Sunday Reading – May 21, 2017


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.

New Research Finds the One Commandment Almost All Americans Support – Whatever Americans may think about the 10 Commandments as a whole, they’re on board with the 7th Commandment: “Do not commit adultery.”

New Gallup research found Americans are softening on their opposition to other issues traditionally regarded as sin, but they remain strongly opposed to extramarital affairs.

Only 9 percent say adultery is morally acceptable, the smallest level of support among the 19 issues Gallup measured.

…Meanwhile, acceptance of adultery has mostly hovered in the single digits, with a low of 4 percent saying it is morally acceptable in 2006 and a high of 10 percent last year.

Other issues have seen consistent levels of approval. Since the issue was first asked included in Gallup’s morality poll in 2012, approval of birth control has changed by only two points (89 to 91 percent). Abortion is only one point different (42 to 43 percent) from the first year it was asked in 2001 to today.

Only adultery has maintained a consistent level of vast disapproval, rising just two points since the question was first asked in 2001 (7 to 9 percent). Read More > at Facts and Trends

DESPITE WEAK MONTH OF JOB GROWTH, CALIFORNIA UNEMPLOYMENT DECLINES – Breaking with the latest trends, it was a weak month for job gains in California, according to an analysis released jointly by Beacon Economics and the UCR School of Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development. The latest numbers from the California EDD shows the state shed 16,300 jobs in April. This followed a revised gain of 22,800 positions in March and marked the largest month-over-month job loss for since 2010.

Additionally, year-over-year gains for the state fell to just 1.4%, the slowest pace of year-over-year growth since 2011. The weak numbers also pushed the pace of year-over-year job gains below national levels (+1.6%), although the pace of job growth over the first four months of the year was higher in California than in the nation as a whole.

The latest numbers for household employment tell a brighter story, with California’s unemployment rate declining to 4.8% in April, the lowest since February 2001. This was driven by a 27,800 increase in household employment and slightly offset by a 7,600 increase in the state’s labor force. The discrepancy between the state’s payroll employment data and its household employment data highlights the ‘noise’ that exists in monthly employment data and underscores the problem with reading too much into any single month. Read More > at Beacon Economics

The Next Mobile Phone Revolution Is Coming – For years, mobile phone owners have had access to just one digital assistant — Siri on an iPhone, Google Now/Google Assistant on an Android device, Cortana on a Windows one. Now that’s changing as multiple assistants proliferate to multiple phones. It sounds like an epidemic case of multiple personality disorder but it’s actually a step toward a future in which the artificially intelligent entities will take over our gadgets and make them more powerful and easier to use.

Google Assistant, the unimaginatively named software that pops up on Android phones when you say “OK Google,” is now available for iPhones. You can’t ask it to take a selfie or perform some other tasks — Apple keeps that functionality for its own Siri — but you are free to enjoy its superior speech-recognition technology.

With some technical skill, you can also run Google Assistant on Windows systems alongside the native digital assistant, Cortana (which, in turn, has been available on Android and iOS for a while). Since millions of people are using Alexa, the helpful voice inside the Echo speaker, smartphone maker HTC’s new flagship phone, the U11, responds to both “OK Google” and “Alexa!” Samsung’s Galaxy S8, for its part, includes both Google Assistant and the Korean company’s own Bixby.

In other words, the digital assistants are getting untethered from makers and even operating systems. Soon, they will supersede them: The assistant becomes the primary interface, and the user doesn’t really care about what’s under the hood unless he or she is a determined geek. Read More > at Bloomberg

Why John Oliver Is Wrong About Net Neutrality – Progressives are freaking out now that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is beginning the repeal of Net Neutrality regulations, which give the government the right to regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The main arguments in favor of Net Neutrality are really arguments guarding against hypotheticals: that ISPs could otherwise block and censor content (they never have) or that they’ll run their operations like shakedowns, requiring content providers to pay up or slow their traffic to molasses. The main documented instance of an ISP favoring one content provider over others wasn’t sinister collusion. Metro PCS offered unlimited YouTube in a budget data plan but not unlimited Hulu and Netflix, because YouTube had a compression system that could be adapted to the carrier’s low-bandwidth network. In a different context, critics might have applauded Metro PCS, since bought by T-Mobile, for bringing more options to lower-income customers.

