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.
Your Environment Is Cleaner. Your Immune System Has Never Been So Unprepared. – Should you pick your nose?
Don’t laugh. Scientifically, it’s an interesting question.
Should your children pick their noses? Should your children eat dirt? Maybe: Your body needs to know what immune challenges lurk in the immediate environment.
Should you use antibacterial soap or hand sanitizers? No. Are we taking too many antibiotics? Yes.
“I tell people, when they drop food on the floor, please pick it up and eat it,” said Dr. Meg Lemon, a dermatologist in Denver who treats people with allergies and autoimmune disorders.
“Get rid of the antibacterial soap. Immunize! If a new vaccine comes out, run and get it. I immunized the living hell out of my children. And it’s O.K. if they eat dirt.”
Dr. Lemon’s prescription for a better immune system doesn’t end there. “You should not only pick your nose, you should eat it,” she said.
She’s referring, with a facetious touch, to the fact our immune system can become disrupted if it doesn’t have regular interactions with the natural world.
“Our immune system needs a job,” Dr. Lemon said. “We evolved over millions of years to have our immune systems under constant assault. Now they don’t have anything to do.”
She isn’t alone. Leading physicians and immunologists are reconsidering the antiseptic, at times hysterical, ways in which we interact with our environment. Read More > in The New York Times
Why Americans are refusing to pick up the phone – New York artist Jennifer May Reiland’s phone rings all the time. While that gives the impression that she’s a very popular lady, the constant calls she gets aren’t from real people: They’re robocalls or telemarketing algorithms trying to sell her something. While this is a daily annoyance for many, Jennifer’s relationship with robocallers goes even deeper. “I work at a bookstore and for a while, I guess robocallers were spoofing our number because we would get multiple calls each day from people demanding angrily, ‘Why did you just call me?’ and when I said we didn’t, they refused to believe me,” she says.
As strange as this situation was, it wasn’t the fact that a robocall agency had stolen her work’s phone number that surprised Reiland. It was the fact that all of these people had actually answered their phones. “It mainly just amazed me that people actually call back unknown numbers that called them!” she exclaimed. “I assume all unknown numbers are robocalls at this point.”
This is a familiar scenario for most phone-owning Americans. In 2018, about 26.3 billion robocalls were placed to cellphones and landlines — roughly seven calls per month per person. If that’s not enough to make you want to go off the grid, consider this: THE NUMBER OF ROBOCALLS IN THE U.S. INCREASED AN ESTIMATED 41.3 PERCENT FROM 2017-2018.
A separate Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimate guessed that 1,500 robocalls are received every second in the United States. In 2017, according to caller ID firm First Orion, 3.7 percent of calls were from scammers. In 2018, that number was 29.2 percent, and this year it’s estimated that almost half of all the calls we receive will be spam … though not all spam calls are robocalls, and vice versa. Read More > at OZY
I dream of a world without smears – Bork, Thomas, Hill, Clinton, Clinton, Beck, Imus, Palin, Biden, Obama, O’Reilly, Sanders, Trump, Hannity, Kavanaugh, Northam, Klobuchar, Carlson …
Smears have become a distasteful staple in our media diet. The nonprofits, LLCs, super PACs, PR firms, crisis management companies and global law firms that organize and promote smears have formed a multibillion-dollar industry. They’re profiting beyond imagination.
…When a smear is launched against someone we don’t like, we may be happy to enjoy the ride. If it’s against someone we like, we fret about how unjust it is. But we seldom step back and see the big truth: We are little more than an unwitting audience watching a scripted play. There are behind-the-scenes producers, writers and actors. They are experts at working the media, plucking our emotions and prompting their desired results. They carefully time each allegation, roll out demands for apologies or resignations, and organize “grassroots” boycotts.
We might benefit from asking ourselves if the smear du jour really deserves to dominate national or even global headlines, hour after hour, day after day. Is it really much more important than all of the real news happening around the world? Are we better off for the results?
…The power of the smear lies entirely within its capacity to make us respond. The day we decide not to play the game simply as the audience, we could see a drastic reduction not only in smears but also in smears covered as news. Allegations and accusations still would be reported, but in a far more appropriate, proportional fashion.
I dream of a world without smears because, in the end, we aren’t the ones who benefit. The ones who gain the most work in that behind-the-scenes, multibillion-dollar industry that’s pulling our strings. And because our attention is diverted from matters that are arguably more important, we lose out twice. Read More > from The Hill
Scientists have discovered a shape that blocks all sound–even your co-workers – A team of Boston University researchers recently stuck a loudspeaker into one end of a PVC pipe. They cranked it up loud. What did they hear? Nothing.
How was this possible? Did they block the other end of the pipe with noise canceling foams or a chunk of concrete? No, nothing of the sort. The pipe was actually left open save for a small, 3D-printed ring placed around the rim. That ring cut 94% of the sound blasting from the speaker, enough to make it inaudible to the human ear.
Dubbed an “acoustic meta-material,” the ring was printed from a mathematically modeled design, shaped in such a way that it can catch certain frequencies passing through the air and reflect them back toward their source. Typical acoustic paneling works differently, absorbing sound and turning the vibrations into heat. But what’s particularly trippy is that this muffler is completely open. Air and light can travel through it–just sound cannot.
The implications for architecture and interior design are remarkable, because these metamaterials could be applied to the built environment in many different ways. For instance, they could be stacked to build soundproof yet transparent walls. Cubicles will never be the same.
