Sunday Reading – 01/08/17


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.

Why I Married Myself – Self-marriage is a small but growing movement, with consultants and self-wedding planners popping up across the world. In Canada, a service called Marry Yourself Vancouver launched this past summer, offering consulting services and wedding photography. In Japan, a travel agency called Cerca Travel offers a two-day self-wedding package in Kyoto: You can choose a wedding gown, bouquet, and hairstyle, and pose for formal wedding portraits. On the website I Married Me, you can buy a DIY marriage kit: For $50, you get a sterling silver ring, ceremony instructions, vows, and 24 “affirmation cards” to remind you of your vows over time. For $230, you can get the kit with a 14-karat gold ring.

It’s not a legal process — you won’t get any tax breaks for marrying yourself. It’s more a “rebuke” of tradition, says Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. “For generations, if women wanted to have economic stability and a socially sanctioned sex life or children, there was enormous social and economic pressure to do that within marriage,” she says. “Personally, as someone who lived for many years single and then did get married, I know that the kind of affirmation I got for getting married was unlike anything I’d ever had in any other part of my life.” That, she adds, is “incredibly unjust.”

Marriage (to another person) is on the decline. Barely half of all adults in the U.S. are married — a record low — according to a 2011 study from the Pew Research Center. In 1960, 72% of adults age 18 and older were married, while today, just 51% are wed. People are waiting longer to marry as well: The median age at first marriage is at a new high for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7 years). Read More > at Good Housekeeping

Report on Russian Involvement in U.S. Election Primarily about RT Network – This afternoon the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its unclassified version of its report intended to show that the Russian government attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election to try to help get Donald Trump elected.

Because this is the unclassified version of the report, it is extremely short on presenting actual evidence and the report up front acknowledges that it cannot reveal a lot of information for fear of revealing sources or intelligence gathering methods. Its conclusions are the same as what it is in the classified report that we will not see: The CIA, FBI and NSA are all confident that the Russian government, with the support of President Vladimir Putin, attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, attempted to discredit Hillary Clinton as a candidate and erode Americans confidence in our government.

The declassified report is 25 pages long, but only a small part of it, just a couple of pages, talks about actual cyberintrusions or hacking and the role it might have played. And it’s really what we’ve already heard. The agencies are confident that Russian intelligence gained access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks, collected the emails, and then released them to the public through intermediaries like Guccifer 2.0, Wikileaks, and DCLeaks.com. The agencies believe that Putin wanted to discredit Clinton because he blames her for anti-Putin protests from 2011 and 2012. Read More > at Reason

Cadillac is renting vehicles as a subscription service for $1,500 a month – Variety is the spice of life, but reality is full of commitments. Buying a car typically means being stuck with a specific model for the duration of ownership. If you have enough money to burn, however, Cadillac has another option: don’t own a car. Subscribe to one. Today the company announced Cadillac Book, a “luxury vehicle subscription service” that lets you rent various Cadillac vehicles on the fly. Basically, it’s an app-based rental service that carries only one brand of vehicle and costs $1,500 a month.

Cadillac is selling the idea as a convenience service — Book members don’t own their car, but they aren’t responsible for insurance or maintenance either. They also have the option to trade it out for another vehicle at a drop of the hat. If the sedan you normally borrow from the service doesn’t have enough room for an upcoming road trip, all you have to do is tap a few buttons in the service’s app, and Book will deliver the SUV to your home lickity split. The trade off, of course, is Book users still don’t own that car, and they’re paying more for the service than they would in financing the vehicle. It’s like Spotify, but for cars. Do you care if you own the music if you have access to it whenever you want? Read More > at Engadget

At CES 2017, the frenzy over self-driving cars is palpable – Not that long ago, checking in on the state of self-driving car technology meant asking Google’s engineers how they were doing. The search company was virtually alone on the autonomous car highway.

But in the last four years, that road has gotten crowded.

…It’s clear now that engineers are able to make cars drive themselves. The bigger issue is how to scale this technology in a way that finds it both culturally embraced and scientifically sound — and is cost effective.

