Sunday Reading – 06/28/15

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 50 Worst Commutes in America – Sorry, commuters. Just when you thought your drive to work couldn’t get any more grueling, somehow the Gods of Gridlock have found a way to burden us once again. According to the Los Angeles Times, commutes are getting longer all over the country. From 2000 to 2012, “the number of jobs within the typical commute distance decreased by 7% in the U.S., according to a new Brookings Institute study.”

Of course, there are many who don’t mind the long journey to work. It may be the only time in which you can listen to your favorite podcast or gather your thoughts alone. But for the rest, it’s a daily slog. You may take solace, though, in the fact that there are lots of cities that have it worse—much, much worse. Here is the list

From Free Speech Movement to This: Anything You Say May Create a Hostile Environment – The University of California has been the subject of derision lately for its recent faculty seminars designed to wipe out so-called “microaggressions,” which the university describes as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults” that “communicate hostile messages”to members of “marginalized” groups. These can be unintentional and even “preconscious” or “unconscious” slights.

Some of the media barbs have been focused on a fact sheet, distributed by the UC president’s office, that gives examples of such behaviors that create a hostile environment — e.g., asking a person of Asian or Latino descent where they are from, saying that “America is the land of opportunity,” or criticizing affirmative action as “racist.” UC identifies other microaggressions as mistaking a female doctor for a nurse or “being forced to choose male or female on a form.”

According to literature suggested by the university to its faculty members, such behaviors can “contribute to a diminished mortality, augmented morbidity, and flattened confidence.” Are people like me — the son of an immigrant who loves to ask about people’s backgrounds and celebrates the American melting pot — a danger to public health?

…”It promotes infantilism,” said Tibor Machan, a retired Chapman University professor of business ethics. “Colleges become kindergartens. … Luckily only about 10 percent of students fall in line with this, but they are encouraged by ideological professors and administrators. … (S)imple civility gets mixed up with often-politicized civil rights.”

An effort to identify “microaggressors” creates a world “where people don’t talk to each other,” adds William Anderson, an economics professor at Frostburg State University in Maryland. “It’s absolutely destroying relationships. Anything you do (or don’t do) is going to be construed as a microaggression.” He points to a UCLA professor who in 2013 was accused of such aggressions and the subject of a campus sit-inbecause he corrected the spelling and grammar in papers submitted by African-American students.

Is this what our top university system should be encouraging? I’d say “no,” but that’s probably evidence of the hostile intellectual climate my column is creating. Read More > at Reason

Google puts self-driving bubble cars on Bay Area streets – The car of the future has hit the streets of Silicon Valley.

Google revealed on Thursday that its distinctive bubble cars are test-driving themselves around Mountain View. The cars started cruising the streets on Wednesday after more than a year of testing on private lots.

The California DMV granted testing permits for self-driving cars to Google and six other manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Tesla.

Google’s ultimate goal is a true driverless car, but for now there will be a “driver” in the vehicle who can take over in an emergency situation.

“They’re ultimately designed to work without a steering wheel or pedals, but during this phase of our project we’ll have safety drivers aboard with a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal that allow them to take over driving if needed,” Google said in a blog post. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Chevrolet Adds Theft Alarm Notifications – OnStar subscribers can now be alerted in real time when vehicle alarm sounds.

Chevrolet today announced Theft Alarm Notification, an enhancement to the existing Stolen Vehicle Assistance service allowing OnStar subscribers to receive a real-time alert when the vehicle’s alarm sounds. The service will be available to eligible subscribers later this summer.

The Theft Alarm Notification feature is another enhancement to OnStar’s existing security features, which include Remote Ignition Block and Stolen Vehicle Slowdown. With Theft Alarm Notification, OnStar subscribers can opt in to receive an alert through text, email or phone if a theft attempt triggers their vehicle’s alarm system and the alarm sounds.

“Prompt response and quick awareness of theft situations give customers a greater chance to recover stolen property,” said Sandor Piszar, director of Chevrolet Truck Marketing. “By leveraging the connection that OnStar provides, Chevrolet owners can remain in contact with their vehicle, even when it is out of sight.”

If a properly equipped Chevrolet is stolen, OnStar advisors will work with local authorities and use GPS technology to pinpoint the vehicle’s location. In certain models, if the conditions are safe, advisors can send a signal to slow down the vehicle, aiding police officers in its recovery and preventing a potential high-speed chase. Read More > at GM

Robot brickie: Perth engineer invents world’s first robotic bricklayer – A robotic, fully-automated machine is being developed in Perth, a world-first that could raise the brick shell of a new home within two days.