The researchers also believe that HVAC systems could be fitted with these silencers, and drones could have their turbines muted with such rings. Even in MRI machines, which can be harrowingly loud for patients trapped in a small space, could be quieted. There’s really no limit to the possibilities, but it does sound like these silencers will need to be tailored to circumstance. “The idea is that we can now mathematically design an object that can blocks the sounds of anything,” says Boston University professor Xin Zhang, in a press release. Read More > at Fast Company
Mushrooms may reduce risk of cognitive decline – A team from the Department of Psychological Medicine and Department of Biochemistry at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine has found that seniors who consume more than two standard portions of mushrooms weekly may have 50 per cent reduced odds of having mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
A portion was defined as three quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms with an average weight of around 150 grams. Two portions would be equivalent to approximately half a plate. While the portion sizes act as a guideline, it was shown that even one small portion of mushrooms a week may still be beneficial to reduce chances of MCI.
“This correlation is surprising and encouraging. It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline,” said Assistant Professor Feng Lei, who is from NUS Psychological Medicine, and the lead author of this work.
The six-year study, which was conducted from 2011 to 2017, collected data from more than 600 Chinese seniors over the age of 60 living in Singapore. The study was carried out with support from the Life Sciences Institute and the Mind Science Centre at NUS, as well as the Singapore Ministry of Health’s National Medical Research Council. The results were published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on 12 March 2019. Read More > at NUS news
Small Business Job Creation Breaks 45-year Record – Job creation among small businesses broke the 45-year record in February with a net addition of 0.52 workers per firm, according to NFIB’s monthly jobs report, released today. The previous record was in May 1998 at 0.51 workers per firm. The percent of owners citing labor costs as their most important problem also hit an all-time high, with 10 percent of owners reporting labor costs as their biggest problem.
“Small businesses are creating new jobs at an all-time high, which has massive implications for the economy since two of every three new jobs is created by a small business,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan. “Owners are doing everything they can to hold onto the employees they have, while trying to produce effectively without a full staff.”
Up one point from January, 57 percent of owners reported hiring and trying to hire, with 49 percent of those owners reporting few or no qualified applicants for open positions. Owners again cited the difficulty of finding qualified workers as their Single Most Important Business Problem at 22 percent, only three points below the record high. Thirty-seven percent reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, two points below the record high. Read More > at NFIB
The mental health crisis among America’s youth is real – and staggering – The first signs of a problem started to emerge around 2014: More young people said they felt overwhelmed and depressed. College counseling centers reported sharp increases in the number of students seeking treatment for mental health issues.
Even as studies were showing increases in symptoms of depression and in suicide among adolescents since 2010, some researchers called the concerns overblown and claimed there simply isn’t enough good data to reach that conclusion.
The idea that there’s an epidemic in anxiety or depression among youth “is simply a myth,” psychiatrist Richard Friedman wrote in The New York Times last year. Others suggested young people were simply more willing to get help when they needed it. Or perhaps counseling centers’ outreach efforts were becoming more effective.
But a new analysis of a large representative survey reinforces what I – and others – have been saying: The epidemic is all too real. In fact, the increase in mental health issues among teens and young adults is nothing short of staggering.
It’s always difficult to determine the causes behind trends, but some possibilities seem less likely than others.
A troubled economy and job loss, two typical culprits of mental stress, don’t appear to be to blame. That’s because U.S. economic growth was strong and the unemployment rate dropped significantly from 2011 to 2017, when mental health issues were rising the most.
It’s unlikely that academic pressure was the cause, as iGen teens spent less time on homework on average than teens did in the 1990s.
Although the increase in mental health issues occurred around the same time as the opioid epidemic, that crisis seemed to almost exclusively affect adults older than 25.
But there was one societal shift over the past decade that influenced the lives of today’s teens and young adults more than any other generation: the spread of smartphones and digital media like social media, texting and gaming. Read More > at The Conversation
There’s a Larger Lie Beyond the College Admissions Bribery Case – The FBI charged a list of well-heeled parents, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, with fraud on March 12. Their alleged goal: to get their kids into top schools, including Yale and Stanford. The public reactions ranged from outrage to cynicism. The outrage: These parents think they can buy their kids anything. The cynicism: These parents could have done the same thing legally by “charitably” funding a new building or two. All this aside, the admissions scandal is an opportunity to separate the lofty mythology of college from the sordid reality. Despite the grand aspirations that students avow on their admission essays, their overriding goal is not enlightenment, but status.
Consider why these parents would even desire to fake their kids’ SAT scores. We can imagine them thinking, I desperately want my child to master mathematics, writing and history — and no one teaches math, writing and history like Yale does! But we all know this is fanciful. People don’t cheat because they want to learn more. They cheat to get a diploma from Yale or Stanford — modernity’s preferred passport to great careers and high society.
What, then, is the point of sneaking into an elite school, if you lack the ability to master the material? If the cheaters planned to major in one of the rare subjects with clear standards and well-defined career paths — like computer science, electrical engineering or chemistry — this would be a show-stopping question. Most majors, however, ask little of their students — and get less. Standards were higher in the 1960s, when typical college students toiled about 40 hours a week. Today, however, students work only two-thirds as hard. Full-time college has become a part-time job. Read More > in TIME
Facebook’s Data Deals Are Under Criminal Investigation – Federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into data deals Facebook struck with some of the world’s largest technology companies, intensifying scrutiny of the social media giant’s business practices as it seeks to rebound from a year of scandal and setbacks.
A grand jury in New York has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices, according to two people who were familiar with the requests and who insisted on anonymity to discuss confidential legal matters. Both companies had entered into partnerships with Facebook, gaining broad access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of its users.
