Sunday Reading – 09/23/18

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 Law Allows Utilities to Bill Customers to Pay for Settlements in 2017 Wildfires – Gov. Jerry Brown signed a measure Friday allowing utilities to bill their customers to pay for future legal settlements stemming from devastating 2017 wildfires, even if the blazes are blamed on the company’s mismanagement.

The bill is aimed at preventing bankruptcy or other serious financial trouble for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The nation’s largest utility by revenue faces billions of dollars in liability if investigators determine its equipment caused the Tubbs Fire that destroyed thousands of homes and killed 22 people in Santa Rosa last year.

Critics call it a bailout for PG&E investors.

The bill creates a special process for the 2017 fires, which caused more than $10 billion in insured losses, by far the most in state history. It seeks to determine how much liability the utility can absorb without triggering severe consequences like bankruptcy, and allows any additional costs to be billed to consumers.

For fires sparked in the future, the bill allows the Public Utilities Commission to consider a variety of factors — including weather conditions, a utility’s efforts to prevent fires and findings of mismanagement — to decide whether electric companies can pass costs to consumers. Read More > at NBC Los Angeles

Next Week’s New Fall Shows Will Fill You with Sense of Déjà Vu – The rollout of the fall broadcast TV season was, once upon a time, all glitter and gala. Thirty new shows (on just three networks!), a special issue of TV Guide, three times its usual size and stuffed with glamorous color studio photography of all the stars, and a dazzling array of novel ideas. A newspaper reporter who rooms with a secret Martian! A guy with a docile and very buxom female robot! The genetically groundbreaking concept of identical cousins! A dead mom who comes back as an antique car! (I said the ideas were dazzling, not necessarily good.)

These days, the rollout feels more like the series finale of The Walking Dead, with rotting zombies sharing the screen with a handful of survivors so terrified and beaten down that they’ve lost their minds. Of the 20 or so new shows (on six networks!), more than half are remakes, reboots or rapacious rip-offs. There hasn’t been such a mass uprising of the dead since Mayor Daley stopping overseeing Chicago elections.

Hollywood has always robbed its own graveyards, of course, though rarely with such profligate abandon. The really appalling thing about the 2018 fall season is how stupidly tepid most of it is. Shows about neurotic moms and grumpy dads are not just clichés but clichés old enough to be closing in on Social Security. Read More > at Reason

How to buy a turntable – So you want to start collecting vinyl. Great! Record sales have been steadily climbing, and in March, physical music outsold downloads for the first time in six years. You might’ve even started buying vinyl already to get in on the action. But given how long the format has been around, picking out a turntable can be as daunting as building a home HiFi system to connect it to. It doesn’t have to be.

You can spend anywhere from $60 on a Crosley all-in-one at Target to more than $3,000 for an audiophile-grade deck, with plenty of options in between. But what’s the difference between a budget turntable and something that costs more than a few months’ rent? And do you really need to spend that much? What are the features you shouldn’t go without? Let us give you a hand.

New or vintage?

…However, many modern turntables skimp on creature comforts that were prevalent in vinyl’s original heyday — conveniences like auto-stop, which lifts the tonearm and stops the platter from spinning when that side of the record ends. It might not sound like a big deal, but it’s a solid way to prevent unnecessary needle wear when you don’t jump up to flip the record immediately. Of course, older turntables are going to sound a little different too (“warmer,” according to our resident expert Jon Turi), so you have to decide if that’s important as well.

If you go the vintage route, the same warning applies to turntables as it does amps. Quality matters, and buying from eBay or pulling your mom’s old deck out of the attic could cause more frustration — and eventually cost more money in repairs — than buying used from the local stereo shop. You also need to check cartridge and replacement-needle compatibility, given that those wear out over time. Read More > at Engadget

When is the best time to get a flu shot this year? – The AAP recommends the flu shot for everyone ages six months or older. That includes “all women who are pregnant, are considering pregnancy, are in the postpartum period, or are breastfeeding during the influenza season,” the AAP advises.

The flu shot is made to protect against strains that experts believe will circulate during the season. This year’s flu shots will protect against influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) and one type of influenza B (Victoria). There is a flu shot that protects against another influenza B strain in addition to the other three.

It might seem like you have plenty of time to get vaccinated, but the best time to get a flu shot is much sooner than you think. Once you get the flu vaccine, it can take two weeks for the antibodies to develop in your body. Children who need two doses of a flu shot need to start even sooner, because the doses must be given at least two weeks apart.

That’s why the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention says the best time to get a flu shot is ASAP — by the end of October, at the latest.

“However, [the flu shot] can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later,” the CDC says in a flu shot advisory. Read More > at Metro

California Makes People Ask for Straws, Sodas With Kid Meals – If you want a straw with your drink or a soda with a kids’ meal at a California restaurant, you’ll need to ask for them starting next year.

A law signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown makes California the first state to bar full-service restaurants from automatically giving out single-use plastic straws. Another law he approved requires milk or water to be the default drink sold with kids’ meals at fast-food and full-service restaurants.

Neither law is an outright ban on straws or sugary drinks in kids’ meals…

California restaurants that don’t comply with the straw law will get two warnings before being fined. Lawmakers changed the legislation to add a $300 annual fine limit. It will apply only to sit-down restaurants where customers are waited on by restaurant staff, not fast-food establishments. Read More > at U.S. News

Big nutrition research scandal sees 6 more retractions, purging popular diet tips – Brian Wansink, the Cornell nutrition researcher who was world-renowned for his massively popular, commonsense-style dieting studies before ultimately going down in flames in a beefy statistics scandal, has now resigned—with a considerably slimmer publication record.

JAMA’s editorial board retracted six studies co-authored by Wansink from its network of prestigious publications on Wednesday, September 19. The latest retractions bring Wansink’s total retraction count to 13, according to a database compiled by watchdog publication Retraction Watch. Fifteen of Wansink’s other studies have also been formally corrected.

Amid this latest course in the scandal, Cornell reported today, September 20, that Wansink has resigned from his position, effective at the end of the current academic year. In a statement emailed to Ars, Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff said that an internal investigation by a faculty committee found that “Professor Wansink committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.”

As Ars has reported before, the retractions, corrections, and today’s resignation all stem from Wansink’s own admission of statistical scavenging to find meaningful conclusions in otherwise messy dieting data. The result is that many common dieting tips—such as using smaller plates to trick yourself into shoveling in less food and stashing unhealthy snacks in hard-to-reach places—are now on the cutting board and possibly destined for the garbage bin. Read More > ars Technica

Are we on the verge of civil war? – Americans increasingly are either proud of past U.S. traditions, ongoing reform and current American exceptionalism, or they insist that the country was hopelessly flawed at its birth and must be radically reinvented to rectify its original sins.

No sphere of life is immune from the subsequent politicization: Not movies, television, professional sports, late-night comedy or colleges. Even hurricanes are typically leveraged to advance political agendas.

What is causing America to turn differences into these bitter hatreds — and why now?

The Internet and social media often descend into an electronic lynch mob. In a nanosecond, an insignificant local news story goes viral. Immediately hundreds of millions of people use it to drum up the evils or virtues of either progressivism or conservatism.

Anonymity is a force multiplier of these tensions. Fake online identities provide cover for ever greater extremism — on the logic that no one is ever called to account for his or her words.

Speed is also the enemy of common sense and restraint. Millions of bloggers rush to be the first to post their take on a news event, without much worry about whether it soon becomes a “fake news” moment of unsubstantiated gossip and fiction.

…Will America keep dividing and soon resort to open violence, as happened in 1861? Or will Americans reunite and bind up our wounds, as we did following the upheavals of the 1930s Great Depression or after the protests of the 1960s?

The answer lies within each of us.

Every day we will either treat each other as fellow Americans, with far more uniting than dividing us, or we will continue on the present path that eventually ends in something like a hate-filled Iraq, Rwanda or the Balkans. Read More > in The Washington Times

The Battle of 5G – Across the country, telecom companies are beginning to lay the groundwork for 5G wireless networks. The buildout often pits states against cities, as in Texas. But a proposal that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to vote on Sept. 26 would not only upend future local agreements, but also preempt states. If approved, localities across the country would have drastically less authority over 5G infrastructure.

The arrival of 5G represents a major advancement in wireless technology. It’s expected to provide speeds at least 10 times faster than the typical 4G connection that many places now have. Testing is underway in select cities, and the FCC will start auctioning licenses for 5G spectrum in November. The first 5G-compatible smartphones are expected to follow next year.

…Supporters of the FCC proposal and state laws governing 5G frequently maintain that the laws will speed up construction, as well as potentially facilitate its use in currently unserved areas. In their pitches to Nebraska state lawmakers last year, lobbyists argued that a statewide rule would accelerate rural deployment. Citing comments provided by telecom providers, the FCC proposal similarly concluded that “resources consumed in serving one geographic area are likely to deplete the resources available for serving other areas.”

But local officials contend that carriers won’t bring their 5G networks to outlying areas absent market demand. “There is not a shred of evidence that suggests a penny saved in New York immediately gets invested in Montana,” Levin says. McAllen’s Pagan adds that his city offered companies a “healthy subsidy” to deploy internet service in unserved areas, but they weren’t interested. Read More > at Governing

As San Francisco Real Estate Prices Spiral, Some Biotechs Look to the ‘Burbs – The two biggest areas for biotech startups in the U.S. are Cambridge in Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area. They’re also the locations of astonishingly expensive real estate. But they’re where biotechs seem to want to be because they’re close to talent, academic research institutions, and the attention of venture capital.

In the Bay Area, at least some startups are thinking about moving outside the area, at least a little bit, in order to control costs. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on several biotech companies that are settling some or all of their operations in Pleasanton, a suburb of San Francisco in Alameda County about 25 miles east of Oakland.

One of those companies is 10X Genomics, which has headquarters in Pleasanton, and decided to quadruple the company’s space to 200,000 square feet in the city rather than move it somewhere else. “Pleasanton is the sweet spot where you get the talent from all across the Bay Area and rents aren’t quite as expensive as San Francisco or the Peninsula,” said Serge Saxonov, co-founder and chief executive officer of 10x. Read More > at BioSpace

Meet the Robot Lawyer Fighting Fines, Fees, and Red Tape – Joshua Browder is trying to upend the legal services industry. His company, DoNotPay, has built an AI-powered chatbot that interviews users about their legal problems in plain English and then uses their answers to complete and submit legal paperwork on their behalf.

Browder describes DoNotPay as “the world’s first robot lawyer,” and believes that the system he’s building will one day be able to address the majority of legal issues.

“DoNotPay will have succeeded if the word ‘lawyer’ is completely removed from the dictionary for average people,” Browder told Reason.

The 21-year-old entrepreneur from the UK, who taught himself to code by watching YouTube videos, lives and works with his eight-person team out of the same Palo Alto house that Mark Zuckerberg rented during his first summer in California building Facebook. Browder says the legal industry is so ripe for disruption through software because most services involve nothing more than standardized processes and boilerplate language.

DoNotPay initially focused on fighting parking tickets because Browder views them as an unfair tax on the poor. He says DoNotPay has succeeded in overturning citations about half the time, saving users $16 million in fines over its first three years. Now, operating on just over $1 million in venture capital funding, the start-up is expanding to cover a broad range of legal problems. Read More > at Reason

Google’s prototype Chinese search engine links searches to phone numbers – Google’s secret prototype search engine for China reportedly links users’ mobile phone numbers to what search terms they’ve used.

This feature would allow the Chinese government to simply associate searches with individuals, thereby putting Chinese citizens at increased risk of government repression if they search for topics that their government deems politically sensitive, according to the Intercept.

