Sunday Reading – 06/25/17

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.

Brentwood golf courses likely to consolidate – An ongoing decline in the popularity of the sport has the owners of the Shadow Lakes and Deer Ridge golf clubs considering the consolidation of the two golf courses and the development of two senior living facilities where holes and a clubhouse currently exist, but many residents oppose a change that could forever alter their golf course community.

One of the proposed senior living facilities would be located where the Deer Ridge clubhouse and parking lot sit today, and the other would be in Shadow Lakes at the current location of the course’s 10 and 18 holes. The Shadow Lakes golf course has been closed since earlier this year, and some residents claim that the fairways are not being properly maintained.

“The plan is to consolidate the existing two courses into one course. This means the closing of eight holes at Shadow Lakes and 10 holes at Deer Ridge,” said spokesman Taylor Canfield of Davies Consulting, which represents property owner SunCoast Properties. “We have had 11 years of losses, and we are looking at golf trends nationally and locally, which support our findings that two golf courses just are not sustainable.” Read More > in the East Bay Times

Uber’s Other Big Problem: Driverless Cars Aren’t Ready Yet – …If the privately held company were to go public in the future at anything approaching its current valuation of around $60 billion, taking a bite out of the $40 billion a year global taxi business would be table stakes. To provide much upside, Uber would need to achieve Kalanick’s real goal: to create a service so ubiquitous and convenient that consumers would not bother buying their own cars. By tapping into the $10 trillion that people spend on new and used cars each year, Uber could become more valuable than Google or Facebook, which have become two of the world’s 10 most valuable companies by disrupting the much smaller, $500-billion-a-year advertising business.

“Yes, Uber’s priorities need to shift in the short term to address threats to its human-driven car business,” says Sundararajan. “But they also need to keep their eye on the big prize. It’s not hard to imagine Uber becoming the world’s first trillion-dollar company, if Apple doesn’t get there first.”

Trouble is, creating this post-ownership ground transportation economy can only happen with self-driving cars. Uber lost more than $700 million last year, in large part because of the payments it makes to drivers. If the company’s business model is challenged while serving almost exclusively urban markets where there’s plenty of demand, Sundararajan doesn’t see how the company could afford to maintain an anytime, anywhere fleet of cars for consumers in rural and other underserved areas. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

Trailer Bills Let California Lawmakers Slip New Policies into Budget – California senators were deep in heated debate about a small but politically explosive attachment to the state budget last week when a Riverside Democrat could be heard to suddenly channel Forrest Gump.

“Trailer bills,” said Sen. Richard Roth—referring to pieces of legislation tied to the budget but sometimes bearing little connection to it—“are a box of chocolates. And you never know what you’re going to get.”

Surprises abound each year as lawmakers craft the annual budget that keeps the state running. While most of the budget involves big-ticket items such as how much to spend on public education ($74.5 billion) or health care for the poor ($105.6 billion), a few extra nuggets are always thrown in that don’t involve much money but make significant policy changes.

Some of the surprising morsels this year include bills to revamp the timeline for recalling a politician, expand the pool of people prohibited from owning guns and give unions the chance to talk to newly-hired government employees. To California’s Democratic-controlled statehouse, these trailer bills are the caramels, buttercreams and raspberry truffles that sweeten the budget deal.

…Trailers skip the policy committees that regular bills must clear, can’t be overturned by voters via referendum, and take effect immediately upon being signed by the governor. Regular bills run the risk of being put on the ballot to be overturned by voters and take immediate effect only if passed by a two-thirds supermajority. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

San Diego, Marin County Heading the Opposite Direction on Housing Policy – “[San Diego] Mayor Kevin Faulconer is unveiling on Wednesday a package of incentives to tackle San Diego’s severe shortage of affordable housing for people of low and middle incomes,” reports David Garrick.

“The dozen proposals include streamlined project approvals, bonuses for densely-built projects, lower parking requirements in transit areas and loosened regulations for granny flats and business owners living in their workplace,” adds Garrick.

Those and other reforms are meant to alleviate housing prices in a city where 70 percent of the residents can’t afford the $525,000 median home price. The reforms also follow on a promise made by Mayor Kevin Faulconer in his State of the City speech earlier this year.

Contrast San Diego’s example with that of Marin County, which could soon be enabled to build less housing thanks to the State Legislature. A new bill, Assembly Bill 121, “lets Marin County’s largest cities and unincorporated areas maintain extra restrictions on how many homes developers can build,” reports Liam Dillon. Because the bill is attached to the state budget, it hasn’t had to face the scrutiny of the normal committee approval process. Read More > at Planetizen

San Bernardino: Out of bankruptcy but not out of the woods – The city of San Bernardino announced Monday that after four years, it has officially exited bankruptcy and will have to start paying its creditors, but the economically-troubled city is not out of the woods yet.

“I’m not optimistic for the city in terms of its demographic issues,” says John Husing, Chief Economist at the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, who has watched what he calls the city’s “tragic” downfall from an all-American middle class suburb at the end of the 1970’s to bankruptcy in 2012.

…In April, the influential credit rating agency Moody’s Investor Service warned San Bernardino could be setting itself up for another bankruptcy.

“The [court-approved] plan calls for San Bernardino to leave bankruptcy with increased revenues and an improved balance sheet, but the city will retain significant unfunded and rapidly rising pension obligations,” the report warned.

