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.
CALIFORNIA PROPOSITIONS 2016 – Ready to make your way through a thicket of 17 California propositions on the November ballot? CALmatters is here to help you sort through the many thorny questions: Should we end the death penalty? Legalize marijuana? Extend taxes on the wealthy? Ban plastic bags? Raise taxes on cigarettes? Require actors in porn films to wear condoms?
The state’s voter guide runs more than 200 pages long. We’ve simplified things for you, with pages that analyze each ballot issue, report on the money and the major players behind them, and provide a curated selection of articles that go deeper on the issues.
Each initiative page also includes a video commenting tool—an easy way for you to record and share your opinions on the ballot measures you are passionate about. You might change someone’s mind, or someone might change yours. We’ll continue to add these personal videos to our site right up until the election, so check back to follow the conversation and stay informed. Read More > at CALmatters
Vulgar is the new normal if you want to be a star in the NFL – In the women’s 5,000-meter qualifier at the Rio Olympics, New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin and the United States’ Abbey D’Agostino collided. Both went down; D’Agostino was injured. They helped each other up then finished the race — together.
Television, not just Olympic-partnered NBC, seized this story, and for the next two days presented it as good for what ails us, perhaps the best story these Games produced.
…Now, back to our originally anticipated programming. TV returned to doing what it does best: It’s worst — identifying, celebrating and rewarding the lowest, coarsest, most selfish, no-upside acts.
For NBC, it was back to the carefully selected and crafted annual selling of self-smitten, muscles-flexing showboats as the essence of football — starting in its NFL telecasts’ opens.
For ESPN, it was back to work destroying sports with relentless, no-better-idea sells to the omnipotent “young male demographic” by making VIPs of vandals.
…Naturally, ESPN hired Brown to star in a “SportsCenter” promo. Then, in ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” opener, Brown likely felt obligated to top himself, performing a vulgar groin-thrusting TD dance that mimed copulation. He was penalized 15 yards — as if he cared — while not even the replay of his repugnant act produced a discouraging word from Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden in the booth. Read More > in the New York Post
Massive Yahoo Data Breach Shatters Records – Yahoo’s disclosure of one of the largest-ever data breaches comes after months of dark web chatter that indicated it may be the next victim following large online services including Twitter, LinkedIn and Dropbox.
Yahoo blames the attack on a “state-sponsored actor,” but it did not name a suspect country. Still, it’s a confident assertion for a cyberattack, which computer security experts contend is notoriously difficult to attribute.
Yahoo says details on at least 500 million accounts were stolen in late 2014. The company is notifying those affected and asking them to change their passwords. Most, but not all, of the exposed passwords were encrypted with a strong algorithm, leaving some users at more risk than others.
Over the two years since the breach, state-sponsored hackers would have had plenty of time to attempt to crack even the strongly encrypted passwords, says Michael Lipinksi, CISO and chief security strategist at Securonix. “I think it’s safe to say those accounts were compromised,” he says. Read More > at Data Breach
Driverless Cars And The Future Of Racing – This month marks the fourth anniversary of Winding Road’s coverage of driverless cars. We’ve kept most of that away from our main media channels because, as with so many ideas, there are a lot of haters who, shall we say, disrupt the conversation. But, something changed in the strange summer of 2016. Four years ago, when we talked to people about driverless cars, and autonomous vehicles in general, most people’s comments were somewhere between “huh?” and “no way!”. Now the idea is becoming mainstream and there is growing acceptance that driverless cars will be here relatively soon. Those changing opinions are not the main factor in the speed of autonomous vehicle development, of course, although acceptance of the technology will be a factor (as will government regulation). But as understanding broadens, new questions can be sensibly asked. One of those questions is “what happens to automobile racing when driverless cars become widespread?”
…You would reasonably think that one factor affecting automobile racing is the underlying nature of cars. If most people are drivers, it is pretty easy to relate to automobile racing. If they aren’t it is less easy. So, you would think spectator interest would decline somewhat (although the NFL does just fine without most spectators having ever been participants). We should add that there is a likelihood that automotive OEMs will reduce funding of racing as their product shifts from a source of joy to an appliance-like role.