The mobile-focused search engine prototype, code-named Dragonfly, was first revealed last month by the Intercept.

Dragonfly is said to have been conceptualized as a joint venture between Google and a Chinese-based company. Both would have the ability to update a list of verboten search words, which could include expected subjects like “human rights” and “student protest” but could also extend to search terms such as “Nobel Prize”, according to the Intercept’s story.

News outlets and information platforms like the BBC and Wikipedia will also be blocked, according to the Intercept, as will searches extending beyond text, such as images. Read More > in The Guardian

Party Crasher: Moderate Tom Campbell aims to launch new political party in California – California state politics only comes in two flavors: Democrat or Republican. And according to the conventional wisdom that isn’t changing anytime soon. We know because we asked.

Two weeks ago we teamed up with California Target Book to find out whether political insiders around the capitol think a viable third party might emerge onto the California political scene by 2025. Not a single respondent in our Target Book Insider Track Survey said that it was “very likely.” Roughly two-thirds said the opposite.

But Tom Campbell—Chapman University law professor, former congressman, former state senator and former Republican—says they’re wrong. He’s setting out to bust up the Republican-Democratic lock on political power in Sacramento by launching a third party. And he predicts candidates will be running for the Legislature under the new banner as soon as 2020.

Under California law, a new political party can get on the ballot in one of two ways. One option is to gather roughly 700,000 signatures.

But there’s an alternative, which Campbell characterizes as the easier way: convince a little over 60,000 already registered voters to either go online or contact their county registrar and switch their registration to the new, still unnamed, party. With the right targeted email pitch, it could be pulled off under $100,000, he said. Revolutionize the state political system for less than a legislator’s annual salary.

Who might want to join the new party? Prospects abound. Read More > at CALmatters

Removing ‘zombie’ cells deters Alzheimer’s in mice – Eliminating dead but toxic cells occurring naturally in the brains of mice that are designed to mimic Alzheimer’s slows neuron damage and memory loss associated with the disease, according to a study published Wednesday that could open a new front in the fight against dementia.

The accumulation in the body of “zombie cells” that can no longer divide but still cause harm to other healthy cells, a process called senescence, is common to all mammals.

Scientists have long known that these cells gather in regions of the brain linked to old age diseases ranging from osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis to Parkinson’s and dementia.

Prior research had also shown that the elimination of senescent cells in aging mice extended their healthy lifespan.

But the new results, published in Nature, are the first to demonstrate a cause-and-effect link with a specific disease, Alzheimer’s, the scientists said.

But any treatments that might emerge from the research are many years down the road, they cautioned. Read More > in The Japan Times

11 Things Never to Say During Your Performance Review – Between the feeling of being thrust into the spotlight, the one-on-one setting with your manager and the gravity of what’s at stake, performance reviews can feel pretty uncomfortable. And when you’re made to feel uncomfortable, sometimes you aren’t always the most conscious of (or careful with) your words. But if there’s one time that you want to communicate effectively, it’s then. After all, your performance review is often the one chance you get to push for a raise, secure a promotion, or even save your job.

To make sure that you don’t unintentionally sabotage yourself, we’ve put together a list of things that you’ll want to avoid saying. Steer clear of these words, and you’ll be that much closer to passing your performance review with flying colors.

1. “That wasn’t my fault”
It’s human nature to defend yourself. But when it comes to your performance review, check your ego at the door.

2. “Yes, yes, yes”
While you don’t want to dismiss your manager’s feedback, being too quick to say yes isn’t the right move, either.

3. “You said/you did…”
It’s communication 101 — when discussing a sensitive topic, never lead with “you” statements. In a performance review, this might include statements like “you said I was going to get a raise,” “you didn’t clearly outline expectations,” etc.

4. “But…”
Going one step further, adding a “but” can be even more antagonizing.

5. “It was really a team effort”
Lots of people have trouble taking a compliment. But if there’s one time you don’t want that to happen, it’s during your performance review — your No. 1 moment to prove the value that you bring to your company. “Although it’s important to give credit where credit is due, it’s equally important not to deflect your personal accomplishments to other people,”… Read More > at Motley Fool

We Should Eliminate Federal Electric Vehicle Subsidies for Rich People – The Federal government currently offers a $7,500 tax credit to purchasers of electric vehicles (EV). A Pacific Research Institute study published earlier this year reported that 78.7 percent of the EV tax credits were received by households with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $100,000 or higher, and that more than half went to households with an AGI in excess of $200,000. Basically, the federal government is subsidizing rich people to indulge their tastes in driving expensive electric vehicles.

The Feds did, however, limit the these tax outlays by putting a cap of 200,000 vehicles that can be subsidized by each manufacturer. EVs manufactured by Tesla and General Motors are on the verge of no longer qualifying for tax credits since those companies will likely exceed their 200,000 vehicle thresholds this year. This means that the vehicles from EV manufacturers who have not yet crossed that threshold will have a subsidized relative price advantage over Tesla and GM. Read More > at Reason

‘Vegan Mondays’ coming to Berkeley after new resolution passed – Berkeley residents may soon be asking themselves, where’s the beef?

The city council just passed a resolution requiring vegan food be served at city events and meetings once a week.

On Thursday, Berkeley became the first city in the nation to declare “Green Monday.” This requires vegan-only food be served at city meetings and events once a week.

“I’m not asking people to give up meat, I’m asking us all to think about what it is that we do every day, how we can reduce our meat consumption,” said councilmember Kate Harrison, who authored the resolution.

The resolution also calls for a public campaign to inform businesses and residents of the environmental impacts of meat production. “Almost a third of our climate change problem comes from animal husbandry and the meat produced by animals and the pollution produced,” said Harrison. Read More > at KGO

Political nonprofits must now name many of their donors under federal court ruling after Supreme Court declines to intervene – Advocacy groups pouring money into independent campaigns to impact this fall’s midterm races must disclose many of their political donors beginning this week after the Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to intervene in a long-running case.

The high court did not grant an emergency request to stay a ruling by a federal judge in Washington who had thrown out a decades-old Federal Election Commission regulation allowing nonprofit groups to keep their donors secret unless they had earmarked their money for certain purposes.

With less than 50 days before this fall’s congressional elections, the ruling has far-reaching consequences that could curtail the ability of major political players to raise money and force the disclosure of some of the country’s wealthiest donors.

Nonprofit advocacy groups — which do not have to publicly disclose their donors, as political committees do — will now have to begin reporting the names of contributors who give more than $200 per year toward their independent political campaigns, campaign finance lawyers said.

“Moving forward, these groups will need to disclose to the public any donor that gave money for the purpose of influencing a federal election, regardless of whether they want to sponsor a particular race or specific communication,” said Matthew Sanderson, a Republican campaign finance attorney. “Some groups will not need to adjust their approach to raising funds, but this will be a significant change for others.” Read More > in The Washington Post

Is Religion Good or Bad for Us? – …Indeed, few forces have historically been more powerful than religion in shaping people’s existences. According to the latest poll by the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans say that religion is at least somewhat important in their lives and 83 percent say they’re fairly certain that God or a higher power exists. But not everyone agrees that religion is good for us. There has long been a debate among scholars about this issue, with some claiming that it facilitates well-being and others claiming that it leads to neurosis. In fact, there are few issues in the field of psychology as highly researched as this question.

…Here are three of the most important reasons that researchers believe religion and spirituality may be good for us:

Reason #1: Better Health Habits
Many religions encourage people to take care of their bodies and minds…

Reason #2: Enhanced Coping
The ways that people cope with stress may also account for the relationship of religion and spirituality with well-being. When we encounter problems in our lives, researchers have observed that people can use religion to cope in both healthy and unhealthy ways…

Reason #3: Social Support
A final important way that spirituality and religion may impact well-being is through social and emotional support. The word fellowship is often associated with Christian communities, while the words havurah (from the Hebrew for “friendship”) and sangha (Pali for “community”) are used in similar ways by Jews and Buddhists… Read More > at Psychology Today

Remember When Climate Change Meant the End of Coffee? Never Mind – For roughly the last two years, the media has been warning us that climate change is threatening the world’s supply of coffee beans.

According to the hypothesis, growing conditions for coffee will no longer be suitable in many places, and plagues and pestilences will destroy the crops. If that doesn’t kill off coffee, then the lack of pollinators will.

As usual, the media wasn’t shy in its headlines. The New York Times bluntly stated “Climate Change Threatens World’s Coffee Supply, Report Says.” TIME magazine took it a step further: “Your Morning Cup of Coffee Is in Danger. Can the Industry Adapt in Time?” Newsweek, in its typical “dial-it-up-to-11” editorial style, wrote, “Climate Change Effects Could Mean the End of Coffee Beans.”

That’s right. The end of coffee beans. We’ll have to drink tea. I shudder to think of it. Even Popular Science got in on the action: “Climate change will make your coffee cost more and taste worse.”

Thankfully, these are all testable hypotheses. The world has been getting warmer over at least the past few decades, so coffee production should be decreasing, and coffee prices should be going up. Are they?

Nope. According to a new report by the Financial Times, prices for coffee beans have hit a 12-year low. But that’s only taking into account recent data. If we look all the way back to the beginning of time (which, in this case, is the 1970’s), we see that the highest coffee prices, just under $3.40 per pound, occurred in April 1977. Today, the coffee price is about 93 cents per pound. Read More > from The American Council on Science and Health

Investors load up on U.S. stocks while growing cautious about the rest of the world, survey shows – Around the globe, investors are feeling both excited and cautious about stocks, as they bet Wall Street’s record-long bull market has more gas in the tank but also guard against an international picture that looks shaky.

According to the latest monthly survey of fund managers by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, released Tuesday, investors are increasingly optimistic about U.S. stocks. There is a net allocation of 21% overweight to the region’s equity market, the highest such level since January 2015, and it was named as the most favored equity region globally for a second straight month. The allocation to global equities fell 11 percentage points to a net overweight of 22%, slightly below the long-term average.

In large part, the optimism about U.S. stocks is related to the outlook for corporate profits. Earnings growth has been extremely strong — thanks in large part to the tax-cut bill passed in late 2017, although the impact this will have on growth will fade in the coming quarters.

According to the survey, a net 69% of those polled said that U.S. is the most favorable region when it comes to earnings expectations, a record level in the 17-year history of the survey. Currently, the divergence between U.S. and emerging-market earnings expectations is at its widest since January 2014. Read More > at Market Watch

Degree Requirements Make Hiring Less Diverse. Here’s How to Fix That – As hordes of college graduates flood the labor market, their demographics reflect a troubling trend. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 42.1% of whites ages 25-29 have bachelor’s degrees, compared with just 22.8% of blacks and 18.5% of Hispanics. Minority students attend college at far lower rates than their white counterparts do—and when they do attend, they are far less likely to graduate.

Sadly, higher education’s diversity problem is magnified in the world of work at a time when degrees are being required for entry-level jobs that haven’t historically required them. Just 25% of insurance claims and policy processing clerks, for example, had bachelor’s degrees in 2014, yet half of the open positions at the time required one. That means the millions of Americans who haven’t donned a cap and gown have no chance to prove themselves worthy of the lowest rungs of the corporate ladder.

This challenge is exacerbated by the advent of technologies that render candidates without degrees invisible for most jobs. The posting of jobs online has, for example, made it so easy to search for and apply to jobs that nearly every posting generates hundreds of resumes. Large employers have responded by turning to keyword-based filters to screen out CVs that don’t sufficiently match keywords, like “degree,” in the job description. Read More > at Fortune

California Climate Policies Facing Revolt from Civil-Rights Groups – In April, civil-rights groups sued to stop some of California’s policies designed to address climate change. Then on Monday, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 100, which requires the state’s utilities to obtain all their electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. Before signing the bill, Brown said the legislation was “sending a message to California and to the world that we’re going to meet the Paris agreement.” In fact, it will only increase the hardships that California’s climate policy imposes on the poor, as detailed in the lawsuit.