The city dismissed the report as “old news.” Husing says despite its problems, San Bernardino is unlikely to have to resort again to bankruptcy. Read More > at KPCC

Taking On the Scourge of Opioids – …An estimated 2.5 million Americans abuse or are addicted to opioids — a class of highly addictive drugs that includes Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, and heroin. Most experts believe this is an undercount, and all agree that the casualty rate is unprecedented. At peak years in an earlier heroin epidemic, from 1973 to 1975, there were 1.5 fatalities per 100,000 Americans. In 2015, the rate was 10.4 per 100,000. In West Virginia, ground zero of the crisis, it was over 36 per 100,000. In raw numbers, more than 33,000 individuals died in 2015 — nearly equal to the number of deaths from car crashes and double the number of gun homicides. Meanwhile, the opioid-related fatalities continue to mount, having quadrupled since 1999.

The roots of the crisis can be traced to the early 1990s when physicians began to prescribe opioid painkillers more liberally. In parallel, overdose deaths from painkillers rose until about 2011. Since then, heroin and synthetic opioids have briskly driven opioid-overdose deaths; they now account for over two-thirds of victims. Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are made mainly in China, shipped to Mexico, and trafficked here. Their menace cannot be overstated.

Fentanyl is 50 times as potent as heroin and can kill instantly. People have been found dead with needles dangling from their arms, the syringe barrels still partly full of fentanyl-containing liquid. One fentanyl analog, carfentanil, is a big-game tranquilizer that’s a staggering 5,000 times more powerful than heroin. This spring, “Gray Death,” a combination of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, and other synthetics, has pushed the bounds of lethal chemistry even further. The death rate from synthetics has increased by more than 72% over the space of a single year, from 2014 to 2015. They have transformed an already terrible problem into a true public-health emergency.

The nation has weathered drug epidemics before, but the current affliction — a new plague for a new century, in the words of Nicholas Eberstadt — is different. Today, the addicted are not inner-city minorities, though big cities are increasingly reporting problems. Instead, they are overwhelmingly white and rural, though middle- and upper-class individuals are also affected. The jarring visual of the crisis is not an urban “gang banger” but an overdosed mom slumped in the front seat of her car in a Walmart parking lot, toddler in the back. Read More > at National Affairs

Will Christianity Survive in the Middle East? A Christian Perspective – According to the most recent information available from the Pew Research Center, in 2014 “roughly three-quarters of the world’s 7.2 billion people (74 percent) were living in countries with high or very high restrictions or hostilities” involving religion. Although these statistics were modestly better than 2012 and 2013, 2014 showed a “marked increase in the number of countries that experienced religious-related terrorist activities,” and this was primarily due to Islamic terrorists associated with Boko Haram in West Africa, and al-Qaida and Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, or Daesh), often in the Middle East.

The number of countries with injuries or deaths from “religion-related terrorism” rose from 51 in 2013 to 60 in 2014. Eighteen of 20 countries in North Africa and the Middle East experienced “religion-related terrorism.” It is also important to note that since 2014 there has been an increase in Islamic terrorism outside North Africa and the Middle East. This is a clear reminder that what happens in the Middle East and North Africa does impact very directly the rest of the world.

Not surprisingly, most victims of religious violence and persecution are Christians and Muslims—the two largest religions; though there has also been a rise of anti-Semitism, including violent anti-Semitic attacks in Europe. The most dangerous places to be a Christian in the world include North Korea, North Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Open Doors reports that every month 322 Christians are killed, 214 churches or Christian properties are destroyed, and 772 forms (acts) of violence are committed against Christians. The great majority of the top fifty countries where Christians face the most persecution are Muslim-majority. This represents a very real challenge to Christians, but also to Muslims throughout the world, the majority of whom do not even live in the Middle East (indeed, only 20 percent of the world’s Muslims do).

Though the relationship between Christians and Muslims has frequently been strained through the centuries, it has often been better and more tolerant than in recent decades. In fact, Muslims and Christians have often been capable of living together quite peaceably in the past, which offers hope for the future. Read More > at Providence

The Extinction of the Left-Handed Quarterback? – The 2016 NFL season was the first in modern league history in which a left-handed quarterback did not throw a single pass.

Sure, quarterbacks occasionally improvise by throwing the ball with their wrong hand, and Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant threw a left-handed touchdown pass off a reverse against the Detroit Lions in December. But Cowboys backup Kellen Moore was the only active left-handed signal-caller in the NFL last year, and he continues to be today. Moore spent the entire 2016 campaign on injured reserve while recovering from a fractured fibula in his right leg.

In 2010, the Denver Broncos selected left-handed quarterback Tim Tebow in the first round of the NFL draft. Two days later, the New Orleans Saints chose lefty Sean Canfield in Round 7. Both are out of football now. NFL teams have selected 81 quarterbacks since then, but none are southpaws. All 25 rookie quarterbacks currently on NFL rosters (10 draft picks, 15 undrafted free agents) throw right-handed.

Left-handed quarterbacks never robustly populated the NFL, but there was always at least one strong starter until now. Read More > at Bleacher Report

Bay Area home prices hit new record high in May – The median price of a Bay Area home reached yet another all-time high in May: $755,000.

Sales jumped up from April, but were still far below typical levels of the last 30 years — 13.4 percent beneath the average, according to the CoreLogic real estate information service.