This decline may be mitigated somewhat by the vision that sports cars will continue to exist side-by-side with driverless cars. Ford, for example, has recently said they will keep making cars for enthusiasts alongside autonomous vehicles. One car easily imagine that, like motorcycles and bicycles, sports cars will continue to be loved and purchased, but more purely for their entertainment function. Here is an extended “future history” riff on that idea in which you get to see the future of the Porsche 911 from the viewpoint of a driver in 2036 . Read More > at the Winding Road
Why Hire a Lawyer When a Robot Will Do? – Lawyers, beware. Robots really are coming for your jobs.
Exhibit A: Venture-capital firm Invoke Capital just made a multi-million-dollar investment in Luminance, which is developing artificial intelligence to automate the legal drudgery involved in corporate mergers and acquisitions. The robot lawyer is just one of many — including offerings from Ross Intelligence and Kira Systems — aiming to replace the overworked factotums known as associate attorneys. Without the six-figure student debt, I presume.
So how do these virtual attorneys work? Well, according to Bloomberg, Invoke founder Mike Lynch said that Luminance can “read natural language and actually understand it, using it to categorize documents, rather than just searching text to match key words or standard clauses.”
…The fact that their software isn’t quite so unique, though, doesn’t detract from robot lawyers’ potential. What really matters for their “intelligence” is the data on which they are trained. Ross focuses the Watson technology, which won “Jeopardy!” in 2011, on court filings instead of the full text of Wikipedia. To prepare for its specialty of contract review, Luminance has studied “thousands of documents and contract clauses.”
Well-tuned search engines could save people a lot of time and suffering. Luminance promises to increase the efficiency of contract review by at least 50 percent. Kira Systems claims a time reduction of as much as 90 percent. If Bayer’s legal team had included robot lawyers, maybe they could have completed due diligence for the Monsanto deal in days. Read More > at Bloomberg
Ethanol Harms Cars, the Economy, and the Environment – The main case for biofeuels is twofold. It’s supposed to be better for the environment, particularly global warming, and lessen our dependence on foreign oil. The assumption was that converting plants into fuel was “carbon neutral,” and since we can do that at home, every gallon of oil we replace with corn is one less we have to buy from overseas. The fact that it also lines the pockets of agribusinesses and the politicians who love them is supposed to be a total coincidence and irrelevant to this good and noble policy.
A new study from the University of Michigan confirms what pretty much everyone knew all along. Researchers found that biofuels actually create more greenhouse gases than simply using petroleum, because plants only absorb a fraction of the carbon dioxide released by burning the fuels in the first place. Moreover, ethanol production and distribution is energy-intensive, throwing off even more greenhouse gases.
A study last year by the University of Tennessee found that in the decade since the U.S. imposed the Renewable Fuel Standard — and after $50 billion in subsidies — corn-based ethanol “created more problems than solutions” and hampered research on other kinds of biofuels.
All of the corn we grow requires vast amounts of fertilizer, which runs into our waterways and out to the Gulf of Mexico. Every year that runoff creates a massive — and growing — dead zone that kills sea life in one of our most valuable fisheries. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization, “Habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts.” This year’s dead zone will be the size of Connecticut, researchers say. Read More > at National Review
Transportation, housing crises get short shrift in Legislature – There are few things more fundamentally important to life in contemporary California than transportation and housing, and both are in crisis.
Our once-vaunted highway and roadway system is literally crumbling as Californians rack up nearly a billion miles of vehicular travel each day.
Meanwhile, vital maintenance projects are stalled, some for decades, due to a lack of money even though Californians are paying the nation’s highest user fees and taxes.
California overbuilt housing during an insane bubble, but when it burst, construction ground to a near-halt.
However, the state’s population continued to grow by about 300,000 people a year, and although construction has increased in recent years, it still falls short of demand, pushing costs sharply upward. Those costs are the major factor in California’s having the nation’s highest poverty rate.
Given those harsh realities, one would think that Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators certainly would’ve made the transportation and housing crises their highest priorities for the 2014-16 legislative session.
Oh, they did talk about them – a lot. But when the session adjourned on Aug. 31, they had done virtually nothing. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
Study warns that science as we know it is evolving into something shoddy and unreliable – There’s no shortage of warnings from the scientific community that science as we know it is being drastically affected by the commercial and institutional pressure to publish papers in high-profile journals – and now a new simulation shows that deteroriation actually happening.
To draw attention to the way good scientists are pressured into publishing bad science (read: sensational and surprising results), researchers in the US developed a computer model to simulate what happens when scientists compete for academic prestige and jobs.
