Sunday Reading – 10/11/15


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 median two-bedroom apartment in S.F. now costs $5,000 a month – A median two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco now rents at $5,000 a month, one-third pricier than the runner-up New York City, according to the rental website Zumper.

The dubious – and cringeworthy – milestone makes a San Francisco two-bedroom nearly twice as expensive as other major cities like Boston, Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago. The cost of a two-bedroom in the city grew by 19 percent year over year.

A San Francisco one-bedroom costs $3,620, also the most expensive in the country.

Certainly, San Francisco’s housing crisis is complex – spinning out of control in part due to a history of underbuilding and a slew of high-paid jobs. As Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) real estate executive Jay Bechtel said this week, “Younger engineers will do anything to stay in San Francisco.” Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Contra Costa Times editorial: East Bay city attorney’s suicide raises questions about report – The suicide of Concord City Attorney Mark Coon has not only shaken City Hall to its core but also cast a bright light on disturbing questions surrounding the selection of a developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station land.

On Tuesday, Coon inexplicably left his office, drove to Walnut Creek and leaped from the third-floor ledge of a downtown parking lot. He leaves behind a wife, two school-age children and a shocked community of friends and colleagues.

Coon was regarded as a personable lawyer of high integrity, liked and respected in and outside the city. He had been completing a report on a city investigation into allegations of influence-peddling when he suddenly took his life.

His findings could have heavily influenced the City Council’s choice of a developer, a decision with potentially billions of dollars at stake.

Now Concord officials must hire an outside attorney, with no city ties, to complete the investigation, determine if the selection process was tainted and ascertain whether there was a connection between Coon’s report and his suicide.

There is currently no evidence of that connection. But the timing is too coincidental to ignore. The community deserves to know what, if any, political pressures he faced and what he was about to say. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

Why Do I Jerk Awake Right As I’m Falling Asleep? – You’re lying comfortably in bed, your heavy eyelids starting to close, when suddenly, you jerk awake, muscles tensed and gasping for air, because you feel like you just fell off a cliff. Then you look around and realize you’re safe at home before sinking back onto your pillow, where you either nod off without incident or lie awake all night, wondering: What was that?

There’s a name for this phenomenon: It’s called a hypnic jerk or sleep start. It’s a sudden increase in muscle activity that happens to just about everybody and can be quite literally startling, though the intensity depends on the person, says Carl Bazil, M.D. Ph.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at New York–Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

Some people just twitch and don’t wake up; it’s their partner who tells them about it later. Others actually cry out in fear, says Dr. Bazil, who’s also a professor of neurology at Columbia. Making a noise during a sleep start is likely associated with a visual component, like plummeting to your death, for instance. He says that experts don’t know the exact cause of sleep starts, but what seems to be happening is that there’s a neurological tussle between the brain systems that keep you awake and the ones that encourage you to fall asleep. Read More > at The Cut

The 9 Email Mistakes That Make People Ignore Your Messages – Despite the rise of social media, instant messaging, and all manner of apps, reports of email’s death have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, according to technology market research firm The Radicati Group, in 2015, roughly 2.6 billion people will use email—a number that will grow to more than 2.9 billion by the end of 2019.

“For most organizations, it’s the communication nervous system,” says business writer and communications consultant, Natalie Canavor, author of Business Writing for Dummies.

And, yet, that doesn’t mean we know how to use it well. Experts agree that email gaffes and annoyances still plague the workplace. But you can improve your email game by following these steps.

Mistake No. 1: Emailing Something That’s Better Expressed In Person
Before you start dashing off your missive, stop for a few seconds. Are you writing something emotional or complicated?

Mistake No. 2: Using a Vague Or Useless Subject Line
Don’t give people a reason to delete or ignore your message. Use your subject line to capture attention and be clear about the email topic

Mistake No. 3: Copying Too Many People And Hitting Reply All
Schwalbe also says it’s a good idea to establish some ground rules about who should respond to messages. Typically, a good rule of thumb is if you’re in the “To” line, feel free to answer. If you’re in the “CC” line, your response is not needed.

Mistake No. 4: Not Using A Salutation
If you’re the type to just dive into your message without the niceties of a “Hi Jim” or a “Good morning Mary,”

Mistake No. 5: Not Double Checking Grammar And Spelling
Yes, it really matters. A 2015 survey of HubSpot Sidekick readers found that 40% of people find bad grammar to be their number-one cold email pet peeve. Read More > at Fast Company

Harvard Was Schooled by N.Y. Inmates – Months after winning a national title, Harvard’s debate team has fallen to a group of New York inmates.

The showdown took place at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where inmates have formed a popular debate club. Last month, they invited the Ivy League undergraduates and this year’s national debate champions over for a friendly competition.

The Harvard debate team also was crowned world champions in 2014. But the inmates are building a reputation of their own. In the two years since they started a debate club, the prisoners have beaten teams from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont. The competition with West Point, which is now an annual affair, has grown into a rivalry.

