Sunday Reading – 08/13/17


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.

Is California Cracking Up? – Corporate profits at California-based transnational corporations such as Apple, Facebook, and Google are hitting record highs.

California housing prices from La Jolla to Berkeley along the Pacific Coast can top $1,000 a square foot.

Yet California — after raising its top income tax rate to 13.3 percent and receiving record revenues — is still facing a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. There is a much more foreboding state crisis of unfunded liabilities and pension obligations of nearly $1 trillion.

Soon, new gas tax hikes, on top of green mandates, might make California gas the most expensive in the nation, despite the state’s huge reserves of untapped oil.

Where does the money go, given that the state’s schools and infrastructure rank among America’s worst in national surveys?

About one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients reside in California. Approximately one-fifth of the state lives below the poverty line. More than a quarter of Californians were not born in the United States.

Many of the state’s wealthiest residents support high taxes, no-growth green policies, and subsidies for the poor. They do so because they reside in apartheid neighborhoods and have the material and political wherewithal to become exempt from the consequences of their own utopian bromides.

…A few things keep California going. Its natural bounty, beauty, and weather draw in people eager to play California roulette. The state is naturally rich in minerals, oil and natural gas, timber, and farmland.

The world pays dearly for whatever techies based in California’s universities can dream up. That said, the status quo is failing. The skeletons of half-built bridges and overpasses for a $100 billion high-speed-rail dinosaur remind residents of the ongoing boondoggle. Meantime, outdated roads and highways — mostly unchanged from the 1960s — make driving for 40 million both slow and dangerous. Each mile of track for high-speed rail represents millions of dollars that were not spent on repairing and expanding stretches of the state’s decrepit freeways — and hundreds of lives needlessly lost each year.

The future of state transportation is not updated versions of 19th-century ideas of railways and locomotives, but instead will include electric-powered and automatically piloted cars — all impossible without good roads. Read More > at National Review

Environmentalists say proposed cannabis grow rules fail to protect wildlife – Four environmental groups have faulted proposed state rules for commercial cannabis cultivation for failing to protect imperiled species, including the reclusive Pacific fisher, from rodent poison frequently used at unregulated grow sites.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a national conservation nonprofit, and three allies filed a 36-page comment alleging numerous shortcomings in the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s draft report on the proposed standards for growing legal marijuana.

In particular, the groups said, the standards fail to protect wildlife — fishers, foxes, eagles, owls, bobcats, raccoons and others — from harm that comes from eating poisons or rodents killed by toxins.

…The fatal impact on wildlife, he said, is primarily associated with “criminal grows” on public lands or trespassing on private property.

“Unfortunately these growers are not likely to respond to regulations as they have no intention of complying with requirements or moving into the regulated system,” Allen said.

Law enforcement should crack down on pot crops on public lands, and groups like the center should educate cannabis consumers about “the cost of buying unregulated product,” including “significant harm to natural resources,” he said. Read More > in The Press Democrat

Democratic Fight in California Is a Warning for the National Party – For Democrats across the nation, California has offered a bright if lonely light this year. The party controls every statewide office and commands supermajorities in the Legislature. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders have become national voices, steering the party as it pushes back against President Trump on issues as varied as the environment and immigration.

But in recent weeks, California Democrats have emerged as something else: a cautionary tale for a national party debating how to rebuild and seize back power. Even at a time of overall success, state Democrats are torn by a bitter fight for the party leadership, revealing the kind of divisions — between insiders and outsiders, liberals and moderates — that unsettled the national party last year and could threaten its success in coming years.

…But the stakes appear higher in this case. For one thing, California Democrats face a critical political challenge in 2018 as they seek to capture as many as seven Republican congressional seats, most of them in Southern California, a central part of the national party’s effort to win back Congress. California is heading into a potentially turbulent governor’s race next year as Mr. Brown — a widely respected, stabilizing force in Democratic politics — steps down after two terms. The party could also be enmeshed in a Senate race if Dianne Feinstein, who is 84, does not seek re-election next year.

The fight in this bluest of states has national repercussions for Democrats facing similar struggles about what the party should stand for — and how aggressive it should be in challenging Republicans — as it prepares for the 2018 congressional elections. Read More > in The New York Times

Are Lefty Quarterbacks Going Extinct? – There were 786 touchdown passes in the NFL last season, and 785 of them were thrown from the right arm of a passer. The one lefty to complete a touchdown pass in 2016 wasn’t even a quarterback. It was Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who hit Jason Witten for a touchdown off a trick play in the Week 16 victory over the Detroit Lions.