High electricity prices should be a concern for California policymakers, since electric rates in the state are already 60 percent higher than those in the rest of the country. According to a recent study by the Berkeley-based think tank Environmental Progress, between 2011 and 2017 California’s electricity rates rose more than five times as fast as those in the rest of the U.S. SB 100 will mean even higher electricity prices for Californians.

In addition to cost, the all-renewable push set forth in SB 100 faces huge challenges with regard to energy storage. Relying solely on renewables will require a battery system large enough to handle massive seasonal fluctuations in wind and solar output. (Wind-energy and solar-energy production in California is roughly three times as great during the summer months as it is in the winter.) According to the Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based energy-policy think tank, for California to get 80 percent of its electricity from renewables would require about 9.6 terawatt-hours of storage. This would require about 500 million Tesla Powerwalls, or roughly 15 Powerwalls for every resident. A full 100 percent–renewable electricity mandate would require some 36.3 terawatt-hours of storage, or about 60 Powerwalls for every resident of California.

…Even before SB 100 passed, though, California’s leaders were already facing a legal backlash from minority leaders over the high cost of the state’s climate policies. On April 27, The Two Hundred, a coalition of civil-rights leaders, filed a lawsuit in state court against the California Air Resources Board, seeking an injunction against some of the state’s carbon dioxide–reduction rules. The 102-page lawsuit declares that California’s “reputation as a global climate leader is built on the state’s dual claims of substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously enjoying a thriving economy. Neither claim is true.”

The gist of the lawsuit is this: California’s high housing, transportation, and energy costs are discriminatory because they are a regressive tax on the poor. The suit claims that the state’s climate laws violate the Fair Employment and Housing Act because CARB’s new greenhouse-gas-emissions rules on housing units in the state “have a disparate negative impact on minority communities and are discriminatory against minority communities and their members.” The suit also claims the state’s climate laws are illegal under the Federal Housing Act, again because their effect is felt predominantly by minority communities. It also makes a constitutional claim that minorities are being denied equal protection under the law because California’s climate regulations are making affordable housing unavailable to them.

The lawsuit, which Michael Shellenberger of Environmental Progress spotlighted in his recent Forbes column, points out that since 2007, “California has had the highest poverty rate in the country, over 8 million people living below the US Census Bureau poverty line when housing costs are taken into account.” The lawsuit claims that CARB has “ignored” the state’s “modest scale of greenhouse gas reductions, as well as the highly regressive costs imposed on current state residents by CARB’s climate programs.”

On Thursday I spoke to John Gamboa, a member of The Two Hundred. He said SB 100 is merely the latest example of California politicians’ ignoring the poor and the middle class when making energy policy. “Every time they pass new regulations, the burden falls on the people who can least afford it,” he told me. “That’s the history of the environmental movement: They care more about spotted owls than brown babies.” Read More > from the Manhattan Institute

More Than Faster Phones: The Life-Changing Potential of 5G Technology – In 1969, it was space travel. Today, the world’s most tech-savvy nations are in a race for 5G – networks that operate 100 times more quickly than today’s cellular networks.

So what’s behind this competition to achieve 5G?

First, buffering and lag will be a thing of the past, reducing the download time of a two-hour movie – which now requires six minutes – to only 3.6 seconds. But the impacts of 5G are more far-reaching than faster download speeds on our mobile devices. 5G allows for the lighting-speed transmission of massive amounts of data, making the potential applications of this technology life-changing.

Imagine the future of health care in a world of seamless connectivity. Doctors can remotely diagnose symptoms in real time – a potentially life-saving development for people who physically can’t get to a doctor’s office. With robotic-assisted laser surgery, doctors can perform complex operations with greater precision on patients on the other side of the world. Medical students can virtually tour the inside of the human body.

But this is just the beginning.

Full-scale adoption of 5G will make smart cities a reality. If our current 4G connectivity made WAZE, Uber and smart parking possible, imagine the capabilities of a faster network.

The science behind smart cities lies in the Internet of Things (IoT) – the connection of all devices through the internet – allowing sensors to connect with one other across a city to collect and relay data, leading to more efficient public services. In a smart city, self-driving vehicles, energy grids, transportation networks and water systems will all be controlled in the cloud, allowing readily available data to be quickly shared. Streetlights will dim when no pedestrians or vehicles are present. Connected-car data will help improve traffic and road conditions. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

China is inventing a whole new way to oppress a people – The growing, horrifying oppression of Muslims in a western Chinese province marks a key moment in Beijing’s expansionist drive — and its global competition with America.

A key part of China’s manufacturing machine, Xinjiang province is a gateway to Central Asia, and therefore crucial for President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to create a formidable China-dominated realm all the way to the Indian Ocean and the Mideast.

The province’s 11 million Uighurs call it “East Turkistan.” They look different than most Chinese, have a different culture, practice moderate Islam — and have been oppressed by Beijing for decades. But now, seen as a major stumbling block to Xi’s new ambitions, China’s Communist Party has escalated its control.

In Xinjiang, Beijing is honing to perfection such tactics as facial recognition, personal-background data-mining and DNA collection. Scannable codes are posted on apartment buildings where suspected Uighur dissidents live. Such practices, reminiscent of 1940s low-tech identification of Jewish residences under German control, may expand beyond the Uighur province.

Up to 1 million Uighurs were sent to re-education camps for “sins” like eating Halal food or growing beards longer than Beijing allows. According to some reports, those interned in camps are forced to eat pork, study Xi’s writing and participate in intensive forced-labor projects. Some are executed; many don’t survive for other reasons. Read More > in the New York Post

Self-driving homes could be the future of affordable housing – The convergence of new technologies including artificial intelligence, the internet of things, electric cars, and drone delivery systems suggests an unlikely solution to the growing housing crisis. In the next few years, we may use an app on our smartphones to notify our houses to pick us up or drop us off.

Honda recently announced the IeMobi Concept. It is an autonomous mobile living room that attaches and detaches from your home. When parked, the vehicle becomes a 50-square-foot living or workspace. Mercedes-Benz Vans rolled out an all-electric digitally-connected van with fully integrated cargo space and drone delivery capability, and Volvo just unveiled its 360c concept vehicle that serves as either a living room or mobile office. In other cases, some folks are simply retrofitting existing vehicles. One couple in Oxford England successfully converted a Mercedes Sprinter van into a micro-home that includes 153 square feet of living space, a complete kitchen, a sink, a fridge, a four-person dining area, and hidden storage spaces.

For those who are either unwilling or unable to own a home, self-driving van houses could become a convenient and affordable solution. Soon, our mobile driverless vehicles may allow us to work from our cars and have our laundry and a hot meal delivered at the same time. In Los Angeles alone, it is estimated that 15,000 people are already living in their cars and in most countries it is perfectly legal to live in your vehicle. Read More > at The Architects Newspaper

Whole Fat Dairy: It Does a Body Good – In its latest healthy intake dietary guidelines, the U.S. government recommends that Americans avoid whole fat dairy products and instead consume fat-free and low-fat (1 percent) dairy, including milk, yogurt, and cheese. A new prospective cohort study published in The Lancet suggests that the government’s recommendation is bunk.

The study followed the eating habits of more than 130,000 people for more than 9 years. It found that folks who consume higher levels of whole fat dairy products actually lowered their overall mortality and cardiovascular disease risks compared to those who consumed lower amounts or none.

As the study notes, nutritionists have long recommended that people minimize their consumption of whole-fat dairy products on the ground that they are a source of saturated fats and are presumed to adversely affect blood lipids and increase cardiovascular disease and mortality. On the basis of this study, that recommendation is exactly backward: Consuming less whole fat dairy is associated with higher cardiovascular and mortality risk. Read More > at Reason

California Finally Legalizes Street Vending – Yesterday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law SB 946. This bill, sponsored by state Senator Ricardo Lara (D–Bell Gardens), formally legalizes sidewalk vending within California and forbids cities from completely banning street merchants.

Sadly, it’s not a free-market free-for-all. Cities and counties can still regulate and license vendors for public safety and welfare concerns and will have some controls over time and place. But the law makes it clear municipalities can’t confine sidewalk vendors to certain neighborhoods or ban them entirely.

It’s a significant development for the many California residents—many of them immigrants—who want to earn a living without being harassed by police, arrested, or having their property destroyed. (Remember the University of California police officer in Berkeley shutting down an unlicensed hot dog vendor and taking his money? The Los Angeles war on bacon-wrapped hot dogs?)

SB 946 also helps to take care of those previous crackdowns by dismissing all current cases being prosecuted and allowing persons who had previously been convicted to petition for dismissal. And further, the law requires that future enforcement of street vending regulations be handled by administrative fines, not misdemeanor charges. Read More > at Reason

Falsified Soil Samples To Stalled Development: Hunters Point Shipyard Mired In Ongoing Controversy – San Francisco’s largest redevelopment in over 100 years is becoming one of its most controversial developments.

Hunters Point, also known as San Francisco Shipyard, and the nearby Candlestick Point, the site of the former 49ers stadium, have been lauded as a huge future mixed-use community with 12,000 housing units and millions of square feet of office. Controversy surrounding falsified soil testing at Hunters Point is making it difficult for the development to move forward.

Hunters Point is a former naval base station that tested nuclear weapons and was listed as a Superfund site by the EPA in 1989. Cleanup had been going forward as planned until the U.S. Navy first noticed issues with soil samples not matching data in 2012.

Since then Tetra Tech employees, who were hired to clean up the soil, have come forward admitting to falsifying soil sample data. Investigations have ramped up this year after reports revealed the extent of the issue, and the future of the development is now in question. Read More > at Bisnow

Lyft marks its 1 billionth ride as it expands beyond cars – Lyft may be an underdog relative to Uber, but it’s still huge in the transportation world. The ridesharing firm has officially provided 1 billion rides, including 233 million shared rides. That pales in comparison to Uber’s 10 billion trips. However, Uber also got a three-year head start (2009 versus 2012) and has focused on international expansion where Lyft only ventured outside the US last year. It’s doing well considering its scale.

The milestone comes as Lyft is in the midst of rapid growth. It added about 100 more US cities in 2017 on top of its fledgling international presence. More importantly, though, it’s expanding beyond the car rides that have dominated its business for the past six years. It just launched its first electric scooter services, and it recently bought the company behind CitiBike as part of a move to offer pedal-powered transportation. In other words, the next billion rides may look very different than the first — only some of them may involve a car and a separate driver. Read More > at Engadget

Why can’t more than four people have a conversation at once? – It’s called the “dinner party problem”: A table of four or fewer people may happily converse as one, but a party of five or more will splinter fairly quickly into separate conversations of two or three four people each. What is it about the number four?

…the Oxford University evolutionary psychologist who theorized that cohesion in any human social group falls apart once the group reaches 150—a figure now known as Dunbar’s number. But just as the dynamics of large groups start changing around 150, something also happens to the casual conversations of small groups once they surpass four members.

Social psychologists have noted the pattern in group conversations in research stretching back decades. There’s evidence that this four-person limit on conversations has been in place for about as long as humans have been having chatting with one another. Shakespeare rarely allowed more than four speaking characters in any scene; ensemble films rarely have more than four actors interacting at once. But why do we max out at four?

