Sunday Reading – 05/14/17


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.

Whole Foods’ Free-Range Chickens Have Come Home to Roost – When a company fires several board members, things are not going well. That’s what Whole Foods just did.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Whole Foods stores are struggling. In the 2nd quarter of 2017, sales fell by nearly 3%. This isn’t a one-off result. Revenue growth has been trending downward since 2012. Then, in the 4th quarter of 2015, revenue growth hit negative territory, meaning that sales actually began to shrink. Since 2013, Whole Foods’s stock price has fallen by almost 50%.

To stop the bleeding, Whole Foods brought in new board members with retail and financial experience.

So, what is the reason for Whole Foods’s woes? Traditional grocery outlets didn’t sit idly by while Whole Foods raked in obscene profits. Organic food can now be bought everywhere, including places like Target. Why spend your whole paycheck at Whole Foods when you can spend merely half of it buying organic food at Walmart?

It is deeply ironic that the very grocery stores Whole Foods has disparaged over the years for selling impure food are the reason for its recent downturn in revenues. Whole Foods’s free-range chickens have come home to roost. Read More > from The American Council on Science and Health

Doctors Have Built a Magnetic Robot to Gently Explore Your Colon – As you get older, colonoscopies become an important part of maintaining your health, allowing doctors to spot potentially fatal diseases like colon cancer before they progress too far. So medical researchers are hoping to make the procedure safer, and slightly less invasive, using a tiny capsule that’s remotely steered around using a magnet outside your body.

A colonoscopy typically involves a device called a colonoscope, a half-inch thick cable with a camera and light on the end, that enters a patient through the rectum in order to access and examine their large intestine. The patient is usually sedated during the mostly pain-free procedure, but as the colonoscope is pushed through the digestive tract, the physical pressure on the colon can result in pain or soreness during recovery.

In an attempt to streamline the procedure, and make it less invasive, medical researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Leeds have co-developed a first-of-its-kind capsule robot, 18-millimeters in diameter, that can be pulled and maneuvered through a patient’s large intestine using a robotic arm that manipulates a powerful magnet on the outside. If you’ve every dragged a coin around a table by holding a magnet underneath it, you understand the basic idea here, which was presented Monday at the Digestive Disease Week conference in Chicago. Read More > at Gizmodo

Can California Public Transit Agencies Survive the “Rideshare Revolution”? – There has been nothing short of a “rideshare revolution” in the California transportation industry over the past few years with Uber and Lyft continuing to shuttle more and more passengers every day, particularly in major urban areas.

The growth of Uber and Lyft, and their impact on public transportation continues to increase and there has been very few formal studies and research on their impact on public transit, particularly since the recent wave of fare reductions.

…Oakland International reports that the number of airline passengers taking ride-hailing services as increased by more than 50% from July 2016 to January 2017, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

At San Francisco International Airport (SFO), the figures are more pronounced, indicating nothing short of an explosion in the use of Uber and Lyft for rides to and from SFO since 2014. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Citing ‘willful misconduct,’ grand jury recommends Contra Costa DA be removed from office – civil grand jury has recommended that Contra Costa’s top law enforcement officer be removed from office, citing revelations that he secretly misappropriated tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money over several years.

Grand juror findings released Thursday accuse District Attorney Mark A. Peterson of “willful or corrupt misconduct in office,” warranting his ouster. In December, Peterson admitted to having spent more than $66,000 in campaign funds on movie tickets, clothes and other personal expenses from 2011-2015, when he was serving as treasurer of his re-election campaign.

Under state law, the grand jury’s accusation will now be delivered to a Contra Costa Superior Court judge, who is to either appoint a prosecuting officer or turn the matter over to a district attorney in an adjoining county. After that, the matter could result in a jury trial to decide on the grand jury’s findings. Read More > in the East Bay Times

California’s high traffic fines unfairly punish the poor -activists  – California legislators have raised fines for traffic infractions to some of the highest in the United States to generate revenue, and the poor are bearing an unfair burden, losing cars and jobs because they cannot pay them, civil rights activists said on Friday.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area said in a new report that the $490 fine for a red light ticket in California was three times the national average. The cost was even higher if motorists wanted to attend traffic school in lieu of a conviction or were late paying.

