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.
The Best Explanation for Our Spate of Mass Shootings Is the Least Comforting – …Writing in 2015, Malcolm Gladwell wrote what I think is still the best explanation for modern American mass shootings, and it’s easily the least comforting. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex argument, essentially he argues that each mass shooting lowers the threshold for the next. He argues, we are in the midst of a slow-motion “riot” of mass shootings, with the Columbine shooting in many ways the key triggering event…
…Gladwell then argues that Columbine changed the thresholds. The first seven of the “major” modern school-shooting incidents were “disconnected and idiosyncratic.”
Then came Columbine. The sociologist Ralph Larkin argues that Harris and Klebold laid down the “cultural script” for the next generation of shooters. They had a Web site. They made home movies starring themselves as hit men. They wrote lengthy manifestos. They recorded their “basement tapes.” Their motivations were spelled out with grandiose specificity: Harris said he wanted to “kick-start a revolution.” Larkin looked at the twelve major school shootings in the United States in the eight years after Columbine, and he found that in eight of those subsequent cases the shooters made explicit reference to Harris and Klebold. Of the eleven school shootings outside the United States between 1999 and 2007, Larkin says six were plainly versions of Columbine; of the eleven cases of thwarted shootings in the same period, Larkin says all were Columbine-inspired.
Here’s the most ominous part of the Gladwell thesis. The “low threshold” shooters are motivated by “powerful grievances,” but as the riot spreads, the justifications are often manufactured, and the shooters more and more “normal.” Here’s Gladwell’s chilling conclusion:
In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.
…Indeed, it’s the pattern of elaborate preparation and obsession with the subculture of mass shooters that has led in part to my own advocacy of the gun-violence restraining order. While we don’t have sufficient details about today’s shooter in Texas to know if it would have made a difference, it’s a fact that large numbers of mass shooters broadcast warning signals of their intent to do harm, and it’s also a fact that family members and other relevant people close to the shooter have few tools at their disposal to prevent violence. A gun-violence restraining order can allow a family member (or school principal) to quickly get in front of a local judge for a hearing (with full due-process protections) that can result in the temporary confiscation of weapons from a proven dangerous person. Read More > at National Review
Why is liberal California the poverty capital of America? – Guess which state has the highest poverty rate in the country? Not Mississippi, New Mexico, or West Virginia, but California, where nearly one out of five residents is poor. That’s according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in the cost of housing, food, utilities and clothing, and which includes noncash government assistance as a form of income.
Given robust job growth and the prosperity generated by several industries, it’s worth asking why California has fallen behind, especially when the state’s per-capita GDP increased approximately twice as much as the U.S. average over the five years ending in 2016 (12.5%, compared with 6.27%).
It’s not as though California policymakers have neglected to wage war on poverty. Sacramento and local governments have spent massive amounts in the cause. Several state and municipal benefit programs overlap with one another; in some cases, individuals with incomes 200% above the poverty line receive benefits. California state and local governments spent nearly $958 billion from 1992 through 2015 on public welfare programs, including cash-assistance payments, vendor payments and “other public welfare,” according to the Census Bureau. California, with 12% of the American population, is home today to about one in three of the nation’s welfare recipients.
The generous spending, then, has not only failed to decrease poverty; it actually seems to have made it worse.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, some states — principally Wisconsin, Michigan, and Virginia — initiated welfare reform, as did the federal government under President Clinton and a Republican Congress. Tied together by a common thread of strong work requirements, these overhauls were a big success: Welfare rolls plummeted and millions of former aid recipients entered the labor force.
The state and local bureaucracies that implement California’s antipoverty programs, however, resisted pro-work reforms. In fact, California recipients of state aid receive a disproportionately large share of it in no-strings-attached cash disbursements. It’s as though welfare reform passed California by, leaving a dependency trap in place. Immigrants are falling into it: 55% of immigrant families in the state get some kind of means-tested benefits, compared with just 30% of natives. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
Initiative to expand Prop 13 homeowner tax benefits eligible for November ballot – Just as a ballot initiative that would dramatically expand Proposition 13 tax benefits for longtime homeowners was deemed eligible for the November ballot on Thursday, its proponents said they were negotiating with the Legislature on a compromise to avoid a bruising and costly initiative battle.
“We’re prepared to proceed,” said Christopher Carlisle, a lobbyist for the California Association of Realtors. “We’d just like to see if we can work out a deal with the Legislature where everyone goes home happy with much lower costs.”
The initiative would broaden the reach of a voter-approved, 1978 constitutional amendment that prevents a homeowner’s property taxes from increasing sharply, even as their homes double or triple in value. It would allow homeowners over 55 and those who are severely disabled to keep those lower tax obligations for life, regardless of where in California they move or how many times. Read More > in The Mercury News
Autonomous helicopter makes first operational delivery to Marines – Drones are coming to the battlefield faster than you think. Aurora Flight Sciences recently unveiled an autonomous, LiDAR equipped helicopter called AACUS, which was already an impressive feat, considering a helicopter’s complexity. Now, for the first time, it has completed an autonomous, closed-loop cargo mission, delivering gas, water and medical supplies to US Marines during an integrated training exercise in California.
