Sunday Reading – 07/09/17

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.

QVC parent buying HSN as shopping shifts online – QVC’s parent company is taking control of the Home Shopping Network for about $2.6 billion in stock to create what they say will be the third-largest e-commerce company in the United States.

The companies long known as bases for home shopping on TV had been dealing with sluggish sales as Amazon dominates online. Both had long moved beyond cable channels and were trying to refashion themselves for younger shoppers buying more on their mobile phones

The combination will help give QVC and HSN the scale they need to take on more established online competitors. A key focus will have to be offering unique, exclusive products at a compelling value. Otherwise, he said, competitors including Amazon and Walmart will be tough to beat online. Read More > from the Associated Press

California Closer to Creating Sanctuary State – Over objections from sheriffs’ unions and the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Assembly Judiciary Committee took a step forward in making the Golden State a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, said his measure, Senate Bill 54 or the “California Values Act,” is intended to prevent state and local law enforcement from cooperating with what he calls the “Trump Deportation Machine.”

Opponents call it a “sanctuary state measure” that goes against federal immigration law and obstructs the ability of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to do their job.

De Leon said the bill is only necessary because of the election of President Donald Trump and his campaign promise to drastically reduce the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

…Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, pointed out that Holder was paid for his analysis and released his approval of the bill one day before announcing his intention to run for president in 2020.

Kiley questioned Holder’s reliability and asked why De Leon paid for Holder’s analysis rather than rely on one prepared by the Legislative Council. Kiley said Holder refused to meet with GOP representatives to discuss the measure, opting instead to meet only with Democrats.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, also president of the California Sheriffs Association, said sheriffs and deputies do not act as immigration police and that SB 54 protects criminals. Read More > at Courthouse News

Despite Budget Action, Much Work Remains to Solve State’s Pension Crisis – Anyone worried about an earthquake plunging California into the sea should be more concerned about what is really sinking the state: the cost of public-employee pensions.

In the just-enacted 2017-18 state budget, about $8 billion of the state government’s $183 billion spending package will go to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as CalPERS, and the California State Teachers Retirement System, called CalSTRS. A supplemental $6 billion payment will be borrowed from the surplus funds of other state agencies to cover the state’s mandatory contribution to the pension funds.

By 2023-24, the state’s portion will be $9.2 billion, according to the governor’s office. But, as columnist Dan Walters writes, “the state would be very fortunate if it was paying out only $9.2 billion.” This is because CalPERS’ investments – one of the three streams of income for the pension fund, employee contributions being the third – are unlikely to reach projected returns, forcing the state to make up the difference. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Bill to let Marin County bypass state housing rules heads to governor’s desk – Legislation allowing Marin County to continue bypassing California’s affordable housing laws is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

The measure, which passed the state Senate Thursday morning, was included in Senate Bill 106 at the request of Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael). It lets Marin’s largest cities and incorporated areas maintain extra restrictions on how many homes developers can build.

Housing advocates criticized it as counter to the Legislature’s push for more housing. Since the bill is tied to the state budget, it didn’t have to go through the regular committee process. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

The Autonomous Future – Expanding mass-transit systems is a pillar of green and “new urbanist” thinking, but with few exceptions, the idea of ever-larger numbers of people commuting into an urban core ignores a major shift in the labor economy: more people are working from home.

True, in a handful of large metropolitan regions—what we might call “legacy cities”—trains and buses remain essential. This is particularly true of New York, which accounts for a remarkable 43 percent of the nation’s mass-transit commuters, and of other venerable cities, such as San Francisco, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Together, these metros account for 56 percent of all mass-transit commuting. But for most of the rest of the country, transit use—despite often-massive infrastructure investment—has either stagnated or declined. Among the 21 metropolitan areas that have opened substantially new urban-rail systems since 1970, mass transit’s share of work trips has declined, on average, from 5.3 percent to 5 percent. During the same period, the drive-alone share of work trips, notes demographer Wendell Cox, has risen from 71.9 percent to 76.1 percent.

