Sunday Reading – 04-02-17


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.

What Californians Could Build Using the $64 Billion Bullet Train Budget – California’s High-Speed Rail project fails to justify itself according to any set of rational criteria. Its ridership projections are absurdly inflated, its environmental benefits are overstated if not actually net detriments, and its cost, its staggering cost, $64 billion by the latest estimate, overwhelms anyone with even a remote sense of financial proportions. To make this final point clear, here is an assortment of California infrastructure projects that could be paid for with a $64 billion budget.

If these projects were built, instead of the bullet train, Californians would have abundant, cheap electricity, abundant fresh water, and upgraded roads and freeways capable of handling all the traffic a surging economy could possibly dish out.

What Californians Could Build on a $64 Billion Budget

Read More > at California Political Review

We are getting closer to understanding who the first Americans really were – Many thousands of years ago, not a single human being lived in the Americas.

This only changed during the last Ice Age. It was a time when most of North America was covered with a thick sheet of ice, which made the Americas difficult to inhabit.

But at some point during this time, adventurous humans started their journey into a new world.

They probably came on foot from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge, which existed between Alaska and Eurasia from the end of the last Ice Age until about 10,000 years ago. The area is now submerged by water.

There is still debate about when these first Americans actually arrived and where they came from. But we are now getting closer to uncovering the original narrative, and finding out who these first Americans really were.

…At some point around this time – known as the Last Glacial Maximum – groups of hunter-gatherers moved east from what is now Siberia to set up camp there.

“The first people who arrived in Beringia were probably small, highly mobile groups evolving in a large landscape, probably depending on the availability of seasonal resources,” says Lauriane Bourgeon of the University of Montreal, Canada.

…It is now becoming clear that they made Beringia their home, staying put for several thousand years. This idea is called the Beringian Standstill Hypothesis. This standstill helped these isolated groups of people to become genetically distinct from those they had left behind, according to a 2007 study.

This long standstill therefore meant that the people who arrived in the Americas – when the ice finally retreated and allowed entry – were genetically different to the individuals who had left Siberia thousands of years earlier. “Arguably one of the most important parts of the process is what happened in Beringia. That’s when they differentiated from Asians and started becoming Native Americans,” says Connie Mulligan of the University of Florida in Gainesville, US, who took part in this early analysis. Read More > in the BBC

Moderates hold key to California road repair tax plan – The fate of Gov. Jerry Brown’s push to raise more than $5 billion a year to fix decrepit roads and bridges lies with a handful of centrist lawmakers in the California Legislature.

With an aggressive self-imposed deadline next week, the Democratic governor and top legislative leaders hit the road Thursday to pressure two moderate Democrats in Concord who will cast decisive votes on a major piece of Brown’s legacy.

Brown’s news conference took place in an area represented by Sen. Steve Glazer, a moderate Democrat from Orinda who sometimes breaks from his party’s leadership, and Assemblyman Tim Grayson, a Concord Democrat. Both are undecided.

The proposal, announced Wednesday, would raise $52 billion over 10 years through new taxes and fees, including a 12-cent hike in gas taxes and a yearly fee collected with vehicle registrations, ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the vehicle’s value.

The money would go to fixing state highways, local streets, bridges and culverts, as well as walking and biking trails. A portion would fund traffic reduction measures on major commuter routes.

Because it raises taxes and fees, the measure requires support from two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate, putting a spotlight on the moderate lawmakers who have in recent years hemmed in the ambitions of their more liberal colleagues.

Many come from swing districts where voting for a tax increase could make them vulnerable or from poorer areas with constituents who would have a harder time absorbing the higher costs. Read More > in the Associated Press

California jobs are back, but what kind? – Last week on Meet the Press, Gov. Jerry Brown repeated a stat that has become a mainstay when pointing to the California economy: Our state has added more than 2 million jobs since Brown took office in 2011.

The jobs claim was fact checked – and deemed true – by Chris Nichols of PolitiFact California. But it brought to light another quirk about jobs talk: The way we keep score when we discuss the state of the economy often fails to tell the full story.

That’s not to say the jobs numbers are wrong, just that they’re incomplete. It is true that there is an abundance of good news surrounding the state economy compared to six years ago. The jobs numbers paint a portrait of robust economic health in California. The state’s unemployment rate has fallen from 12% to 5%, and it has fallen in every region in the state. In all, there are more than 2.3 million more people employed today than in 2011.

Our state’s GDP is above $2.4 trillion, making it somewhere between the 5th and 7th largest economy in the world.