AACUS (Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System) is based on a Bell UH-1H helicopter, but it’s able to take off, fly and land completely autonomously, thanks to LiDAR, cameras, onboard computers and advanced algorithms. The system can plan its own trajectory and even select landing sites in “unmapped and hazardous conditions,” Aurora said. Read More > at Engadget
Google’s Selfish Ledger is an unsettling vision of Silicon Valley social engineering – Google has built a multibillion-dollar business out of knowing everything about its users. Now, a video produced within Google and obtained by The Verge offers a stunningly ambitious and unsettling look at how some at the company envision using that information in the future.
The video was made in late 2016 by Nick Foster, the head of design at X (formerly Google X) and a co-founder of the Near Future Laboratory. The video, shared internally within Google, imagines a future of total data collection, where Google helps nudge users into alignment with their goals, custom-prints personalized devices to collect more data, and even guides the behavior of entire populations to solve global problems like poverty and disease.
Titled The Selfish Ledger, the 9-minute film starts off with a history of Lamarckian epigenetics, which are broadly concerned with the passing on of traits acquired during an organism’s lifetime. Narrating the video, Foster acknowledges that the theory may have been discredited when it comes to genetics but says it provides a useful metaphor for user data. (The title is an homage to Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene.) The way we use our phones creates “a constantly evolving representation of who we are,” which Foster terms a “ledger,” positing that these data profiles could be built up, used to modify behaviors, and transferred from one user to another:
Building on the ledger idea, the middle section of the video presents a conceptual Resolutions by Google system, in which Google prompts users to select a life goal and then guides them toward it in every interaction they have with their phone. The examples, which would “reflect Google’s values as an organization,” include urging you to try a more environmentally friendly option when hailing an Uber or directing you to buy locally grown produce from Safeway. Read More > at The Verge
CDC Neglect Is Killing Americans – Over 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016 and that number has been growing at 20 percent a year. So it is likely that more than 170 Americans are dying each day from illegal drug use. Why, then, is the response to these deaths so much less urgent than the reaction to a health crisis such as the E. Coli outbreak in lettuce that has, so far, killed one person?
The most deadly part of the overdose carnage, the opioid epidemic, has yet to be treated as a true epidemic by the institution intended to combat such dangers — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most critically, though the death rate has reached historic levels, CDC has not committed resources to track the threat in a timely manner. It offers no real-time information on the spread of opioid use and addiction across America and CDC’s reports of overdose deaths lag by almost a year.
Contrast this response to the reporting on the Ebola virus in 2014, which caused one death in the U.S. in four reported cases. CDC received over $500 million for domestic preparedness and response and a total of $1.77 billion for domestic and global Ebola efforts for 2015–2019. Or compare the tracking and CDC funding for the Zika virus. Zika-related birth defects, certainly a serious risk, in reality involved fewer than 7,000 women between 2015 and 2018. Yet in 2016 alone, CDC received$1.1 billion in Zika response funding.
Certainly, Ebola and Zika are serious disease threats and the CDC responses can be associated with the containment of the risks to Americans. So why is the much more deadly disease of addiction tracked only in terms of deaths reported, over a year in the past? It is difficult not to suspect that drug addiction carries a stigma that did not apply to Ebola and Zika — that stigma and the deadly neglect it fosters is indefensible. Read More > from the Hudson Institute
Diagnosis of Major Depression on the Rise, Especially in Teens and Millennials – Depression diagnoses rose 33 percent in America from 2013 to 2016, mostly among adolescents and millennials.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association published a study Thursday, Major Depression: The Impact On Overall Health, which found depression diagnoses are increasing rapidly in America, especially among certain demographics. It increased 63 percent in adolescents (ages 12 to 17) and 47 percent in millennials (ages 18 to 34). The mental illness has a 4.4 percent overall diagnosis rate and affects more than nine million commercially insured people in the United States.
“Major depression diagnoses are growing quickly, especially for adolescents and millennials,” Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for BCBSA, Trent Haywood, said in a press release. “The high rates for adolescents and millennials could have a substantial health impact for decades to come.
Another vulnerable population is women. They are diagnosed with major depression at higher rates than men, 6 percent compared to 3 percent.
Depression diagnoses also vary geographically. Rates of major depression are highest among states in the New England region, the Pacific northwest and sections in the south and midwest. Rhode Island has the highest rate of major depression, at about 6 percent, while Hawaii has the lowest at about 2 percent. All but one of the 50 states and the District and Columbia had an increase in the diagnosis rate of the mental illness. Hawaii was the only state that saw a slight decline. Read More > at U.S. News & World Report
What to do if you find yourself choking—and no one’s around – Every time you eat, you are gambling on your ability to eat food and survive. Honestly, we all may be taking this responsibility a little too lightly. The National Safety Council reports that choking is the fourth leading cause of accidental injury deaths in the U.S., and accidental injury deaths are the third leading cause of deaths overall. We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t be trusted to chew slowly enough to not die.
When something is stuck in your trachea so that you can’t speak or breath, you only have around three minutes before the lack of oxygen starts to cause brain damage, and then about six minutes until you die. As Jonathan L. Epstein, senior director of science for the American Red Cross, cautioned via email, you need to act quickly, and the first thing to do is to contact 911. Even though you will not be able to speak or even make sounds, still keep the line open and allow the dispatchers to find pinpoint your GPS location and send help.