Meantime, the proportion of the labor force working from home continues to grow. In 1980, 2.3 percent of workers performed their duties primarily at home; by 2015, this figure had doubled to 4.6 percent, only slightly behind the proportion of people who commute via mass transit. In legacy core–metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), the number of people working from home is nearly half that of those commuting by transit. In the 47 MSAs without legacy cores, according to the American Community Survey, the number of people working from home was nearly 250 percent higher than people going to work on trains or buses. Read More > at City Journal

WBO will rescore controversial Pacquiao vs. Horn fight but result won’t change – The World Boxing Organization confirmed Thursday that it plans to rescore the Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn fight due to the controversial nature of the unanimous decision that led to Horn upsetting Pacquiao and winning the welterweight title. Though the WBO has chosen to proceed with the rescoring, it is not expecting to change the result of the match regardless of whomever the process determines won the fight.

“The purpose of this review is to be able to give the fans certainty of who was the winner of the bout, even though we do not have the power to reverse the decision of the judges,” WBO president Francisco Valcarcel told the Associated Press.

The fight will be scored round-by-round by five anonymous judges whose results will be tabulated after each round “to ascertain clearly which rounds each fighter won.” Read More > from CBS Sports

The Motorcycle Industry Is Dying – …Motorcycle sales in the U.S. peaked in 2006 at 716,268 and promptly started to skid. When the recession hit, the market went down hard. Bike sales fell by 41 percent in 2009 and another 14 percent the following year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. That’s not surprising considering the economy at the time: A motorcycle is a picture of discretionary spending, and they can be tricky to finance even in a healthy credit market. Even now, with the stock market on a historic bull run and after the U.S. auto industry posted its best year on record, traffic in motorcycle stores has stayed slow. In 2016, U.S. customers rolled off with 371,403 new bikes, roughly half as many as a decade ago.

And then there’s the generational time-bomb. In 2003, only about one-quarter of U.S. motorcycle riders were 50 or older. By 2014, it was close to half. The market has been cruising on a demographic that may only be able to buy one more bike.

Suddenly, bike-makers desperately need new riders and millennials, apparently, are the best hope. Not only are there more of them than GenXers, but they have a longer expected lifetime value, which is corporate way of saying they’re a further away from needing a hip replacement. Read More > at Bloomberg

What America’s ‘Baby Bust’ Means for Public Policy – When unemployment spikes during severe economic downturns, birth rates usually drop. That’s been true for the past decade, thanks to the Great Recession and its aftermath. But there’s a stark difference this time around: The economy is improving, but birth rates aren’t.

Newly-released federal estimates find that the fertility rate fell further last year to 62.0 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, a historic low. In fact, 4 million fewer babies were born between 2008 and 2016 than would have been born had the rate continued at pre-recession levels, according to University of New Hampshire demographer Kenneth Johnson.

Over the long term, the baby bust could carry profound consequences for public policy if fertility rates don’t rebound. Classrooms could see more empty seats. Smaller workforces would likely reduce tax revenues. And demands for social services could shift.

…The effects of reduced fertility won’t be clear for decades. But it’s possible to make a few educated guesses about them.

For starters, fewer workers in future years would likely cause tax bases to shrink. That poses serious problems, especially given the country’s aging demographics and the large segment of baby boomers already retiring. Consider Medicare: There were 3.1 taxpaying workers per Medicare recipient in 2015, a number projected to drop to 2.3 by 2030, according to the Medicare Board of Trustees. Read More > Governing

Another pack of gray wolves spotted in California – A female gray wolf, her mate and at least three pups are the second pack of wolves spotted in Northern California since the species went extinct in 1924, state wildlife officials said Wednesday.

The gray pups were born this spring in Lassen National Forest to a female wolf of unknown origins. Her mate is the son of OR7, a wolf with a tracking device that was the first of its kind in almost a century to migrate into California from Oregon, the Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

Biologists began surveying the Lassen National Forest area in May after they found evidence of wolf presence.

On June 30, they captured the 75-pound female gray wolf and fitted her with a tracking collar. An examination revealed she had recently given birth to pups. Read More > in the New York Post

Responding to whistleblower’s claims, Duke admits research data falsification – In-house investigators at Duke University believe a former lab tech falsified or fabricated data that went into 29 medical research reports, lawyers for the university say in their answer to a federal whistleblower lawsuit against it.

Duke’s admissions concern the work of Erin Potts-Kant, and a probe it began in 2013 when she was implicated in an otherwise-unrelated embezzlement. The lawsuit, from former lab analyst Joseph Thomas, contends Duke and some of its professors used the phony data to fraudulently obtain federal research grants. He also alleges they ignored warning signs about Potts-Kants’ work, and tried to cover up the fraud.