“Our state is raising money off the backs of California families to balance the budget for special projects, and it’s using traffic tickets as a revenue generator instead of to protect safety, instead of to do justice, said Elisa Della-Piana, the group’s legal director.

Failure to pay a fine on time can lead to a motorist losing his driver license and car, suffer further financial problems and even wind up in jail.

“Studies show 78 percent of Californians drive to work and a very high percentage have to have a license to have a job,” Della-Piana said. “If you can’t afford to pay $500 this month for a traffic ticket, that’s also saying to many families, you lose your household income.” Read More > in Reuters

Bay Area Police Department Offering to Check Meth for ‘Deadly Gluten’ – A Bay Area police department’s offer to check meth for “deadly gluten,” has gone viral.

“Is your meth laced with deadly gluten? Not sure? Bring your meth down to the PD and we will test it for you for free!” the Newark Police Department wrote in a post on its Facebook page last Thursday.

In a comment under the post, the department promised it was open 24/7 and has “certified testers ready to help.”

The post subsequently went viral, and has been shared more than 182,000 times as of Monday afternoon.

By Saturday, it had already reached 10 million Facebook users — well above the approximately 42,000 people who lived in the city the last time the U.S. census was conducted. Read More > at KTLA

Parents: No empty nest for you. Student debt prompts many Millennials to move back home, survey finds – Mom and dad brace yourselves: 26% of Millennials in college say they plan on moving back home once they earn their degree to help save to pay off student loans, according to TD Ameritrade’s Young Money Survey.

The burden of college debt continues to weigh on the finances and life choices of young people between the ages of 20 and 26, according to the new survey set for release Thursday, with 32% saying they owe anywhere from $10,000 to more than $50,000 on student loans. The average student loan balance was $10,205, but was even higher ($11,475) for those still in school. Read More > at USA Today

Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe – Roughly a quarter of a century after the fall of the Iron Curtain and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, a major new Pew Research Center survey finds that religion has reasserted itself as an important part of individual and national identity in many of the Central and Eastern European countries where communist regimes once repressed religious worship and promoted atheism.

Today, solid majorities of adults across much of the region say they believe in God, and most identify with a religion. Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism are the most prevalent religious affiliations, much as they were more than 100 years ago in the twilight years of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.

In many Central and Eastern European countries, religion and national identity are closely entwined. This is true in former communist states, such as the Russian Federation and Poland, where majorities say that being Orthodox or Catholic is important to being “truly Russian” or “truly Polish.” It is also the case in Greece, where the church played a central role in Greece’s successful struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire and where today three-quarters of the public (76%) says that being Orthodox is important to being “truly Greek.” Read More > at Pew Research Center

California aims to avoid budget deficit amid slowing revenues – California Governor Jerry Brown is set to revise his proposed budget on Thursday, as the most populous U.S. state faces slumping tax collections and uncertainty over whether the federal government will cut health care funding for the poor.

The budget Brown proposed in January already required the first belt-tightening in years for California, calling for reductions in anticipated spending on education, child care, affordable housing and state office renovations to avoid a deficit of $1.6 billion.

…Other unknowns include the possible loss of federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities and an effort to reform federal tax law.

Brown has also warned that the state, which generates revenue largely through volatile capital gains taxes, is overdue for a correction after years of economic expansion.

On Wednesday, State Controller Betty Yee said revenues through April for the fiscal year that began last July were $1.83 billion below initial estimates. Income tax in April lagged projections by about $708 million, she said. Read More > at Yahoo!

SportsCenter’s Shameful Coverage Of Women’s Sports – Women’s sports have never been more popular — everywhere except on television, that is. Both the quality and quantity of women’s sports coverage is far eclipsed by that of men’s sports and in some respects has actually worsened over time, according to the latest iteration of a 25-year longitudinal study of gender in televised sports news and highlights shows.

SportsCenter, ESPN’s flagship program, dedicated just 2 percent of its airtime to women’s sports in 2014, according to the report — a figure that has remained flat since 1999. In addition to SportsCenter, researchers examined the sports news and highlights on three local Los Angeles network affiliates and the results were just as dismal: Just 3.2 percent of airtime went to women’s sports, down from 1999 and 2004 levels but a slight improvement over 2009’s 1.6 percent.