The new $755,000 median home price — reflecting the values of single-family homes, condos and townhomes in the nine-county region — was up 7.1 percent from the same month last year.

In San Mateo County, the median rose a whopping 17.8 percent to $1,207,500; in Santa Clara County, the $940,000 median was up 7.4 percent. In the East Bay, the median rose 3.1 percent to $732,000 in Alameda County and 6.5 percent to $575,000 in Contra Costa County. Read More > in the East Bay Times

Why homes are selling like hot cakes in Sacramento – Homes in Sacramento County sold at a record pace in May and commanded the highest prices in a decade.

The median price of a resale single family home in Sacramento County reached $330,000 – the highest for the month since May 2007 and 8 percent higher than the same month last year, CoreLogic reported Wednesday.

The county’s median home price was up by nearly 5 percent in May compared with April’s median of $315,000, the Irvine-based real estate tracking firm said. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

McDonald’s hits all-time high as Wall Street cheers replacement of cashiers with kiosks – McDonald’s shares hit an all-time high on Tuesday as Wall Street expects sales to increase from new digital ordering kiosks that will replace cashiers in 2,500 restaurants.

Cowen raised its rating on McDonald’s shares to outperform from market perform because of the technology upgrades, which are slated for the fast-food chain’s restaurants this year.

McDonald’s shares rallied 26 percent this year through Monday compared to the S&P 500’s 10 percent return.

Andrew Charles from Cowen cited plans for the restaurant chain to roll out mobile ordering across 14,000 U.S. locations by the end of 2017. The technology upgrades, part of what McDonald’s calls “Experience of the Future,” includes digital ordering kiosks that will be offered in 2,500 restaurants by the end of the year and table delivery. Read More > at CNBC

Is California’s Investment in Needy Students Paying Off? Few Signs Indicate Achievement Gap Is Closing – California’s new system for funding public education has pumped tens of billions of extra dollars into struggling schools, but there’s little evidence yet that the investment is helping the most disadvantaged students.

A CALmatters analysis of the biggest districts with the greatest clusters of needy children found limited success with the policy’s goal: to close the achievement gap between these students and their more privileged peers. Instead, results in most of those places show the gap is growing.

…Two years after the state adopted the new funding formula, it created new tests to measure student performance. Experts say it’s too early to draw sweeping conclusions from the new test scores in 2015 and 2016, but they’re troubled that the early results show little improvement for the neediest students and, in many cases, a widening achievement gap.

The CALmatters examination of the 15 largest school systems where nine out of 10 kids qualify for extra funding shows that serious problems remain. Large majorities of students in these districts, which are mostly in Southern California, still fail state tests. And although test scores are improving, the growth lags behind progress made by students not targeted by the new policy. Read More > at KQED

Legal pot and car crashes: Yes, there’s a link – Does driving while high have any impact on auto accident rates? Legalized recreational marijuana use in Colorado, Oregon and Washington correlates to about a 3 percent increase in auto collision claim frequencies compared to states without such legislation, according to a new Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) study. It’s the first one the group has conducted since the drug went on sale legally.

“More drivers admit to using marijuana, and it is showing up more frequently among people involved in crashes,” the study said.

The HLDI is affiliated with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research organization that usually focuses on figuring out which cars are safest. The group is funded by auto insurance companies, which have a vested interest in not having to pay claims and — of course — hold a bias against impaired driving of any kind. Read More > at CBS News

A Nike-Amazon deal has sporting goods chains running scared – Shares in several major sports chains hit 52-week lows on word that Nike may soon be selling its gear directly on Amazon.

Goldman Sachs (GS) said Wednesday it believed the deal would give Nike better exposure to Amazon’s huge retail channel and customer base, especially millennials.

Nike goods can already be found on Amazon subsidiary, and its shoes and gear can be found through third-party sellers on Amazon. Goldman believes the deal would give Nike better control of its brand’s presentation on the site.

But investors saw mostly the gravitational pull of Amazon, sending shares of Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS), Hibbett Sports (HIBB), Big 5 Sporting Goods (BGFV), Finish Line (FINL) and Foot Locker (FL) plummeting between 4 percent and 5 percent in Wednesday trading.

It’s the third sector in less than a week that has been ravaged over fears that Amazon would soon become a disrupting force. Read More > at CBS News

How to Fall Down – …So, you’re falling. What do you do? According to Dr. Jessica Schwartz, a physical therapist who specializes in training athletes and people with prosthetic limbs to fall without hurting themselves, you need to focus on protecting your head. When you feel yourself start to lose your balance:

  1. Pivot so you’re not falling directly forward or backwards if possible. Fall to your side.
  2. Tuck your chin in to protect your head.
  3. Don’t fall onto outstretched hands. You’ll probably break your wrists and still may hit your head anyway.
  4. Place your arms to your side to help cushion your fall and protect your hip, or throw your arms up to cushion your head with your biceps, depending on the fall trajectory.
  5. Bend your knees and try not to fight the fall. Do what paratroopers are trained to do and roll with it, allowing yourself to go slightly limp and shift body weight to spread out and absorb the impact.
  6. Try to land on your thigh, buttocks, and shoulder. Don’t ever fall onto your knees since you can easily bust your kneecaps

Read More > at Lifehacker

Robots That Make 400 Burgers an Hour May Soon Take over Fast Food Restaurants – Next time you go for a burger, it might not be a high school student that takes your order, rather an AI might ask if you want cheese on your patty. Introducing the BurgerBot. Invented by Momentum Machines, the bot is ready to totally change the way we know burgers.