The university’s lawyers have tried to get the case dismissed, but in April, a federal judge said it can go ahead. The latest filings thus represent Duke’s first answer to the substance of Thomas’ allegations.

…As it happened, the lab was a “core” facility that professors from across Duke and from other Triangle universities relied on for measurements. Thomas contends that pretty much all the lab work Potts-Kant did in her eight years at Duke was bogus, and that it compromised grants worth $112.8 million to Duke and a further $120.9 million to institutions like UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University.

…While it concedes the falsification of data, Duke denies that it engaged in any sort of cover-up. But it admitted that it gave the federal government progress reports on the research program and a grant-extension application for the lab, using some of the data turned in by Potts-Kant after her work was already under review. Read More > at The Herald Sun

Take Naps at Work. Apologize to No One. – Sleeping on the job is one of those workplace taboos — like leaving your desk for lunch or taking an afternoon walk — that we’re taught to look down on. If someone naps at 2 p.m. while the rest of us furiously write memos and respond to emails, surely it must mean they’re slacking off. Or so the assumption goes.

Restfulness and recharging can take a back seat to the perception and appearance of productivity. It’s easier to stay on a virtual hamster wheel of activity by immediately responding to every email than it is to measure aggregate productivity over a greater period of time. But a growing field of occupational and psychological research is building the case for restfulness in pursuit of greater productivity.

“Companies are suffering from tremendous productivity problems because people are stressed out” and not recovering from the workday, said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte. “They’re beginning to realize that this is their problem, and they can’t just say to people, ‘Here’s a work-life balance course, go teach yourself how to manage your inbox,’ ” Mr. Bersin said. “It’s way more complicated than that.”

To be sure, the ability to nap at work is far from widespread, experts said. Few among us have the luxury of being able to step away for a half-hour snoozefest. But lunch hours and coffee breaks can be great times to duck out, and your increased productivity and alertness will be all the evidence you need to make your case to inquiring bosses. Read More > in The New York Times

The Number of Young Men Not Working Has Doubled in 15 Years – Young men are working less and playing video games more, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study published Monday.

Men ages 21 to 30 years old worked 12 percent fewer hours in 2015 than they did in 2000, the economists found. Around 15 percent of young men worked zero weeks in 2015, a rate nearly double that of 2000.

Since 2004, young men have increasingly allocated more of their free time to playing video games and other computer-related activities, according to the study. Thirty-five percent of young men are living at home with their parents or a close relative, up 12 percent since 2000.

The results of the economists’ research are interesting, considering there are 10 million American men ages 24 to 64 that have completely dropped out of the workforce. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in June that there were nearly 6 million jobs waiting to be filled. The U.S. job market has consistently posted gains around or above 200,000 new jobs per month in 2017. Read More > in The Daily Caller

Police officer deaths on duty have jumped nearly 20 percent in 2017 – The ambush shooting that killed a New York City police officer in the Bronx marked the latest in a growing number of officer deaths in 2017, up 18 percent from this time last year.

A total of 67 officers have died so far this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. It found there were 57 officer deaths between January 1 and July 5, 2016. In addition, gun-related deaths have risen by 9 percent, from 22 to 24 for 2017, the researchers say.

The figures suggest a grim trend; 2016 was the deadliest year for police in 5 years. A total of 135 officers died last year. Read More > in Fox News

Eclipseocalypse – Electrics Brace for Solar Darkness – California is bracing for a significant loss of electric power as its fast-growing fleet of solar electric panels plunge into darkness during a major solar eclipse on August 21.

While the eclipse will be partial in the state, energy planners are getting ready to tap 6,000 megawatts of electricity from other sources between 9 a.m. and noon PDT during the eclipse, according to the California ISO which oversees the electricity markets in America’s most populous state.

The new vulnerability of the massive electric grid to a celestial marvel like an eclipse reflects a massive transformation of how energy is being created and used in America – something most consumers do not ordinarily think about. Read More > in The Energy Times

Will 2022 be the year we finally get flying cars? – Frost & Sullivan announced that it is expecting automotive OEMs, start-ups, aerospace companies, and other players to make significant investments in the flying cars market and showcase their prototypes in the next 10 years. The research firm goes on to state that, “Flying cars are poised to usher in a whole host of new business services by 2035, including aerial sightseeing services, air surveillance as a service, aerial critical aid delivery, air taxi pay-per-ride, and flying car corporate lease.” The key to achieving mass commercialization of flying cars and attracting more buyers, according to Frost & Sullivan, will depend on increased safety features, optimal regulations, and affordable prices.

