Sunday Reading 06/24/18


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.

Americans: Much Misinformation, Bias, Inaccuracy in News – Building off the findings from their recent American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy report, Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation conducted a follow-up survey to probe more deeply into Americans’ views of bias, inaccuracy and misinformation in news reporting.

The web survey of 1,440 Gallup Panel members sought to quantify exactly how much problematic information people believe they encounter in traditional news media as well as on social media.

Overall, U.S. adults estimate that 62% of the news they read in newspapers, see on television or hear on the radio is biased. They think the news media mostly provide accurate information, but still estimate that 44% of what they see is inaccurate. And they believe that more than a third of the news they see in these channels is misinformation — false or inaccurate information that is presented as if it were true.

Americans are even more critical of the news they see on social media. They believe 80% of it is biased, 64% is inaccurate and 65% is misinformation. Read More > at Gallup

Supreme Court Botches Wayfair Ruling, Putting Small Online Businesses at Risk of New Taxes – Small online businesses and consumers around the country will suffer the most from the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday in South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. It’s now up to Congress to protect internet retailers from taxes imposed by states other than their own.

The court essentially ruled that all 50 states and the tens of thousands of local tax jurisdictions are now permitted to reach outside their borders and require out-of-state internet retailers to collect and remit local sales taxes.

In its 5-4 decision, the court ruled against the Boston-based online home goods retailer Wayfair, which challenged a South Dakota law that now requires it to collect the state’s sales taxes on goods sold to customers in the state, even though Wayfair has no physical connection—or political recourse—in South Dakota.

Twenty-five years ago, in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, the Supreme Court threw out exactly this sort of tax scheme, ruling that a state cannot require a business to collect sales taxes for it unless the business has a physical presence—such as a store, warehouse, or employees—in that state.

In a world without the protection of the physical presence standard, every small business that sells online can now be subject to the more than 10,000 different taxing jurisdictions—each with their own rates and rules about what is taxable. Read More > at The Daily Signal

EXCLUSIVE: NFL legend Brett Favre would rather be remembered for ENDING youth tackle football than his Hall of Fame career if it means saving kids from the head traumas he endured for decades – His immense impact on the game would appear complete, but for one last thing: Brett Favre is going to end youth tackle football in America.

‘I think it’s going to take someone who has poured his blood, sweat and tears into it,’ Favre said.
Favre has given more than plasma, though.

He may have sacrificed his brain for football, and now, after what he estimates are ‘thousands’ of concussions, Favre’s personal mission is saving children from a lifetime of health issues connected to one of the country’s most indelible pastimes.

He is, unfortunately, an undeniable expert on the subject.

That’s why Favre and other retired athletes such as former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner and U.S. women’s soccer star Abby Wambach have spent recent months raising awareness of the dangers of head injuries as spokespeople for Prevacus, a prescription drug currently in its testing phase that was designed to treat the long-term effects of concussions. (All three are also investors)

…In April, researchers at VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine found that among 211 players who were posthumously diagnosed with CTE, those who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 suffered an earlier onset of symptoms (typically cognitive, behavior, and mood issues) by an average of 13 years.

…He’s also supporting efforts like a proposed Illinois bill forbidding anyone under 12 from playing tackle football. The Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE – named after the former Chicago Bears safety who committed suicide after a lengthy battle with the disease – does not yet have enough support to pass in Illinois.

Still, Favre thinks similar legislation is needed at the federal level. Read More > in the Daily Mail

As Mexico Moves to Political Left, American Relationship Put to Test – Leading in the polls by more than 20 points, Andrés Manuel López Obrador has pledged to bring an end to endemic corruption and violence, the two most critical issues in the campaign. Known colloquially as “Amlo,” the former mayor of Mexico City and twice-failed presidential candidate stands in stark contrast to the polished establishment candidates of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and the National Action Party, the only two parties to have held the presidency in Mexico’s modern history.

A persistent critic of “neoliberalism,” Amlo longs for a pre-NAFTA, state-run economy. He is skeptical of U.S. advice and influence and rejects a leadership role for Mexico in Latin America or the world. Leaving aside the general wrecking ball effects of a Trump-Amlo personality clash, as López Obrador is also fond of provocative putdowns, there are at least four specific ways the relationship may go into reverse.

…Mexico has been actively helping control the flow of Central American migrants across its own southern border. It has been making slow but steady improvements to its very inefficient justice sector, in which 93 percent of crimes go unreported. That is partially a result of U.S.-funded training for everything from police investigators to prosecutors, as well as defense attorneys and judges. Amlo has mused about an amnesty for cartel leaders and some drug legalization. Given that the United States already gets 90 percent of its heroin and massive amounts of synthetic opioids from Mexico, this shift could result in even more hard drugs in the United States.