Net Neutrality is a proxy battle over what type of internet we want to have—one characterized by technocratic regulations or one based on innovation and emergent order. Progessives are generally suspicious of complex systems existing without powerful regulators present and accounted for. Small-government folks are repulsed by bureaucrats in general, and think the internet will fair better in a state of benign neglect. The FCC has come down on the side of an organic internet, instead of treating the internet more like a public utility. Read More > at Reason

Despite four decades and $500 billion, the Energy Department hasn’t accomplished much – In April 1977, still in the penumbra of the economic and geopolitical fallout from the 1973/74 Arab oil embargo, President Carter announced the creation of DOE in his “moral equivalent of war” address to the nation. Government action, he said, was needed for “the greatest challenge that our country will face during our lifetime” in order to “balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources.” Carter added that if DOE failed “the alternative may be a national catastrophe.” That was quite a burden for one agency.

Give Carter credit for an enduring legacy in at least this regard: that speech’s “10 fundamental principles” have anchored all energy policies since. The first principle was “that we can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the government takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness of the challenge.” And DOE’s 40-year mission? It has been almost entirely focused on reducing the use of, or trying to completely replace, oil and gas. That mission remains the same today, although the motives have changed.

After all these decades of government programs consuming some $500 billion in that pursuit, what’s happened?

America uses 140 percent more oil for transportation today than it did in 1977. Electricity consumption is up 200 percent. (The recent slow growth in power demand looks a lot like a recession effect: we’ll soon know for sure when the economy fully recovers.) Lavishly subsidized biofuels have grown from an irrelevant 0.25 percent in 1977 to an unremarkable 5 percent share of transportation energy use today. Solar power rose from essentially zero, back then, to today’s irrelevant 0.15 percent share of U.S. energy. Wind power has been the biggest success: but even those heavily subsidized turbines now supply only 1.5 percent of America’s energy.

The fundamental energy sources available to power society have remained unchanged not just since 1977 but since 1957. Politicians and pundits often intone that there are “a multitude” of new energy options, but that’s rhetorical hyperbole. There is no new physics in energy nor new energy sources, just better ways to use those that exist. Read More > in The Hill

Narcotic-affected newborns nearly double in California, but ‘it’s not the mom you expect’ – In California, the number of babies born affected by drugs has nearly doubled over seven years to more than 3,630 in 2015, according to state public health officials.

That rise is directly tied to the stubborn opioid epidemic of prescription painkillers and illegal street drugs such as heroin that have hooked increasing numbers of women, both in California and nationwide.

“It’s not the mom you expect anymore. It’s not just the mom who came in off the street,” said Dr. Kristin Hoffman, a neonatologist with the UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “We see moms in all socioeconomic classes,” such as those taking opiates like Oxycontin for chronic back pain or other ailments.

Weaning their babies off drugs can take weeks. Known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, the symptoms vary from a high-pitched cry to muscles so tight some babies can be as stiff as a board. They are often jittery, sweaty, easily agitated and unable to soothe themselves. They often have trouble sucking from a bottle or nipple, which means they struggle to gain weight. Many are troubled by diarrhea or spitting up. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Uber launches Uber Freight, its app for long-haul trucking jobs – Uber Freight has its own app, of course, which is available today on iOS and Android. There’s a sign-up page for drivers, who will be vetted before they’re allowed to use the Uber Freight. The service “take[s] guesswork out of finding and booking freight, which is often the most stressful part of a driver’s day,” according to Uber, which says it’s dismantling a process that typically takes “several hours and multiple phone calls.”

The video Uber released makes the process look as simple as using its existing cab service. The app is full of a list of available jobs and the routes they require (say, Tulsa, OK to Memphis, TN), and each listing tells the driver what they’ll be hauling and how much they’ll be paid. Once they arrive in that destination and make the delivery they can then, like an Uber cab driver, find the next job.