It can work 24 hours, 365 days — compared to the human variety who can put in anywhere from four to six weeks of backbreaking work for a typical home.

Local inventor Mark Pivac, an aeronautic and mechanical engineer, said his interest in the idea of developing the robot was sparked during Perth’s bricklaying crisis of 2005.

“People have been laying bricks for about 6000 years and ever since the industrial revolution, they have tried to automate the bricklaying process,” Mr Pivac told PerthNow.

“We’re at a technological nexus where a few different technologies have got to the level where it’s now possible to do it, and that’s what we’ve done.”

“Hadrian” the robot — named after the famous Roman defensive wall of antiquity — will be commercialised first in WA, then nationally and then globally.

Laying 1000 bricks per hour, it can work day and night, with the potential to erect 150 homes a year. Read More > at Perth Now

The US Navy’s warfare systems command just paid millions to stay on Windows XP – The U.S. Navy is paying Microsoft millions of dollars to keep up to 100,000 computers afloat because it has yet to transition away from Windows XP.

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, which runs the Navy’s communications and information networks, signed a US$9.1 million contract earlier this month for continued access to security patches for Windows XP, Office 2003, Exchange 2003 and Windows Server 2003.

The entire contract could be worth up to $30.8 million and extend into 2017.

The first three of those products have been deemed obsolete by Microsoft, and Windows Server 2003 will reach its end of life on July 14. As a result, Microsoft has stopped issuing free security updates but will continue to do so on a paid basis for customers like the Navy that are still using those products.

The Navy began a transition away from XP in 2013, but as of May this year it still had approximately 100,000 workstations running XP or the other software. Read More > at IT World

Want a shorter commute? Pay $900 a month to live in a tent near Google – Are you tired of the long commute from San Francisco to your start-up (or tech giant) in Silicon Valley? Yearning to get in touch with nature? Willing to pay $900 to live in a tent in someone’s backyard?

If yes to all the above, then John Potter has a deal for you.

The freelance web developer in the Monta Loma neighborhood of Mountain View recently posted an Airbnb listing for a Coleman tent in his backyard. Rest assured, the tent is in a “safe and friendly” neighborhood, “very close to Caltrain,” and “in a beautiful garden.” You can even use the shower and eat inside. Although, come on, you’re roughin’ it! Dinner under the stars, cowboy.

Potter is charging $46 per night, $279 per week or $899 for a month. Daily rates initially started at $20 per day, but the tent rental was so popular he more than doubled the rate. Most rentals in Mountain View start at well over $2,000 on craigslist. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Bay Area commuters say they’d pay to improve public transit – Local residents seem a bit conflicted and perhaps even illogical when it comes to transportation issues, according to a new poll done for the business-oriented Bay Area Council, but sitting in creeping traffic or standing on crowded trains can do that to people.

The vast majority of commuters rely on their cars and rank traffic as one of the region’s most-pressing problems, according to the survey. Yet they’re unwilling to pay higher vehicle fees to fix and improve streets and highways.

But when it comes to public transportation, which ranks much lower on the list of regional concerns, they’re ready to open their wallets.

The poll showed particularly strong support for a $3 billion bond measure to improve BART, as well as for building a second Transbay Tube.

…When asked if they’d support a bond measure for more immediate BART improvements, survey respondents in the BART district — Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties — were overwhelmingly supportive. Seventy-five percent said they would definitely or probably support a $3 billion bond proposal, while only 16 percent said they would probably or definitely vote against such a measure.

People were far less enthusiastic about increasing vehicle license fees. A plan to charge drivers based on the number of miles they drive was opposed by 49 percent, with 41 percent supporting the idea. An annual flat fee of $54 per vehicle found even stronger opposition, with 61 percent objecting and 32 percent in favor.

Ruth Bernstein, who oversaw the polling for EMC, said the respondents’ rejection of fees charged per vehicle shouldn’t be seen as a refusal to tax themselves for transportation improvements. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Medical marijuana offers only weedy health benefits – Don’t expect marijuana to perform medical miracles. That’s the message from a huge review of 79 clinical trials undertaken between 1975 and 2015 that assessed the merit of taking cannabinoids – the active component in cannabis – to treat different health conditions.

Over the last 20 years, Washington DC and 23 US states have introduced laws to allow the use of medical marijuana to treat many conditions, including long-term pain, sleep problems and muscle disorders.

Penny Whiting of the University of Bristol, UK, and her colleagues set out to examine the evidence that the drug is actually beneficial, but found little to suggest it is.