But we also know that a higher GDP and lower unemployment rate have not translated into universal prosperity. Wages and productivity no longer rise together. Poverty numbers in our state are among the highest in the nation, and certain parts of our state are not recovering as quickly or completely as others. The Central Valley, for example, has some of the highest poverty rates in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

…Taken together, these charts show that not all job growth is created equal. The Bay Area is booming with new high-wage jobs, while much of the rest of the state is being led by lower-wage job growth. As the California economy changes its form, the economic engine of the state has moved North. Meanwhile, in parts of the state that are home to most of the population, the job growth has been below the state average and tends to be lower-wage work. Read More > at Grizzly Bear Project

California bill for universal health care creates higher taxes, single-payer system – An ambitious proposal to create a single statewide insurance plan for every Californian — including undocumented residents, seniors on Medicare and people who now get their health coverage through work — began to take shape on Thursday when two legislators released details about what services would be covered and who would run the giant program.

Still missing, however, are the details that have bedeviled universal health care advocates for decades: how much it would cost taxpayers. And the plan will be difficult, if not impossible, to execute without permission from Washington to steer billions of federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars into a trust fund that covers everyone.

But advocates say it’s time for California to prove that a universal approach to health care isn’t just possible for the U.S., but also cheaper and less anxiety-inducing than the employer-based system now in place. Read More > in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

ESPN Has Seen the Future of TV and They’re Not Really Into It – ESPN broke ground on this $175 million, 194,000-square-foot facility, called Digital Center 2, in 2011. It was billed by executives as “future-proof,” capable of adapting to any possible change in the way people watch sports. At the time, ESPN looked indestructible. Its namesake cable channel had just topped 100 million subscribers and was posting record profits for its parent company, Walt Disney Co., even as streaming apps such as Netflix were growing rapidly. Ratings for live sports, unlike almost everything else on TV, were soaring. And ESPN had big games year-round—Monday Night Football, college football bowl games, Major League Baseball’s opening day, and the NBA playoffs, to name a few. A cover story in this magazine in the fall of 2012 dubbed ESPN the “Everywhere Sports Profit Network.”

Five years later the network’s profits are shrinking, and the 10,000-square-foot SportsCenter studio has already begun to look like a relic. The show’s formula, in which well-fed men in suits present highlights from the day’s games with Middle-American charm, is less of a draw now that the same highlights are readily available on social media. Viewership for the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter, a bellwether for the franchise, fell almost 12 percent from 2015 to last year, according to Nielsen. Keith Olbermann, the SportsCenter-host-turned-political-commentator, put it bluntly on a podcast last year: “There’s just no future in it.”

SportsCenter is only part of the problem. ESPN has lost more than 12 million subscribers since 2011, according to Nielsen, and the viewership erosion seems to be accelerating. Last fall, ESPN lost 621,000 subscribers in a single month, the most in the company’s history. The losses have helped depress Disney’s stock price—down 7 percent since August 2015, despite a big jump in the company’s film revenue thanks to a string of hits, including the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One. John Malone, the cable entrepreneur and chairman of Liberty Media Corp., has publicly suggested that Disney would be better off selling ESPN.

As subscribers leave the network, and often cable altogether, ESPN is stuck with rising costs for the rights to broadcast games. Programming costs will top $8 billion in 2017, according to media researcher Kagan. Most of that money goes to rights fees through deals that extend into the next decade. Last year profits from Disney’s cable networks, of which ESPN is the largest, fell for the first time in 14 years… Read More > at Bloomberg

Amazon and Walmart are in an all-out price war that is terrifying America’s biggest brands – Last month, Walmart gathered some of America’s biggest household brands near its Arkansas headquarters for a tough talk. For years, Walmart had dominated the retail landscape on the back of its “Everyday Low Price” guarantee. But now, Walmart was too often getting beaten on price.

So company executives were there, in part, to reset expectations with Walmart’s suppliers — the consumer brands whose chips, sodas and diapers line the shelves of its Supercenters and its website.

Walmart wants to have the lowest price on 80 percent of its sales, according to a presentation the company made at the summit, which Recode reviewed.

To accomplish that, the brands that sell their goods through Walmart would have to cut their wholesale prices or make other cost adjustments to shave at least 15 percent off. In some cases, vendors say they would lose money on each sale if they met Walmart’s demands.

…But this time around, Walmart’s renewed focus on its “Everyday Low Price” promise coincides with Amazon’s increased aggressiveness in its own pricing of the packaged goods that are found on supermarket shelves and are core to Walmart’s success, industry executives and consultants say.