Uber says that Uber Freight will help “level the playing field” for truckers, perhaps hinting at the inequality that plagues the trucking industry. Trucking is dominated by white men, and accounts of women and drivers of color facing discrimination while trying to break into the workforce are well documented. The biggest point of friction in these situations is building and maintaining relationships with the companies that hire drivers, so a service like the one Uber is offering could help alleviate that tension. Read More > at The Verge

CA Dems Shape Their Future This Weekend – Between attending the “Nasty Women and Bad Hombres” and “Fueling the Resistance” hospitality suites, the 3,300 delegates pulling their bumper-sticker decorated Priuses into Sacramento this weekend for the California Democratic Party convention will be in engaged in a sharply contested battle over the future of the party on multiple fronts that could have widespread implications for the 2018 statewide elections, and perhaps even national efforts to win back the House and Senate.

The much-loved and much-cursing CDP Chairman John Burton and his top-flight operations team have been adept at striking a balance between party pragmatists and purists. The proof of their success is in their electoral legacy: Democrats have topped the eight million mark in registered voters, swept the state’s top offices, hold a super-majority in the Legislature, and are organizationally and financially strong – a stark contrast to the national Democratic Party, whose new chairman Tom Perez, will address the California jamboree on Saturday.

But that apparently isn’t enough for some. Consider this eye-rolling assessment of the state’s Democrats in the LA Times by Bernie Sanders supporter Joey Aszterbaum of Hemet, “It’s the party of Arnold Schwarzenegger Democrats.”

Aszterbaum is not atypical of many of the delegates. Small wonder then that the state’s most popular elected officials, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Gov. Jerry Brown (who is attending a family reunion we’re told), decided to skip the convention. Read More > at Calbuzz

The Week in Public Finance: Recalculating Pension Debt, Hartford Discusses the ‘B’ Word and Prudent Rainy Day Policies – A new analysis by Josh Rauh at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution says state and local governments’ collective unfunded pension liabilities are actually about three times the amount they claim. Rauh, a finance professor who has long been a critic of public pension accounting, arrived at his figure by assigning pension plans a much lower assumed investment rate of return.

Pension plans in 2015 collectively reported about $1.3 trillion in unfunded liabilities. In other words, they have about 72 percent of the assets they need to meet their estimated total liabilities. That figure assumes plans will earn an average of 7.4 percent each year on their investments.

Rauh, pointing to the wild swings of the stock market and the fact that pensions are putting more of their assets into volatile, alternative investments, says that assumption is too risky. He argues it’s more responsible to consider a rate of return closer to what long-term bonds earn: slightly less than 3 percent. Under those assumptions, Rauh says unfunded U.S. public pension liabilities would roughly triple to $3.8 trillion, or less than half-funded. Read More > at Governing

People may be unhappy with Target, and it’s starting to show – Target has long been loved by people because it’s a fun place to shop. At least it used to be a fun place to shop.

Customer satisfaction with the total shopping experience at Target has declined for a fourth consecutive period, according to a new survey of 2,500 people done by investment bank Cowen. Declines in customer satisfaction were seen across the board, led by drops in customer service, merchandise selection and product quality. Overall, Cowen says customer satisfaction at Target plunged 383 basis points to 66.7%.

It appears unhappy Target shoppers could be taking their business elsewhere.

On Wednesday, the discount retailer reported first quarter same-store sales fell 1.3%. While that was better than analyst estimates for a 3.6% drop, it marked the fourth straight quarterly decline in the key retail measure. Walmart’s U.S. business, on the other hand, saw same-store sales gain 1.4% in the first quarter on the back of efforts to slash food prices and bolster customer service.

Wall Street shrugged off Target’s sales choppiness, for now. Read More > at MSN

A New Meth Surge Gathers Momentum – The opioid epidemic has killed tens of thousands over the last two years and driven major reforms in state and local law enforcement and public health policies for people with addiction.