…Against Harvard, the inmates were tasked with defending a position they opposed: They had to argue that public schools should be allowed to turn away students whose parents entered the U.S. illegally. The inmates brought up arguments that the Harvard team hadn’t considered. Three students from Harvard’s team responded, and a panel of neutral judges declared the inmates victorious. Read More > at U.S. News and World Report

El Niño: When will it start raining in California? – One of the strongest El Niño winters ever recorded since modern records first began in 1950 continues to grow in the Pacific Ocean, federal scientists reported Thursday.

So, with the likelihood for a wet winter increasing across drought-parched California, residents staring at empty reservoirs and dead lawns are asking: “When will it start pouring?”

The answer, experts said Thursday, is that winter storms in strong El Niño years typically bring more rain to California than normal, but they don’t do it any earlier.

An analysis of the five winters back to 1950 in which strong El Niño conditions similar to this year have occurred shows that in the Bay Area during those years, October has been only slightly wetter than the historic average. November has been nearly twice as wet in most. December has been oddly drier than normal in all five strong El Niño winters. And the bulk of the rain — the real downpours with high risk of floods and mudslides — have occurred in January and February. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Federal Bureaucrats Are Paid 78% More than Private Sector Workers – New data show that worker compensation is rising faster in the federal government than in the private sector. After rapid growth in federal pay during the George W. Bush years, growth slowed from 2011 to 2013 after policymakers enacted a partial freeze on federal wages.

That era of restraint is now over. The latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) show that wages rose 2.9 percent in the federal government in 2014, on average, compared to 1.7 percent in the private sector.

When benefits such as pensions and health care are included, federal compensation increased 2.8 percent, on average, compared to 1.3 percent in the private sector.

Federal civilian workers had an average wage of $84,153 in 2014, compared to an average in the private sector of $56,350. The federal advantage in overall compensation (wages plus benefits) is even greater. Federal compensation averaged $119,934 in 2014, which was 78 percent higher than the private-sector average of $67,246. Read More > at the Foundation for Economic Education

Housing crisis spurs fight over the soul of the S.F. Sierra Club chapter – As election season approaches, a pro-density housing group is trying to stage a coup at the Sierra Club, with accusations that the environmental group is blocking high-density housing and abandoning its mission of protecting the environment.

The San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, which has also threatened lawsuits to increase housing production, is trying to get five pro-density candidates elected to the Sierra Club’s San Francisco group executive committee, which is one of eight groups in the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter.

…Dewsnup also joined the Sierra Club in January 2014. He was alarmed by some of the group’s positions, including opposition to waterfront projects such as 8 Washington, as well as its support of the moratorium on new market-rate housing in the Mission. The Sierra Club calls the controversial moratorium a “pause” that would create time for a plan to promote more affordable housing in the area.

…SFBARF’s effort is part of a larger goal of creating more housing supply, even if some of it is expensive, rather than explicitly affordable.

The group is also moving to sue the East Bay suburb of Lafayette for pushing for a smaller for-sale real estate development instead of a larger apartment plan with 270 more units. A lawsuit would have to be filed by December, or 90 days after the city’s decision on the project.

The clash between SFBARF and the Sierra Club highlights the growing tension throughout the region over how much development should be allowed to address growing inaffordability. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Why California Should Position Itself as a Mecca for the Poor – Fresno regularly ranks as one of the poorest metro areas in the United States. So why do people keep moving there?

The short, if incomplete, answer: Fresno is in California. And there is something very different about our state’s poor cities.

In other parts of America, people have abandoned cities labeled poor—because of high poverty rates and low rates of education among residents—in big numbers. Detroit’s population fell from 1 million in 1995 to 688,000 today. Cleveland’s population dropped from 500,000 in 1999 to less than 390,000 today. Population declines have been seen in places like Buffalo, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Birmingham, and Toledo. I cut my teeth as a reporter at the Baltimore Sun, and my main job was watching people flee; Charm City’s population, once more than 900,000, is down to 620,000 today.

But in California, our poor cities don’t lose people. To the contrary, they are magnets, drawing new people and maintaining strong population growth. Fresno, our poorest large city, had 392,000 people in 1995 and 520,000 now. Bakersfield has grown from 185,000 in 1990 to 363,000 today. Stockton and San Bernardino grew in population, even as they slid into bankruptcy, and they’re still adding population post-bankruptcy. The dynamic extends beyond cities to rural places; California’s two poorest counties, Imperial and Tulare, have both doubled their populations since 1978.

…Poor people are leaving our expensive and crowded coastal counties—which now have the costliest housing and densest urban communities in the United States—in search of places where they can improve their standard of living, and find a home and space. The basketcase known as Los Angeles County—with its perfect storm of high poverty, high housing prices and lagging job growth—has become particularly adept at driving people away. While many coastal people leave the state entirely, many head, at least at first, to our inland cities.

There they are joined by migrants, some of them doing seasonal labor on farms, and Californians from smaller, rural communities who have come to places like Fresno and Stockton to attend college and find jobs.

There are many reasons to stick it out in these parts of California, rather than to leave the state. While California higher education has become costly, our universities and community colleges still provide good value. If you’re poor, California offers services that are more generous than those of many other states. CalFresh (food stamps), CalWORKs (welfare for families with children), and the new state earned- income tax credit—in combination with federal tax credits, housing subsidies, supplemental security income, and free school meals—provide a cushion, and are credited with keeping the poverty rate from being even higher.