“Most trials reported greater improvement in symptoms with cannabinoids compared to control groups,” says Whiting – but they didn’t usually reach statistical significance.

In addition, studies that explored the effects of medical marijuana were not always performed to a high standard. Many suffered from methodological weaknesses, such as a small sample size or incomplete data on outcomes, and substantial withdrawals of participants in half the trials. Any of these factors could have skewed the results.

Whiting says that cannabinoids have generally been approved for medical applications without having to go through the strict proof-of-benefit trials used to judge other medicines.

“I think cannabinoids should be evaluated in the same way as any other type of medical treatment,” she says. “It’s important that all interventions are judged by the same standards, so the potential benefits and adverse effects of cannabinoids should be considered in the light of the evidence.” Read More > in the New Scientist

BART may provide relief for riders by reopening bathrooms – For antsy BART riders, forced to hold it for nearly 14 years, relief may be on the way. The transit agency is looking at reopening the closed restrooms in its underground stations.

BART locked the loos at all of its stations after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, based on the suggestion of federal security officials. It also removed trash cans from underground platforms, installed more security cameras and stepped up patrols. Eventually, restrooms at all but the subterranean stations were reopened.

While commuters have grown accustomed to most of the post-9/11 changes, the padlocked potties still have many peeved.

BART officials, acting on a request from a number of BART directors, have been studying the possibility of reopening, and remodeling, the closed restrooms. They’ll present their findings, and discuss the issue with directors at Thursday’s 5 p.m. board meeting in Oakland. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

California climate plan has inland condemning coastal elitism – The way inland California lawmakers see it, the only benefit to their constituents from Gov. Jerry Brown’s expansion of carbon pollution laws will be cleaner air to breathe as they wait at the unemployment office.

Brown and other Democrats are pushing legislation to reduce greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels to a fraction of what they were a quarter-century ago. The state would make utilities get a greater share of electricity from low-pollution sources, compel industries to cut smokestack emissions further and encourage cleaner cars on roads.

In a state of 39 million dominated by Democrats, politics falls along regional lines rather than partisan ones. Just as California’s north and south fight over water amid a record drought, the climate legislation has widened long-standing rifts between more affluent, Democratic-leaning cities along the coast and poorer, more conservative towns in the interior.

“Families losing their jobs cannot afford solar panels on their homes when they can no longer afford their homes because they have no job,” state Sen. Jeff Stone, a Republican from Riverside County, told colleagues during a debate on Senate Bill 350 this month. He called it “coastal elitism at the worst, an act that will cut jobs in Central Valley communities and benefit rich urban areas that already have more jobs and economic diversity.”

Opponents such as Stone praise the goals of climate-change regulations but say private-sector innovation should drive clean technology, not government mandates.

They warn that tightening California’s rules, already the nation’s toughest, will increase gas and electricity costs for companies, farmers and the poor, eliminating jobs and driving business to less-expensive states. Rural residents traveling long distances to work, school and medical care will be disproportionately hurt, they say. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

Artificial turf: Backlash amid water district rebates for fake grass – It’s an increasingly popular option for saving water: Replace your living lawn with artificial turf.

At least 12 Bay Area water districts offer cash rebates to homeowners to make the switch, but other officials are joining a backlash against the surging popularity of plastic grass as a way to relieve water shortages.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District Board is the latest to balk at subsidizing synthetic turf after hearing complaints that it has undesirable environmental effects even if it does well in reducing outdoor water use.

Critics told the water board Thursday that switching to synthetic grass creates waste, raises ground temperatures, deprives wild animals and bugs of habitat, inhibits water percolation into the ground, and deprives the earth of living green blades that pump out oxygen and filter global warming gases. Read More > at Inside Bay Area News

California’s Vanishing Lakes and the Hunger of the Mines – …Tulare Lake is long gone, all 700 square miles of it; its water restrained behind dams in the foothills and channelled away into the irrigation canals that make the Central Valley so productive. In its place are hundreds of square miles of cotton and corn, and an elaborate system of drains, ditches, channels and sumps designed to keep the lake bed farmable.

The massive rearranging of California’s water resources, which began with the Gold Rush and continues to the present day, is a triumph of ingenuity and engineering, and the utter destruction of the original, pre-1849 biome.

…The modern settlement of the Central Valley began when Americans started to arrive overland via the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. Many of these newcomers became Mexican citizens, took Mexican wives, and received Mexican land grants along the Sacramento, Feather and American Rivers, grants that were measured in Spanish leagues (4,428 acres), of which five leagues would be considered the usual size. By 1846, when the last of the Mexican land grants were made, much of the Valley had been parceled out.

