Sunday Reading – 07/02/17

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

The Suburbs: The New Face of Bay Area Homelessness – William Ware sits in a large empty field along the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, shaving his face using a broken mirror. He found himself here after a water skiing accident in 2009 led to painkiller addiction, and a downward spiral ensued.

Ware lost his five-bedroom house in Brentwood, the cars and the boat. Losing his family hurt the most, he said. The names of his two kids — Michael and Alyssa — are tattooed on his arms. They no longer talk to him. His wife left him. Ware has been homeless in Antioch for about two years.

“It’s my choice to be out here,” Ware said. “What do I do every day? I go fishing. I golf in this field.” He works odd jobs to get by and proudly notes that he doesn’t get any government assistance.

“Out here” is the Bay Area suburb of Antioch, in eastern Contra Costa County, where homelessness has spiked in recent years.

Some people living on the streets of Antioch migrated to the city for various reasons. Some were evicted from other pricier parts of the Bay Area. Some came to avoid being targeted by police in other areas that don’t tolerate people living on the streets. Some just drifted here, haphazardly.

Many of those living homeless in Antioch are from these same neighboring eastern suburbs. While the number of people sleeping outside across Contra Costa County saw a 26 percent decrease from 2011 to 2016, there has been a 30 percent increase in the county’s eastern flank, which includes Antioch. Officials expect the trend to continue. Read More > at KQED

Straggling Target needs to make a bold move behind Wal-Mart and Amazon – Target and Wal-Mart face many of the same headwinds in retail today, including the so-called Amazon effect, less foot traffic in stores and heated competition along the grocery aisles.

And while Wal-Mart has shown it’s not afraid to spend and acquire smaller players, Target has instead focused its efforts internally, choosing to lay low and reinvest in itself.

The latest moves in the industry — Amazon encroaching into the grocery sector and announcing plans to acquire Whole Foods — is putting big-box retailer Target in an especially tough spot.

For many who closely watch retail stocks, Target seems to be keeping quiet compared with its peers. And this has more and more analysts and investors questioning Target’s future.

It’s no surprise the entire retail industry has taken a beating in recent months, and Target has seen its stock sink nearly 28 percent this year.

Wal-Mart, meanwhile, has been flaunting its might in grocery and digital expansion by buying, an e-commerce site that offers consumers a taste of everything — from snack foods to women’s shoes. Wal-Mart also has scooped up other sites, including men’s clothing company Bonobos and outdoor retailer Moosejaw.

Target has made little apparent advancements in the same key areas — food, digital, apparel — instead remaining focused on its plan to inject $7 billion into its business over the next three years. Read More > at CNBC

40 Years From Now, The U.S. Could Look Like Las Vegas – The United States is changing rapidly. The oldest baby boomers are into their retirement years, and the median age of the U.S. population is climbing. At the same time, each generation is more racially and ethnically diverse than the previous one. For the foreseeable future, the U.S. will grow older, more Hispanic and more Asian. But why wait — where can we go now to see what the U.S. will look like in future decades?

The place to see the future is Las Vegas, whose demographics today look most like what the U.S. overall will look like in 2060.

The latest population estimates for every county in the U.S., released Thursday by the Census Bureau, confirm this. The figures — which include breakdowns by age, race and ethnicity — provide a snapshot of what the U.S. looked like in 2016. But they also provide a glimpse of the future: By combining this new data with previously released population projections, also from the Census Bureau, we can identify the places in 2016 that looked the most like the America of the future.

Start with the snapshot: In 2016, America grew yet more diverse. Just 61 percent of U.S. residents were non-Hispanic white, down from 64 percent in 2010 and 76 percent in 1990. Two forces boost racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. First, immigration adds to diversity because most immigrants are Hispanic or Asian. But second, even if immigration stopped, diversity would still increase as more diverse younger generations replace older, whiter generations. As of June 2017, the median age for whites in the U.S. was 43, compared with 36 for Asians, 34 for blacks and 29 for Hispanics. Read More > at FiveThrityEight

San Francisco To Pay Undocumented Immigrant $190K For Violating Sanctuary Policy – San Francisco taxpayers could soon pay $190,000 in a lawsuit settlement with an undocumented immigrant who claimed he was reported to federal immigration authorities in violation of the city’s sanctuary city ordinance, the City Attorney’s office confirms to KPIX5.