Southpaw quarterbacks have been few and far between, but in almost any year since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, there has been at least one prominent lefty slinging passes. Not now. And there’s no clear end in sight to this lefty drought.

Michael Vick retired this year. Tim Tebow is playing minor-league baseball. Matt Leinart is in broadcasting. The one lefty quarterback (out of 118 total) currently on an NFL roster: Dallas backup Kellen Moore. Lefties might make up about 10 percent of the population, but they currently make up 0.85 percent of the NFL’s throwers.

…So where is the next generation of Youngs, Esiasons and Vicks? Possibly on a diamond somewhere. “I think all the smart lefties went and played baseball,” Moore joked. “The sport is kind of designed for them. There’s a little more lefty influence in that sport.”

Indeed: Left-handed pitchers might be one of the most sought-after commodities in all of sports, and MLB teams are always hunting for the next Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner. Plus, there’s a track record of success: Six of the top 10 active leaders in ERA+ (a weighted pitching metric that accounts for a pitcher’s ballpark and league) are southpaws. It makes good sense that a left-handed quarterback would chose the safer, more lucrative sport of baseball.

But the baseball theory lacks real meat. After all, left-handed starting pitchers in baseball also seem to be thinning out — from 32.0 percent of all starters in 2012 to 25.5 percent in 2016. Read More > at FiveThrityEight

NFIB Index: Small Business Optimism is Up – The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) monthly Index of Small Business Optimism, released yesterday, rose 1.6 percent in July to 105.2, a strong performance led by significant gains in hiring activity.

Strong consumer demand is boosting small business optimism at the federal level. Small business owners are feeling better about the economy because their customers are feeling better about the economy. This is a good trend at the national level that we hope translates to the state level here in California.

Our strengthening Small Business Optimism Index comes on the heels of troubling data for California released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Their recent state-by-state report shows GDP growth in California flatlining at .1% compared to 3.9% in Texas. Small businesses in California cannot rely on national optimism alone to survive in this difficult state.

Among the 10 components that make up the Index, seven improved, two declined, and one remained unchanged. The biggest gains were: job openings (+5); job creation plans (+4); and sales expectations (+5). Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Poll Reveals Strong Support for Large Affordable Housing Bond – Amid Californians’ mounting concern over rising homelessness and out-of-reach rents, California State Treasurer John Chiang and a coalition of affordable housing advocates have released the results of a new poll, which shows strong voter support for a $6-9 billion statewide affordable housing bond in 2018. Today in California, more than 1 in 3 families can’t afford their rent and 1.5 households pay more than half their income toward housing.

The poll, conducted by JMM Research for Advocates for Affordable Housing, found that the electorate is attuned to the state’s housing problems, with 60% of likely November 2018 voters supporting a $6 billion to $9 billion statewide affordable housing bond.

Earlier this month, Governor Brown and legislative leaders committed to begin tackling the growing housing gap with a housing package that would include a permanent source of state investment in affordable homes; a bond measure to provide a significant, short-term jumpstart to get affordable homebuilding underway; and reforms to speed approval and construction of affordable developments. Housing leaders said the poll shows voters are ready and willing to pass a housing bond two to three times the amount currently under consideration by the legislature. Read More > at CISION

How Driverless Cars Could Be a Big Problem for Cities – …In the not-too-distant future, fleets of fully autonomous vehicles could be transporting riders all across Austin’s urban landscape, largely eliminating not only the need for private vehicles but also the revenue they currently bring in. Parking fees are a critical funding source for the Austin Transportation Department, accounting for nearly a quarter of its total budget. Driverless vehicles would also cut into parking tickets and traffic citations, two other significant revenue streams for Austin and many other cities. “Municipalities generate a whole lot of revenue as a byproduct of parking management and traffic enforcement,” Spillar says. “If all that suddenly disappears, we’ve got a huge financial issue to deal with.”

To assess how vulnerable cities’ budgets could be, Governing conducted the first national analysis of how city revenues might be affected by autonomous vehicles. For the 25 largest U.S. cities, we requested and obtained revenues for parking collections and fines, traffic citations, traffic camera fines, gas taxes, vehicle registration, licensing and select other fees. In all, these 25 cities collectively netted nearly $5 billion in auto-related revenues in fiscal 2016, or about $129 per capita. While some cities will hardly see any effect on their budgets, others could incur big fiscal consequences. For example, New York City generated $1.2 billion in 2016.