As for the people who were already there, perhaps half of the Central Valley indians died in 1833, a year after mountain man Ewing Young led a group of trappers through the valley, inadvertently spreading malaria as they went. Parts of the valley were “virtually depopulat[ed]” by the disease, and the survivors left scattered, weakened, and easily pushed aside or exploited by the American settlers. By 1845, the number of indians in all of California was probably 150,000, about half of what it had been when the Spanish arrived 70 years earlier. Fifteen years later, in 1860, a dozen years after the discovery of gold, there were only 50,000.

…Despite the herculean effort to move meat to market, there was rarely enough to satisfy demand during the early years, and prices for beef, mutton and pork remained very high until at least 1855. Thus, wild game filled the gap.

Tule elk, which roamed in sizable herds throughout the Central Valley and coastal zones, were hunted relentlessly, nearly to extinction. By 1874, a single breeding pair remained, discovered in the tules reeds around Buena Vista, one of the now disappeared lakes in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Twenty-five years earlier, on the eve of the Gold Rush, there had been an estimated 500,000 tule elk; a single generation of hungry miners had destroyed the species.

Similarly, the pronghorn antelope were eradicated completely in California except in the scrubland fringe of the Great Basin in the northeastern corner of the state. White tail deer, mule deer, and mountain sheep also suffered depredations, as did anything else that flew, swam or crawled upon the surface of the earth. As a result, miners enjoyed an enormous variety of meat, not just venison, goat and elk, but everything from beaver to badger was consumed with whatever spices, side dishes and condiments happened to be at hand, usually salt, pepper and beans. Read More > at An Eccentric Culinary History

Most expensive Tahoe mansions for sale (Slideshow) – Top-of-the-line mansions in the Tahoe area may be a tad pricey, granted.

But look at it this way: At least you have some time to make up your mind. The most expensive homes in that neighborhood typically have been on the market for a year or more. Some have been for sale since 2011, according to listings on

Look through the slideshow for photos and details about the most expensive homes within a 20-mile radius of South Lake Tahoe.

The No. 1 entry on the list, a minimalist-inspired steel mansion that looks more like a starship than a house, has been listed for nearly four years.

Built in 2010, this house is relatively modest in size: four bedrooms and 8,694 square feet. Others in the top group of homes often are bigger — much bigger.

Fourteen of the top homes are on the Nevada side of the lake, most clustered in Crystal Bay, Glenbrook or Incline Village. On the California side, they are mostly sprinkled from Meeks Bay to Truckee. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

California Still Has Massive Obligations – …And that set off a predictable dustup last week over how to spend all this found money. Lawmakers approved a $117.5 billion general-fund budget, but Gov. Jerry Brown declared that a profligate impulse and wants to spend $2.2 billion less.

…Called Truth and Integrity in State Budgeting, the report is by the Volcker Alliance, headed by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker. The non-partisan alliance aims to keep state budgeters honest.

The report complimented California for improving generally and using better budgeting methods. But it went on to say: “The state is still saddled with $94.5 billion in bond debt supported by tax revenue, and it has amassed another $195 billion in unfunded promises to pay pension and other retiree benefits. … Further, California has a $64.6 billion shortfall in deferred infrastructure maintenance.”

As for the point about deferred infrastructure, the Volcker report cited a 2013 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers that said 11 percent of the bridges in California are considered structurally deficient and close to 17 percent are considered functionally obsolete; 34 percent of the state’s major roads are in poor condition. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Solar minimum could bring cold winters to Europe and US, but would not hold off climate change – Over the past few decades, our Sun has been relatively active, giving off high levels of the solar radiation that warms the Earth. However, in recent years this peak activity has tailed off, prompting scientists to wonder if the Sun is heading into a period of lower output.

A new study says even if the Sun’s activity did drop off for a while, it wouldn’t have much impact on rising global temperatures. But it could mean a higher chance of a chilly winter in Europe and the US, the researchers say.

The Sun’s activity rises and falls on an approximately 11-year cycle, but it can experience longer variations from one century to another. Over the past 10,000 years, the Sun has hit around 30 periods of very high or very low activity – called ‘grand maxima’ and ‘grand minima’.

One of these occurred between 1645 and 1715, when the Sun went through a prolonged spell of low solar activity, known as the Maunder Minimum. This didn’t have much of an effect on global climate, but it was linked to a number of very cold winters in Europe.

In 2010, scientists predicted an 8% chance that we could return to Maunder Minimum conditions within the next 40 years.