As tech companies such as Nvidia, Intel, Harman join major auto brands such Audi, BMW and Volvo — 500 auto-tech companies large and small came to CES this year — in showing off their chips, sensors and smart cars, one has to wonder if this is a winner-take-all contest or if we’re creating competing standards that could delay the arrival of a self-driving future.

…And along the way, some companies may fall to the wayside, as did some in the transition from traditional cell phones to today’s smartphones.

“The next 10 years is going to be as influential in the car and personal transportation world as the smartphone has been in the past ten years,” Autotrader’s Brauer said. “You are going to see companies disappear because they can’t adapt quickly enough.”

O’Donnell agrees and expects the industry to coalesce around multiple approaches. “It’s an exciting area and it’s clear no one owns it. Frankly, it’s big enough there may be multiple players.” Read More > at USA Today

ESPN puts a happy face on silencing Chris Berman – It looks like longtime broadcaster Chris Berman is going back, back, back, back … gone.

ESPN released a statement Thursday announcing Berman’s move to a new role following the end of this NFL season. That followed a somewhat awkward seven months after initial reports that ESPN would be reducing, if not ending, Berman’s role with the network.

He will no longer lead ESPN’s NFL studio coverage, nor will he host the NFL Draft show or the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby. Instead, he will be shifted to “serve in public-facing roles on behalf of the company,” according to the release. All of which is ESPN’s nice way of saying it is phasing out one of its most recognizable broadcasters.

Berman’s legacy is assured, but after 38 years at ESPN, including 31 as host of “Sunday NFL Countdown,” those in the industry and watching at home could sense the 61-year-old’s time had come.

To many, the “Swami” shtick and “The Two-Minute Drill” had grown tiresome, and for some, his “Fastest three minutes in television” couldn’t end fast enough. Read More > in the New York Post

California as Alt-America – …Today California is returning to its outlier roots, defying many of the political trends that define most of the country. Rather than adjust to changing conditions, the state seems determined to go it alone as a bastion of progressivism. Some Californians, going farther out on a limb, have proposed separating from the rest of the country entirely; a ballot measure on that proposition has been proposed for 2018.

This shift to outpost of modern-day progressivism has been developing for years but was markedly evident in November. As the rest of America trended to the right, electing Republicans at the congressional and local levels in impressive numbers, California has moved farther left, accounting for virtually all of the net popular vote margin for Hillary Clinton. Today the GOP is all but non-existent in the most populated parts of the state, and the legislature has a supermajority of Democrats in both houses. In many cases, including last year’s Senate race, no Republicans even got on the November ballot.

The election of Donald Trump has expanded the widening gap. The two biggest points of contention going forward are likely to be climate change, which has come to dominate California’s policy agenda, and immigration, a critical issue to the rising Latino political class, Silicon Valley and the state’s entrenched progressive activists.

Most of the big cities — Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento — have proclaimed themselves “sanctuary cities,” and the state legislative leadership is now preparing a measure that would create “a wall of justice” against Trump’s agenda. If federal agents begin swooping down on any of the state’s estimated 2 million undocumented immigrants, incoming Attorney General (and former congressman) Xavier Becerra has made it among his first priorities to “resist” any deportation orders, including paying legal fees.

…Indeed, a closer examination shows that the California “boom” is really about one region, the tech-rich San Francisco Bay Area, with roughly half the state’s job growth recorded there since 2007 even though the region accounts for barely a fifth of the state’s population. Outside the Bay Area, the vast majority of employment gains have been in low-paying retail, hospitality and medical fields. And even in Silicon Valley itself, a large portion of the population, notably Latinos, are downwardly mobile given the loss of manufacturing jobs.