In the model, devised by researchers at the University of California, Merced, all the simulated lab groups they put in these scenarios were honest – they didn’t intentionally cheat or fudge results.
But they received greater rewards if they published ‘novel’ findings – as happens in the real world. They also had to expend greater effort to be rigorous in their methods – which would improve the quality of their research, but lower their academic output.
Kingdom Comedown: Falling Oil Prices Shock Saudi Middle Class – …For decades, Saudi nationals such as Mr. Idrees enjoyed a cozy lifestyle in the desert kingdom as its rulers spent hundreds of billions of dollars of its oil revenue to subsidize essentials such as fuel, water and electricity.
But a sharp drop in the price of oil, Saudi Arabia’s main revenue source, has forced the government to withdraw some benefits this year—raising the cost of living in the kingdom and hurting its middle class, a part of society long insulated from such problems.
Saudi Arabia heads into next week’s meeting of major oil producers in a tight spot. With a slowing economy and shrinking foreign reserves, the kingdom is coming under pressure to take steps that support the price of oil, as it did this month with an accord it struck with Russia.
The sharp price drop is mainly because of a glut in the market, in part caused by Saudi Arabia itself. The world’s top oil producer continues to pump crude at record levels to defend its market share.
…The political stakes for managing this slowdown are high. Saudi Arabia survived the Arab Spring unrest that toppled several autocratic leaders across the region and forced some others to change, largely by offering cash handouts and more government jobs to placate its people. About two thirds of Saudi workers are employed by government related entities. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
Tesla Patches Cars Against Wi-Fi ‘Braking’ Attack – Electric car manufacturer Tesla has updated its firmware after researchers in China demonstrated how they could remotely turn on the windshield wipers, open the trunk and apply the brakes in brand-new Model S sedans.
The researchers, from Tencent’s Keen Security Lab, released a video and blog post on Sept. 19 after Tesla had been privately informed of the software. An over-the-air software update was delivered 10 days after Keen notified Tesla. The car maker maintained that the risk to customers was very low.
The automotive industry has been under increasing pressure to ensure its software is free of vulnerabilities that could jeopardize safety. Cybersecurity experts have warned for years that the increasing complexity of vehicle computers, combined with network connectivity, poses vast new risks.
A dramatic public demonstration of a vehicle hack last year advanced those concerns. Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller remotely triggered a 2014 Jeep Cherokee’s brakes on a California highway. While the demo was criticized for its possible risks to the public, it illustrated that worries about vehicle hacking were already far beyond theoretical. Read More > at Data Breach
Elections Have Consequences for California’s Economy – Voter guides are hitting doorsteps across California with a thud. Clocking in at over 220 pages, an inch thick, and weighing about 10 ounces, the 2016 guide is akin to an election novella. Its size reinforces the enormous responsibility Californians have when voting. Here’s a snapshot of some of the good, bad, and ugly on this November’s ballot.
The Good – Holding crony capitalists accountable: Propositions 67 and 65 may seem like esoteric environmental debates, but in reality they are about business manipulation of government policy for personal gain. The two measures relate to Senate Bill 270 – California’s statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. After a statewide plastic bag ban failed in 2013, then-State Senator Alex Padilla (now Secretary of State) reintroduced the ban in the form of SB 270, which included a last minute, backroom deal with the California Grocers Association to include a mandated minimum 10 cent fee for all compliant reusable carry-out bags purchased at the grocery store to be collected and retained by the grocery store. Consumers are mandated by state law to pad the profits of grocery stores – the very definition of crony capitalism. Proposition 67 is a voter referendum to overturn SB 270 and eliminate this encoded crony capitalism (Note: a “NO” vote overturns SB 270).
But just in case Proposition 67 passes and upholds the crony capitalist-law, Proposition 65 can step in. This measure would create a special environmental protection account overseen by the Wildlife Conservation Board and audited every two years by the State Auditor funded by – you guessed it – the 10 cents fee currently collected and retained by the grocery stores. To teach Sacramento a lesson about crony capitalism, vote “NO” on Proposition 67 and “YES” on Proposition 65. At the very least, the initiative system should be used to keep our government honest. Read More > at Real Clear Markets
Are You Wasting Your Money On Premium Gasoline? – …Now new research by AAA confirms that many Americans also mistakenly assume that premium gasoline is better for their cars. This newly-released study suggests that American drivers wasted more than $2.1 billion dollars in the last year by using premium-grade gasoline in vehicles designed to run on regular fuel.