Pairs (or “dyads,” in psychology research parlance) are the essential building blocks of a society. Let’s imagine a conversation between four hypothetical humans: you, Chris, Pat, and Taylor. In a four-person conversation, there are six possible pairs of people who can be talking to one another at once. you and Chris, you and Pat, you and Taylor, Chris and Pat, Chris and Taylor, and Pat and Taylor. That’s three pairs you’re part of, and three pairs you’re not. Essentially, you have a role in influencing half of the possible conversations that could be happening in that group.

If there are three people in the conversation, there are three possible pairs, only one of which excludes you. If there are five people, there are 10 possible pairs, and the majority—six—don’t include you, which makes it harder to get your point across. Read More > at Quartz

Can Millennials Save Tesla? – While they already had their hands full killing mayonnaise, Applebee’s, and countless other industries that make up the cornerstone of American culture, in these past weeks millennials were proving themselves to be excellent multitaskers by putting their money into another, far more surprising basket – they appear to be set on saving Tesla.

It’s been a remarkably hard year for Tesla, with a massive wave of executive departures, a misguided venture to privatize, relentless bad press and multiple negative social media posts surrounding Elon Musk. Just this month, Tesla shares plummeted a further 10 percent after the electric car company announced that its chief accountant Dave Morton and head of communications Sarah O’Brien would be cutting ties with Tesla. At the same time, human resources chief Gaby Toledano revealed that she would be extending her leave of absence. As if this weren’t grim enough, Tesla’s vice president of worldwide finance and operations Justin McAnear is also leaving the company, making it a total of 10 key directors that have left the company within the last 12 months.

The impetus for Tesla’s swift summertime downfall was a direct announcement from Elon Musk’s account on August 7th, stating that he would be taking the company private and that he had already secured the funding. An SEC subpoena and high-decibel outcry from investors both for and against the company were soon to follow. In the end, Tesla shares lost a whopping 19 percent in a month following the tweet and are down a total of 9 percent for the year.

Despite the bad press, bad blood, and disappointing numbers, millennial investors have stayed loyal to Elon Musk and Tesla, to the surprise of nearly everyone who reads the news… Read More > at Yahoo! Finance

The Awful Truth About Expanding Social Security Benefits – In July, more than 62 million people received a Social Security benefit, almost 70% of whom are retired workers the program was designed to protect. Of these aged beneficiaries, the Social Security Administration (SSA) finds that 62% are reliant on their monthly check to account for at least half of their income, with 34% leaning on their payout for virtually all of their income (90% plus). Or, in simpler terms, without the guaranteed monthly benefit that Social Security provides to qualifying retired workers, we’d likely be dealing with a major elderly poverty crisis right now.

But for as pivotal as Social Security has been in forging a foundation for our nation’s retirees, many would suggest it’s not going far enough. The average retired worker took home only $1,414.73 in July, which works out to less than $17,000 a year. By comparison, the federal poverty level for a single person is $12,140 in 2018. That’s not a lot of cushion. Though it’s a program the SSA cautions will only replace about 40% of the average worker’s wages during retirement, current and future retirees would like to see those benefits expanded.

Unfortunately, the awful truth is that expanding Social Security benefits just isn’t a viable option at the moment.

According to the newest Social Security Board of Trustees report, the program is set to hit a major inflection point this year. Beginning in 2018 and continuing every year thereafter, the SSA is projected to expend more than it generates in annual income. Although the program has a healthy amount of excess cash that’s been built up over the past 35 years (nearly $2.9 trillion), it’s expected to dwindle over the next 16 years. By 2034, Social Security’s asset reserves are estimated to be depleted.

What happens then? The good news is that payouts continue without interruption. Even without the interest income provided by the program’s excess cash, the 12.4% payroll tax and the taxation of benefits ensures that revenue will keep flowing in. Short of Congress changing the way that Social Security is funded, it simply can’t go bankrupt. Read More > at Motley Fool

Just who is an independent contractor? – A sweeping new California Supreme Court ruling restricting who is an independent contractor is shaking up an exceptionally diverse range of industries.

The ruling, issued in April, affects an estimated 2 million independent contractors working in healthcare, beauty salons, gig economy jobs like Uber and Lyft, journalism, music, real estate, education, financial planning, agriculture, construction, technology, insurance, transportation and more.

The decision is praised by the California Labor Federation as offering workers protections like minimum wage, unemployment, workers’ compensation and disability insurance. But some independent contractors say they like their freedom and have no interest in being employees.

…The ruling on Dynamex Operations West Inc. vs. Superior Court of Los Angeles provides a new three-part “ABC” test to determine who can be an independent contractor. The ruling says that the worker must (A) be free from control and direction from the hiring business, (B) must perform work outside the scope of the hiring entity’s usual business and (C) the worker must have an independent business of the same nature of work (demonstrated by taking out a business license or marketing services, etc.).

The biggest change is Part B, which was never included under previous law.

The court ruling has put doctors in a bind who are now caught between this ruling and the state Business and Professions Code, which bars hospitals from directly employing most physicians. Many doctors serve as independent contractors at several hospitals – sometimes working a few shifts at safety net hospitals, which provide lower reimbursement rates, and other shifts at higher-end hospitals which pay more. Because they set their own schedules, they can have more time to spend with children and family if they choose. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

HSR projected real estate costs nearly double to $1.5 billion for Valley segment – Among the many challenges that threaten California’s embattled high-speed rail project now under construction in the San Joaquin Valley, one of the more persistent has been the state’s difficulties in buying the real estate it needs for the route.

When the first $1 billion construction contract was awarded in 2013 for a 29-mile stretch in Fresno and Madera counties, only a few of the parcels of property needed for right of way were available for the contractor to start work. And while the California High-Speed Rail Authority and its property consultants are making progress, there are still hundreds of parcels remaining to be bought or condemned before work can commence on them.

And as engineers tinker and fine-tune the design of the three construction segments between Madera and Bakersfield, the overall number of parcels needed has grown, putting the agency even further behind – even as an economy in rebound after the 2007-09 recession sends real estate prices ever higher.

The combined result is that the total estimated cost for property in the Valley has nearly doubled in just four years, as have other costs for the 120 miles of the route for which work is under way. In 2014, the budget for real estate acquisition was about just over $764 million. Now, the estimated costs are projected to be more than $1.5 billion – of which a little more than $1 billion had been spent as of July 31. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

California Super-Commuters Are Transforming Sleepy Suburbs Into Busy Metros – With residents moving out of major cities but keeping their jobs in those cities, there has been a growth in the number of super-commuters in California. (Super-commuters are those who travel 90 minutes or more to get to work.) Nationwide, the number of super-commuters grew 30% to 4 million from 2005 to 2016.

The bulk of super-commuters into the Bay Area come from Stockton. As of 2016, about 10% of Stockton’s commuters were super-commuters, according to the East Bay Times. Over 28,000 people commute up to 80 miles or more from Stockton into the Bay Area. One Stockton woman wakes up at 2:15 a.m. to catch two trains that will get her to her job at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in San Francisco by 7 a.m. In Southern California, over 127,000 super-commuters drive from Riverside into Los Angeles for work and make up 7.3% of Riverside’s commuters.

Traffic into job centers has gotten worse. About 625,000 vehicles commute into the inner Bay Area every day, Regan said. Most of these vehicles enter from the Interstate 80 and 580 corridors from the North Central Valley and Sacramento areas.

As of June 2017, there has been one housing unit built for every 4.3 jobs in the Bay Area created since 2011, according to the Building Industry Association.

Building homes near jobs would reduce traffic and take cars off the road, but many communities have opposed new developments, believing more housing would increase traffic in their neighborhoods, Regan said. Read More > at Bisnow

California Police Chief Claims Legal Weed Delivery Could Lead to ‘Assaults and Homicides’ – A proposal under consideration in California would allow marijuana businesses to deliver weed straight to people’s doorsteps, even in places where it’s illegal to sell pot.

Sounds convenient, right? Not according to Morgan Hill Police Chief David Swing, president of the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA), who warned the proposal could lead to robberies, assaults, and homicides.

It’s been nearly two years since California voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for recreational use, and more than eight months since the measure took effect. But marijuana sales are still banned in almost 85 percent of cities and counties in the state, according to Weedmaps. As a result, advocates on both sides are still debating whether or not cannabis retailers should be able to deliver their products to homes in localities where selling pot isn’t allowed.

A 2017 state law says “a local jurisdiction shall not prevent transportation of cannabis or cannabis products on public roads” by marijuana retailer licensed to make home deliveries. Alex Traverso, a spokesperson for the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), tells the Los Angeles Times that the proposal currently being considered would “clarify” that licensed retailers can “deliver to any jurisdiction within the state of California.” Read More > at Reason

IBM Is Being Sued for Age Discrimination After Firing Thousands – A lawyer known for battling tech giants over the treatment of workers has set her sights on International Business Machines Corp.

Shannon Liss-Riordan on Monday filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan on behalf of three former IBM employees who say the tech giant discriminated against them based on their age when it fired them. Liss-Riordan, a partner at Lichten & Liss-Riordan in Boston, has represented workers against Amazon, Uber and Google and has styled her firm as the premier champion for employees left behind by powerful tech companies.

“Over the last several years, IBM has been in the process of systematically laying off older employees in order to build a younger workforce,” the former employees claim in the suit, which draws heavily on a ProPublica report published in March that said the company has fired more than 20,000 employees older than 40 in the last six years.

The lawsuit comes as IBM faces questions about its firing practices. In exhaustive detail, the ProPublica report made the case that IBM systematically broke age-discrimination rules. Meanwhile, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has consolidated complaints against IBM into a single, targeted investigation, according to a person familiar with it. A spokeswoman for the EEOC declined to comment.

In the last decade, IBM has fired thousands of people in the U.S., Canada and other high-wage jurisdictions in an effort to cut costs and retool its workforce after coming late to the cloud computing and mobile tech revolutions. Read More > at Bloomberg

A Decade After Housing Bust, California Markets Pace Recovery – A decade after the collapse of the housing market and start of the Great Recession, home values have more than recovered in most of the nation’s largest markets, according to research by Zillow. The markets with the highest gains above the mid-2000s bubble are primarily in the West and Southwest.

San Jose, the nation’s most expensive metro, leads the way with a current median home value of $1.29 million, 74% higher than the top of the bubble and more than double its post-crash low. Denver follows with its median value of $397,800 representing a 66% increase from the bubble’s peak. In all, home values in 21 of the nation’s largest 35 markets are higher than their pre-recession peaks. Read More > at Connect

Coca-Cola says it’s ‘closely watching’ the opportunities in CBD-infused beverages – Coca-Cola Co. confirmed on Monday that it is considering the opportunities in CBD-infused beverages, drinks that contain the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, cannabidiol. In a statement, Coca-Cola said: “Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world. The space is evolving quickly. No decisions have been made at this time.” The largest beverage company in the world would be joining other big names including Molson Coors Co. and Constellation Brands Inc. that have made investments in the space. Coca-Cola and other carbonated-beverage businesses have sought out new products in areas like bottled water and wellness drinks as soda consumption has declined. Interest in the space has driven up shares of cannabis companies like Canopy Growth Corp. nearly 107% for the year so far. According to Bloomberg, Coca-Cola is in discussions with Aurora Cannabis Inc. about new products. Coca-Cola shares have edged up 0.2% for 2018 to date, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 5.8% for the period. Read More > at Market Watch

Rite Aid Investors Got What They Wanted, Unfortunately – There’s buyer’s remorse. There’s seller’s remorse. Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD) investors may be experiencing non-seller’s remorse.

Shares of the struggling drugstore chain have plummeted 36% since the end of July, hitting five-year lows earlier this month. The company has taken a beating since announcing that it will not be merging with Albertsons.

