Sunday Reading – 07/10/16


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.

26 police killed so far in 2016, up 44% from 2015 – The number of police officers shot and killed in the USA is 44% higher than at this time last year following the Dallas ambush Thursday night that left five officers dead, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The deaths of four Dallas police officers and one Dallas transit officer from sniper fire during a protest in the city Thursday raised the national total of firearm deaths among police to 26. This compares with 18 at this point in time in 2015, said Nick Breul, director of research for the fund in Washington, D.C.

Breul said it was also the latest of 11 ambushes of police officers so far this year across the country, already outpacing the eight ambushes of law enforcement that occurred last year. Read More > at USA Today

Privatize the Postal System, Abolish a Monopoly – Making a profit by selling goods and services that consumers want to buy at given prices is the first goal of any business. If consumers aren’t interested and the business doesn’t adapt, it will go under. That’s unless you are the U.S. Postal Service.

The Postal Service is a major business enterprise operated by the federal government. Thanks to Congress, it has something many business owners would love to have— protection from competition. Its monopoly on access to mailboxes and the delivery of first-class and standard mail means it doesn’t have to worry about someone offering a better service at a lower price. But that’s not all. In a new Cato Institute study, Chris Edwards explains that unlike private businesses, the Postal Service has access to low-rate loans from the Department of the Treasury, effectively pays no income or property taxes, is exempt from local zoning rules and even has the power of eminent domain.

Yet the government still can’t make the postal system work very well. Though it was created to be a self-sustaining entity, since 2007 it has lost more than $50 billion, and the losses will most likely continue unless radical reforms are put in place. These financial problems are mostly the result of a 40 percent decline in mail volume between 2001 and 2015, thanks to the increasing use of email, online bill payment, Facebook, and other electronic tools—services that consumers can get free once they have internet access.

…What should be done? Some centrist scholars have called for partial privatization under which a government Postal Service would continue delivering to all homes but that mail collection and transportation and other parts of the industry would be opened to private competition. But numerous European countries—including Britain, Germany and the Netherlands—have fully privatized their systems and opened them to competition. The dominant postal companies in those countries continue to deliver to every address. Full privatization works. Read More > at Reason

Lyft debuts new high-end rides for business users – Lyft is launching a new high-end service aimed at business customers as it strives to carve out market share in the enterprise space.

The service is called Premium, and is rolling out first in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, with other markets likely to follow based on demand.

…In that effort, Lyft says it has recruited a larger pool of drivers who already happen to meet the criteria for the premium service: Those requirements include leather seats and and a newer model of a ‘luxury’ vehicles like Audi, Mercedes, Cadillac or high-end models of other brands like Toyota or Acura. The drivers will make more money per ride and be able to move between plus, premium and ‘classic’ ride options depending on their vehicle.

And this time around, the service is aimed at business customers who need a more impressive ride when hosting clients, the company says. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

California’s greenhouse gas emissions drop, barely – California’s factories, power plants, farms and cars pumped 441.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in 2014, according to the California Air Resources Board. That represents a decline of just 2.8 million metric tons from 2013.

Under the state’s landmark 2006 global warming law, California must cut its emissions back to 1990 levels — or 431 million metric tons — by 2020. If the trend shown in the most recent emission data holds, California should be on track to reach that goal.

But California’s long-term goals will be much harder to reach. By 2050, state officials hope to slash emissions to roughly 86 million metric tons per year. Independent studies have warned that such steep cuts will be difficult to make if California’s population continues to grow.

The state has dramatically ramped up the use of renewable power, blocked utilities from signing new contracts with coal-fired power plants, offered incentives for drivers to buy electric cars and implemented a cap-and-trade system to limit the amount of emissions that industry can produce.

Taken together, those measures have trimmed California’s emissions by 9.5 percent from their 2004 peak of 487.6 million metric tons.

