payments.

Under an IDR plan, borrowers pay a fixed percentage of their income for a fixed number of years. If the full balance is not repaid by the end, the remaining balance is forgiven. Despite the advantages of IDR, fewer than 30% of all student borrowers were enrolled as of 2018.

The program is underutilized because the paper application process is unnecessarily complex—unlike, in countries such as the U.K. and Australia, where enrollment in IDR programs is automatic. In the U.S., one simple, low-cost policy change could boost enrollment and reduce student loan defaults: replace cumbersome paperwork with a streamlined, online application. Read More > from the Manhattan Institute

Unusual type of flu virus is dominating early start to this year’s flu season – The 2019-2020 flu season is up and running—and so far, it’s off to a weird start.

Flu activity has been elevated since the start of November and is only expected to continue climbing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in its latest flu update. That’s a few weeks earlier than in past years.

Flu season in the United States can ramp up in the fall and peak anywhere between December and March, then drag itself out as late as May. In the last 36 years, flu most often ramped up in December and January and peaked in February. But for this winter, the CDC says there’s a 40 percent chance the flu will peak in December based on activity so far.

While this season may peak on the early side, the most unusual aspect is that it’s being driven by an influenza B strain. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, just unusual. Read More > at Ars Technica 

California considers calling THC in pot a risk to moms-to-be – More than three years after California voters broadly legalized marijuana, a state panel is considering if its potent, high-inducing chemical — THC — should be declared a risk to pregnant women and require warnings.

Studies have indicated that a rising number of mothers-to-be have turned to marijuana products for relief from morning sickness and headaches, though it’s effectiveness has not been backed by science.

Cannabis industry officials say too little sound research is available on THC to support such a move and warn that it could make marijuana companies a target for lawsuits with unverified claims of injuries from pot use during pregnancy.

…The meeting Wednesday of the obscure state Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee in Sacramento will focus on whether THC causes “reproductive toxicity.” The panel is made up of scientists appointed by the governor.

An affirmative finding would make THC one of hundreds of chemicals judged to cause cancer or birth defects that the state requires to carry warning labels, such as arsenic and lead. Read More > from the Associated Press

New trade agreement with Canada, Mexico ‘is a big deal’ for California agriculture – An agreement between Democratic congressional leaders and the Trump administration to advance a proposed trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada will mean “significant long-term economic benefits” for farmers in Fresno County and the San Joaquin Valley, a Fresno farm leader said Tuesday.

The revised U.S.-Medico-Canada Agreement replaces the old North American Free Trade Agreement that was approved in 1994. On Tuesday, both the White House and Democratic leaders said the new agreement is a significant improvement over NAFTA in how trade occurs between the three countries.

“This is a big deal for California agriculture,” said Ryan Jacobsen, CEO and executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. “Just about everything you can think of with Valley agriculture is a commodity that is popular in one or both of those countries.”

Canada is the largest importer of agricultural goods from California, while Mexico ranks fourth. Combined agriculture exports from California to the two nations totaled more than $4.3 billion in 2017-18, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

Russia banned from Olympics for four years over doping scandal: TASS – Russia was banned from the Olympics and world championships in a range of sports for four years on Monday after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) ruled to punish it for manipulating laboratory data, a WADA spokesman said.

WADA’s executive committee took the decision after it concluded that Moscow had tampered with laboratory data by planting fake evidence and deleting files linked to positive doping tests that could have helped identify drug cheats.

The WADA committee’s decision to punish Russia with a ban was unanimous, the spokesman said.

Russia, which has tried to showcase itself as a global sports power, has been embroiled in doping scandals since a 2015 report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found evidence of mass doping in Russian athletics. Read More > at MSN Sports

NBA Ratings Are Down This Year And The Association Can’t Figure Out Why. Here’s A Theory. – Ratings for NBA games are down across the three major networks that show the games – ESPN, TNT, and NBA TV, and the National Basketball Association isn’t totally sure why. Here’s a theory: China.

Variety reported that viewership for basketball is “down 15% year-to-year overall, according to Nielsen figures.”

TNT’s coverage is averaging 1.3 million viewers through 14 telecasts, down 21% versus last year’s comparable coverage, while on ESPN the picture isn’t much prettier. The Disney-owned network is down 19%, averaging 1.5 million viewers versus just under 1.9 million viewers at the same stage last year,” the outlet added.

As to why viewership is down, the outlet reported what “sources at all three organizations” told them: It’s because of the injuries.

Nowhere in its article does Variety mention another possibility; that people are sick of getting a dose of politics with their sports and may have been turned off this season by the NBA’s kowtowing to China. Read More > in The Daily Wire

Firms withdraw from China on worsening business conditions – A growing number of companies from Korea and other countries are pulling their production out of China due to worsening business conditions sparked by the prolonged tension between the United States and China coupled with rising operating costs there.

They are moving to the ASEAN market as the 10-nation economic bloc with its young population and cheap labor costs has been emerging as the world’s new manufacturing hub replacing the Chinese market.

In its recent 2019-20 survey on 526 German firms operating in China, the German Chamber of Commerce in China found that 23 percent of respondents have either already decided to withdraw their production base from China or are considering it.