The companies were among more than 150, including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Sony, that had cut sharing deals with the world’s dominant social media platform. The agreements, previously reported in The New York Times, let the companies see users’ friends, contact information and other data, sometimes without consent. Facebook has phased out most of the partnerships over the past two years. Read More > in The New York Times
Native American tribe donates $184,000 to cover funeral costs of people who died in Alabama tornadoes – A Native American tribe in Alabama has donated $184,000 to help cover the funeral costs of the 23 people killed by powerful tornadoes that hit a small town in Alabama last week.
“This disaster occurred so quickly and affected so many families who had no way to prepare to cover the cost to put their loved ones to rest,” Stephanie Bryan, CEO and chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, told ABC News. “We live in an area that is prone to tornadoes and other natural disasters, so this a tragedy that strikes close to home in many, many ways.”
Bryan said that Lee County Coroner Bill Harris reached out to the tribe for financial aid in the aftermath of the tornadoes. Beauregard, a small town within Lee County, was torn apart by two tornadoes on March 3.
Initially, the tribe had agreed to donate $50,000, but Harris said it wasn’t enough, Harris told ABC News.
“[The tribe] said, ‘Tell us what it would take to cover all of it,’” Harris told ABC News. “I told them [$184,000] and they said, ‘Fine.'” Read More > at ABC News
Restaurants sue to block San Diego ban on polystyrene foam – A statewide lobbying group for restaurants has filed a lawsuit seeking to block San Diego from enforcing its recently adopted ban on polystyrene foam food and beverage containers.
Meanwhile, city officials continue to move toward full enforcement of the ban on May 24, including implementing bilingual outreach efforts and handling claims from businesses small enough to qualify for temporary exemptions from the ban.
In addition to food containers used by restaurants, the ban applies to polystyrene egg cartons, coolers, ice chests, pool toys, dock floats and mooring buoys. Residents won’t be able to use them and retail stores won’t be able to sell them.
Although 120 other California cities have adopted polystyrene bans in recent years, the lawsuit against San Diego is the first the California Restaurant Association has filed seeking to block the ban.
The suit says the relatively large size of the economy in San Diego, which is the second largest city in California and eighth largest in the country, made blocking the city’s legislation a priority for the association. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune
Partisan Hate Is Becoming a National Crisis – I want to begin this piece with a word of praise for Nancy Pelosi. In an interview with the Washington Post , she rejected (for now, at least) calls to impeach Donald Trump. But it’s not just what she decided that’s important; it’s also how she explained it. Here were her key words: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country.”
Taking her words at face value, Pelosi is doing something that more politicians should do when making a momentous decision — considering the consequences not just for one’s partisan tribe but also for the health of the American body politic. Striking this balance increasingly isn’t just a matter of political positioning; it’s a national necessity.
This morning the New York Times’ Thomas Edsall published an important essay highlighting a new study that analyzed the extent of “lethal mass partisanship.” As Edsall observes, the paper contained some disturbing statistics. Among them, “42 percent of the people in each party view the opposition as ‘downright evil.’” A stunning 20 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans believe “we’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died.” And if the opposing party wins the 2020 election, 18 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Republicans “feel violence would be justified.”
We hear quite a bit about “dehumanizing rhetoric” in American public life. Well, it appears that tens of millions of Americans now have dehumanizing beliefs. “One out of five Republicans and Democrats agree with the statement that their political adversaries ‘lack the traits to be considered fully human — they behave like animals.’” Read More > at National Review
Federal Court Deals Airbnb a Blow in its Fight Against Local Regulations – Santa Monica, California scored a significant win in federal appeals court on Wednesday, with a ruling that promises to set a favorable precedent for local governments seeking to regulate home-sharing and short-term rental websites like Airbnb.
Affirming a lower court’s decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims by Airbnb and HomeAway.com that the city’s home-sharing regulations were illegal under a federal law that shields internet companies from legal risks they could face from third-party content. Similar cases are pending elsewhere.
…Santa Monica’s ordinance, first passed in 2015 and amended in 2017, permits city residents who obtain a special license to host visitors in exchange for money for a period of less than 31 days, as long as the resident and visitor are both staying in the home.
It also imposes obligations on platforms like Airbnb: They have to collect and submit occupancy taxes, they have to disclose certain listing and booking information to the city, and they can’t complete bookings for property not licensed and listed in a city registry. Read More > at Route Fifty
FDA outlines e-cigarette rules, tightens restrictions on fruity flavors to try to curb teen vaping – Outgoing Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb released the agency’s much-anticipated policy restricting e-cigarette sales on Wednesday — designed to tighten sales and eventually remove from the market many of the fruity flavors he’s blamed on fueling “epidemic” levels of teen use.
“We think flavored products represent greater risk to youth appeal, so when we’re looking at the public health value and redeeming qualities of products, we generally feel flavors have more to prove at this point,” Gottlieb said Wednesday in an interview. “They’re the ones driving youth use so we want to do a proper evaluation through our assessment process.”
The proposal, which is now open for public comment for 30 days, outlines new restrictions for most flavored e-cigarettes, speeds the agency’s deadline to review flavored nicotine products and allows it to pull e-cigarettes from the market. If finalized, the change will likely remove some flavored e-cigarettes and cigars from stores, the FDA said.
It also would limit sales of flavored nicotine pods to websites, vape shops and other retailers that impose age restrictions. The FDA, which previously decided not to take enforcement actions while reviewing e-cigarettes, is now reversing that stance — but just for the fruity flavors many believe attract underage users, such as bubble gum, mango and creme. Read More > at CNBC
California teacher leads lawsuit against state’s teachers union over forced dues – A Freemont, California, special education teacher has taken the lead in challenging the state’s teachers union and its attorney general for failing to inform public school teachers of their right to not pay union dues. The filing Monday in federal court in California’s Northern District seeks to force the California Teachers Union to obtain the consent of a teacher before deducting wages and refund all union fees to the state’s teachers because they were not informed.