But progress has been uneven. Emissions rose in 2012, for example, after a small leak of radioactive steam shut down the San Onofre nuclear plant while California’s drought slashed the output of hydroelectric dams. Plants burning natural gas had to make up the lost power from San Onofre and the dams. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Online California voter registration has been tampered with, should you be worried? – Questions about the security and integrity of California voter information have surfaced after a Southern California district attorney described online tampering incidents in which residents’ party registration was changed without their knowledge.

On Wednesday, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said a preliminary investigation revealed that party affiliations were changed without voters’ knowledge or consent. Whoever did it had access to their private information, such as Social Security numbers, he said.

Because the state website didn’t retain IP addresses — digital fingerprints showing a computer’s location — the trail has gone cold and there are no suspects, Hestrin said.

…John Hall, a spokesman for Hestrin’s office, said it’s not clear at this point whether the tampering was the work of one person or a group. The district attorney’s office reported fielding dozens of complaints from voters whose party affiliations were switched, although some switches were chalked up to voter confusion.

…It’s unclear to what extent what happened in Riverside County happened elsewhere. Officials in San Bernardino County did not respond to requests for comment.

Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said that periodically, “We will field calls from voters insisting that they didn’t register one way and yet, when we examine the digital paper records and/or online registration audit trail, we can show where they in fact registered, in their own hand, a specific way.”

Brenda Duran, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters, said her office “did receive inquiries or reports from voters in Los Angeles County that their party preference was listed incorrectly for the June 7 presidential primary. Read More . in the Los Angeles Daily News

Why Hollywood is dying – Whenever I read about Hollywood’s disappointing box office for what was expected to be blockbuster films, I’m amazed that the studios haven’t figured out what’s happening to the film industry. Right now, the number one film is Finding Dory, not the Independence Day sequel. That’s not much of a surprise because G and PG films geared at children always perform well. But major stars like George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, and Julia Roberts aren’t bringing in the big bucks anymore. There are several reasons why people aren’t driving to see feature films anymore but the main reason may be that all of these movies are streaming for free online.

… So what went wrong? Creativity is a rare commodity in the studios today and one has to wonder if the alleged heavy use of drugs in LaLa land is behind this drought of originality. Everything coming out now is a remake of a former blockbuster only the characters’ ethnicity or gender is changed to promote diversity. What this really connotes is that the studios believe that persons of color have nothing of interest so let’s just stick their faces on something that worked before. The Harry Potter play in London has a black girl playing Hermione. Why? What was wrong with having an original black wizard introduced?

So the Ghostbusters are now all women. Whoopedoo- and having one of them be the stereotypical angry black woman is the typical mindset of the closeted racist misogyny of major studios. I’m not planning on seeing that movie so that I don’t know if they will inject the ubiquitous gay character to promote its LGBT agenda as has been its wont for the past decade. That agenda has reached the level of hilarity for many as any person who’s watched the TV program ‘Wayward Pines’ knows. Introducing a gay character in a futuristic series that’s about repopulating the human race makes absolutely no sense except for pure tokenism.

There is nothing coming out in the films for senior citizens. The products are geared for either children; sophomoric young adults; or those with no taste at all. Full disclosure, I like action films with handsome stars so my last venture to the cinema was to see Captain America: Civil War. I loved it and this was one of the few films this year that earned what was expected. Amazingly, I read a moronic article by a writer complaining that Captain America and his buddy were too macho. Tweeters then started a campaign to find Captain America a boyfriend. Sigh! Read More > at Jewish World Review

Global hunger will drop to its lowest levels ever this decade – Major improvements in global food security over the course of the next decade should see hunger levels drop sharply in developing countries, as people are better able to obtain and afford food, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has predicted.

According to new projections, dropping food prices and rising income levels will improve food security in 76 low- and middle-income countries. Right now, 17 percent of the population in developing countries overall don’t have adequate access to food, but by 2026, that number should drop to just 6 percent, says the USDA.

That’s a pretty staggering decline, reflecting a fall of 59 percent in the overall amount of people who don’t have enough to eat. That means we’re looking at world hunger dropping from some 609 million people in 2016 to a projected 251 million by the end of the decade.