Rite Aid was set to combine its remaining assets with grocery store giant Albertsons in a new company generating $60 billion in annual sales, but there was plenty of vocal dissent. Several institutional and retail investors argued that the deal undervalued what Rite Aid was bringing to the table. A couple of shareholder advisory firms agreed. They figured that Rite Aid could do better than settling for nearly 30% of the combined company. Some thought it could fare better on its own or try to smoke out another suitor.

We’re now six weeks removed from Rite Aid conceding the obvious, calling off the merger just before the shareholder vote that would’ve rejected the proposal. If investors were expecting Rite Aid stock to bounce back after the merger’s undoing, they’re now poorer in more ways than one. The stock has surrendered a third of its value, and recent analyst comments have been brutal on Rite Aid’s prospects as a stand-alone entity. Read More > at Motley Fool

California’s Electricity Dreams Still Need Natural Gas – Already requiring 33% renewables by 2020 and 50% by 2030, California Governor Jerry Brown just signed SB 100, mandating that 100% of the state’s electricity comes from “carbon-free” sources by 2045, largely leaning on renewables like wind and solar. This truly is the Golden State’s energy challenge of a lifetime.

Renewables now account for almost 33% of California’s electricity And solar power will remain the heart of California’s clean energy push (particularly rooftop solar), with the state generating about 45% of all U.S. electricity that comes from that big bright yellow thing in the sky. Today, solar is over 12% of California’s electricity generation, versus just 2% back in 2013.

Yet, as overwhelmingly a natural gas- and oil-based state, the challenge put forth by California is an immense one. Even on the windiest and sunniest days, these renewables are intermittent, typically available only around 35% of the time. In literally a matter of minutes, winds can disappear or a cloud can block out the sun. For example, quite inconveniently, solar is naturally fading as an energy source when residents are returning home from work at 6 pm, right when electricity is used most.

It’s a constant chore for operators to balance these intermittent resources on the grid, so it’s clean and flexible natural gas that usually compensates during the lull times. Again, natural gas may come in third on the “loading order” of power behind efficiency and renewables, but gas is often deployed first because it’s the most predictable and reliable of the three. This necessity to use more gas to backup wind and solar is why California’s regulators have wisely forced troubled gas storage facility in the Los Angeles metro area to remain open despite public opposition. Read More > at Forbes

Out of Stock This Holiday Season: Store Workers – Shoppers are filing back into stores ahead of the holiday season. Unfortunately for retailers, workers are not.

Staffing up for the year-end crush is an annual challenge for retailers. But with unemployment at record lows, this year is shaping up to be an exceptional slog.

There were 757,000 retail job openings across the country in July, about 100,000 more than the same time a year ago. The number of openings surpassed the number of hires from March through June for the first time in a decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And some big cities, including New York, San Francisco and Seattle, are facing a shortage of workers with retail skills, according to data from LinkedIn.

Retailers are responding by starting the push for holiday workers earlier than ever, raising wages and offering extra perks such as profit-sharing and paid time off for part-time associates. They are also hosting recruiting marathons with the goal of hiring thousands of workers in a single day. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

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West Nile virus persists–more mosquitoes, a bird, chickens test positive

The Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District is reporting mosquitoes from Quimby Island and Bethel Island, a dead bird from Oakley, and chickens from Martinez and Oakley have tested positive for West Nile virus. This is the first West Nile virus activity from Bethel Island this year.

So far in 2018, 17 groups of mosquitoes, 12 dead birds, and 15 chickens from Contra Costa County have tested positive for the virus.

According to the District’s Scientific Programs Manager Steve Schutz, Ph.D., “Even though today is technically the last day of summer, there is warm weather in the forecast which means West Nile virus season is not over. West Nile virus replicates faster in warm weather, so county residents should continue to dump standing water to prevent mosquitoes and wear repellent to prevent mosquito bites.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. Residents can also avoid mosquito bites by staying indoors when mosquitoes can be present. Mosquitoes that can transmit West Nile virus are most active at dawn and dusk.

Most mosquitoes can’t start their lives without water, and so dumping out standing water prevents mosquitoes from having a place to develop.

And report dead birds to the state hotline: 1-877-968-2473. Birds are often the first sign of disease transmission in a particular area. Ravens, jays, crows, and magpies can be susceptible to the virus, and may die if infected. Even if the birds are not tested, the reports alone yield crucial information to protect public health.

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First Day of Fall Saturday, September 22, 2018

Autumn Events

Sept 22 2018 11am – 5pm – Heart of Oakley Festival – Join us at this annual event that takes place downtown on Main Street and in the Civic Center Plaza, 3231 Main Street. Admission and parking is free. The event runs from 11am – 5pm and features a wide variety of entertainment, vendors, gourmet food, art exhibit and children’s activities. There will be micro-brew and wine for sale along with commemorative glasses. The entertainment schedule along with a list of vendors and food purveyors is available at:

Sept 30 2018 9am – 12pm – Big Break End-To-End Paddle – Come ply the welcoming and wondrous waters of the Delta on this longer kayak excursion. We will start off with dry land instruction then paddle our steady and stable craft on a group exploration of this lovely, rich shoreline from end-to-end. Adult registration/participation required with registered children (ages 8-16yrs.).Registration required. – Resident: $35.00. Non-resident: $39.00 More info >

Oct 5 2018 – Friday Night Bites 5 – 9pm – Join us at the popular “Friday Night Bites” on October 5th at Civic Center Plaza, 3231 Main Street in Oakley. A host of food trucks will be on hand, serving their delicious snacks, appetizers, entrees and desserts along with craft beer and wine.

Oct 7 2018 – Birding by Kayak 9am – 11:30am – What better way to see birds than by kayaking on the wondrous waters of the Delta? We will begin with dry land instruction, then paddle our steady and stable craft on a group birding exploration. Adult registration/participation required for registered children (8-16yrs.) Registration required. – Resident: $30.00. Non-resident: $34.00 More info >

Oct 12, 13 & 14 2018 – Best Bass Tournament – The Best Bass Tournament will be held on October 13 & 14. Registration will be taken on October 12th at Hook, Line & Sinker, 3100 Main Street, Suite 260 in Oakley. For more information, contact Hook, Line & Sinker at (925) 625-2441.

Oct 13 2018 – Oakley Out of the Darkness Walk to Fight Suicide 8am – 12:00pm – When you walk in the Out of the Darkness Walks, you join the effort with hundreds of thousands of people to raise awareness and funds that allow the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss.

Online registration closes at noon (local time) the Friday before the Walk. However, anyone who would like to participate can register in person at the event as listed above. Registration is free and open to the public. Walk donations are accepted until December 31st.

Oct 13 2018 – Movies in the Plaza – Coco Join us for the last movie in the 2018 “Movies in the Plaza” series, featuring the new classic “Coco”. Admission is free and the movie begins approximately 30 minutes after sunset.

Oct 20 2018 12pm – 4pm – Oakley Harvest Festival – The annual Oakley Harvest Festival is held at Civic Center Plaza, 3231 Main Street in Oakley. This event features old-fashioned Fall activities for the family. The “Pie Eating Contest” is always a popular activity along with the two costume parades. The first parade is for our canine friends and the second is a costume parade for all ages. There is no fee to participate and the parades walk a short distance around the park. Participating canines will receive a “doggy bag” and the children will receive a goody bag at the end of the parade.

There will be a children’s area with balloon art, bounce houses and crafts. Local dance troupes will perform in the amphitheater. Guests may bring a pre-decorated pumpkin to enter into the Pumpkin Decorating Contest. Vendors will be on hand with a variety of wares, activities and free hand-outs.

Oct. 22, 2018 -Halloween Decorating Contest –  The City of Oakley Recreation Division invites residents to decorate their house and enter the contest by October 22nd. Bring out the spider webs, goblins, and ghouls to decorate your house. Decorations installed by a professional service will not be eligible. The contest is open to any home within the City of Oakley limits. Limited to the exterior front yard and roof only. Entries will be posted online for a public vote from October 123rd to 28th with the winner announced on October 29th. To enter your home visit the City of Oakley website by clicking here. The winner will receive a giftcard and a decorative sign for your yard.

Oct 27 2018 1-3pm – Dia de los Muertos – The annual Dia de los Muertos cultural workshop is taking place in the City Council Chambers, 3231 Main Street in Oakley. The event includes an explanation of the holiday and altar (ofrenda), as well as entertainment and fun crafts and activities. Admission and festivities are free.

Nov 2-4, 201822nd Annual Sandhill Crane Festival – For 22 years, Lodi’s Sandhill Crane Festival has celebrated the return of the cranes. In partnership with the City of Lodi, the Festival continues this November, welcoming an ever-growing circle of friends to our community to share the wonder of the Sandhill Crane … and so much more.

Nov 11 2018 11am – Veterans Day Observance Ceremony – Come honor those who have served in the United States military at Oakley’s 6th Annual Veterans Day Observance which will be held at the Civic Center Plaza on Sunday, Nov. 11th at 11am. Oakley’s program will include the Presentation of Colors, student essays, a rifle salute, taps, and more.


Dec 1 2018 – Christmas Tree Lighting 4 – 6:30pm –  Our annual Christmas tree lighting event will begin at 4pm with lots of activities for the entire family. The event takes place at Civic Center Plaza, 3231 Main Street in Oakley. The festivities kick off with choir performances by local children’s and youth choirs in the amphitheater. There will be non-profit booths will information about the services they offer in Oakley along with free cookies and cocoa.

Santa Claus will be on hand to visit with children and pose for family photos. The tree will be lighted at approximately 6pm.

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. It is a great project for families to enjoy. So pull out your Santas, sleighs, reindeer, lights, and inflatables. Decorations installed by a professional service will not be eligible. The contest is open to any home within the City of Oakley limits. Limited to the exterior front yard and roof only.

The entry form will be posted at by the end of November. Entries will be accepted until December 10th, voting will take place from December 11th to 17th and the winner will be posted on December 18th.

Entries will be posted online for the public to vote. The winner will receive a giftcard and a decorative sign for your yard.

Dec 15 2018 10am – Breakfast with Santa – Join Santa for breakfast at Oakley City Hall! Includes a continental breakfast of pastries, fruit, juice, milk and coffee. Children will receive a gift from Santa. Santa will take time out of his busy schedule to join us for breakfast and visit with children. Parents may bring cameras to capture these special moments.

Pre-registration is required and space is limited and typically sells out

First day of Winter 2018 is December 21

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Sept 22 2018 11am – 5pm – Heart of Oakley Festival

Join us at this annual event that takes place downtown on Main Street and in the Civic Center Plaza, 3231 Main Street. Admission and parking is free. The event runs from 11am – 5pm and features a wide variety of entertainment, vendors, gourmet food, art exhibit and children’s activities. There will be micro-brew and wine for sale along with commemorative glasses. The entertainment schedule along with a list of vendors and food purveyors will be available at:

  • Wine & Beer – The Friends of Oakley are once again running the beer booth and City staff/volunteers will be running the wine booths. Tokens for alcoholic beverages will be sold until 4pm and the cutoff for serving alcohol is 4:30pm.
  • Entertainment –At 11am, a representative from Congressman McNerney’s office will present a certificate to City representatives at the stage. The performers schedule is listed below. In addition, there will be a caricaturist offering free caricatures near the fountain across the street in Oakley Plaza and a balloon artist handing out free balloons in the park from 12 – 4pm.
  • Art Exhibit – We’ll have the “Heart of Oakley Art Contest” entries on display in the Council Chambers throughout the day.
  • Children’s Area – The Oakley Youth Advisory Council will be running a game and an art project for children in the Children’s area located in the “engineers parking lot”

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Ag production data for 2017 show value increase in California

The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) has released its first production data summaries for 2017 in California, with a total for the year of $50.13 billion, an increase of $3.7 billion from 2016, or six percent. The ERS also provided an upward revision its production figure for 2016, changing it from $46.04 billion to $47.4 billion. Please note that the 2017 figure is subject to revision, as well.