California’s poor cities also offer another amenity: warm weather. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Fifty-Six to Four: The Tears of a Sportsman – …With a single exception, every team that takes the field, the ice, or the court will end its season in disappointment. When the last shot is taken, when the last whistle blows, there will be just the one champion. That champion will dance and jump and hug and cry, overcome with the ecstasy of hard-fought triumph. But for every other team, the season that began with dreams of glory will end with the grim misery of having been tested and found wanting.

If the pursuit of glory is the only aim of sports, the sheer volume of grief at the close of every season would leave sports a monstrous barbarity, a grotesque mix of cockfighting and The Hounds of Zaroff, a blood sport practiced only by the desperate and the depraved. Decent people would recoil in horror at the thought that we would subject children to an activity that by design will leave many of them in tears. It would be denounced as voyeuristic, ritualized child torture, and there would be a national movement to see it banned forever.

It is precisely this thinking that has given rise to the now ubiquitous participation ribbon. Unable to see the true virtues of sports, transfixed by the transitory, but inevitable disappointment of the athlete in defeat, the well intentioned medicate away the sting of loss by recasting it as a perverse subspecies of victory. By cloaking failure in the trappings of glory, they reinforce in the child the adult’s secret belief that sports is about winning and that anything other than winning is unacceptable. The result is children who not only mistakenly believe they are winners, but mistakenly believe that a winner is the only thing it is okay to be.

But sports is not about victory. It is not about glory. The trophies and attaboys that you get for winning a title don’t make all the years of losing worth it. The brutal utilitarian calculus that pits the ecstasy of the winner against the accumulated grief of the many, many losers doesn’t add up; someone standing on the podium, smiling and contented, doesn’t offset the oceans of suffering that victory wrought. Not even close.

Sports is about adversity. Not about overcoming adversity, but about confronting it. It is about learning how to win with grace, but more importantly it is about learning how to lose without despair. It is about coming to realize that it is the effort, not the outcome, that makes us noble; that the more forlorn the hope, the sweeter the struggle. And it’s about knowing your daddy is going to take you for ice cream when it’s over, no matter what. Read More > at Ricochet

Water, Water, Everywhere—except for California; How the Golden State Is Coping with Its Drought – California, in case you haven’t seen or heard, is in the midst of a four-year drought. How bad of a dry spell, you ask? Actually, it’s an “extreme to exceptional drought”—meaning widespread water shortages in reservoirs, streams and wells, major crop and pasture losses, plus a need for water restrictions.

It’s not the first time California has faced such hardship. The Golden State endured a six year drought beginning in 1929, a two-year drought from 1976–1977, and another six-year “event” that ran through 1992.

But those occurred in a different California—with smaller populations and, one could argue, less political and social friction.

What the present drought does represent is one of those rare times—in a state with a diverse population and diverse interests—when misery and inconvenience transcends economics, social status, and geography.

…Quick fixes to ending the drought, it seems, are as sparse as rain itself. Ocean desalination, for example, has its own set of headaches (starting with energy costs). Dam construction is complicated by funding, environmental laws, and finding suitable areas to build (California’s ten largest reservoirs all were built from 1927–1979).

Now, some good news: California cities cut their water use by a combined 31% in July, exceeding Governor Jerry Brown’s statewide mandate to make do with at least 25% less (in June, the cities cut back by 27%).

The bad news: it remains to be seen if this is a sustainable trend. California apartment dwellers, for example, are notoriously loath to cut back on their water consumption (the threat of fines for water overuse seems to work better on homeowners and farmers than apartment renters, whose units are largely unmetered). Read More > in Eureka

California Governor Signs Bill Making Cheerleading A Sport – A bill co-authored by a San Diego assemblywoman to make competition cheerleading a high school sport was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Assembly Bill 949 requires the state Department of Education to develop guidelines, procedures, and safety standards with the California Interscholastic Federation for high school cheerleading no later than July 1, 2017.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said high school cheerleading has not enjoyed its own competition system like other high school sports. “Cheer athletes” and their teams are forced to rely on private businesses to run competitions, which can be prohibitively expensive for the athletes and their families, she said. Read More > at KPBS

The Coming Danger of the ‘Throw the Bums Out’ 2016 Election – Forget experience, policies, and ideology in the 2016 presidential primary fights, in both parties. Voters have less concern over those traditional priorities for candidates in exchange for another quality altogether – authenticity. While pundits bemoan the rise of political novices and demagogues who have enough of that currency to prosper, that shift comes from a rational reaction to American politics over the last generation, and both Democrats and Republicans alike share the blame for the shift.

In 2010 and again in 2014, Republicans won back control of Capitol Hill by promising not just to stop Barack Obama’s agenda but reversing it, even though simple majority control in Congress isn’t sufficient to do so while Obama remains president. The GOP overpromised and under delivered–a classic set-up for discouragement and backlash.

