Sunday Reading – 07/08/18

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.

Beware those scientific studies — most are wrong, researcher warns – A few years ago, two researchers took the 50 most-used ingredients in a cook book and studied how many had been linked with a cancer risk or benefit, based on a variety of studies published in scientific journals.

The result? Forty out of 50, including salt, flour, parsley and sugar. “Is everything we eat associated with cancer?” the researchers wondered in a 2013 article based on their findings.

Their investigation touched on a known but persistent problem in the research world: too few studies have large enough samples to support generalized conclusions.

But pressure on researchers, competition between journals and the media’s insatiable appetite for new studies announcing revolutionary breakthroughs has meant such articles continue to be published.

“The majority of papers that get published, even in serious journals, are pretty sloppy,” said John Ioannidis, professor of medicine at Stanford University, who specializes in the study of scientific studies. Read More > at Yahoo!

Did Brown fix California’s budget mess? Nope – Jerry Brown signed the 16th and final state budget of his two-part gubernatorial career last week, and bragged a bit.

“When I took office back in 2011 with the state facing a $27 billion deficit, I pledged to work with the Legislature to fix California’s financial mess,” Brown said in a statement as he signed the $201 billion 2018-19 budget. “Today, the final budget I sign delivers on that pledge and prepares us for the future.”

Those last two assertions are, unfortunately, just half-truths.

Although he has been relatively tight on the spending side of the ledger—relative, that is, to the Legislature’s Democratic majority—Brown has nevertheless raised overall spending by 50 percent in seven years for benefits that will be very difficult to reduce if recession strikes.

A 50 percent increase in per-pupil school spending is locked into the state constitution. New entitlements for health and welfare benefits, including an earned income-tax credit for the working poor and a huge increase in Medi-Cal health coverage, are politically sacrosanct.

Moreover, David Crane, an investor and university lecturer who delves into state finances as an avocation, calculates that California has added more than $200 billion in debt during the last decade.

…Brown is proud of persuading voters to create the “rainy-day fund” and has not only filled it to the legal limit but created a few other reserve funds, all meant to cushion the impact of a future recession—one he says California is overdue to suffer, based on historic economic trends.

All told, the state now has, or soon will have, about $16 billion in such reserves, and it’s certainly better than nothing.

However, Brown’s own budget staff calculates that even a moderate recession would cost the state $60 billion in declining revenues over three years, so the reserves would cover only about a quarter of such a shortfall. Read More > at CALmatters

Patriotic California? Well, sort of – A financial advisory firm called WalletHub recently issued a study listing the states according to how patriotic they are.

Care to guess where California wound up? With July 4 loomimg, we thought we’d take a look.

We’re 44th out of the 50 states.

We are more patriotic than Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Massachusetts, which ranked 50th.

The most patriotic state is Virginia, followed by Alaska, Wyoming, South Carolina, Idaho and Colorado. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

Drones replace July 4th fireworks in western towns worried about wildfires. But where’s the ‘boom’? – Towns in California, Colorado and Arizona – facing another season of drought and wildfire – are turning to drone shows as a less dangerous alternative to organized fireworks, encouraged by the development of jaw-dropping, choreographed shows such as the one Intel prepared for the Winter Olympics broadcast.

Travis Air Force Base outside San Francisco, just an hour south of the Yolo and Napa county fires forcing evacuations, is trying an Intel drone show this year. Aspen, Colorado, and towns in Arizona – which had shelved fireworks shows because of fire risk – are also experimenting with drone shows.

These displays have wowed viewers with their animated displays of hundreds of tiny, LED-sporting drones. But a trade group for pyrotechnics maintains: They’re nothing without the “Boom!”

Intel’s Anil Nanduri, general manager of its drone group, begs to differ. The Travis Air Force Base show will use hundreds of drones and feature a gigantic red, white and blue image of an American flag and California icons, all time-synchronized to music that will be broadcast for the viewers. Read More > at USA Today

Facebook Algorithm Flags, Removes Declaration of Independence Text as Hate Speech – America’s founding document might be too politically incorrect for Facebook, which flagged and removed a post consisting almost entirely of text from the Declaration of Independence. The excerpt, posted by a small community newspaper in Texas, apparently violated the social media site’s policies against hate speech.