As the USDA acknowledges, it’s important to remember that these projections are based on current world economic conditions, food prices, and incomes – and any number of variables could ultimately change the food security outlook in the near-term future. Read More > at Science Alert

Chicago on the Brink – Violence in Chicago is reaching epidemic proportions. In the first five months of 2016, someone was shot every two and a half hours and someone murdered every 14 hours, for a total of nearly 1,400 nonfatal shooting victims and 240 fatalities. Over Memorial Day weekend, 69 people were shot, nearly one per hour, dwarfing the previous year’s tally of 53 shootings over the same period. The violence is spilling over from the city’s gang-infested South and West Sides into the downtown business district; Lake Shore Drive has seen drive-by shootings and robberies.

The growing mayhem is the result of Chicago police officers’ withdrawal from proactive enforcement, making the city a dramatic example of what I have called the “Ferguson effect.” Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, the conceit that American policing is lethally racist has dominated the national airwaves and political discourse, from the White House on down. In response, cops in minority neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities around the country are backing off pedestrian stops and public-order policing; criminals are flourishing in the resulting vacuum. (An early and influential Ferguson-effect denier has now changed his mind: in a June 2016 study for the National Institute of Justice, Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri–St. Louis concedes that the 2015 homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was “real and nearly unprecedented.” “The only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect,” he told the Guardian.)

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel warned in October 2015 that officers were going “fetal,” as shootings in the city skyrocketed. But 2016 has brought an even sharper reduction in proactive enforcement. Devastating failures in Chicago’s leadership after a horrific police shooting and an ill-considered pact between the American Civil Liberties Union and the police are driving that reduction. Residents of Chicago’s high-crime areas are paying the price. Read More > at City Journal

107 Nobel laureates sign letter blasting Greenpeace over GMOs – More than 100 Nobel laureates have signed a letter urging Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The letter asks Greenpeace to cease its efforts to block introduction of a genetically engineered strain of rice that supporters say could reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies causing blindness and death in children in the developing world.

“We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against ‘GMOs’ in general and Golden Rice in particular,” the letter states.

The letter states:

Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.

Greenpeace has spearheaded opposition to Golden Rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The World Health Organization estimates that 250 million people, suffer from VAD, including 40 percent of the children under five in the developing world. Based on UNICEF statistics, a total of one to two million preventable deaths occur annually as a result of VAD, because it compromises the immune system, putting babies and children at great risk. VAD itself is the leading cause of childhood blindness globally affecting 250,000 – 500,000 children each year. Half die within 12 months of losing their eyesight.

The scientific consensus is that that gene editing in a laboratory is not more hazardous than modifications through traditional breeding, and that engineered plants potentially have environmental or health benefits, such as cutting down on the need for pesticides. Read More > in The Washington Post

Home Computers Connected to the Internet Aren’t Private, Court Rules – A federal judge for the Eastern District of Virginia has ruled that the user of any computer that connects to the Internet should not have an expectation of privacy because computer security is ineffectual at stopping hackers.

The June 23 ruling came in one of the many cases resulting from the FBI’s infiltration of PlayPen, a hidden service on the Tor network that acted as a hub for child exploitation, and the subsequent prosecution of hundreds of individuals. To identify suspects, the FBI took control of PlayPen for two weeks and used, what it calls, a “network investigative technique,” or NIT—a program that runs on a visitor’s computer and identifies their Internet address.

Such mass hacking using a single warrant has riled privacy and digital-rights advocates, but Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr. upheld the use of the warrant and even stated that the warrant is unnecessary because of the type of crime being investigated and because users should have no “objectively reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Even using countermeasures, such as the Tor network, does not mean that the user should expect their location or their activities to remain private, according to the judge. Read More > at eWEEK

The End Of Root Canals? – What if damaged teeth could heal themselves? That’s the inspiration behind a new project from Harvard and the University of Nottingham to create stem cell stimulating fillings.

Dentists treat hundreds of millions of cavities each year by drilling out the decay and putting in a filling.