But another deadly but popular drug, methamphetamine, also has been surging in many parts of the country. And federal officials say that, based on what they learned as opioids swept the U.S., methamphetamine is likely to spread even further.

“The beginning of the opioid epidemic was 2000 and we thought it was just localized,” said Kimberly Johnson, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “Now we know that drug outbreaks aren’t likely to stay localized so we can start addressing them sooner and letting other states know of the potential for it spreading.”

From Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma to Montana, Wisconsin and Minnesota and all across the South, inexpensive methamphetamine is flowing in from Mexico, fueling what police and epidemiologists say is an alarming increase in the number of people using the drug, and dying from it. Read More > at Route Fifty

How High-Pressure Parenting Undermines Character Building – Writing recently in the Economist’s bimonthly cultural magazine 1843, Ryan Avent reflected on the intense, achievement-focused parenting style that has become so prevalent among America’s upper class. Fueled by the sense that (a) college admissions have never been more competitive and (b) attending the “right” school has never been more important to one’s future success, well-educated mothers and fathers want their children to start building an Ivy League–worthy CV at a very young age. As Avent explained, he and his wife have largely eschewed this approach in raising their own kids. Yet he confessed to feeling “a tremor of panic” when hearing about the academic regimens and extracurricular schedules of his six-year-old daughter’s classmates.

Such anxieties will sound familiar to parents across America, especially those living in or around status-conscious “power” cities such as New York, Washington, Boston, or San Francisco. (Avent and his family live just outside the nation’s capital, in Arlington, Virginia.) Nobody wants to push his or her children too hard—but nobody wants them to fall behind, either. And when large numbers of kids are meeting with math or reading tutors, taking piano lessons, learning a foreign language, and playing organized sports before they finish kindergarten, it’s only natural to think that your kids should be doing the same.

The obvious upside of “high-pressure parenting,” as Avent called it, is that investing more time and resources in children can help them realize their full potential as students, athletes, musicians, artists, etc. The obvious downside is that excessive pressure can produce unhealthy levels of stress, while heightening the risk of depression and/or burnout. Even Yale law professor Amy Chua—the self-proclaimed “tiger mother” whose 2011 book offered a qualified defense of high-pressure parenting—has admitted that, when one of her daughters stopped playing the violin and took up tennis, she told her mom (in Chua’s words) “not to ruin tennis like I ruined the violin.”

There are at least two additional, hidden perils of high-pressure parenting. First, it implicitly encourages children to value achievement more than character development. As journalist Rod Dreher has written, “Nobody these days feels an obligation to anything larger than their own ambition and desire.” Indeed, when the meritocratic rat race takes precedence over everything else, basic moral standards become negotiable. That’s one lesson of the high-profile cheating scandals that rocked Harvard and New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High School in 2012. (The New York Times described the former scandal as Harvard’s “largest cheating scandal in memory.”) Read More > at the Independent Women’s Forum’s

Is this the end of blood donation? Scientists close to unlimited supply from stem cells – Blood donors may no longer be needed in the future after scientists showed it was possible to create blood from stem cells.

The 20 year project could pave the way for an unlimited number of blood and immune cells for transplants, simply by reprogramming a patient’s own skin cells.

The research, reported in the journal Nature, holds out enormous promise for developing personalised treatments for blood disorders, drug-screening and reducing shortages of donated blood. Read More > in The Telegraph

OPEC is dead – Oil prices have plummeted since the Great Recession. The price of a barrel of oil peaked at nearly $150 in the summer of 2008. Today, the price has skidded below $50.

It’s an understatement to say that this is a major development. It has had enormous financial consequences, helping to juice an otherwise sputtering global economy. It has had environmental consequences, of course. And it has had geopolitical consequences, since many countries depend on oil for a big chunk of their revenue, particularly authoritarian countries that use oil money to keep the people happy despite the authoritarianism.

It’s the last point that really counts. The countries that most benefit from high oil prices are not happy about the new normal. Indeed, the slide in oil prices has plunged Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Venezuela into economic crises that could have major political consequences.

…The point is, a lot of countries want to prop up global oil prices. And they used to have a way to do that: OPEC.