So you may be asking yourself what the deal is with premium fuel, and why anyone would run it in their vehicle. The thing that distinguishes premium fuel from cheaper grades is that it has a higher octane rating. Octane rating is a measure of the tendency of a fuel to pre-ignite (which can cause engine knock) when it is compressed. Higher-octane fuels are more resistant to pre-ignition, which allows them to be used in an engine with a higher compression ratio (which enables higher efficiency than engines with lower compression ratios).
Thus, for many high performance engines, premium gasoline is indeed recommended. But for most engines, you aren’t going to get any more efficiency from premium fuel as you do from normal grades. Note that premium gasoline doesn’t necessarily contain any more energy or any better additives than cheaper gasoline. I say this as someone who spent a few years blending gasoline for a refinery. Different companies do indeed use different additives in their gasoline, and energy content in gasoline does vary somewhat from company to company (and from summer grades to winter grades). But that’s not a factor in defining premium gasoline.
So, unless you have a vehicle that specifies premium gasoline, you are probably wasting your money if you are buying it. A higher octane rating doesn’t make it any better for your engine than the cheaper stuff. If, on the other hand, you have a problem with engine knock, you might be using a lower grade of gasoline when you should be using premium. Read More > in Forbes
Get Ready for Freeways That Ban Human Drivers – New rules of the road for robot cars coming out of Washington this week could lead to the eventual extinction of one of the defining archetypes of the past century: the human driver.
While banning people from driving may seem like something from a Kurt Vonnegut short story, it’s the logical endgame of a technology that could dramatically reduce — or even eliminate — the 1.25 million road deaths a year globally. Human error is the cause of 94 percent of roadway fatalities, U.S. safety regulators say, and robot drivers never get drunk, sleepy or distracted.
Autonomous cars already have “superhuman intelligence” that allows them to see around corners and avoid crashes, said Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive at Nvidia Corp., a maker of high-speed processors for self-driving cars.
Regulators are accelerating the shift with new rules that will provide a path for going fully driverless by removing the requirement that a human serve as a backup. Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recognized Google’s self-driving software as the “driver” in its fully autonomous test vehicles, eliminating the need for a person to be present.
This week, technology industry veterans proposed a ban on human drivers on a 150-mile (241-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 5 from Seattle to Vancouver. Within five years, human driving could be outlawed in congested city centers like London, on college campuses and at airports, said Kristin Schondorf, executive director of automotive transportation at consultant EY.
…With mobile devices an added distraction, U.S. highway fatalities rose 8 percent last year, the biggest increase in 50 years. Some 38,300 people were killed on the road in 2015 and 4.4 million were seriously injured, according to the National Safety Council. Globally, 1.25 million people die in car crashes annually, according to the World Health Organization. Read More > at Bloomberg
This is why your body always hurts in the morning – You know the feeling: You fall asleep feeling fine — feeling good, even — and wake up with the sense that it’ll take a crane to get you out of bed. Everything hurts in the morning, and it’s not just because you slept in a wonky position or on a lousy pillow.
Turns out our bodies seem to suppress inflammation when we sleep, leading to worse pain when we wake up and the inflammation is, so to speak, turned back “on,” according to a new University of Manchester study published in the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
The researchers examined human and mice cells with the inflammatory disease rheumatoid arthritis. Patients with RA have long known that their symptoms can vary throughout the day, with many afflicted with greater joint stiffness upon waking. But little is known about how our circadian rhythms — our inner clocks that tell us when to go to bed and when to get up — control this swinging pendulum of pain. The UK researchers wanted to figure that out. (Heal your whole body with Rodale’s 12-day liver detox for total body health.)