Additional sources of revenue could further decline in the long run. Because they’re electric, autonomous vehicles will further reduce general sales tax collections on gasoline. Many cities also receive revenues from taxis, car rentals and other businesses expected to undergo disruption in a driverless car era.

At the same time, there will be cost savings, such as a reduced need for traffic enforcement. It’s far too early to say exactly when and how autonomous vehicles will reshape American cities. But regardless of what unfolds, their introduction will carry numerous fiscal implications for local budgets. Read More > at Governing

How the FDA Made a Felon Out of This Amish Farmer – In Bath County, Kentucky, a rural area near Lexington, a judge sentenced a 57-year-old Amish farmer and father of 12 to six years in prison for producing a herbal skin cream without the government’s permission.

Samuel Girod formulated homemade skin-care products on his family farm, and sold them for two decades throughout the upper Midwest, largely on word-of-mouth promotion. He claimed that his products could help with poison ivy rashes, psoriasis, headaches, and more. Despite the fact that the products were made from benign, natural ingredients like chickweed, rosemary, olive oil, and peppermint, products intended to treat diseases are considered drugs and must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and produced in an approved facility.

…Notably, not one of Girod’s customers alleged his homemade remedies caused them any harm, though several testified that they would not have purchased them had they known of the FDA’s injunction.

…There are precedents for exempting the Amish from laws and regulation. Dr. Donald Kraybill, senior fellow emeritus at Elizabethtown College and an expert on the group, told me that they and Mennonites are exempt from Social Security taxes, and that “other waivers related to septic systems and building codes have also been made on the basis of freedom of religion.” Kraybill added, though, that he was skeptical Girod could win an appeal arguing that the FDA’s rules violated his religious freedom. Read More > at the Daily Beast

2017 MLB Ballpark Food Safety Rankings – Millions of baseball fans attend ballparks across North America annually, buying some peanuts and Cracker Jack—and hot food, too. But what are they getting themselves into?

Thousands of public inspection records gathered from local health departments in the United States and Canada reveal that food safety varies widely across Major League Baseball’s venues. Inspectors uncovered many concerning practices, from nearly 250 total violations at Dodger Stadium to a single concession stand at Tropicana Field that racked up 25 violations alone. They also found stadiums, like Safeco Field, in stellar condition.

Sports Illustrated used data from 28 local health departments to compile a comprehensive ranking of ballpark food safety across the league based on the most recent inspection of the stadium. Public records requests to Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Detroit’s Comerica Park went unfulfilled, leaving them off this list.

1.) Safeco Field – Seattle Mariners

Total violations: 5 | Critical violations: 1
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: .08 | Entities inspected: 72

14.) AT&T Park – San Francisco Giants

Total violations: 88 | Critical violations: 56
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 1.31 | Entities inspected: 110

27.) Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum – Oakland Athletics

Total violations: 131 | Critical violations: 63
Ballpark Food Safety Rating: 3.96 | Entities inspected: 49
Read More > at Sports Illustrated

American Green, Inc. Purchases Town of Nipton, California, with Plans to Develop Premier Cannabis Hospitality Destination – Today American Green, Inc. (OTC PINK: ERBB) has announced its purchase of the town of Nipton, California, a 100-year-old community in San Bernardino county, and intends to modernize it into the country’s first energy-independent, cannabis-friendly hospitality destination — all while retaining its historic look and value. As the second oldest and the largest publicly-traded cannabis company in the US (with over 50,000 certified shareholders), American Green is the first company to buy an entire town for the purpose of capitalizing on the emerging cannabis tourism industry. Many of Nipton’s current and past highlights can be viewed at http://www.nipton.com.

With over 120 acres of potential for development and just 10 minutes off of busy Interstate 15, American Green has taken the first step to transform Nipton into an effective hub for the production of various cannabis-based products as well as possible fully-licensed cultivation which includes a safe and appropriate approach to consumption. Located on the border between California and Nevada, the town is strategically positioned on the railway line going from Los Angeles through Las Vegas to Salt Lake City and beyond.