Bethany Mendez, lead plaintiff and teacher in the Fremont Unified School District, said she was not informed she was no longer required to have the annual $1,500 union dues deducted from her pay, as mandated by a June 2018 Supreme Court decision. Mendez said she “heard about it from my husband” and not by the union.
Lawyers for Mendez and five other California teachers named as plaintiffs, said the suit aims to end what they call “illegal” dues deductions. The plaintiffs also charge California Attorney General Xavier Becerra with failure to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision. Read More > at CBS News
This is the last man executed by the state of California. There are 737 more on death row – It’s been 13 years since California last executed an inmate on death row.
Now, Clarence Ray Allen — killed at 12:20 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2006, at the age of 76 — could be the last person to be executed in the Golden State. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would place a moratorium on executions during his administration.
Newsom’s moratorium withdraws California from its lethal injection protocol, closes the execution chamber in San Quentin State Prison and issues a reprieve, though not a pardon, for all 737 inmates currently on death row.
Allen spent more than 22 years on death row before dying from a lethal injection, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
A judge sentenced Allen to die after he was convicted on three counts of first degree murder with special circumstances and one count of conspiracy for the deaths of Bryon William Schletewitz, Douglas Scott White and Josephine Linda Rocha.
Allen was serving life in prison for the 1974 murder of Mary Sue Kitts, an accomplice in a burglary of Fran’s Market in Fresno, when he ordered the deaths of Schletewitz, White and Rocha, “who had informed on him and gotten him prison time” in 1978.
They were killed in 1980 by Billie Ray Hamilton, whom Allen met while in prison. Hamilton killed the victims in an after-hours robbery of Fran’s Market. Read More > in The Fresno Bee
The rise of the robots and decline of inflation: How AI is keeping prices low – The robots in the 1980s hit movie The Terminator aimed to destroy humanity, but the rise of the real robots in 21st century is destroying something else: High inflation.
The most obvious evidence is in retail where millions of Americans now shop online for the best prices. Changing shopping habits have turned Amazon into one of the world’s most valuable companies — and kept retailers from jacking up prices.
The technology revolution is nothing new, of course, but another wave of innovation and adoption may now be upon us. Companies are investing more in “smart” robots and the like to handle routine and repetitive tasks, enabling them to cut costs and even cut prices.
“You get the sense we are seeing increased use of new automation that has even greater potential to reduce costs than in the past,” said Sal Guatieri, senior economist and director of research of BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. Read More > at Market Watch
Can This Massive Chain Take on Starbucks? – Before Starbucks existed, 7-Eleven stood as a quality option for a cup of fresh-brewed coffee. While most convenience stores had pots of java sitting around for who knows how many hours along with non-dairy creamer and sugar packets, 7-Eleven had coffee stations with multiple brews, flavored creamers, milk, and cream.
That may not sound like much, but before Starbucks elevated the coffee experience in the United States it was one of the best options available for people who did not want to brew their own pot. And in recent years 7-Eleven has continued to up its coffee game, adding iced choices, flavored creamers, and a variety of coffee flavors.
The convenience store chain, however, has always been about the grab and go experience. It hasn’t offered a cafe for consumers looking to linger over their coffee, get a little work done, or maybe read a magazine. That may soon change, as the retailer, which has nearly 10,000 stores between the U.S. and Canada, has begun testing a cafe format. Read More > at The Motley Fool
Can Rite Aid Save Itself With This Restructuring? – Rite Aid Corp. (NYSE: RAD) announced on Wednesday morning that there will be some changes in its executive leadership as well as some restructuring. At this point, investors are welcoming anything to pull this stock out of the tailspin it has experienced over the past two years.
Excluding Wednesday’s move, Rite Aid had underperformed the broad markets, with its stock down about 4% year to date. However, the charts get worse over the past 52 weeks, with the stock down about 61%. As far back as January 2017, this was an $8 stock.
Separately, Rite Aid announced actions that will reduce managerial layers and consolidate roles across the organization, resulting in the elimination of roughly 400 full-time positions, or more than 20% of the corporate positions located at headquarters and across the field organization. Roughly, two-thirds of the reductions will take place immediately, with the balance by the end of fiscal 2020.
Shares of Rite Aid closed Tuesday at $0.68, in a 52-week range of $0.60 to $2.12. The consensus price target is $0.75. Following the announcement, the stock was up about 10% at $0.74 in early trading indications Wednesday. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St
Off the Richter Scale – Americans have long dreaded the “Big One,” a magnitude 8.0 earthquake along California’s San Andreas Fault that could one day kill thousands of people and cause billions of dollars in damage. The Big One, though, is a mere mini-me compared with the cataclysm forming beneath the Pacific Northwest.
Roughly 100 miles off the West Coast, running from Mendocino, California, to Canada’s Vancouver Island, lurks the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where the Juan de Fuca Plate is sliding beneath the North American Plate, creating the conditions for a megathrust quake 30 times stronger than the worst-case scenario along the notorious San Andreas, and 1,000 times stronger than the earthquake that killed 100,000 Haitians in 2010. Shockwaves will unleash more destructive force against the United States and Canada than anything short of nuclear war, a giant asteroid strike, or a civilization-threatening super-volcano.