California remains the leading agricultural state in the nation, with about 13 percent of total US production. California leads the country in dairy production and many other commodities, and it provides roughly half of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables.

Here are the Top-1o California commodities for 2017:

  1. Dairy products, Milk – $6.56 billion
  2. Grapes – $5.79 billion
  3. Almonds – $5.6 billion
  4. Strawberries – $3.1 billion
  5. Cattle and Calves – $2.63 billion
  6. Lettuce – $2.41 billion
  7. Walnuts – $1.59 billion
  8. Tomatoes – $1.05 billion
  9. Pistachios – $1.01 billion
  10. Broilers (Chickens) – $939 million

More in-depth production data will be provided by the ERS in the weeks and months to come, and California Ag export statistics as well as California counties reports will be completed in a collaborative effort between CDFA, the USDA and the University of California at Davis.

Link to CDFA’s Statistics page

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Fall Prevention Awareness Week – September 22 – 28, 2017.

Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths, unintentional injuries, and hospital admissions for trauma. Falls can take a serious toll on older adults’ quality of life and independence.

At the heart of this initiative is the message that falls are preventable. During Fall Prevention Awareness Week, California’s fall prevention coalitions, health care providers, and senior service agencies will hold presentations, health fairs, screenings, and workshops to raise awareness among older adults and their families and caregivers, elder care professionals, and the general public about the seriousness of falls and ways to reduce fall risk.

Home Safety Checklist
A tool you can use to make sure your risk of falling in your home is reduced.

Falls Prevention Fact Sheet 
Facts and figures highlighting the physical and financial cost of falls.

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Sunday Reading – 09/16/18

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

Strange cloud formation puzzles Bay Area – An unusual cloud formation has Bay Area residents puzzled Friday afternoon.

Several viewers reached out to KRON4 to ask what it was.

The phenomenon was seen mainly on the Peninsula in cities like San Bruno, San Mateo, and Burlingame.

But residents in the East Bay also tell KRON4 they spotted it in the sky.

Photo by Leo Elvis Tabalno Pacaldo in San Bruno

The National Weather Service says the formation is known as a “fallstreak hole” or “hole punch cloud.” Read More > at KRON

Third-party threat? California political establishment doesn’t see it coming – State Democratic registration has flatlined, Republicans are sinking, and the share of California voters registering no party affiliation is at an all-time high. Pundits and politicians speak of the “swamp,” use “politics” as a term of abuse and inveigh against the hacks and the insiders who make up the political establishment.

And yet the odds are slim to nil that California voters will have an electorally viable third party to get behind anytime soon.

If the Sacramento political wisdom is to be believed, third-party hopefuls need not quit their day jobs.

Of the 45 insiders who responded to the survey, more than three-quarters said the chance of a real electoral alternative emerging is unlikely, with 28 saying very unlikely. Zero described the scenario as “very likely.”

“The Democratic and Republican parties agree on exactly one thing, and that is that nobody else should be in the game,” said Target Book publisher Darry Sragow. He noted, for example, that California requires twice as many valid voter signatures to qualify a new political party as it does to qualify an initiative statute.

…Among those clamoring for a third party to emerge here: the editorial board of The New York Times, which wrote this spring that, given the state’s top-two primary system allowing two candidates to advance to the general regardless of party affiliation, “if a third party has a chance anywhere in the United States, it’s in California.” Read More > at CALmatters

More critical water storage is finally coming to California. It took nearly 40 years. – California officials have been pushing for more natural water storage since the last large-scale facility was built in 1979. Now they’re finally going to get it, thanks to political pressure, President Donald Trump and some congressional creativity.

The House approved several provisions Thursday that help fund water storage projects. The Senate is expected to concur shortly, and Trump is expected to sign the legislation into law next week.

Republican Rep. Jeff Denham and Democrat Rep. Jim Costa have been pushing for additional water storage for the state for years in constantly-at-risk-of-drought California. Since 1979, California’s population has grown 70 percent.

Denham’s proposal allows local irrigation districts to apply for low-interest federal loans from the Environmental Protection Agency to build new reservoirs, below ground storage projects, recycling and desalination projects. Those are desperately needed in parts of California to capture rains and runoff from the mountains so water can be stored and used in drier seasons and in years of drought.

Theoretically, the irrigation districts could eventually easily repay low-interest loans through control of the new water sources, and having a larger supply of water would drive down demand and cost of fresh water throughout the state. Several water storage projects in the state have already been authorized by legislation and are awaiting funding. Read More > McClatchy DC

Hurricane Florence is not climate change or global warming. It’s just the weather. – Even before Hurricane Florence made landfall somewhere near the border of North and South Carolina, predicted damage from potentially catastrophic flooding from the storm was already being blamed on global warming.

…But like most claims regarding global warming, the real effect is small, probably temporary, and most likely due to natural weather patterns. Any changes in hurricanes over 70 years, even if real, can easily be part of natural cycles — or incomplete data. Coastal lake sediments along the Gulf of Mexico shoreline from 1,000 to 2,000 years ago suggest more frequent and intense hurricanes than occur today. Why? No one knows.

…Until 2017, the United States went 11 years without a major hurricane strike — something that is statistically very improbable. Nine years into that 11-year hurricane drought, a NASA scientist computed it as a 1-in-177-year event.

My point is that nature varies, and unusual things happen sometimes.

…But a major hurricane hits North Carolina on average once every 20 years or so. The last was Fran in 1996, which is 22 years ago. Coastal residents know they live under a yearly threat of hurricanes, and sometimes (though relatively rarely), one of those hurricanes will be very strong.

Well, aren’t we being told these storms are getting stronger on average? The answer is no. The 30 most costly hurricanes in U.S. history (according to federal data from January) show no increase in intensity over time. The monetary cost of damages has increased dramatically in recent decades, but that is due to increasing population, wealth and the amount of vulnerable infrastructure. It’s not due to stronger storms.

If humans have any influence on hurricanes at all, it probably won’t be evident for many decades to come. Natural variability is simply too large. This should not be surprising given that humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions have caused only a 1 percent change in the natural energy flows coursing through the climate system. Read More > in USA Today

VW Is Halting Production of Its Iconic Beetle – Herbie is going on hiatus.

Volkswagen AG is ending worldwide production of its iconic Beetle, the model once so popular in North America that it prompted the German automaker to build its first factory on the continent in the 1960s. The last one will roll off the line from the company’s factory in the state of Puebla, Mexico, in July 2019.

VW had been pulling the Beetle from select markets as part of a broader effort by the German giant to rein in its bloated product range, which spans more than 300 different vehicles and variants, including heavy trucks, motorbikes and passenger cars. Cutting back on product complexity is one of the key ways the company is trimming costs and getting leaner in the wake of its diesel emissions scandal. Read More > at Bloomberg

Bay Area Leads Nation In Retail Worker Shortage, Other Skill Shortages – The San Francisco Bay Area leads the nation with the largest shortage of those with retail sales skills, according to LinkedIn’s September workforce report.

Retail hiring is up slightly, growing 0.5% from a year ago in August, but demand for retail workers has surged across the country, LinkedIn reports. In some markets, such as Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Philadelphia, there is a surplus of workers with retail sales skills, but the Bay Area, New York City and Seattle continue to struggle this year to find enough qualified employees to fill those positions.

New York City changed dramatically in the first half of the year, going from a surplus of qualified retail workers in January to a shortage by July. The report posits that shift may be due to declines in retail rents in the city, creating an environment for new retail stores to open.

The Bay Area has shortages in workers skilled in more than just retail. The region also leads the nation in overall skill shortages, followed by New York City, Los Angeles and Boston. New York City is in an interesting position, because the city, while second on the list for largest skill shortages, is first on the list for largest skills surpluses — related to different types of jobs.

These skills are defined as those in the most demand from a region’s employers and those held by local workers. Read More > at Bisnow

The monopoly-busting case against Google, Amazon, Uber, and Facebook – Antitrust crusaders have built up serious momentum in Washington, but so far, it’s all been theory and talk. Groups like Open Markets have made a strong case that big companies (especially big tech companies) are distorting the market to drive out competitors. We need a new standard for monopolies, they argue, one that focuses less on consumer harm and more on the skewed incentives produced by a company the size of Facebook or Google.

Someday soon, those ideas will be put to the test, probably against one of a handful of companies. For anti-monopolists, it’s a chance to reshape tech into something more democratic and less destructive. It’s just a question of which company makes the best target.

To that end, here’s the case against four of the movement’s biggest targets, and what they might look like if they came out on the losing end. (Note: Apple was too much of a conventional retailer to make the list, but if you’re wondering what an antitrust lawsuit against Cupertino might look like, this is a pretty good place to start.)

Our best model for tech antitrust is the Department of Justice’s anti-bundling case against Microsoft in the ‘90s, which argued that Microsoft was using its control over the PC market to force out competing operating systems and browsers. If you’re looking for a contemporary equivalent, Google is probably the closest fit. On a good day, Google (or Alphabet, if you prefer) is the most valuable company in the world by market cap, with dozens of different products supported by an all-encompassing ad network. Google also has clear and committed enemies, with Microsoft, Oracle, Yelp, and even the Motion Picture Association of America calling for restrictions on the company’s power.

Some of those restrictions are already starting to take shape in Europe, as Google faces a $5 billion fine for alleged anti-competitive Android bundling and a separate $4 billion GDPR case that alleges stingy opt-out provisions. Last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate anti-competitive effects from Google’s dominance in online ads and search, hinting that similar regulatory pressure may not be far off in the US.

But according to Open Markets’ Matthew Stoller, the best long-term remedy for Google’s dominance has more to do with Google’s acquisitions. “If you’re looking for a silver bullet, probably the best thing to do would be to block Google from being able to buy any companies,” says Stoller. “Suddenly, you have to compete with Google, you can’t just be bought out by Google.” Read More > in The Verge

County agency votes to disband Julian-Cuyamaca fire agency – Those in support of the last volunteer fire department in San Diego County suffered a setback Monday.

The Local Agency Formation Commission held a hearing on whether the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District should be dissolved with the agency voting to disband it.

LAFCO, which has countywide jurisdiction but is independent of county government, is responsible for overseeing changes to local governmental boundaries, including the formation, consolidation, merger and dissolution of special districts.

The county fire authority will now take control which has been the case with other volunteer fire departments in rural areas.

It was clear at the meeting Monday that this is a topic people feel passionate about; the room packed with people speaking out both for and against disbanding.

Those in favor of disbanding said the county could provide better resources considering they would have a crew stationed in Julian 24/7.

Over the past ten years, all other volunteer departments in the backcountry have been absorbed by the county. Read More > at CBS8

Kimco Realty Is Adding Housing To Bay Area Mall Sites – As the Bay Area struggles with a harrowing housing crisis, the current retail evolution may be able to provide some relief.

The concept of bringing housing to mall sites as owners re-examine older malls has taken hold. Kimco Realty is one mall owner turning its sights to pursue residential development of mall property, reflecting its interest in capitalizing on what is increasingly underutilized space.

Kimco has received approval to build 179 apartments at Daly City’s Westlake Shopping Center, and is proposing 303 apartments in a six-story mixed-use apartment building at the Fremont Hub, the San Francisco Business Times reports. Kimco owns both malls.