But 10 to 15 percent of those fillings fail, says Adam Celiz, a therapeutic biomaterials researcher from University of Nottingham. And that leads to millions of root canals to remove the tooth’s pulp, the soft tissue in the center of the tooth that contains the blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. A root canal can weaken the tooth, which may eventually need to be pulled.

Celiz and his fellow researchers have developed a new kind of filling made from synthetic biomaterial that can stimulate the growth of stem cells in the pulp of the tooth. Just like regular fillings, the biomaterial is injected into the tooth and hardened with UV light. Read More > at Popular Science

Starbucks forced to reveal planned price increase – Starbucks Corp. will raise prices on some of its beverages July 12.

The company was forced to discuss the increase Friday, after the new prices were entered in computers early and customers were charged the new rate.

The company released a statement Friday about the glitch.

On July 12, Starbucks is planning a small price increase on select beverages. Unfortunately, that price adjustment was prematurely entered into the point of sale systems in our U.S. company-operated stores. As a result, some customers were charged incorrectly. The maximum any customer could have been overcharged is 30 cents per beverage.

The error has been corrected and we sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience. If a customer believes this mistake impacted the price of their beverage, we encourage them to please contact Starbucks Customer Service at 1-800-782-7282, and we will gladly make this right. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Journal

Car Wars: The Battle for Automotive Tech – And so it has begun.

With the announcement late last week by BMW, Intel, and Mobileye of a new reference platform for autonomous cars—expected to be available in model year 2021 vehicles—the battle lines are being drawn for what promises to be one of the most interesting tech industry developments in the next several years.

On the one side, you have tech giants Apple and Google, who also happen to be the two most valuable companies in the world. Either in secret or openly, they’re working to create automotive platforms and possibly even cars themselves, leveraging their software and user experience expertise. On the other, you have the automakers, several of whom used to be among the list of the world’s largest companies. As a group, they are painfully aware of how critical technology has become in the car purchasing process, yet extremely concerned about how the partnerships they need to match these new requirements could lead to a loss of control, or at least, a major decline in customer influence.

In the middle, you have a range of the most important and/or most innovative semiconductor companies—names like Intel, nVidia, Qualcomm, and ARM—hungry for a new growth market and eager to cash in on what many expect to be one of strongest segments of the tech hardware economy for the next decade.

Topping off this tasty automotive tech sandwich are some of the first widespread deployments of cutting edge technologies like deep learning, neural networks, artificial intelligence and advanced connectivity technologies (think 5G), all of which are necessary to make the promise of truly autonomous cars a reality.

…Despite all these recent developments, it will likely be the end of the decade before we really know how the car wars play themselves out. In the meantime, it’s going to be one of the most epic battlegrounds for both new world and old world businesses the market has seen in quite some time. Who knows? It could end up being the technological stuff of legend. Read More > At Tech Pinions

Casinos Look to Video Games as a Draw for Millennials – Forget slot machines and money wheels. American casinos may soon look more like video game arcades.

In February, Nevada and New Jersey passed legislation allowing for the introduction of skill-based games in casinos as a way to draw in younger players. Imagine Angry Birds and Candy Crush machines next to a high-stakes poker table at Bellagio.

The idea is that one day, different types of skill-based games will exist on casino floors, including games that look and feel more like console video games, from shooters to racing games.

They could be games where single players go against the house, cooperative games like blackjack, or player versus player games like poker. Eric Meyerhofer, the chief executive of Gamblit Gaming, a California company that makes skill-based games for casinos, said the biggest attractions could even be well-known franchises like Call of Duty. Read More > in The New York Times

Churches in America—Part 1 – The polls are in and the news is bad for the Church in America. Christianity is on the decline, Americans have given up on God, and the “Nones”—those who have no religious ties—are on the rise. It is indeed true that parts of the Christian Church in America are struggling, while a growing number of Americans are far from God.

…So what do the numbers tell us about the Church in America?

Overall, the Church’s influence on Americans is beginning to fade. A growing number of Americans have given up on God—or at least on organized religion. They have become “Nones,” a term popularized by Pew Research. And their numbers are growing.