According to the most recent Social Science Research Council report, the state overall suffers the greatest levels of income inequality in the nation; the Public Policy Institute places the gap well over 10 percent higher than the national average. And though California may be home to some of the wealthiest communities in the nation, accounting for 15 of the 20 wealthiest, its poverty rate, adjusted for cost, is also the highest in the nation. Indeed, a recent United Way study found that half of all California Latinos, and some 40 percent of African-Americans, have incomes below the cost of necessities (the “Real Cost Measure”). Among non-citizens, 60 percent of households have incomes below the Real Cost Measure, a figure that stretches to 80 percent below among Latinos. Read More > at Real Clear Politics

Dismal holiday sales at Macy’s and Kohl’s cast gloom over sector – Disappointing holiday-season sales at Macy’s Inc (M.N) and Kohl’s Corp (KSS.N) underscored the uphill task facing department stores to win back shoppers, who are increasingly turning to online retailers and spending less on apparel.

Macy’s shares fell as much as 14 percent on Thursday, their biggest percentage drop in seven months. Kohl’s stock dropped as much as 20.5 percent, its biggest decline in more than 14 years.

Both reported lower-than-expected sales for November and December and cut their full-year profit forecasts on Wednesday.

…However, it is expected to relinquish its position as the largest U.S. apparel retailer to Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) as soon as this year as it struggles to compete on prices and the convenience offered by online shopping.

Amazon said last week it had its “best ever” holiday season, shipping more than 1 billion items worldwide.

Shares of other department store operators, including J.C. Penney Co Inc (JCP.N) and Nordstrom Inc (JWN.N), also fell as the dismal showing took investors by surprise.

…Apart from competition from Amazon, department stores have been hit by a shift in spending away from apparel to experiences such as dining out and traveling. Read More > at Reuters

New Peanut Allergy Guidance: Most Kids Should Try Peanuts – Parents worried about peanut allergies now have some surprising new guidance: Give some peanut to your babies.

New guidelines out Thursday say that even babies with the highest risk of having a peanut allergy should be given small doses of the nut because it might prevent the allergy from ever developing,

Most kids should get a taste of peanut protein by the time they are 6 months old, and they should get regular doses if they don’t have an allergic reaction. Those at highest risk should be tested in a specialist’s office.

It’s a big change from previous guidelines, which recommended that people keep peanuts and peanut products away from their kids completely until they are 3 years old if there is a risk of allergies.

The new guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and other groups follow up on findings that giving peanut to kids early enough in life can train their immune systems so they don’t overreact and cause a dangerous allergic reaction. Read More > at NBC News

DNC rejected FBI request to examine hacked email server, law enforcement official says – The FBI “repeatedly stressed” the importance of accessing the hacked email server of the Democratic National Committee. But one senior law enforcement official now tells TheBlaze that DNC officials rejected its requests.

The news comes just hours after it was reported the FBI never examined the DNC server, which the bureau and multiple other U.S. intelligence agencies say was hacked by the Russian government, leading to the release of thousands of damning emails by WikiLeaks that some argue helped President-elect Donald Trump win the election.

“The FBI repeatedly stressed to DNC officials the necessity of obtaining direct access to servers and data, only to be rebuffed until well after the initial compromise had been mitigated. This left the FBI no choice but to rely upon a third party for information. These actions caused significant delays and inhibited the FBI from addressing the intrusion earlier,” the senior law enforcement official said Thursday night in an email.

The “third party” to which the official was referring is Crowdstrike, a California-based cybersecurity firm, hired to do the work of the FBI even though, as one law enforcement official told BuzzFeed, it’s unusual for the FBI not to conduct its own forensic research. Read More > at The Blaze

Sears selling Craftsman brand for nearly $1 billion Sears said today it has agreed to sell its iconic, 89-year-old Craftsman brand of tools to Stanley Black & Decker.

The Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based retailer announced it will offload Craftsman for $525 million in cash at closing, plus and additional $250 million payment at the end of Year 3 and variable payments for up to 15 years.

Sears (Nasdaq: SHLD) says the net present value of the closing payment plus annual payments is approximately $900 million.

The deal gives Connecticut-based Stanley Black & Decker (NYSE: SWK) the rights to manufacture and sell Craftsman-branded products in non-Sears retail, industrial and online sales channels in the U.S. and overseas.

