Sunday Reading – 07/26/15


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.

Regulating Marijuana – In all likelihood, California voters will be asked to decide the legal status of marijuana on the 2016 ballot. Advocates of legalization are hoping to build on the momentum in four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) and the District of Columbia that made the recreational use of marijuana legal. Two national advocacy organizations—the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project—have made California a major focus for the 2016 election year.

Will a legalization initiative pass in California? Our May PPIC survey suggests that support is relatively high among likely voters: 56 percent said that marijuana should be legal. When we first began asking about legalization in May 2010, California voters were sharply divided. While support for marijuana legalization has fluctuated, since March 2014 we have seen an incremental trend toward support for legalization among likely voters. Among likely voters today, majorities of Democrats, independents, younger voters, and parents favor legalization. However, among some key electoral groups—including Latinos, Republicans, and older voters—legalization fails to get majority support. The success of any initiative aimed at legalizing the recreational use of marijuana is likely to depend on whether supporters can make inroads among these groups.

…Should an initiative pass, a significant degree of implementing legislation and regulation are likely to follow. In short, the devil is in the details.

These details may not only determine whether legalization is good public policy—they may also affect the electoral fortunes of any marijuana legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. In our March 2015 survey, Republican (51%) and Latino (56%) likely voters were among the most likely to say they would be bothered if a store selling marijuana opened up in their neighborhood. Similarly, in our May 2015 survey, Republican (58%) and Latino (55%) likely voters were among the most likely to say that they are very concerned about more underage people trying marijuana if it were made legal. The details of regulation and implementation are likely to play an important role in addressing some of these voters’ concerns. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Why aren’t more Americans working? – Has America entered a “new normal” defined by lower economic growth and declining workforce participation? Some evidence may suggest that is the case, but a closer look reveals it is too soon to make that claim.

The ongoing economic recovery from the recent recession remains about half that of past recoveries. Real gross domestic product growth is lethargic. The percentage of Americans participating in the workforce is the lowest it has been since the late 1970s. It takes almost twice as long for the unemployed to find work than it did before the recession, and those with jobs do not see raises as often as in the past.

…Federal agencies tracking economic and demographic labor trends did not predict the lasting impact that the recent recession would have on the labor market — a period marked by slower growth, lower productivity and declining entrepreneurship. During the hearing, Ms. Mathur cited reduced job mobility, the decline of middle-skill jobs and decreased job quality as the reasons for the decline. But the sluggish economic recovery is not the sole reason for low workforce participation.

Social and cultural trends affect work participation and have throughout history. There is a rising rate of single-parent families, who typically experience higher poverty rates than two-parent families. These factors contribute to the proportion of Americans presently out of work and merit larger discussions on poverty. Read More > in The Washington Times

Pee on these S.F. walls? Be prepared for them to pee back – Beware, public urinators, some of San Francisco’s walls now pee back.

Public Works crews have finished painting nine city walls with pee-repellant paint and more are in the works. The painted surfaces make urine spray right back onto the shoes and pants of unsuspecting reflief-seekers. It’s the city’s latest attempt to clean up urine-soaked alleyways and walls.

“We are piloting it to see if we can discourage people from peeing at many of our hot spots,” Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru said. “Nobody wants to smell urine. We are trying different things to try to make San Francisco smell nice and look beautiful.” Read More > at SFGate

Voters: Many just can’t be bothered – We Californians justifiably become excited about our many remarkable achievements: we make terrific movies; Silicon Valley leads the planet in technological innovation; our traffic jams are world class.

But when it comes to voting, we give a statewide shrug.

A mere 42.2 percent of registered voters — registered voters — bothered to cast ballots in the November 2014 general election. Los Angeles County bottomed out statewide with a turnout of 31 percent. It gets even worse: The June 2014 turnout was 25.2 percent.

…One of the salient features of Californians’ lack of enthusiasm for voting is the abysmal turnout among Latinos.

California’s Latino population grew by 33 percent between 2000 and 2012, three times the state’s overall growth of 11 percent during the same period, reports the Public Policy Institute of California. Latinos recently became the state’s single largest ethnic group, with 38.6 percent of the population. But they represent only 19. 6 percent of California’s registered voters.

An analysis by political data guru Paul Mitchell found that a mere 28 percent of those registered Latino voters voted in the 2014 general election in California. Thirty-seven percent of registered Asian-Americans voted, as did 32 percent of registered African-Americans and 49 percent of white voters.

Political strategists realize that Latinos are a sleeping lion, but the lion has snoozed for decades, and shows little sign of waking up anytime soon, despite the best efforts of many. The Latino share of California’s 2014 vote declined to 15.4 percent from 19.3 percent in 2012, according to UC Davis’s California Civic Engagement Project. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

My Free-Range Parenting Manifesto – …Actually, my message was—and is—this: Our kids are just as safe and smart as we were when we were young. There’s no reason to suddenly be afraid of everything they do, see, eat, wear, hear, touch, read, watch, lick, play or hug.

That idea runs smack up against the big, basic belief of our era: That our kids are in constant danger. It’s an erroneous idea that is crippling our children and enslaving us parents.

Luckily, there’s new pushback in the Capitol. Last week, Sen. Mike Lee introduced the first federal legislation in support of free-range parenting.

…For instance, thanks to a mistaken belief that “We can’t let our kids play outside like we did because times have changed!” only 13 percent of kids walk to school. One study found that in a typical week, only 6 percent of kids 9-13 play outside unsupervised. And Foreign Policy recently ran a piece about how army recruits are showing up for basic training not knowing to skip or do a somersault. It’s like they totally missed the physical, frolicking part of childhood—along with its lessons. How are they going to roll away from an explosion, or skip over a landmine? And then of course there’s the rise in childhood obesity, diabetes and depression.

That rise does not strike me as a coincidence. But here’s the killer irony: The crime rate today is actually lower than it was when we were growing up. (And it’s not lower because of helicopter parenting. We don’t helicopter adults and yet crimes against them—murder, rape, assault—are all down.) We’re back to the crime rate of 1963. So if it wasn’t crazy for our parents to let us play outside, it is even less crazy today. But gripped by the fear of extremely rare and random tragedies hammered home by a hyperventilating news cycle, we are actually putting our kids at risk for increasingly common health risks. Read More > at Politico

Despite All the Panic, Millennial Teens Have Much Less Sex Than Their Elders Did – According to popular culture, today’s teens are a bunch of “hookup”-scarred heathens, trapped in a sordid world of casual flings with one another and exploitation at the hands of online predators. In reality, teenagers today are having less sex than they have for decades. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the number of (unmarried) 15- to 19-year-olds who’ve had sex dropped by 14 percent for girls and 22 percent for boys in the period between 1988 and 2013.

As of 2011-2013, 44 percent of teen girls surveyed and 47 percent of teen boys said they had sexual intercourse—compared to 51 and 60 percent, respectively, of their 1988 counterparts. Or, to put it another way, 4.3 million millennial girls and 4.8 million boys, compared to 5 million and around 6.15 million in the late ’80s. Congratulations, last of the Gen X’ers: you are better than the youngest of the millennial cohort at getting laid.

But kids these days are better about practicing safe sex: 79 percent of the girls surveyed and 84 percent of the boys said they had used some sort of contraceptive method the first time they had sex, with condoms ranking the most popular. In 1988, only 71 percent of male teens and 69 percent of female teens used contraception when they first had sex. Read More > at Reason

Arrest made in fatal shooting of Hayward police sergeant – Fellow officers are remembering a fallen comrade after a veteran Hayward police sergeant was shot and killed in cold blood. Officials say a suspect with gang affiliations has been placed under arrest.

A clearly emotional Hayward Police Chief Diane Urban spoke of the tremendous loss her department has suffered in the 48-year-old Brentwood resident’s death. And she confirmed that an arrest has been made in the sergeant’s murder.

“There really isn’t a whole lot of good news to share, other than that we have made an arrest,” she said. “We do have a suspect in custody. Mark Anthony Estrada. He turned 21 years old just four days ago.”

Urban says Estrada turned 21 years old just four days ago. He’s being treated at Highland Hospital in Oakland for wounds suffered in the overnight gun battle.

“There is no why,” said Hayward Police Chief Diane Urban. “It’s an absolutely senseless murder.” Read More > at ABC 7 News

Dear Nigel Richards, Please Try Romanian Scrabble – The legend of the world’s best Scrabble player continues to grow. On Tuesday, Nigel Richards — who can already claim eight English-language U.S. and world championship trophies, the most famous beard on the competitive circuit, and a per-game average of about 450 points — captured the French-language championship in Belgium.

And he doesn’t even speak French. Quelle surprise!

Despite the media frenzy about the victory yesterday, his win is less surprising than it sounds. Many great English-language players — including many from Thailand, like Panupol Sujjayakorn and Pakorn Nemitrmansuk — aren’t fluent in English. For them, words are more strings of letters that score points than meaningful units of language. More amazing than Richards not speaking French is just how little time he spent with the French dictionary — he reportedly took only nine weeks before the tournament to memorize nearly 400,000 words. (Memorizing all those words in that time would mean a new word every 14 seconds. And no sleeping.) I mean, c’mon, the guy clearly needs a real challenge. Richards needs to pick on a dictionary his own size.

…Despite frequent claims that it has the largest vocabulary of any language, English is actually pretty easy to learn, or at least English Scrabble is. Most of the English word-game dictionaries have less than 200,000 words. French is certainly “tougher” — its Scrabble dictionary has double that, with about 386,000. Tougher still, though, are Spanish, Romanian and Italian. The latter two have lists cracking half a million words. Read More > at FiveThrityEight

America has a Whole Lot Of Potentially Active Volcanoes – …Yellowstone and the Cascades do get a lot of the attention when it comes to North American volcanoes, but they are surely not the only places where we might find active volcanoes across the continent. Now, I can’t highlight all the “hidden” volcanic areas in the United States, but I will talk about a few gems that most people don’t realize are potentially active volcanic areas.

You wouldn’t think that a caldera — the largest volcanic landform created by an explosive eruption — could be a “hidden gem”. However, although many people have heard of Yellowstone or Long Valley, the Valles caldera in New Mexico is just as impressive as either of these behemoths. This caldera is part of a chain of geologically-young (less than 5 million years old) volcanic rocks across the Jemez Mountains. Valles had one of the largest known explosive eruptions in the last few million years.

…I’ve written about Clear Lake before in this space, but when people think about volcanoes in California, they tend to think of Shasta and Lassen and not this one in the middle of … wine country? Yet, there it is, in the Coast Range, a mere 150 kilometers (~94 miles) from downtown San Francisco. Clear Lake has produced a number of small explosive eruptions (maars) and one decently-sized ash fall. Konocti, last eruption ~11,000 year ago, sits on the shores of Clear Lake. Right now, the biggest hazard from Clear Lake is the constant seismicity that is a result of geothermal energy production. Although the last eruption from Clear Lake might have been thousands of years ago, the USGS considers its potential threat high. Read More > at Wired

Republicans open to new road fees — with strings attached – When the California Legislature reconvenes next month for a special session on road funding, Republicans will be in the front seat — because Democrats need GOP support to impose new taxes or fees.

Some Senate Republicans are open to raising costs on motorists, said Senate Republican leader Bob Huff. But Democrats must first agree to bureaucratic changes that will increase efficiency and redirect existing road funds back into transportation, he said.

“The money we are already paying in the system has to go to transportation,” said Huff, a San Dimas Republican. “If (Democrats) can’t protect revenues now, and any other revenues we generate for transportation, we’re not playing ball.”

Increasing the gas tax may be the most palatable option for the GOP, said Huff, since the tax – now about 48 cents when combined with the federal charge – hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s. Republicans do not have an appetite for increasing the vehicle license fee, he said. Read More > in the Sacramento Business Journal

California drought: High court hands setback to water conservation fight – Rejecting the pleas of California officials worried about water conservation, the state Supreme Court on Wednesday left intact a lower court ruling that makes it tougher for cities and water districts to impose punishing higher rates on water wasters.

In its weekly closed-door conference, the Supreme Court refused to soften the statewide impact of an April appeals court ruling that found the city of San Juan Capistrano’s tiered water rates — common in the Bay Area and elsewhere in California — were unconstitutional because they charged more for water than it cost the city to provide the service.

…But legal experts and water officials also say water districts will still be able to use the tiered rates if they can demonstrate they are closely tied to the cost of providing water services.

Amid the most severe drought in California’s 164-year history, Brown has ordered urban residents to cut water use by 25 percent statewide. One key tool that Brown had recommended was for local governments to set rate structures with higher “surcharges, fees and penalties” for people who use large amounts of water.

But that approach — conserve or pay a much higher water bill — was thrown into doubt by the 4th District Court of Appeal’s conclusion that such charges may violate Proposition 218, a 1996 ballot measure that barred governments from charging more for a service than it costs to provide.

The court did not invalidate the use of rate tiers entirely. It said, however, that cities and water agencies can charge more only if they can document that it costs them more to provide the extra water. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

New Antibody Fights Several Flu Strains At Once – Researchers have recently discovered a unique antibody that can kill several different types of the flu virus, which could help them develop more powerful flu shots, according to a study published today in Nature Communications.

Each autumn, everyone from your mom to your physician tells you to get a flu shot. That’s necessary because every season the flu virus mutates slightly and your immune system can’t quite identify it, which means that the virus has more time to infect you and make you sick. Of the three types of viruses, Influenza A can cause the most severe symptoms and can infect several different species, meaning that the virus can “jump” from animals like pigs or birds to humans. Flu vaccines effectively give your immune system a “wanted” poster based on researchers’ best predictions for the mutation that year. The goal is that, when the virus arrives, antibodies will be able to bind to the virus and kill it before it can infect you.

But this new antibody, called CT149, works differently. Normally, antibodies can only stop one virus strain from replicating by preventing it from infecting a normal cell. But CT149 binds to a different area of the cell membrane called the hemagglutinin stem region. This has the same effect–the virus is unable to bind properly to the host cell to infect it–but, unlike typical antibodies, can stop more than just one strain of flu virus. Read More > at Popular Science

Hanoi’s Capitalist Revolution – After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, Hanoi, capital of a now-unified, Communist Vietnam, was a bombed-out disasterscape. Residents lived under an egalitarian reign of terror. The grim ideologues who ran the country forbade citizens to socialize with or even speak to the few foreign visitors. People queued up in long lines past government stores with bare shelves to exchange ration coupons for meager handfuls of rice. The only traffic on the street was the occasional bicycle.

Since then, however, Hanoi has transformed itself more dramatically than almost any other city in the world. Today, the city is an explosive capitalist volcano, and Vietnam is rapidly on its way to becoming a formidable economic and military power.

…The advocates of change won the argument, and in 1986, the government officially abandoned Marxist-Leninist economics and announced the Doi Moi reforms, defined as an attempt to create a “socialist-oriented market economy.” Presumably, party leaders left the word “socialist” in there because they were embarrassed by Marxism’s failures and couldn’t admit that they’d been wrong. Or perhaps they feared that their remaining supporters were allergic to the word “capitalism.” No matter. Vietnam officially junked Communism a mere 11 years after imposing it on South Vietnam.

State subsidies were abolished. Private businesses were allowed to operate again. Businessmen, investors, and employees could keep their profits and wages. Farmers could sell their produce on the open market and keep the proceeds instead of giving them up to the state. The results were spectacular. It took some time for a middle class to emerge, but from 1993 to 2004, the percentage of Vietnamese living in poverty dropped from 60 percent to 20 percent. Before Doi Moi, the command economy contracted, and inflation topped out at over 700 percent; it would eventually shrink to single digits. After years of chronic rice shortages, Vietnam became the world’s second-largest exporter of rice, after Thailand. Progress hasn’t slowed. In 2013, Vietnam’s economy grew by 8.25 percent. “The number of malls, shopping districts, and restaurants is amazing compared with when I was a kid,” says motivational speaker Hoan Do. “Eighteen years ago, the entire country was broken down. There was hardly any technology, but now even poor people can go to an Internet café and log on to Facebook and YouTube.” Read More > at City Journal

Dunkin’ Donuts plots more Bay Area locations – Several months after bakery giant Dunkin’ Donuts revealed that it would be making its debut in the Bay Area, the popular chain has signed on another franchise group to expand its Bay Area presence.

New franchise group Shiva Developments, led by existing Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee Nick Bhatt alongside his partners — sister and brother-in-law Disha and Yogesh Tivedi — plan to develop at least nine new restaurants in San Francisco and the surrounding cities. The restaurants will land in Vallejo, Benicia, San Rafael, Novato, and throughout the Napa, Sonoma and Santa Rosa areas.

The group’s first restaurant in California is planned to open in 2017. Bhatt said he hopes it will be located in American Canyon, but doesn’t yet have leases signed. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

US home sales surge in June to fastest pace in 8-plus years – Americans bought homes in June at the fastest rate in over eight years, pushing prices to record highs as buyer demand has eclipsed the availability of houses on the market.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that sales of existing homes climbed 3.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.49 million, the highest rate since February 2007. Sales have jumped 9.6 percent over the past 12 months, while the number of listings has risen just 0.4 percent.

Median home prices climbed 6.5 percent over the past 12 months to $236,400, the highest level reported by the Realtors not adjusted for inflation.

Home-buying has recently surged as more buyers are flooding into the real estate market. Robust hiring over the past 21 months and an economic recovery now in its sixth year have enabled more Americans to set aside money for a down payment. But the rising demand has failed to draw more sellers into the market, causing tight inventories and escalating prices that could cap sales growth. Read More > in the Associated Press

How a defector from North Korea realized almost everything she learned about her country was a lie – …The woman was raised in a relatively privileged manner, a middle-class existence because of her stepfather’s job with the North Korean military, but even so she attended her first public execution at the age of seven — a stark lesson in obedience.

Seeing a man hanged under a railway bridge — one of many such public executions that are mandatory for people to see, she says — was only one of the grotesque means of control the regime waged against its citizens.

As in many authoritarian countries, for example, Lee’s family displayed portraits of the ruling family in their home, first Great Leader Kim Il-sung, then his son and heir Dear Leader Kim Jong-il and, later, his son and heir Kim Jong-un. The government gave them a special cloth for cleaning the portraits and nothing else. The pictures had to be the most prominent in any room, hung the highest, perfectly aligned and on a wall containing no other adornment.

Once a month, Lee says, officials wearing white gloves would visit every house in her neighbourhood to inspect the portraits. If one was dusty or improperly hung, the family would be punished. It was with the portraits, one under each arm, that her stepfather emerged — blackened and coughing — after running back into their burning house, risking his life for their preservation. Read More > in the National Post

The Mall Rises Again – …Roughly 1,500 malls were built from the mid-1950s to 2005. “Shopping plazas sprouted like well-fertilized weeds,” said urban historian Thomas Hanchett, thanks in part to generous changes to the tax code. At their peak in the mid-1990s, malls were popping up at a rate of 140 a year. Culturally, the mall gave two generations their memories of youthful independence. The children and grandchildren of the Baby Boom met up with their friends, watched movies, snacked on soft pretzels, and pursued faint flickers of romance.

But as with some memories, time hasn’t been kind. Many of today’s shopping malls maintain a ghostly presence on the fringes of America’s urban spaces. Nearly 15 percent of malls are between 10 and 40 percent vacant, up from just 5 percent in 2006. Another 30 million square feet of mall retail space are in the throes of what real estate analyst D.J. Busch of Green Street Advisors terms a “death spiral.”

Shoppers are increasingly making purchases from home; Internet sales reached 6 percent of total retail spending in the fourth quarter of 2013, nearly doubling their share from 2006. Many parts of America are “over-malled,” suffering from nineties-era overbuilding that left a glut of retail space that’s hard to fill. Older malls are feeling the pinch. Though the bulk of shopping malls remain healthy to an accountant’s eye, they’re fast becoming cultural dinosaurs. Many shoppers feel alienated by their concrete brutalism and aging, introverted atmosphere. “Within ten to fifteen years,” says mall developer Rick Caruso, “the typical U.S. mall, unless it is completely reinvented, will be a historical anachronism—a sixty-year aberration that no longer meets the public’s needs, the retailers’ needs, or the community’s needs.”

…Many of these shopping centers are ideal sites for transit-oriented, mixed-use developments that include housing, retail, office, services, and public space. Infusing malls with new life means following a few basic ideas. Outward-looking shop fronts will need to be carved into malls’ blank faces. Large parking lots will have to be replaced by regularized street patterns that connect with surrounding communities. Mixed-used developments around the mall should sit flush with roads and offer residents and shoppers walkable, public spaces. Non-retail activity, such as office space and housing, will need to be integrated directly into malls. Read More > at City Journal

UNC researchers: Drug cocktails can stop sexual transmission of HIV – Groundbreaking research conducted at UNC-Chapel Hill has demonstrated that potent drug cocktails can disable HIV to the point that the deadly virus can’t be transmitted to other people through sexual activity.

The findings were announced Monday by AIDS researcher Myron Cohen at the eigth International AIDS Society Conference in Vancouver, Canada. Cohen, UNC’s chief of the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases, has headed the global research project for a decade and studied more than 1,700 couples.

The significance of the research findings is that AIDS medications, when used consistently, can break the chain of HIV transmission, with the potential to eradicate the virus when all infected people die natural deaths. For the foreseeable future, however, such a medical strategy will disproportionately benefit industrialized countries whose residents have wider, though far from universal, access to modern health care.

The landmark study, financed with more than $100 million in federal research grants, confirmed initial results reported in 2011 and demonstrated that AIDS medications known as antiretroviral therapy, or ART, can suppress the virus for years. The virus can reemerge if the patient stops taking the medicine, but as long as it’s suppressed, the virus essentially is harmless and most patients can lead normal, healthy lives. Read More > in The News and Observer

Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway — With Me In It – I was driving 70 mph on the edge of downtown St. Louis when the exploit began to take hold.

Though I hadn’t touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system. Next the radio switched to the local hip hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. I spun the control knob left and hit the power button, to no avail. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass.

As I tried to cope with all this, a picture of the two hackers performing these stunts appeared on the car’s digital display: Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, wearing their trademark track suits. A nice touch, I thought.

The Jeep’s strange behavior wasn’t entirely unexpected. I’d come to St. Louis to be Miller and Valasek’s digital crash-test dummy, a willing subject on whom they could test the car-hacking research they’d been doing over the past year. The result of their work was a hacking technique—what the security industry calls a zero-day exploit—that can target Jeep Cherokees and give the attacker wireless control, via the Internet, to any of thousands of vehicles. Their code is an automaker’s nightmare: software that lets hackers send commands through the Jeep’s entertainment system to its dashboard functions, steering, brakes, and transmission, all from a laptop that may be across the country. Read More > in Wired

Weather Forecasting Enters a New Era – Solar power was the fastest-growing form of electricity generation in the United States in 2014. As renewable energy continues to expand, demand is growing for a better way to predict just how much power from these intermittent sources will be available for the grid.

IBM shared new details last week on its program to harness powerful computers to forecast weather and other factors that determine the output of solar and wind installations. Using machine learning and advanced data analytics, IBM is making an aggressive push to give utilities, plant managers, and grid operators clearer guidance on what their arrays will put out today, tomorrow, next week, and even months from now.

At last week’s European Control Conference in Linz, Austria, scientists from IBM and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) said they will make the forecasts available, free of charge, to users across the continental United States.

Solar and wind forecasts produced by IBM’s technology are as much as 30 percent more accurate than conventional forecasts, according to Hendrik Hamann, a research manager at IBM. Such precision could make it possible to avoid generating hundreds of megawatts of excess power every year and reduce the need for new “peaker” plants to supply power in times of peak demand, potentially lowering carbon emissions and saving utilities and ratepayers millions of dollars. An NREL study of the independent system operator for New England found that making solar forecasting 25 percent more accurate would offer potential cost savings of $46.5 million a year across the region. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

$1.5 Million Fine Proposed For Water Diversion In Drought – California water regulators are taking steps to stop illegal water diversions by irrigation districts with some of the oldest water rights.

The latest action proposes the largest penalty against a district since the drought began.

The State Water Resources Control Board claims the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District illegally diverted water from a pumping plant for 12 days after the board announced water cuts. It proposes a $1.5 million fine.

“Byron-Bethany was very publicly stating that it wasn’t going to stop diversions, which as you can imagine draws attention of the regulators,” says Andrew Tauriainen, an attorney with the Division of Water Rights.

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District, located near Tracy, is a senior water right holder that is also suing the state over water cuts.

…In a statement, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District called the board’s action a “brazen abuse of authority,” and an “unprecedented retaliatory action” for its lawsuit. The BBID says it will request a hearing before the water board. Read More > a Capital Public Radio

Sacramento County Supervisors: Marijuana Cultivation is Water Waste – Violators of Sacramento County’s regulations on indoor marijuana cultivation will face even steeper fines following a vote by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. That’s because the board has decided to revise the county’s water code and declare marijuana cultivation a form of water waste.

“According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a single marijuana plant uses an average of six gallons of water per day during the growing cycle,” said Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan, who introduced the proposal. In light of the state’s ongoing drought, she said it’s important to curb that waste.

The rule goes into effect in 30 days. Those who cultivate more than the legal limit of nine plants could face additional fines of up to $500 per day. That’s $500 for water waste on top of the existing $500 fines for violating the cultivation rules.

Some residents complained that the changes unfairly target medical marijuana users.

The code applies to households under the Sacramento County Water Agency area jurisdiction. Most cities within Sacramento County have ordinances of their own governing marijuana cultivation. Outdoor cultivation is already banned in unincorporated areas under restrictions approved last year. Read More > at California County News

Commentary: Can California Find a Way Out of Its Pension Calamity? – The longer you wait to solve a problem, the more painful the fix becomes. Californians are being reminded of that simple truth as their leaders attempt to grapple with the state’s snowballing public-pension woes.

As of late last year, California’s 130 public-pension systems had a combined unfunded liability of an estimated $198 billion. In 2003, the figure was $6.3 billion. That’s an increase of more than 3,100 percent in just over a decade.

In the latest effort to turn those shocking numbers around, a bipartisan group of California pension-reform advocates is trying to get an initiative called the Voter Empowerment Act onto the ballot. It would amend the state constitution to require voter approval for defined-benefit pensions for new public employees, any enhancements to current employees’ pensions, and establishment of any pensions in which government subsidizes more than half of a public employee’s retirement benefit.

…By applying mostly to new employees, the Voter Empowerment Act is designed to get around the so-called “California rule,” which grew out of court cases dating back to 1955 and is followed by a handful of other states. The California rule provides not only that public employees have the right to the amount of the pensions that they have already earned but that they also have the right to continue earning pensions based on rules that are at least as generous. The only provision of the Voter Empowerment Act that would impact current workers is the requirement that voters approve any pension enhancements. Read More > at Public CEO

Death business expands into hosting weddings, other events – Funeral homes aren’t just for funerals anymore. Businesses that once focused almost entirely on honoring the dead are now open to an array of events as they seek to add revenue.

Cemetery and funeral home operators say they’re being squeezed as more people favor simpler, less expensive funeral services. Their businesses also are being pressured by the growing popularity of cremations, which can bring in less than half the revenue of a traditional casket burial.

Cremations are expected to become the most common form of body disposition nationally in a few years, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

Funeral home operators also say there’s a need in their communities for locations that can host weddings or other big events, and people are no longer hung up on their main business.

Declining membership in churches and civic organizations also may be boosting demand for nontraditional venues for weddings and receptions.

As a result, funeral homes and cemeteries nationwide have been marketing their properties for an array of uses. Nearly 10 percent of 280 respondents to a National Funeral Directors Association survey last year said they built a community center to host other events. That’s up from 6 percent in 2011. Read More > in the Associated Press

The Incredible Disappearing American-Made Car – It used to be easy to buy an American car: You’d go to the lot, pick out a vehicle built by the Big Three and drive home confident that you’d made the patriotic choice.

These days, it’s much more complicated. One of the Big Three is no longer headquartered in America, and the vast majority of their cars are built from imported parts. It’s tough to pin down the nationality of a Chrysler which is now owned by an Italian company headquartered in the United Kingdom.

The recently released 2015 American-Made Index from Cars.com, which ranks cars with at least 75 percent domestic content, has just seven cars on it. That’s down from 29 cars five years ago.

The top-ranking vehicle, the Toyota Camry, may be made by a Japanese manufacturer, but it rolls off of assembly lines in Georgetown, Ky., and Lafayette, Ind.

Those “non-American” cars are a major factor in the U.S. economy. Japanese car manufacturers and dealers were responsible for 1.36 million job in 2013, 10 percent more than in 2011, according to a paper by Rutgers professor Thomas Prusa. Those jobs pay American workers more than $85 billion.

Japanese manufacturers aren’t the only foreign auto producers creating American jobs. BMW announced last year that it would invest a $1 billion in its South Carolina plant, making it its biggest factory in the world.

Nearly three-quarters of the cars produced at the BMW factory are sold overseas. U.S. auto exports in general are increasing. Last year more than 2.1 million American built cars were sold overseas, The Wall Street Journal reports.

…Consumers interested in learning where a car was assembled can check the VIN. If it starts with a 1, 4, or 5, you can be confident that auto was assembled in a U.S.-based plant. Read More > in The Fiscal Times

Help from firefighters could soon cost $250 in Long Beach – Needing medical attention from Long Beach firefighters could soon cost you extra cash.

The City Council will consider a proposal Tuesday to allow the Long Beach Fire Department to charge a $250 “First Responder Fee” to patients who are medically evaluated and treated by personnel on a first responding fire unit. Patients would be billed directly for the services unless they have medical insurance.

According to a staff report, the amount would be separate, and in addition to, current ambulance transport fees. It is intended to recover the cost of personnel, equipment, medical supplies and administrative work.

An estimated $1.8 million would be collected by the new fee annually and go into the general fund, the report said. Billing and collection would cost $200,000, leaving a net $1.6 million. It was unclear if the revenue would be used within the Fire Department, but the general fund is used for the city’s everyday expenses such as public safety, parks, libraries and maintenance. Read More > in the Long Beach Press Telegram

Reflecting populism born of frustration – There is a disturbance in American politics. But no one in the political class seems to be pinpointing the correct source.

Donald Trump gets all of the credit for it from journalists, pundits and academics. They could not be more wrong.

They are looking only at the surface, seeing the response to his harangues as an affirmation of the man. If they looked beyond the cartoonish image of Trump, they would understand that the true disturbance is the frustration of Americans, not the bluster of one man.

…Americans are just tired of it all. Tired of no one speaking honestly to them, tired of being told they cannot speak honestly.

Think about this: For two administrations, Democrats, Republicans and independents effectively have been told to hold their tongues. During the Bush administration, you were unpatriotic if you criticized the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; during the Obama administration, you’re a racist if you criticize the president or his policies.

And don’t even think about expressing your values if those are outside the elite’s standard of everyone deserving equality and fairness (unless, of course, you disagree with that elitist viewpoint, in which case hatred and character destruction are your reward).

…Donald Trump is going nowhere in this election cycle; neither is Bernie Sanders. But there is nothing wrong about the nomination races being a spectacle right now, because it demonstrates the volume of unrest among people looking for leadership.

Populism is lightning in a bottle. It is always bottom-up and always about people looking for a leader, not a circus barker leading a parade of tigers and jugglers on a small-town promenade.

Trump and Sanders are reflections of the unrest, not the leaders we are seeking. Read More > in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Vandals keep snipping fiber optic cables in California with impunity – Vandals snipped another fiber optic cable line in the San Francisco Bay area this week, the 12th incident of its kind in the region over the past year.

The latest attack occurred in the San Joaquin Valley town of Stockton, disrupting Internet, mobile phone, and 911 service for tens of thousands of AT&T and Verizon customers in three counties east of San Francisco. Service was restored about a day after the Tuesday incident.

The FBI, which is investigating the attacks, has not stated a motive, but it said the attacks usually occur in remote areas where there are no surveillance cameras. The initial attacks on California telecommunications lines began in July 2014. Whoever is responsible appears, for the moment, to be operating with impunity.

AT&T said in a statement that the damage occurred to “1,200 feet of a fiber run that required 192 pairs of fiber to be re-fused. That’s a ton of capacity. So this was a major trunk and 1,200 feet of it was damaged.” Read More > at Ars Technica

It’s not Dixie’s fault – The tragic Charleston, S.C., church shooting, in which nine black worshipers were killed, allegedly by a Confederate-flag-supporting white supremacist, has unleashed a new battle over Southern culture. Confederate monuments have been defaced; leaders have demanded that emblems of the Confederacy be erased from license plates and public parks; schools in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama are struggling to defend their “rebel” mascots. Most predictably, pundits have renewed their characterization of Southern states as the ball and chain of America. If all those backward rednecks weren’t pulling us down, the story goes, the United States would be a progressive utopia, a bastion of economic and racial equality. “Much of what sets the United States apart from other countries today is actually Southern exceptionalism,” Politico contributor Michael Lind wrote this month in an essay called “How the South Skews America.” “I don’t mean this in a good way.”

…This time, in the wake of the church shooting, the states of the old Confederacy have become a national scapegoat for the racism that underpinned the massacre. If only they would secede again, Lind and others suggest, the nation would largely be free from endemic prejudice, zealotry and racist violence.

…If, somehow, the South became its own country, the Northeast would still be a hub of racially segregated housing and schooling, the West would still be a bastion of prejudicial laws that put immigrants and black residents behind bars at higher rates than their white neighbors and the Midwest would still be full of urban neighborhoods devastated by unemployment, poverty and crime. How our social problems manifest regionally is a matter of degree, not kind — they infect every region of the country.

…In fact, many of the racial injustices we associate with the South are actually worse in the North. Housing segregation between black and white residents, for instance, is most pervasive above the Mason-Dixon line. Of America’s 25 most racially segregated metropolitan areas, just five are in the South; Northern cities — Detroit, Milwaukee and New York — top the list. Segregation in Northern metro areas has declined a bit since 1990, but an analysis of 2010 census data found that Detroit’s level of segregation, for instance, is nearly twice as high as Charleston’s.

The division between black and white neighborhoods in the North is a result of a poisonous mix of racist public policies and real estate practices that reigned unchecked for decades. Until the mid-20th century, federal homeownership programs made it difficult for black Americans to get mortgages and fueled the massive growth of whites-only suburbs. Real estate agents openly discriminated against black aspiring homeowners, refusing to show them houses in predominately white communities. Read More > in The Washington Post

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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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