Pew’s 2007 Religious Landscape study, which surveyed 35,000 respondents, found that about 16% of Americans claimed no religious affiliation. By 2015, that number had grown to 23%, almost one in four Americans.

Gallup, another well-respected national firm, gives a wider view of the rise of the Nones. In 1967, Gallup found that about 2% of Americans—or 1 out of every 50—claimed no religious preference. By 2014, that number had grown to 16%, or about 1 in 7.

Pew has also tracked the decline in the percentage of Americans who claim to be Christians. In 2007, Pew found that about 8 in 10 Americans identified as Christians. That number dropped to 7 in 10 in 2014—a statistically significant change in a relatively short time. Pew also found that less than half of Americans (46.5%) now identify as Protestants for the first time in American history. Read More > at Christianity Today

‘Welcome To Hell’: Rio Police Warn They Can’t Promise Olympic Protection – After reportedly not being paid for their work for several months, around 100 police officers protested the Brazilian government at Rio de Janeiro’s international airport on Monday.

They chanted and covered the floor with dummies, complete with taped-on photographs of officers killed in action. They held up signs reading “Welcome to Hell” and “Pay to enter and pray to get out.”

And amid a particularly violent and economically unsound period in the nation’s history, they ― the police ― also claimed they wouldn’t be able to adequately protect visitors when the 2016 Olympics kick off on Aug. 5.

Crime, especially in the favelas, or lower-income areas, continues to climb, even as the opening ceremony gets closer and closer. Street violence is surging, and police-related deaths have spiked, reaching 645 in 2015 alone. The month of May saw 9,968 incidents of street mugging in the host city ― a 43 percent uptick as compared to May 2015. And just last week, $445,000 of Olympic broadcasting equipment was hijacked from an in-transit truck, drawing headlines all over the world. Read More > in The Huffington Post

Mobile news surges, newspapers fall further: US poll – Americans are increasingly turning to their mobile devices for news, with print newspapers losing more ground, a poll showed Thursday.

The Pew Research Center survey found an acceleration in the use of mobile devices for news over the past three years, as fewer Americans relied on newspapers. Television meanwhile held steady as a source of news, including local, network and cable.

The portion of Americans who get at least some news on a mobile device rose to 72 percent in 2016 from 54 percent in 2013, Pew said. That included 36 percent who said they “often” get news from a smartphone or tablet.

The survey confirmed the trend toward digital and mobile while offering a grim outlook for the newspaper sector, which is failing to connect with young adults.

Just 20 percent of adults said they often got news from print newspapers, compared with 27 percent three years earlier. Read More > at Yahoo! News

Pilot captures incredible nighttime thunderstorm photo over the Pacific Ocean – This is one of the most striking thunderstorm photos we’ve seen.

Taken from a plane at the moment of a lightning flash, it illustrates both the ferocity of a turbulent atmosphere and the beauty of Mother Nature. A strong, roiling updraft; a smooth, flat anvil; and the overshooting top — all features of intense developing thunderstorms.

The photo was taken over the Pacific Ocean from the cockpit of an airplane. The photographer and pilot, Santiago Borja, says he was circling around it at 37,000 feet altitude en route to South America when he captured this spectacular view. Read More > in The Washington Post

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A developing thunderstorm climbs high into the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean south of Panama. (Santiago Borja)

Local California government accidentally destroys geological marvel – A local California government destroyed a geological marvel, without even knowing it.

For years, geologists, science classes, and “geopilgrims” ventured to a split in a sidewalk curb in Hayward, California. Two sections of sidewalk have been slowing drifting askew for several decades, creating a striking visual portrayal of something geologists call creep.

The curb sits on the Hayward fault, one of seven significant faults in the San Francisco Bay area. It runs nearly parallel to the more famous San Andreas fault, and is considered part of that “fault system.” The system forms the boundary of the North American and Pacific plates.

When it was first made, the curb formed a solid straight line. But over time, the curb split, with one end drifting south, and the western side drifting north, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But now it is gone. The city of Hayward removed the offset curb, which lies at an intersection, to make way for a wheelchair accessible ramp.