What they found was that when mice were exposed to constant light, their paws were more swollen and there were higher levels of some markers of inflammation in their blood. In darkness, those inflammatory markers decreased. “At nighttime, those inflammatory markers go down but gradually rise up again in the morning,” says University of Manchester researcher and study author Julie Gibbs, PhD. She cautions that this particular study didn’t examine pain, but if you were to assume that with greater inflammation comes more pain, “you would expect more inflammation in the joints and increased pain levels in the morning,” she says. Read More > in the New York Post
The Secret Lab Where Nike Invented the Power-Lacing Shoe of Our Dreams – …Hatfield, Parker, and an army of designers, engineers, and data scientists were listening. And after 28 years of brainstorming and 11 years of R&D, after many false starts, delays, and blown deadlines, after the vanquishing of internal skepticism, after innumerable prototypes, iterations, and redesigns, Nike’s automatic electronic self-lacing shoe is scheduled to ship to stores this holiday season. The company is calling the technology “adaptive fit,” and the sneaker is the HyperAdapt 1.0—each shoe has a sensor, battery, motor, and cable system that adjusts fit based on an algorithmic pressure equation. When a foot is inserted, the shoe tightens automatically until it senses friction points. There are a pair of buttons near the tongue to adjust fit as needed. That such high tech shoes, with a likely (though still TBD) high price tag to match, would be desirable in a country that spends billions a year on sneakers was almost taken for granted. That Hatfield, now Nike’s vice president of creative concepts and probably the world’s most celebrated designer of shoes, a human icon inside a corporate one, would lead the team behind them was only expected. And while no one will say how much the company has spent on the shoe’s development—“a considerable amount of R&D dollars” is as specific as Parker, now the company’s CEO, will get—Hatfield believes the HyperAdapt is the first step in a revolution in adaptive footwear and thus worth every red cent. “We’re talking about a project that’s maybe the most difficult in the history of footwear,” Hatfield says. “I’m more excited about this than any project I’ve ever been involved with.” Read More > at Wired
Investment group offers to purchase Coliseum, keep Raiders in Oakland – A group of investors with ties to NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott is offering to purchase the Coliseum land with the hopes of keeping the Raiders in Oakland, according to a letter the group’s attorney sent to local officials last week.
The letter dated Sept. 12 arrived days before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed optimism for a stadium deal in Oakland, and meetings between local officials and an NFL executive in charge of stadium construction and franchise retention. But city hall sources said the city swiftly rejected the proposal.
Those sources late Tuesday said they view Goodell’s comment as a positive sign for an Oakland stadium deal, but that they are not moving forward with the offer from the investment group.
…The group proposes purchasing the Coliseum land — which includes Oracle Arena and other nearby properties — for $167.3 million, which accounts for bond obligations owed and prepayment penalties. The plan includes upgrading and replacing the site’s sewer and septic systems, which infamously have backed up during games, spewing raw sewage into dugouts and team clubhouses.
The offer amounts to roughly $250 per square foot, which is about the going rate for real estate in downtown Walnut Creek, said Ed Del Beccaro, senior managing director for Transwestern’s Silicon Valley operations. Read More > in the East Bay Times
A Sour Surprise for Public Pensions: Two Sets of Books – When one of the tiniest pension funds imaginable — for Citrus Pest Control District No. 2, serving just six people in California — decided last year to convert itself to a 401(k) plan, it seemed like a no-brainer.
After all, the little fund held far more money than it needed, according to its official numbers from California’s renowned public pension system, Calpers.
Except it really didn’t.
…It turns out that Calpers, which managed the little pension plan, keeps two sets of books: the officially stated numbers, and another set that reflects the “market value” of the pensions that people have earned. The second number is not publicly disclosed. And it typically paints a much more troubling picture, according to people who follow the money.
…But more important, it raises serious concerns that governments nationwide do not know the true condition of the pension funds they are responsible for. That exposes millions of people, including retired public workers, local taxpayers and municipal bond buyers — who are often retirees themselves — to risks they have no way of knowing about.
…The two competing ways of valuing a pension fund are often called the actuarial approach (which is geared toward helping employers plan stable annual budgets, as opposed to measuring assets and liabilities), and the market approach, which reflects more hard-nosed math.
The market value of a pension reflects the full cost today of providing a steady, guaranteed income for life — and it’s large. Alarmingly large, in fact. This is one reason most states and cities don’t let the market numbers see the light of day. Read More > in The New York Times
NFL’s ‘Sunday Night Football’ Tumbles Hard In Ratings Yet Again – Is it time for Roger Goodell and the NFL to hit the panic button?