The result in recent months has been a high-stakes race to the bottom between Walmart and Amazon that seems great for shoppers, but has consumer packaged goods brands feeling the pressure. Read More > at Recode

No, California lawmakers, the state budget is not bottomless – The state of California has staggering financial obligations. Its two largest pension systems have more than $170 billion in unfunded liabilities, a sum that is based on generous assumptions about future returns. The state has another almost $77 billion in unfunded liabilities when it comes to paying for government retirees’ health care, and it has an urgent need for infrastructure repairs and upgrades that the League of California Cities says carry a 20-year, $500 billion price tag. In the short term, the pressure on school district budgets is going to explode over the next four years as the additional financial burdens created by the 2014 bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System are phased in. According to a George Mason University study, only Illinois is in worse shape fiscally among the 10 most populous states in the nation.

Against this backdrop, it is stunning to see state lawmakers continue to propose new spending obligations. The latest case: Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Los Angeles, has introduced a bill that would require the state to fund a IRS Section 529 college savings account for each of the estimated half-million children born in California annually beginning next year, while allowing parents to opt out of the program. This comes on top of proposals to give annual grants from $2,660 to nearly $18,000 to University of California and California State University students to help them pay bills.

Here’s another idea: Let’s give lawmakers remedial math classes. No one is served by fantastic notions about a state budget that will never pencil out. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

What counts as a church? Supreme Court pension case asks important question – A Supreme Court case about retirement benefits could hold surprising consequences for America’s religious communities. In parsing the legal language, justices may need to redefine what counts as a church.

Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton centers on what types of employers are considered religious — or at least religiously affiliated — under Internal Revenue Service pension rules. The petitioners, a group of three religiously affiliated health care systems, argue that they are eligible to run church plan pensions, which are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. An ERISA exemption means the hospitals don’t have to report pension savings to the government or pay related premiums.

But these exemptions concern the health care systems’ employees because their church pensions plans — which they say are underfunded by around $4 billion — aren’t protected by the ERISA safety net. The workers who initiated the Supreme Court case assert that the church plan exemption shouldn’t include pension plans that weren’t established by a faith group, rejecting the IRS’s interpretation of “church” as overly broad.

…In its most narrow application, the Supreme Court ruling will affect around 30 pending lawsuits related to church pension plans, as well as the three health care systems being challenged in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton. If the definition of “church plan” is tightened, many religiously affiliated schools, health care systems and other social service organizations will have to adjust their budgets and take a short-term financial hit in order to comply with ERISA. Read More > in the Deseret News

Spiders could theoretically eat every human on Earth in one year – Spiders are quite literally all around us. A recent entomological survey of North Carolina homes turned up spiders in 100 percent of them, including 68 percent of bathrooms and more than three-quarters of bedrooms. There’s a good chance at least one spider is staring at you right now, sizing you up from a darkened corner of the room, eight eyes glistening in the shadows.

Spiders mostly eat insects, although some of the larger species have been known to snack on lizards, birds and even small mammals. Given their abundance and the voraciousness of their appetites, two European biologists recently wondered: If you were to tally up all the food eaten by the world’s entire spider population in a single year, how much would it be?

Martin Nyffeler and Klaus Birkhofer published their estimate in the journal the Science of Nature earlier this month, and the number they arrived at is frankly shocking: The world’s spiders consume somewhere between 400 million and 800 million tons of prey in any given year. That means that spiders eat at least as much meat as all 7 billion humans on the planet combined, who the authors note consume about 400 million tons of meat and fish each year. Read More > in The Virginian-Pilot

Will creating new loans for ‘granny flats’ help solve the Bay Area’s housing crisis? – Last September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law new regulations aimed at how property owners create and regulate potential rental properties built on the land they already own in an attempt to boost California’s strained housing stock in a region with sky-high property prices.

“[The] law, authored by California Sen. Bob Wieckowski, enables homeowners to build rental units on their property, whether through garage conversions, as a home attachment, or as a new, standalone structure. These types of residences are formally known as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and colloquially as ‘granny flats,'”

But the costs involved in converting such dwellings can be daunting: Converting backyard or property units can run as high at $200,000 for design plans and construction, the site says, making them prohibitive for many homeowners. Matt Regan, senior vice president of housing policy at the Bay Area Council, a public policy and business-sponsored think tank, said that housing advocates are crafting new banking mechanisms to help homeowners finance building ADUs.