One geologist from the United States Geological Survey told the LA Times is it was “an iconic location on the Hayward fault.” Read More > at CNBC

Is it becoming too hard to fail? Schools are shifting toward no-zero grading policies – School districts in the Washington area and across the country are adopting grading practices that make it more difficult for students to flunk classes, that give students opportunities to retake exams or turn in late work, and that discourage or prohibit teachers from giving out zeroes.

The policies have stirred debates about the purpose of issuing academic grades and whether they should be used to punish, motivate or purely represent what students have learned in class. Some regard it as the latest in a line of ideas intended to keep students progressing through school and heading toward graduation, akin in some ways to practices like social promotion.

Under a new policy in Virginia’s Fairfax County, one of the nation’s largest school systems, middle and high school students can earn no lower than a score of 50 if they make a “reasonable attempt” to complete work. And for the first time this year, high school teachers who were going to fail a student had to reevaluate the student using “quality points,” making an F less detrimental to a student’s final grade. Prince George’s County in Maryland will limit failing grades to a 50 percent minimum score when students show a “good-faith effort.”

Proponents of the changes­ say the new grading systems are more fair and end up being more conducive to learning, encouraging students to catch up when they fall behind rather than just giving up. Many believe that giving a student a score of zero for an F — rather than, say, a score of 50 — on even just one bad assignment can doom students because climbing back to a passing grade can seem almost mathematically impossible. And such failures can put students on a path to dropping out before graduation.

But many are critical of the shift, arguing that teachers are losing important tools to enforce diligence and prepare students for college and the workplace. They say that artificially boosting student grades can mask failure and push students through who don’t know the material they need to know to actually succeed. Read More > in The Washington Post

Why the World Is Rebelling Against ‘Experts’ – The Great Rebellion is on and where it leads nobody knows.

Its expressions range from Brexit to the Trump phenomena and includes neo-nationalist and unconventional insurgent movement around the world. It shares no single leader, party or ideology. Its very incoherence, combined with the blindness of its elite opposition, has made it hard for the established parties across what’s left of the democratic world to contain it.

What holds the rebels together is a single idea: the rejection of the neo-liberal crony capitalist order that has arisen since the fall of the Soviet Union. For two decades, this new ruling class could boast of great successes: rising living standards, limited warfare, rapid technological change and an optimism about the future spread of liberal democracy. Now, that’s all fading or failing.

…The Great Rebellion draws on five disparate and sometimes contradictory causes that find common ground in frustration with the steady bureaucratic erosion of democratic self-governance: class resentment, racial concerns, geographic disparities, nationalism, cultural identity. Each of these strains appeals to different constituencies, but together they are creating a political Molotov cocktail. Read More > at The Daily Beast

Student Debt Lives On Hold – Millions of Americans who went to college seeking a better future now face crushing debt from student loans—while the industry makes a handsome profit. How a broken system landed so many in this mess.

Almost every American knows an adult burdened by a student loan. Fewer know that growing alongside 42 million indebted students is a formidable private industry that has been enriched by those very loans.

A generation ago, the federal government opened its student loan bank to profit-making corporations. Private-equity companies and Wall Street banks seized on the flow of federal loan dollars, peddling loans students sometimes could not afford and then collecting fees from the government to hound students when they defaulted.

Step by step, one law after another has been enacted by Congress to make student debt the worst kind of debt for Americans—and the best kind for banks and debt collectors.

Today, just about everyone involved in the student loan industry makes money off of the students—the banks, private investors, even the federal government.

Once in place, the privatized student loan industry has largely succeeded in preserving its status in Washington. And in one of the industry’s greatest lobbying triumphs, student loans can no longer be discharged in bankruptcy, except in rare cases.

At the same time, societal changes conspired to drive up the basic need for these loans: Middle-class incomes stagnated, college costs soared, and states retreated from their historical investment in public universities. Read More > in Consumer Reports

Crippled Atlantic currents triggered ice age climate change – The last ice age wasn’t one long big chill. Dozens of times temperatures abruptly rose or fell, causing all manner of ecological change. Mysteriously, ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica show that these sudden shifts—which occurred every 1500 years or so—were out of sync in the two hemispheres: When it got cold in the north, it grew warm in the south, and vice versa. Now, scientists have implicated the culprit behind those seesaws—changes to a conveyor belt of ocean currents known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).