Last week’s Sunday Night Football matchup drew in its lowest ratings in seven years (Monday Night Football didn’t fare any better) and last night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings fell even further. According to Deadline, the primetime portion of last night’s game scored a 13.7/22 in Nielsen’s metered market ratings as the Vikings went on to beat the Packers 17-14. Not only is that down 18% from last year’s ratings, it’s also a 9% dip compared to the SNF opener just last week.
There are a number of reasons why Sunday Night Football could have underperformed in the ratings. For starters, last night’s game was forced to compete with the Emmys, which scored a 8.4/13 in the MM ratings. Secondly, the game itself wasn’t exactly audience friendly thanks to stout defensive performances from both teams. Lastly, many casual NFL fans have yet to forget about Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s indictment for child abuse back in 2014.
But still, the NFL’s decline in the ratings is becoming more of a true pattern and less of a passing phase, especially as the National Anthem protest continues onward. Read More > at Forbes
Self-Driving Cars Gain Powerful Ally: The Government – Federal auto safety regulators on Monday made it official: They are betting the nation’s highways will be safer with more cars driven by machines and not people.
In long-awaited guidelines for the booming industry of automated vehicles, the Obama administration promised strong safety oversight, but sent a clear signal to automakers that the door was wide open for driverless cars.
“We envision in the future, you can take your hands off the wheel, and your commute becomes restful or productive instead of frustrating and exhausting,” said Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council, adding that highly automated vehicles “will save time, money and lives.”
The statements were the most aggressive signal yet by federal regulators that they see automated car technology as a win for auto safety. Yet having officially endorsed the fast-evolving technology, regulators must now balance the commercial interests of companies including Tesla, Google and Uber with concerns over public safety, especially in light of recent crashes involving semiautonomous cars. Read More > in The New York Times
The Death of the Telephone Call 1876–2007. – …Not entirely of the past, of course; phone conversation lives on in roughly the same way that swing dancing lives on, or Latin declension, or manual transmission. You can still find it, but you have to look a lot harder, because it’s no longer a way of life.
The phone call died, according to Nielsen, in the autumn of 2007. During the final three months of that year the average monthly number of texts sent on mobile phones (218) exceeded, for the first time in recorded history, the average monthly number of phone calls (213). A frontier had been crossed. The primary purpose of most people’s primary telephones was no longer to engage in audible speech.
Some were still, of course, making phone calls on their “landlines.” But by 2007, landlines were already being displaced rapidly by mobile phones, in part because you couldn’t send a text on one. Today, we’re mere seconds away from a majority of U.S. households possessing no landline at all, and text messages are five times more frequent on mobile phones than phone calls. You can still call your best friend on the telephone, but he probably won’t pick up. Instead he’ll text you, or ping you on Facebook, and wonder when the hell it was you became so emotionally needy.
It’s a lonely business, this life without telephone calls. Read More > in Slate
NFL commissioner: Raiders need to work harder with Oakland, Vegas not a done deal– NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t appear to be behind a plan to move the Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas, saying during a Packers-Vikings game this week that he’d prefer to see the team stay in the Bay.
“Well, you never want to see a community lose their franchise once, much less twice,” Goodell said, according to the Associated Press. “That’s why we work so hard with our communities to say: ‘This is what you have to try to get to,’ because you need to try to make sure this franchise continues to be successful.'”
The Vikings’ new $1.1 billion stadium is one template for how a smaller team and a community can come together to find a way to make their resources work both parties, Goodell said.
…At the beginning of September, the Raiders filed to trademark the name “Las Vegas Raiders” and new renderings of a proposed stadium in Las Vegas have been released. You can see those renderings above.
The Raiders have long toyed with looking outside the Bay Area for a new home, and team executives have been shuttling back and forth to Vegas since January. On Jan. 12, the Raiders withdrew their request to move the team to Los Angeles after NFL owners backed the relocation of the Rams and Chargers instead. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times
Sears still has plenty of levers to pull to avoid bankruptcy – Every round of store closings sends the same whispers echoing through Wall Street — how much longer can Sears hang on?
Yet despite the latest chatter about the chain’s inevitable demise, sparked this time by news it will shutter 64 more Kmart stores in mid-December, analysts say the company has plenty of levers to pull to stay afloat this Christmas and beyond.
They include a robust real estate portfolio estimated to be worth roughly $4.5 billion; the prospect of additional cash infusions from CEO Eddie Lampert’s hedge fund ESL Investments; and a potential sale of its Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands.