According to a news release, Sears will continue to sell Craftsman tools in its stores via a perpetual license from Stanley Black & Decker, which will receive royalties from Sears after a 15-year grace period. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Suburbs Still the Choice for Housing Consumers – Let me hear it again. What’s wrong with the suburbs? Nothing, says the latest report of the Urban Land Institute (ULI). While urban centers are experiencing a revival, suburban areas are thriving, too, according to the recently published report, Evolving U.S. Suburbs Continue to Shape Residential Demand and Development.

Indeed, the white-picket fence enclosing a large backyard is still the preferred choice of families and individuals. The report reveals that outward migration is alive and well and builders are showing up to meet the need.

Moreover, incomes are substantially higher in suburban communities than in urban areas – $71,000 in the suburbs compared to $49,200 in urban neighborhoods. And, despite popular perceptions, over 75 percent of people aged 25 to 34 live not in urban areas but in the suburbs.

The report does show home values vary markedly from region to region. The one pattern that does emerge, however, is how prices and rents in major job centers are substantially higher in the contiguous urban areas than they are in suburban areas – substantiating the long-held belief that the more affordable housing in the major metropolitan areas is in the suburbs. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

The Mosque Next Door: City Law vs. Houses of Faith – …Across the country, more and more towns have used local zoning laws as barriers to new mosques and Islamic schools, underscoring what civil rights advocates say is a growing wave of intolerance that has been amplified by the victory of President-elect Donald J. Trump. In response, the federal government has been increasingly turning to the courts, using a law passed unanimously by Congress in 2000 that prohibits municipalities from discriminating against religions in land-use decisions or treating religious groups differently than secular ones.

While the law, with the arcane name Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, was intended to protect all religious faiths, 11 of the last 13 cases brought by the Justice Department — including three in the last month — have involved Muslims.

“The law, by its very nature, deals with particularly vulnerable populations,” said Mark Goldfeder, a senior lecturer at Emory University’s School of Law and a senior fellow at the university’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion. “It’s so easy for towns to hide discrimination behind layers of land-use procedure.” Read More > in The New York Times

Code Jed: Why 49ers Have Fallen – …”I own this football team,” York said. “You don’t dismiss owners. I’m sorry that that’s the fact and that’s the case, but that’s the fact.”

Actually, that’s not the fact. York — who once compared the guy who succeeded Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula, to Steve Kerr — hardly gets anything right when it comes to pro football and can’t even get his own status right. He doesn’t own the team. His mom, Marie Denise DeBartolo York, owns the team. She is the one, to use an old line from another sport, who has clearly convinced a kid born on third base that he’d hit a triple.

His mom is the one who saw a young guy who had spent a year working as a financial analyst in New York City as a budding pro football genius, and brought him out to San Francisco and made him director of strategic planning, whatever that means. But in one of those inspiring business stories that must give hope to all young guys everywhere, York continued his meteoric rise up the corporate ladder, and before long he was vice president of strategic planning. And by 2008, at the age of 28, with the complete blessing of both his parents, he became the guy operating the franchise.

The 49ers are where they are, and the last time this was a legit team was when Harbaugh was coaching it, whether he could be a real long day for his bosses or not. If the DeBartolos in charge of the place had left when he left and Harbaugh stayed, 49ers fans would be a lot better off.

So they start all over again. The general manager is gone and the last coach, Chip Kelly, who was apparently hired for 14 minutes or 14 losses, whichever came first, is gone. There is no quarterback under contract, unless you think Colin Kaepernick — who actually had a ball in the air under Harbaugh to win a Super Bowl — can be famous again in pro football for something other than taking a knee during the national anthem.

They aren’t the San Francisco 49ers anymore. They are the Santa Clara 49ers. They are just another bad team with the wrong people in charge, starting with the guy who stood up on Tuesday and looked like a kid who had taken over the principal’s office, the one who has watched his team win seven football games out of 32 since Harbaugh got kicked to the curb. Read More > at Sports on Earth

What the Washington Post’s Hacked Electrical Grid Report Got Wrong A Washington Post report on Friday said that Russian hackers had breached the nation’s power grid via a utility in Vermont, citing unnamed U.S. officials. Almost immediately, digital security experts panned the story, criticizing it as prematurely alarmist and lacking key details.