Initially, American Green and Nipton will focus on the bottling of fresh CBD-infused water direct from a nearby aquifer which the company will then seek to distribute throughout California (https://americangreencbd.com/faq/). Discussions are underway with several well-established edible and extraction companies that have expressed interest in having production facilities in the town as well — all done paying strict adherence to regulatory guidelines. Ultimately, the company would like to offer a variety of commercial and recreational attractions including: CBD and mineral baths, cannabis-product retail outposts, artists-in-residence programs, culinary events, and Bed-and-Breakfast lodging to complete the charming small town experience. Company officials hope that this project will help to catalyze job creation and development within the town and surrounding communities, making Nipton a model for the cannabis industry’s role in stimulating and accelerating the rebuilding of struggling small town economies throughout the US where cannabis products have been legalized. Read More > at American Green

This Couple Purchased an Entire San Francisco Street for Peanuts and Now the Residents Are Furious – An entire street in San Francisco where homes easily sell for upwards of $10 to 15 million was recently purchased for $90,000. And no, we didn’t forget any zeros.

The world’s greatest bargain stemmed from the homeowners association’s failure to pay a $14 tax bill year after year, reportedly because it was being mailed to the wrong place. As a result, the street was put up for auction and bought by Tina Lam and Michael Cheng in 2015. The residents on that street could now be forced to pay rent or parking fees to the new owners.

The homeowners are taking legal action and demanding that the Board of Supervisors rescind the sale. That has come as a disappointment to Lam and Cheng who were evidently expecting some casseroles or something.

“I thought they would reach out to us and invite us in as new neighbors,” Cheng said. “This has certainly blown up a lot more than we expected.” Read More > at California City News

A New Way to Reproduce – …The experiment was an attempt to turn ordinary cells obtained from human adults into fully functional gametes—that is, sperm or egg cells. No one has done it yet, but scientists say they are on the cusp of proving it is possible. If they can develop a technology for manufacturing eggs and sperm in the lab, it could bring an end to the problem of infertility for many. But it would also present a fundamental and, to some, troubling advance toward reducing the creation of life to a procedure in a laboratory.

It’s part of an explosion of research into how cells make decisions about their fate. To be a neuron or a beating heart cell? From the moment an egg is fertilized, a flurry of biochemical signals orchestrate its division, growth, and specialization as a complete new life is formed. The ambition of biologists who study development is to understand each step and, if they can, copy it in their laboratories.

And no type of cell made in the laboratory would have a bigger scientific and social impact than a sperm or an egg. Re-creating these would give scientists access to the chamber of secrets where the links between the generations are forged. “Is there anything more interesting than that? It’s so amazing,” says Renee Reijo Pera, the scientist who carried out the experiment with B.D.’s cells. “I know people who study how did life begin on Earth, or work on finding the edges of the universe. And I think none of that beats the fact that the sperm and the egg come together and you get a human. And mostly we get two arms and two legs. It is amazingly accurate.” Read More > at MIT Technology Review

California lawmakers push small Bay Area city to approve big housing project – Tonight, the small Bay Area city of Brisbane will consider if it will support any housing on a 640-acre parcel of land bordering San Francisco.

A collection of state lawmakers are urging city leaders to say yes to housing development.

“The Bay Area and California are in this housing crisis for a long list of reasons, but the fundamental issue is that we simply do not have enough housing that our residents can afford,” said the joint statement from four Democratic legislators, Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblymen David Chiu, Kevin Mullin and Phil Ting. “California got here as the result of thousands of decisions, like the one being considered by the Brisbane City Council tonight, where the question was should we build housing and, if so, how much should we build. Too often the answer has been to either build no housing, or to build very little of it.”

Wiener, Chiu and Ting represent San Francisco and Mullin represents Brisbane in San Mateo County.

The legislators are among many who don’t live in Brisbane encouraging the city to approve a 4,400-unit housing project proposed on the land.

But the city of 4,700 people has been reluctant. The Los Angeles Times reported last month:

“The project, Brisbane Baylands, reveals how few incentives local governments have to accept large developments — even as the state is pushing to lower housing costs and funnel growth toward existing cities and nearby mass transit to combat climate change. Brisbane residents are wary of a project that could triple the city’s population. Under California’s tax system, Brisbane also earns more money if it rejects the current plan in favor of potential alternatives with more hotel rooms and space for businesses — but no homes.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

From toilet water to drinking water – This legislation might be hard to swallow: Lawmakers are considering a bill that would clear the way for California communities to put highly treated wastewater directly into the drinking water supply.

Assembly Bill 574, authored by Assembly Member Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, would require the State Water Resources Control Board to develop regulations in four years for “direct potable reuse” provided research on public health issues is completed.

Among the subjects for research is the potential health risks of compounds that may be in recycled water such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products like sunscreen and bath gel.