That’s not to say the company isn’t edging closer toward a potential bankruptcy. Sears has $3.5 billion in long-term debt on its balance sheet, and is expected to report a $1.5 billion loss in operating cash flow this year, according to Moody’s. That’s on top of a $2.2 billion deficit last year, the ratings agency said.
The once-venerable department store chain also owes a minimum $596 million in pension contributions for 2016 and 2017 combined, and has a total unfunded pension and post-retirement obligation of $2.1 billion, according to Moody’s. Read More > at CNBC
Prayer and politics in Congress – …On Wednesdays, though, the Democrat gets up extra early, at 5:30 a.m., so he can catch the train from Wilmington to Washington, arriving about 8:20. If he walks straight to the Capitol from the station, he can make the second half of the Senate prayer breakfast, a bipartisan hour of personal reflection and faith-sharing among senators.
“It’s the best hour of the week,” says Senator Coons, who is working on a book about the faith journeys of senators, “Profiles in Spirit,” with Elizabeth McCloskey of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics in St. Louis.
After a simple buffet of eggs, bacon, fruit, and other offerings, anywhere from 15 to 30 senators from both parties break spiritual bread at this nondenominational feast. They sing a hymn, share cares and concerns, pray for each other, and hear an inspirational talk from a current or former senator, often about a deeply personal experience. The speakers alternate weekly by party.
…The prayer breakfast is one of the few venues on the Hill where members of both parties mix socially. In a typical week, about a quarter of the Senate shows up, including members of leadership from both parties, according to Coons. Participants drop politics at the door. They observe strict confidentiality. No staff. No journalists. It’s just the senators and the chamber’s chaplain, who leads the singing.
The Senate breakfast and its companion in the House are invisible to the public. Yet that is exactly what makes them so beneficial, say attendees. The confidentiality of the breakfasts allows lawmakers to get to know each other as human beings. They hear about each other’s personal struggles and joys, about concern for family members, friends, and staff. That builds trust and friendship. It can even lead to bipartisan legislation. One participant says that it’s the only time when a senator is speaking and others are really listening. Read More > The Christian Science Monitor
If marijuana is legalized, where would $1 billion in new tax revenue go? – Supporters of legal recreational marijuana use point to Colorado, which legalized cannabis for adults in 2012. There, taxes and fees on weed are helping to build schools, repair roads and stabilize city budgets.
But critics of Proposition 64, California’s legalization initiative on the November ballot, point out tax revenue from legal weed would be dispersed much differently here.
Letitia Pepper, a Riverside attorney who uses medical marijuana to treat multiple sclerosis but is a vocal opponent of the measure, noted none of it would be dedicated to the general operations of local governments or schools.
An estimated $1 billion in new tax revenue would be directed toward specific new or expanded programs such as drug-use prevention and treatment, helping at-risk youth, law enforcement, environmental clean-up and research.
…Tax revenue from legalized weed would first be used to cover “all reasonable costs” incurred by the state to administer and enforce the recreational cannabis regulations, according to the ballot measure.
The Department of Consumer Affairs, which would oversee the new marijuana marketplace if Proposition 64 passes, doesn’t have an estimate yet of those administrative costs, according to spokeswoman Veronica Harms. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News
California sea otter population reaches record high number – In a historic rebound, California sea otters, the frolicking ocean ambassadors of Monterey Bay and Big Sur, have reached their highest population level since 1982, when federal and state officials first began keeping track.
A growth in the amount of sea urchins, one of the otters’ favorite foods, seems to be the leading reason why otter numbers along the California coast have grown to 3,272 this year, up 11 percent since 2013, experts said as they released the latest survey Monday.
In fact, the otter population is likely at its highest level in at least 100 years, Tinker said. And for the first time, the otter numbers have exceeded 3,090, the total that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says is needed to be met for three years in a row before they can be considered for removal from the endangered species list. Read More > in The Mercury News
Proposition 57 will reduce prison population; some say threatens public safety – Proposition 57, developed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would allow inmates to earn credits for completing educational and rehabilitation programs. It would also allow judges — not prosecutors — to decide whether to try certain minors as adults.
The measure is seen as a third step toward complying with a federal court order to reduce the state prison population, which now stands at about 128,000 inmates. Two previous measures, Proposition 47 in 2014, which reduced some felonies to misdemeanors, and a statewide prison realignment shifting inmates from prison to county jails in 2011 led to a drop in state prison rolls of tens of thousands of people.