When you get a piece of food lodged in your trachea, your body assumes you’re drowning and it forcefully clenches itself closed, to help you survive. But you’re not drowning, and you’re also not getting oxygen to your brain. So you will need to start performing abdominal thrusts on yourself. And you can’t be meek about this. Make a fist with one hand, place it above the navel, and use your hand to thrust your fist up and in to your abdomen. You can also find a counter top, back of a chair, or railing, bend over it, pressing firmly against and up into your abdomen. Continue with this until you can dislodge the obstruction or until emergency help arrives. Read More > at The Takeout
California’s electricity future in peril without a plan, commission president warns – The president of the California Public Utilities Commission says that a simple heat wave could jeopardize the state’s increasingly fractured electric supply.
Michael Picker, president of the CPUC since 2014, said the potential for problems is growing, but that the state currently lacks a plan to make sure all different kinds of users have access to reliable power into the future.
“One of the biggest challenges is that we have a hard time convincing people that we have a problem,” Picker said in a recent interview. “Most people don’t know that since 1998, most utilities don’t own their own generation.”
That is because most utilities buy a lot of their electricity on the open market. While that works most of the time, it will be more difficult in the future as power suppliers become more decentralized.
…Yet it appears the reliability of the state’s power supply is declining, he said. As customers are leaving, big utilities are becoming averse to signing long-term contracts for power, Picker said. That could mean that when electric use spikes, many different users will be trying to buy a finite amount of energy in the open market at the same time.
“The problem during a period of high demand is that prices spike on the spot energy market,” Picker said. A small provider then might not be able to afford to buy electricity at the spot price, and that could mean blackouts. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times
In Labeling Coffee a Carcinogen, California Leaps Ahead of the Science – Maybe you were sipping your morning coffee a few weeks ago when you read that a California judge essentially ruled that coffee causes cancer. To be precise, Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle, argued that roasters and manufacturers failed to prove that that there is no substantial risk to drinking coffee, or that the benefits of drinking the beverage outweigh the risks posed by acrylamide, a substance created naturally during the brewing process. By the standards of California’s decades-old Proposition 65 law, Berle affirmed in his final ruling last week, all coffee sold in California must come with a warning label stating:
WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.
Most news coverage responsibly noted that the evidence about acrylamide is not nearly as definitive as the judge ruled when he found that coffee warrants a label that it contains a “known” human carcinogen. That’s actually quite a leap, given the detailed scientific testimony he heard during the case. Among the topics discussed was how The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, makes its judgments about the carcinogenicity of substances.
IARC is one of the leading scientific bodies in the world, and it is also one of several expert panels on which California relies for scientific opinions in such cases. The IARC has concluded that while there is sufficient evidence to consider acrylamide carcinogenic in experimental animals, there is insufficient evidence for carcinogenicity in humans. Therefore, its overall evaluation is that “acrylamide is probably carcinogenic to humans.” (Emphasis mine.)
The IARC, it should be noted, is known to be exquisitely precautionary. Still, its analysis essentially suggests that, to the best of our knowledge, acrylamide is likely to be carcinogenic. In response, Judge Berle’s ruling means that according to California law, that it is carcinogenic. That may seem a distinction without much difference. If something might cause cancer, it’s safest to treat it like it does, right?
The problem is that to scientific risk assessors who try to determine just what threatens us, and how much, there is a universe of difference between these two characterizations. It’s a critical difference that California’s law fails to respect, and that failure creates risks of its own. Read More > at Undark
The Store (It Would Seem) Is Not Dead (at Least for Now) Amazon isn’t going anywhere, so shops that would rather not shut down are adapting, resulting in a somewhat surprising retail renaissance. – The new retail beginning to rise is, like the rest of our lives, mediated by the digital: shops without shopping bags that act as showrooms for products you have to order later online; stores as places to hang out and drink coffee, maybe pick up a set of millennial-pink dinner plates or sniff a candle, and then Instagram that you were there. There are stores set up as playgrounds of hashtag zones (Philipp Plein on Mercer, with its parked Ferrari and neon signs blaring hipper-than-thou epigrams like your comfort zone will kill you); stores as community centers for your chosen community (Rough Trade records in Williamsburg, Books Are Magic in Cobble Hill); stores as Etsy-souks of artisanal products (Canal Street Market); high-tech stores where you can ogle robot legs wearing sneakers and shoot hoops (the Nike store in Soho); stores that peddle a sense of in-the-know scarcity (line up for the latest shoe to drop at Kith!). Then there are those that cater to the crazily exacting needs of busy, busy, busy, cost-is-no-object Miranda Priestlys. The supercharged-concierge approach is part of the plan for both the seven-level Hudson Yards mall (with Neiman Marcus on top) and the 320,000-square-foot Nordstrom on 57th Street, which is slated to open next year.
In other words, with the old models for retail broken, or at least a good deal less sturdy, and rents finally in decline, risks are being taken. That willingness to experiment means that certain seemingly threatened — but perhaps more resilient than imagined — retailers such as bookstores are returning in new forms. Shakespeare & Co. is opening four stores, but they’re much smaller than the old ones, only 2,000-to-3,000 square feet, because new technology allows books to be printed and bound while you wait, minimizing the need for shelf space.
This move toward experimentation is epitomized by the here-and-gone pop-up shop, what the brokerage CBRE calls “rogue retail.” A U.K. company named Appear Here is running what is essentially an Airbnb for pop-ups and has put its distinctive stickers on unoccupied storefronts all over town (one on the corner of Bleecker and Christopher rents for $1,250 a day). Read More > at The Cut
Bay Area’s deadly pot-related crash added to list of tragedies in other cannabis-friendly states – The horrific collision Tuesday night on Interstate 880 in Fremont that claimed three lives is just the latest in a string of deadly wrecks involving a cannabis-impaired driver.