…While women’s sports received paltry attention in the time period observed by Cooky and her co-authors, coverage of the “big three” men’s sports — football, basketball, and baseball — increased from 68 percent in 2009 to 74.5 percent in 2014. That imbalance remained even in the offseason. When women’s sports were featured, the vast majority of the time, 81.6 percent, went to basketball.

While sports journalists might believe their responsibility is not to build audiences but to give the current audience what it wants to see, “that is in one sense a false logic because the interest is there … [and] that particular logic lets sports media off the hook,” Cooky said. “Displacement of blame onto the audience or consumer removes any sort of accountability on their part — they don’t have to change the conventional ways of sports media.” Read More > at Think Progress

The four eras of American jobs, in one century-spanning chart – In the 1950s, the health care industry accounted for only around 3% of jobs in America. Today, it’s nearly 13% of the labor market. At the current pace of growth, health care jobs will surpass retail jobs for the first time near the end of this year.

While agriculture jobs dominated the private-sector labor market in the 19th century, manufacturing had its moment in the 20th century, and retail reigned in the first part of the 21st century, the future belongs to health care.

The combination of an aging population and increasingly sophisticated treatments for chronic conditions will make health care jobs grow faster than any other major industry (pdf) in the coming decades. The US Bureau of Labour Statistics forecasts that health-related jobs will grow at an annual rate of almost 2% through 2024, versus 0.5% annual growth for jobs overall. The most common and fastest growing types of health care jobs are nurses, nursing assistances, and personal care aides; there are also many more office clerks and receptionists who work in the medical sector than doctors. Read More > at Quartz

The intelligent intersection could banish traffic lights forever – Whenever we hear a speech from a politician, policy maker, or auto executive extolling the virtues of the self-driving car, it’s usually in reference to safety. Little wonder, considering that roughly 40,000 people died on US roads in 2016 (which is a marked uptick from the year before). Humans are not universally good drivers, and many have paid with their lives over time. But there are other benefits to self-driving vehicles, we’re told. With a degree of coordination—between vehicles, and with traffic infrastructure—traffic chaos should theoretically be banished, and less congestion means fewer pollutants. Sunshine and roses for everyone!

We’re still a long way from that point, however. While the first (geofenced) level 4 autonomous vehicles should begin to appear on some streets around 2020 or 2021, it will be several decades before we get to the point where every car on your commute is self-driving. For now, Clemson researcher Ali Reza Fayazi has provided a tantalizing glimpse at that future, a proof-of-concept study showing that a fully autonomous four-way traffic intersection is a hundred times more efficient at letting traffic flow than the intersections you and I currently navigate. Because cars don’t sit idling at the lights, Fayazi calculated it would also deliver a 19 percent fuel saving.

Fayazi designed an intersection controller for a four-way junction that tracks vehicles and then uses an algorithm to control their speeds such that they can all pass safely through the junction with as few coming to a halt as possible. What makes the study particularly interesting is that Fayazi demonstrated it by interspersing his own physical car among the simulated traffic—the first use of a vehicle-in-the-loop simulator for this kind of problem. (Ars has previously tested a vehicle-in-the-loop simulator that demonstrated a pedestrian collision alert system without endangering any actual pedestrians.) Read More > at ars technica

Oakland Raiders shell out $1.25 million in cheerleaders pay case – A $1.25 million settlement has now been distributed to nearly 100 women who worked as cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders from 2010 to 2014, ending a years-long battle to receive renumeration in a lawsuit that set off dozens of other fair pay claims against NFL teams.

Known as the Raiderettes, the settlement covered women who worked from Jan. 22, 2010 through the 2013-2014 season, and was initially decided in Alameda County Superior Court in February 2015. The Raiders appealed that decision to the California Court of Appeals, which upheld the ruling, and a subsequent attempt to have the California Supreme Court review the decision was declined this month.