OPEC is an international cartel of oil-producing countries. And OPEC countries, led by Russia and Saudi Arabia (fancy that), recently agreed to keep cutting oil production to prop up global oil prices.

But it won’t work, because OPEC is dead.

Part of the reason why OPEC is toast is that while it’s in the collective interests of the members of the cartel to fix prices, it’s also in the interest of every individual member to break the cartel to make more money. Already, Iran, which needs to sell more oil to prop up its economy as international sanctions are lifted, is making noise about not respecting the agreement.

But there’s a more fundamental reason why OPEC is failing: It no longer holds the cards. And that’s because fracking has massively expanded the global oil supply. Today, the U.S. produces as much oil as Saudi Arabia. The U.S. is not part of OPEC. Read More > in The Week

Engineers give U.S. infrastructure a D+ grade – The report card is in, and U.S. infrastructure is almost flunking.

The American Society of Civil Engineers on Thursday assigned a grade of “D+” to the quality of U.S. roads, bridges and other infrastructure in a closely-watched assessment that the group publishes every four years. The group said an additional $2 trillion in funding is needed to raise the standards.

The findings could reinforce President Donald Trump’s initiative to steer as much as $1 trillion in public and private funds to U.S. infrastructure over the coming years. Trump met with private-sector leaders on Wednesday to discuss his plan and said he wants states to be ready to start projects within 90 days of receiving funding, the White House said.

The ASCE evaluated 16 categories of infrastructure in its 2017 report card, with grades ranging from a “B” for rail to a “D-” for transit. Engineers assessed data and reports and consulted with technical and industry experts to assign grades, the group said. The criteria included whether capacity meets current and future demands, infrastructure condition and the current level of funding. Read More > at Finance and Commerce

Fentanyl Crisis Hits Bay Area – It’s a drug so powerful that can it can kill a person just through touch. And it’s increasingly lurking in popular pain killers bought and sold on California’s streets.

A new NBC Bay Area investigation has found that the deadly drug Fentanyl has been responsible for at least 130 deaths in the Bay since 2015 — a number that is quickly rising.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, far more powerful than morphine or heroin. When prescribed in small regulated doses — typically through a patch — it can provide immense relief for acute pain. But in its unregulated powdered form, it’s deadly; so deadly, that it can cause an overdose just through contact with the skin.

Why the Growth in Popularity?

The rise of Fentanyl use is a facet of America’s opioid epidemic. More and more, the drug is being “cut” with other powerful opioids like heroin or oxycodone to create an even deadlier combination. The dark web is also fueling its rise, experts say. Read More > at California County News

Autonomous Vehicles: As Disruptive as the Internet? – To envision the potential impact of autonomous vehicles, think back to 1997 and the advent of the internet. At the time, it was unimaginable that well-established businesses such as video store chains and travel agencies would be almost completely wiped out within 20 years, and that everyday items such as CDs, printed photos, and landlines would be relics.

And if someone told you in 1997 that in 20 years, celebrities would use the internet to post pictures of their pregnant bellies, that you’d be able to watch hours and hours of cat videos, or that the president would be making controversial comments in 140 characters or less, you’d likely be skeptical.

Going forward, self-driving cars will cause similar disruptions as well as opportunities we can’t even imagine.

That’s the conclusion of a recent report by RethinkX, “an independent think tank that analyzes and forecasts the speed and scale of technology-driven disruption.” …

The report forecasts that within 10 years of the regulatory approval of fully driverless vehicles, 95 percent of passenger miles traveled in the US will be via “on-demand Autonomous Electric Vehicles (A-EVs) owned by companies providing Transport as a Service (TaaS).” It also contends that on-demand A-EVs will be so ubiquitous and inexpensive that 70 percent fewer passenger cars and trucks will be produced each year. Read More > at PC Magazine

Why murder in Mexico is rising again – Fuel thievery is emblematic of a new pattern of crime. Mexico’s most violent year of recent times was 2011, at the height of a war on drugs waged by the then-president, Felipe Calderón. As drug gangs battled security forces—and each other for control of trafficking routes into the United States—the northern states were Mexico’s killing fields. That year Mexico had 22,852 murders. The number subsided under Mr Calderón’s successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, who de-escalated the drug war.