Among the companies expected to launch flying vehicles by 2022 are PAL-V, Terrafugia, Aeromobil, Ehang, E-Volo, Urban Aeronautics, Kitty Hawk, and Lilium Aviation. Each has reportedly completed at least one test flight of their flying car prototypes, but PAL-V has gone a step further and initiated the pre-sales of its Liberty Pioneer model flying car, which the company aims to deliver by the end 2018. Read More > at Autonomous Vehicle Technology

Daylight Saving Time is here to stay in California – Californians who cherish their sunny summer evenings need no longer fret about the prospect of losing Daylight Saving Time.

A bill that could have ended the time change, setting the state’s clocks permanently on winter’s Standard Time, is now pushing in the opposite direction — everlasting Daylight Saving Time.

The bill is state Assemblyman Kansen Chu’s second attempt to end a time-change ritual that the San Jose Democrat considers a health and safety risk. It would still put a constitutional amendment on a future statewide ballot to repeal the 67-year-old Daylight Saving Time Act — but the recent changes to the proposal would allow for only one of two outcomes: keeping the status quo or adopting Daylight Saving Time all year.

So year-round Standard Time is officially off the table.

…Still, moving to year-round Daylight Saving Time would literally require an act of Congress, as states can’t adopt it without federal authorization. The U.S. Uniform Time Act of 1966 currently allows states only two options: Standard Time all year or “springing forward” for about eight months, starting in March.

Last year, the California Legislature passed a bipartisan resolution asking Congress to approve a third option for states — permanent Daylight Saving Time. South Bay Congressman Ro Khanna is now spearheading that effort in Washington, D.C. Read More > in The Mercury News

You can now snort chocolate to get high – This product could give a whole new meaning to the word “chocoholic.”

Coko Loko, a snortable chocolate powder that mixes cacao with ingredients commonly found in energy drinks, debuted last month as a legal, drug-free way to get a quick energy buzz.

…Coko Loko, however, serves an entirely different function. Along with cacao powder, the product contains gingko bilboa, taurine and guarana — ingredients commonly found in energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster. The result is a sharp energy kick that lasts 30 minutes to an hour, triggering an endorphin rush without the side effects of a sugar crash.

“It’s almost like an energy-drink feeling, like you’re euphoric but also motivated to get things done,” Anderson told the Denver Post.

Snortable chocolate is not exactly a new phenomenon. European clubgoers commonly use raw cacao as an alternative to harder stimulants, and Belgian chocolatier Dominique Persoone caused a stir in 2007 when he invented the Chocolate Shooter device for snorting cocoa powder. Read More > in the New York Post

Hollywood Has a Bad-Movie Problem – Take a quick glance at the box-office returns for June, and you could draw an easy conclusion: Hollywood has a franchise problem. Films like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Transformers: The Last Knight, The Mummy, and Cars 3 have all underperformed, each making hundreds of millions less than their immediate forebears (or, in the case of The Mummy, a Brendan Fraser film that came out in 1999). But to think that, you’d have to ignore some of the biggest hits of the year: Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Fate of the Furious, and Logan, all new entries in long-running franchises.

As simple as it sounds, Hollywood has, instead, a bad-movie problem—one that’s exacerbated by how easily the industry serves up sequels to the increasingly important global market. The refrain is always the same: Who cares if the fifth Transformers is drawing little enthusiasm in the United States when it’s doing well in China? But that defense is becoming more specious, as international audiences are also seemingly growing tired of the endless assembly line of action films, while the biggest box-office story of 2017 is the success of smaller-budgeted original films. Read More > in The Atlantic

Poll: Voters support $3 bridge toll hike to ease traffic gridlock – With constant gridlock turning freeways into parking lots, BART trains packed to the gills and mounting concerns about how to accommodate continued growth in the region, more than half of prospective voters said they’d be willing to pay up to $3 more in bridge tolls to ease congestion, according to a new poll.

Commissioned by the region’s two largest business boosters, the Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group, along with the transportation policy think-tank, SPUR, the poll surveyed more than 9,000 residents, 85 percent of whom said they felt traffic is worse this year than it was last year. Roughly three quarters, of 74 percent, said they’d be willing to pay more to cross the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges if that money is invested in “big regional projects” that ease traffic and improve mass transit.

But it’s unclear just how much people would actually be willing to pay.