The class-action suit was the first filed on behalf of NFL cheerleaders and claimed the Raiders didn’t pay a minimum wage to their cheerleading squad, failed to pay overtime and didn’t reimburse Raiderettes for expenses incurred on the job. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

That full-fat dairy stuff — cheese, yogurt, milk — isn’t bad for you, study finds The study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that consumption of the creamy comestibles had a “neutral” effect on our health, according to a report in the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper.

One of the researchers, Ian Givens, a professor of nutrition at England’s Reading University, told the paper that “there’s quite a widespread but mistaken belief among the public that dairy products in general can be bad for you, but that’s a misconception. While it is a widely held belief, our research shows that that’s wrong.”

“There’s been a lot of publicity over the last five to 10 years about how saturated fats increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and a belief has grown up that they must increase the risk, but they don’t.” Read More > at USA Today

Go Ahead and Date Your Digital Assistant – When Siri is asked whether she has a boyfriend, the iPhone’s digital assistant is usually quick to deflect the question with a quip about drones always trying to pick her up.

For Minori Takechi, founder of Vinclu Inc., that’s a missed opportunity.

Takechi is the creator of Hikari Azuma, a miniskirt-wearing avatar. She can hold a basic conversation and wake you up in the morning by turning on the lights. Hikari will message you at work and greet you when you return home. She’ll also set you back about $2,700.

While Amazon.com Inc. and Google are barreling ahead with efforts to get voice-operated speaker assistants into consumers’ homes, Takechi says these products are too focused on delivering utility. Instead, his Tokyo-based startup is betting that people will want to forge an emotional relationship with a digital assistant. Read More > at Bloomberg

Americans worry about moral decline, can’t agree on right and wrong – Most older Americans say right and wrong never change. Younger Americans—not so much.

A new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research found a significant generation gap in how Americans view morality.

More than 6 in 10 of those older than 45 say right and wrong do not change. For those 35 and younger, fewer than 4 in 10 make that claim.

That’s a huge shift between generations, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. Older Americans grew up at time when ideas about morality were more stable, he says. That’s no longer true for younger Americans.

“We are shifting very fast from a world where right and wrong didn’t change to a world where right and wrong are relative,” McConnell said. “We are not all on the same page when it comes to morality. And we haven’t reckoned with what that means.” Read More > at LifeWay

Totally biodegradable electronics could help solve e-waste problem – A new kind of electronic device completely disintegrates within a month when exposed to a mild acid like watered-down vinegar, researchers from Stanford University reported May 1 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The material reflects the latest advance in the field of “transient electronics,” which researchers hope will help address the massive buildup of electronic waste, or e-waste, that has accompanied rapid advances in technology. Almost 50 million tons of electronics will be discarded this year alone, the United Nations Environment Programme has projected—and most of this material will be non-decomposable and contain toxic materials.

To find an alternative, study leader Zhenan Bao turned to biology for inspiration. “In my group, we have been trying to mimic the function of human skin to think about how to develop future electronic devices,” she says. Previously, her team developed a flexible, stretchable electrode; the new one is also biodegradable. Read More > at Anthropocene

America’s small businesses haven’t had this much trouble finding workers in 17 years – Hiring has become a major headache at America’s small businesses.

According to the latest report on small business optimism from the National Federation of Small Business published Tuesday morning, 33% of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in April. This is the highest reading since November 2000.

…This dynamic outlines the oft-discussed skills mismatch that exists in the economy, but also is a clear sign that we are seeing an increasing “tight” labor market.

A “tight” labor market is economist-speak for a labor market in which the pool of workers has decreased amid steady hiring. As labor markets tighten, economists expect wages to rise in order for employers to satisfy their demand for workers. Read More > at Yahoo! Finance

5 Clean Energy Innovations That Could Transform Our World – Innovations in energy storage, smart grid, and electricity generation technologies will affect every part of the source-to-consumer supply chain for powering the planet. Energy storage tech improves the viabilities of wind and solar power – two energy sources that remain cost prohibitive due to expenses related to batteries that would store generated energy. Smart grids will regulate the movement of energy throughout a city or state, insuring the areas from crippling blackouts. Developments in electricity generation make sure we make the most out of fossil fuels and other energy sources to improve efficiency.

What follows is a survey of progress in the development of five different technologies that promise to change the face of the energy industry in the next 20 years.