…An Amlo government would reverse Mexico’s active support of democracy and human rights in the region. López Obrador and his pick for Mexican foreign minister have said they will return the country to a policy of “noninterventionism,” meaning silence on Venezuela and Cuba. This would be a setback for Latin America, given Mexico’s leadership on protesting Venezuela’s slide into tyranny and famine and the useful role it could play in an eventual democratic transition in Cuba. Mexico had also been considering participating in UN peacekeeping missions. Under López Obrador, no such thing would happen. Read More > from the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Get ready: Technology is going to end higher education as we know it – Marylhurst College, a 125-year-old private school in Oregon, announced this month that it will close its doors at the end of 2018. In The Human Advantage, I predict that in the coming years many more will follow.

Why? First, our current system costs way too much. The price tag (adjusted for inflation) has more than tripled in the last thirty years. Student debt is now $1.3 trillion dollars.

Second, the quality of scholarship is declining. Ninety-eight percent of research published in humanities journals is not cited even once in the relevant literature. Meanwhile, more and more students are taught by underpaid adjunct instructors so that this research can be conducted.

Third, political correctness has tarnished the image of the college experience. Not all universities are oppressive, politically correct hothouses, but more than enough of them are. Far too many classrooms now resemble Maoist struggle sessions, rather than environments where actual learning takes place. As a result, many colleges provide neither a soul-expanding liberal arts education nor marketable skills.

Fourth, Americans are having fewer children. That means fewer traditional college students.

Finally, and decisively, new technologies are bypassing the old way of doing college — technologies that can deliver the goods at little to no cost. Universities ignore this at their own peril. Read More > in The Washington Examiner

Bay Area: What happens if the gas tax is repealed? – From Oakland to San Jose, pavement crews are already at work repairing roads and tackling long-deferred maintenance of city streets. Caltrans contractors earlier this month started grinding and repaving a 104-mile swath of Interstate 880 in the East Bay, a freeway one commuter called “the crappiest in all of California.”

All that work is partially funded from the state’s new gas taxes and registration fees, which will generate more than $3.1 billion for Bay Area highway repairs and public transit upgrades over the next several years, along with nearly $496 million cities and counties are slated to receive this year to repair local streets.

But now, with the release of a Los Angeles Times and USC poll last month showing more than half of California voters would repeal those taxes and fees, it’s looking more likely that many of the newly funded projects are at risk of being delayed or eliminated.

If it’s successful, roughly half of the recently-approved highway improvements and public transit projects in California could lose funding in a battle that’s shaping up as major statewide campaign issue. Cities and counties would also see their newly-approved funding for road repairs slashed by half. Read More > in The Mercury News

The World’s First Robot-Made Burger Is About to Hit the Bay Area – On June 27, the world’s first robot-crafted burger will roll off a conveyor belt in San Francisco and into the hands of the public.

You could call it the freshest burger on Earth.

The product, from Bay Area-based Creator, a culinary robotics company, is assembled and cooked in a machine that contains 20 computers, 350 sensors, and 50 actuator mechanisms. It does everything from slicing and toasting the brioche bun to adding toppings (to order) and seasoning and cooking the patties, all in five minutes. The meat is ground to order—why it’s touted as so fresh—and sourced from premium ingredients. It emerges from the machine piled with tomatoes and lettuce, sprinkled with seasonings, and drizzled with sauces, at which point it’s transferred by human hands to the customer. The price: $6. Read More > in Bloomberg

Voters Blame Parents, Not Feds, For Border Children Crisis – Most voters blame the parents of the separated children at the border for the latest illegal immigration crisis, not the federal government.

When families are arrested and separated after attempting to enter the United States illegally, 54% of Likely U.S. Voters say the parents are more to blame for breaking the law. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that only 35% believe the federal government is more to blame for enforcing the law. Eleven percent (11%) are not sure. Read More > at Rasmussen Reports

Left Coast Lawlessness – The anarchy and disorder dominating progressive cities across the West Coast recently hit a new low in Seattle. King County officials are looking to roll out a “safe injection van,” a legal venue at which addicts could shoot up illegal drugs unhindered and “safely.” The first of its kind in the United States, the van would manage to undermine further the rule of law while also doing little to help addicts. Seattle’s urban decay goes deeper, though, with skyrocketing rates of homelessness, an explosion in opioid usage and deaths, and spikes in violent crime.