Of them, a third or 104 companies answered that they have planned to pull out of the country entirely. The survey showed that a majority of German firms remained downbeat over the business outlook in China citing the rise in labor costs and the ongoing U.S.-China trade feud. Read More > in The Korean Times

Oracle Is Moving Its Massive Conference Out of San Francisco. Are Dirty Streets to Blame? – Oracle has a huge commitment to the Bay Area. The software giant is based in Redwood Shores, a short drive south from San Francisco. It remains one of the largest employers in Northern California. And until recently, the Golden State Warriors were playing in Oracle Arena in Oakland. Just as the naming rights to that arena expired—and the Warriors moved across the Bay to San Francisco—Oracle bought the naming rights to the San Francisco Giants’ stadium.

For more than 20 years, Oracle (ticker: ORCL) has held its annual OpenWorld trade show in San Francisco, as well. The 2019 edition of the event, held in the Moscone Convention Center, drew 60,000 people to the already traffic clogged city, driving hotel prices to dizzying heights. But no more.

Oracle today confirmed that starting next year it’s moving OpenWorld to Caesars Forum, a new 550,000 square foot conference center in Las Vegas due to open next year. CNBC reports that the San Francisco Travel Association told members via email today that the decision reflects feedback from attendee complaints about high hotel rates and “poor street conditions.” Read More > at Barron’s

State Bans Insurers From Dropping Homeowner Policies in Areas Hit by Wildfires – California is blocking the fire exits for home insurers.

Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara on Thursday announced a mandatory one-year rule barring insurers from cancelling or not renewing policies for homeowners who live in areas of the state that have been recently ravaged by wildfires.

“I’m hearing the same story again and again,” said Lara, who made the announcement in Oakland, at a home whose owners have struggled to find insurance. “People have been dropped by their insurance companies after decades of premium payment and loyalty.”

The mandatory one-year moratorium covers more than 800,000 residential policies in or around parts of the state declared wildfire disaster areas in 2019. Lara said his office is also asking insurers to voluntarily stop dropping any customers in California due to fire risk.

The state has the authority to impose such bans under Senate Bill 824, authored last year by Lara, then a state senator. This is the first time the department has invoked the law, which went into effect in January. Read More > at KQED

Supreme Court Agrees, Cellphone Companies Must Post Warnings – The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a telecommunications industry challenge Monday to Berkeley, California’s requirement that cell-phone retailers warn customers about the possible radiation dangers of holding the phones close to their bodies.

The city’s ordinance took effect in 2016. It requires dealers to notify their customers that the Federal Communications Commission sets radiation standards for cell phones, and that exposure “may exceed the federal guidelines” if users carry their phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra while they’re connected to a wireless network.

Retailers must display the warning on a poster or in a handout flyer, attributed to the city of Berkeley. Read More > at Governing

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Oakley – Voting Now Open for the Hometown Holiday Decorating Contest!

The City of Oakley Hometown Holiday Decorating Contest is a festive way to show your community pride and spread holiday cheer. We have some amazing entries this year, click here to submit your vote.

You can also view a map of all the locations by clicking here.

We have some amazing entries this year, click the link below submit your vote and view a map of all the participating homes.

The winner will be announced on Thursday, December 19th!

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How Long Can The U.S. Economic Expansion Last?

Winter 2019/20

A forecast for the United States and California economies

Looking back at the turmoil and off-putting theatrics that have characterized U.S. politics for much of 2019, one item that will not make the year’s ‘list of negatives’ is the health of the nation’s economy—and that isn’t changing any time soon, according to a new forecast released by Beacon Economics. Today, the U.S. economy is in the midst of the longest expansion in recorded history and, despite dour headlines to the contrary, is expected to continue along that same growth trajectory for at least the next two years.

“This outlook puts us squarely on the bullish side of things and outside mainstream opinion, but the facts as we see them simply don’t support a more negative narrative,” said Christopher Thornberg, Founding Partner of Beacon Economics and one of the forecast authors. “Currently, there is little sign of the kind of collapsing imbalances or rapid shifts in aggregate demand that would be capable of pushing the economy into a downturn or even a protracted slow growth slump.” According to the new forecast, U.S. GDP will see 2% plus real growth in 2020 and will move towards 2.5% real growth in 2021. To date, the first three quarters of 2019 have averaged 2.3% growth.

This should not imply that there aren’t stressors on the economy warns the outlook, but rather that nothing on the current horizon rises to the level of imbalance or shock that could cause a downturn. However, Thornberg cautions that the outlook could change and that it is critical to maintain vigilance in monitoring economic trends and activity given the unpredictability and hyper-partisan nature of current U.S. policymaking.

Moreover, while the nation unnecessarily flirts with short-run disasters, looming, long-run threats clearly imperil the nation’s economic health. “The healthcare cost crisis, the desperate need for pension and entitlement reform, dangerous trends in wealth inequality, among other issues are serious and growing risks that are largely being ignored and will come back to haunt us—the only question is when,” said Thornberg.