Malls are being repurposed in various ways to stay relevant in the changing retail environment. Some are being transitioned to office or coworking space, mixed-use developments with housing over retail or hotels. Read More > at Bisnow

E-cig makers have 60 days to show they aren’t targeting minors – The Food And Drug Administration may force several e-cigarette brands to stop selling flavored products if they can’t prove they can keep their products out of minors’ hands. The brands — Juul, Vuse, MarkTen, blu and Logic — have 60 days to convince the agency they have adequate plans to stop kids from vaping with their products. Those five collectively account for more than 97 percent of the e-cigarette market.

The FDA is also targeting retailers who have sold e-cigarettes to minors. It has issued more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to the likes of 7-Eleven outlets, Walgreens, Shell gas stations, and Circle K convenience stores.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has said that e-cigarettes, while still harmful, may be effective for adults who want to give up cigarette smoking, which kills almost half a million Americans each year. E-cigs deliver lower toxin levels than regular cigarettes, but users can inhale more of the addictive stimulant nicotine.

However, Gottlieb claims e-cigarette brands haven’t done enough to stop kids from using the products. The FDA claims that more than 2 million middle schoolers and high school students were regularly vaping last year, with underage use reaching “an epidemic proportion.” Read More > at Engadget

The Military Now Has Tooth Mics For Invisible, Hands-Free Radio Calls – Next time you pass someone on the street who appears to be talking to themselves, they may literally have voices inside their head…and be a highly trained soldier on a dangerous mission. The Pentagon has inked a roughly $10 million contract with a California company to provide secure communication gear that’s essentially invisible.

Dubbed the Molar Mic, it’s a small device that clips to your back teeth. The device is both microphone and “speaker,” allowing the wearer to transmit without any conspicuous external microphone and receive with no visible headset or earpiece. Incoming sound is transmitted through the wearer’s bone matter in the jaw and skull to the auditory nerves; outgoing sound is sent to a radio transmitter on the neck, and sent to another radio unit that can be concealed on the operator. From there, the signal can be sent anywhere.

“Essentially, what you are doing is receiving the same type of auditory information that you receive from your ear, except that you are using a new auditory pathway — through your tooth, through your cranial bones — to that auditory nerve. You can hear through your head as if you were hearing through your ear,” said Peter Hadrovic, CEO of Molar Mic creator Sonitus Technologies. He likened the experience to what happens when you eat a crunchy breakfast cereal — but instead of hearing that loud (delightfully marketable) chewing noise, you’re receiving important communications from your operations team.

Your ability to understand conversations transmitted through bone improves with practice. “Over the period of three weeks, your brain adapts and it enhances your ability to process the audio,” said Hadrovic. But even “out of the gate, you can understand it,” he said. Read More > at Defense One

Apple, Google, et al. Strike a Blow against the College Cartel – Earlier this month, the job-search site Glassdoor compiled a list of 15 major companies that no longer require applicants for certain posts to have a college degree. The list included an array of entry- and mid-level jobs —everything from barista to “Apple Genius” to “senior manager of finance” — at such corporate giants as Apple, Google, Bank of America, Penguin Random House, Home Depot, Costco, Whole Foods, and Starbucks. Glassdoor lauded these firms for opening new pathways to success and recognizing “that book smarts don’t necessarily equal strong work ethic, grit and talent.” CNBC and Axios provided similar, approving coverage.

This is a praiseworthy development, to be sure. But it should also raise an obvious question: Why were firms requiring college degrees for such jobs in the first place? Is there good reason to believe that having a B.A. in sociology or women’s studies makes one more qualified to be a stocker at Costco or shift supervisor at Starbucks?

No, there isn’t.

In fact, there’s clear evidence that over-credentialing is bad for workers and for businesses. A comprehensive 2017 study by researchers at Harvard Business School found that college graduates filling middle-skill positions cost more to employ, have higher turnover rates, tend to be less engaged, and are no more productive than high-school graduates doing the same job. The long-term consequences of degree inflation look to be even worse, as employers continue to pay a premium for a college-educated workforce even when filling positions that non-credentialed workers could just as easily do, leading ever more students to incur the costs of pursuing a degree. Read More > at National Review

U.S. job openings climb to record 6.9 million – Job openings rose from 6.82 million in June, the government said Tuesday.

About 5.68 million people were hired and 5.53 million lost their jobs in July. Such a high level of what economists call “churn” is common in the huge U.S. economy.

The share of people who left jobs on their own, known as the quits rate, rose a notch to a 2.7% among private-sector employees. The record is 2.9%, set in 2001.

The quits rate was 2.4% among all workers — also near a record high. The government began keeping track in 2000.

Workers who switch jobs usually get better pay than those who remain in their old ones. And more people switch when they are confident about the economy.

The U.S. economy is booming. Growth surged in the spring and has carried through summer. Unemployment is uber-low at 3.9%, layoffs are at a 50-year low and small-business owners say they are more optimistic about the economy than ever.

Some workers are taking advantage of the strong economy and tight labor market by switching jobs in search of better pay. As a result, companies are offering more attractive pay and benefits to lure new workers or to retain old ones. Read More > at Market Watch

Are Digital Devices Altering Our Brains? – Ten years ago technology writer Nicholas Carr published an article in the Atlantic entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” He strongly suspected the answer was “yes.” Himself less and less able to focus, remember things or absorb more than a few pages of text, he accused the Internet of radically changing people’s brains. And that is just one of the grievances leveled against the Internet and at the various devices we use to access it–including cell phones, tablets, game consoles and laptops. Often the complaints target video games that involve fighting or war, arguing that they cause players to become violent.

But digital devices also have fervent defenders—in particular the promoters of brain-training games, who claim that their offerings can help improve attention, memory and reflexes. Who, if anyone, is right?

The answer is less straightforward than you might think. Take Carr’s accusation. As evidence, he quoted findings of neuroscientists who showed that the brain is more plastic than previously understood. In other words, it has the ability to reprogram itself over time, which could account for the Internet’s effect on it. Yet in a 2010 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, psychologists Christopher Chabris, then at Union College, and Daniel J. Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rebutted Carr’s view: “There is simply no experimental evidence to show that living with new technologies fundamentally changes brain organization in a way that affects one’s ability to focus,” they wrote. And the debate goes on. Read More > at Scientific America

USA Is Now The Largest Global Crude Oil Producer – Surpasses Russia and Saudi Arabia – In February, U.S. crude oil production exceeded that of Saudi Arabia for the first time in more than two decades. In June and August, the United States surpassed Russia in crude oil production for the first time since February 1999.

Although EIA does not publish crude oil production forecasts for Russia and Saudi Arabia in STEO, EIA expects that U.S. crude oil production will continue to exceed Russian and Saudi Arabian crude oil production for the remaining months of 2018 and through 2019.

U.S. crude oil production, particularly from light sweet crude oil grades, has rapidly increased since 2011. Much of the recent growth has occurred in areas such as the Permian region in eastern Texas and western New Mexico, the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico, and the Bakken region in North Dakota and Montana. Read More > at Climate Depot

A Generation Plans An Exodus From California – California is the great role model for America, particularly if you read the Eastern press. Yet few boosters have yet to confront the fact that the state is continuing to hemorrhage people at a higher rate, with particular losses among the family-formation age demographic critical to California’s future.

Since the recovery began in 2010, California’s net domestic out-migration, according to the American community survey, has almost tripled to 140,000 annually. Over that time, the state has lost half a million net migrants with the bulk of that coming from the Los Angeles-Orange County area.

In contrast, during the first years of the decade the Bay Area, particularly San Francisco, enjoyed a renaissance of in-migration, something not seen since before 2000. But that is changing. A recent Redfin report suggests that the Bay Area, the focal point of California’s boom, now leads the country in outbound home searches, which could suggest a further worsening of the trend.

One of the perennial debates about migration, particularly in California, is the nature of the outmigration. The state’s boosters, and the administration itself, like to talk as if California is simply giving itself an enema — expelling its waste — while making itself an irresistible beacon to the “best and brightest.”

The reality, however, is more complicated than that. An analysis of IRS data from 2015-16, the latest available, shows that while roughly half those leaving the state made under $50,000 annually, half made above that. Roughly one in four made over $100,000 and another quarter earned a middle-class paycheck between $50,000 and $100,000. We also lose among the wealthiest segment, the people best able to withstand California’s costs, but by much smaller percentages.

The key issue for California, however, lies with the exodus of people around child-bearing years. The largest group leaving the state — some 28 percent — is 35 to 44, the prime ages for families. Another third come from those 26 to 34 and 45 to 54, also often the age of parents.

…The old folks are not the ones most alienated. A survey by the UCLA Luskin School suggests that 18-to-29-year-olds are the least satisfied with life in Los Angeles while seniors were most positive. In the Bay Area, according to ULI, 74 percent of millennials are considering an exodus. It appears paying high prices to live permanently as renters in dense, small apartments — the lifestyle most promoted by planners, the media and the state — may not be as attractive as advertised.

California’s media and political elites like to bask in the mirror and praise their political correctness. They focus on passing laws about banning straws, the makeup of corporate boards, prohibiting advertising for unenlightened fundamentalist preaching or staging a non-stop, largely ineffective climate change passion play. Yet what our state really needs are leaders interested in addressing more basic issues such as middle-class jobs and affordable single-family housing. Read More > at New Geography

Small business optimism surges to highest level ever, topping previous record under Reagan – U.S. small business optimism surged to a record in August as the tax cuts and deregulation efforts of President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress led to more sales, hiring and investment, according to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index jumped to 108.8 last month, the highest level ever recorded in the survey’s 45-year history and above the previous record of 108 in 1983, set during the second year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The August figure was up from a 107.9 reading in July.

The NFIB noted record readings for job creation plans and the amount of owners saying it was a good time to expand. Capital spending plans were the highest since 2007.

Small businesses have been a key beneficiary of Trump’s economic plans. The U.S. economy expanded by 4.2 percent in the second quarter, the fastest pace in nearly four years. Read More > at CNBC

Why the Future of Data Storage is (Still) Magnetic Tape – It should come as no surprise that recent advances in big-data analytics and artificial intelligence have created strong incentives for enterprises to amass information about every measurable aspect of their businesses. And financial regulations now require organizations to keep records for much longer periods than they had to in the past. So companies and institutions of all stripes are holding onto more and more.

Studies show [PDF] that the amount of data being recorded is increasing at 30 to 40 percent per year. At the same time, the capacity of modern hard drives, which are used to store most of this, is increasing at less than half that rate. Fortunately, much of this information doesn’t need to be accessed instantly. And for such things, magnetic tape is the perfect solution.

Seriously? Tape? The very idea may evoke images of reels rotating fitfully next to a bulky mainframe in an old movie like Desk Set or Dr. Strangelove. So, a quick reality check: Tape has never gone away!

Indeed, much of the world’s data is still kept on tape, …

The first commercial digital-tape storage system, IBM’s Model 726, could store about 1.1 megabytes on one reel of tape. Today, a modern tape cartridge can hold 15 terabytes. And a single robotic tape library can contain up to 278 petabytes of data. Storing that much data on compact discs would require more than 397 million of them, which if stacked would form a tower more than 476 kilometers high.

It’s true that tape doesn’t offer the fast access speeds of hard disks or semiconductor memories. Still, the medium’s advantages are many. To begin with, tape storage is more energy efficient: Once all the data has been recorded, a tape cartridge simply sits quietly in a slot in a robotic library and doesn’t consume any power at all. Tape is also exceedingly reliable, with error rates that are four to five orders of magnitude lower than those of hard drives. And tape is very secure, with built-in, on-the-fly encryption and additional security provided by the nature of the medium itself. After all, if a cartridge isn’t mounted in a drive, the data cannot be accessed or modified. This “air gap” is particularly attractive in light of the growing rate of data theft through cyberattacks. Read More > at Spectrum IEEE

California aims to drop fossil fuels for electricity by 2045 – California has set a goal of phasing out electricity produced by fossil fuels by 2045 under legislation signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown, who said the policy should serve as a model for other states and nations.