Seattle’s predicament is emblematic of the broader crises faced by many progressive West Coast cities, where local leaders have forced law enforcement to take a hands-off approach to policing unsanctioned tent cities and vagrancy at the expense of public safety and health. San Francisco, long considered a model of progressive urban policy, is plagued by filth, chaos, and public-safety hazards. Local leaders plan to spend an incredible $305 million on combatting homelessness for the current fiscal year alone, but disorder spreads as the city fails to enforce the rule of law and basic sanitary measures. Block-by-block surveillance reveals the deterioration of downtown San Francisco. Of 153 city blocks surveyed, 41 contained used drug needles and 96 had human feces present. Tourists are dismayed to leave their downtown hotels, to be confronted by mentally ill and aggressive homeless people who are taking control of the streets. University of California Berkeley professor Lee Riley, an expert on infectious disease, observes that some of San Francisco’s streets are dirtier than Third World slums.

Portland, Oregon, has continued to experience rapid urban decay in recent years, and the consequences for businesses and residents have been dramatic. In 2016, Columbia Sportswear, a major retailer, relocated a considerable number of its staff to downtown Portland. A little over a year later, in a scathing opinion piece in the Oregonian, the company’s CEO voiced his regret over the decision. Employees reported repeated criminal offenses, “daily defecation” in the store’s front lobby, and fears of physical violence. One female employee ran into moving traffic to escape a transient individual, screaming that he was going to kill her. Read More > at City Journal

About that Time Magazine “crying girl” cover … – The picture of a crying Honduran girl has become the symbol of family separation outcomes from border enforcement. The picture ran far and wide in the media, so much so that Time Magazine put her on the cover of its latest issue. Time posed her with Donald Trump in an apparently heartless stare down at her, complete with the words, “Welcome to America.” Time even turned it into a GIF

There’s only one thing wrong with this take — the little girl was never separated from her family at all. As CBS reports this morning, the little girl was crying because her mother got caught at eleven o’clock at night crossing illegally into the US, and — shocker of shockers — was “tired and thirsty”

…In fact, the Daily Mail caught up with the girl’s father, who’s none too happy with the mother for endangering the little girl in the first place:

Denis Javier Varela Hernandez, 32, said that he had not heard from his wife Sandra, 32, who was with his two-year-old daughter Yanela Denise, for nearly three weeks until he saw the image of them being apprehended in Texas.
In an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com, Hernandez, who lives in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, says that he was told yesterday that his wife and child are being detained at a family residential center in Texas but are together and are doing ‘fine.’ …

He revealed that his wife had previously mentioned her wish to go to the United States for a ‘better future’ but did not tell him nor any of their family members that she was planning to make the trek.

‘I didn’t support it. I asked her, why? Why would she want to put our little girl through that? But it was her decision at the end of the day.’

As it turns out, the woman left three other children back in Honduras:

‘I don’t have any resentment for my wife, but I do think it was irresponsible of her to take the baby with her in her arms because we don’t know what could happen.’
The couple has three other children, son Wesly, 14, and daughters Cindy, 11, and Brianna, six.

Read More > At HotAir

Report: Nearly 400 Million Civilian-Owned Guns in America – A report published this month found civilians in the United States own almost 400 million guns, outpacing every other civilian population, police, or military force in the world.

The Small Arms Survey estimates there are 393,300,000 civilian-owned firearms in the United States. The survey, performed by the Graduate Institute of Geneva, estimated the United States military has about 4.5 million firearms. It put the number of firearms owned by police throughout the United States at just over 1 million.

That means American civilians own nearly 100 times as many firearms as the U.S. military and nearly 400 times as many as law enforcement. Read More > in The Washington Free Beacon

How Much Money Do You Save by Cooking at Home? – Intuitively, we all know there are benefits to cooking at home. You can use healthier ingredients, set portions to a reasonable size, avoid food allergies, and of course you can save money compared to ordering restaurant delivery or using a meal kit service.

But just how much money do you save by cooking at home? We decided to analyze our recipe data to find out the true cost of cooking at home from scratch, compared to delivery from a restaurant or a meal kit service.

We analyzed data from Priceonomics customer wellio, a platform that breakds down millions of recipes into single ingredients and matching those to grocery items from local stores. That allows us to measure the ingredient cost for a wide variety of recipes. For 86 popular dinner recipes, we decided to look at the average cost per serving of cooking from scratch and compare it to the cost per serving of ordering from a restaurant or a meal kit delivery service.

We found on average, it is almost five times more expensive to order delivery from a restaurant than it is to cook at home. And if you’re using a meal kit service as a shortcut to a home cooked meal, it’s a bit more affordable, but still almost three times as expensive as cooking from scratch.