Democrats have not performed much better with their own base. Obama and the party’s leadership have sounded the usual progressive-populist alarms about Wall Street and supersized banks and corporations, but have done nothing to address those issues. The Obama administration has never prosecuted any corporate leaders over the financial collapse that led to the Great Recession, a point made by Ben Bernanke this past week, despite their fanning of Occupy Wall Street’s rhetorical flames.

Therefore, it’s not a big surprise to see people in both parties turn to outsiders, whether they’re named Donald Trump, Ben Carson, or Bernie Sanders. Voters are tired of hearing promises and heated rhetoric that turn out to be mere posing, and they want people who say what they think and mean. They crave connections to real people, not prepackaged politicians regurgitating focus group tested talking points. As one Wisconsin voter told me, “Bernie Sanders is connecting with people because he’s not flapping with the wind. We know what he believes. That’s important to a lot of people.” Read More > at The Fiscal Times

Why fantasy football is legal – Sure sounds like sports gambling, which happens to be illegal in every state except for Nevada.

But fantasy sports is perfectly legal.

The reason: a series of court decisions and a 63-word provision of federal law that classify fantasy sports as a game of skill.

For the most part, games of skill are allowed under federal law. Illegal gambling is considered to be a game of chance.

Fantasy sports works like this: Fans choose from real players in a draft or an online selection process to assemble a fantasy team. The players’ real-game statistics are compiled and compared to see whose fantasy team has done the best.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 specifically mentions fantasy sports as something allowed under the law, as long as people are not betting on the outcome of a single game or the performance of a single player.

Because fantasy sports “owners” must make decisions to pick multiple players for their teams, they are participating in a game of skill.

That legal status is unlikely to change.

Fantasy sports has grown into an estimated $1.5 billion industry. Many of the major media and Internet companies such as Disney’s ESPN unit, Yahoo and CBS have become major players in the business. Read More > at CNN Money

California governor signs aggressive climate change bill – California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an ambitious climate change bill on Wednesday, aiming to increase the state’s use of renewable electricity to 50 percent and make existing buildings twice as energy-efficient by 2030.

“The goal is clear, and California is in the forefront,” Brown said at a signing ceremony at the hilltop Griffith Observatory, where a hazy downtown Los Angeles provided the backdrop.

Brown tried for an even stronger measure that would have also directed state regulators to enforce a 50 percent drop in petroleum use in the next 15 years, but oil interests defeated that part of the package.

He characterized the loss as a short-term setback, and insisted that the world needs to wean itself off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

“What has been the source of our prosperity now becomes the source of our ultimate destruction, if we don’t get off it. And that is so difficult,” Brown said.

The Legislature approved the watered-down SB350 in the final hours of the legislative session on Sept. 11.

The measure does not specify how California will achieve these far-reaching goals, deferring the details to the state’s Air Resources Board, Energy Commission and Public Utilities Commission. The boards’ members are mostly appointed by the governor and have broad influence over the state’s economic life.

Lawmakers blamed a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign by oil companies, which raised fears of job losses, for defeating the petroleum reduction requirement.

Both houses are controlled by Democrats, but Brown accused Republicans of failing to take action to slow global warming. He recalled that Ronald Reagan was California’s governor when the state created the Air Resources Board in response to the smog in Los Angeles, and that President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act. Read More > in the Associated Press

For decades, the government steered millions away from whole milk. Was that wrong?  – …This year, as the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” undergoes one of its periodic updates, the federal bureaucrats writing them must confront what may be the most controversial and weighty question in all of nutrition: does the consumption of so-called saturated fats — the ones characteristic of meat and dairy products — contribute to heart disease?

It is, without doubt, an important question. Heart disease is the leading cause of mortality in the United States, and the federal government has long blamed saturated fats.

[Whole milk is okay. Butter and eggs too. What’s next — bacon?]

But the idea that spurning saturated fat will, by itself, make people healthier has never been fully proven, and in recent years repeated clinical trials and large-scale observational studies have produced evidence to the contrary.

After all the decades of research, it is possible that the key lesson on fats is two-fold. Cutting saturated fats from diets, and replacing them with carbohydrates, as is often done, likely will not reduce heart disease risk. But cutting saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats — the type of fats characteristic of fish, nuts and vegetable oils — might.

This shift in understanding has led to accusations that the Dietary Guidelines harmed those people who for years avoided fats — as instructed — and loaded up excessively on the carbohydrates in foods such as breads, cookies and cakes that were marketed as “low fat.” Read More > in The Washington Post

5 Ways Self-Driving Cars Will Upend the Economy – It won’t happen overnight, but the inevitable takeover of self-driving cars will change the economy in profound ways. The economics of driving reach into facets of life beyond who’s in control when we travel down the highway, from funding legal assistance for the poor to the design of whole cities. Here’s how.

The car that drives itself crashes itself, and the business of insuring against this inevitability is on the cusp of a gradual but major shift. Auto insurance revolves around liability. When Google’s autonomous cars crashed in testing on public roads, it’s always been the other driver’s fault. People brake check and zip across three lanes of traffic to avoid missing an exit. Self-driving cars don’t. That upends the insurance game.