The suspect in this week’s wreck, which tied up the highway until the morning commute, was reportedly driving recklessly and at a high rate of speed on 880 before the crash occured. That driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana and is suspected of causing the collision. The suspect was identified as Dang Nguyen Hai Tran, 21, of San Jose.
According to Sgt. Rob Nacke, spokesman for the CHP’s Golden Gate District, which includes the nine-county Bay Area, if the trend since 2017 continues, 2018 could see a 70-percent rise in pot DUI arrests. Nacke on Wednesday released these statistics for the local region in 2017:
…What constitutes a ”marijuana-related” accident is still wrapped up in controversy, as law enforcement in cannabis-friendly states try to get their arms around the problem. For example, in 2016, four years after Colorado became one of the first two states to legalize recreational pot, then Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson said “marijuana-related” traffic deaths, hospital visits and school suspensions in the Rocky Mountain state have “not significantly” increased since the state legalized the drug.
But that claim was immediately debunked by a number of official sources which all showed substantial increases in those problems since pot became legal. The problem was and remains this: the limitations of the data make it impossible to know for sure how many of the documented incidents were directly caused by marijuana use. As ProCon.org reported, “unlike alcohol, for example, testing positive for marijuana doesn’t necessarily mean a person is under the influence of the drug at the time of the traffic accident.” Read More > in The Mercury News
Pop goes a tradition: county cracks down on free popcorn in hardware stores – Around San Diego County, a hot, salty, buttered controversy has popped up.
Should hardware stores offer free bags of freshly popped popcorn?
While that may look like a warm, welcoming treat, free popcorn is a threat to public health — or so argue county officials. Last month, health inspectors raided La Jolla’s Meanley & Son
Hardware, warning that its old-fashioned red popcorn machine is a germy outlaw.
“They explained we didn’t have the proper permits,” said Bob Meanley, whose shop had handed out 30 to 40 bags every day for about 25 years.
To comply with the 1984 California Uniform Retail Food Facility Law, Meanley & Son would need to install a three-basin sink to clean and sterilize the popcorn popper. Also required: regular inspections, just like a restaurant.
Meanley declined and instead rolled the offending machine into storage. Thus ended a tradition he had started 25 years ago. Read More > in The San Diego Union Tribune
Nevada Records Show ‘Opioid-Related’ Deaths Usually Involve Illicit Drugs or Mixtures – People who want to attack the “opioid crisis” by restricting access to pain medication often cite recent increases in opioid-related deaths as evidence that doctors have seriously underestimated the dangers that drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone pose to patients. Yet those trends are driven mainly by heroin and illicit fentanyl, and even when pain pills are involved they are usually combined with other drugs. A recent report by KLAS-TV, the CBS station in Las Vegas, highlights that reality by examining every death that the Clark County coroner tied to opioids from the beginning of 2017 through April 18 of this year.
Most of the “opioid-related” deaths during this period (221 of 430, by my count*) involved heroin or fentanyl, and more than three-quarters (328 of 430) involved multiple drugs. The additional substances include alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine, and methamphetamine as well as other opioids. Other jurisdictions also report that drug mixtures are typical in opioid-related deaths. In New York City, for example, 97 percent of drug-related deaths involve more than one substance.
Just 11 percent of the opioid-related deaths in Clark County (47 of 430) involved a single prescription opioid. Fourteen of those cases involved methadone, which can be prescribed for pain but is better known as a treatment for heroin addiction. Seven are listed as suicides, and 21 involved complicating factors such as cancer, morbid obesity, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and (in one case) a gunshot wound to the chest. Excluding methadone, suicides, and complicating conditions leaves nine cases where the only cause listed is a commonly prescribed pain medication: hydrocodone (five cases), oxycodone (two), hydromorphone (one), and oxymorphone (one). That’s 2 percent of the opioid-related deaths. Read More > at Reason
California Has an STD Problem – The number of people diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases reached a record high in California last year, according to the latest report from the California Department of Public Health.
There were more than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and early syphilis in 2017 — up 45 percent from five years ago — and the highest number of syphilis-related stillbirths (30) since 1995. In Los Angeles County alone, there were 47 babies born with congenital syphilis. L.A. also had the third highest rate of gonorrhea, the eighth highest rate of chlamydia and the ninth highest rate of primary and secondary syphilis.
Experts say STDs rates are also rising nationwide. They’re blaming decreasing condom use, fewer health clinics, and the proliferation of online dating apps for the increase.
Officials have urged people to be cautious, use protection, and get tested.
Check out the latest data here. Read More > at California County News
Riverside judge overturns California’s right-to-die law – A judge in Riverside County granted a motion Tuesday to overturn the state’s End of Life Option Act, which allows terminally ill Californians to end their life, legally, with a lethal drug.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia said the legislature violated the state’s constitution by passing the right-to-die law during a special session that was limited to healthcare issues. Ottolia gave the state attorney general five days to appeal Tuesday’s ruling before it takes effect.
The attorney general’s office said shortly after the ruling that the state will appeal.