But the killing is now back to its worst levels. If the year continues as it has begun, the number of murders in 2017 will be the highest yet. There were 6% more homicides in the first three months of 2017 than during the same period in 2011. But the distribution of violence is changing. As northern gang wars wind down, smaller-scale battles are erupting in the south.

One reason for this is the change in the way gangs operate, brought about by the drugs war. Police targeted their bosses, often successfully. Leaderless gangs do not disappear. Instead, lower-level gangsters fight for control or leave to form their own groups, leading to a violent reordering of the organised-crime hierarchy….

The smaller gangs lack the manpower and management skills to run full-scale drug operations. They concentrate on distributing drugs locally and on such crimes as kidnapping and extortion. Both have increased by around 20% Mexico-wide between the first three months of 2016 and the same period this year. Fuel theft also suits downsized gangs. Mr Mier says that in his area of Puebla the business is run by three gangs in two towns just 20km apart.

Other reasons for the spike in murders include a rise in opium production to feed growing American demand and the election last year of 12 new state governors, who brought in new and less experienced police chiefs. A new criminal-justice system is supposed to make trials fairer, but in its early stages it has freed many suspects who should have been jailed, says Alejandro Hope, a security analyst. The violence feeds on itself: killings lead to vendettas. Read More > in The Economist

What Is a Government Worker Worth without a Free Market? – Where are you more likely to earn a better income, in the private sector or working for the government? Well, it turns out that those employed by the federal government, who also have high school diplomas or college bachelors’ degrees, are likely to be financially far better off.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a new study in April of 2017, “Comparing the Compensation of Federal and Private-Sector Employees, 2011-2015.” The upshot of which is that, in terms of pay and benefits, federal employment is where your standard of living will likely be greater.

The federal government directly employs (not counting the military) around 2.2 million people. The CBO estimates that between 2011 and 2015, federal employees with no more than a high school diploma, made 34 percent more per hour than equivalent degree holders in the private sector. Whereas private sector employees earned an average of $22.10, federal employees with equivalent education and work experience earned an average of $29.60 per hour. Read More > at the Foundation for Economic Education

Coke Is Hurting From the Switch to Online Shopping, Too – As Coca-Cola Co. Chief Executive Officer James Quincey settles into his new job, he’s facing a challenge that most of his predecessors never worried about: digital disruption.

Consumers are increasingly shopping online, spending more time on mobile apps, and getting groceries delivered to their homes. And that’s hitting Coca-Cola in ways you might not expect, Quincey said in an interview from his office in Atlanta.

When shoppers skip trips to the local mall and get their clothes at Amazon, they also forgo buying Coke at a vending machine or food court. So while the decline of retailers has mostly focused on bankrupt apparel chains and shuttered storefronts, a brand like Coca-Cola is suffering as well.

“Digital is changing the way you behave,” he said. “It affects other categories that are not the primary reason you thought about making the shopping trip.” Read More > at Bloomberg

How A Billion Dollars Is Being Wasted In The War On Sugar – Nobody is sweet on sugar anymore. Influential nutrition advocates have called it Public Enemy No. 1, the ISIS of public health, lurking even in innocent-looking salad dressings and peanut butter. Last November an additional five U.S. cities implemented taxes on sugar-sweetened sodas. And to create an inviting new target, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee identified sweets and snacks as the largest contributor of added sugars.

Few dispute that too much sugar is bad for you. But as the war against it escalates and more food and beverage products are under siege, it’s a good time to examine what works and what doesn’t work in getting these industries to sell healthier products. To make a big dent in obesity, food and beverage companies and their opponents must shift their spending away from attacking each other and adopt a new playbook for engagement, one in which industry recognizes activists’ assaults as reflections of changing consumer attitudes and harbingers of new growth opportunities, and where vocal advocates use corporate performance metrics to motivate change.