The settlement is expected to be confirmed by San Francisco supervisors in future hearings.

Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno walked into the police station on December 2, 2015 to recover his stolen car.

When he left the station, he was immediately taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A document from federal immigration authorities released by his attorneys indicates that a San Francisco police officer directly contacted ICE and told them where to find Figueroa-Zarceno, the man’s attorneys and representatives said Wednesday.

The apparent incident, which led to the two-month detention of Figueroa-Zarceno, could be a violation of Sanctuary City policies placing limits on local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with immigration officials, according to his attorneys. Read More > at CBS SF Bay Area

Environmentalists, fishing groups file lawsuits to block Delta tunnels plan – Kicking off what are expected to be years of legal battles, a coalition of environmental and fishing groups on Thursday filed the first major lawsuits over California Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17 billion plan to build two massive, 35-mile-long tunnels under the Delta to make it easier to move water from Northern California to the south.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Bay Institute and Golden Gate Salmon Association filed two lawsuits in U.S District Court in San Francisco.

They challenged approvals given earlier this week by the Trump administration, which said the project won’t cause significant harm to salmon, smelt and other fish and wildlife.

…Brown is proposing to build two tunnels, each 40 feet in diameter, under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The idea is to divert water from the Sacramento River north of Sacramento near the town of Freeport, reducing reliance on the massive state and federal pumps at Tracy — which draw water south to cities and farms and are sometimes shut down to protect endangered salmon, smelt and other fish.

The environmentally sensitive Delta, an area of marshes, sloughs and islands between the Bay Area and Sacramento that is roughly the size of Yosemite National Park, is a linchpin of California’s water system. The Delta provides drinking water to 25 million people from Contra Costa County to Los Angeles and San Diego, and irrigation water to 3 million acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley and other areas. Read More > in The Mercury News

Brown dismantles ‘powerful but obscure’ Board of Equalization – Ask the average Californian what the state Board of Equalization (BOE) does and you’re likely to get a blank look.

That may not matter anymore. Much of what the 138-year-old agency does — which includes collecting some $60 billion in taxes — may be taken away from it amid a spate of recent reports about potential corruption and possible criminality. The board has a long and checkered past, and is often referred to in the Capitol, accurately, as “powerful but obscure.”

The board administers more than 30 tax and fee programs and hears appeals from “various business tax assessments, Franchise Tax Board actions and public utility assessments,” according to its official website. The BOE also issues rules and regulations regarding property taxes, establishes the tax values of railroads and some public utilities, and oversees the assessment practices of California’s 58 county assessors.

But it looks as if almost all of that is about to change dramatically.

The Legislature has passed a bill (AB 102, the “Taxpayer Transparency and Fairness Act of 2017”) to strip power from the agency, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it Tuesday.

…With Brown’s signature on the legislation, two new departments will take over much of the BOE’s responsibilities:

–A Department of Tax and Fee Administration, will handle the tax and fee programs now under the BOE, such as tobacco taxes and fire prevention fees. It’s scheduled to begin operations July 1. Its director would be appointed by the governor.

–An Office of Tax Appeals will be created by Jan. 1. It is intended to be a tax court staffed by administrative law judges. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

Zume’s robot pizzeria could be the future of workplace automation – Zume Pizza, a food delivery startup in the San Francisco Bay Area, is expanding to a new location in the heart of Silicon Valley — with the help of robotic companions. The company, which starting today will deliver fresh pizzas to Palo Alto and the Stanford area in addition to its hometown of nearby Mountain View, says it has pioneered a robot-assisted technique for pressing pizza dough in a perfect circle in just nine seconds.

That allows the operation to improve efficiency and let its human employees spend time on less tedious work, according to CEO and co-founder Julia Collins. “We wanted to identify places where humans were overtaxed physically, bored, or whether the job they were doing was not safe, like sticking their hand into a 600 degree oven for six hours a day,” Collins said in an interview with The Verge. “That’s why we focused next on this practice of opening the dough.”

The new robot, aptly named Doughbot, is now being deployed on Zume’s “robot-enabled pizza assembly line,” where it does the job of pressing dough up to five times faster than even the most seasoned pizza spinning pros.

If this all sounds like an alien and absurd idea — robots making pizza does look like overkill, at first glance — it’s helpful to understand the full context of Zume Pizza and its food-delivery ambitions. The company, which first began delivering pizzas last year, was founded on two core concepts: robotic automation and on-route cooking. Robotic automation is easy enough to understand. Zume, which sources machines from industrial robot maker ABB, employs these devices for tasks like dispensing the perfect amount of sauce, spreading that sauce, removing pizzas from ovens, and, now, spreading the dough with just the right thinness and crust-to-pie ratio. The various robots work in unison with humans in an assembly line-style work space attached to the company’s Mountain View facility. Read More > at The Verge

Fake news: you ain’t seen nothing yet – EARLIER this year Françoise Hardy, a French musician, appeared in a YouTube video. She is asked, by a presenter off-screen, why President Donald Trump sent his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to lie about the size of the inauguration crowd. First, Ms Hardy argues. Then she says Mr Spicer “gave alternative facts to that”. It’s all a little odd, not least because Françoise Hardy, who is now 73, looks only 20, and the voice coming out of her mouth belongs to Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to Mr Trump.

The video, called “Alternative Face v1.1”, is the work of Mario Klingemann, a German artist. It plays audio from an NBC interview with Ms Conway through the mouth of Ms Hardy’s digital ghost. The video is wobbly and pixelated; a competent visual-effects shop could do much better. But Mr Klingemann did not fiddle with editing software to make it. Instead, he took only a few days to create the clip on a desktop computer using a generative adversarial network (GAN), a type of machine-learning algorithm. His computer spat it out automatically after being force fed old music videos of Ms Hardy. It is a recording of something that never happened.

Mr Klingemann’s experiment foreshadows a new battlefield between falsehood and veracity. Faith in written information is under attack in some quarters by the spread of what is loosely known as “fake news”. But images and sound recordings retain for many an inherent trustworthiness. GANs are part of a technological wave that threatens this credibility. Read More > in The Economist

Are We Headed for a Solar Waste Crisis? – Last November, Japan’s Environment Ministry issued a stark warning: the amount of solar panel waste Japan produces every year will rise from 10,000 to 800,000 tons by 2040, and the nation has no plan for safely disposing of it.

Neither does California, a world leader in deploying solar panels. Only Europe requires solar panel makers to collect and dispose of solar waste at the end of their lives.

All of which begs the question: just how big of a problem is solar waste?

Environmental Progress investigated the problem to see how the problem compared to the much more high-profile issue of nuclear waste.

We found:
◾Solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants… Read More > at The Energy Collective

Affordable housing crisis grips California – California lawmakers are in midst of trying to solve a housing crisis that has spread throughout the state.

The crisis, which began largely in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, is quickly becoming a top priority: An array of housing-related bills — 130 and counting — have been proposed in the Legislature since January.

The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development — an agency that works to expand access to affordable housing — says California has built an average of 80,000 homes a year for the past decade, which is less than half of the 180,000 new homes needed to keep up with the predicted population growth through 2025.

…“Between 1970 and 1980, California home prices went from 30 percent above U.S. levels to more than 80 percent higher. This trend has continued. Today, an average California home costs $440,000, about two–and–a–half times the average national home price ($180,000). Also, California’s average monthly rent is about $1,240, 50 percent higher than the rest of the country ($840 per month),” the LAO reported in 2015, and the figures have risen since then.

…In Sacramento, state lawmakers are also trying by passing a series of bills aiming to make it easier to create more low-income housing units.

Assembly Bill 71 would create over $300 million for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LITC) program by eliminating mortgage interest reductions on second homes. This LIHTC expansion would provide aid for some of the state’s poorest citizens by increasing the amount of tax credits set aside for farmworkers from $500,000 to $25 million.

Senate Bill 2 from Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), raises money for low income housing by imposing a $75 fee on non-residential real estate transaction documents. Read More > at Capital Weekly

Lawmakers torn over whether to reveal true funders behind campaign ads – Who pays for all those political ads that bombard voters every election season?

An effort to make the answer clearer to the public is squeezing California Democrats between two liberal constituencies. On one side, they’re facing pressure from progressive activists who decry the influence of dark money and want more disclosure. On the other, they’re being lobbied by labor unions, which help fund their campaigns and are fighting a bill meant to bring more transparency.

“This is an issue of who spends tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in campaigns, and do they feel that it would hurt the way that they do business?” said Trent Lange, president of the California Clean Money Campaign.

…Many grassroots Democrats support the bill. Activists have gathered thousands of signatures on non-binding petitions, and the platform adopted at the California Democratic Party convention this spring states Democrats will “implement full disclosure of funding sources for political advertisements… in a way that clearly and unambiguously identifies the largest major donor.”

Yet various forms of the Disclose Act have failed in the Democratic-controlled Legislature four times in the last seven years. (It requires approval from a two-thirds majority because it changes the state’s Political Reform Act.) A recent version—mired in opposition from some labor unions—couldn’t even get a vote in committee. That prompted a rally outside the Capitol this month where one Democratic lawmaker implored the visiting activists not to give up, and another told them, “this is not an easy fight. Read More > at CALmatters

Commentary: Running fast to stand still – …But reports of oil’s death are premature. It is true that electric cars are indeed progressing remarkably and certainly have the potential to grow further. The cleanliness and efficiency of the electric engine, coupled with consumer excitement and Silicon Valley-type entrepreneurial determination, is creating a compelling combination for growth. Despite the excitement surrounding them, for now electric cars only displace 0.01% of global oil demand.

…Technological developments and energy policies will affect the demand trajectory. The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2016 shows oil demand associated with passenger cars declining in the next 25 years. This is an astonishing result considering that the global car fleet is expected to add a billion vehicles in the next quarter century. Some of these vehicles will be electric but the bulk will have more efficient engines.

But one often-overlooked fact is that passenger cars represent only a relatively minor share of global oil demand growth. The bulk of that in the next decades will come from elsewhere – namely transportation outside of personal vehicles and petrochemicals. Shipping, aviation and heavy duty trucking will grow robustly as emerging markets experience rising incomes and increasing integration to the world economy. Since 2009, for instance the number of air passengers grew by 50%. Manufacturing of modern consumer goods – everything from televisions to refrigerators to electric cars as well – generally have supply chains spanning several continents, all being shuffled around by internal combustion engines.

The other major driver of oil demand growth in coming years comes from what is perhaps the most visible symbol of modern life – plastics. Forty years of social and political efforts to recycle packaging, for example, have only succeeded in eliminating one year of average global plastics demand growth. The growth in petrochemical demand alone is bigger than the reduction we expect to see from adding more electric cars. Taken together, this explain why under current policies the outlook still sees robust oil demand growth for several years to come. Read More > at IEA

You can now request Uber rides for other people – Uber is adding the ability to book rides for other people. Going forward, any time you set a pickup location that is away from where you actually are, the app will ask if you or someone else is taking the ride. From there, you can pick from a list of contacts (mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, etc.) and set a destination. Uber will then send that person a text message with the information about the ride, including the driver’s name, phone number, license plate number, who is paying, and a link to track the car.

The company announced the news in a blog post that focuses heavily on explaining how people could use the feature to book rides for older family members, especially those who don’t have a smartphone. But it appears that the rider at least needs some kind of cellphone in order to receive the text message with the driver’s information, and Uber’s example image shows the text being received on an iPhone. So it’s not necessarily just for elderly people who can’t understand Uber’s app. Read More > in The Verge

Proposed state law would shrink control cities have over cell tower installations – Cities and counties across California are lobbying against a proposed state law that would accelerate approval of cell phone antennas by largely stripping local governments of their power to regulate installation of them.

Telecommunications officials say streamlined approvals and lower fees would allow them to establish advanced wireless networks by installing thousands of smaller cellular antennas across the state.

Supporters of the proposed law, SB 649, also say it would lower cell phone bills for customers and ensure California remains on the cutting edge of technological innovation.

Critics, including more than 120 cities and counties across the state, say the law is a giant financial giveaway to the phone companies because it would force local governments to let them install antennas on public property for next to nothing. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Even Shale’s Secondary Effects Are Staggering – Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal well drilling have given American companies access to vast new reserves of oil and gas, and have dramatically increased the production of hydrocarbons here in the United States. Since 2010, the U.S. has added roughly 5 million barrels of oil per day, and natural gas production is up roughly 33 percent over that same time period.

The effects of this energy revolution have been felt the world over—they’ve brought gasoline prices down for American drivers while remaking the global oil market. But here in the U.S., they’ve been an enormous boon to an industry most Americans are likely unfamiliar with: petrochemicals. As the WSJ reports, cheap petrochemical feedstocks (a byproduct of oil and gas drilling) are pushing the U.S. petrochemical industry to new heights:

The scale of the sector’s investment is staggering: $185 billion in new U.S. petrochemical projects are in construction or planning, according to the American Chemistry Council. Last year, expenditures on chemical plants alone accounted for half of all capital investment in U.S. manufacturing, up from less than 20% in 2009, according to the Census Bureau. […]

“It’s a tectonic shift in the hemispherical balance of who makes what to essentially feed the manufacturing sector,” said Dow Chief Executive Andrew Liveris, referring to the growth of production in the U.S. His company now plans to double down on its U.S. expansion with a $4 billion investment in a handful of projects over the next five years. […]
Read More > at The American Interest

The rise of electric cars will kill the gas station – …The fact remains, though, that other than having a place to pee and pick up some Cool Ranch Doritos, once you go electric, you’re not going to need a corner gas station to charge your future car because you’re going to be “refueling” it everywhere.

For many, their home will be the main source of car charging. Even the slow trickle of a 120-volt standard outlet will add 48 miles to the battery of the Chevy Bolt over 12 hours. Obviously using the 240-volt outlet (the one you typically plug a dryer into) will be quicker. For folks who really want to maximize their at-home charging, companies like Charge Point offer Level 2 stations starting at $450 for the home, while Tesla has its own personal wall chargers starting at $500.

…So, in the future, whether you upgrade to a fancy wall charger or just plug your car into the same outlet that keeps your phone topped up, pretty much whenever your car isn’t dragging you around town, (and like your phone) it’ll be charging. That is, if you have a garage or carport or a very nice apartment manager. The paradox of EVs is that they’re great for driving around the city, but many urban dwellers don’t have a designated parking space. That’s where workplaces come in.

More and more employers are offering charging stations for their staff as perks. “It’s very interesting that for basically the price of providing free coffee to your employee you can also offer them electric vehicle charging,” Simon Lonsdale, Charge Point’s vice president of business development, told Engadget. It’s a trend that could continue, too, if workplaces see benefits for EV owners as outweighing the additional cost to their power bill. Read More > at Engadget

The Price War Over American Groceries Is Getting Bloody – The frontline of the new war for the American supermarket runs through the aisles of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It’s a battle over a few pennies on the price of milk, mustard, detergent, and barbecue sauce—and perhaps the future of groceries.

Winston-Salem is home to one of the 10 new supermarkets opened last month in the Carolinas and Virginia by the German discount chain Lidl KG, known for low prices on private-label items. The new store is a short drive from a Whole Foods Market Inc., the upscale grocery chain that’s in the middle of a proposed $13.7 billion takeover by Inc. with the potential to upend the way Americans shop for food. The city of about a quarter-million people is also home to Kroger Co.-owned Harris Teeters and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., well-established national competitors that survive on razor-thin profit margins, as well as a host of independent grocers. There’s even another German discount grocer: Aldi Sued, which operates 1,600 U.S. stores under the name Aldi, has an outpost just down the road from the new Lidl.

Lidl’s U.S. expansion, which began with store openings on June 15, would have been the biggest event of the summer for American groceries had Amazon not announced a deal to acquire Whole Foods the following day. That merger, if it closes in the coming months, promises to challenge grocers with a fierce competitor known to slash prices and use technology to lower costs. For now, however, the grocery industry is watching the Carolinas and Virginia to see how shoppers and established supermarkets will respond to a little-known German giant.

Lidl plans to have at least 100 locations here by next summer and could expand to more than 500 locations over the next five years, according to analyst estimates. Its initial stores are opening in competitive grocery markets, right on top of rivals’ locations. Aldi recently announced plans to add an additional 900 over the next five years, and it’s spending $1.6 billion to remodel 1,300 of its existing stores. The German discounters have battled across Europe for years, stealing sales from traditional grocers as consumers get accustomed to their private-label products.The rivalry reaches the U.S. at a time of rampant food deflation, with falling prices already ravaging grocers’ earnings. Analysts predict a rough road ahead, particularly for smaller chains that will struggle to match prices. Read More > at Bloomberg</strong>

The Supreme Court Strikes Down a Major Church-State Barrier – The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the state of Missouri cannot deny public funds to a church simply because it is a religious organization.

Seven justices affirmed the judgment in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, albeit with some disagreement about the reasoning behind it. The major church-state case could potentially expand the legal understanding of the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is also the first time the Supreme Court has ruled that governments must provide money directly to a house of worship, which could have implications for future policy fights—including funding for private, religious charter schools.

Trinity Lutheran is a big case that hinges on mundane facts. In 2012, when Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri applied for a state grant to resurface its playground, it was ranked as a strong potential candidate for the program. Ultimately, though, Missouri denied the funding under a state constitutional provision that prohibits public money from going to religious organizations and houses of worship. “There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his decision for the majority. “A church.”

The case focused on whether this decision conflicts with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and specifically whether Missouri was violating the free-exercise clause by preventing Trinity Lutheran from participating in a secular, neutral aid program. On Monday, the court overwhelmingly agreed that the answer was “yes.” Read More > in The Atlantic

The terrible Giants need to rebuild and have plenty to offer in trades – The San Francisco Giants made the playoffs and won the NL wild card game last year, but that might have obscured the direction things were going. They were 30-42 after the All-Star break. Only the Twins and Phillies won fewer games in the second half. That has continued into this season, as the Giants enter Monday with a 27-51 record, the second-worst in all of baseball.

Combine those figures and the Giants are 57-93 in their last 150 regular season games. Even if we loop in the playoffs last year, it’s 59-96. That’s not a small sample. Sure, they’ve had the Madison Bumgarner injury this season, but how much of an impact was he gonna have on this group? He can only pitch once every five games.

What’s going on here is pretty simple, actually. The Giants are a bad team. They aren’t exactly young or teeming full of promising prospects in the upper levels of the minors and it appears there are chemistry issues now…

Basically, they are paying back what they took with the three World Series titles. Flags fly forever, but sometimes the team needs to move forward instead of living off the titles. The Giants should move forward by rebuilding about Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner.

Everyone else is on the table if I’m in charge. Here’s who could get something in return. Read More > at CBS Sports


California lawmakers advance pension borrowing plan – California lawmakers on Monday approved a plan to borrow $6 billion from a state savings account to pay down massive debt in the nation’s largest public-employee retirement program.

The Senate sent the measure to Gov. Jerry Brown despite concerns from some lawmakers that it could be risky to borrow money and invest it through the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

CalPERS’ $325 billion investment fund, the largest public-employee pension fund in the country, has enough money to cover only about two-thirds of the benefits promised to retired public employees. The CalPERS board has steadily increased mandatory contribution rates for the state, cities, counties and school districts to make up for the shortfall. The state’s share of the unfunded liability is estimated to be $59 billion, with its minimum payment forecast to increase from $5.8 billion this year to $11.2 billion in 2031.

Brown in May proposed borrowing money to pay down that debt, saying the state can lend from its own short-term investment account and earn a higher return through the more aggressive investments at CalPERS. He said the proposal would save $11 billion over 20 years through lower annual pension costs. Read More > from the Associated Press

July 4th travelers will see cheapest gas prices in 12 years, GasBuddy says – Drivers on the road this Fourth of July holiday will see the cheapest gas prices since 2005, according to a GasBuddy report on Tuesday.

U.S. consumers will pay an average of $2.21 per gallon at the pump, well under the 10-year average of $3.14, according to GasBuddy, an app that helps its 65 million users find the cheapest gasoline prices in the United States, Canada and Australia. The prices are also expected to be lower than prices seen on New Year’s Day by 12 cents.

“So many Americans love to hold onto that myth that gas prices go up for the holiday, and yet, here we are. Gas prices down 15 cents a gallon in the last few weeks,” GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” Read More > at CNBC

California’s Soft Secession – The fantastical push for “CalExit” might be on hold for now, but America’s Left Coast giant is nonetheless beginning to symbolically sever ties with the rest of the United States—a significant provocation that could have wide-reaching consequences down the line. The Sacramento Bee reports that California is banning publicly funded travel to a growing list of red states.

California is restricting publicly funded travel to four more states because of recent laws that leaders here view as discriminatory against gay and transgender people.

All totaled, California now bans most state-funded travel to eight states.

The new additions to California’s restricted travel list are Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota.

They join Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee as states already subjected to the ban.

As we noted when California inaugurated this policy, American federalism is based on the agreement that different states can pursue different policies (within Constitutional bounds) while retaining equal status within the union. California’s decision to escalate the culture war with “sanctions” against states with different political orientations represents a direct challenge to America’s federal structure.

This new order could have a major symbolic impact—for example, by making it difficult or impossible for University of California sports teams to compete against the University of Texas. And could lead to retaliatory measures by the targeted red states: They could, for example, up the ante not only by enacting reciprocal travel bans but also by refusing to cooperate with California’s government in criminal investigations, declining to share tax data, or prohibiting companies from selling products to California’s state government. How long before a coalition of liberal states begins to collectively and systematically impose sanctions on conservative ones, or vice versa? Read More > at The American Interest

Paper ballots are hack-proof. It’s time to bring them back. – I’ve been talking about the importance of protecting against voting-machine hacks since 2002. And now, finally, people are starting to take me seriously.

The move to paperless voting started in response to the Florida “hanging chad” fiasco in the 2000 presidential election. Some people (like me) thought this was a mistake, but such concerns were often dismissed. Now, apparently, you can’t be paranoid enough. As Politico’s Bob King noted, while 10 years ago critics of paperless voting were called paranoid, now both parties are worried.

It remains true that there is no actual evidence that a single vote was changed by hackers in the 2016 election. But even the possibility of hacking has served to promote the sort of conspiracy-mongering and political hatred that led to, for example, the shooting attack on Republican lawmakers last week. In a democratic polity, people have to believe that their votes are counted honestly, or the legitimacy of the system collapses. Read More > at USA Today

Three journalists leaving CNN after retracted article – Three CNN journalists, including the executive editor in charge of a new investigative unit, have resigned after the publication of a Russia-related article that was retracted.

Thomas Frank, who wrote the story in question; Eric Lichtblau, an editor in the unit; and Lex Haris, who oversaw the unit, have all left CNN.

“In the aftermath of the retraction of a story published on, CNN has accepted the resignations of the employees involved in the story’s publication,” a spokesman said Monday evening.

An internal investigation by CNN management found that some standard editorial processes were not followed when the article was published, people briefed on the results of the investigation said. Read More > from CNN

New Jersey’s Tawdry History of Borrowing and Debt Spiral – To even the most seasoned and hardened observers of New Jersey’s long-running fiscal follies, the dead-of-night, lightening-fast sale of $300 million in bonds to refurbish the ancient statehouse in Trenton was a cause for marvel.

The opaque sleight of hand that produced the deal was particularly audacious. Then again, it could be seen as business as usual, adding one more trance of debt to a long and tawdry history of borrowing, in which funds loaned for one purpose have been used for others over the past 20 years, and whose cumulative effect has been to place the Garden State’s credit rating lower than any but that of Illinois.

State budget analysts declared in mid-May that revenues would fall short of projections by $274 million in the 2017 fiscal year, which ends June 30, and another $413 million in 2018. The shortages weren’t treated as particularly big news, absorbable in annual budgets that are running at about $35 billion.

Yet students of New Jersey’s longer-term fiscal prospects see big trouble in the not-so-distant future. Many years of ducking bills to fund employee pension and retirement health-care plans, and accumulation of other debts, will soon squeeze discretionary state spending past the point where even the strongest opioids can ease the pain. Read More > at Route Fifty


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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