The law passed in 2016 after gaining public support based on the advocacy of UC Irvine graduate Brittany Maynard. Two years earlier Maynard, 29, who had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, publicized videos of her final weeks after she moved to Oregon to avail herself of the state’s Death With Dignity Act. Videos of her decision to take her own life, on Nov. 1, 2014 — and to urge passage of an assisted-death law in California — were viewed by millions. Read More > in The Press-Enterprise
Oakland’s ban on coal shipments overturned by federal judge – A federal judge struck down Oakland’s ban on coal shipments, opening up the potential for the East Bay city to become the largest coal exporter on the West Coast.
However, city officials vowed to continue the legal battle against developer Phil Tagami’s plan to transport coal by rail from Utah to an Oakland port terminal for shipment to China, citing environmental concerns.
Tagami sued in December 2016 claiming the City Council’s ban violated interstate commerce laws and breached a 2013 development agreement he had established with the city. Under the pact, Tagami sought to build a $250 million port terminal on a 130-acre site that was a former Army base next to the Port of Oakland and near the Oakland Bay Bridge toll plaza.
City officials say they learned only after the agreement was signed that coal was among the commodities to be shipped through the new terminal and quickly banned shipments of coal and petroleum coke in 2016. An estimated 5 million tonnes of coal per year would be shipped through the terminal under the plan. For his part, Tagami contends the trains from Utah would have been outfitted with covered rail cars mitigating air pollution. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times
Are electric cars worse for the environment? – If you believe the headlines, traditional automobiles are speeding toward a dead end. All those V8s, V6s and turbocharged vehicles we’ve grown to love will soon be replaced by squadrons of clean, whisper-quiet, all-electric vehicles. And if you believe the headlines, the environment will be much better off.
Policymakers at every level have done their part to push electric vehicles by creating a tankful of subsidies. Thanks to laws signed by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, electric-vehicle buyers can feast on federal tax credits of up to $7,500 that reduce the initial purchase cost of their vehicles. Not to be outdone, many states also dangle their own mix of goodies for electric vehicle buyers, including purchase rebates as large as $5,000, additional rebates for vehicle chargers, and free use of public charging stations—which, of course, are only “free” because they’re subsidized by ratepayers and taxpayers. Some states even give electric vehicles preferential access to carpool lanes.
…What I found is that widespread adoption of electric vehicles nationwide will likely increase air pollution compared with new internal combustion vehicles. You read that right: more electric cars and trucks will mean more pollution.
That might sound counterintuitive: After all, won’t replacing a 30-year old, smoke-belching Oldsmobile with a new electric vehicle reduce air pollution? Yes, of course. But that’s also where many electric vehicle proponents’ arguments run off the road: they fail to consider just how clean and efficient new internal combustion vehicles are. The appropriate comparison for evaluating the benefits of all those electric vehicle subsidies and mandates isn’t the difference between an electric vehicle and an old gas-guzzler; it’s the difference between an electric car and a new gas car. And new internal combustion engines are really clean. Today’s vehicles emit only about 1% of the pollution than they did in the 1960s, and new innovations continue to improve those engines’ efficiency and cleanliness.
And as for that electric car: The energy doesn’t come from nowhere. Cars are charged from the nation’s electrical grid, which means that they’re only as “clean” as America’s mix of power sources. Those are getting cleaner, but we still generate power mainly by burning fossil fuels: natural gas is our biggest source of electricity, and is projected to increase… Read More > at The Agenda
California sports betting would need constitutional change – Voters would have to change California’s Constitution before legal sports betting could come to the nation’s most populous state, state lawmakers and tribes who run the state’s casinos said Monday.
Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray of Merced immediately said he will push a constitutional amendment after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that barred gambling on the results of football, baseball, basketball, hockey and other games.
His amendment would ask voters to allow sports gambling and deputize the Legislature to regulate the wagering.
But lawmakers face a late June deadline to put it on the November ballot, a tight timeline. It would take a two-thirds vote, and tribes would likely vie with card rooms, horse tracks and online operations for the chance to run the sports book.
That makes it unlikely anything will happen quickly, said David Quintana, a tribal lobbyist with clients including the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, a major tribe in San Diego County.
It’s unclear if Congress will now add its own layer of regulation or if California would allow outside internet operators like the DraftKings fantasy sports gambling site… Read More . from the Associated Press
Board approves California bullet train’s 2018 business plan – The board tasked with overseeing California’s ambitious high-speed rail project approved a new business plan Tuesday and pledged to keep pushing forward even as the plan faces stark financial challenges.
At stake is a plan to build a high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco by 2033 at an estimated price tag of $77 billion. A fresh business plan is required every two years, and the 2018 plan is the first under Brian Kelly, the new chief executive of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Among the updates are slight decreases in ridership and revenue projections and a starker assessment of the financial challenges. The authority doesn’t have enough money in hand to complete an initial segment of the train between San Francisco and the Central Valley.
Kelly wants the Legislature by 2021 to approve a financing plan that would allow the authority to borrow money for construction against revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program that charges polluters to release greenhouse gases. Twenty-five percent of the revenue from the program is now designated for high-speed rail, but that won’t provide enough up-front money to complete the project. Kelly is asking lawmakers to extend cap-and-trade to 2050, beyond its current expiration date of 2030. Read More > from the Associated Press
Sports Betting Could Lead to More Govt. Spending. How About Tax Relief? – …California could be in line to do so as early as this year. Assemblyman Adam Gray has introduced a constitutional amendment (ACA 18) to allow for sports betting. Should it pass, the voters could see the measure on the November ballot. Estimates put California’s sports betting on the black market in the $20-$40 billion range. Gray has estimated that California governments could reap $100 to $200 million in tax revenue.
