Sunday Reading – 02/11/18

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.

California Could Become First State to Bar Organized Tackle Football Before High School – California would become the first state to prohibit minors from playing organized tackle football before high school under a proposal made Thursday by lawmakers concerned about the health risks.

Just days after the Super Bowl, Assembly members Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) said Thursday they are introducing the “Safe Youth Football Act,” legislation that will be considered this year by state lawmakers.

Under the bill, organized tackle football would be allowed starting with high school freshmen.

The lawmakers said they were following advice of medical professionals who believe limiting tackle football would help prevent young athletes from sustaining long-term brain damage caused by repetitive tackling, hitting and blocking. Read More > at KTLA

From the ‘Settled Science’ Files: USDA Nutrition Guidelines Upside Down – Go ahead and put a slice of cheese on that burger.

A recently published study in Lancet calls into question the long-running nutritional guidelines advocated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) since its formation in 1960.

The study, which followed 135,335 people in 18 countries on five continents, found that

“high carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality.”

It was also concluded,

“Total fat and types of fat were not associated with cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, or cardiovascular disease mortality, whereas saturated fat had an inverse association with stroke.”

The researchers suggest,

“Dietary guidelines should be reconsidered in light of these findings.”

This research seems to corroborate a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that asserted,

“There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.”​

Yet the USDA nutritional guidelines continue to promote the notion that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet is healthier.

Meanwhile, the obesity problem in America has only been getting worse. Read More > at Blue White Illustrated

Gerber sends the right message in picking Down Syndrome Gerber baby – A round of applause for the baby food company, Gerber, for selecting the first ever child with Down syndrome, to be the coveted Gerber baby of the year!

In celebrating the company’s ground-breaking decision, Gerber CEO and President Bill Partyka said: “Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber’s longstanding heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby. This year, Lucas is the perfect fit.”

A perfect fit indeed. The winner, Lucas Warren is an adorable 18-month-old heartthrob from Georgia whose smile has captivated hearts everywhere. Read More > in The Washington Examiner

Surveillance Valley – …Google is one of the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in the world, yet it presents itself as one of the good guys: a company on a mission to make the world a better place and a bulwark against corrupt and intrusive governments all around the globe. And yet, as I traced the story and dug into the details of Google’s government contracting business, I discovered that the company was already a full-fledged military contractor, selling versions of its consumer data mining and analysis technology to police departments, city governments, and just about every major U.S. intelligence and military agency. Over the years, it had supplied mapping technology used by the U.S. Army in Iraq, hosted data for the Central Intelligence Agency, indexed the National Security Agency’s vast intelligence databases, built military robots, colaunched a spy satellite with the Pentagon, and leased its cloud computing platform to help police departments predict crime. And Google is not alone. From Amazon to eBay to Facebook—most of the Internet companies we use every day have also grown into powerful corporations that track and profile their users while pursuing partnerships and business relationships with major U.S. military and intelligence agencies. Some parts of these companies are so thoroughly intertwined with America’s security services that it is hard to tell where they end and the U.S. government begins.

Since the start of the personal computer and Internet revolution in the 1990s, we’ve been told again and again that we are in the grips of a liberating technology, a tool that decentralizes power, topples entrenched bureaucracies, and brings more democracy and equality to the world. Personal computers and information networks were supposed to be the new frontier of freedom—a techno-utopia where authoritarian and repressive structures lost their power, and where the creation of a better world was still possible. And all that we, global netizens, had to do for this new and better world to flower and bloom was to get out of the way and let Internet companies innovate and the market work its magic. This narrative has been planted deep into our culture’s collective subconscious and holds a powerful sway over the way we view the Internet today.

But spend time looking at the nitty-gritty business details of the Internet and the story gets darker, less optimistic. If the Internet is truly such a revolutionary break from the past, why are companies like Google in bed with cops and spies? Read More > at The Baffler

Google explores texting from your browser – Google’s Android Messages app could soon get a dramatic makeover with some interesting new features, judging by an APK teardown by XDA Developers and Android Police. Most significantly, it looks like you’ll be able to pair your phone with a computer and text directly from a browser like Chrome, Firefox and Safari, much as you can with Google’s Allo messaging app.

Unlike Allo, however, Android Messages could allow you to send mobile SMSes rather than web messages, making texting a fair amount easier. To use it, you may have to scan a QR code on your PC or Mac, then pair your device each time you want to text. The feature appears to be partially implemented in the latest Android Messages 2.9 APK, but you can’t yet send an actual text.

The APK also hints at the ability to send and receive payments, likely via Google Pay, potentially opening that service up to many more users. There are also signs that something called Google Enhanced Messaging, probably similar Smart Replies for Gmail, Allo and Inbox, is coming to Android Messages. Read More > at Engadget

GOP Voters Could Decide Governor’s Race – The Public Policy Institute of California poll revealed a tight race for governor between Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa with nary a Republican in sight. Yet, in the end it may be Republican voters who could choose the next governor because of California’s top two primary system.

With the June primary four months away, Newsom tops the PPIC poll with 23% support from likely voters with Villaraigosa closing in at 21%. Third position also belongs to a Democrat with state Treasurer John Chiang claiming 9% just ahead of the first Republican in the poll, Assemblyman Travis Allen at 8%.

If Newsom and Villaraigosa hold their positions through the primary Republicans will not have a candidate in the general election and Republican voters who choose to vote for governor would have to pick between the top two Democrats. In a close race, those Republican voters—who make up 26% of registered voters– could be decisive.

In the new PPIC poll, Villaraigosa edges out Newsom among Republican voters 6% to 4%. The gap is wider when the ideology of voters is measured. Conservative voters go for Villaraigosa over Newsom 15% to 6%. Moderates also favor the former L.A. mayor over the former S.F. mayor, 24% to 18%. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Prop 13 Change, Gas Tax Repeal in Trouble in PPIC Poll – In tax conscience California, a split in attitude: the granddaddy of taxpayer protections looks safe while a threatened new gas tax increase might feel the same way according to the latest Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll.

Proposition 13, the nearly 40 year-old taxpayer shield, is being threatened with a proposal to split property into two categories and raise taxes on commercial property while leaving the tax policy on residences in tact. The plan often referred to a split roll could not muster 50% approval in the PPIC poll. Only 46% of likely voters agreed with the idea, 43% opposed. PPIC noted that the 46% number was the lowest the split roll idea garnered since the institute began polling the question in 2012.

Most political observers argue a ballot measure should top 60% before opposition campaigns cut down the margin before an election. The 46% for a split roll falls far short of that standard.

As does the support from likely voters to repeal the gas tax passed by the legislature last year. Without mentioning the size of the tax increase in the question, voters were asked if they supported repeal of the recently passed gas tax. 47% said Yes; 48% said no.

While we are just in the early stages of the 2018 election cycle, the response of likely voters to these two potential high profile ballot measures indicates proponents have a lot of work to do. The early numbers could affect fundraising efforts in support of these measures—if and when they make the ballot. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

San Francisco Bay Area Experiences Mass Exodus Of Residents – The number of people packing up and moving out of the Bay Area just hit its highest level in more than a decade.

Of course people come and go from the Bay Area all the time, but for the first time in a long time, more people are leaving the Bay Area than are coming in. And the number one place in the country for out-migration is now, right here.

Russell Hancock with Joint Venture Silicon Valley said, “Silicon Valley has been this place that is growing. And it was mostly due to people relocating here and relocating from other parts of the world. That’s changing.”

Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s own study of the out-migration says workers are moving to Sacramento, Austin, and Portland due to a number of factors. But topping the list is the high cost of housing.

…Operators of a San Jose U-Haul business say one of their biggest problems is getting its rental moving vans back because so many are on a one-way ticket out of town. Read More > at KPIX

Tesla reports record loss in fourth quarter; Model 3 production still lagging – Another quarter, another question mark.

Tesla Inc. reported a fourth-quarter loss of $675.4 million, or $4.01 a share, on revenue of $3.29 billion, marking the Palo Alto car company’s biggest quarterly loss ever.

The company partly blamed the figure, which was significantly worse than the $121 million it lost in the same quarter last year, on high costs related to the production of its long-awaited Model 3 electric sedan.

In reporting earnings Wednesday afternoon, Tesla said revenue was up 36% over the same period in 2016, largely because of growth in deliveries of the luxury electric Model S sedan and Model X crossover.

Revenue from automotive products rose to $ 2.7 billion for the final quarter of 2017, up from $1.99 billion in the year-earlier quarter. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Rent Control Needs Retirement, Not a Comeback – According to the Wall Street Journal, rent control seems to be making a retro comeback. Most forms of intelligent life could be forgiven for asking why.

Serial experimentation with this policy has repeatedly shown the same result. Initially, tenants rejoice, and rent control looks like a victory for the poor over the landlord class. But the stifling of price signals leads to problems. Rent control starts by producing some sort of redistribution, because the people with low rents at the time that controls are imposed tend to be relatively low-income.

But then incomes rise, and rents don’t. People with higher incomes have more resources to pursue access to artificially cheap real estate: friends who work for management companies, “key fees” or simply incomes that promise landlords they won’t have to worry about collecting the rent. (One of my favorite New York City stories involves an acquaintance who made $175,000 a year, and applied for a rent-controlled apartment. He asked the women taking the application if his income was going to be a problem; she looked at the application and said, “No, I think that ought to be high enough.”)

So the promise of economic justice erodes over time, as lucky insiders come to dominate rent-controlled apartments, especially because having gotten their hands on an absurdly cheap apartment, said elites are loathe to move and free up space for others.

The longer the rent-control policies remain, the more these imbalances grow. The gap between the rent that is charged, and the rent that could be charged in a competitive market, widens. Deprived of the ability to make a profit, landlords skimp on maintenance and refuse to build new housing. If you loosen the law to incentivize renovation, or new building, this only creates new forms of dysfunction: discrimination against tenants who might stay longer than a few years (limiting the ability to raise rents); a decontrolled market that has to absorb all of the excess demand created by locking up so much of the housing market in rent-controlled leases that rarely turn over; even landlords who renovate too often, the better to raise the rent. This arrangement is very good for the people who happen to have gotten their hands on a rent-controlled apartment, and very bad for everyone else, especially newcomers to the city. Read More > at Bloomberg

Your smart TV may be prey for hackers and collecting more info than you realize, ‘Consumer Reports’ warns – Buyer beware. If you’ve snapped up a smart TV, with built-in Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and other Web connections, heads up on this warning — your smart TV could make you vulnerable to hackers and is probably monitoring more of your viewing than you realize.

Consumer Reports just analyzed smart TVs from five big U.S. TV brands — Samsung, LG, Sony, TCL and Vizio — and found several problems. All can track what consumers watch, and two of the brands failed a basic security test.

How bad is the security? So poor, according to its report, that hackers were able to take over complete remote control of the TVs from Samsung and TCL’s branded Roku TV, which included changing channels, upping the volume, installing new apps and playing objectionable content from YouTube.

“What we found most disturbing about this was the relative simplicity of” hacking in, says Glenn Derene, Consumer Reports’ senior director of content. Read More > at USA Today

#MeToo movement lawmaker investigated for sexual misconduct allegations – California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia — whose high-profile advocacy of the #MeToo movement earned her national media notice — is herself the subject of a state legislative investigation in the wake of a report that she sexually harassed and groped a former legislative staffer.

In December, when Time magazine announced that “Silence Breakers” who spoke out against sexual harassment were its Persons of the Year, Garcia’s face was prominently included in the art accompanying the cover story.

But Daniel Fierro of Cerritos told POLITICO that in 2014, as a 25-year-old staffer to Assemblyman Ian Calderon, he was groped by Garcia, a powerful Democratic lawmaker who chairs the Legislative Women’s Caucus and the Natural Resources Committee.

He said she cornered him alone after the annual Assembly softball game in Sacramento as he attempted to clean up the dugout. Fierro, who said Garcia appeared inebriated, said she began stroking his back, then squeezed his buttocks and attempted to touch his crotch before he extricated himself and quickly left.

Fierro said he never reported the incident, which occurred years before the current #MeToo movement and new whistleblower legislation to protect legislative staffers. But after he mentioned the issue last January to Calderon, his former boss, the matter was then referred to the Assembly Rules Committee, which launched an investigation.

Fierro is not the only one claiming improper advances by Garcia. A prominent Sacramento lobbyist says she also accosted him in May 2017, when she cornered him, made a graphic sexual proposal, and tried to grab his crotch at a political fundraiser. He spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. Read More > in Politico

Rewriting Life – A new DNA test will look for 190 diseases in your newborn’s genetic code – Using a swab of saliva from a newborn’s cheek, a new DNA test will probe the baby’s genes to search for 193 genetic diseases, like anemia, epilepsy, and metabolic disorders.

The $649 test is meant for healthy babies, as a supplement to existing screening tests.

In the US, the government recommends a newborn screening test that looks for a minimum of 34 disorders (though some states have additional requirements as well). The standard test involves a small sample of blood taken from a baby’s heel.

All the conditions the Sema4 test looks for—it uses DNA sequencing to examine a subset of genes, rather than the whole genome—have some kind of treatment already available. The test also analyzes how a baby is likely to respond to 38 medications commonly prescribed in early childhood. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

Toys R Us starting liquidation sales at 144 stores – Liquidation sales are starting today at Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores slated for closure, including six in the Chicago area, but the list includes fewer locations than the toy chain initially sought court approval to shutter. (Locally stores in Pittsburg and Brentwood are closing)

Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy protection in September and announced plans to close stores last month. One bankruptcy filing listed 175 stores that could close, but an updated list Wednesday trimmed the number to 144, or about 16 percent of the retailer’s U.S. locations.

The store closure sales include store fixtures and furniture as well as toys and games, and discounts are only available at the closing stores, according to a news release from a company Toys R Us hired to operate the sales.

“The actions we are taking are necessary to give us the best chance to emerge from our bankruptcy proceedings as a more viable and competitive company that will provide the level of service and experience you should expect from a market leader,” Toys R Us CEO Dave Brandon said in a letter announcing the closures last month.

Most of the stores scheduled to close are expected to shut down in mid-April, Toys R Us said. Read More > in the Chicago Tribune

Gov. Jerry Brown trims giant water-tunnels project – Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration scaled back the latest version of his four-decade effort to redo California’s north-south water system Wednesday, cutting plans to build giant water tunnels from two to one.

Reducing the number of tunnels – at least for now – would help California’s quest to line up enough funding and ease environmental concerns over tapping directly into the state’s largest river, officials said.

Supporters also hope the trimmed-down project will have a better chance of winning approval before the 79-year-old governor leaves office in January. The single tunnel still would be California’s biggest water project in decades.

The project would pipe water from Northern California’s Sacramento River through a four-story-high tunnel dozens of miles long. Los Angeles’ giant Metropolitan Water District has been the steadiest long-term supporter of both one tunnel or two, saying they would help secure water for its millions of urban customers. Read More > from the Associated Press

African-Americans View Ram Truck Ad With MLK More Favorably Than Other Groups – Perhaps the most controversial Super Bowl ad this year was a spot that used a voice-over from a 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. sermon, which emphasized the virtue of service, to sell trucks made by Ram, whose new tagline is “Built to Serve.” But a nationwide survey shows the ad was well received by pluralities of African-Americans and consumers who are planning to buy a truck.

In a Morning Consult survey of 1,579 U.S. adults who viewed the ad, 48 percent of African-Americans said the ad gave them a more favorable view of Ram, while 17 percent said it gave them a less favorable view of the brand and 30 percent said it made no difference.

The favorability rating among African-Americans was higher than that of all respondents (38 percent), whites (36 percent) and Hispanics (45 percent). For those three groups, at least 40 percent said the ad didn’t make a difference. Read More > at Morning Consult

What Should Counties Do With Confiscated Weed? – If you’ve ever wondered what local authorities do with all the weed they seize, you’re not alone. That very question came up in Yolo County last year and it’s now leading to fairly serious discussions about ways the county could benefit from all its impounded cannabis.

Supervisor Matt Rexroad appears to be the first person to have raised the question directly — and out loud.

“Why don’t we sell (cannabis) for millions of dollars?” he asked.

Rexroad has a point. Selling the confiscated bud to pay for enforcement seems, at first glance, to be a far better idea that destroying it, as the county currently does. But any attempt to sell the marijuana to raise revenue would run into more than a few ethical, legal, and logistical problems.

First, a government entity would be participating in an illegal act under federal law. Secondly, it would run into serious ethical questions similar to those that already surround the practice of asset forfeiture. And thirdly, the county could be seen as introducing unfair competition into the legal marketplace.

Unsatisfied with the idea of burning $15 million in cannabis, supervisors are still brainstorming ideas. They’ve made no official moves yet. Read More > at California County news

Senate Reaches Bipartisan Deal to Keep the Government Open By Spending More Money On Everything – After weeks of negotiation, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have reached the outlines of a spending deal that would avert a government shutdown.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the deal “the first real sprout of bipartisanship,” and said he hoped it would “break the long cycle of spending crises that have snarled Congress.” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s top Republican, called the agreement a “significant bipartisan step forward” and suggested that it could help “make 2018 a year of significant achievement for Congress.”

So how did the two sides finally come together? They decided to spend more—on everything. And they’ll worry about paying for it later (or maybe not at all).

The Senate bill would lift current federal spending limits by about $315 billion through 2019, according to The Washington Post. The bill also includes $90 billion in disaster aid funding, making for a total of roughly $400 billion in spending.

The deal placates Republican defense hawks by boosting spending for the military, lifting the spending cap put in place by the 2013 sequester agreement by $80 billion this year and $85 billion next year.

The deal pairs the boost in defense spending with a roughly equal increase in domestic spending. On the homefront, the plan includes $10 billion for infrastructure spending, as well as billions for federal health initiatives, including $6 billion to respond to the opioid crisis, $7 billion for community health centers, and a decade-long extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), up from the six-year extension Congress passed earlier this year.

All this additional spending will, of course, significantly increase the budget deficit. Read More > at Reason

Berlin Before and After the Wall – Berlin is celebrating another historical landmark on Monday. February 5 marks 28 years, two months and 26 days since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is the exact same amount of time as it once stood.

The Berlin Wall was built on Aug. 13, 1961, and it fell on Nov. 9, 1989. This week’s anniversary brings those events full circle. It’s been said before that people who lose an appendage can later experience phantom pain, but it’s hard to imagine too many people missing the Berlin Wall in such a way. At the same time, it’s unlikely the city will ever forget entirely the wounds created by Berlin’s long division into communist East and democratic West Berlin, even though the border scars have healed, the districts have grown together and most segments of the wall and its watch towers have vanished.

It’s worth taking a look at how Berlin has changed in those years. The sliders below provide before and after images of sites located where the Berlin Wall used to run. Read More > in Der Spiegel

Oil World Turns Upside Down as U.S. Sells Oil in Middle East – The United Arab Emirates, a model Persian Gulf petro-state where endless billions from crude exports feed a giant sovereign wealth fund, isn’t the most obvious customer for Texan oil.

Yet, in a trade that illustrates how the rise of the American shale industry is upending energy markets across the globe, the U.A.E. bought oil directly from the U.S. in December, according to data from the federal government. A tanker sailed from Houston and arrived in the Persian Gulf last month.

The cargo of American condensate, a type of very light crude oil, was preferred to regional grades because its superior quality made more suitable for the U.A.E’s processing plants, a person with knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified discussing a commercially sensitive matter. Read More > in Bloomberg

Massive Study on Health Effects of Cellphone Radiation Has Left Scientists Confused – The long-awaited results of a US$25 million National Institutes of Health study on the effects of cellphone radio-frequency radiation exposure on animals is out, and the results are mixed.

They showed a higher risk of tumours, DNA or tissue damage, and lower body weight in some groups of rodents, but no obvious ill effect in others and no clear implications for human health.

John Bucher, a senior scientist involved in the 10-year study, was cautious in his interpretation of the results in a conference call with journalists Friday.

Given the inconsistent pattern of the findings, the fact that the subjects were rats and mice rather than people and the high level of radiation used, he said, he could not extrapolate from the data the potential health effects on humans.

“At this point we don’t feel that we understand enough about the results to place a huge degree of confidence in the findings,” he said.

…Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, noted that there were unusual findings in the study and said his team is continuing to assess them, but he emphasised that, based on all available scientific information, the agency does not believe there are adverse health effects in humans caused by cellphone radiation.

“Even with frequent daily use by the vast majority of adults, we have not seen an increase in events like brain tumours,” he said. “Based on this current information, we believe the current safety limits for cellphones are acceptable for protecting the public health.” Read More > at Science Alert

Girl Scouts to decide whether cookie seller near marijuana dispensary broke any rules – The San Diego Girl Scout council is looking into whether a scout who was photographed selling cookies outside a marijuana dispensary broke any rules.

If a rule is broken again, the girl could lose the awards she earned by selling a certain number of boxes of cookies.

Officials were trying to identify the girl and talk to her family because she was in a commercial area, which is not allowed, council spokeswoman Mary Doyle said in an email Monday.

Urbn Leaf posted a photograph of the girl on Friday outside the shop that sells medical and recreational marijuana and invited customers on its Instagram account to come get some Girl Scout cookies. Read More > at CNBC

There aren’t two Americas. There are hundreds. Can they get along? – It is often said there are two Americas.

The more likely truth is there are hundreds of tiny layered American experiences that differ not just on the great divide between the coast and the heartland, but also along divides much smaller, creating different Americas just on different banks of the same river, or adjoining neighborhoods, towns, counties or state lines.

We are parochial by birth; we love our neighborhoods and towns, our sports teams and our schools, as well as churches, county fairs, local music, and parish festivals.

No matter what the subject is, we brag ours is better than yours, maybe put on our team jersey’s and crow about it, but for the most part it is all done in good nature. We find a way to come together on some cultural touchtone and we continue on with our lives.

“It is a shame that politics cannot adopt that same robust competitive nature, that doesn’t end with a conniption,” said one building manager, after watching the State of the Union address last week.

“You know, disagree on some things, but show a little respect when it comes to other things,” he said.

He was adamant in not wanting to give his real name. “Just use ‘Derek,'” he says shaking his head, “because I see what happens on social media if you express a thought.”

“America is not this way or that way, our experiences and viewpoints are complicated. I can like the president or the Republicans’ way of impacting my wallet and change my view of them for the next election. I think Washington and/or the media tends to want to box people into this or that, and people are much more complex than that,” he said. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Best Buy is pulling CDs from its stores — and people are freaking out – Best Buy, formerly one of the biggest music merchandisers in the US, has plans to pull CDs from all of its stores by July 1, according to Billboard.

Target could be the next retailer to do so, as Billboard further reported that it was demanding that music suppliers sell the retailer inventory on a consignment basis and pay for unsold inventory. One music manufacturer is leaning toward saying no to this deal, according to Billboard.

This should come as no big surprise — between streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify taking over and vinyl returning to popularity, there doesn’t seem to be much of a place for CDs anymore. More than 800 million CDs were sold in the US in 2001, but that number fell to 89 million in 2017, according to Consequence of Sound. Read More > at Business Insider

San Francisco to Open Safe Drug Injection Sites by Summer – San Francisco may end up being the first city in the United States to open injection sites where drug addicts can shoot up safely.

Several other major cities are considering proposals. Seattle has been planning injection sites but has had to fight off a ballot initiative to try to stop them. San Francisco is now moving forward with plans to open two sites by July.

Barbara Garcia, director of the city’s Department of Public Health, told the San Francisco Chronicle that facilities’ operators would be selected from the small group of nonprofits that already operate needle exchange programs in San Francisco. The facilities will be funded from private sources, though Garcia declined to say where specifically the money will come from.

…San Francisco has an estimated 22,000 intravenous drug users, and they often shoot up in public. City officials think 85 percent of those drug users would use an injection facility if they could. They also think this could potentially save the city $3.5 million in medical costs, given that it will be overseen by professionals and will hopefully reduce the need to call emergency responders. Read More > at Reason

How do you solve a problem like Facebook? – For those worried about Facebook’s economic and political might, there appeared to be some good news this week. In its fourth-quarter earnings report, the company announced that its users are spending 50 million hours less, per day, on the social network. That is a five per cent fall in use. The number of daily users in the US and Canada also went down.

But what looked like a hint that Facebook might finally be on the wane was really an illustration of the social network’s power. Yes, Facebook admitted, people were spending less time scrolling through their News Feeds, but that was largely by design.

As part of Mark Zuckerberg’s mission to “make sure Facebook isn’t just fun, but also good for people’s well-being and society”, users were exposed to fewer short viral videos that had kept so many glued to the app. Zuckerberg has announced further tweaks to the News Feed: more baby pics, less news (fake or otherwise). In other words, we’re using Facebook less, but only because Mark Zuckerberg has decided that’s okay with him. So far, these changes don’t seem to have hurt revenue, which is up 47 per cent year-on-year.

The social media giant adopts this gentler, contrite tone as it stands accused of a wide range of misdeeds. Dodging taxes, spreading propaganda, hoarding personal data, gobbling up competitors and making us all miserable to name just a few. Some criticisms are fairer than others (Zuckerberg didn’t put Donald Trump in the White House), but they all boil down to market power. Only a monopolist could get away with this sort of behaviour, goes the thinking. Read More > at CapX

America’s Lost Decade – Many negative consequences flow reliably from a financial crisis, including unemployment, political turmoil, and piles of sovereign debt. Since the 2008 financial meltdown, however, we’ve seen none of the good consequences—and there are supposed to be good ones. Crashes and severe recessions often are followed by bursts of innovation that lay the groundwork for several decades of future growth and productivity increases. Severe economic downturns can perform a vital cleansing for the economy, toppling unchallengeable market positions and clearing a path for newcomers with disruptive ideas. The economic transformations that followed major worldwide crashes prior to 2008—in 1873, 1929, and 1973—were breathtaking. Indeed, the 1870s, 1930s, and 1970s were among the most innovative decades in history. The 1930s, for example, remembered mostly for the Great Depression, were also a time of great technological progress, in areas such as jet engines, synthetic materials, television, and computers. The 1970s saw enormous advances in personal computing, the digital camera, the Internet and e-mail (via the ARPANET), automotive technology (such as antilock brakes), phones that were truly mobile (even if you weren’t in a car), CAT and MRI scans, recombinant DNA, and IVF.

Yet here we are, nearly a decade after the worst financial crisis in modern memory, and we’ve seen few of these kinds of benefits. Don’t let heady stock prices, record corporate profits, and low unemployment fool you. America is only now emerging from a lost decade. Instead of renewal, the last ten years were blighted by slow growth, stagnant productivity, limited social mobility, long-term unemployment and underemployment, and despair.

The economic legacy of the last decade is excessive corporate consolidation, a massive transfer of wealth to the top 1 percent from the middle class, the creation of even more asset bubbles, and rising social tensions. America is incredibly resilient. We are not Japan. We are recovering. But the Federal Reserve Board, the government body charged with establishing the monetary conditions for economic recovery, has hampered it at every stage. The Fed is not solely responsible for America’s lost decade—the impact of its misguided policies was compounded by other factors, including regulatory and congressional capture and crony capitalism. Yet the central bank did play a central role. There is little evidence to suggest that it recognizes this fact, or that recent appointments will challenge the status quo.

…Averting a crisis was necessary. But the Fed and the Treasury did not stop there. They wound up bailing out huge Wall Street banks that contribute little to the productive “real” economy, along with insurers (AIG) and huge and inefficient industrial companies. Embarking on a new policy of “quantitative easing” to bolster the lending market, the Fed blew up its balance sheet by purchasing debt to keep interest rates down, certain that productive borrowing would ensue. Before the crash, at the end of July 2008, the Fed’s assets were $0.9 trillion. By July 2017, they had ballooned to $4.5 trillion (see graph above). These measures yielded little. Near-zero rates did not spur an expansion of jobs or of productivity-enhancing research. Instead, the easy money went to other uses, including the funding of mergers and acquisitions among giant companies and private-equity-sponsored, highly leveraged buyouts. Read More > at City Journal

Banks Shutter 1,700 Branches in Fastest Decline on Record – Banks are closing branches at the fastest pace in decades, as they leave less profitable regions and fewer customers use tellers for routine transactions.

The number of branches in the U.S. shrank by more than 1,700 in the 12 months ended in June 2017, the biggest decline on record, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data.

Branch numbers fell again in the second half of 2017, according to related data submitted to bank regulators and reviewed by the Journal. That would add to the thousands of locations closed following the financial crisis, and is the longest stretch of closures since the Great Depression.

Many of the closings were in big cities and surrounding suburbs, where branches were consolidated largely because of falling foot traffic. Others were in rural areas, where some large regional lenders are leaving town altogether. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Chemical found in McDonald’s fries may be cure for baldness, study finds – What if we told you french fry oil could cure baldness?

Researchers say a chemical used to keep fry oil from bubbling over can do just that.

Scientists at Japan’s Yokohama University have found dimethylpolysiloxane can grow hair on bald mice and they think it could do the same on bald humans.

According to the study, hair follicle germs using the silicone additive were transplanted onto the skin of the bald mice, and black fur sprouted within a few days. Read More > at WTVR

Opinion: Are we experiencing the end of flirting? – …There is no doubt that flirting can be perilous, given the wrong people or the wrong context. But we can’t ignore the fact that when two people feel that frisson, it can be a gift — its beauty felt and unmistakable.

It would be unfortunate if all flirting were painted with the same brush. Read More > in The Mercury News

Studies suggest cellphone radiation doesn’t threaten humans – No, the debate over the risks of cellphone radiation isn’t over yet. The US National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program has published details of draft studies which suggest that normal cellphone radiation levels aren’t harmful to humans. The research subjected rats to very high levels of RF radiation at 2G and 3G cellular frequencies, and produced results where there was no clear pattern of harm even at the exaggerated radiation levels.

In one study, some male rats subjected to the radiation did develop cancer tumors around their hearts. But the female rats didn’t, and neither sex suffered symptoms in another study. And then there’s the truly odd data. Both newborn rats and their mothers had reduced weight but grew to normal sizes, and exposed rats lived longer than those that hadn’t. And these are at exposure rates that are “much higher” than the current cellphone safety standard, the Food and Drug Administration said.

In its comments on the study, the FDA stressed that the study didn’t translate neatly to typical human experiences beyond the exposure levels. Rats are clearly much smaller than humans, so they’re enduring that intense radiation across their entire bodies where a human might only deal with those levels near their ears or thighs. This didn’t include 4G frequencies, either, so any risk that was there might not have been present with an LTE connection. Read More > at Engadget

Why Are There So Many Missing people in Humboldt County? – An average of 717 people per 100,000 go missing in Humboldt County every year, giving it the highest per-capita missing persons rate in the state. By contrast, per 100,000, California sees 384 missing persons cases on an annual basis.

The eye-popping figures have earned Humboldt County the nickname, “the black hole.” They have even spawned unsubstantiated rumors about a possible serial killer wandering this part of the Emerald Triangle.

For missing children, the numbers in Humboldt are also high. The county is sixth in the state for missing minors.

“It’s a bit curious as to why that might be,” Bob Lowery, Vice President of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told the North Coast Journal. But he didn’t seem particularly worried. “It could be that the county sheriff and local police are very aggressive in accepting reports and getting them into the system. I’m not aware of any critically missing children in Humboldt County. If you dig into those number a little deeper, the reports are generally going to be runaway children.”

For the missing adults, says Lt. Dennis Young, cannabis is often involved. Read More > in California County News

Could Self-Driving Trucks Be Good for Truckers? – The outlook for trucking jobs has been grim of late. Self-driving trucks, several reports and basic logic have suggested, are going to wipe out truckers. Trucking is going to be the next great automation bloodbath.

But a counter-narrative is emerging: No, skeptics in the industry, government, academia are saying, trucking jobs will not be endangered by autonomous driving, and in the brightest scenarios, as in new research by Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, there may be an increase in trucking jobs as more self-driving vehicles are introduced.

For one, Uber does not believe that self-driving trucks will be doing “dock to dock” runs for a very long time. They see a future in which self-driving trucks drive highway miles between what they call transfer hubs, where human drivers will take over for the last miles through complex urban and industrial terrain. Read More > in The Atlantic

Researchers Develop Potential Blood Test for Alzheimer’s Disease – Researchers in Japan and Australia have developed the first blood test to detect amyloid-β protein buildup in the brain, one of the earliest hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. The findings, published on Wednesday (January 31) in Nature, show that measurements of the protein and its precursors in the blood can predict neural amyloid-β deposition and could pave the way for a cheap and minimally invasive screening tool for the disease.

“This study has major implications,” Abdul Hye of King’s College London, who was not involved in the work, tells the BBC. “It is the first time a group has shown a strong association of blood plasma amyloid with brain and cerebrospinal fluid.” Read More >in The Scientist

Enjoy The Super Bowl While You Can, Because Football Is Doomed – Super Bowl Sunday seems the appropriate day to bring you the cheerful news that football is doomed. The sport is dying and cannot be saved, at least not in America, its traditional home. The cause of death is science. Simply put, football is a sport in which the audience entertains itself by watching men violently turn each other’s brains to mush.

We didn’t know that’s what we were doing, so I’m not blaming anyone. We knew there was some potential for injury and that professional football is punishing on the body—as are all high-level athletic competitions. But everything in life involves risk, and young men have the right to pursue fame and fortune at the risk of tearing out their anterior cruciate ligaments.

But what we’ve discovered in recent years is that despite the modern panoply of protective gear, the repeated sharp impacts that are part of the game do permanent damage to the brain: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. In a high-profile study, 110 of 111 brains of former football players showed signs of CTE, and the longer they played, the worse the damage. It’s no coincidence that only two days later, John Urschel—a 26-year-old Baltimore Ravens player who is also pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics—announced his sudden retirement.

The sample for that study was not random, so it can’t tell us exactly what percentage of players suffer brain trauma. But it indicates that the risk is very significant, and heartbreaking stories of former players spending their later years in a fog of neurological decay are becoming commonplace. Read More > in The Federalist

Think California politics is on the far-left fringe? Just wait for the next elections. – For those who think California politics is on the far-left fringe of the national spectrum, stand by. The next election season, already well underway here, will showcase a younger generation of Democrats that is more liberal and personally invested in standing up to President Trump’s Washington than those leaving office.

Here in the self-labeled “state of resistance,” the political debate is being pushed further left without any sign of a Republican renaissance to serve as a check on spending and social policy ambitions. Even some Republicans are concerned about the departure of Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who proved to be fiscally cautious after inheriting a state seven years ago in deep recession.

The race to succeed him, as well as contests for U.S. Senate and statewide offices, probably will feature a November ballot exclusively filled with Democrats. The top two primary finishers compete in the state’s general election regardless of party, setting up several races between the Democrats’ left and even-more-left wings in the nation’s most-populous state, races that could signal the direction of the party’s future.

In an off-presidential election year, California will serve as a campaign lab for many national issues, including taxes, immigration, health care, climate change, rural-urban income disparities and sexual harassment. The campaigns will test for national Democrats the most useful positions on issues important to the party’s base and will provide a preview for national Republicans of the popularity of those stands. Read More > in The Washington Post


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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