1. Fuel Cell: Truck manufacturers Kenworth, Toyota, and UPS have begun investing in fuel cell technologies, which would allow transport vehicles to run on hydrogen and oxygen, releasing only heat and water as emissions…

3. First Generation Smart Grid: The first step in making a reliable and responsive smart grid system requires the installation of smart meters in every household and building. The new meters will send usage information in real time to your energy provider, allowing adjustments in availability to fluctuate according to the area’s latest needs. Read More > at OilPrice

Peak city: San Francisco, Oakland populations reach all-time high – If San Francisco and Oakland feel more crowded than ever, the numbers back you up. According to a newly-released population report by the California Department of Finance, the two cities have more people living in them than they’ve ever had before.

San Francisco now has 874,227 people, up by 9,000 residents from 2016’s population count. Oakland has a population of 426,000, gaining 7,000 people from last year.

By 2030, San Francisco’s population is expected to surge to a million.

Statewide, the number of housing units completed last year was 31 percent higher than in 2015, and 5.75 percent of the new homes (5,114 new units) completed in California were in San Francisco. Read in the San Francisco Chronicle

California police scramble to detect drugged driving – Police across California are scrambling to keep up by increasing training as they prepare to spot drug-impaired drivers. Their task is made more difficult because there is no presumed level of intoxication in California, unlike the 0.08 percent blood level for alcohol, and drugs affect everyone differently.

But driving impaired remains illegal, no matter the substance.

…Lackey, a former California Highway Patrol member, carried a bill two years ago that would have allowed police to use the cheek-swab oral fluid device to test for drugs in much the same way as officers currently use breathalyzers to test drivers’ blood alcohol level, though his bill died in its first committee.

The devices are being tested in Kern, Los Angeles and Sacramento counties along with states such as Colorado, which also allows recreational marijuana. Michigan and Vermont recently authorized use of the tests, according to Lackey’s office.

More California police departments are using the saliva tests after a Kern County judge last year accepted the results as evidence in a drugged driving case, said Lauren Michaels, the police chiefs association’s marijuana and drunken driving policy expert. Read More > from the Associated Press

Mexico’s drug-war death toll in 2016 reportedly exceeded murder levels in many countries mired in war – Mexico had the second-highest number of murders last year among countries considered in “armed conflict,” according to a report published on Tuesday.

With nearly 23,000 intentional homicides in 2016, Mexico’s murder tally was second only to war-torn Syria’s 60,000, said Antonio Sampaio, one of the authors of the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ “Armed Conflict Survey 2017.”

The report deals a blow to to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s efforts to end Mexico’s deadly drug war, which has dragged on for more than a decade.

Iraq had roughly 17,000 murders, while Afghanistan had 16,000 last year, Sampaio added, noting that Mexico’s militarized drug battle increasingly resembles an armed conflict. Read More > at Business Insider

The reckoning: When rights-fee bubble bursts, college sports will be changed forever – …In 2017 the biggest rivalry in sports pits cable television against digital technology as the choice delivery mechanism of programming. Cable, of course, once dominated. So much so that as recently as 2012 there were 100 million U.S. households paying for cable and devoting roughly $8 per month to receiving ESPN and its sister networks, and often a few additional dollars to the NFL Network and assorted conference sports networks.

But recognizing the value games created for ESPN, leagues charged accordingly. The NFL’s price tag for a slate of meh Monday Night Football games (and no Super Bowl), signed in 2011 came to $1.9 billion per season. In ’16, ESPN joined with Turner for an extension of its NBA deal worth $2.7 billion annually. ESPN has also committed roughly $470 million per year for the College Football Playoff.

But then came the great migration away from cable and toward digital. ESPN is in 12 million fewer homes than it was in 2011, and the entire cable bundle is unraveling. A switch to a so-called à la carte model—pay only for what you want to watch—will further erode subscription-fee revenue. It could also mark the death of conference networks. “It was a nice model,” says Frank Hawkins, principal of Scalar Media Partners, a Manhattan sports and media consulting firm, “but it isn’t going to last.”