You don’t need to worry about the line cook messing up your order any more. The BurgerBot is a totally automated burger creating machine! The machine can pump out 400 burgers an hour. But not just any 400 burgers, all the burgers can be made with fresh ground beef, salad, complete with a toasted bun.

This isn’t just a concept, the team at Momentum, who just completed a winning funding round to the tune of $18 million are on the verge of opening the world’s first robot hamburger restaurant.

Situated in the Bay Area, the restaurant will be the first of its kind anywhere. It has been a long time coming for the group of engineers and foodies over at Momentum who first released a concept of RoboBurger back in 2012. At that time Momentum Machines co-founder Alexandros Vardakostas told the press: “Our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient, it’s meant to completely obviate them.” Read More > at Interesting Engineering

Legal Weed: It Really is Coming Soon to a Store Near You – Seven months after Californians voted to legalize and tax recreational marijuana, state leaders are moving full speed ahead with a system to oversee the cultivation, distribution and sales of cannabis — rules that have to be in place, under law, by January.

Many key details of how California will make that happen were included in a bill that was part of last week’s state budget deal and is now on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. They range from the mundane, such as changing all references in state law from “marijuana” to “cannabis”; to serious issues, such as giving the California Highway Patrol $3 million to train drug recognition experts; to the more light hearted, such as setting up a legal appellation — or origin — labeling process for weed, like wine currently has.

In total, the bill establishes a single set of laws overseeing cannabis in California, reconciling previous laws governing medical marijuana with Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana use and sales for people over the age of 21.

The bill includes details on how businesses can operate once commercial cultivation and sales are legal next year. (Under Prop. 64, marijuana was legal for adults to grow and use immediately, but commercial enterprises were not allowed to start until next year.)

It sets out agricultural rules, tax collection and remittance procedure and testing and packaging requirements for commercial marijuana. It also sets rules and guidance for state agencies involved in regulating marijuana. It would prohibit open containers of cannabis in cars, let medical and recreational marijuana be sold at the same shop, and allow for delivery sales. Read More > at KQED

Audit: Low-income phone program grew to $84 million from $36 million because of poor oversight – State officials are not regulating the procurement of goods and services by departments across the California government, allowing some vendors to extend contracts worth millions of dollars for years without competitive bidding, a new audit concludes.

The 73-page report released by the California State Auditor on Tuesday singled out certain cases, including a no-bid contract for communication services for low-income residents that was amended seven times in six years by the California Public Utilities Commission. The cost climbed to more than $84 million from the original $36 million.

The subject of the state audit was the Department of General Services and the California Department of Technology, which are supposed to oversee state purchasing to make sure taxpayers do not pay more than necessary for billions of dollars worth of goods and services.

The report found that 12 of 31 contracts reviewed by auditors were never entered into a state database created to resolve lack-of-oversight issues discovered in 2002.

Auditors “found that the data misrepresented or did not include many of the state’s contracts and their associated amendments, essentially rendering (the database) ineffective for its intended purposes,” the audit said. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Say goodbye to Butterfingers, Crunch bars, Baby Ruths & more – If Butterfingers are your go-to movie munchy or mini Nestle Crunch bars were the highlight of your childhood Halloweens, this is an extra sad Monday. Nestlé just announced that it’s considering selling its American candy brands, which includes classic candy aisle mainstays like Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, Gobstoppers, 100 Grand, SkinnyCow, Raisinets and Crunch bars.

Now, before you go buying up your local drugstore and hoarding Butterfingers in your pantry, let’s clarify — these products won’t necessarily be gone forever if the sale happens. However, the candy bars could be sold under a new label and possibly have a new recipe or formula, depending on who buys the rights.

“Nestlé will explore strategic options for its U.S. confectionery business, including a potential sale,” the company said in a statement. Basically, nothing in life will ever be the same again.

If you’re a fan of Nestlé’s Toll House cookies, though, don’t worry: Those won’t be part of the sale, as they’re held under a separate part of the company — as are Kit Kat bars, which are produced by Nestlé’s international arm, not its American one.

Nestlé blames this decision on Americans being more interested in healthy snack choices. We may still love our sugar, but we’re eating less of it, and industries like candy and cereal are feeling the impact. Read More > at Sheknows

How Cats Used Humans to Conquer the World – Sometime around the invention of agriculture, the cats came crawling. It was mice and rats, probably, that attracted the wild felines. The rats came because of stores of grain, made possible by human agriculture. And so cats and humans began their millennia-long coexistence.

This relationship has been good for us of course—formerly because cats caught the disease-carrying pests stealing our food and presently because cleaning up their hairballs somehow gives purpose to our modern lives. But this relationship has been great for cats as species, too. From their native home in the Middle East, the first tamed cats followed humans out on ships and expeditions to take over the world—settling on six continents with even the occasional foray to Antarctica. Domestication has been a fantastically successful evolutionary strategy for cats.