There is still the possibility that a black market would take a large share of the business even if it is legalized. Look at the initial results from the tax take from legalized marijuana. Proponents of the initiative that legalized the weed predicted it would produce $1 billion in revenue for government. Yet, the first quarterly tax yield of $34 million puts marijuana’s projected take on track to hit only 13.6% of expected annual revenue.
Another question is whether legalized sports betting would cut into the state lottery’s income if lottery players turn to sports betting to satisfy a gambling urge.
…But California has been pretty proficient lately is raising taxes. Income taxes, vehicle license fees, gas taxes, many local taxes have all gone up and there are plans to raise even more taxes. In fact, the tax increase efforts along with a healthy economy has the state budget in record numbers bulging with a nearly $9 billion surplus. If sports betting becomes a reality, how about substituting the tax take from the sports bet and reduce other taxes? Sell the idea as taxpayer relief. That message should carry the day. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
Self-Driving Cars and the End of Car Ownership – Talk of self-driving cars is unavoidable at this point, and it almost always centers on autonomous cars being used as shared vehicles. Whether it’s ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, or putting your local pizza delivery person out of work by having a Ford Fusion do the job instead, it’s more or less assumed that the first self-driving cars won’t be owned by individuals. There’s a reason for that.
Before they give up on driving, many current drivers may give up on car ownership. The cost of maintenance, fuel, and insurance, not to mention finding a place to park, can be tiresome no matter one’s level of enthusiasm for driving. And for the first time ever, the average person has viable alternatives to vehicle ownership. Self-driving cars may just finish the job.
“The transition to business ownership will happen long before the transition to autonomous [driving],” Nicholas Farhi, a partner at consulting firm OC&C Strategy Consultants, told The Drive. It’s already happening, Farhi noted, as many drivers lease their cars rather than buying them outright. Automakers are also launching subscription or car-sharing services that give consumers access to vehicles on demand. Given the choice, people will rent instead of buy, Farhi believes.
“The average car is about four percent utilized,” Farhi said, meaning it sits idle the vast majority of the time. Sharing services increase utilization of vehicles, whether they’re autonomous or not. This model also lets people “choose the right car for the right use case,” Farhi noted. Cadillac’s Book subscription service lets customers switch a CT6 for an Escalade when more space is needed… Read More > at The Drive
China really is to blame for millions of lost U.S. manufacturing jobs, new study finds – For years economists have viewed the increased role of automation in the computer age as the chief culprit for some 6 million lost jobs from 1999 to 2010 — one-third of all U.S. manufacturing employment. Firms adopted new technologies to boost production, the thinking goes, and put workers out of the job in the process. Plants could make more stuff with fewer people.
In the past several years fresh thinking by economists such as David Autor of MIT has challenged that view. The latest research to poke holes in the theory of automation-is-to-blame is from Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute.
Academic research tends to be dry and complicated, but Houseman’s findings boil down to this: The government for decades has vastly overestimated the growth of productivity in the American manufacturing sector. It’s been growing no faster, really, than the rest of the economy.
What that means is, the adoption of technology is not the chief reason why millions of working-class Americans lost their jobs in a vast region stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi river to the shores of the Great Lakes. Nor was it inevitable.
Autor and now Houseman contend the introduction of China into the global trading system is root cause of the job losses. Read More > at Market Watch
California’s Brown Says Cities on Their Own as Pension Tab Rises – As California’s cities flounder under the rising cost of public pensions, they shouldn’t expect the state to extend a hand.
While Governor Jerry Brown noted in his revised budget Friday that local governments face “even greater pressures” than the state in dealing with the expense, he said it’s not up to the state to help.
Brown’s position underscores the challenges facing local governments, whose resources are more limited than that of states in addressing the rising costs of keeping promises to police officers, teachers and other civil servants. In the Golden State, some cities are seeing their payments to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System rise by double digits in just a few years. Investment losses, contributions failing to keep pace with the cost of benefits, and changes in assumptions such as mortality rates have left many public pensions across the country with less than they need to cover obligations.
Brown noted that the state has acted: he and legislators in 2012 pushed through a pension overhaul that reduced benefit formulas for new hires. The impact becomes more significant each year as those workers replace those employees at higher benefit tiers, he said. Read More > at Bloomberg
New Migrant Surge Tests Canada’s Welcoming Stance – PERRY MILLS, N.Y.—A small group of people from Nigeria and Mali stepped off a shuttle bus here on a recent evening and lugged suitcases and backpacks along a country road toward the border with Canada. A Canadian police officer was waiting there to arrest them.
The group is part of a fresh wave of asylum seekers flooding into Canada in recent weeks, undeterred by the threat of arrest and posing the latest test for Canada’s immigration-friendly stance.
Roughly 2,600 people used unofficial border crossings like this one to enter the country in April, according to Canadian police data. That marked the latest surge following the crossing last summer of some 8,500 asylum seekers.
People breaching the border is a new challenge for Canada. The country’s geographic isolation has traditionally allowed it to maintain a highly selective immigration and refugee system, as migrants from Africa and the Middle East have poured into Europe in recent years and the U.S. has grappled with illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America.