…In a world of fragmented viewership, professional leagues will try to make up the decline in revenue in other ways. That means finding new partners. (Amazon, Twitter and Verizon have all made recent deals to stream NFL games.) Leagues can—and will—reduce labor costs (that is, player salaries) when revenues fall. They can tinker with ticket pricing. They can attempt to penetrate new markets, as the NBA has in China and India.

College athletics, though, is different. For one, there are no player salaries to slash. Cutting an unprofitable program is complicated by Title IX legislation. Read More > at Sports Illustrated

California’s plan to tax rockets by the mile is exactly what space companies want – California has come up with a remarkable plan to tax rocket launches from its coast.

Specifically, their tax payments will be determined by how often they fly the 62 miles (100 km) from a California launchpad to the very edge of space while transporting goods or tourists. After 62 miles, the companies are deemed to be in space, and would not incur further taxes.

…At the moment, however, the proposed rocket tax will apply mainly to just two companies: SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, the only launch firms that regularly operate in the US. A third California company, Virgin Galactic, intends to fly space tourists in California and launch satellites, but is likely more than a year from commercial operations.

Yet all three companies have backed the new tax rule in meetings with the California government, according to government records and sources familiar with the matter, because the change would clarify their tax status. Read More > at Quartz

The Cost of Raising a Child in America – Nobody wants to financially evaluate a child as you would the purchase of a car or home, but by the time your kid reaches the age of 18, he or she will have cost you more than some houses.

Parents tend to underestimate the cost, even of that first year, as a recent survey by personal finance website NerdWallet points out. The actual cost of raising a baby in its first year is around $21,000 (for a household earning $40,000) and $52,000 (for one bringing home $200,000). According to the poll, 18% of parents thought it would cost $1,000 or less and another 36% put the price tag at between $1,001 and $5,000.

You’re going to pay a lot of money for that cute little bundle – somewhere around $233,610 by the time the baby turns 18, according to a 2017 Department of Agriculture (USDA) study. Knowing your numbers will allow you to better control your costs. The USDA assumes that you had childcare and education expenses, for example, and the figure cited is for a middle-income married couple with two children.. Read More > at Investopedia

California high court rules on work-week issues – Californians can be required to work more than six consecutive days without overtime as long as they don’t work more than six days in a single week, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The unanimous ruling was the court’s first interpretation of California’s long-standing “day of rest” law. Originally drafted by a state labor commission in 1919 as a wage order against requiring women and minors to work more than six days in a week, or eight hours in a day, it was rewritten by the Legislature in 1953 to require overtime pay for working extra days or hours, and extended to all workers in 1976.

…The court said the law could be interpreted in two ways. One would require a rest day, or time-and-a-half pay for overtime, if an employee was scheduled to work more than six straight days, such as from Tuesday of one week to Friday of the the following week. The other interpretation would define each week separately, such as Monday through Sunday, and require a rest day or extra pay for one of those days.

The justices said the second interpretation, starting a new seven-day period each week, was consistent with the wording of the current law, which provides overtime pay for “the seventh day of work in any one workweek.”

That indicates “premium pay is available not on a rolling basis, for any seventh consecutive day of work, but only for employees who must work every day of an employer’s established regularly recurring workweek,” Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar said in the 7-0 ruling. Read More > at SFGate

California may end ban on communists in government jobs – Being a communist would no longer be a fireable offense for California government employees under a bill passed Monday by the state Assembly.

Lawmakers narrowly approved the bill to repeal part of a law enacted during the Red Scare of the 1940s and ’50s when fear that communists were trying to infiltrate and overthrow the U.S. government was rampant. The bill now goes to the Senate.

It would eliminate part of the law that allows public employees to be fired for being a member of the Communist Party.

Employees could still be fired for being members of organizations they know advocate for overthrowing the government by force or violence. Read More > from the Associated Press

Amazon fires back at Wal-Mart by slashing free-shipping threshold to $25 – Adding to the e-commerce battle among retailers to woo customers over with special deals, Amazon is now making it even easier for shoppers to qualify for free shipping — and $10 cheaper.

In February, Amazon reduced its minimum order amount required to qualify for free shipping — for non-Prime members — to $35 from $49, price tracker BestBlackFriday first reported.

Amazon’s website now reads that online orders of $25 or more, featuring eligible items, will qualify for free shipping.