We didn’t even know a megaquake was coming until recently. When I was a kid, growing up in the mid-Willamette Valley in Oregon, earthquakes were California’s problem. Everyone, including scientists, thought us immune…
Of the three West Coast states, Oregon is the most vulnerable. “We’re less prepared here,” says geologic-hazard analyst John Bauer, also at DOGAMI. “Washington has had more earthquakes recently, so they’re better prepared, and California, too, of course. We didn’t adopt a culture of preparation until the mid-1990s.” Portland is also closer to the subduction zone than Seattle or Vancouver, so it will experience more violent ground shaking. And the Oregon coast is considerably more populated than anywhere else in the tsunami’s path. “We’re not overdue,” Bauer says. “But we’re due.”
The megathrust quake could strike at any time. Not even the most hardcore adrenaline junkies will want to be anywhere near when it does. “It will be,” says Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, “the worst natural disaster in American history.” Read More > at City Journal
Sen. Scott Wiener makes sweeping revisions to transit-housing bill – Change is coming to SB 50, the major transit-housing bill that could radically alter zoning standards across California by zapping “hyper-low-density zoning” near major transit hubs out of existence, resulting in more housing development near bus and rail lines.
On Tuesday, Sen. Scott Wiener, the SF-based lawmaker who composed the bill, announced a series of amendments to his work. The new version of the bill (available in full here) makes a few key changes ahead of upcoming Committee on Housing hearings, including:
- Ferries added to the equation. Now, in addition to considering bus and rail lines, Sen. Wiener’s bill will also count toward development near ferry lines and ports. As a result, “any area within a quarter or one-half miles of a planned rail or ferry station will also be rezoned” to the new density requirements.
- Setting minimum requirements for low-income housing. Development near transit hubs will face a minimum inclusionary zoning requirements of 15 to 25 percent low-income homes, “depending on the size of the project.”
- Defining a “jobs-rich area.” In addition to changing the way parcels near transit lines are zoned, the revamped SB 50 takes a look at development near “jobs-rich areas.” What does that mean? According to Wiener’s office, areas that “would allow people to live close to where they work, or new housing developed in this area would help to reduce vehicle miles traveled.” While that’s a bit hard to parse, the senator promises that maps of job-rich areas will be released ahead of committee debate.
- Protection for mobile homes. The bill now extends its displacement protections to mobile home residents. Read More > at Curbed SF
The World Wide Web at 30: We got the free and open internet we deserve – This isn’t the internet that Tim Berners-Lee envisioned when he laid the groundwork for the World Wide Web 30 years ago today. Rather than the free and open online utopia he envisioned, “the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division,” he wrote in 2018, “swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.” And, by God, he’s going to fix it — even if he has to break the entire system to do so.
…Berners-Lee even envisioned the internet serving as a means of breaking down national and cultural barriers, at least once he’d gotten all the computers talking to one another.
But despite the benefits that the World Wide Web has wrought over the past three decades, it hasn’t shaken out quite the way Berners-Lee was expecting. He’s certainly not comfortable with the growing trend of market consolidation that we’re seeing. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms,” he argued. “This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.”
And where has that gotten us? We were promised vibrant digital town squares where netizens would be free to propose and debate new ideas. What we got were the troll armies of Twitter. We were promised instant access to the whole of humanity’s knowledge. What we got was fake news in our Facebook feeds. We were promised more adorable cat videos than any one person has the right to see in their lifetime. Well, OK, we got that. But we also got PewDiePie and Logan Paul. And that just doesn’t seem worth it.
When the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook entrench their market positions by poaching top talent, acquiring competing startups and leveraging user data, Berners-Lee argues, they’re doing so at the expense of future innovation. Additionally, the lack of viable competing options allows bad actors to weaponize these online platforms for their own nefarious ends — everything from fake social media posts stoking socioeconomic tensions to unchecked conspiracy theories. Read More > at Engadget
California has a giant surplus—of ideas for new taxes. What’s up with that? – California is enjoying a projected $21.4 billion surplus. Three-quarters of the state believes any new revenue increase should be for voters to decide.
By population and percentage of personal income, this state already has the nation’s 10th highest tax burden. And the leader of the California Senate, Pro Tem Toni Atkins, has pointedly cautioned against any more levies that take cash out of the pockets of working families.
In short, California lawmakers needn’t look far for an excuse to avoid raising taxes. Whether Atkins’ fellow Democrats got the memo, however, isn’t clear.
Proposals this legislative cycle alone have included—so far—a soda tax to fight obesity, a tire change tax for stormwater cleanup and a drinking water tax to clean up toxic wells. Also a firearms excise tax, an oil and gas severance tax, and a fee on dialysis centers. Also an increase in lead-acid battery fees.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has embraced the drinking water tax. He’s also put forth a few new revenue streams, namely a monthly phone fee to upgrade the 911 emergency response system, possible higher payroll tax for babies to get six months of paid family leave, and a state individual health mandate to replace the federal penalty repealed by Republicans. Read More > at CALmatters
Newsom Details Housing Plan, But Faces Bipartisan Pushback – Governor Gavin Newsom has released details of his budget that aims to address California’s housing crisis, including a controversial plan to push cities to plan and approve more units.
The governor’s idea to link the road maintenance dollars that cities get from the state to the progress they are making on housing development received bipartisan pushback from state lawmakers. And in order for Newsom to even be around for the plan’s implementation, he’ll have to win a second term.
The proposal, originally announced in January, and outlined in a budget trailer bill on Monday, begins with the establishment of higher goals for the amount of housing that cities need to plan for.
It then proposes sending $250 million to local jurisdictions to help with that planning, and $500 million in incentive grants — money awarded to cities making progress on their housing targets.
The governor spoke of the link between housing and transportation during the campaign, and has argued that bold action is needed to meet his lofty goal of building 3.5 million new units in the state by 2025.