…This large number of samples painted a fairly detailed picture of how cats followed humans on trade routes. Modern domestic cats appear to have all originated in one of two places. The first was Anatolia, which roughly corresponds to modern-day Turkey. These cats spread to Europe as early as 4,400 B.C.E. A second domesticated lineage appears to have begun in Egypt and then later spread through the Mediterranean. And wherever the cats followed humans, they also interbred with the native wildcats already there.

…Compared to many other animals, cats have also changed very little in the domestication process. Behaviorally, they’ve become more tolerant of humans. Physically, though, they’re still about the same size and shape. They still like to pounce on small prey. “Cats have done since before they were domesticated what we needed them to do,” says Leslie Lyons, a feline geneticist at the University of Missouri. In other words, unlike dogs that herd sheep or hunt badgers, cats didn’t need humans to breed them to become good mouse hunters. Read More > in The Atlantic

Yes, Hate Speech Is Free Speech – With the Left feverishly attempting to squash unwelcome speech on college campuses, with the president of the United States musing about tightening libel laws, with prominent liberals asserting that so-called hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment, free speech in America at least has one reliable friend — the Supreme Court of the United States.

In a firm 8-0 decision, the court slapped down the Patent and Trademark Office for denying a band federal trademark registration for the name “The Slants,” a derogatory term for Asian-Americans. The case involves a very small corner of federal law, but implicates the broader logic of political correctness, which is that speech should be silenced for the greater good if there is a chance that someone, somewhere might be offended by it.

This is classic safe-space reasoning — the harm that would allegedly befall some portion of a group from encountering an offending trademark should trump the free-speech rights of the likes of The Slants. The court utterly rejected this posture, deeming it inimical to a free society and untenable under the U.S. Constitution.

…who have convinced themselves that hate speech is not free speech, the court held, “Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.’” Read More > at National Review

CA’s Vanishing Republicans Comprise Majorities in Just 14 Cities – Republicans hold the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Presidency, 33 governorships and 32 legislatures across the United States. But they still can’t catch a break in California. Not by a long shot.

Out of the Golden State’s 482 cities, Republican voters now make up a majority in only a handful — fourteen to be exact. Fifteen years ago, they comprised a majority in 66 cities. In other words, Republican voters are dropping like flies.

Democrats, on the other hand, currently make up more than 50 percent of voters in 140 California cities. That figure has remained more or less the same over the past fifteen years.

The cities are: Lincoln, Escalon, Kingsburg, Avenal, Exeter, Taft, Maricopa, Big Bear Lake, Norco, Villa Park, Yorba Linda, Newport Beach, Canyon Lake, and Indian Wells. Read More > at California City News

Don’t Bail Out Failing States Like Illinois – State Bankruptcy: First Puerto Rico into bankruptcy, next Illinois? Don’t laugh. In some ways, Illinois’ fiscal crisis is just as bad as bankrupt Puerto Rico’s. And it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

Illinois is nearly $15 billion in arrears on its bills and really has no way to pay up. It already has the lowest credit rating of any state, and could become the first state ever to get a “junk” rating on its debt, which would make borrowing to address its problems very difficult at best, and prohibitively costly at worst.

…Politico sums it up nicely: “Illinois has compiled $14.6 billion in unpaid bills. It’s running a deficit of $6 billion and its pension liability has soared to $130 billion.”

Meanwhile, the state is already under several court orders to pay certain bills, so as others come due the money won’t be there. It’s a severe problem.

…The sad thing is, other states are also struggling to pay their bills. A 2016 study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University named four other states, in addition to Illinois, that were in particularly bad fiscal shape: Kentucky, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut, “largely owing to the low amounts of cash they have on hand and their large debt obligations.”

“Each of the bottom five states exhibits serious signs of fiscal distress,” the Mercatus report said. “Though their economies may be stronger than Puerto Rico’s, allowing them to better navigate fis­cal crises, their large liabilities still raise serious concerns.”

…Bailing out failure only leads to more failure. While it is horribly run, Illinois is a wealthy state that can’t make up its mind about its priorities. But that’s what budgeting and taxing are about: priorities. State politicians need to sit down and get real about their difficulties and learn what every family learns: You can’t have everything you want, and you have to live within your means. Read More > at Investor’s Business Daily

Putting the future in focus: The blueprint for baseball in 20 years – …Thankfully, it will look, feel and sound much like the game that has been played for the past 125 years, with nine innings, three outs, four balls and three strikes, 60 feet, 6 inches between the mound and home plate and 90 feet around each side of the diamond. Baseball is too good, too rich in history and tradition to make modifications that would deeply affect the fabric of a game that’s so special for so many. But it will be different, and to speculate just how different, we asked 12 people in baseball, including managers, general managers, players and umpires, and this is their collaborative projection/guess on what the game will look like, not should look like, in 2037. The massive changes ahead are rooted in three principles: speed up the game, make the game safer and keep it wildly profitable.

Pace of play is currently No. 1 on commissioner Rob Manfred’s list of improvements, and it will remain a huge topic over the next 20 years. In 2037, there will be a pitch clock — 20 seconds between pitches, if a pitcher goes past that, a ball will be assessed — so we won’t have to endure anything like Pedro Baez’s torturous relief appearances, Josh Beckett taking 53 seconds between pitches or first baseman Mark Grace screaming at pitcher Steve Trachsel, “Throw the f—ing ball, it’s hot out here!” — and they were teammates.