More than half of the poll’s respondents, or 56 percent, said they would “probably” or “definitely” be willing to pay for gradually increasing tolls that rise to $3 in 2022. That would raise about $5 billion over 25 years, if the first hike went into effect on July 1 next year. Just three percent more people, or 59 percent total, said they’d support a smaller toll hike of $2, according to the poll results. Read More > in The Mercury News

Go Ahead, Put Salt on Your Food – In June 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued proposed guidelines to the food industry to reduce the amount of sodium in many prepared foods. The agency, noting that the average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium daily, wants to cut that back to only 2,300 mg. That is basically the amount of sodium in one teaspoon of salt. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) similarly advises that “most Americans should consume less sodium” because “excess sodium can increase your blood pressure and your risk for a heart disease and stroke.”

There’s one problem: Evidence has been gathering for years that government salt consumption guidelines might well kill more people than they save.

The research does suggest that some subset of Americans may be especially sensitive to salt and would benefit from consuming less. Among those are folks with ancestors from Sub-Saharan Africa. But for most people, the risk lies elsewhere.

A 2014 meta-analysis of more than two dozen relevant studies, published in the American Journal of Hypertension, concluded that risk of death appeared to be lowest among individuals consuming between 2,565 mg and 4,796 mg of sodium per day, with higher rates of death above and below that consumption range. As noted above, the FDA itself reports that average daily consumption is 3,400 mg—right in the middle of the ideal range.

In April, a new study by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine, who followed more than 2,600 people for 16 years, once again debunked the dire claims about salt. “We saw no evidence that a diet lower in sodium had any long-term beneficial effects on blood pressure,” said lead researcher Lynn Moore. “Our findings add to growing evidence that current recommendations for sodium intake may be misguided.” Read More > at Reason

California Democrats to far-left single payer advocates: Stop bullying and threatening us! – In California, the far left is going after moderate Democrats with a vengeance. Using tactics usually reserved for Republicans, the nurses’ union, which is the most vocal proponent of California’s single payer bill, is calling for protests against Democratic members of the Assembly. The situation has become so ugly, with reports of death threats, that the entire Democratic Assembly caucus signed a letter asking single payer proponents to stop acting like violent bullies.

The letter reads in part, “we have become alarmed and disheartened by bullying tactics, threats of violence, and death threats by a few who disagree with the decision of Speaker Anthony Rendon to postpone the advancement of SB 562.” After referring to school bullies and the 2016 campaign, the letter continues, “These are tactics that we all abhor. Let us not become the persons that we detest.” In context, the Democrats in the California Assembly are clearly implying the far-left is acting a lot like candidate Trump.

Very briefly, here is what has been happening with the single payer bill in California. In May, the first cost estimate of the single payer bill said it would cost around $400 billion per year, only half of which would be covered by current spending. The other $200 billion is more than the state’s entire annual budget. That means the state would need to pass massive new taxes to implement the bill. Read More > at Hot Air

California’s Far North Deplores ‘Tyranny’ of the Urban Majority – From Hollywood to Silicon Valley, California projects an image as an economically thriving, politically liberal, sun-kissed El Dorado. It is a multiethnic experiment with a rising population, where the percentage of whites has fallen to 38 percent.

California’s Great Red North is the opposite, a vast, rural, mountainous tract of pine forests with a political ethos that bears more resemblance to Texas than to Los Angeles. Two-thirds of the north is white, the population is shrinking and the region struggles economically, with median household incomes at $45,000, less than half that of San Francisco.

Jim Cook, former supervisor of Siskiyou County, which includes cattle ranches and the majestic slopes of Mount Shasta, calls it “the forgotten part of California.”

In the same state that is developing self-driving cars, there’s the rugged landscape of Trinity County, where a large share of residents heat their homes with wood, plaques commemorate stagecoach routes and the county seat, Weaverville, is an old gold-mining town with a lone blinking stop-and-go traffic light.

The residents of this region argue that their political voice is drowned out in a system that has only one state senator for every million residents.

This sentiment resonates in other traditionally conservative parts of California, including large swaths of the Central Valley, which runs down the state, and it mirrors red and blue tensions felt in areas across the country. But perhaps nowhere else in California is the alienation felt more keenly than in the far north, an arresting panorama of fields filled with wildflowers and depopulated one-street towns that have never recovered from the gold rush. Read More > in The New York Times


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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