…At over $20 per serving on average, a restaurant delivered meal is almost three times as expensive as a meal kit and five times as expensive as cooking at home from scratch. Obviously when you cook at home, you’ll spend more time but you usually end up with a healthier meal because you’re the one to decide what exactly goes into it. Read More > at Priceonomics

Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News – In today’s fast-paced and complex information environment, news consumers must make rapid-fire judgments about how to internalize news-related statements – statements that often come in snippets and through pathways that provide little context. A new Pew Research Center survey of 5,035 U.S. adults examines a basic step in that process: whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it.

The findings from the survey, conducted between Feb. 22 and March 8, 2018, reveal that even this basic task presents a challenge. The main portion of the study, which measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. Even more revealing is that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion. Read More > from the Pew Research Center

You can now find marijuana laws for every California city using your Amazon Alexa – Navigating California’s confusing patchwork of marijuana laws just got easier.

If you own an Amazon Echo product, you can now ask Alexa – the brain behind Amazon’s smart-speaker platform – to tell you the rules for any city or county in California.

State law gives local governments full authority to regulate or ban most marijuana activity within their borders. So reporters from this news organization spent months collecting policy information from all 482 cities and 58 counties in California. We then gave each city and county a score that represents how lenient (higher score) or strict (lower score) that jurisdiction is when it comes to personal cultivation and marijuana business.

All of that information is in a searchable database that’s available on our website and on our marijuana-focused platform, TheCannifornian.com. And, as of June 19, that database is accessible simply by talking to your Amazon Echo device. Read More > at The Press-Enterprise

Budget trailer bills have become Christmas trees – As detailed in this space a few days ago, the Legislature is using a budget “trailer bill” to deprive voters of vital information about local government and school bond issues.

The legislation, drafted without public hearings or other input, would suspend for two years a new law, which took effect on January 1, requiring proposed bond measures to reveal to voters how they would affect property tax bills.

The local officials who sought the suspension apparently believe that revealing the tax consequences to voters would make them less likely to vote for bond issues.

Sadly, however, it is not an isolated example of how the Capitol’s politicians are misusing trailer bills, meant to implement the state budget, to enact far-reaching policies that have virtually nothing to do with the budget, and without any of the traditional safeguards, such as waiting periods and public hearings. Read More > at CALmatters

GE Kicked Out of Dow, the Last 19th Century Member Removed – General Electric Co. suffered a crowning ignominy Tuesday as overseers of the Dow Jones Industrial Average kicked the beleaguered company out of the stock gauge it has inhabited for more than a century.

Once the world’s most valuable company, GE will be replaced by Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., the Deerfield, Illinois-based drugstore chain created in a 2014 merger. The change will take effect prior to the open of trading next Tuesday. Down 26 percent, GE is the worst performer in the Dow in 2018, as it was last year, as well.

The change means the last original Dow member has finally been removed from the benchmark formed in 1896, with GE joining the likes of Distilling & Cattle Feeding, National Lead, Tennessee Coal & Iron and U.S. Rubber. GE briefly left the index, but has been in it continuously since 1907.

GE has also changed. It’s lost almost $140 billion of market value in the last year, spurring a plan to shed $20 billion of assets in a bid to realign businesses and cut costs as the company grapples with debt challenges and flagging demand. Chief Executive Officer John Flannery, who took over for Jeffrey Immelt last year, said in May there is no “quick fix” to the company’s problems. Read More > at Bloomberg

Sports Tickets, Other Freebies for FBI Leakers Raise ‘Bribery’ Issues, Legal Experts Say – The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is investigating FBI leakers, as legal experts say revelations about gifts in an inspector general’s report this week raise new legal and ethical issues.

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General noted that “dozens” of FBI agents had contact with the news media, and many were taking sports tickets, golf outings, and other gifts from reporters to whom they were leaking unauthorized information about a criminal investigation.

The FBI’s Office of Integrity and Compliance discourages the acceptance by agents of anything of value, said Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director.

“Accepting something from someone who clearly expects something back has the whiff of a quid pro quo,” Hosko told The Daily Signal.

“Any agreement for something of value in exchange for information—particularly, information related to an investigation—would constitute a corrupt relationship and warrants the strongest sanction,” he added.

The inspector general’s report about the FBI’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s private email server scandal, released on Thursday, said:

We have profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review.

In addition, we identified instances where FBI employees improperly received benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events.

We will separately report on those investigations as they are concluded, consistent with the Inspector General Act, other applicable federal statutes, and OIG policy.

Read More > at The Daily Signal

Sears Is Closing More Stores — and This Mall Operator Is Happy About It – At the end of 2018’s first quarter, once-thriving retailer Sears was operating 381 fewer stores than it was a year ago. And the company’s footprint is continuing to shrink. Sears announced more closures recently, and it looks like a total of 275 Sears and Kmart stores could close during 2018 alone.