The new financing options would be designed to help California homeowners who may be “home rich and cash poor” actually convert some of these spaces, including garages, additions to existing homes or entirely new structures into new rental units. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Bond Transparency – Bonds are not free money. The question is: do voters know that when they vote on bonds? If you follow bond election campaigns you know that in most cases supporters of bonds don’t tell voters that state bonds obligate money from the General Fund or that local bonds raise taxes. It is time for transparency when it comes to the bonds on ballots.

When voters pass statewide bonds they are obligating the General Fund to cover the bond’s costs (once they are issued) before any other expenditures are made from the General Fund. When voters approve local general obligation bonds voters are creating a debt that taxpayers must cover through property tax increases.

…At least recently with state bonds a notation in the title and summary informed voters the bond would be paid from the General Fund. That was not always the case.

The simple solution for local bonds is for the ballot summaries to carry notification that if a local bond passes, property taxes go up. Voters can then fairly weigh that fact against the benefits the new bonds may bring to a community.

There is an effort in the legislature to fix this problem.

…California has long recognized the need to be wary of bonds that add taxes to property. A two-thirds vote requirement to pass local general obligation bonds was added to the 1879 state constitution. The supermajority vote was put in place because property owners, in essence, were putting up their homes and property as collateral against payment for the bonds. Also, since the life of the bond runs 30 years or more, the bond vote is obligating future property owners to meet the payment obligation. In 2000, the vote requirement to pass school bonds was dropped to 55% when Proposition 39 passed. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Employee burnout is becoming a huge problem in the American workforce – While companies are posting record profits, Americans are working harder than ever before for a nominal wage increase. The national unemployment rate has been cut in half since 2010 and the economy is projected to grow by almost 50% between 2010 and 2020. Despite this positive outlook, employees are overworked, burned out, and dissatisfied. A recent study my firm conducted, in partnership with Kronos, found that burnout is responsible for up to half of all employee attrition. Employees are working more hours for no additional pay and as a result, they are searching for new jobs. Nearly all employers surveyed agree that improving retention is a critical priority yet many aren’t investing in solving the problem, even though it costs thousands of dollars to replace each employee lost.

Employee productivity has skyrocketed between 2000 and 2014, yet wages and benefits have been stagnant. The Economic Policy Institute shows that productivity increased by 21.6%, yet wages grew by only 1.8% during this time period. Employees are spending more of their time doing work but their compensation hasn’t adjusted to reflect this increase in productivity. The legacy nine-to-five workday no longer exists either, and Gallup estimates that it is now 47 hours for a full-time salaried worker. Technology, especially smartphones and wearables, has greatly expanded the workday even more as employees are expected to respond to business matters anytime or place.

Outside of the workplace, employees are working on weekends and even on vacations. Vacations allow employees to regenerate so they can elevate their productivity upon return. A Project: Time Off study found that more than half left vacation time unused in 2015 because they couldn’t find the time to take them due to a heavy workload… Read More > at Quartz

What does California need to meet its climate-change goals? For starters, denser housing and less driving, report says – California will need billions of dollars in new funding for housing and transportation improvements, and to make extraordinary changes to state and local government policies, in order to meet its new 2030 climate change goals, according to new reports from state and regional government officials and UC Berkeley researchers.

Californians will need to cut their driving by 1.6 miles per day, which they could accomplish through telecommuting, carpooling, biking or taking transit to work once a month as well as replacing short car trips with walking and combining multiple errands into one trip, state climate regulators said.

…Since 2008, regional governments have been responsible for developing plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by aiming to redirect development from sprawling outward to denser development into cities, adjacent suburbs and neighborhoods near mass transit lines. But regional governments have to revise their plans to meet the new targets now that the 2030 climate change goals passed the Legislature last year.

…Rather than expecting all Californians to drive less, the state could see substantial driving reductions if it changed policies to funnel new housing into cities, according to a study released Monday by public policy think tank Next 10. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Poll: Californians dislike Trump, but don’t back ‘Resistance’ or Calexit – Californians may decisively disapprove of President Donald Trump’s performance so far, but a new online poll suggests voters here aren’t so comfortable with the Golden State carrying the mantle of the “Resistance” — let alone splitting from the rest of the country.