This news comes after big-box retailer Wal-Mart, in January, rolled out free two-day shipping for orders over $35. The shift was one of the first major changes Marc Lore made at Wal-Mart since the retailer purchased his e-commerce start-up, Jet.com, last year. Read More > at CNBC

Why Everything We Know About Salt May Be Wrong – The salt equation taught to doctors for more than 200 years is not hard to understand.

The body relies on this essential mineral for a variety of functions, including blood pressure and the transmission of nerve impulses. Sodium levels in the blood must be carefully maintained.

If you eat a lot of salt — sodium chloride — you will become thirsty and drink water, diluting your blood enough to maintain the proper concentration of sodium. Ultimately you will excrete much of the excess salt and water in urine.

The theory is intuitive and simple. And it may be completely wrong.

New studies of Russian cosmonauts, held in isolation to simulate space travel, show that eating more salt made them less thirsty but somehow hungrier. Subsequent experiments found that mice burned more calories when they got more salt, eating 25 percent more just to maintain their weight.

The research, published recently in two dense papers in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, contradicts much of the conventional wisdom about how the body handles salt and suggests that high levels may play a role in weight loss. Read More > in The New York Times

The Giants might be the worst team in baseball, but they’ll never rebuild – By almost any objective measure, the San Francisco Giants are a Very Bad Baseball Team. It’s a formal title, capitalization required. They have the worst adjusted OPS in the National League, and they have the worst adjusted ERA in the NL, too. They can’t score runs, and they can’t prevent them, which isn’t a combination that usually leads to a World Series run. They have the worst run differential in baseball, and they were just swept by the Cincinnati Reds, who outscored them 31-5 in three games.

Since winning in extra innings against the Royals on April 18, the Giants have been outscored 107 to 44. They’ve allowed double-digit run totals in five different games this year, which is as many as they allowed in 2014 or 2015. They’ve hit 19 home runs in 32 games, which ties them with players named Aaron on the Yankees.

Oh, and their best pitcher fell off a dirt bike and separated his shoulder. It’s a shame, because he still has as many home runs as the Giants’ cleanup hitter.

I can keep going….

They’re here now, though, and you’ve watched enough baseball to know what this means. The old team has fallen into a ditch, and they’ll need young players to pull them out. Every single minor-league affiliate of the Giants is in last place — it’s impossible to not have respect for that kind of dedication — and their farm system is regularly ranked in the bottom-third in baseball. This is a team that looks like they’re in the middle of a classic rebuilding situation. You’ve seen it before. Good team gets old. Good team gets bad. Bad team holds a fire sale in the hopes that they’ll be good again. Read More > at SB Nation

How the East Bay and Peninsula lost $185 million in affordable housing funding over the last decade – Annual federal and state affordable housing funding for the East Bay and Peninsula plunged by $185 million over the last decade, worsening the regional housing crisis, according to new reports.

Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties collectively had $65.6 million of state and federal funding in fiscal year 2015-2016, a 74 percent drop from $250.6 million in funding in fiscal year 2008-2009.

Alameda County saw a bulk of the loss, with a $115 million reduction, or 74 percent. Contra Costa lost 66 percent in funding over the same period, a difference of $37 million. San Mateo County had 83 percent less funding, a nearly $33 million decline.

Gov. Jerry Brown shut down California’s Redevelopment Agencies in 2012, removing over $1 billion in annual affordable housing funding statewide, and over $100 million in annual for the Bay Area. Federal funding for affordable housing also plunged during the recession, and budget cuts haven’t been restored. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

The Long, Hard, Unprecedented Fall of Sears – In 1989, Sears Roebuck & Co. ruled America as its biggest retailer. It loomed over rivals from a perch high above Chicago, inside what was once the world’s tallest building—one bearing the company’s name.

The fall from that height may finally be nearing an end.

Over the course of almost three decades, the company experienced what industry observers described as one of the most monumental collapses in business history. Despite its union with Kmart—the second-largest retailer from that era—and a stated belief that it can still turn things around, Sears is teetering on the edge of disaster.