But since that study was published, solar activity has declined further, and this likelihood has increased to 15 or 20%, says new research published today in open-access journal Nature Communications. Read More > at The Carbon Brief

Troubled Delta System Is California’s Water Battleground – …Casualties in this tug of war are counted in fallowed fields and the loss of species. And as the drought has intensified, so has debate over how the delta’s limited supply of water should be apportioned. Farmers in the Central Valley call it a “man-made drought,” complaining that water needed for crops is going to fish instead. This month, an environmental group filed suit against the state and federal governments, claiming that endangered species were being sacrificed to agricultural interests.

The big-dreaming politicians and land barons of the last century, who saw in the delta a promising water supply for an arid state, gave little thought to such concerns. Engineering — huge dams, massive tunnels, powerful pumps — could provide as much water as was needed, they believed, simply moving it from the north, where it was plentiful, to the drier south.

But the drought — not the last or the worst, if scientists’ predictions about the effects of climate change are any indication — has made it clear that imposing a human-engineered water system on nature carries risks.

And the delta, the nexus of competing interests, may carry a lesson for every part of this thirsty state:

“You can’t supply unlimited amounts of water to every person for every purpose,” said Phil Isenberg, vice chairman of the Delta Stewardship Council and a former mayor of Sacramento.

…They dammed rivers, so that water could be stored in the winter and released in the summer when it was needed most. And they installed pumps at the delta’s southern edge to lift billions of gallons of water up to the canals, pipes and tunnels that would carry it to customers as far south as Los Angeles. The 700-mile California Aqueduct defied gravity, carrying water almost 2,000 feet up over the Tehachapi Mountains.

The amount of water flowing south never reached the volume projected in the 1960s, when the State Water Project was championed by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Sr., the current governor’s father — a shortfall that has fueled tensions in the latest drought. And much of the water that would naturally flow into the delta is diverted upstream before it ever reaches the estuary. But the exports allowed farmers downstream to irrigate more fields and to plant them with crops like almonds that required more water.

The engineering of the waterways also put pressure on the estuary, however, lowering water levels and playing havoc with the tides. Read More > in The New York Times

The most annoying restaurant trend happening today – The other night I was eating a plate of noodles, and enjoying it. I was out to dinner with a friend, hunched over a meal we had been planning for weeks. The restaurant was newly opened and highly regarded. Life was good. And the food was great.

But then it happened. Again.

“Are you done with that?” the server asked, fingers already comfortable with the rim of my plate. “Can I get it out of your way?”

Yes, I had finished eating, because I am a vacuum; there was no food left in front of me. But my friend had not. His meal was only half-consumed.

“No,” I said. “We’re not done eating.”

Without my permission, restaurants have abandoned, or simply overlooked, a classic tenet of service etiquette (I’m talking about entrees, not the ubiquitous small plates, which demand a different etiquette). Rather than clear plates once everyone at the table has finished the meal, which has long been the custom, servers instead hover over diners, fingers twitching, until the very instant someone puts down a fork. Like vultures, they then promptly snatch up the silverware — along with everything else in front of the customer. If you’re lucky, they might ask permission before stealing your plate.

When a server clears a plate before everyone is finished, he or she leaves the table with a mess of subtle but important signals. Those who are still eating are made to feel as though they are holding others up; those who are not are made to feel as though they have rushed the meal. What was originally a group dining experience becomes a group exercise in guilt. Read More > in The Washington Post

Touching Someone Inappropriately on Subway or Bus to Come With One Year Jail Sentence for New Yorkers – Last week, the New York state legislature passed a bill enhancing the penalties for inappropriate touching “on a bus, train, or subway car.” Under the new rule, which has not yet been signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, anyone convicted may be fined $1,000 and sentenced to one year in jail or three years of probation.

Currently, “forcible touching”—which includes “squeezing, grabbing or pinching” someone’s “sexual or other intimate parts”—is a class A misdemeanor sex offense while “sexual abuse in the third degree,” defined as any “sexual contact without [another person’s] consent,” is a class B misdemeanor. As such, third-degree sexual abuse carries a maximum penalty of three months in jail and a $500 fine.

The new legislation raises miscellaneous “sexual contact”—defined as the “touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person not married to the actor for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party [including] the touching of the actor by the victim, as well as the touching of the victim by the actor, whether directly or through clothing”— from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor when it takes place on (public or private) buses and trains. “New Yorkers use public transit each and every day to get where they need to go,” said bill sponsor Aravella Simota (D-Queens), “and no one should be afraid of being inappropriately touched or groped against their will when they get on the bus, train or subway.”