These currents, which today drive the Gulf Stream, bring warm surface waters north and send cold, deeper waters south. But they weakened suddenly and drastically, nearly to the point of stopping, just before several periods of abrupt climate change, researchers report today in Science. In a matter of decades, temperatures plummeted in the north, as the currents brought less warmth in that direction. Meanwhile, the backlog of warm, southern waters allowed the Southern Hemisphere to heat up.

AMOC slowdowns have long been suspected as the cause of the climate swings during the last ice age, which lasted from 110,000 to 15,000 years ago, but never definitively shown. The new study “is the best demonstration that this indeed happened,” says Jerry McManus, a paleo-oceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and a study author. “It is very convincing evidence,” adds Andreas Schmittner, a climate scientist at Oregon State University, Corvallis. “We did not know that the circulation changed during these shorter intervals.” Read More > at Science

UC Berkeley’s Income Inequality Critic’s Faculty Salary Puts Him In The Top 1% – Scholars from the University of California at Berkeley have played a pivotal role in making income inequality a major political issue. But while they decry the inequities of the American capitalist system, Berkeley professors are near the top of a very lopsided income distribution prevailing at the nation’s leading public university. …

Public employee compensation data allows us to measure income inequality on campus. The State Controller’s Public Pay database contains salaries for all UC employees, indicating which campus each employee is on. The Gini coefficient for the 35,000 UC Berkeley employees in the data set is 0.6600 – higher than that of Haiti. …

According to 2014 data from Transparent California, Center Director Emmanuel Saez received total wages of $349,350.

Its three advisory board members are also highly compensated Cal professors: David Card (making $336,367 in 2014), Gerard Roland ($304,608) and Alan Auerbach ($291,782). Aside from their high wages, all four professors are eligible for a defined-benefit pension equal to 2.5% times final average salary times number of years employed. It is also worth noting that all four are in the top 2% of UC Berkeley’s salary distribution, and that Saez is in the top 1%. … Robert Reich receives somewhat lower compensation than the four CEG economists, collecting $263,592 in pay during 2014. But Reich’s salary was likely not his only source of income in 2014. Reich makes himself available to give paid speeches through a number of speaking bureaus, charging a fee estimated at $40,000 per talk. He is also likely to receive some income from his books, movies and pensions from previous employers. … Read More > at Tax Prof

United States now holds more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia – new independent estimate of world oil reserves has been released by Rystad Energy, showing that the US now holds more recoverable oil reserves than both Saudi Arabia and Russia. For US, more than 50% of remaining oil reserves is unconventional shale oil. Texas alone holds more than 60 billion barrels of shale oil according to this new data.

The new reserves data from Rystad Energy also distinguishes between reserves in existing fields, in new projects and potential reserves in recent discoveries and even in yet undiscovered fields. An established standard approach for estimating reserves is applied to all fields in all countries, so reserves can be compared apple to apple across the world, both for OPEC and non-OPEC countries. Other public sources of global oil reserves, like the BP Statistical Review, are based on official reporting from national authorities, reporting reserves based on a diverse and opaque set of standards.

Rystad Energy now estimates total global oil reserves at 2092 billion barrels, or 70 times the current production rate of about 30 billion barrels of crude oil per year. For comparison, cumulatively produced oil up to 2015 amounts to 1300 billion barrels. Unconventional oil recovery accounts for 30% of the global recoverable oil reserves while offshore accounts for 33% of the total. The seven major oil companies hold less than 10% of the total. This data confirms that there is a relatively limited amount of recoverable oil left on the planet. With the global car-park possibly doubling from 1 billion to 2 billion cars over the next 30 years, it becomes very clear that oil alone cannot satisfy the growing need for individual transport. Read More > at Rystad Energy

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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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