As a result, many malls across the U.S. are about to be left with massive amounts of vacant square footage, and as a result, many mall operators are getting hammered.

This is particularly true when it comes to lower-end (“Class B” and “Class C”) mall operators like CBL & Associates,  just to name one example. CBL operates Class B and C malls in mid-sized markets, and a staggering 60% of its properties have a Sears or J.C. Penney (which isn’t in much better shape) occupying an anchor location.

Because this is going to lead to lots of empty square footage, it will also likely lead to rent concessions made to remaining tenants to entice them to stay. And many analysts believe rent concessions may not be enough — store closures throughout CBL’s malls could become widespread.

…One thing is looking more and more certain: The old mall business model of three or four department stores as anchors, a cookie-cutter food court, and the same collection of stores just doesn’t work in the new retail landscape. Shoppers can get most of the same items online — and often for cheaper prices. And with their savings, they can eat somewhere a bit nicer than the pizza stand in the food court.

While it’s still early in the transition, the first signs are pointing toward the success of mixed-use mall properties. Entertainment-oriented tenants like movie theaters, family amusement centers, and more are inherently immune to online competition. A variety of modern dining options gives people more reasons to come to the mall. And hotels, apartments, and offices create a natural source of foot traffic. Read More > at Motley Fool

A Worrying New Energy Chart Shows The World Is Not Even Close to Kicking Coal – Fair warning: If you are one of those “liberal, tree-hugging hippies” who wants the world to move away from burning fossil fuels, these graphs are going to depress you.

Because it appears that despite the recent and extraordinary growth in renewable energy forms, the world just can’t seem to quit coal.

Three charts, produced and published by the oil and energy giant BP, which releases a Statistical Review of World Energy every year, has revealed that after several years of free fall, the global consumption and production of coal is making a comeback.

The growth in coal consumption comes mostly from the developing world, accounting for nearly 80 percent of the increase. Of all these countries, India’s consumption is rising the fastest, however, after three years of decline, China’s coal consumption is also on the up and up.

And, even though US consumption of coal has fallen in recent years, America’s coal producers are feeding off the world’s growing demand for coal. Read More > at Science Alert

Less than 50% of Victims Report Crime, Victimization Survey Says – According to estimates by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2016, only 42% of all violent crimes and 36% of property crimes were reported to police. Broken down further, the statistics were as follows: Aggravated assault (58%); robbery (54%); rape or sexual assault (23%); stranger violence (45%); domestic violence (48%); intimate party violence (47%) and simple assault (38%). For property crimes, a mere 30% of thefts, and 50% of residential burglaries were reported to police. The most reported crime was auto theft at (80%).

Equally disturbing was the finding that only 10% of victims of violent crime received any support services to help their physical and emotional recovery. For those who suffered an injury during a violent crime, the rate for services was only slightly higher, with 13% of those victims reporting receiving support services. These figures are important because not only do 70% of violent crime victims report significant socioemotional distress associated with the victimization, “victims who receive services are more likely to receive follow-up from the criminal justice system including contact from a prosecutor, signed a complaint, and the offender arrested.”

When you combine underreporting of crime with the clearance rate of reported crimes, the likelihood of getting away with a crime in the United States is quite high. In 2016, only 45% of reported violent crimes and 18% of reported property crimes resulted in an arrest. The BJS has stated that a goal of their 2016 survey redesign is to create reports which will help local governments understand the gaps and shortcoming of their individual criminal justice systems, as well as who is at risk of victimization, and which types of crimes go unreported. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Will stronger rent control spread across California? Here’s what you need to know. – California voters are set to vote this November on an initiative that would allow California cities and counties to adopt stronger rent control laws, which limit how much landlords are allowed to raise rents each year.

It would repeal a 23-year-old state law that sets tight limits on all forms of rent control across California.

The 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act said any local rent control passed after February 1995 would not apply to large amounts of housing stock, including new apartment buildings occupied after that date, single-family homes, duplexes and condominiums. Local politicians and activists seeking to pass new laws could only limit rent increases for tenants living in housing built before that year.

Repeal would allow cities and counties seeking to adopt new rent control to apply limits on rent increases to any housing of their choice. It would also allow jurisdictions to change or strengthen existing local rent control laws.

Costa-Hawkins also gave landlords more power over what they could charge for their rentals. It says after a tenant vacates a rent-controlled apartment, the landlord is permitted to adjust the rent to market rate prices, setting a new price floor for the next tenant. Repeal of the state law would allow jurisdictions to change that and set more restrictive policies.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office found in an analysis of the initiative that repeal would likely lead to more rent control, lower rents and increased stability for tenants, but the wider economic impact to the state would be great.