…Our aggressive, impatient, or just plain dumb driving habits make local government a lot of money. In other words: Governments across the country count on our bad behavior behind the wheel to pay their bills. Speeding tickets alone send $6.2 billion into city, county, and state treasuries every year, and a fifth of American drivers contribute. Then there are red-light tickets, drunk driving tickets, and parking tickets. Breaking traffic laws is big business.

…Don’t expect to see a radical overnight change when it comes to the automotive interior, either. Even though robot drivers don’t need this stuff, early autonomous cars will still have the mechanical linkages necessary to let drivers steer, brake, and accelerate. That means steering wheels, pedals, and forward-facing seats. Once the machines really take over driving from humans and drive-by-wire control surfaces replace the old inputs, designers can arrange interiors in some pretty radical new ways.

…Yes, Google is a company that makes hardware as well as software products. It sells the Chromecast and the Nexus and now it builds self-driving cars. But make no mistake, Google is an advertising company. YouTube, Android, and the eponymous search engine exist to put people in front of ads, and to gather data for targeting those ads.

…Different cities devote wildly different amounts of land to parking. Houston’s downtown is made up of 25 percent off-street surface parking, while Washington D.C.’s is only 1.1 percent (a lot of D.C.’s parking is underground). Thus, a city like Houston has a lot to gain by eliminating a swathe of parking lots and freeing space up for retail, housing, and public parks.

How could self-driving cars help? Well, imagine a person driving to work or downtown for an afternoon. After they get out of their autonomous car, it could drive itself home or to some other designated parking area and then come back when they call for it. Read More > at Popular Mechanics

Teamsters attempting takeover of Contra Costa’s biggest union – Contra Costa County’s biggest union is fighting for survival against a takeover bid from the Teamsters.

Public Employees Union Local 1, which represents about 2,000 county workers, could lose many of its bargaining units to the labor powerhouse, which has also gone after public employees in other counties.

The union has fought off past takeover attempts, but it could be more vulnerable this time around after several years of employee givebacks and recent leadership turmoil.

On Thursday, Teamsters Local 856 announced it had collected enough signatures from a Local 1 bargaining unit representing licensed vocational nurses and aides to trigger a vote on which union they want representing them.

Local 1 is expecting the Teamsters to target more of their bargaining units, which represent librarians, custodians, carpenters, gardeners and child care workers. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

California Pension Reformers Split Initiative into Two – A ballot initiative introduced to try to restrain runaway public employee pension costs in California has been split apart and reintroduced as two new initiatives. Proponents plan only to collect signatures for one of them to get it on the 2016 ballot, but they’re going to see what Attorney General Kamala Harris does when she titles and summarizes each ballot initiative.

We’ve blogged before about the “Voter Empowerment Act of 2016,” introduced by former San Diego City Council member Carl DeMaio (a Republican) and former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed (a Democrat). The initiative would have required voter approval to put new government employees into pension plans (instead of 401(k)-style defined contribution plans) or to pay more than half of an employee’s retirement and health benefits.

When Attorney General Harris was handed the initiative to summarize prior to signature gathering, as required by law, initiative proponents came away very unhappy. Her summary (as it has in previous efforts) declared that the ballot initiative would “eliminate constitutional protections” for existing government employee protections, even though the ballot initiative is very clear that it would not alter existing pension agreements. Proponents argue that Harris’ wording is biased, and she’s trying to damage its chances of passage.

So, what they’ve done is gone back and write up two ballot initiatives. The Voter Empowerment Act of 2016 still exists, but it’s a bit streamlined. It would amend the state constitution to require a vote by citizens in any jurisdiction in order to add new employees to a defined benefit plan, and it would require a vote for governments to pay more than 50 percent of an employee’s benefits. That’s very similar to the previous act, but some other components have been stripped out. Read More > at Reason

It’s Becoming Springtime for Dictators – In a rare burst of independence and self-interest, the California Legislature, led by largely Latino and Inland Democrats, last month defeated Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to cut gasoline use in the state by 50 percent by 2030. These political leaders, backed by the leftovers of the once-powerful oil industry, scored points by suggesting that this goal would lead inevitably to much higher fuel prices and even state-imposed gas rationing.

Days later, however, state regulators announced plans to impose similarly tough anti-fossil-fuel quotas anyway. This pronouncement, of course, brought out hosannas from the green lobby – as well as their most reliable media allies. Few progressives today appear concerned that an expanding, increasingly assertive regulatory state, as long as it errs on the “right side,” poses any long-term risks.

Welcome to the new age of authority, in which voters’ mundane concerns are minimized, and the bureaucracy – backed by an elected executive – rules the roost, armed with full confidence that it knows best. Nor is this merely a California phenomenon. Rule by decree has become commonplace in Washington, D.C., as President Obama seems to dictate policies on everything from immigration to climate change without effective resistance from a weak Congress and a listless judiciary.