Conversion of wastewater to drinking water through “indirect potable reuse” already takes in Orange County, Los Angeles and other Southern California communities. In indirect potable reuse, recycled water gets blended with a natural water source before it is pumped up for drinking water. There are also demonstration projects that let people learn about and taste recycled water in such communities as Santa Clara and San Diego. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

Marijuana devastated Colorado, don’t legalize it nationally – Our country is facing a drug epidemic. Legalizing recreational marijuana will do nothing that Senator Booker expects. We heard many of these same promises in 2012 when Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.

In the years since, Colorado has seen an increase in marijuana related traffic deaths, poison control calls, and emergency room visits. The marijuana black market has increased in Colorado, not decreased. And, numerous Colorado marijuana regulators have been indicted for corruption.

In 2012, we were promised funds from marijuana taxes would benefit our communities, particularly schools. Dr. Harry Bull, the Superintendent of Cherry Creek Schools, one of the largest school districts in the state, said, “So far, the only thing that the legalization of marijuana has brought to our schools has been marijuana.”

In fiscal year 2016, marijuana tax revenue resulted in $156,701,018. The total tax revenue for Colorado was $13,327,123,798, making marijuana only 1.18% of the state’s total tax revenue. The cost of marijuana legalization in public awareness campaigns, law enforcement, healthcare treatment, addiction recovery, and preventative work is an unknown cost to date.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, arrests in Colorado of black and Latino youth for marijuana possession have increased 58% and 29% respectively after legalization. This means that Black and Latino youth are being arrested more for marijuana possession after it became legal.

Furthermore, a vast majority of Colorado’s marijuana businesses are concentrated in neighborhoods of color. Leaders from these communities, many of whom initially voted to legalize recreational marijuana, often speak out about the negative impacts of these businesses. Read More > in USA Today

So Lonely I Could Die – Loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity, and their impact has been growing and will continue to grow, according to research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival. Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University. “Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”

Approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s Loneliness Study. In addition, the most recent U.S. census data shows more than a quarter of the population lives alone, more than half of the population is unmarried and, since the previous census, marriage rates and the number of children per household have declined.

“These trends suggest that Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness,” said Holt-Lunstad. Read More > from the American Psychological Association

Electricity Use in U.S. in Freefall – Electricity use in America has fallen 7 percent per capita since 2010, according to dramatic newly released figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Residential electricity sales per household declined even more than the absolute or per capita declines, decreasing 9 percent between 2010 and 2016,” EIA said.

The steep per capita decline is mirrored by a 3 percent decline in total electricity sales between 2010 and 2016.

Credit declining power sales to improved energy efficiency technologies and their rapidly expanding deployment.

Shifting weather patterns also had an impact. Read More > in The Energy Times

California speaker recall effort reflects Democratic tension – Democrats control every lever of power in California state government, and free from worrying about major losses to Republicans, they’re training fire instead on each other.

The latest example is a recall effort against Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a strong progressive now targeted by party activists upset that he derailed a bill seeking government-funded health care for all.

The Rendon recall comes as the California Democratic Party contends with a protracted leadership battle that is as much about donors and messaging as it is about ideals. It follows a contentious battle among environmentalists over the state’s cap-and-trade law to fight climate change, which some thought was too deferential to oil companies.

While Democrats in liberal California feud with Washington and proudly cast themselves as a foil to Republican President Donald Trump, they’re far from united at home.

For Rendon, the backlash began after he sidelined the bill, SB562, which looked to eliminate insurance companies in California and make state government the “single-payer” for health care services. Read More > from The Associated Press

Legal automation spells relief for lower-income Americans, hard times for lawyers – “Here’s the dirty little secret about automation: it’s easier to build a robot to replace a junior attorney than to replace a journeyman electrician.”

That’s Mark Mills, noting that it’s white-collar jobs that may be the next casualties of automation. “Instead of creative destruction coming to factories and farms, it’s sweeping through city centers and taking white-collar jobs.” White-collar workers used to think they were safe from automation while lesser breeds suffered unemployment. But now they’re on the front lines.

That’s certainly the case with lawyers, who are being replaced by software, by paraprofessionals, and sometimes even by outsourcing to third world nations. And that’s bad news since lawyers’ income and employment prospects have been largely stagnant (or worse) for decades. But, as with automation in other areas, it may be good news for the consumers of legal services, even as it makes things worse for the producers. Read More > in USA Today

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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