…Semi-props to Bustle’s Emma Cueto, the only mainstream women’s blogger I’ve seen to so much as question how the law will play out in practice. “It’s worth wondering who will be targeted by such a law,” writes Cueto. “We have seen at least one case recently that suggests police in New York could use women’s concerns about men on the subway as a pretext for targeting men of color, which shouldn’t be how the law is used.” She’s so, so close to realizing that how a law should be used has nothing to do with how it will, which is sadly much more critical thought than the Jezebel crowd seems capable of. Read More > at Reason

List: California’s Most Drought Stricken Cities – The top-9 cities are also currently tops in the nation.

Pulling data from the US Drought Monitor, the collaborative project that tracks droughts across the country, 24/7 Wall St. aggregated data for large urban areas across the nation.

It found 9 California cities with substantial populations beat out all others. The Drought Monitor classifies drought on a five-level scale of intensity. D0, called “Abnormally Dry,” is where it begins as map areas are colored a bright shade of yellow. Colors then turn increasingly redder, ultimately reaching the ominous burgundy of D4, “Exceptional Drought.”

  • Currently, over 46% of the state carries the D4 rating.
  • 94% of the state falls within the monitor’s D2-D4 ratings.

The top-9 urban areas are as follows:

9. Bakersfield, CA

8. Sacramento, CA

7. Chico, CA

6. Lancaster-Palmdale, CA

5. Yuba City, CA

4. Fresno, CA

3. Modesto, CA

2. Merced, CA

1. Hanford, CA

For the complete report detailing each cities’ situation, see here. Read More > at California City News

California’s sinking terrain is costly – just ask San Luis Obispo – …Now, as the state faces another major drought, places across the state could endure a similar fate. California is sinking at a record pace as a result of overpumping groundwater, and it’s causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. It’s particularly bad around rural communities, where farmers, who use four-fifths of the state’s water, increasingly are turning to groundwater to keep their crops alive. With reservoirs and rivers running low, groundwater now accounts for about 60 percent of the state’s total water supplies. As the groundwater is removed, it leaves a void underground, and the soil sinks to replace it. Geologists call this subsidence. One report suggests that damage caused by today’s sinking could exceed a billion dollars.

But who’s at fault, and who is going to pay for California’s sinking bridges, cracking canals and buckling highways? It’s a question that was raised in a recent New York Times article, in which a prominent water attorney suggested that California might see its first lawsuit stemming from damage caused by subsidence.

…In 1987, California entered a near-historic six-year drought. Some cities were not prepared. And as officials scrambled to deal with water shortages, some turned to excessive groundwater pumping to deal with the shortfalls.

In San Luis Obispo, officials were in trouble from the start. Planners forecast the city’s water supply could sustain only a two-year drought before water levels would become critically low. They began looking for solutions. But in California, extra water is hard to acquire. So they got creative ­– and a bit desperate. They contemplated towing an iceberg from the arctic. They considered ordering a giant tanker ship filled with water. They even researched the controversial practice of cloud seeding, in which chemicals are sprayed into clouds to induce rainfall.

But after some discussion, city officials took little immediate action. They simply requested that people cut back on their water use and prayed the drought would end soon. It didn’t.

And this is where the expensive part comes in. After the Bear Valley Center began buckling, the property owners filed a lawsuit, Los Osos Valley Associates v. City of San Luis Obispo. In the October 1991 filing, the property owner blamed the city for the subsidence. Read More > at Reveal

2016 ballot a fight over everything – Bottled water, immigration, condoms, hospital fees, plastic bags, statehood, alimony – those are just a smattering of the issues on or trying to get on California’s 2016 statewide ballot.

There are 36 proposed initiatives that are either awaiting review in the Attorney General’s Office or are being shopped around California’s 58 counties for signatures.

Thus far, only two initiatives are on the November 2016 ballot: The referendum on California’s law banning single-use plastic bags and an initiative targeting hospital fees and Medi-Cal. Another measure, a constitutional amendment approved by the Legislature, appears on the June 2016 ballot. It would give lawmakers greater leeway in expelling and suspending errant members, an issue that developed after two senators were indicted on corruption and other charges.

…Louis Marinelli, an English language teacher, has introduced six initiatives with the goal of making California autonomous from the United States.

“We are a desirable place to live,” says Sovereign California volunteer Stuart Webb. “And the rest of the world views us in a different light than a resident of another state.”