…Beginning in 2023, the plan directs road maintenance money to “be withheld from any jurisdiction that does not have a compliant housing element and has not zoned or entitled for its annual housing goals.”
The policy’s kickoff date, not announced during the original rollout of the idea, would take until 2023 — a relative eternity in politics.
That delayed implementation did little to win over state lawmakers on Monday, when the idea took heat from both sides of the aisle. Read More > at KQED
Supreme Court to hear unusual case about the ‘f word’ — but not the one you think – When Eric Brunetti and Natas Kaupas, a phenomenal Southern California skateboarder, launched a line of streetwear in 1990, they wanted a brand name that would match the subversive, anti-establishment theme of their clothing.
So they coined a single four-letter word to appear on their T-shirts, hoodies, jackets and shorts. But when Brunetti sought legal protection for the company’s name, the federal government said it could not issue a trademark for the word he chose: Fuct.
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether that refusal violated Brunetti’s freedom of speech.
A century-old provision of federal law requires the Patent and Trademark Office to refuse registration of proposed trademarks that are “scandalous” or “immoral.” Government attorneys concluded that Brunetti’s brand name was phonetically equivalent to the past tense form of the universally known f-word (also the past participle, they could have noted).
…Scandalous, however, is just the sort of thing Brunetti wanted his name to be, so he appealed. And he won. A federal appeals court agreed that the brand name is scandalous, but it ruled that the provision of law barring trademarks for such terms violates freedom of speech. Read More > from NBC News
Finnish Government Collapses Due to Rising Cost of Universal Health Care – The government of Finland collapsed Friday due to the rising cost of universal health care and the prime minister’s failure to enact reforms to the system.
Prime Minister Juha Sipila and the rest of the cabinet resigned after the governing coalition failed to pass reforms in parliament to the country’s regional government and health services, the Wall Street Journal reports. Finland faces an aging population, with around 26 percent of its citizens expected to be over 65 by the year 2030, an increase of 5 percent from today.
Sipila’s reforms “intended to remove power from the 295 municipalities that currently oversee health and social care, and place responsibility within a leaner, more efficient system of 18 elected regional authorities,” according to the Journal. The prime minister also wanted patients to be able to choose from a range of public and private providers.
Sipila said “there’s no other way for Finland to succeed” besides these reforms, which could have led to $3.4 billion in savings for the government. Read More > in The Washington Free Beacon
Facial Recognition Is the Perfect Tool for Oppression – It’s easy to accept an outwardly compelling but ultimately illusory view about what the future will look like once the full potential of facial recognition technology is unlocked. From this perspective, you’ll never have to meet a stranger, fuss with passwords, or worry about forgetting your wallet. You’ll be able organize your entire video and picture collection in seconds — even instantly find photos of your kids running around at summer camp. More important, missing people will be located, schools will become safe, and the bad guys won’t get away with hiding in the shadows or under desks.
Tempted by this vision, people will continue to invite facial recognition technology into their homes and onto their devices, allowing it to play a central role in ever more aspects of their lives. And that’s how the trap gets sprung and the unfortunate truth becomes revealed: Facial recognition technology is a menace disguised as a gift. It’s an irresistible tool for oppression that’s perfectly suited for governments to display unprecedented authoritarian control and an all-out privacy-eviscerating machine.
The ACLU, along with nearly 70 other civil rights organizations, has asked Amazon to stop selling facial recognition technology to the government and further called on Congress to enact a moratorium on government uses of facial recognition technology. The media weighed in, and important voices expressed anxiety. Over at the Washington Post, the editorial board declared, “Congress should intervene soon.” Even some members of Congress — many of whom were recently misidentified by Amazon’s facial recognition software — are rightly worried. Read More > at Medium
The Jones Act Is an Antiquated, Protectionist Policy Failure. Mike Lee Is Aiming to Kill It. – If you wanted to ship some widgets to Jamaica, you could hire literally any ship on the open oceans to make the delivery. But if you wanted to send the same cargo to Puerto Rico, you’d be allowed only to hire a ship that was built in America, crewed by Americans, and operating under the American flag.
The reason? The Jones Act, a vestige of the 1920s that prohibits non-American ships from carrying cargo from one American port to another American port—including ports in American territories, such as Puerto Rico, Guam, and other far-flung islands. You don’t have to work in the export business or have a degree in economics to see how that this is blatant protectionism for American shipping companies. And, indeed, shipping costs from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico are twice as high as prices to ship the same goods to neighboring islands.
Those higher costs get passed along to consumers in American territories and in states like Hawaii and Alaska, which import much of their food from the lower 48. But those states don’t get much of a say in Congress, so the Jones Act has persisted for decades. It’s a clear example of public choice theory: American shipping companies enjoy concentrated benefits (being able to charge higher prices because of artifically limited competition) while the residents of Alaska and America’s island states and territories pay the diffuse costs.
“Restricting trade between U.S. ports is a huge loss for American consumers and producers,” says Sen. Mike Lee (R–Utah), who introduced a bill this week to repeal the Jones Act. He’s from a landlocked state himself, but Lee says it’s long past time to act, “so that Alaskans, Hawaiians, and Puerto Ricans aren’t forced to pay higher prices for imported goods—and so they rapidly receive the help they need in the wake of natural disasters.” Read More > at Reason
First bags, then straws, now State legislatures want a statewide plastic ban – A bill currently making its way through the legislature aims at reducing the amount of single-use waste generate in the state by requiring packaging and products to be truly recyclable or compostable.