It said construction of new rentals could decline, property owners could remove their units from the market, and the value of housing could fall. That could lead to a decline in property taxes, a major source of revenue for local governments amounting to about $60 billion annually. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Bay Area subway and rail costs: Why are they among the highest in the world? – Shortly before the Bay Area appeared on lists of the worst traffic in the world, the region set an ambitious plan to move millions of daily car trips to public transportation by 2040. But local transit agencies pay some of the highest subway and train construction costs in the world, which will limit the impact of $21 billion the nine counties pledged to expand the transit network.

“If your costs are higher you will build less,” says Alon Levy, a mathematician turned transportation expert (and Curbed contributor). His simple cost-per-mile comparisons of subway projects expose the astronomical costs of building urban rail in the United States.

When the Salesforce Transit Center opens in San Francisco this summer, a new tunnel will be needed to connect it to the current Caltrain terminus in SoMa. The project, known as the Downtown Extension, is estimated to cost $3 billion for each mile of subway, six times more than the average outside the United States.

…In many countries, when passengers arrive at a train station they can step onto a waiting bus for the next leg of leg of their journey. But in the Bay Area, when a rider steps off a train operated by BART or Caltrain, a wait of nearly an hour may be required for a connection to a bus from another agency, like Muni, AC Transit, or SamTrans.

In the Bay Area, an unusually large number of transit agencies, 28 in total, often fail to coordinate routes and schedules. This leads to a slow and clumsy experience that many would-be riders avoid.

This disorganization is costly too. As transit agencies compete for riders, they spend extravagantly on new infrastructure that syncs poorly with the larger regional network. BART’s extension to Millbrae Station offers an example. Read More > at San Francisco Curbed

‘Water Tax’ Debate Continues After California Budget Passage – The California budget doesn’t include it, but Gov. Jerry Brown is not done pushing for a new charge on water users, which would fund clean drinking water in rural areas of the state that currently have unsafe tap water.

About a dollar a month for most users would help pay for clean tap water for 200,000 Californians in such communities. Passage of the charge would require approval by two-thirds of state lawmakers.

Community groups, the agriculture industry, and major companies like Coca-Cola have lined up in favor of the proposal, while the state’s larger water districts say it’s a bad precedent to tax a necessity such as water, and that the state’s booming general fund can easily cover the cost. Read More > at Capitol Public Radio

CVS Health will now deliver prescriptions to your home – The nation’s second-largest drugstore chain says it also will make home deliveries of other items, like allergy medicines, vitamins or household products. The service will cost $4.99 for deliveries made in one or two days.

The drugstore chain said Tuesday that it’s expanding same-day deliveries, for a higher fee, to Boston, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, DC. It began those deliveries in New York late last year.

Drugstores and other retailers have been pushing more customer-friendly services in recent years to hold Amazon.com at bay. The online retailer offers members same-day deliveries of goods typically sold in drugstores in some places.

CVS also processes more than a billion prescriptions annually as a pharmacy benefits manager, or PBM, and it provides mail-order deliver through that business. But a company representative has said the delivery service would be a faster alternative and have a wider reach than mail-order.

The drugstore chain has tried to position itself as more of a health care provider. Last December, it said it would buy the nation’s third-largest health insurer, Aetna Inc., for about $69 billion. Read More > at Daily Journal

Moderate Islam Falters in the Face of Silicon Valley Censorship – …In Silicon Valley, however, the thinking is currently very different. Social-media companies favor censorship, especially as a means to deal with the topical issues of “hate speech” and “fake news.” Facebook, for example, recently published its “community standards” policy on censoring “hate speech” in the wake of many months of bad press and public inquiries. The tech giant promises its users protection from attacks on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, and so on. Facebook even inadvertently released a proposed new feature that asked users whether each social-media post they encountered qualified as “hate speech.”

Facebook’s message is clear: Censorship is absolutely necessary, and we, the users, can be deputized to turn in those who break the rules.

By assuming the role of moderator for the opinions of its two billion users, Facebook is now in the extraordinary position of being the world’s top arbiter of acceptable speech. If we choose to accept that Silicon Valley should be tasked with censoring views that, in a public space, would be constitutionally protected, then the tech giant’s approach appears reasonable. But, as those outside the Silicon Valley bubble — including conservatives, anti-Islamist activists, and moderate Muslims — are increasingly finding, there are far too many examples of Silicon Valley applying its policies unreasonably.

…It is not just conservatives who are targeted. Long before the removal of my BBC debate on Islamism, moderate Muslims and critics of Islamist political ideology found themselves subject to bans and restrictions on social media for articulating reasonable ideas and criticisms that deserve debate rather than restriction.