While no modern leader since President Richard Nixon has been so bold in trying to consolidate power, this centralizing trend has been building for decades. Since 1910, the federal government has doubled its share of all government spending to 60 percent and grows ever more meddlesome in people’s daily lives. Its share of GDP has now grown to the highest level since the Second World War. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Illegal batting no-call is latest proof that every play should be reviewable – The bottom-line takeaway from the NFL’s latest officiating debacle in Seattle is as crystal clear as the last one (see “Fail Mary”), even if Park Avenue is loath to admit it: The Hoodie is right, yet again. The league needs to make all plays subject to replay reviews in real time, while mistakes can still be corrected, and stop the charade of adding to the list of reviewable plays in a piecemeal, reactive fashion only after another obviously blown call has occurred and made a mockery of things.

That’s what Belichick, and others, have been in favor of for quite some time. I know, it’s painful for the league office to swallow anything too Patriot-centric these days, but swallow it they must. Just open up, and down it goes.

Getting the calls right while the game is still going on should be the league’s only goal here, and you could easily file this all under the heading of one of those vaunted integrity of the game issues that commissioner Roger Goodell cares so deeply about. Or are there still sections of the rule book that are more important than others?

The Lions got jobbed Monday night in Seattle, and that much isn’t open for debate. NFL director of officiating Dean Blandino has already admitted the illegal batting non-call that turned on a subjective judgment by back judge Gregory Wilson doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, or remotely pass the eyeball test.

But the league has put Wilson in position to be the sole arbiter of K.J. Wright’s intent by limiting the scope of reviewable plays, and that kind of powerful subjectivity has to end. Because the replay made it clear that it was as overt an act as an act can be on Wright’s behalf, and Wright said just that in the postgame, that he has been coached to bat the ball out of bounds on such plays. Read More > in Sports Illustrated

Soon, Power Will Be Delivered to Your Device by Air – …Sometime in 2016, Tesla’s other prediction—that it isn’t only possible, but commercially viable, to transmit power as well as information through the air, without wires—is expected to come true.

What is coming are hermetically sealed smartphones and other gadgets that charge without ever plugging into a wall. And soon after there will be sensors, cameras and controllers that can be stuck to any surface, indoors or out, without the need to consider how to connect them to power.

Wireless power will be, in other words, not just a convenience, but a fundamental enabler of whole new platforms.

…A typical smartphone might be able to charge quickly from a wall outlet putting out 5 watts, but if you can—as Energous claims—beam up to 2 watts of power over a distance of 10 feet, to a small radio antenna embedded in that phone, you can “trickle charge” it in a matter of hours.

If you think about how much time we typically spend in our offices and homes, this is a perfectly reasonable way to almost guarantee that we’ll never have a dead phone again, especially if our devices start charging automatically the moment we walk in the door.

Energous has shown off a workable demo, and Mr. Leabman says the company’s technology will be a mass-market product by the end of 2016 or early 2017.

Energous already has a patent on the idea of putting a power transmitter into the base of a light bulb, allowing its technology to cover an entire room, and putting out enough power that a device 15 feet away could absorb one watt. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Assisted Death Laws Won’t Make It Better to Die in the US – Some people just want to die. Not because they are trapped by depression, anxiety, public embarrassment, or financial ruin. No, these poor few have terminal illnesses. Faced with six months to live, and the knowledge that the majority of those 180 days will be bad ones, they seek a doctor’s prescription for an early death.

Soon, terminal patients in California will have that option. Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that allows doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs.1 Not surprisingly, this is controversial. Proponents believe the law will save diseased people from the worst days of their prognoses. Opponents say the law violates the sanctity of life, and can be exploited by ill-meaning family, physicians, and insurance companies at the patient’s expense.

But there’s a third group who believe this debate misses the real problem: that the American health care system is just an all around miserable place to die.

…Maynard’s broadcasted decision put the public behind California’s bill. Like the other states’ laws, it is modeled after Oregon’s, with some some add-ons meant to assuage opponents. California patients will have to request aid in dying three times instead of twice. “The physician who prescribes the medication must have a one-on-one conversation with the patient, to verify that it is their choice, and that no one is putting any pressure on the patient,” says Ben Rich, a lawyer and expert in end-of-life bioethics, from the University of California, Davis. And after ten years, the law will expire.

But for some in the palliative care community—the doctors, nurses, and caregivers that manage end-of-life care—the battle over aid in dying is a distraction from the real problems that dying people face. “I think it’s a moot debate that’s divorced from the reality of end-of-life care,” says David Magnus, a bioethicist at Stanford Medical School. That reality is clear in a report published last year by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science.

Titled Dying in America, it showed that patients often can’t get—or don’t know about—the type of treatment they actually need to be comfortable and pain-free in their final months, weeks, days, and hours. This is probably tied to the fact that America only has half as many palliative care physicians as it needs. Read More > at Wired

Can China solve California’s drought crisis? – The Energy Department announced a new multi-million dollar partnership Monday between California and China to tackle the effects of climate change and the state’s growing drought problems.

Monday’s announcement would require China to fork over half of the $50 million cost of creating the partnership, which will be used to develop novel technologies to allow power plants and other energy resources to reduce the amount of water used for cooling and energy production.

Power plants, even those that are renewable, require large amounts of water to operate. That has become painfully evident in California, which is experiencing several years of consecutive drought that is straining the hydro-electric dams it relies upon for its electricity.