Instead, the warring parties continue to skirmish according to the old model, with one side spending big on trying to get regulations enacted and the other throwing dollars at trying to avoid them. Several prominent public health organizations have pledged to spend an estimated $825 million over the next 10 years to promote sugar taxes, ban junk food advertising, change package labels, and do research related to healthier eating and food industry practices. Since 2009 beverage companies alone have spent approximately $200 million to protect their sugary signature products federally and locally. As threats of additional taxation loom, millions more are likely to be spent. But these investments only fatten the wallets of lobbyists and advertising agencies; they have not made Americans any thinner. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an alarming 37% of Americans are obese, with half of the 50 states exhibiting obesity rates exceeding 30%.

…Mexico has served as the poster child for how sugary beverage taxes can work. Studies by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have concluded that the excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Mexico resulted in a 5.5% reduction in purchases of the beverages in the first year and a 9.7% one in the second year. Contrary to these findings, ConMexico, an industry trade association (using data from research firm Kantar), found that there was virtually no impact on obesity rates due to the tax. It also showed that families were skimping on other grocery items such as soap, toothpaste and toilet paper to pay for the higher cost of taxed beverages. Read More > at the Hudson Institute

A Fantastic Flying Car That’s No Fantasy

The Great Sunscreen Debate: Vitamin D vs. Skin Cancer – Are you getting enough vitamin D?

A clinical review in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association shows that nearly 1 billion people around the world aren’t, and it may be due to chronic disease or lack of exposure to the sun.

“People are spending less time outside and, when they do go out, they’re typically wearing sunscreen, which essentially nullifies the body’s ability to produce vitamin D,” Kim Pfotenhauer, DO, assistant professor at Touro University, and a researcher on the study, said in a press release.

“While we want people to protect themselves against skin cancer, there are healthy, moderate levels of unprotected sun exposure that can be very helpful in boosting vitamin D.”

Read more: Is vitamin D a wonder supplement? »

Vitamin D is made by the body when skin is exposed to sunlight.

It can also be found in foods such as fish and eggs.

A deficiency in vitamin D can cause brittle bones and weak muscles.

“Studies continuously show that we are amid a vitamin D deficiency pandemic,” Amber Tovey, program manager at the Vitamin D Council, told Healthline. Read More > at Healthline

Global cyberattack is a warning for ‘internet of things’ – …The use in infrastructure of connected devices, part of the internet of things, made room for the attack. Rail ticket machines and factory production equipment, for example, are now online and therefore vulnerable.

Production control devices and other equipment are made to match the systems they are used with, so it can be difficult to update them. The attackers targeted systems that still run outdated operating systems such as Microsoft’s Windows XP. More users lately are unable to apply the latest security updates due to such issues as software incompatibility, which is something of an alarm bell for the internet of things, says Hiroki Takakura, a professor at the National Institute of Informatics.

This cyberattack came in the form of so-called ransomware, which encrypts users’ data, rendering it inaccessible, then displays a message demanding payment in order to restore it. Many of those affected in the past have reportedly paid up.

Ransomware has existed since the 1990s, but became more prevalent last year, spurred by the spread of bitcoin. That virtual currency can be bought with a credit card via a computer program and easily sent digitally. No financial institutions are involved in the transaction, so users are harder to pin down, giving hackers reason to expect they will escape capture. Read More > at Asian Review

A State Takeover of Housing – All the debate about how to address California’s massive housing shortage is obscuring the big picture: a state takeover of local housing policy has begun.

That’s the real import of the more than 100 bills that have been introduced in the legislature to change housing policy in various ways. None of the current proposals is up to the task of getting the state to build sufficient housing. But the varied legislative activity—proposals cover production incentives for builders, rental assistance, streamlining regulations, new regional planning initiatives, increased enforcement of state housing laws, and even taxation of second homes—clearly signals the state’s intention to take a leading role in how California houses itself.