Since July 2016, Google has censored videos published on YouTube by Prager U, a digital-media publisher that produces short videos discussing topical questions. Restricted videos included presentations about Islamism given by moderate Muslim voices, including by Kasim Hafeez, a British Muslim who now speaks out against the same Islamist anti-Semitism in which he once believed; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an anti-Islamist campaigner and women’s-rights activist; and Khurram Dara, a prominent American Muslim author. Read More > in the National Review

The mass shooting nobody will march against – In the pre-dawn hours yesterday, the nation experienced yet another mass shooting. One dead, 22 injured, including a 13-year-old boy. It took place at the crowded Art All Night Trenton festival in New Jersey…

One dead, 22 injured. That makes it one of the three or four largest mass shootings of 2018.

What you’re not seeing is a line of politicians waiting to be interviewed on cable news about this. You’re not seeing the Parkland kids calling for a march on the streets of Trenton. In fact, outside of the people who are directly impacted in the immediate area, we’re getting what’s mostly a collective shrug from the national press. Why?

The Art All Night Trenton shooting isn’t of much interest to the majority of the press because it includes all the wrong sort of people for a hot story with a political hook. First of all, pretty much everyone involved with the shooting was black. There were rival gangs mixing it up at the festival…

This was gang warfare. And it’s probably the most common form of gun violence seen in major cities on a yearly basis. But nobody is talking about it the way they will if a deranged white guy with a rifle commits the far more rare mass shooting of that type. There’s a gun violence problem here that could be addressed, making a serious difference. Read More > at Hot Air

Germany will fail 2020 climate goals, now eyes 2030 target – Germany will likely miss its goal of cutting emissions by 40 percent by 2020, the country’s environment minister said Monday, an embarrassing admission for a government that wants to lead the charge on limiting climate change.

Official estimates project that Europe’s biggest economy will trim its greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent or less by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. The next target, a decade later, calls for a 55 percent drop in emissions from 1990.

…Schulze also called for greater efforts to generate renewable energy and for an end to burning coal to produce electricity. The German government created an expert commission this month to study the politically sensitive issue of coal-fired power plants.

The December summit in Katowice, Poland, will provide the first true test of the world’s ability to implement the 2015 Paris climate accord. The treaty set a political target of keeping global warming significantly below 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, but left open how that would be achieved.

Scientists say the time to achieve the most ambitious goal — limiting a rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 — has almost passed.

Germany has pushed for international unity on upholding the Paris accord, particularly since U.S. President Donald Trump said he was pulling out of the deal his predecessor negotiated. But Berlin’s inability to take drastic steps has led environmental groups to question Germany’s credibility on the issue. Read More > from the Associated Press

It’s Going To Take More Than A Cheesecake Factory To Save The Mall Food Court – The restaurant industry was the perceived saving grace of shopping centers during the retail apocalypse. When mall owners were faced with the conundrum of how to fill vacant spaces, food and beverage concepts were a viable solution. But now even restaurants are facing a wave of closings due to overexpansion, especially midpriced casual chains like Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday.

While the formerly reliable sector suffers, continued consumer demand for locally sourced, small-scale fast-casual restaurants is garnering the attention of developers looking for new tenants — even if they aren’t as well-known as the industry’s bigger, high-credit chains.

The market is adjusting in favor of independent restaurants and fast-casual brands with organic or local ties that millennials crave. Fast-casual, upscale-casual and fine dining were the restaurant industry’s leading performers in 2017 and have continued to post strong sales in 2018. Fast-casual brands have increased growth by 2% since 2017, according to TDn2K Black Box Intelligence data, and developers continue to take on the financial burden of bringing these companies to a variety of properties. Read More > at Bisnow

Construction Firms Are Building More Effective Recruitment Programs To Better Address Labor Shortage – Construction firms are rebuilding their recruitment and retention programs not only for more construction management workers, but also craft tradespeople. From looking into new demographics to offering leadership programs, construction companies are more aggressively trying to fill in the gaps left as older workers retire.

Construction unemployment decreased to 4.4% in May, one of its lowest levels on record. Comparatively, construction unemployment was as high as 30% in some regions during the recession.

In 2017, 70% of contractors surveyed by the Associated General Contractors of America said they were having trouble filling hourly craft positions. Labor shortages were more severe in the West, where 75% of contractors said they were having difficulty filling positions. From July 2016 to July 2017, construction employment expanded in 258 out of 358 metros.

…Additionally, the industry needs to have strong recruiting efforts out of high school so that students know construction can be a career opportunity with benefits and good wages where people can work with their hands and have the satisfaction of completing a monument, she said. Read More > at Bisnow

Amazon and Microsoft back campaign against California privacy act – Amazon, Microsoft and even Uber have joined Google and other tech titans in actively opposing the California Consumer Privacy Act. As The Verge saw in the state’s disclosure records, the three giants contributed a significant amount of money to a campaign pushing back against the initiative…

The California Consumer Privacy Act aims to give California residents the right to know what kind of data companies have on them and to tell those companies not to sell their personal info. Tech companies believe that it could ruin the way they develop their products and do business. A spokesperson for Amazon told The Verge, for instance: “While we share the initiative’s overarching goal of protecting consumer privacy, we are concerned by unworkable requirements that would hinder our ability to innovate on behalf of our customers.”

Committee to Protect California Jobs spokesperson Steven Maviglio echoed that in a statement to Govtech. He said that bill author Alastair Mactaggart didn’t consider the “workability” of his proposal and that it’s nigh impossible for tech giants to comply with it. “[A]nyone who orders anything from Amazon can request where their information went, and that can not only overwhelm a large company like Amazon but also smaller ones too,” the spokesperson explained. Microsoft also released a statement that pretty much said the same thing: “We believe the California measure could have unintended consequences for both businesses and consumers and that there is a better way to give consumers the privacy rights they deserve.” Read More > at Engadget

It would be incredibly difficult for California to split into three states. If it did, here’s how it would work – A proposal to divide California into three states— Northern California, California, and Southern California — qualified last week to appear on the ballot in November’s general election. It received over 458,000 valid signatures, more than the number required by state law to get on the ballot, thanks to an ambitious campaign called Cal 3…

If a majority of California voters who cast ballots agree to divvy up the state into three, the plan would then go onto the US Congress for approval.

…The California Constitution says through the initiative you can change the constitution only so much. A small change to part of a constitution is called an amendment, while a holistic and fundamental change to a constitution is considered a revision. State law requires more than a vote by the people to enact a revision.

The proposal to slice and dice California into three states bills itself as an amendment. Shaun Bowler, a political science professor at UC Riverside who’s studied California’s initiative process, says that’s wishful thinking.

An amendment supposes, “it’s just a minor change, it’s just cosmetic,” Bowler told Business Insider. He’s incredulous that Cal 3 fits that definition: “Really? It doesn’t seem plausible to me. If you’re amending it out of existence that seems pretty fundamental to me.”

Let’s suppose that in an unexpected twist, a majority of California’s 39 million residents decide to break up the most populous US state and the world’s fifth largest economy (bigger than the UK).

Opponents might challenge the measure as unconstitutional, on the grounds that it counts as a constitutional revision and not an amendment. The debate eventually moves onto the California Supreme Court, and the measure could die there.

Now imagine that Cal 3 makes its way to Washington, in spite of all obstacles.

Article IV, Section 3 of the US Constitution says that no new state can be formed out of existing states without the consent of the other states. It means that the US House and US Senate both need to sign off on California splintering into three states. Read More > at Business Insider

Fed Up in Seattle – Don’t believe the hype that “Amazon killed the Seattle head tax,” the new levy that the city recently passed on businesses to fund an affordable-housing initiative. The truth behind the city council’s stunning reversal—repealing the tax by a 7-2 vote, just four weeks after passing it 9-0—is that Seattle citizens have erupted in frustration against the city’s tax-and-spend political class that has failed to address the homelessness crisis, despite record new revenues.

As recently as a few years ago, it seemed as if Seattle voters largely viewed our hyper-progressive city council as a harmless oddity in an otherwise tolerant, thriving, liberal city. But times have changed. Now, according to recent public polling, 83 percent of Seattle voters are dissatisfied with how the council has addressed homelessness, 65 percent believe that the local government hasn’t used new tax revenues effectively, and 63 percent believe that the city has enough money to solve the problem but isn’t pursuing the right policies.

…After years of skyrocketing local taxes and failing public programs, Seattle voters have begun to understand that taxes alone don’t solve problems; what’s needed is strong leadership and sensible public policy. The evidence against the city council’s approach to homelessness is piling up on every street corner and public sidewalk in the city: out-of-control street camping, thousands of discarded hypodermic needles, and property crime rates four times higher than New York City.

While the socialists may continue to pack city council meetings waving their red Tax Amazon and Rent Freeze Now signs, they are losing the wider battle for public opinion. There is buzz around town that the Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of neighborhood organizations are recruiting candidates for all seven city council seats up for elections next year. To my astonishment, I’ve heard at least a dozen neighbors, friends, and colleagues whisper that “Seattle needs a Giuliani”—that is, the city needs to recognize that, in addition to public programs, we need to get tough on street homelessness and enforce the law. Read More > at City Journal

About Kevin

Councilmember - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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