…The response in Canada to the wave of asylum seekers has been mixed. A Quebec-based organization called Bridges Not Borders has sent delegations to the border to greet incoming migrants and is lobbying Canadian officials to allow asylum seekers to use official points of entry. But last year, the arrival of thousands of Haitians in the French-speaking province triggered several anti-immigration rallies. Another Quebec group is planning a protest at the border with New York state later this month. The group wants asylum seekers turned back if they approach at unofficial crossings. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
Supreme Court Strikes Down Federal Ban on Sports Gambling – This is a massive decision that immediately becomes the fourth most important technological and social innovation in the past forty years of sports that will forever alter the way fans consume games. The first was the advent of cable television, which brought abundant sports broadcasts to the masses. The second was the 1983 Supreme Court decision which struck down the NCAA’s restraint of college sports broadcasts, increased individual conference power, and officially made ESPN a viable business, the third was the rise of fantasy sports and now comes the fourth, sports gambling being permitted if individual states elect to allow it.
I believe the sports gambling case will actually have the most substantial impact of all.
1. Today’s decision leaves whether or not to permit sports gambling up to the individual states.
Right now 44 states allow lotteries.
My prediction is that each state that allows lotteries will eventually allow sports gambling as well. After all, if you’re going to allow lotteries, how do you not allow sports fans to bet on sports?…
2. What kind of sports gambling will my state allow and will the federal government get involved?
That will be for each state to decide because I believe the odds of your federal government being able to pass a comprehensive federal sports gambling bill before states start acting will be minimal.
Some states may require you to place a bet in person, others may permit you to bet online within state borders from your phone…
3. This will be like alcohol sales, in that each state will have its own rules.
You know how every state has its own rules as it pertains to alcohol? Some states sell beer, liquor and wine together, others sell them separately. Some grocery stores can sell liquor and some can’t; every state has different hours when alcohol can be purchased and when it can’t. Essentially there’s a hodge podge of confusing regulations across our country when it comes to alcohol.
I suspect that will be the eventual impact with sports gambling too… Read More > at Outkick the Coverage
Sacramento Wants to Boost Rail Ridership By Banning Drive-Throughs and Gas Stations Near Transit – Faced with falling ridership, American cities have been experimenting with increasingly desperate measures to get people back onto buses and trains.
New York, which saw subway ridership plunge by 30 million trips from 2016 to 2017, is cracking down on transit’s competition, with politicians pondering a cap on the number of rideshare vehicles allowed in the city and a mandatory floor for Uber and Lyft prices. Los Angeles, where transit use is stubbornly stuck at about 5 percent of all trips, is spending billions to build out its light rail network and cluster more development around transit stops. Washington is investing in flashy marketing campaigns and a new merch shop to reverse its Metro system’s near 20 percent decline in ridership since 2012.
But Sacramento has the most creative approach. Absurd, but creative. City staff there are drafting an ordinance that would ban building new gas stations, drive-throughs, and other auto-related businesses within a quarter mile of any of the city’s 23 light rail stations. (Also to be prohibited, for reasons unclear: marijuana cultivation sites.) Other businesses “not considered transit-supportive”—car lots, auto repair businesses, manufacturing sites, wholesale outlets—would still be allowed, but only if the city grants them a special permit.
Preexisting businesses would be grandfathered in. Read More > at Reason
How the death of voicemail is changing the way we connect – …Voicemail is now seen viewed as inefficient. And for many, that feeling extends to phone conversations in general. These days, a phone call often requires advance scheduling.
The frantic pace of life and work is pushing out phone-based voice communication in favor of text, chat, email and other options seen as more efficient, said Mary Jane Copps, a Canada-based phone-communication consultant known as “The Phone Lady” who gives workshops and consultations across North America.
If you’re looking to point a finger at those responsible for the looming demise of voicemail, and the change ways we use our phones, Millennials are an appropriate target, experts said. That’s because they cut their communications teeth on text messaging and emailing, Baron said.
…For matters too complicated to sort out effectively via email or text, a phone call may be required. But that call is best arranged in advance — via email, text or an app, Ricketts said. That’s because voicemail will most likely go unheard. Read More > in The Mercury News
California’s rooftop solar rule is a pricey path to emissions reductions – California will now require solar panels on most new homes, extending the state’s role in pushing some of the strictest environmental regulations in the United States.
But this feel-good change to the building code is a questionable public policy for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.
The big problem with the California Energy Commission’s new mandate—which passed on May 9 and goes into effect in 2020—is cost.
Compared with solar power plants, rooftop solar is “a much more expensive way of increasing renewables on the grid,” says Severin Borenstein, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who shared his concerns in a letter to one commissioner.
In fact, residential solar systems cost between 12.9 and 16.7 cents per kilowatt-hour averaged over their lifetime, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory report last year. That’s more than double the cost of utility-scale solar systems, which range from 4.4 to 6.6 cents.
As it is, it’s going to be incredibly expensive and difficult to overhaul the energy system, so researchers stress that it’s crucial to follow the most cost-effective paths possible (see: “At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system”). Read More > at MIT Technology Review
Trust the process? Seven MLB teams on pace to lose 100 games – Not since 2002 have as many as three teams lost 100 games, but that mark will be in peril this season. In order of putridity, the Chicago White Sox (10-28), Baltimore Orioles (13-28), Kansas City Royals (13-27), Cincinnati Reds (14-27), Miami Marlins (14-26), San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers (both 16-26) are on track to lose between 100 and 119 games.