A majority of the state’s voters — including nearly one in three Democrats — would prefer cooperation over a prolonged fight with Washington that could possibly result in funding cuts or other “negative consequences,” according to a new poll released Tuesday by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

The survey highlighted another moderate view that has weathered a time of political extremes: Californians of every political stripe oppose the idea of California becoming its own nation. Read More > in the Mercury News

Going Under the Knife, With Eyes and Ears Wide Open – More surgery is being performed with the patient awake and looking on, for both financial and medical reasons. But as surgical patients are electing to keep their eyes wide open, doctor-patient protocol has not kept pace with the new practice. Patients can become unnerved by a seemingly ominous silence, or put off by what passes for office humor. Doctors are only beginning to realize that when a patient is alert, it is just not O.K. to say: “Oops!” or “I wasn’t expecting that,” or even “Oh, my God, what are you doing?!”

In a continuing study of negative experiences during awake procedures, a patient informed University of Chicago researchers, “The surgeon told me he was going to get a sharper knife, and started laughing.”

As a heads-up to staff members, some hospitals now post warning signs on the O.R. door: PATIENT AWAKE. Read More > in The New York Times

Here’s how Walmart plans to use in-store drones to move merchandise – Don’t be surprised if one day soon you hear a buzzing overhead while you’re buying socks or laundry detergent at your neighborhood Walmart.

The mega retailer has been granted a patent to use in-store drones to shuttle merchandise from one department to another. The company believes the small, unmanned aircraft systems would increase efficiency and in some cases eliminate the need for employees to traverse the entire length of its massive stores to move items around.

“In a modern retail store environment, there is a need to improve the customer experience and/or convenience for the customer,” Wal-Mart Stores Inc. wrote in its patent filing. “Unfortunately, there may not always be enough employees available to assist customers in as timely a manner as the customer might wish.”

Increasing competition from online retailers and alternate store formats make it imperative that brick-and-mortar stores be as efficient as possible, the company said, with a strong focus on “the overall customer experience.” Read More in The San Gabriel Valley Tribune

4 in 10 SoCal Millennials Refuse to Leave the Nest – Southern California has some of the highest numbers of millennials still living at home with their parents, according to a new analysis from apartment rental site Adobo.com. Thanks to soaring rent and home prices, more than 40% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 still bunk with mom and dad. In the Inland Empire, the figure was 44.5%. About 3 in 1 millennials in the Bay Area live at home.

The Inland Empire and the greater L.A. Area, including Orange County, ranked third and fourth on Adobo’s list of the top MSAs where people fail to fly the coop. Miami came in at No. 1.

What do you expect? According to the study, a millennial in Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario or Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim would have to spend 94% to 97% of their income to rent an apartment. This is also a generation which is rejecting marriage in record numbers, so there’s no spouse to share the abode. They’re pursuing higher education at a much greater rate too, which saddles them with even more overhead and debt. As a result, the study found that millennials nationwide are more likely to be living with their parents than anywhere or anyone else for the first time in more than 130 years. Read More > at California County News

A family earning over $105,000 still can’t afford more than half of U.S. colleges – The bulk of colleges are unaffordable for most families, even taking financial aid and student work into account.

That’s according to an analysis published Thursday by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit focused on equity in higher education. The study took 10 fictional students with incomes ranging from $2,706 for a student living independently from his parents to $162,995 for a student living with her family and calculated whether they could afford the net price — tuition minus any grant and scholarship aid — at more than 2,000 schools.

What did they find? Even a student from a family earning more than $100,000 a year could only afford 41% of the schools. Students from poorer backgrounds couldn’t afford more than 90% of the colleges. The analysis defined affordability as being able to pay for college through a combination of savings — 10% of discretionary income for 10 years leading up to college — and earnings from a student working 10 hours a week. Read More > at Market Watch

Uber’s Self-Driving Crash Proves We Need Self-Driving Cars – A self-driving Uber car was involved in a high-speed crash in Tempe, Arizona yesterday. No one was seriously injured, and the Volvo XC90 SUV, which was driving itself at the time, had the right of way and bears no blame, according to police.

“We are continuing to look into this incident and can confirm we had no backseat passengers in the vehicle,” says Uber spokesperson Chelsea Kohler. Two engineers were riding up front, and Uber has grounded its Arizona fleet while it investigates what happened. The police haven’t released details on the other driver, beyond confirmation that no one was badly hurt.

But if the other car really caused the Tempe collision, it’s a stark reminder of why self-driving cars matter: Humans are really, truly terrible drivers. The robots Uber is racing to build could save a whole lot of lives.