“The future of California’s quality of life is at stake,” said Senator Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, one of the authors of the bill. “Rather than continue to tinker around the edges with one-off bans of individual plastic items, we need a thoughtful, comprehensive solution to address this serious problem head on.”
Senate Bill 54, not to be confused with last year’s Sanctuary State bill, would establish the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, requiring adoption of regulations to source reduce and recycle 75 percent of single-use packaging and products sold or distributed in California by 2030. It would also require that all single-use packaging and products sold or distributed in California are recyclable or compostable on and after 2030.
“We have the technology and innovation to improve how we reduce and recycle the plastic packaging and products in our state,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, principal coauthor of the bill. “Now, we have to find the political will to do so.”
California voters have already approved a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, and Governor Brown last year signed a statewide plastic straw ban. Read More > at California County News
CALTRANS worker retired with $400,000 in unused paid time off – Last year, the state paid its employees nearly $300 million for banked time off, according to a Times analysis of payroll data from the state controller’s office. The data include most agencies and departments, but not legislative employees or other taxpayer-funded institutions such as the public university systems. That means the actual cost to taxpayers for unused vacation is much higher.
The total unfunded liability also does not account for employees who used stockpiled days off at the end of their careers to remain employed while not actually working, boosting the value of their pensions.
All told, state workers had $3.5 billion in unused leave as of 2017, the most recent estimate available. Read More in the Los Angeles Times
This Bay Area mountain saw the greatest monthly snowfall total in February since records were kept – A record-breaking 38.1 inches of snow were measured at Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton at 4,200-feet elevation in February.
This was the greatest monthly snowfall total on the San Jose mountain since records began there in 1948, according to the National Weather Service.
The second-snowiest month was January 1950 with 33.6 inches and the third was March 1982 with 32 inches.
February saw above-average precipitation and below-average temperatures in the San Francisco Bay Area, creating the ideal conditions for snow on Bay Area peaks. The highest mountaintops including Mounts Tamalpais, Diablo and St. Helena were dusted with fresh powder multiple times. Read More > at SFGate
US to Lead Oil Supply Growth Over Next 5 Years – Between 2019 and 2024, global demand growth for crude oil will rise by as much as 7.1 million barrels a day. The United States will supply 70% of that growth, according to the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast.
While demand in the developed nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is forecast to decline, demand from developing countries in Asia and for feedstock for petrochemical production will drive the increase in supply. Production of jet fuel is also forecast to rise, and the “IEA continues to see no peak in oil demand, as petrochemicals and jet fuel remain the key drivers of growth, particularly in the United States and Asia, more than offsetting a slowdown in gasoline due to efficiency gains and electric cars.”
As much as 3.3 million new barrels a day are also expected to come from Brazil, Canada, Norway and Guyana, bringing total growth from countries outside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to between 6.1 million and 7.4 million barrels a day by 2024. OPEC production capacity is projected to decline by nearly 400,000 barrels a day over the same period.
The IEA also forecasts that the United States will become a net exporter of oil by 2021 based on combined exports of crude oil and refined products. By 2024, U.S. exports are forecast to rise to 9 million barrels a day. That exceeds the export capacity of Russia and is near the export capacity of Saudi Arabia. Last week, U.S. exports of crude oil totaled 2.7 million barrels a day and refined products exports totaled nearly 5 million barrels a day, already within 30% of the IEA’s projected total for 2024. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St
A Popular Benefit of Houseplants Is a Myth – Houseplants have much to recommend them. They’re fun to care for, they look good on Instagram, and they express environmental angst through interior design. But one of houseplants’ most commonly repeated virtues holds that they’re not only living tchotchkes, but also little HVAC machines: Houseplants, allegedly, filter the air. The Sill, an online plant store that communicates its Millennial bona fides through chunky serifs and large splotches of white space, lists plant species by the airborne toxins they are best at removing. (Philodendrons filter formaldehyde.) Yet interest in this particular plant benefit is not limited to the self-care set. The same question has landed listicles in the patrician This Old House, the nerdy Lifehacker, and a doomsday-prepper blog.
For several years, research really did suggest that houseplants might cleanse the air of certain pollutants. But now most scientists say that’s not right.
…“A resounding ‘no,’” agreed Richard Corsi, a longtime air-pollution researcher, in an email. Houseplants do not clean the air “any more than an old pair of socks or baseball cap that I would hang on the wall.”
Why the confusion? Big Succulent isn’t lying to you, though at this point the houseplant industry is cherry-picking data. But for plants to actually improve the air, even in a compact apartment, you’d need a concentration of houseplants that only the most dedicated plant lovers can actually achieve. Read More > in The Atlantic
The growing push to raise the smoking age to 21 – A diverse and growing coalition is pushing Congress to raise the federal age limit for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21. It’s even attracting some industry support, potentially as a way to help avoid a regulatory crackdown on e-cigarettes.
The big picture: Seven states and nearly 450 cities have already raised their smoking age. The change is gaining more steam in Congress partly due to the rise of youth vaping and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s aggressive response to that trend.
Modular Housing Is Affordable Housing – Imagine you are building a house. Carpenters will craft forms for concrete finishers to fill and then throw up skeletal walls for electricians to wire and plumbers to pipe. Drywall installers and bricklayers will lend the house its form before painters add life. In all, an average of 22 trades will parade through the construction of a typical single-family home, a process that has barely changed since the Industrial Revolution.
If we wonder why the United States is suffering a dire housing shortage, or why real-estate prices are soaring out of reach for millions of Americans, we should also question the outdated ways we build our homes. In a long, thin warehouse on the Brooklyn side of New York’s East River, the startup FullStack Modular is joining a bevy of new firms that manufacture houses much as we build cars: on an assembly line, in a factory. What’s known as modular construction marries Henry Ford to LEGOs in a way that may offer hope for our housing woes.