Like the nation as a whole, California’s economy also continues along a steady growth path, even hitting a number of significant milestones in the last quarter. To date, the state’s unemployment rate has dipped to a historically low 3.9% as both worker wages and employment have reached all-time highs. “The longer the current expansion persists, the closer we are to the next recession,” said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics and one of the forecast authors. “But business cycles do not die of old age and, at present, there are few signs of a slowdown in the state’s economy.”

Key Findings

  • Much of the confidence surrounding the health of the U.S. economy lies with the consumer. A brief lull in spending growth at the end of 2018 reversed itself by the end of the first quarter of 2019. Consumer spending is now growing at roughly the same pace as U.S. GDP.
  • Falling interest rates are the reason the nation’s housing market is starting to bounce back with sales of new and existing homes up and home price appreciation beginning to accelerate. Moreover, none of the conditions for a major housing bust are in play… we’ve seen clean mortgage lending, no excess supply being built, and increases in overall affordability as measured by the housing cost share of income for U.S. households.
  • As a result of record-tight labor markets, many U.S. workers have seen significant jumps in earnings. In 2014, compensation for employees made up 60% of national income compared to 63% in 2019. Notably, most of this income has shifted from corporate profits, which fell from a near record high of over 14% of all national income in 2014 to less than 12% this year.
  • The one weak spot in the nation’s GDP data in 2019 was in business investment, however, spending is down in this area for a number of narrow reasons, but not many general ones. Weak export data has played some role in slowing investment, but overall, the impact of the trade war with China has been highly overrated.
  • Employment in California keeps on soaring with the state economy adding 308,000 jobs (a 1.8% growth rate) from October 2018 to October 2019. Fully 40% of this job growth came from just two sectors, Healthcare and Social Assistance, and Leisure and Hospitality, indicative of a growing elderly population and strong consumer health. Notably, the rate of job growth in the nation as a whole, at 1.4%, was lower than in the state over this period.
  • Home price growth in California finally started to show signs of exhaustion over the past year. The median price for a single-family home in California grew 2.2%, which when adjusted for inflation, means that price growth has effectively been flat. This should not be surprising given the relentless pace of appreciation that has occurred in recent years, something that cannot realistically continue.
  • Building needed! Building permits in California peaked in the first quarter of 2018 but turned negative in the third quarter—and have remained there throughout 2019. Constrained housing supply will continue to hinder home affordability and limit growth in the state’s labor force.

Welcome to Beaconomics, a forecast for the United States and California economies.  VIEW THE WINTER EDITION

This succinct, quarterly outlook delivers up-to-date analysis of leading indicators driving the state and national economies, including GDP growth, employment, housing and commercial real estate markets, taxable sales, international trade, and more.

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Sturgeon Derby 2019, Saturday, December 14

Hosted by the CA Striped Bass Association, Isleton-Delta Chapter 
Prep your hook and line! This derby isn’t about who reels in the biggest, it’s about who gets closest to the “target length” (length will be announced at the start of the derby). Open to any contender looking for a challenge in the Delta. Make sure you have a valid California Fishing License and Sturgeon Report Card on hand.
Entry fee is $40.
Details about the derby can be viewed on the Sturgeon Derby event page.
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Physicians and public health officials are reminding the public to get vaccinated against this year’s flu. The warnings come amid widespread activity and 16 flu-related deaths in the state so far. Experts say this is the earliest flu season since 2003-2004.

“Getting vaccinated is the best defense against the flu. It takes a couple of weeks after vaccination for the body to build immunity, so don’t delay getting a shot,” said the California Department of Public Health in a press release.

“Besides getting immunized, you can also take some other simple steps:

· Stay away from people who are sick and stay home when you or your child are sick.

· Cover coughs or sneezes with your sleeve or disposable tissue.

· Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. · Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.”

You can see a map of the regions with elevated flu activity via KTLA. It shows nearly every county has been affected, with the exception of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Imperial counties.

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Are You Ready to be a Leader? Be the Mayor of Bayville!

Do you have what it takes to lead a growing city into the future? Play now to find out — Bayville needs you.

MTC and ABAG are pleased to announce the launch of the Mayor of Bayville, our very first online game. In the fictional Bay Area city of Bayville, you are the Mayor and you make the rules. Start with a budget. Invest in what you believe in. Improve the city. Look to the future. Are you up to the challenge?

The game is designed to involve residents in Plan Bay Area 2050, a planning process identifying strategies to make the Bay Area more affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and vibrant for all.

The Mayor of Bayville allows players to chart the course for their city by creating plans for transportation, housing, the environment and the economy.

Ready to be mayor? Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Playing the game takes about five minutes.
  2. Participation is anonymous.
  3. The game will be available until mid-December 2019.

Your choices as Mayor will have real-world impact, as the decisions you make in the game will help determine which strategies should be recommended as part of Plan Bay Area 2050.

The game is available in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Help shape the Bay Area’s future — play Mayor of Bayville. Go to to get started!

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Christmas Is What You Make It

Excuse the Hobby Lobby ad but as we move into the Christmas Season it’s important to remember that giving a gift can be as simple as sharing a little of yourself.

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