The renewable energy measure would require California’s utilities to generate 60 percent of their energy from wind, solar and other specific renewable sources by 2030. That’s 10 percent higher than the current mandate.

The goal would then be to use only carbon-free sources to generate electricity by 2045. It’s merely a goal, with no mandate or penalty for falling short. California’s renewable energy goal is not as ambitious as Hawaii, which has adopted a 100 percent renewable energy mandate.

Phasing out fossil fuels would be a massive change in the energy grid. Utilities rely on natural gas plants to meet demand when renewables fall short, particularly in the early evening when the sun sets and people turn on their air conditioners as they get home from work.

Utilities are already dealing with an abundance of solar energy during peak times, which must be offloaded to other states when there’s not enough demand locally for the power.

Brown advocates for a regional energy grid that would more easily allow Western states to share energy. An effort he pushed has died the past two years in the Legislature, with critics arguing California shouldn’t be part of a grid with states that rely on coal. But Brown on Monday said moving toward a regional grid is essential to achieving California’s new 100 percent clean energy goal without sending electric prices skyrocketing.

“Those who don’t want it are going to be foisting very high prices on California, and I think there will be resistance to that,” Brown said. “It may take one or two years, but we’re going to get there. It makes too much sense.”

He also pointed to the need for better battery technology to store energy.

Renewable energy experts have looked to batteries that can store solar energy generated in the afternoon as one solution, but the technology is not ready for wide-scale deployment. Another potential solution is pumped storage, in which water is pumped uphill in the afternoon using solar energy and then released through hydroelectric generators after the sun sets. Read More > from the Associated Press

Strong Economy, Demand Boost Average Apartment Rents to New High – U.S. multifamily rents in August maintained the year’s torrid pace, adding $2 to July’s record high. A survey of 127 markets by Yardi Matrix shows the $1,412 nationwide average for the month represented a 3% year-over-year increase, and was the seventh consecutive all-time high.

Multifamily rents have grown steadily throughout 2018, buoyed by the strong economy and continued healthy demand. The 25-basis-point increase in the occupancy rate of stabilized properties since January is “particularly impressive, considering that 2018 is on pace for a third straight year of some 300,000 new units,” the report notes, adding, “The multifamily market … shows no signs of being at the end of its cycle.”

August’s year-over-year rent growth leaders, Orlando; Las Vegas; California’s Inland Empire; Phoenix; and Tampa, have populated most of this year’s monthly rankings. Metros in the South and West occupied the nine top spots in August. Read More > at Connect

How Far Can Driverless Cars Take Us? – Driverless cars and trucks—or autonomous vehicles (AV)—offer a tantalizing promise of safer and unclogged roadways. In 2017, 37,150 people died in accidents on America’s roads, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, up sharply from 32,479 in 2011, and far worse per capita than anywhere else in the Western world. And the United States has ten of the 25 most congested cities globally, according to the Inrix transportation intelligence group. Cars that drive themselves could reduce crashes to a small fraction of today’s totals, while moving people about more efficiently, in larger groups and at faster speeds.

For now, though, these positive outcomes remain speculative. Even as companies start deploying driverless cars on America’s streets, no data exist yet on whether the vehicles are consistently safer than those with human drivers and, if so, under what circumstances. The safety of driverless cars will depend in part on policies adopted by federal, state, and local officials—just as speed limits help keep human drivers from inflicting carnage.

Autonomous vehicles pose a particular challenge for dense cities like New York, which have always had an uneasy relationship with the automobile. But if cities handle the introduction of this new technology right, the potential payoff won’t just be improved street safety; it will be an improved quality of life for everyone—by car, on foot, or on bikes.

…The industry and its regulators have quantified the AV capability of a vehicle with a six-level scale, designed by the Society of Automotive Engineers. A Level 0 car is an old-fashioned car, without automation. Level 1 means that a car allows technology to take over for specific well-defined functions, which aren’t critical to life and limb, such as parallel parking. In a Level 2 car, partial automation lets a human operator relinquish more important functions, like steering and braking, but the driver must monitor the environment. A Level 3 car has “conditional automation,” meaning that the driver doesn’t have to monitor the environment but must take over quickly if the car asks him to. A “high automation” Level 4 vehicle can do all driving tasks in “certain circumstances,” with no need for the driver to pay attention. Finally, a “full automation,” Level 5 car can do everything, anytime, anywhere.

Tesla’s Model S and Model 3 cars and X SUV offer partial Level 2 capability. The vehicles can do much of the work on many stretches of road, but with human drivers required to keep hands at the wheel. Cadillac’s “Super Cruise” feature, sold in the CT6 sedan model since last September, is the first commercially available vehicle that lets drivers take their feet off the pedals and hands off the wheel along stretches of divided highway; the car stays in its lane and maintains distance from other vehicles automatically. Cadillac says that it will implement the technology on all models, as well as other GM brands, starting in 2020. Beyond these leading companies, virtually every global auto firm is involved in autonomous development, often partnering with startups providing mapping software, radar hardware, and other support services.

…The need for humans to take over a car within milliseconds after they’ve sat disengaged from the road for a long period may be one of the biggest perils of intermediate AV technology. In all three crashes, the human operator was supposed to be paying attention. But in at least two cases—the Florida Tesla crash and the Arizona Uber crash—the driver stopped doing so, perhaps because the technology encourages complacency. (The Apple engineer’s death remains under investigation.)

There’s no point in prognosticating on when most Americans will be driving—or riding in—Level 4 or 5 cars; it will happen when it happens, if it does. The good news is that we don’t have to wait to make the leap from cars that operate at the whims of human drivers to cars that drive themselves fully before benefiting from tech-enabled safety advances. The most obvious gain: braking. Over the past decade, automakers have added collision warnings and automatic emergency-braking mechanisms to higher-end vehicles, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute, both insurance-funded nonprofits, have found that cars equipped with both technologies have reduced rear-end crashes by 50 percent; crashes with injuries dropped 56 percent. Read More > at City Journal

California Says Gangs Stole $1 Million by Credit Card Fraud – More than 30 purported street gang members have been charged with stealing more than $1 million in what authorities said Monday was an unusually sophisticated credit card fraud scheme.

Members and associates of the BullyBoys and the CoCo Boys street gangs based in the suburbs east of San Francisco defrauded hundreds of victims by breaking into dozens of medical and dental offices to steal credit card terminals and patient records, said state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and police chiefs from three cities.

The 32 alleged gang members used the stolen terminals to process credit card returns, downloading them to debit cards, according to the 240-count indictment.

Nearly 130 law enforcement officers fanned out last week to make 23 arrests, said Walnut Creek Police Chief Tom Chaplin. Another two were arrested over the weekend, while seven remain fugitives, said Deputy Attorney General Tawnya Austin, who heads the attorney general’s e-crimes unit.

Investigators recovered about 40 stolen credit card terminals, dozens of fraudulent receipts, laptop computers and files including Social Security numbers or bank information. Read More > from the Associated Press

Tip: Choose Steak Over Chicken – People automatically assume that eating chicken is healthier than eating beef. Here are the facts.

Most of the time, chicken is actually no better or worse for you than beef, and in some situations, beef is actually the healthier choice.

The Problem With Modern Chicken

It’s true that chicken used to always be a healthy choice, but that was before industrialized, mass-market chicken farms. While yesterday’s chickens used to dine on crickets, grasshoppers, weeds, grasses, and seeds, today’s chickens get fed the same unhealthy diet most Americans subsist on – corn, soy, and grains.

As a result, they’re (chickens and humans) teeming with angry, inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids while lacking in appreciable amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Oddly enough, most “healthy eaters” remove the skin of the chicken, which, ironically, is probably one of the least problematic areas of the chicken. On average, the skin on an average size breast only adds about 50 calories, but about 55% of the fat in the skin is monosaturated. You know, like olive oil.

The rest of the skin, about 2.5 to 3.0 grams, is indeed saturated, but there have been at least 17 scientific reviews on the link between saturated fat and heart disease and they’ve come up empty.

Given all of chicken’s nutritional problems, beef doesn’t have a particularly high bar to jump over in proving its nutritional mettle, but it has to contend against its bad rap amongst presumably healthy eaters.

The main beef against beef is again the issue of saturated fat, but as mentioned, there’s no proof saturated fat causes health problems in humans. (Of course, we haven’t exactly figured out how much sat fat is okay, so until we do it’s still best to practice moderation.)

Nutritionally, beef is pretty much on par with chicken, although red meat is a bit higher in B vitamins and iron. Of course, industrialized beef has the same inflammatory omega-6 and antibiotic problems that chicken has, so in those areas, it’s a wash between the two of them. Read More > at T Nation

A Scourge for California Drivers: Hours on a Sidewalk to Renew a License – They were lined up by the dozens clear down the street on a recent afternoon — hot and frustrated in the sun, trying to attend to the most routine (and unavoidable) encounters with local government: renewing a driver’s license.

Inside the Hollywood office of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the wait was close to two hours. Folding chairs, all filled, were set up three-deep against three walls.

“There’s a six-week wait just to get an appointment,” said Alfred Kendrick, a fitness trainer from West Hollywood who, like many people here, showed up without one. “Come on. This is 2018. I can order a bowl from China in less time than it takes to get a driver’s license in California.”

Few states have embraced the idea of an expansive government as fervently as California, with its vast public university system, $100 billion high-speed rail project and even, the other day, the passage of legislation outlawing plastic straws. California’s leaders are on the forefront of global efforts to combat climate change and the Democratic challenge to President Trump.

But these days, to the embarrassment of Democrats who control the state government, California is fumbling one of its most basic tasks. Waiting times at motor vehicle offices have increased as much as 46 percent from a year ago, spotlighting a departmental bureaucracy marked by green computer screens and computers that still run on DOS. Read More > in The New York Times

Infectious Theory Of Alzheimer’s Disease Draws Fresh Interest – Dr. Leslie Norins is willing to hand over $1 million of his own money to anyone who can clarify something: Is Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia worldwide, caused by a germ?

By “germ” he means microbes like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. In other words, Norins, a physician turned publisher, wants to know if Alzheimer’s is infectious.

It’s an idea that just a few years ago would’ve seemed to many an easy way to drain your research budget on bunk science. Money has poured into Alzheimer’s research for years, but until very recently not much of it went toward investigating infection in causing dementia. Read More > at NPR

During all the Russia hacking hype, China is rising in influence – We’ve spent a lot of time talking about Russian spying in the United States. And while a lot of the concern is really just evidence that some people have trouble dealing with a lost election, it’s not as if the Russians haven’t been spying on us since my grandparents’ day.

But with all the attention focused on Russia, maybe we need to pay a bit more attention to the spying — and related meddling — being done by the People’s Republic of China. Because China is a bigger threat in general, and seems to be doing a lot without engendering much of a response, or even much awareness.

In fact, it may be that the Chinese government is quite happy to see us focus on Russians, as a distraction from what it’s doing. I would be, if I were them.

It wasn’t the Russians, after all, but the Chinese who were fingered for a massive 2015 hack on Office of Personnel Management records that was so damaging some dubbed it a Cyber Pearl Harbor.

But that attack now seems almost forgotten, though its damage lives on. And it’s not as if China has stopped. But it goes beyond spying, to actual operations within the United States.

Just last week, Politico reported on extensive Chinese spying in Silicon Valley, noting that it’s not just traditional cloak-and-dagger stuff, but the Chinese government leveraging the family connections of Chinese immigrants. Read More > at USA Today

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