The supposed discovery linked “code” found on the utility’s computer network to Russian election meddlers, who were widely believed to be Kremlin-sponsored and associated with state security and intelligence agencies such as the FSB and GRU. The finding came a day after the government published an intelligence report, criticized by many as overly broad, claiming to contain evidence of a Moscow-backed election interference campaign dubbed “Grizzly Steppe.”

Soon after the initial Post story appeared, Burlington Electric came forward as the reportedly hacked organization. The municipally-owned utility clarified that had it had “detected the malware” on a single laptop, separate from its grid systems.

In other words, the main premise of the Post story—indeed, its headline—turned out to be incorrect. The breach involved a solitary laptop and no penetration of the grid, the Post said in an editor’s note appended Saturday.

A day later, Burlington Electric revealed more information about the incident, debunking suspicions. The code presumably associated with the Russian hacking operation turned out to be nothing more than a “specific type of Internet traffic” that had “been observed elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric,” the utility said in a second press release. Read More > at Fortune

Capitol Journal – Marijuana is legal in California. Now politicians and pot pushers need to help keep it out of kids’ hands – Happy New Year and pass the pot. But now that weed is legal for adults in California, we need somehow to keep more teens from toking.

Regular use can stunt their mental growth.

There is a new study out by some PhDs that points to less fear and more use of marijuana by teens in Washington state after the drug was legalized there for adults.

And “across the country, there has been a decreased perception of risk associated with marijuana among adolescents,” says study leader Magdalena Cerda, an epidemiologist — an expert in the spread of disease — at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program.

After all, adults keep legalizing marijuana in state after state. So what’s good for the parents must be OK for the kids, right? No, but not everyone is getting the message.

Washington state legalized adult marijuana use in 2012. Cerda’s researchers found that more Washington teens started getting stoned that year. They no longer believed the drug was dangerous.

…Short version: Marijuana is potentially bad stuff, especially for adolescents.

“Kids who start using it earlier are more likely to become dependent on marijuana,” Cerda told me after the release of the latest report on teenagers. “With long-term dependence, there are higher risks for mental health problems such as psychosis, depression and cognitive impairment earlier than what would be expected.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

It’s official: A brand-new human organ has been classified – Researchers have classified a brand-new organ inside our bodies, one that’s been hiding in plain sight in our digestive system this whole time.

Although we now know about the structure of this new organ, its function is still poorly understood, and studying it could be the key to better understanding and treatment of abdominal and digestive disease.

Known as the mesentery, the new organ is found in our digestive systems, and was long thought to be made up of fragmented, separate structures. But recent research has shown that it’s actually one, continuous organ.

So what is the mesentery? It’s a double fold of peritoneum – the lining of the abdominal cavity – that attaches our intestine to the wall of our abdomen, and keeps everything locked in place.

One of the earliest descriptions of the mesentery was made by Leonardo da Vinci, and for centuries it was generally ignored as a type of insignificant attachment. Over the past century, doctors who studied the mesentery assumed it was a fragmented structure made of separate sections, which made it pretty unimportant. Read More > at Science Alert

Macy’s is closing 68 stores — here’s where they will shut down – Macy’s is shutting down 68 stores as it battles slowing sales and growing online competition.

The company says nearly 4,000 employees will be affected by the closures.

The closures are part of a plan to shut down about 100 stores, which represents 15% of its store base, over the next couple of years.

The stores will close in early 2017. Read More > in the Business Insider

Car makers can let Alexa ride shotgun later this year – Amazon’s Alexa assistant can already communicate with some cars, but the conversations are a little one-sided. You can tell your home-bound Echo to start warming up your Hyundai on a frosty day, for example, or send directions to your BMW ahead of setting off; but when you’re on the road, you’re on your own. Later this year, though, car makers will be able to put Alexa in the passenger seat, giving drivers a virtual assistant that’ll put on some tunes, load up an audiobook and carry out many other tasks while their hands are stuck to the wheel.