…His other four initiatives would change the title of California’s chief executive from Governor” to “President,” end out-of-state donations to California elections, put the California flag above the U.S. flag, and tax bottled water as well as taxing companies that extract water in California for retail. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

Mexico to Overtake Russia by 2050 as U.S. Slides – Mexico and Indonesia will displace Russia and Italy among the top 10 economies in just 35 years’ time, with China, the U.S. and India taking the top three slots, according to forecasts by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The world’s most populous nation will overtake the U.S. as early as 2026 in nominal gross domestic product in dollar terms. India and China will each be richer than the next five nations — Indonesia, Germany, Japan, Brazil, and the U.K. — combined, representing “a scale of wealth relative to the rest of the top ten that is unique in recorded history,” according to the EIU.

In terms of per capita incomes, China is projected to almost catch Japan by 2050, and be just under half the U.S. level from 14 percent in 2014. India’s spending power will surge to about 24 percent of the U.S. consumer from just 3 percent, the EIU said. Asia will account for 53 percent of global gross domestic product by 2050, with Europe’s share declining, according to the EIU. Read More > in Bloomberg

Property owners prevail in raisin takings case – The Supreme Court has just issued its decision in Horne v. Department of Agriculture, the raisin takings case. As most observers predicted after the oral argument, the ruling is a victory for the property owners – a very important one.

Horne involves a challenge to the forcible appropriation of large quantities of raisins by the federal government. The forced transfer is part of a 1937 program that requires raisin producers, in some years, to turn over a large portion of their raisin crop to the government so as to artificially reduce the amount of raisins on the market, and thereby increase the price. Essentially, the scheme is a government-enforced cartel under which producers restrict output for the market so as to inflate prices. The Hornes claim that the appropriation of their raisins amounts to a taking that requires “just compensation” under the Fifth Amendment.

The Court ruled in favor of the property owners by an 8-1 margin on the most significant issue at stake: whether the government’s appropriation of the raisins is a taking. Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

This is an extremely important result, because it rejects the government’s dangerous argument that the Takings Clause offers less protection for personal property than for real property (the legal term for property in land), which had been embraced by the Ninth Circuit lower court decision. For reasons elaborated in detail in an amicus brief I joined along with other constitutional law and property scholars, the government’s position on this issue was deeply at odds with the history and original meaning of the Takings Clause. Indeed, as the Court notes, the Clause was adopted in part as a reaction to abusive British confiscation of personal property during the colonial era and the Revolutionary War. Read More > in The Washington Post

Blame umpires, not Tabata for Scherzer’s lost chance at perfection – Max Scherzer was robbed. It’s not often you can say that about a pitcher that just threw a no-hitter to pitch his team to victory, but it was true of Nationals ace Max Scherzer on Saturday. Scherzer had a perfect game through 8 2/3 innings when pinch-hitter Jose Tabata stepped to the plate to bat for reliever Vance Worley, representing the potential 27th out of what would have been just the 24th perfect game in major league history and first since Felix Hernandez’s in August 2012. True to form, Tabata came out swinging, fouling off Scherzer’s first two pitches to put Scherzer just one strike away from perfection. Trying to get the aggressive 26-year-old Venezuelan to chase, Scherzer threw a slider in the dirt and a 97 mile per hour fastball up out of the zone. Tabata took the first and checked his swing on the second to even the count at 2-2. He then fouled off three more pitches before Scherzer came back inside with a slider. Rather than evade the pitch, however, Tabata dropped the pad on his left elbow below his waist directly into the path of the pitch, breaking up the perfect game with a hit-by-pitch.

It shouldn’t have been allowed. Per Major League Baseball’s official rules, a batter is entitled to first base when “he is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless … the batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.”

Tabata not only made no attempt to avoid the pitch, he made a very deliberate attempt to be hit by it. For comparison’s sake, the image on the left below shows Tabata taking the slider inside for ball one earlier in the at-bat. The image on the right shows him being hit by the pitch. Note how Tabata is jumping back and out of the way of the pitch on the left, a motion which caused his upper body to drop slightly from his ready hitting position, but still left his elbow above his belt buckle. On the right, he is doing something different entirely. He’s sticking his padded elbow in the way of the pitch. Read More > in Sports Illustrated

Hayward May Seek Greater Campaign Finance Transparency – With an eye toward a likely contentious municipal election next year, the Hayward City Council is exploring a proposal, its backers say, that will bring greater campaign transparency to its city elections.

On Tuesday, Hayward City Attorney Michael Lawson detailed changes to the election code that could require candidates and independent expenditure committees to print the top four donors to its campaign on election materials, such as direct-mailers.