…The safety promise of self-driving technology lies not in its skill, but in its consistency. Humans are great drivers when they focus—ie, when they’re sober, rested, calm, and on task. In reality, drunk drivers are involved in about 40 percent of fatal crashes, distracted drivers in 16 percent, according to federal statistics. The CDC says drowsy driving caused more than 70,000 crashes and 800 deaths in the US in 2013. Then there’s road rage: Nearly six million drivers admitted to hitting another car on purpose in the past year, in a 2016 AAA survey. Read More > at Wired

The Rise of a New Species of Human Being – In their book Evolving Ourselves , Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans describe a world where evolution is no longer driven by natural processes. Instead, it is driven by human choices, through what they call unnatural selection and non-random mutation. As a result, we will see the emergence of an entirely new species of human beings.

There is no doubt that Enriquez and Gullans describe a powerful tool for accelerating human progress. We could use it to eradicate genetic diseases, increase our lifespan and design life that can survive on Mars.

Naturally, there are possible negative applications. To what extent should we allow designer babies? Should we bring back extinct species? How do we prevent criminals from designing harmful viruses or bioweapons? Like many other experts, Enriquez and Gullans stress the importance of stimulating an ethical dialogue around such advancements. Read More > at Singularity Hub

Earth Hour is bad for the poor: Bjorn Lomborg – At 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, in the U.S. and around the world, around one billion people are expected to switch off their lights for one hour as a political statement against climate change and fossil fuels, and in support of carbon cuts and renewable energy.

This feel-good exercise not only does absolutely nothing for the planet, but it ignores the reality that what the world’s poorest need right now is more light and energy, much of which will be powered by fossil fuels, not darkness.

…Earth Hour is largely celebrated in rich, urban areas. Around the world, there are around 1.3 billion people living in the developing world who will not get a choice whether to participate or not. That’s because they will be living without reliable electricity on Saturday night, just like they do every other night.

Increasingly, the world’s rich nations insist that these people — the world’s poor — should have no new fossil fuel access. Foreign aid is increasingly tied to renewable energy projects such as building solar and wind power capacity, or tiny “off-grid” energy generators. This has a real cost — and it’s the world’s worst-off who pay.

This appears rather hypocritical: The rich world relies heavily on fossil fuels, getting just 10% of its energy from renewables. Contrast that to Africa, which gets 50% of its much lower energy consumption from renewables. Read More >at USA Today

U.S. Stores Are Too Big, Boring and Expensive – America is having a “retail moment” — and it’s not a good one.

It’s easy to blame all of the industry’s woes on Amazon, the online giant. There’s little doubt that the fifth-largest U.S. company by market cap has been disrupting traditional retailers (I promised myself I would not use the dreaded “B&M” cliche). But online is far from the only source of retail’s problems: The large chains, the malls they usually find themselves in, and even flagship urban stores have failed to adapt to rapidly changing consumer tastes. This lag has been readily apparent for more than a decade.

We are probably closer to the beginning of that transition than the end. This is a generational realignment in the way consumers spend their discretionary dollars, and the ramifications and economic dislocations are going to last for decades.

This year alone there will be several thousand store closings. Hold aside for a moment the debacle that is Sears/Kmart — that has as much to do with complex financial engineering as anything else — and consider the ongoing changes in retail sales trends.

The United States has more retail square footage per capita than any other nation. …The likely solution to this will be a combination of additional store location closings, further consolidation, and even more bankruptcies.

Shoppers are looking for more than just a place to shop. They want experiences more than just “stuff.” Read More > at Bloomberg

Why California stinks for first-time home buyers – California ranked as the toughest state in the nation for first-time home buyers, who typically would be in the millennial age bracket of 18 to 34, according to a recent report by Claes Bell, an analyst with Bankrate.com.

There are several reasons the Golden State placed last in the report, including the relatively high cost of housing, the tight market for available entry-level homes and the struggle that millennials face in saving for a down payment.

The easiest states for first-time home buyers were Iowa and Utah, Bell found. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

iPhones and other every day items that are dirtier than a toilet – The next time you answer your smartphone and press it firmly to your face, consider this: Are you touching fecal matter right now?

Quite possibly. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found fecal matter on one out of every six smartphones in a 2011 study. Add to that the work of Charles Gerba, a famed University of Arizona microbiologist who found cell phones carry 10 times the bacteria of most toilet seats.

Familiar items we touch every day, from cellphones to kitchen sinks, swarm with far more germs than our toilets. And while 80 percent of infections come from what we touch, we rarely clean these ordinary items as often as our porcelain thrones. Read More > in the Chicago Sun 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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