This won’t be a result of individual car brand partnerships, however. Instead, Inrix is working to integrate Alexa into its OpenCar platform, which vehicle manufacturers can take and shape into their own, branded infotainment systems — similar to BlackBerry’s QNX platform, which could be powering your ride’s dash even if you don’t know it. Inrix acquired OpenCar early last year, and pitches it as an alternative to the more walled app ecosystems of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Read More > at Engadget

France is going to let drones start delivering the mail – The French postal service will soon start a new drone delivery program to carry parcels on a set nine-mile route following approval from the French aviation regulatory authority.

It’s just an experiment for now, not a fully launched program, and will only operate once a week. But it is the first time a federal postal service will use drones to deliver on a regular route.

Eventually, Le Groupe La Poste, the name of the French postal service, hopes to use drones to deliver parcels in hard to reach rural or mountainous regions, where last-mile delivery is difficult and expensive by ground vehicle.

The U.S. Postal Service has been looking into drones, too. In October, USPS released the results of a survey gauging how Americans feel about the idea of drones carrying parcels to American doorsteps, showing more Americans like the idea of drone delivery than dislike it.

Last Tuesday, Amazon released a video of its first customer drone delivery in the British countryside. And in China, online retailer JD.com started the trial of its drone delivery program in November with a fleet of 30 drones that ferry orders to locations in rural China outside of Beijing, as well as Jiangsu, Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces, according to the South China Morning Post. Read More > at Recode

Pentagon scraps Iraq, Afghan enlistment bonus repayments – The Pentagon said Tuesday it was dropping its efforts to recoup recruitment bonuses paid to more than 15,000 California National Guard staff a decade ago to get more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan battlefields.

In all, a Pentagon review found that some 17,500 California National Guard soldiers faced potential recoupment of bonuses used as inducements during recruitment drives to overcome a shortage of troops to send to the two conflict zones.

The Defense Department’s top personnel official Peter Levine told reporters that the Pentagon would begin notifying soldiers over the next month that the repayments were being waived, with that process due to be completed before July 1.

About 1,000 soldiers will have to present their case and argue over whether their debt should be forgiven. Read More > at Yahoo! News

Self-driving cars are already deciding who to kill Autonomous vehicles are already making profound choices about whose lives matter, according to experts, so we might want to pay attention.

“Every time the car makes a complex maneuver, it is implicitly making trade-off in terms of risks to different parties,” Iyad Rahwan, an MIT cognitive scientist, wrote in an email.

The most well-known issues in AV ethics are trolly problems—moral questions dating back to the era of trollies that ask whose lives should be sacrificed in an unavoidable crash. For instance, if a person falls onto the road in front of a fast-moving AV, and the car can either swerve into a traffic barrier, potentially killing the passenger, or go straight, potentially killing the pedestrian, what should it do?

Rahwan and colleagues have studied what humans consider the moral action in no-win scenarios (you can judge your own cases at their crowd-sourced project, Moral Machine).

While human-sacrifice scenarios are only hypothetical for now, Rahwan and others say they would inevitably come up in a world full of AVs. Read More > at Business Insider

Political Statement Or Transparent Pricing? Wage Hikes Prompt Surcharges At Restaurants – Catania is an upscale Italian restaurant in La Jolla with a scenic panorama of the Pacific Ocean from its outdoor deck. Since Jan. 1, however, diners’ eyes may be drawn to a small note at the bottom of the menu.

The note reads: “In lieu of raising prices, a 3.75 percent surcharge will be added to all checks to compensate for the increase in costs triggered by the new state and local ordinances. We appreciate your trust and understanding and will continue to put our heart and soul into providing you delicious food, exceptional service and genuine hospitality.” It then directs customers to the website of the restaurant’s parent company, Whisknladle Hospitality.

Whisknladle Hospitality’s founder and managing partner, Arturo Kassel, said across-the-menu price increases discourage customers from ordering higher-priced items, and that the surcharge was a more transparent way of letting customers know what they’re paying for.

“You’re seeing this being implemented in cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle,” he said. “And over the course of the next six months here in San Diego, it’ll become the new normal.” Read More > at KPBS

Legislature will be drinking old whines in new bottles – It’s not difficult to figure out what issues will dominate the new biennial session of the Legislature.