A lead researcher for the partnership from the University of California says the new alliance with China “is particularly timely as it comes in the midst of an unprecedented drought in California.” The reseacher, professor Ashok Gadgil, said “we will be delivering important water technologies, data analyses and policies for the state, country and the world.”

The federally funded, five-year “international research consortium … tackles water-related aspects of energy production and use,” according to the Energy Department. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

The Coming Cultural Shift On Guns, Take 45 – The headline on the Daily Beast in the wake of the shootings at a community college in Roseburg, Ore., didn’t exactly come as a surprise. “The New Crusade for Gun Control: The Brady Campaign hopes we’re about to see a cultural shift in the debate over guns —and has a plan to capitalize on that change.”

What is somewhat surprising is that the press falls for this claim over and over again.

After every gun tragedy, gun control advocates talk about how this latest one is the one that will change American minds about the prevalence of guns in the U.S. And every time, journalists write about it as though it were a real prospect.

But then, sure enough, gun sales go up after each shooting, and nothing, or next to nothing, gets achieved.

After the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the press ran numerous stories about how the scale and horror of that tragedy opened the door to serious gun control laws.

The New York Times, for example, concluded that the massacre “appears to be profoundly swaying Americans’ views on guns, galvanizing the broadest support for stricter gun laws in about a decade, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.”

After spending zero time on gun control during his reelection bid, President Obama made it a top priority of his second term.

But a year after, a Pew Research Center survey found that attitudes were little changed from before the Newton killings. Obama’s plans had fizzled.

And now, a long-term Roper survey finds that public support for gun control laws is lower than it was in 1989, when 65% backed stricter laws. In fact, more now oppose stricter laws than support them. Read More > at Investors Business Daily

College football playoff race looks jumbled at midseason mark – College football coaches spend every August practice and the entire nonconference schedule hoping to coax and cajole their teams to perform at an optimal level known as “midseason form.”

Officially, we’ve reached that stretch of the 2015 season. Many of the nation’s FBS programs will play their sixth of 12 regular-season games this week, with No. 2 TCU (5-0), No. 23 California (5-0) and No. 11 Florida (5-0) adhering much closer to August blueprints than Texas (1-4), Nebraska (2-3) and Arkansas (2-3) heading into notable Week Six matchups.

Thus far, we’ve witnessed enough inconsistent performances from perceived frontrunners to realize there is no clear-cut, top team in college football at this juncture. No. 1 Ohio State (5-0) remains this week’s place-holder for the top spot, slightly ahead of TCU and No. 3 Baylor (4-0), based on Sunday’s updated polls.

But five different schools, including No. 9 Texas A&M (5-0), received first-place votes. Baylor got 10, second only to the top-ranked Buckeyes (38) among the top vote-getters. That tells you how wide open the national championship race remains.

The real story as we hit midseason involves the emergence of under-the-radar teams that deserve consideration as College Football Playoff contenders.

A show of hands, please, among honest fans who targeted Saturday’s matchup between Cal and No. 5 Utah (4-0) as a midseason showdown between the Pac-12’s last remaining undefeated teams. Yep, my hand is down, too. But that is what we’ll have for Texans who stay up late enough to watch Saturday’s live telecast. Read More > at Star-Telegram

The Reign of Recycling – IF you live in the United States, you probably do some form of recycling. It’s likely that you separate paper from plastic and glass and metal. You rinse the bottles and cans, and you might put food scraps in a container destined for a composting facility. As you sort everything into the right bins, you probably assume that recycling is helping your community and protecting the environment. But is it? Are you in fact wasting your time?

In 1996, I wrote a long article for The New York Times Magazine arguing that the recycling process as we carried it out was wasteful. I presented plenty of evidence that recycling was costly and ineffectual, but its defenders said that it was unfair to rush to judgment. Noting that the modern recycling movement had really just begun just a few years earlier, they predicted it would flourish as the industry matured and the public learned how to recycle properly.

So, what’s happened since then? While it’s true that the recycling message has reached more people than ever, when it comes to the bottom line, both economically and environmentally, not much has changed at all.

Despite decades of exhortations and mandates, it’s still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill. Prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oil prices and reduced demand for them overseas. The slump has forced some recycling companies to shut plants and cancel plans for new technologies.

…The national rate of recycling rose during the 1990s to 25 percent, meeting the goal set by an E.P.A. official, J. Winston Porter. He advised state officials that no more than about 35 percent of the nation’s trash was worth recycling, but some ignored him and set goals of 50 percent and higher. Most of those goals were never met and the national rate has been stuck around 34 percent in recent years.

“It makes sense to recycle commercial cardboard and some paper, as well as selected metals and plastics,” he says. “But other materials rarely make sense, including food waste and other compostables. The zero-waste goal makes no sense at all — it’s very expensive with almost no real environmental benefit.”

One of the original goals of the recycling movement was to avert a supposed crisis because there was no room left in the nation’s landfills. But that media-inspired fear was never realistic in a country with so much open space. In reporting the 1996 article I found that all the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the land available for grazing. And that tiny amount of land wouldn’t be lost forever, because landfills are typically covered with grass and converted to parkland, like the Freshkills Park being created on Staten Island. The United States Open tennis tournament is played on the site of an old landfill — and one that never had the linings and other environmental safeguards required today. Read More > in The New York Times

Dan Walters: Who pays California taxes and how much? – …My up-to-date compilation from multiple state and local government sources reveals that Californians are shelling out almost exactly $250 billion a year in taxes, a little less than $150 billion for the state and a little more than $100 billion for thousands of local governments.

That includes $78 billion in personal income taxes, $55 billion in property taxes, and $54 billion in state and local sales taxes. Other biggies include $10.3 billion in corporate income taxes, $6.5 billion in fuel taxes, $5.7 billion in unemployment insurance payroll taxes paid by employers, $5.4 billion in disability insurance taxes levied on workers, and $4.3 billion in truck weight fees and other vehicular levies.

At $250 billion, California taxes average about $6,400 a year for each of the state’s 39 million residents. The total is 12.5 percent of the currently estimated personal income of $2 trillion, more than a full percentage point higher than the 2011-vintage Tax Foundation calculation.

At that level, it may mean that Californians are carrying the nation’s highest overall tax burden, depending on what’s been happening lately in other high-tax states such as New York and Massachusetts. Suffice to say, we’re at least very near the top.

Our income and sales taxes are particularly high, vis-à-vis other states, and our “sin taxes” on cigarettes and liquor are relatively low.

Despite Proposition 13, the iconic 1978 measure that puts a tight limit on property tax rates, our property tax payments fall somewhere in the upper-middle range of states, thanks to property values that are markedly higher than those of other states.

As a percentage of property values, our property taxes are in the lower range – 34th highest, according to the Tax Foundation – but on a per-capita basis, 19th highest.

…Californians’ attitudes about taxation can be summed up in a little rhyme: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me. Tax the fellow behind the tree.” In other words, as numerous polls have shown, we tend to like taxes that are paid by someone else and dislike those we shell out ourselves.

However, as Benjamin Franklin observed much earlier: In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Memory loss breakthrough: New implant can reverse Alzheimer’s damage – Scientists have developed an electronic implant to help brains damaged by Alzheimer’s retain memories.

They hope it will be used to take over certain areas of diseased brains to help “translate” a short-term memory into a permanent one.

The implant has been developed at the University of Southern California and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre over a decade.

The project is funded by the US military as a way of helping injured soldiers overcome memory loss.

But researchers say the astonishing technology could also help to treat brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Project head Ted Berger said the device is already being tried out on humans. Read More > in the Express

Should older drivers undergo road tests to keep licenses? – …As drivers reach 70 years of age, their rates of accidents and fatal crashes per mile driven rise and sometimes surpass levels of the youngest, most accident-prone drivers. Drivers 85 years and older have the highest rate of fatal accidents per miles driven of any age group, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But attempts to stiffen driver’s license renewal requirements based on age have failed in California and elsewhere. Senior organizations question the data or label such efforts age discrimination, too expensive or unnecessary.

…Some experts caution that fixing the problem is not simply a matter of stiffening testing requirements.

“This is one of those complicated issues that people get very upset about and want an easy solution. There isn’t one,” said Elizabeth Dugan, associate professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and author of a book on aging and driving, in an email. “It will take a public health effort to educate older drivers about threats to driving fitness, health care providers being alert to medical threats to driving threats, family members talking about a difficult issue, and alternatives to driving (e.g., a Senior Uber type of service). We aren’t there yet, but are moving closer.”

Dugan added that her research on the topic showed that road tests or more elaborate testing had no effect on preventing accidents among older drivers and are expensive to implement. She also said a recent pilot experiment by California found no benefit in increased vigilance and screening of older drivers.

The last major legislative effort in California was in 1999, after a Santa Monica teen was killed by a 96-year-old driver who last took a road driving test in 1918. The bill was quickly shot down.

The only California driving law specifically targeting seniors is a rule that after age 70, motorists must renew their license every five years in person, rather than by mail. For those appointments, drivers receive a vision and written test but no road test unless a DMV employee deems it necessary. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

American Apparel Files for Bankruptcy – As it turns out, hiring a CEO who hasn’t been accused of a variety of gross behavior wasn’t enough to revitalize American Apparel. The New York Times reports that the peddler of crop tops and body suits filed for bankruptcy protection early on Monday morning. The company has massive debts, and the move was predicted several weeks ago after sales fell 17 percent in the second quarter compared to last year. American Apparel lost more than $340 million over the last five years, plus an additional $45 million this year.

The restructuring will allow American Apparel to keep its 130 U.S. stores open and continue manufacturing in the U.S. while the company’s creditors exchange their debt for shares of the company. If the court approves the deal, the creditors will take full control of the company, pushing out the current shareholders. That includes founder Dov Charney, who was ousted from his position as chairman and CEO in June 2014. As a bonus, the bankruptcy proceedings will pause the various lawsuits against the company, many of which involve Charney. Read More > in New York Magazine

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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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