The plan is essentially the DISCLOSE Act, a noteworthy bill that stalled in the State Assembly last year, in part, due to opposition from labor unions. “It’s not necessary to be a policy wonk to understand the influence of money in politics at the national, state and local level,” said Lawson.

Hayward has stringent campaign finance rules already on its books. Candidates who accept spending limits can receive individual contributions up to $1,295 with a spending cap of $66,009. Those who do not can receive unlimited contributions, but only up to $250 per individual. Over the last decade, no candidate has declined to follow the voluntary limits, said Lawson.

Tuesday’s discussion was scheduled as a work session item, meaning no definitive action was made by the council. But there was a clear direction by the council to staff for greater scrutiny on the outside influence of special interest committees, an issue which will likely dominate the 2016 City Council elections featuring four at-large seats. Read More > at Public CEO

Gas-Guzzling U.S. Drivers Shock Even Analysts as Refiners Profit – Oil supplies are abundant. America’s refiners are running the hardest in 10 years. So why isn’t the country awash in gasoline?

It’s all going up in smoke.

Back in January, the Energy Information Administration forecast Americans would burn 8.71 million barrels of gasoline a day in the first quarter. They actually used 100,000 more than that to drive a record 720.1 billion miles. That’s about 3,900 return trips to the sun.

The thirst for fuel in the U.S. and abroad has been greater than analysts, including the EIA and Energy Aspects Ltd., estimated. It’s pushed pump prices beyond forecasts and extended the good times for America’s refiners who, thanks to the shale-drilling boom, are gorging on a type of crude easily refined into gasoline.

“The speed at which demand picked up surprised a lot of people, including even ourselves,” Robert Campbell, an analyst at Energy Aspects, a London-based consulting company, said by phone June 11. “We have been very positive on demand from the get-go and we were still a bit surprised by how quickly it came on.”

Retail gasoline in the U.S. rose 16 percent in the past two months to $2.802 a gallon on June 16, near the highest since November, data compiled by Heathrow, Florida-based AAA show. The motoring group projected in May that average prices would range from $2.55 to $2.75 this summer. Read More > at Bloomberg Business

Illicit drugs ‘rampant’ in California state prisons – California inmates are dying of drug overdoses at nearly triple the national rate and it’s unclear whether the tough steps state officials took this year to stop illicit drugs from getting into prisons are having any effect, though they are prompting criticism from civil rights advocates.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is spending $8 million this year on drug-detecting scanners and a new breed of drug-sniffing dogs while also employing strip searches on visitors suspected of carrying drugs.

Corrections officials believe the stepped-up efforts are discouraging smuggling, but the data that’s available so far doesn’t support that – more than 6,000 scans have been done on visitors and employees at 11 prisons since December without finding anyone with drugs.

The state doesn’t track if anyone has been arrested because of the dog searches and waited until mid-May to begin tracking the number of arrests made using any of the new procedures.

Meantime, criticism is mounting about false-positive results by the scanners and dogs that can lead to strip searches. Concerned lawmakers who oversee state prisons included language in the California budget plan passed this week that would end the searches and require an evaluation of the department’s other efforts. Read More > in the Associated Press

US home sales jump in May, average prices close to 2006 peak – More Americans bought homes in May, a sign of economic strength that is pushing up average prices.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that sales of existing homes climbed 5.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million. May was the third consecutive month of the sales rate exceeding 5 million homes, putting home-buying on pace for its best year since 2007.

Solid hiring since 2014 and relatively low mortgage rates have stirred up demand and helped generate more first-time buyers, though rising sales have fueled spiking prices because relatively few properties are listed for sale.

“We can credit that to the stronger job market, a more confident consumer” and some additional listings in an otherwise tight market, said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets. Read More > in the Associated Press

A Sea Change in Treating Heart Attacks – …With no new medical discoveries, no new technologies, no payment incentives — and little public notice — hospitals in recent years have slashed the time it takes to clear a blockage in a patient’s arteries and get blood flowing again to the heart.

The changes have been driven by a detailed analysis of the holdups in treating patients and a nationwide campaign led by the American College of Cardiology, a professional society for specialists in heart disease, and the American Heart Association. Hospitals across the country have adopted common-sense steps that include having paramedics transmit electrocardiogram readings directly from ambulances to emergency rooms and summoning medical teams with a single call that sets off all beepers at once.

From 2003 to 2013, the death rate from coronary heart disease fell about 38 percent, according to the American Heart Association citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the primary federal agency that funds heart research, says this decline has been spurred by better control of cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced smoking rates, improved medical treatments — and faster care of people in the throes of a heart attack. Read More > in The New York Times


About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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