Somehow we are getting worse at building new homes. America is in the midst of a historic housing shortage; the rate of new housing units being built every year is more than 20 percent below the average between 1975 and 2000. Last year alone, the United States fell 400,000 homes short of the total needed to keep up with population growth. As supply fails to keep up with demand, home prices nationwide are rising at twice the rate of incomes and three times the rate of inflation. In other words, the construction industry is broken, and we are paying the price.
America’s sweeping land-use regulations have built a wall of unaffordability around our most productive cities. But even waving away building restrictions would address neither the problem of rising construction costs nor the industry’s labor shortage (which go hand-in-hand). Try building affordably in San Francisco when construction alone costs roughly $425,000 a unit plus another $100,000 in fees. Construction prices have risen by nearly a third in the past three years across California’s Bay Area. Nationwide, “after falling or remaining flat for three decades, real construction costs have increased sharply since the mid-2000s,” according to BuildZoom’s Issi Romem, with differences in cost between cities being driven by labor more than materials.
There are simply not enough workers. The residential-construction labor force is down nearly a quarter since 2006, alongside similar declines in higher-skilled trades such as plumbing and electrical work. Contractors laid off scores of construction workers during the Great Recession, many of whom never returned to the industry, and soon many firms also went out of business. The homebuilders who hired them also often filed for bankruptcy or drastically consolidated in the years after the downturn. As a result, today’s rising demand for housing is being met by fewer firms using fewer contractors hiring fewer workers.
So we must build differently, and this is where modular housing can help… Read More > at National Review
Tonight’s Dinner? In a Cooler-Sized Robot That Knows Where You Live – Food companies are experimenting with autonomous delivery to reduce the high costs and headaches of door-to-door service. But the robots aren’t riding to the rescue any time soon.
Fast-food chains and grocery stores are teaming with big car companies and tiny startups to test the idea of autonomously shuttling food to customers. During tests in Miami, Michigan and Las Vegas, Domino’s Pizza Inc. delivered more than 1,000 pies in Ford sedans plastered with signs that read “self-driving delivery test vehicle.” Venture-backed startups have dispatched a few hundred cooler-sized robots in smaller cities like Berkeley, Calif., to weave around pedestrians and deliver burritos or groceries to customers’ doorsteps.
Food companies are betting that such automation can reduce delivery costs by as much as 40%, according to McKinsey & Co., while also helping ease a shortage of delivery drivers. The consulting firm says self-driving cars will cost more than conventional ones but will drastically cut labor costs, which account for the bulk of delivery expenses.
Autonomous-car delivery is likely to roll out gradually over the next decade, but widespread door-to-door robot service—a solution to what McKinsey calls the “last-10-yard” problem—is still a decade out, a report last year said.
Domino’s has paired with Ford Motor Co. to deliver pizzas in human-driven sedans outfitted to appear autonomous, complete with spinning laser-based radar. Users order through an app and track the vehicle’s location. Once curbside, a recorded voice instructs the customer to pluck the pizza from an automated rear-seat storage compartment. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
Report: California Saw Huge Increase in Gun Ownership Over Last Decade Despite Strict Gun Laws – Despite some of the nation’s toughest laws, the number of gun owners in California has more than doubled over the past ten years, according to new data released Friday by the state Department of Justice.
The state of California maintains a one-of-a-kind database of known gun owners, the Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS). APPS combines data on firearm transactions from two different state sources, the Dealer Record of Sale (DROS) database which tracks all transfers made by gun dealers and the Automated Firearms System (AFS) which includes the subset of guns the state requires to be registered, to compile a list of all individuals who legally purchased or were transferred a firearm in California.
Operated continuously since 2006, the program’s goal is to identify and seize the weapons of individuals prohibited from owning a gun under state law.
Every year, the California Department of Justice provides a report to the state legislature documenting the number of individuals who have had their guns reclaimed using APPS. That report also makes public the number of individuals actually in APPS, a rough measure of the total number of gun owners in California. Read More > in The Washington Free Beacon
The Persistent Economic Advantage of America’s Suburbs – The rise of the city and the decline of the suburbs has emerged as a common meme in recent years. The young, the educated, and the affluent have come streaming back to the urban core, driving up rents, driving out the poor, and giving rise to patterns of gentrification. The story goes that the suburbs have lost their long-held position as the premier location, being besieged by poverty, economic decline, and other problems once thought to be the province of the inner city.
The trouble is that this picture does not match reality—not by a long shot, according to a detailed new paper published in the journal Urban Studies. Authored by Whitney Airgood-Obrycki of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, it looks at the change in the economic status of urban and suburban neighborhoods from 1970 to 2010, a period that overlaps with notions of the resurgence of America’s urban centers and the decline of its suburbs.
Her data come from the U.S. Census Longitudinal Tract Database for the period 1970 to 2010, and cover roughly 40,000 census tracts across America’s 100 most populous metro areas.
In contrast to the idea of a Great Inversion—a shift of affluence back to the cities and poverty out to the suburbs—Airgood-Obrycki finds that suburban neighborhoods overwhelmingly outperformed their urban counterparts during the four-decade period spanning 1970 to 2010. Indeed, suburbs increased their economic advantage over urban areas during this time frame.
…The suburban advantage is clear. Across the board, suburban neighborhoods have higher incomes, higher home values, higher shares of college grads, and higher shares of professionals than urban neighborhoods. And suburbs do better than urban areas even when we compare neighborhoods in the same quartile of status. Read More > at Route Fifty