The biggies will be two complex, worsening crises – deterioration of our once-vaunted roadway system as it’s pounded by nearly a billion vehicle-miles of automotive travel each day, and an acute housing shortage.

Transportation officials have warned for years that California’s roadways are crumbling from heavy use and maintenance neglect.

There’s no shortage of proposals to shore up maintenance, but all involve tax increases, and lining up two-thirds legislative votes for taxes has proved elusive.

Democrats now have two-thirds supermajorities in both legislative houses and, therefore, theoretically enough votes to pass new taxes.

…California needs to build at least 100,000 new housing units a year to match population growth, but fell way behind during the Great Recession and hasn’t caught up.

The shortage has driven housing costs sky-high, particularly in major urban areas, and is the biggest factor in California’s having the nation’s highest level of poverty.

Several plans have been floated to put more money into housing – such as a tax on real estate transactions or eliminating the income tax deduction for interest on second homes – but even if Democrats can muster two-thirds votes for these tax changes, they’d have no more than a marginal effect on the crisis. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

California legislators: Just like you? – There are more white men named Jim in the California Legislature than black and Asian-American women—combined. And that’s not even including another white “James”. Or a Latino Jimmy.

California’s new legislative session begins in earnest this week, and a fresh class of legislators will influence everything from how bad your commute is to the quality of the air you breathe. But while California prides itself on diversity, is that diversity reflected in the Capitol?

Play with the filters below to see which of California’s 120 legislators match your own demographic characteristics… Read More > at Calmatters

Chillies could help beat cancer as research finds capsaicin destroys diseased cells – Chillies could help fight breast cancer after scientists revealed the spicy ingredient causes diseased cells to self destruct.

Capsaicin, the active component that gives chillies their trademark kick, can switch on specialised channels surrounding cancer cells causing them to die.

Other cancers including colon, bone and pancreatic could also be killed off by the compound.

However, capsaicin isn’t effective if it’s eaten, inhaled or injected, and researchers think it will only be effective as a pill attached to another drug that targets cancer cells.

When capsaicin reaches a cancer cell, the spicy ingredient attaches itself to the edge of the cell known as the cell membrane and switches on a cell receptor called TRPV1.

The receptor TRPV1 is a channel that controls what substances such as calcium and sodium go in and out of the cancer cell.

When TRPV1 is switched on by capsaicin, the cancer cell is sent into overdrive and starts to self-destruct.

As more and more cancer cells die, the tumour is stopped from growing larger Read More > in the Mirror

2017: The Year of Self-Driving Cars and Trucks – Former GM R&D chief Larry Burns has likened it to an arms race. But whether you think the advent of self-driving vehicles is going to destroy our economic systems or save our cities, the total automation of driving is certainly going to transform the way we live.

Ford, Google, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, and Uber, among others, have all boldly declared that they will get fully autonomous cars and trucks on the road in the United States by 2021. At the end of last year the Uber-owned company Otto sent a Budweiser beer delivery from Fort Collins, Colo., to Colorado Springs by autonomous truck. Chinese Internet company Baidu, partnering with Foton Motor Group, introduced its sleek semi-autonomous Super Truck. Daimler tested a driverless truck platoon in Germany. The only place driverless cars don’t seem to be turning up anytime soon is India, where, according to Maruti Suzuki chairman R.C. Bhargava, autonomous cars will never be able to keep up with their make-it-up-as-you-go human counterparts.

…Singapore has to be proactive about self-driving cars, as Ackerman points out: The city-state’s 5.6 million people are packed into just over 700 square kilometers, making it the third most densely populated country in the world. Roads in Singapore take up nearly as much land as housing does, and as the population keeps growing, building more roads is simply not an option. Boston has similarly run out of road room. Read More > at IEEE Spectrum

The Year in Housing: The Middle Class Can’t Afford to Live in Cities Anymore – In the center of Boston rises the small neighborhood of Fort Hill, on top of which sits Highland Park, designed in the 1800s by Frederick Olmsted.1 Patriots stored gunpowder here during the Revolutionary War, and a tower fit for Rapunzel commemorates their efforts. The abolitionist writer William Lloyd Garrison fought against slavery from a house on this hill. And now the battle for urban housing affordability rages on these streets. It’s a microcosm of the battle playing out on a neighborhood level in every growing city in America: a battle between those who want to keep property values high, and those who want the chance to live in the cities that have the best economic prospects.