…But the county’s law enforcement leaders oppose Proposition 57, saying its passage will threaten public safety. Cotati police Chief Michael Parrish, president of Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chiefs Association, said some inmates eligible for release are anything but nonviolent. The proposal allows participants to include those convicted of crimes including rape of an intoxicated person, vehicular manslaughter, domestic violence causing trauma and human trafficking involving sex with minors.
Parrish said the previous prison-crowding measures have led to a double-digit spike in crime. He called Proposition 57 the “third strike against the safety of Californians.” Read More > in The Press Democrat
The Response to This Weekend’s Terror Attacks Showed Willful Blindness in Real Time – In the all too familiar pattern, things are going boom, Americans are under attack, and the American political class is already busy playing the “See No Jihad” minuet.
In a rational world, where our highest imperative would be to understand the threat that confronts us rather than to find the least offensive way of describing it, it would be patently, undeniably obvious that we are targets of international terrorism fueled by Islamic supremacist ideology. Nevertheless, the political class can only bring itself to say this kicking and screaming, and only if there is no other plausible alternative — which basically means a terrorist caught in the act while wearing an ISIS T-shirt.
That is because Islamic supremacism is a mainstream interpretation of Islam. The political class has convinced itself that uttering the plain truth would be condemning all of Islam, meaning all Muslims — notwithstanding that no one sensible claims Islamic supremacism is the only way of interpreting Islam, and, in fact, jihadist battalions kill more Muslims than non-Muslims. Read More > in The National Review
Kmart is closing 64 more stores and laying off thousands of employees — see if your store is on the list – Kmart is closing 64 stores across 28 states.
Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart, informed Kmart employees of the closures on Friday, according to several local news reports and multiple employees who spoke with Business Insider.
The stores that are closing will begin liquidation sales on September 22 and close by mid-December, employees said.
Sears did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. Read More > at Business Insider
The deeply troubling federal report targeting religious freedom – Nearly 225 years after the ratification of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the cause of conscience protected by the principles of “no establishment” and “free exercise” may be losing support in the minds and hearts of the American people.
Appeals by religious individuals and groups for exemption from government laws and regulations that substantially burden religious practice are increasingly unpopular and controversial. So much so that many in the media have taken to using scare quotes, transforming religious freedom into “religious freedom.”
Now the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights appears to be recommending that we make it official: Our first freedom is first no more.
According to a commission report released Sept. 7, “civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination, as embodied in the Constitution, laws, and policies, are of preeminent importance in American jurisprudence.”
If we accept this assertion, it means that conflicts between religious freedom and nondiscrimination principles are resolved by denying accommodation for religious conscience — except perhaps in very rare and narrow circumstances. Read More > in The Washington Post
Exec: Most Lyft rides will be in autonomous cars in 5 years – Within five years, a majority of ride-hailing company Lyft’s rides will be in self-driving cars, the company’s co-founder and president predicted on Sunday.
John Zimmer also said that personal car ownership will come to an end because autonomous rides will become a cheaper way to travel than owning an automobile. He made the predictions in an essay on the future of transportation in urban areas.
Technology, auto and ride-hailing companies are moving quickly toward self-driving vehicles. San Francisco-based Lyft is testing autonomous cars on the streets of San Francisco and Phoenix in partnership with General Motors. Its main competitor Uber is starting to carry passengers around Pittsburgh in autonomous cars with a human backup driver. Read More > from the Associated Press
When Information Storage Gets Under Your Skin – Patrick Paumen doesn’t have to worry about forgetting his keys and being locked out of his apartment. That is because he doesn’t need a key anymore—he simply unlocks the door with a wave of his hand.
The 32-year-old IT expert from the Dutch city of Heerlen is one of a growing number of people with electronic implants under their skin, mostly to use as keys or for identification.
Mr. Paumen has several such implants, or tags, embedded in the fatty tissue of his hands and his lower arm. He uses separate tags to unlock not only his apartment door, but also his office and the gate to a secure parking lot at work. Another stores information he would otherwise put on a business card—name and contact details—and yet another holds similar information for nonbusiness encounters.
The implants can be activated and scanned by readers that use radio frequency identification technology, or RFID. Those include ordinary smartphones and readers already installed in office buildings to allow entrance with a common ID card. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal