Sunday Reading – 06/10/18


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.

U.S. Income Gap Has Stopped Growing – There’s good news on income inequality that nobody’s talking about. The income gap between America’s wealthiest and poorest people has generated a lot of attention and fueled a resurgence in left-wing activism and interest. But what hasn’t grown in recent years is income inequality itself.

A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked at U.S. income data from 1979 through 2014. For most of this period—between 1979 and 2007—the gap between the country’s lowest and highest earners widened at a steady and relatively rapid pace.

This held true whether CBO looked at “market income” (employment and other earnings before taxes are taken out or public-assistance funds added in), income after taxes, or income plus government benefits (including social insurance programs like Social Security and means-tested programs like “food stamps”).

In 2007, however, this trend came to a halt. After that, income inequality either grew much more slowly or even decreased, depending on how you slice the data. Read More > at Reason

Why the Military Can’t Quit Windows XP – When most organizations are deciding whether to upgrade their computers to the latest version of Microsoft Windows, they don’t have to worry about life-and-death consequences. One exception to that rule is the U.S. Department of Defense: the nation’s largest employer and a globe-spanning organization that must consider both cybersecurity risks and potentially fatal consequences related to computer failures when making the choice to abandon legacy operating systems such as Windows XP.

The military’s long-standing relationship with Windows XP is not unusual. Many PC users and companies clung to Windows XP long after its 2001 debut and refused to upgrade to follow-up Windows versions. In 2014, when Microsoft officially ended support for the aging operating system, Windows XP still accounted for 30 percent of operating systems worldwide. At the time, officials estimated that 3 percent of the Pentagon’s several million computers were still running Windows XP. That same year, a Navy official issued a directive titled “Windows XP Eradication Efforts.” But the mission-critical functions of some of those computers can defy straightforward upgrades—which is why the Pentagon has often found it easier to occasionally give Microsoft multimillion-dollar contract for supporting specialized systems running on Windows XP, Windows 2003, and other legacy Microsoft products.

The downsides of legacy computing systems start to pile up as time goes on. Any legacy system will lag more behind the latest state-of-the-art computing to the point where “you start to feel like it’s being held together with chewing gum and duct tape,” says Cynthia Dion-Schwarz, a senior scientist at the RAND Corp. and former director of information systems and cybersecurity research at the U.S. Department of Defense. Military personnel may also find it more difficult to use older systems because of outdated or clunky interfaces.

But the biggest risk for the U.S. military or any organization in relying on legacy systems is in cybersecurity. The latest and most popular versions of Windows benefit from ordinary customers helping to discover security vulnerabilities or bugs through normal computer use, which reduces the risk of undiscovered system flaws remaining undiscovered and open to exploitation by malicious hackers. That’s no small consideration given how hackers would likely be looking to exploit flaws in Windows XP or other legacy systems in use by the U.S. military. Read More > at Slate

Illinois Is Better Off Bankrupt – Illinois now has the worst credit rating in the municipal bond market. Moody’s Investment Services pegs Illinois’ debt at Baa3, and it could further downgrade that credit rating later in 2018.

The State of Illinois incurred deficits reaching nearly $15 billion in 2017, and those deficits are projected to double to $30 billion in 2018. Illinois has also accumulated hundreds of billions in unfunded liabilities in public sector pension and health-care plans. This has exposed local jurisdictions to the risk of default or bankruptcy. In response, Illinois has issued large bailouts, further weakening the finances of the state’s government. The courts have exacerbated this problem by ruling the Illinois Constitution mandates state bailouts for public sector pension and health plans.

Fiscal rules in Illinois have been ineffective in constraining deficits and debt. Illinois, like 48 other states, has a balanced budget provision in its state constitution. But, in recent years, the state legislature has failed to pass a budget at all — let alone one that would balance revenues and expenditures.

…The failure of Illinois to address its growing debt crisis is often attributed to a divided legislature and gridlock in the budget process. But the more fundamental flaws responsible for the crisis are the absence of bankruptcy laws and no-bailout rules as well as a growing dependence of both the state and local governments on federal transfers and bailouts.

It has taken Illinois’ state and local governments half a century to accumulate unsustainable levels of debt and unfunded liabilities. Today, it is virtually inconceivable the elected officials in Illinois will be able to meet these financial obligations. Illinois cannot reverse 50 years of deterioration in dynamic credence capital by simply proposing a spending cap that will never be enacted, let alone be enforced. Read More > at Real Clear Policy

Rent control, data privacy and gas taxes for roads: Get ready for the next election – Election officials haven’t even finished counting the votes from Tuesday’s primary, but the campaign has already begun for the November general election. Here are some key races to keep an eye on over the next five months, and why they could have a huge impact on California politics.

Gas tax repeal

You will probably have an opportunity this November to vote on proposals to make it harder to raise local taxes and even split California into three separate states. But no issue is likely to generate more attention than an initiative to repeal a recent increase of transportation fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees lawmakers approved to fix California’s crumbling roads.

Public polls consistently indicate that the fees, passed by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats last year, are deeply unpopular with Californians — and Republicans have seized on that with a vengeance. They used his support for the gas tax increase to convince voters to recall state Sen. Josh Newman on Tuesday, depriving Democrats of their Senate supermajority.

Rent control

Everyone is looking for a solution to California’s housing crisis — they just can’t agree on what it is. After a bill failed in the Legislature earlier this year, proponents are headed to the November ballot with a measure that would reverse a 1995 law severely limiting the use of rent control in the state. If passed by voters, it would allows cities and counties to enact much stricter renter protections, including for some types of housing, such as single-family homes and condos, where it was previously prohibited. But apartment landlords, investors and developers argue the initiative would actually make California’s affordability problems even worse by bringing new construction to a standstill. Some consultants involved with the campaign estimate that it could be an $80 million fight this fall.

Data privacy

If recent news about data breaches and Cambridge Analytica has you feeling wary of what personal information you have floating around online, then you may find some relief in a data privacy initiative expected to qualify for the November election. The measure, sponsored by a trio of Bay Area business professionals, would require big companies to disclose what information they gather, explain how they share or sell it, and give people the right to block the spread of their personal data… Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Generation Z is already moving away from Facebook, and 8 more industries could be next -People in Generation Z were born between roughly 1995 and 2010. This cohort of current teens is on track to kill Facebook, Business Insider’s Mark Abadi reported earlier this year.

Only 9% of teens say Facebook is their preferred social-media platform, a survey from Piper Jaffray found last year. Gen Z prefers Snapchat and Instagram, while older millennials are the biggest chunk of Facebook’s users.

“Generally, members of Generation Z are tech-savvy, pragmatic, open-minded, individualistic — but also socially responsible,” An Hodgson, an income and expenditure manager at Euromonitor International, told Business Insider.

Hodgson added: “Because Gen Zers are individualistic and value their privacy, they prefer anonymous social media like Snapchat, Secret, and Whisper rather than Facebook.”

Millennials are said to have already killed bar soap, diamonds, and napkins. Here’s what’s on Gen Z’s hit list.

Refined-classic brands, like Ralph Lauren and Vineyards Vines, are at record low popularity in the teen market, according to Piper Jaffray, moving to a 5% market share among teens from an average of 14%.

…Gen Zers prefer to order online from companies with strong digital branding, said Tiffany Zhong, CEO of the youth-marketing firm Zebra Intelligence. And many know how to find manufacturers online, where they can buy products directly at a lower cost.

…In case you live under a rock and didn’t hear, print-media consumption is declining.

Gen Zers tend to prefer the convenience of opening their phones or e-readers to enjoy a book, Goel and Zhong said. This generation is not alone — 266 million e-books were sold last year, compared with nearly 70 million in 2010. Read More > at Business Insider

Yes, You Can Become Addicted to Marijuana. And the Problem is Growing. – Many people are unaware of marijuana addiction. But in the public health and medical communities, it is a well-defined disorder that includes physical withdrawal symptoms, cravings and psychological dependence. Many say it is on the rise, perhaps because of the increasing potency of genetically engineered plants and the use of concentrated products, or because more marijuana users are partaking multiple times a day.

“There should be no controversy about the existence of marijuana addiction,” said Dr. David Smith, who has been treating addiction since the 1960s when he opened a free clinic in San Francisco’s drug-drenched Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. “We see it every day. The controversy should be why it appears to be affecting more people.”

Although estimates of the number of people who have ever tried marijuana or who use it regularly vary widely from survey to survey, the federal government and the marijuana industry tend to agree that total marijuana use has remained relatively constant over the past decade. Increased use in the past three years has been slight, despite increased commercial availability in states that have legalized it.

The percentage of people who become addicted to marijuana — about 9 percent of all users, and about 17 percent of those who start in adolescence — also has been stable. Read More > at PEW

Autonomous driving is coming to all Cadillac models, other GM brands – Starting in 2020, Cadillac will start to offer autonomous driving on every Cadillac model. The Super Cruise system is already available today but limited to just the full-size CT6 sedan. General Motors is also announcing today that the SuperCruise system will start hitting other GM brands — such as Chevrolet, GMC, and Buick — after 2020. And then by 2023, an unnamed, high-volume Cadillac crossover will have vehicle-to-everything communication to let it speak to similarly equipped vehicles, infrastructure and other connected devices.

Super Cruise launched earlier this year and only works on expressway in the United States.

When active, Super Cruise controls the steering and speed, but again, only on an expressway. This is done through on board sensors and using GPS and mapping data. GM employed Ushr, Inc, a startup in GM Venture’s portfolio, to map 160,000 miles of expressways in the U.S. and Canada. The car company then used Super Cruise-equipped vehicles to test each mile. Read More > at Tech Crunch

Vanilla is worth more than silver – The price of vanilla has hit a record high of $600 (£445) per kilogram for the second time since 2017 when a cyclone damaged many of the plantations in Madagascar, where three quarters of the world’s vanilla is grown. Silver by comparison currently costs $538/kg.

Demand for vanilla has kept the prices high, leading some ice cream manufacturers to cut back and even halt production of the flavour, sparking fears of shortages over the summer.
Here is the full story, and note this:

Replacement printer ink cartridges can cost between $8 and $27, depending on the type of printer you have. A single black ink jet cartridge from one major manufacturer can cost $23 for just 4ml of ink – enough to print around 200 pages.

Manufacturers argue they need to charge this to cover the loss they are selling the printer hardware at, together with the research and development they do on ink technology. But cut open an ink cartridge and you will see that most of the space inside is taken up with sponge, designed to help preserve and deliver the ink.

And when you are paying what works out to be around $1,733/kg of ink, you might be better off printing with pure silver instead.

Read More > at Marginal Revolution

Job Openings Started Outstripping Job Seekers in March – The U.S. economy reached a record 6.7 million job openings in April, the Department of Labor stated Tuesday, hundreds of thousands more than the number of unemployed workers.

March and April both saw the number of job openings outstrip the number of unemployed workers.

There were 6.7 million job openings in April and only 6.35 million job seekers. The previous month saw 6.63 million job openings, more than the 6.59 million unemployed workers.

The number of openings has never been higher than the number of job seekers since the government started counting employment opportunities in 2000.

May saw 223,000 jobs added to the U.S. economy. Read More > at National Review

The world is running out of Japanese people – Japan is shrinking. Fast.

The health ministry recently announced that only 946,060 babies were born in Japan in 2017, the fewest births since official statistics began in 1899. At the same time, 1,340,433 Japanese people died last year. This means that the non-immigrant population declined by nearly 400,000 people.

It’s an astonishing shift. The Japanese population grew steadily throughout the 20th century, from around 44 million in 1900 to 128 million in 2000. The gains were primarily due to increased life expectancy, but also buoyed by families that typically had at least two children. But beginning in the late 1970s, birth rates crashed. While the average Japanese woman had 2.1 kids in the 1970s, today, they only have about 1.4—far lower than in comparably wealthy countries like the US and Sweden.

Demographers forecast a steep population decline for Japan this century. The Japanese Statistics Bureau estimates that the Japanese population will fall to just over 100 million by 2050, from around 127 million today. The United Nations estimates that Japan’s population will decline by a third from current levels, to 85 million, by 2100. Read More > at Quartz

More than 118,000 voters accidentally left off rolls in Los Angeles County – A printing error affecting more than one-third of the precincts in Los Angeles County left 118,522 registered voters off the rolls during the California primary on Tuesday, the county election authority said in a statement.

County Clerk Dean C. Logan said that voters left off the rolls can still cast provisional ballots. But the process of verifying and counting a large number of provisional ballots could delay the vote tally in local races, depending on exactly where the affected precincts are. Two battleground House seats, California’s 25th and 39th Districts, take in parts of Los Angeles County. Read More > at Politico

Time’s Up, Bill – Bright and early Monday morning, Bill Clinton launched a book tour in support of a political thriller he wrote with the best-selling author James Patterson, called The President Is Missing. And sometime before 8 a.m., it had become clear that it had not occurred to our ex-president that hawking his book would also entail answering questions about Monica Lewinsky, and about how his affair with the White House intern had shaped — and slowed — the feminist conversation around sexual harassment.

…What always made Bill Clinton’s transgressions so pivotally important — and a legitimate subject for scrutiny — was that they happened after the rules and assumptions governing sexual harassment had changed. John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were presidents in the 1960s, before the term “sexual harassment” had been coined, in 1975, by the feminist scholar Lyn Farley. At the time, she was working on the case of Carmita Wood, the Cornell University administrative assistant who’d quit her job, and was subsequently denied unemployment benefits, after years of being groped and kissed against her will by her boss.

The cases that Wood and other women brought against their bosses worked their way through the courts over the next decade, which meant that Clinton was the first Democratic president to serve after the unanimous 1986 Supreme Court decision in favor of assistant bank manager Michelle Vinson barring sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act…Read More > at The Cut

As Rental Cars Fade Away, Avis Will Try Anything to Survive – …Zeira comes to the Avis Budget Group from Verizon, where he worked on consumer IoT projects, and from smart-home company Wemo, which he cofounded. His mission here is finding new revenue streams that will keep Avis alive in an age where car sharing, ride hailing, and self-driving make the idea of renting a car and driving it yourself for several days seem ridiculously old fashioned.

Don’t expect to see him holding a divining rod. “We’re making a portfolio of bets,” Zeira says. “When I came in, there were a ton of ideas. My job was picking the right ones.” Should Avis offer car maintenance as a service for ride hailing or autonomous vehicles? How about running a fleet of shared electric bikes? Or operating a charging network for electric cars? After a month on the job, Zeira had picked 33 ideas he thought were the most promising and set up a plan to explore them, four at a time.

…Avis does have one unmitigated advantage: its mastery of all the infrastructure you need to operate a fleet of cars that aren’t owned by the people using them. “There’s a whole laundry list of things we just assume a human driver-operator does,” Zeira says. If you want to take the human driver out of the picture, you need some new way to keep the car clean, well-maintained, fueled or charged, and so on. It’s the sort of practical stuff a tech company or automaker isn’t equipped to handle and yet can’t afford to ignore. People may overcome the fear of riding in a robocar. They won’t get over the disgust of riding in a filthy one. Read More > at Wired

$76 billion in home sales, a facelift for this East Bay mall, landlords on hook for big fees and more in this week’s real estate digest – Paragon Real Estate’s latest report on market prices and trends in Bay Area homes sales tallies 73,000 Bay Area home sales worth $76 billion over the past 12 months. The report has a few interesting tidbits worth noting:

  • Oakland saw 192 percent home price appreciation from 2011 to 2018 year to date, topping the rest of the Bay Area. That’s compared to 49 percent average in the rest of the U.S. The numbers were calculated based on median sales price and dollar per square foot price appreciation.
  • Oakland performed well, Paragon said, because of its proximity to tech jobs, and its initial affordable housing. It was also hard hit by the foreclosure and subprime crisis, creating low cost properties that were scooped up by investors and flippers. “Especially over the past 2-3 years, the appreciation rates of more affordable homes have accelerated most quickly,” Paragon wrote in its report, and that dynamic is at play in Oakland.
  • One surprise in the report: The price per square feet of S.F. condos trumps that of S.F. homes at $1,115 per square foot to $1,005. That’s because condos tend to be smaller than homes so the total price is more affordable. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

What made Guatemala’s Fuego Volcano eruption so deadly? – Fuego’s lethal eruption took the form of a pyroclastic flow, the same searing cloud of debris that cooked and choked the city of Pompeii after Mount Vesuvius exploded in 79 AD.

On its surface, a pyroclastic flow looks like a falling cloud of ash. But if you could peer into the cloud, you would find a really hot and fast-moving storm of solid rock, said Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at Concord University who studies pyroclastic flows.

“It’s not really like anything else on Earth,” Krippner said. People are familiar with avalanches of rock or landslides, but pyroclastic flows move much more quickly, traveling more than 50 miles per hour. The upper part of the pyroclastic flow resembles a grainy sandstorm, but it is filled with hot gases, whose temperatures range from 400 to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Read More > at PBS

The Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision Leaves Almost All the Big Questions Unresolved – Do bakers have a First Amendment right to refuse to bake cakes for same-sex weddings, even if there’s a state law banning sexual orientation discrimination by such businesses?

Do they have a First Amendment right to refuse to bake such cakes that contain text or symbolism (e.g., rainbow striping) that the bakers disapprove of?

How about wedding photographers or videographers, who create products that (unlike most cakes) are traditionally seen as speech? How about calligraphers or graphic designers, who have an objection to personally writing or typing certain messages?

The Supreme Court’s 7-to-2 Masterpiece Cakeshop decision answers none of these questions (not even the first, which seemed to be most squarely raised on the facts of this case). Rather, the decision concludes that, in this particular case, Colorado government agencies unconstitutionally discriminated against the plaintiff based in part on his religiosity; the Court concludes this based on particular statements made in the record, such as the statement by one member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that,

Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.

Read More > at The Volokh Conspiracy

Climate Change Has Run Its Course – Climate change is over. No, I’m not saying the climate will not change in the future, or that human influence on the climate is negligible. I mean simply that climate change is no longer a pre-eminent policy issue. All that remains is boilerplate rhetoric from the political class, frivolous nuisance lawsuits, and bureaucratic mandates on behalf of special-interest renewable-energy rent seekers.

Judged by deeds rather than words, most national governments are backing away from forced-marched decarbonization. You can date the arc of climate change as a policy priority from 1988, when highly publicized congressional hearings first elevated the issue, to 2018. President Trump’s ostentatious withdrawal from the Paris Agreement merely ratified a trend long becoming evident.

A good indicator of why climate change as an issue is over can be found early in the text of the Paris Agreement. The “nonbinding” pact declares that climate action must include concern for “gender equality, empowerment of women, and intergenerational equity” as well as “the importance for some of the concept of ‘climate justice.’ ” Another is Sarah Myhre’s address at the most recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in which she proclaimed that climate change cannot fully be addressed without also grappling with the misogyny and social injustice that have perpetuated the problem for decades.

The descent of climate change into the abyss of social-justice identity politics represents the last gasp of a cause that has lost its vitality. Climate alarm is like a car alarm—a blaring noise people are tuning out.

…While opinion surveys find that roughly half of Americans regard climate change as a problem, the issue has never achieved high salience among the public, despite the drumbeat of alarm from the climate campaign. Americans have consistently ranked climate change the 19th or 20th of 20 leading issues on the annual Pew Research Center poll, while Gallup’s yearly survey of environmental issues typically ranks climate change far behind air and water pollution. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

New York Spent $15 Million to Build a Film Hub. It Just Sold for $1. – A $15 million state-built film studio outside Syracuse, which promised to produce hundreds of jobs and bring Hollywood’s glitter to Central New York, hit an inglorious milestone on Friday with its sale to a new corporation set up by Onondaga County to manage it.

The price? $1.

The flop of the Central New York Film Hub, built by frequent and generous donors to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo who are facing federal corruption charges, had been presaged almost since its announcement in 2014, when the governor wondered aloud the miracle of the concept.

“Who would have ever figured: Hollywood comes to Onondaga, right?” Mr. Cuomo said. “You would have never guessed. But it has.”
It actually never did.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat facing re-election in the fall, had promised that the project would create “at least 350 new high-tech jobs” and would be “a hot spot” for cutting-edge filmmaking techniques. But beyond temporary construction jobs, sporadic shoots and a lucrative contract for its builder, COR Development, the film hub has been anything but a success. It sat rarely used and became the subject of lawsuits by COR, which said the state owed it back rent. Read More > in The New York Times

Supreme Court Rules for Baker in Gay Wedding Cake Case But Carefully Avoids Central Debate – The Supreme Court ruled 7–2 this morning that the State of Colorado erred in punishing a baker for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. But the approach the court took guarantees that this debate is far from over.

The court did not rule that cake-baking is a protected form of free expression. Instead it said the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) showed open hostility to the baker’s attempt to assert his religious beliefs as a reason to reject the couple’s request, and that the state thus did not neutrally enforce its antidiscrimination law.

In Masterpiece Bakeshop Ltd. vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, bakery owner Jake Phillips refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple because he had religious objections to same-sex marriage. Colorado ruled that this counted as discrimination against gay people, which violates state law. Phillips countered that he would sell any other baked goods to gay people, but he wouldn’t make or sell goods for same-sex wedding ceremonies, because he felt as though he was being compelled to support an idea (that gay marriage is valid) that he did not believe.

The court punted on the issue of whether creating a wedding cake (or other wedding-related goods) is a form of free expression. Instead the justices ruled that the CCRC took a dismissive, hostile approach toward Phillips’ religious-based objections when compared to other kinds of cases that came before them.

A completely different case that trolled those who wanted to force the baker to make the cake ended up being relevant to the decision. As the Masterpiece Cakeshop controversy was playing out in 2015, a gentleman named Bill Jack went to another Colorado bakery to demand a cake that was decorated with text opposing same-sex marriage. When the bakery refused, he also filed a complaint. His was rejected, with the CRCC concluding that a bakery couldn’t be forced to write messages that it found offensive or objectionable. The CRCC appeared to treat the nature of the objections very differently. Read More > at Reason

What Is Li-Fi? The New Alternative To Wi-Fi – Philips Lighting just unveiled a small coup. It’s providing internet to an entire office in France with nothing but its lights. That’s right, a company known for LED bulbs and colorful mood lighting is expanding from interior decorator to serious IT player.

Philips is working with a technology called Li-Fi, an alternative to the Wi-Fi signals we’ve used in our laptops and smartphones for years now. You may not have heard of Li-Fi yet. But you will a lot, soon. Here’s everything you need to know about the technology, and how it could impact the design of your home, office, and gadgets to come.

Li-Fi stands for Light-Fidelity. The term was first coined in 2011 in a TED Talk of all places by the University of Edinburgh professor Harald Haas, who had been developing it around that time. It’s been under further development by various researchers in the years since.

Li-Fi is basically just high-speed wireless data transmission . . . through light. That light can come from something as simple as a desktop lamp. The idea is that Li-Fi is built into the functional lighting that you’d want to turn on indoors anyway–except it’s also carrying your data.

The light sends data through really fast flickering that the human eye can’t detect. The flickering, also known as “refresh rate” in the world of displays, occurs at 10 times the speed of the light coming from TVs and computer monitors. In other words, you won’t notice it. Read More > at Co.Design

They found 1 opium poppy field. Then 7 more. Now it’s the largest bust in California history – In mid-May, authorities discovered an acre of poppy fields in Monterey County.

By the end of the month, they carried out the largest known opium poppy bust in California history, according to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office.

“We know it’s the biggest grow in California history and we believe it could be the biggest in the nation,” sheriff’s spokesman Cmdr. John Thornburg told the Monterey County Herald.

Officials destroyed 34,386 pounds, or 17 tons, of mature opium poppies, the sheriff’s office said, and officials found more than 500 pounds of opium poppy pods at one of the locations.

In total, about 160,000 opium poppy plants were destroyed and the total land area where all these plants were growing was 5.6 acres, the sheriff’s office said. The poppies can be used to make opioids, including heroin.

The poppy grows were all on private property, according to the Monterey County Herald, and officials got search warrants and have been in contact with the property owners. Read More > in the San Luis Obispo Tribune

Facebook Gave Device Makers Deep Access to Data on Users and Friends – As Facebook sought to become the world’s dominant social media service, it struck agreements allowing phone and other device makers access to vast amounts of its users’ personal information.

Facebook has reached data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device makers — including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung — over the last decade, starting before Facebook apps were widely available on smartphones, company officials said. The deals allowed Facebook to expand its reach and let device makers offer customers popular features of the social network, such as messaging, “like” buttons and address books.

But the partnerships, whose scope has not previously been reported, raise concerns about the company’s privacy protections and compliance with a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. Facebook allowed the device companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders. Some device makers could retrieve personal information even from users’ friends who believed they had barred any sharing, The New York Times found. Read More > in The New York Times

Keeping California’s Great Solar Boom In Perspective – the California solar boom has surely been an impressive sight. In fact, the state now accounts for 40-45% of all solar power generated in the country. State regulators recently mandated that all new homes starting in 2020 must have rooftop solar. While there are problems with the law (“California’s solar rooftop mandate doesn’t make economic sense”), the focus here is a little different and more upbeat.

Moreover, solar is at the heart of California’s electricity plan, a state that has the most ambitious Renewable Portfolio Standard of 50% by 2030. And there are now calls to go 100% renewable by 2045.

So the question: how relevant are California’s solar boom and electricity plan for other U.S. states?

One of the biggest mistakes that the previous U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made under President Obama was its completely unrealistic over reliance on California as the example for other states to follow in developing their own plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the Clean Power Plan rule that the Trump administration subsequently pulled back.

Let me be clear: California cannot be the model for other states.

Overall, thanks to special characteristics such as mild weather and smaller homes with more people, Californians use about half of the electricity that other Americans do. In short, there is an inherent ability to need less electricity in California, which explains why, despite California having home power rates 40-50% higher than the national average, monthly utility bills are actually lower. A “when you need less of something you are able to pay more for it” sort of thing.

Thanks to mild weather, less than 60% of homes in California use air conditioning, when in Texas and Florida, for instance, nearly 100% do. The U.S average is around 80%. Central cooling can easily devour 4,000 to 5,000 kWh of power per summer.

And remember: “Air conditioning is a matter of life and death,” especially for our seniors, so its use must be encouraged where it gets hot.

As for California’s rooftop solar mandate, what you’re thinking is correct. The Golden State California has a obvious advantage: its second to Arizona as “the sunniest U.S. state.” Read More > at Forbes

Press Democrat Poll finds sharp division in Sonoma County over cannabis cultivation – Sonoma County voters embraced marijuana legalization when it was on the ballot two years ago, but now that it’s a reality — a rapidly evolving industry and source of ongoing dispute — nearly half of those surveyed say they don’t want cannabis cultivation anywhere near their homes, according to The Press Democrat Poll.

A substantial plurality, 46 percent, of poll respondents said they “would not feel safe with a cannabis farm within any proximity to my residence,” while only 19 percent said they would feel safe with a farm adjacent to their residence.

The strong not-in-my-backyard sentiment mirrors a contentious debate — tinged with fear of violent crime and resentment of intrusive pot operations — over the county’s effort to strike a balance between maintaining and taxing a burgeoning industry emerging from the shadows of prohibition and minimizing the impact on rural neighborhoods.

…Zeroing in on one of the most controversial issues, The Press Democrat Poll asked respondents where they thought cannabis should be grown and more than one-third, 36 percent, said “outside, but only in agricultural areas,” a condition that somewhat matches current county regulations.

Fewer than a quarter favored “in warehouses” (23 percent) and “anywhere outside” (22 percent), while 12 percent said “all cultivation should be prohibited.”

Under Proposition 64, cities and counties have the right to regulate or ban commercial cultivation, while adults have a right to grow up to six marijuana plants per parcel indoors and local governments can only put restrictions on outdoor home gardens. Read More > in The Press Democrat

Some Inconvenient Truths About Recycling – It has become an article of faith in the U.S. that recycling is a good thing. But evidence is piling up that recycling is a waste of time and money, and a bit of a fraud.

The New York Times recently reported that, unknown to most families who spend hours separating garbage into little recycling bins, much of the stuff ends up in a landfill anyway.

One big reason: China has essentially shut the door to U.S. recyclables.

The Times notes that about a third of recyclables gets shipped abroad, with China the biggest importer. But starting this year, China imposed strict rules on what it will accept, effectively banning most of it. That, the Times reports, has forced many recycling companies who can’t find other takers to dump recyclables into landfills.

Bloomberg says Massachusetts has issued dozens of landfill waivers so recyclable material can be dumped in them. The Florida Sun Sentinel reports that in Broward County, Fla., up to 30% of the stuff residents put in recycling bins ends up in landfills.

…In addition, the market for recyclable materials has collapsed as supply increases and demand subsides. Manufacturers use less material, recycled or otherwise, to make things like bottles and cans. And lower oil prices make it more economical to make products fresh, rather than from scraps.

As a result, prices for paper, plastic, glass and scrap aluminum have plunged. In some cases to zero.

But this isn’t even the worst of it. As John Tierney explained in an exhaustive analysis of recycling programs, also published by the New York Times, recycling is not only costly, but doesn’t do much to help the environment.

The claim that recycling is essential to avoid running out of landfill space is hogwash, since all the stuff Americans throw away for the next 1,000 years would fit into “one-tenth of 1% of land available for grazing,” Tierney says. Read More > at Investor’s Daily

Nearly half of Bay Area residents want out, poll shows. The reason why is no surprise – The idea of a Bay Area “exodus” is no joke, and appears to be growing more vivid and real with each year.

A poll released Sunday by a local advocacy group showed that 46 percent of Bay Area residents surveyed said they want to move out of the area within the next few years. That number is up from 34 percent in 2016 and 40 percent last year in the same poll.

The reason for the urge to leave might be pretty obvious, at least to anyone knowledgeable on California: It’s just too expensive. Cost of living (45 percent) and housing prices (27 percent) were the main reasons cited among the 461 residents who said they want out.

On top of that, 42 percent of survey respondents called housing costs/availability the most important problem facing the area, beating out traffic (18 percent) and poverty/homelessness (14 percent). Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Did exactly 4,645 people die in Hurricane Maria? Nope. – Few academic studies have received as much media coverage as a new report, published by the New England Journal of Medicine, that the death toll in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria was much higher than official estimates of 64.

Most of the articles on the study funded by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health focused on one particular number: 4,645 “excess deaths” from Sept. 20 through Dec. 31, 2017. The report stirred outrage and anger.

But there’s a problem: This is not a verified number, unlike body counts in wars. The Harvard study offers only an estimate – a midpoint along a broad range of possibilities. It is not based on death records, only estimates of deaths from people who were interviewed in a survey.

In effect, the researchers took one number – 15 deaths identified from a survey of 3,299 households – and extrapolated that to come up with 4,645 deaths across the island. That number came with a very large caveat, clearly identified in the report, but few news media accounts bothered to explain the nuances. Read More > in The Washington Post

Number One in Poverty, California Isn’t Our Most Progressive State — It’s Our Most Racist One – In the 2013 science fiction film, “Elysium,” the rich have fled to a luxury satellite orbiting Earth while the poor toil in dangerous conditions below. Life in California today differs in degree, not in kind, from that dystopian vision.

…Homeless encampments of hundreds of people have cropped up around the state in the last two years. Occasionally, they are ravaged by hepatitis A, which killed 20 people last year. In Silicon Valley, 132 people died on the street in 2016 — up from 85 in 2015. In San Diego, 117 people died, up from 56.

…Where 56 percent of Californians could afford a middle-class home in 2012, in the third quarter of 2017, just 28 percent could.

…have blithely presided over a significant decline in the academic performance of black and Latino eighth graders relative to their counterparts in other states. Today, less than 40 percent of non-white and non-Asian students meet state educational standards.

The reason is a combination of factors, including lack of funding, lack of accountability, and a high rate of non-English speakers. When the cost of living is taken into account, California spends less on K-12 education than all but four other states.

…Meanwhile, the amount California spends on prisons actually increased by a half billion dollars …

As a consequence, California today spends more per prisoner than any other state — $65,000 annually — which happens to be the same amount it costs to send a high school graduate to Stanford University for a year.

…California’s high energy prices and regulatory burden result in the state having fewer high-paying manufacturing jobs relative to other states.

Between 2011 and 2017, California’s electricity rates rose an astonishing five times more than they did nationally, undermining the ability of the state to compete for manufacturing jobs which pay $96,711 per year on average — $40,000 more than the state’s average non-farm income. Read More > at Forbes

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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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