The casualties in this war are mostly the middle class. In 2016, rents continued their years-long rise, incomes stratified further, and the average price to buy a home in major US cities rose. The strain pushed the middle class out of cities like Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Austin—the so-called “hot cities.” Some families move to the suburbs. Others flee for less expensive cities. But across the US, the trend holds: cities are increasingly home to high-rollers who can pay the high rents or down payments and lower income people who qualify for subsidized housing.

…The affordability crisis in US cities is not just about buying homes. Rents, too, have been rising since the Great Recession. In the coastal and hot cities like Denver and Austin, those increases have put even rentals out of reach for many in the middle class–defined as those making between $50 to $125,000 depending on household size. In 2016, the capital required to sign a lease on the average-priced $3,500-a-month apartment in San Francisco often topped $12,000, owing to requirements for first and last month’s rent plus security deposits and a broker fee. Read More > at Wired

Eight Facts on the “Russian Hacks” – There’s no standing allegation by U.S. officials that the Russians (or anyone else) “hacked” into our elections system or altered vote counts.

So what are the allegations and facts as we know them?

The FBI and DHS released a brief joint report Thursday describing “Russian Malicious Cyber Activity.” It doesn’t include forensic proof of Russian government involvement in hacking efforts, but the administration is rushing a detailed, classified report to be delivered, at President Obama’s request, prior to President Trump taking office January 20.

The joint report can be summarized this way:

  • The U.S. believes two hacking groups tied to the Russian government are involved.
  • The U.S. has nicknamed the hacking groups “APT28” or “Fancy Bear,” and “APT29” or “Cozy Bear.” APT stands for “Advanced Persistent Threat.”
  • The U.S. believes the GRU, Russia’s military service, is behind APT28.
  • The U.S. believes the FSB, Russia’s counterintelligence agency headquartered in the building of the former KGB, is behind APT29.
  • The U.S. believes the groups accessed “a political party” by sending emails that tricked users into clicking links that planted malware or directed them to Russian servers.
  • The U.S. believes APT29 entered into “the party’s systems” in summer 2015, and APT28 in spring 2016.
  • The U.S. believes APT28 provided the stolen emails to WikiLeaks, which WikiLeaks denies.

Most of the 13-page joint report provides advice on how to secure computer networks. Read More > at Sharyl Attkinnson

Op-Ed Leaving for Las Vegas: California’s minimum wage law leaves businesses no choice – California’s minimum wage jumped to $10.50 an hour at the start of the new year. As the founder of a small fashion design house and clothing manufacturer in San Fernando, I’m not a disinterested observer in this change.

…Here’s what the math looks like: I pay my employees $10.50 an hour, plus productivity bonuses. In addition, I pay payroll taxes and one of the highest worker compensation rates in the state. Even still, I could likely absorb a minimum wage as high as $11.50 an hour. But a $15-an-hour wage for my employees translates into $18.90 in costs for me — or just under $40,000 a year per full-time employee.

When the $15 minimum wage is fully phased in, my company would be losing in excess of $200,000 a year (and far more if my workforce grows as anticipated). That may be a drop in the bucket for large corporations, but a small business cannot absorb such losses. I could try to charge more to offset that cost, but my customers —the companies that are looking for someone to produce their clothing line — wouldn’t pay it. The result would be layoffs.

When Los Angeles County’s minimum wage ordinance was approved in July, I began looking at Ventura County, Orange County and other parts of the state. Then, when California embraced a $15 wage target, I realized that my company couldn’t continue to operate in the state. After considering Texas and North Carolina, I’ve settled on moving the business to Las Vegas, where I’m looking for the right facility. About half of our employees will make the move with us. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

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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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