Today, California’s crisis is rising prices resulting from a profound failure to create enough units to meet the population’s needs. While the state needs an estimated 180,000 new units a year, it’s been getting less than half of that. By one estimate, the resulting shortage is a $140 billion annual drag on the state economy. Companies and individuals leaving the state most often cite housing costs as their top reason. Home ownership is at the lowest rate in California since the 1940s.

…The debate is already dividing key interests that must come together to pass ambitious laws. Labor is split on housing, as building trades unions oppose reforms to lower housing costs, a change that would benefit working-class members of service sector unions. There also are divides among environmentalists (between those who embrace denser development and hardliners who oppose any growth at all), advocates for the poor (between those who want to revive poorer communities with new housing and those who fear new housing will merely displace poor people), and even among Republicans (between those who want to protect older people and their housing values and those who want more housing for the young families in their inland communities).

“I’m not super optimistic about the state being a positive force in housing yet,” says Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget & Policy Center. “The number and range of proposals suggests that there isn’t consensus yet among state leaders and housing advocates about what levers to pull.”

Some of the more than 100 housing bills could make things worse, by adding to the costs of housing, or creating disincentives for local governments to approve housing. It’s also difficult to make even small gains in encouraging more housing for poor and working-class people. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

We’re Getting Closer to Mass Production of Bones, Organs, and Implants – Medical researchers have been able to create certain kinds of living cells with 3D printers for more than a decade. Now a few companies are getting closer to mass production of higher-order tissues (bone, cartilage, organs) and other individually tailored items, including implants. This kind of precision medicine, treating patients based on their genes, environment, and lifestyle, could herald the end of long organ donor lists and solve other problems, too. Read More > in Bloomberg

‘Green rush’ in Salinas Valley turns fields from chrysanthemums to cannabis – A beloved but beleaguered landscape is now sprouting new luxury greenhouses, fueled by a dream of marijuana riches that is changing the people and produce of this corner of Steinbeck Country.

Salinas Valley was once the heart of the nation’s flower-growing business. But now collapsing wood-and-plastic greenhouses are being replaced by tall and gleaming high-tech European structures guarded by gates, barbed wire and cameras.

“We’re rehabbing it — with a new flower,” said Salinas attorney Gavin Kogan, owner of GrupoFLor real estate company, which leases 2.6 million square feet of Monterey County property to several dozen cannabis growers.

Last November’s legalization of marijuana in California means the crop is emerging from the remote, hidden and sometimes dangerous mountains of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties, the so-called Emerald Triangle of Northern California.

Now the plant is rooting here in a place famed for fine horticulture, just off Highway 101, with easy access to lucrative markets in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Read More > at The Cannifornian

Doctors Warn of Painful Parasite Hiding in Your Sushi – Beware your next Seattle roll; doctors say it could contain something that should never be found in sushi (besides cream cheese): a “worm-like” parasite. A paper published Thursday in BMJ Case Reports says cases of anisakiasis are on the rise in the West due to the increasing popularity of sushi and other dishes involving raw or under-cooked fish. The report gives the example of a Portuguese man who was suffering vomiting, fever, and stomach pain. He told doctors he had recently eaten sushi, and they discovered an anisakis larva attached to his stomach lining, CTV News reports. According to CNN, the anisakis is a parasitic worm that lives in mackerel, squids, salmon, herring, cod, red snapper, and halibut.

There’s no treatment for anisakiasis, which can also cause bowel obstruction and digestive bleeding, besides physical removal of the anisakis larva, which can require surgery, the Guardian reports. Anisakiasis is common in Japan due to the prevalence of raw fish in the diet, with between 2,000 and 3,000 cases diagnosed per year. But cases are starting to pop up in the US and elsewhere in the West. To avoid getting the parasite, patronize high-quality sushi restaurants. “Properly trained sushi chefs can detect anisakis larvae,” one doctor says. Read More > at Newser

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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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One Response to Sunday Reading – May 21, 2017

  1. This is such an important (secrets of youth); there needs to be more outreach regarding it’s importance.
    However, I do not see any warnings about excessive amounts mentioned here.
    There are always those who think that more of whatever is beneficial is better.

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