The combined decline of Sears and Kmart, in terms of sales, is unprecedented, said Greg Portell, an analyst at A.T. Kearney. The seeds were planted by poor decision-making in the 1980s, during which time the company made a real estate play instead of focusing on selling stuff. No senior executive over the next 28 years was able to put stops in place to prevent the slide. “The management mistake that Sears made, in retrospect, was that they never got to a spot where they could stop the free fall,” said Portell.

In 1994, Sears and Kmart raked in a combined $111.4 billion 1 , compared with powerhouse discounter Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s haul of $111.9 billion 2 . All three retailers ranked in the top 15 in revenue, among companies in all industries, in 1995. Since then, they’ve gone in different directions. Sears and Kmart have watched their customer bases shrink amid a never-ending string of store closures. Wal-Mart’s sales grew almost fourfold over the next decade, as the behemoth tripled its locations and embarked on mass international expansion. Sears and Kmart each chose to trudge along, with little change in strategy. Read More > at Bloomberg

It’s more than Amazon: Why retail is in distress now – Yes, more shopping is shifting online in general, and to Amazon specifically, as in-store shopping traffic and sales trends fall for many retailers and shopping centers. Slice Intelligence said 43 cents of every online dollar is spent on Amazon, based on its analysis of millions of email receipts.

However, according to the latest Commerce Department retail sales data, 86 percent of all retail sales (excluding motor vehicles and parts and food service and drinking locations) are still made in physical, brick-and-mortar locations. To be sure, the online versus in-store sales breakdown varies wildly from retailer to retailer.

…In 2005, 3.6 percent of total U.S. retail sales went to department stores; now it’s less than 2 percent, according to government data. Retailers like Macy’s and credit card companies have discussed the shift in consumer spending from physical goods to experiences like travel.

Plus, for years now, Americans have been making bigger purchases or investments like their homes, which has paid off for Home Depot and Lowe’s. But other spending categories are also rising, including health care and education. Additionally, many consumers are now shelling out for smartphone data plans and subscriptions to services like Netflix — all costs that take away from other disposable spending categories. Read More > at CNBC

The Robot Revolution Will Take Your Car, Your Mom’s Car, and All the Oil in 13 Years – A new report says self-driving electric vehicle fleets are poised to replace individual cars sooner than we think.

A stunning new forecast projects that the internal combustion engine, along with the entire oil industry, are going to vanish from the face of the earth in little more than a decade. And it’s all because of the robot revolution.

By 2030, rapid technological improvements and dramatic cost efficiencies in self-driving electric vehicles (EV) will sweep away the energy and economics of oil-powered cars; and with it, global oil demand will plummet. This is the verdict of a new report, Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030: The Disruption of Transportation and the Collapse of the ICE Vehicle and Oil Industries, published in May from independent research group, RethinkX.

…The impact of automation, it says, on both the automobile and oil industries will not just be profoundly disruptive: it will be fatal. Vast oil reserves will become stranded, and trillions of dollars in oil industry investments will become worthless, as a revolution in technology takes over.

As a result, most people will gratefully ditch their own cars, participating instead in a breakthrough economy of electric vehicle fleets—shared cars that can be used when needed—which can be accessed far more cheaply and at someone’s convenience. Read More > at Motherboard

The 43 people who might run against Trump in 2020 – The 2020 presidential election could feature the most crowded Democratic primary in decades, with scores of Democrats rumored as potential contenders.

The potential field could see some familiar faces as well as a mix of ambitious senators, governors and House members. But President Trump’s success as an outsider could also embolden more nontraditional candidates from the business and entertainment industries.

With no clear leader, the 2020 field should be a change from 2016, when Democrats had a small field of candidates, including front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Here are 43 possible candidates who could take on Trump in 2020:

Former Vice President Joe Biden: Biden, 74, said he “regretted” not running in 2016. He stoked major speculation about 2020 with a busy travel schedule, but later said, “Guys, I’m not running!”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): Sanders, 75, emerged as a leader on the left after his 2016 run and he’s working with the Democratic National Committee to help unite the party. He wouldn’t rule out a 2020 run, but said in January it’s “much too early” to discuss another bid.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.): Warren, 67, has become one of the biggest thorns in Trump’s side. In an April interview, Warren said she has no plans to run in 2020 and is focused on her 2018 reelection. Read More > in The Hill

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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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