With the season barely one-quarter finished for most teams, things can surely get better. In fact, the Orioles won for the fifth time in six games Sunday, while the Reds have reeled off six straight wins against the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers.
But the cyclical gains made by many of these clubs very well could be nullified by roster deletions before the July 31 trade deadline. All but the White Sox, Royals and Padres are already double-digit games out of first place; all are looking up at three or four teams in their division.
Is tanking to blame? Largely, but not entirely. Read More > at USA Today
The ‘white minority’ illusion – …Yes, the U.S. is on track to become at some point around 2045 a “minority white” nation — in the sense that if we lump every person who isn’t white into a single demographic category of “non-white,” whites will be outnumbered. The problem is that no such politically homogeneous category of citizen exists in the real world. It’s the creation of demographers and liberal data journalists eager to mollify their anxieties.
Such people convince themselves of its reality by making a habit of talking about how “people of color” are uniformly oppressed by hegemonic “whiteness” in the United States. But the truth is that people of Hispanic, African, West Indian, East Asian, South Asian, and Arab descent don’t perceive themselves as (or vote as if they are) members of a unified bloc. They are discrete groups. Most of them do lean Democratic, but not uniformly, and they do so for disparate reasons rooted in the cultures they brought with them to this country and in their distinct histories since arriving. (That’s true of white voters, too, of course.)
Now, as critics have pointed out, it’s most likely misleading even to suggest that these ethnic categories will remain stable over the coming decades, given rising rates of intermarriage among the members of each group. But even if we assume for the sake of analysis that the categories remain intact, it’s important to recognize that “white” is going to remain the plurality group for a very long time to come. In 2045, when the shift to “minority white” country is supposed to happen, whites will be 49.8 percent of the population, with Hispanics, at 24.6 percent, the next largest group at roughly half the size. Read More > in The Week
There’s a California election coming up. But if history is any guide, most voters won’t show up – By the time California’s primary election day arrives in June, it’s possible the state will be very close to having 20 million registered voters — a historic milestone that state elections officials reported last week is within sight.
Don’t applaud just yet. The history of modern California politics suggests as many as two-thirds of those voters won’t even cast a ballot next month. That’s a civic dilemma, sure enough. But there’s also a good chance the no-shows will affect one party’s candidates in heated races for Congress differently than all others.
It’s presidential elections, like the one coming up in 2020, that entice voters to cast ballots. The primary in an off-year election such as 2018, even with a hugely important race for governor, fails to capture the public’s attention.
No gubernatorial primary has attracted even 35% of registered voters since 2002. The last time that a majority of California’s electorate showed up for a non-presidential primary was 1982. Four years ago, turnout hit an all-time low of 25%.
A safe bet is that only about 6 million votes will be cast in next month’s election — the kind of apathy made even more remarkable by the fact that so many ballots are now sent through the mail. Millions of them may just sit on kitchen tables, never to be turned back in.
The problem doesn’t strike equally among subgroups of California voters. It turns out that Republicans are usually among the most reliable. Research by Political Data Inc., a for-profit company that partners with candidates and campaigns from both major parties, suggests the statewide advantage for Democrats could drop by as much as 3 percentage points in June. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
This Is How a Newspaper Dies – For a preview of the newspaper industry’s coming death, turn your gaze to Colorado, where the withering and emaciated Denver Post finds itself rolling in profits.
The Post’s controlling owner, “vulture capitalist” Randall Smith, has become journalism’s No. 1 villain for having cheapened and starved not just its Denver paper but many of the titles—including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the San Jose Mercury News and the Orange County Register—that his firm, Alden Global Capital, operates through the Digital First Media chain. At the Post, Smith’s firm cut the newsroom from 184 journalists to 99 between 2012 and 2017, Bloomberg News’ Joe Nocera writes. Over the same time, Smith’s Pottstown Mercury fell from 73 journos to 10 while its Norristown Times-Herald went 45 to 12. And the cuts just keep on coming. For newspaper lovers, the cuts have been a disaster.
…But why on Earth should Smith sell? Alden’s newspapers recorded nearly $160 million in profits during fiscal year 2017, analyst Ken Doctor reported in a comprehensive piece recently at NeimanLab. The chain’s 17 percent operating margin makes it one of the industry’s best performers. Over the course of seven years, Alden doubled profits in its Bay Area News Group newspapers, another home to cutbacks. At the Pioneer Press, where its staff is down to 60, the paper produced a $10 million profit at a 13 percent margin.
…The business-school label for tactics like Alden’s, in which you get fewer customers to pay more for less, as Philip Meyer wrote in his book The Vanishing Newspaper, is “harvesting market position.” By raising prices and lowering quality, a stagnant business can rely on its most loyal customers to continue to buy the product, allowing it to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze its customers as they croak. This slow liquidation of an asset’s value, destroying even its reputation in the process, kills the product. Wherever newspapers can be found reducing page size, cutting news pages, narrowing coverage area, reducing staff, shrinking circulation area, postponing the purchase of new equipment and raising subscription prices, they are harvesting market position. Faced with two business options, earn small sums from his newspapers over an indeterminate time or cash in big all at once, perhaps hastening the end, Smith has chosen the latter. Read More > at Politico