There will be a limit on trips to the mound during a game by a pitching coach, catcher or infielder — call them timeouts: five per game, more will result in the ejection of the player or coach. Hitters will not be allowed to step out of the box after a pitch, the penalty being a strike added to the count. And the tradition of throwing the ball around the horn after an out will be eliminated. The catcher will just throw the ball to the pitcher.

There will be no ties in baseball, but the 12th inning will begin with a runner on second base. If the score is still tied after 12 innings, the 13th inning will begin with a runner on third base. This surely will end the wonderful craziness of teams playing 20 innings, but the days of a five-hour game that finishes at 2:45 a.m., essentially will be over, bullpens will be saved from overwork, deadlines will be met and everyone involved will get more sleep… Read More > at ESPN

How Amazon Is Changing the Whole Concept of Monopoly – …This is not what is supposed to happen. Amazon’s stock is supposed to drop with the acquisition of a troubled company. But Wall Street is only reacting to what is obvious: that Amazon is so powerful that anything standing in its way is toast. And while this is great for Amazon’s shareholders, most Americans can’t afford to be so blithe. When one of the nation’s biggest companies enters—and threatens to overwhelm—a whole sector of the economy, the consequences are enormous. If Amazon now controls the pricing in the book industry, just imagine what it can do in the broader world of retail.

“This is horrible for competition,” the director of the New America Foundation’s Open Markets program Barry Lynn told the New Republic. “This is the crushing of competition. Amazon is monopolizing commerce in the United States. It set out to become the company that when you said to yourself, ‘I’m going to go buy something online,’ you would say, ‘I’m going to go to Amazon.’ Now Amazon is seeking to become the company when you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to go buy something’ you think Amazon.”

Like other unimaginably gigantic tech companies—most notably Google and Facebook—Amazon has benefitted from decades of a remarkably narrow interpretation of antitrust law. “Amazon has built its business strategy and rhetoric around lowering prices for consumers and serving consumers more generally,” Lina Khan, a fellow with the Open Markets program, told the New Republic. Under the current interpretation of antitrust law—which was deeply influenced by Robert Bork’s 1978 book The Antitrust Paradox—“harm to consumers is the only plausible harm,” Khan said. As long as Amazon keeps prices low—in other words, as long as it refrains from using its monopoly power to extort consumers—it’s safe from scrutiny.

But with its move into physical retail, the necessity for rethinking antitrust law has never been greater. Amazon and other tech quasi-monopolies have benefitted greatly from the relaxing of antitrust laws that began in earnest in 1982. Read More > at the New Republic

Stoner barf: Yes, it’s a thing, and it’s way more common than you think – Marijuana has long been lauded as a wonder drug for treating nausea and vomiting. Now, health experts say your pot may be making you sick.

Emergency medicine physicians at UC Davis Medical Center said they’ve seen young, often college-age patients come in once or twice a day vomiting multiple times an hour and screaming uncontrollably.

Doctors have seen these symptoms in emergency rooms for years without fully understanding what was happening, he said. Ultrasounds and CT scans would be ordered, and opioids and anti-nausea medication prescribed, but to no avail. It wasn’t until a 2004 study, when Australian doctors identified a connection between patients’ marijuana use and their recurring episodes of vomiting and abdominal pain that the diagnosis was clinched.

Blazing up every day with potent strains of marijuana was eliciting the symptoms, according to the study.

THC and other cannabinoid concentrations are also higher in medical marijuana strains, which may be contributing to more cases of CHS. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Governors, CEOs and Trump Are All Showing an Interest in Workforce Development– Two governors and the chief executives of General Motors and General Electric stressed the importance of developing the nation’s workforce, during remarks made at an event held here Monday that was focused on attracting foreign investment to the U.S.

The governors highlighted apprenticeship and technical college programs as pathways to well-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing and other fields. And the business executives noted partnerships their companies were cultivating that involved education and training.

…These comments came after President Trump last Thursday signed an executive order aimed at expanding apprenticeships in the U.S.

One provision in the order calls for the Secretary of Labor, along with the Secretaries of Education and Commerce to consider proposing regulations to promote the development of apprenticeship programs by companies and organizations such as industry groups and unions.

…“This idea that everyone needs to go straight to a four-year college is something that I think we have done to our disadvantage in America,” Bevin added. “We need people that are trained to work in the 21st century, not just to have degrees and high expectations.”

The governor also referred to training opportunities for older, mid-career workers and a $100 million state initiative that awarded money competitively to groups with ideas for workforce development, such as apprenticeship and certification programs. Read More > at Route Fifty

America’s newest grocery store chain has an advantage that should terrify Walmart– The German supermarket chain Lidl just opened its first US stores last week, and it’s already dominating America’s largest grocer, Walmart, on prices.

Lidl is about 9% cheaper than Walmart, according to a price check on a basket of 20 items by Jefferies analysts.

The price check also revealed that Lidl was 3% cheaper than its German rival Aldi and 16% cheaper than Food Lion.

This new competition is likely to put added pressure on US grocers to lower their prices at a time when food deflation is already weighing down margins.

…Lidl has more than 10,000 stores worldwide and plans to open 100 in the US by next summer. Its entrance into the US market will cause disruption for years to come, according to Jefferies. Read More > in Business Insider

Why Amazon Bought Whole Foods – …The e-commerce giant has been expanding into groceries and physical locations, including bookstores, ironically working itself back into the brick-and-mortar business that it’s also disrupting. Whole Foods, meanwhile, offers the biggest name in yuppie groceries and a fleet of urban locations, which can double as Amazon warehouses. Meanwhile, the grocer is in a tailspin, its stock price cascading as revenue growth has fallen every year since 2012. Investors had for weeks been pushing the company to sell itself to a larger grocer, like Kroger. That Whole Foods ended up with Amazon is poetic justice, considering that, in 2015, CEO John Mackey said Amazon’s move into grocery delivery would be “Amazon’s Waterloo.” Doubters of Amazon’s strategy can point to the fact that groceries are a terrible, low-margin business. That’s true—almost as terrible and low-margin as e-commerce, where Amazon has already demonstrated that it can hypnotize Wall Street’s myopic financiers, while it spends tens of billions of dollars building a global warehousing and delivery infrastructure for a shopping future that is moving online. In short, Whole Foods was in a free fall, and Amazon is the perfect net to catch it.

First, this is about food as a delivery service. Amazon understands that the most important value in American retail today is what’s is technically known as “consumer convenience” and what is commonly observed as “human sloth.” E-commerce is soaring and food-delivery businesses are taking off because human beings are fundamentally lazy and they don’t want to leave the couch to buy stuff….

Second, this is about Whole Foods as a distribution hub—and Amazon as a physical retail presence. Several analysts have said that Whole Foods’ urban and suburban locations are so valuable for Amazon’s delivery business that the deal could be worth it even if the grocer all but stopped selling food. “Amazon did not just buy Whole Foods grocery stores. It bought 431 upper-income, prime-location distribution nodes for everything it does….

Third, this is about Amazon as a “life bundle,” particularly for affluent Americans. Several years ago, I predicted that Amazon Prime was becoming the cable bundle of the future —an annual subscription to a fleet of diverse services that gave the retail company a dependable revenue stream and a growing, devoted customer base… Read More > in The Atlantic

You Could Soon Buy Weed at the County Fair – Marijuana Gardens could soon be giving the Beer Garden a run for its money at the local county fair.

A bill approved Thursday that sought to reconcile exiting medical marijuana laws with newly-passed Proposition 64 has opened the door to sales and consumption of pot at the fair, according to the Sacramento Bee.


Tucked inside the language of the pot bill is a clause that would legalize weed festivals.

County fairs or district agricultural associations, which operate most fairgrounds throughout the state, would be able to apply for special permits to sell weed to visitors. But at least right now, it’s unclear whether you’ll be able to enjoy a joint and a corn dog at any old local fair…

Regulations are expected to further clarify the rules and define what “premises” mean after legislators vote on the bill. If they prohibit alcohol and marijuana sales from happening on the same property, it seems unlikely that the powers running local fairs would choose to sell weed over booze. “

Critics have called this aspect of the bill “deplorable.”

Even though it would be limited to people 21 and over and not visible to the general public, it sends a signal to children that marijuana use is normal, said Brook Lowe of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALM). Read More > at California County News

These 7 Disruptive Technologies Could Be Worth Trillions of Dollars – Scientists, technologists, engineers, and visionaries are building the future. Amazing things are in the pipeline. It’s a big deal. But you already knew all that. Such speculation is common. What’s less common? Scale.

…“This is the biggest change that the automotive industry has ever faced,” she said.

Today’s automakers have a global market capitalization of a trillion dollars. Meanwhile, mobility-as-a-service companies as a whole (think ridesharing) are valued around $115 billion. If this number took into account expectations of a driverless future, it’d be higher.

The mobility-as-a-service market, which will slash the cost of “point-to-point” travel, could be worth more than today’s automakers combined, Wood said. Twice as much, in fact. As gross sales grow to something like $10 trillion in the early 2030s, her firm thinks some 20% of that will go to platform providers. It could be a $2 trillion opportunity.

…3D printing has become part of mainstream consciousness thanks, mostly, to the prospect of desktop printers for consumer prices. But these are imperfect, and the dream of an at-home replicator still eludes us. The manufacturing industry, however, is much closer to using 3D printers at scale.

Not long ago, we wrote about Carbon’s partnership with Adidas to mass-produce shoe midsoles. This is significant because, whereas industrial 3D printing has focused on prototyping to date, improving cost, quality, and speed are making it viable for finished products.

…According to ARK, the cost of genome editing has fallen 28x to 52x (depending on reagents) in the last four years. CRISPR is the technique leading the genome editing revolution, dramatically cutting time and cost while maintaining editing efficiency. Despite its potential, Wood said she isn’t hearing enough about it from investors yet.

“There are roughly 10,000 monogenic or single-gene diseases. Only 5% are treatable today,” she said. ARK believes treating these diseases is worth an annual $70 billion globally. Other areas of interest include stem cell therapy research, personalized medicine, drug development, agriculture, biofuels, and more. Read More > at Singularity Hub

Hiding Christians in the Basement: Fear and Heroism in a Philippine War Zone Three Christian civilians said they had cowered in a basement for weeks while militants inspired by the Islamic State went door to door killing non-Muslims in the southern Philippine city of Marawi before fleeing for their lives at dawn on Tuesday.

“We heard them shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ and asking neighbors about religion,” said Ian Torres, 25, a house painter who had come to Marawi for a job. “We could only hear them. If they could not answer questions about Quran verses, gunfire immediately followed.”

Their account, and others from people who have fled the battle zone in Marawi, starkly illustrate the brutal religious calculus of the militants as well as the heroic efforts of local Muslims who risked their lives to protect Christian friends and workers.

The militants, a coalition of local insurgent groups loyal to the Islamic State, began their assault on the city on May 23, announcing their intent to create an Islamic caliphate in the Philippines’ only predominantly Muslim city. Since then, more than 300 people have been killed, the military says. Read More > in The New York Times

How driverless cars, drones and other tech will change the urban landscape of Southern California – For more than a century, the urban landscape of Southern California has been shaped by the century-old technology: the car. But now developers and urban planning experts are envisioning how the next disruptive technologies of the 21st century — driverless cars, drones and virtual reality — may lead to smaller parking lots, fewer shopping centers and new kinds of housing designed to accommodate the evolving economy.

What does this future look like?

• Driverless cars: That big yellow taxi Joni Mitchell sang about? It just might be the self-driving kind in the future.

• Shopping centers: Passengers in those driverless cars could be whisked away to shopping centers featuring fewer retail stores because of increasing online shopping, but with more entertainment options, such as restaurants, bowling alleys and movie theaters to draw in customers.

• New areas to develop: With less demand for parking, real estate devoted to lots serving adjacent structures could be transitioned into additional housing units, office space or parks.

• More in-home tech: High-speed fiber internet service and virtual reality could see more residents working and shopping online from home.

• Deliveries: Packages will be dropped off by self-driving vehicles or drones. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

State’s ‘balanced and progressive’ budget carries big risks for taxpayers– Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders are patting themselves on the back for what Brown describes as a “balanced and progressive budget” for the 2017-18 fiscal year that begins July 1.

The “progressive” description of the $185 billion budget alludes to expanding benefits for the very large number of impoverished Californians – at least a quarter, and perhaps more than a third of the state’s 39 million residents. They include an expansion of the state’s new “earned income tax credit” from low-income wage workers to the low-income self-employed.

The “balanced” claim refers to politicians’ traditional view that if they don’t spend every last dollar the state receives, or is projected to receive, a budget is “balanced.”

However, a more comprehensive view of the state’s financial situation clouds that characterization.

For instance, while the $125 billion general fund doesn’t directly rely on borrowed money, as have past budgets, it also doesn’t account for an increase in debt that will have to be eventually covered by general fund taxes, such as income and sales levies.

Brown’s revised budget proposal, released last month, points out that “the state now has $282 billion in long‑term costs, debts, and liabilities. The vast majority of these liabilities – $279 billion – are related to retirement costs of state and University of California employees (which) have grown by $51 billion in the last year alone due to poor investment returns and the adoption of more realistic assumptions about future earnings.”

The budget does little or nothing to whittle down that burden on future generations of taxpayers. Read More > at CALmatters

A Scientist Didn’t Disclose Important Data—and Let Everyone Believe a Popular Weedkiller Causes Cancer – Does a common herbicide cause cancer? Over the past several years, that question has stirred up no shortage of controversy, with international health agencies offering conflicting information. The weedkiller, a chemical called glyphosate, is commonly sold by the agribiz giant Monsanto under the brand name RoundUp. Introduced in the mid-1970s, it’s now the world’s most widely used pesticide, with some 250 million pounds sprayed on US crops annually.

RoundUp has long been considered a benign alternative to harsher weedkillers. After extensive reviews, most regulatory agencies—the US Environmental Protection Agency, the European Food Safety Authority, and those of many other nations—have come to the conclusion that it does not cause cancer. So when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the UN’s World Health Organization, declared RoundUp a probable carcinogen in 2015, there was an international outcry. Shortly after, 184 plaintiffs in California filed a legal case against Monsanto, saying that the company failed to warn them about the risks of its product. Since then, in a separate suit, hundreds more plaintiffs have claimed that RoundUp caused their cancers, citing the IARC’s findings as evidence.

About that evidence: According to a new Reuters investigation, Aaron Blair, the scientist who led the IARC’s review panel on glyphosate, had access to data from a large study that strongly suggested that Roundup did not cause cancer after all—but he withheld that data from the RoundUp review panel. Weirder still: Blair himself was a senior researcher on that study. Read More > at Mother Jones

NBC’s Fake News Show – When is the Nightly News the Nitely News? When ratings are lousy.

You might be forgiven for thinking NBC has but one flagship evening newscast, the NBC Nightly News, honchoed by Lester Holt. But the network has another show, one that looks for all intents and purposes just like its Nightly News, but titled instead the NBC Nitely News. What—has the network left it to the interns to enter the show’s name in the Chyron machine?

No, it seems that the misspelling is reserved solely for filing logs with ratings tabulator Nielsen. The Nightly News is in a battle with ABC’s World News Tonight (hmmm, or is that World News Tonite?). On some nites when its news program gets low ratings, NBC has been labeling its show for the Nielsen folks as the Nitely News. On nights when a sufficient number of viewers show up, the program is reported as the Nightly News. By weeding out the bad nites, NBC overcounts, for its ratings scorecard, the percentage of nights with winning performances. Read More > in The Weekly Standard


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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