Since June 24, the Liberty County Vindicator of Liberty County, Texas, has been sharing daily excerpts from the declaration in the run up to July Fourth. The idea was to encourage historical literacy among the Vindicator’s readers.

The first nine such posts of the project went up without incident.

“But part 10,” writes Vindicator managing editor Casey Stinnett, “did not appear. Instead, The Vindicator received a notice from Facebook saying that the post ‘goes against our standards on hate speech.'”

The post in question contained paragraphs 27 through 31 of the Declaration of Independence, the grievance section of the document wherein the put-upon colonists detail all the irreconcilable differences they have with King George III.

Stinnett says that he cannot be sure which exact grievance ran afoul of Facebook’s policy, but he assumes that it’s paragraph 31, which excoriates the King for inciting “domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.” Read More > at Reason

How Many Teenage Girls Deliberately Harm Themselves? Nearly 1 in 4, Survey Finds. – Up to 30 percent of teenage girls in some parts of the United States say they have intentionally injured themselves without aiming to commit suicide, researchers have found.

About one in four adolescent girls deliberately harmed herself in the previous year, often by cutting or burning, compared to about one in 10 boys.

There are wide gaps in researchers’ understanding of self-harm, Dr. Monto noted: “Is adolescence more difficult in some states than in others? What does it actually mean to them when they do it? How is the behavior learned and regarded differently in different cultures?”

Adolescent girls who participated in the survey were more likely than boys to report belonging to the L.G.B.T. community and having been sexually assaulted or bullied online. But males were more likely to report smoking and using drugs. All of those factors were at least somewhat linked with purposeful injury. Read More > in The New York Times

Antioch residents launch referendum to repeal marijuana business district – According to City Clerk Arne Simonsen, three Antioch residents launched a referendum, on Wednesday, to repeal the Cannabis Business Overlay District approved by the city council on a 3-2 vote at their last two meetings. (See related here and here). “The proponents are Rodney McClelland, Manny Soliz, Jr. and Diana Patton,” Simonsen stated. Petition Section with ordinance

“They have 30 days to collect signatures from when the Mayor signed, and I attested to the ordinance, which was Monday, July 2nd,” he explained. “They do need 10%” of the registered voters in the city.”

The council passed the ordinance with Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe and Council Members Monica Wilson and Tony Tiscareno voting in favor, and Mayor Sean Wright and Council Member Lori Ogorchock voting against. Read More > in the Antioch Herald

Antioch paves way for cannabis retailers and related businesses – The city now is developing rules for marijuana retailers and related businesses, which can start requesting permits to operate in Antioch later this month.

Over the objections of most residents who turned out for last week’s council meeting, Antioch City Council in a 3-2 vote approved an ordinance that will allow various types of cannabis-based commerce in two areas of town, including stores selling the drug for medicinal and recreational purposes.

The ordinance, which takes effect July 26, modifies Antioch’s zoning map, making it possible for cannabis companies to apply for a conditional use permit to do business in the industrial area along the Wilbur Avenue corridor on the city’s northern waterfront or in the business park on Verne Roberts Circle near Antioch’s western border. Read More > in the East Bay Times

Google is letting third-party developers access your Gmail Inbox: Report – The Mountain View tech giant, Google, has been allowing third-party app developers to scan through inboxes of Gmail users, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. In June last year, Google stopped scanning user’s emails, which was being done to provide personalised ads. Despite curtailing the inapt practice, it has allowed hundreds of third-parties to continue doing the same.

The report said, “Google does little to police those developers, who train their computers – and, in some cases, employees – to read their users’ emails.” While many companies use machines to skim email messages for keywords and phrases, few allow their employees to read through user’s messages. “Email data collectors use software to scan millions of messages a day, looking for clues about consumers that they can sell to marketers, hedge funds, and other businesses.”

Nearly every major email provider allows developers to access inboxes of their users, so it isn’t surprising that Google is doing the same. What is bemusing is Google is allowing something which it itself desists from since last year. The access settings allow data companies and app developers to see user’s emails, including recipient addresses, timestamps, and entire messages. While third-party apps require user consent to access data, the consent form doesn’t necessarily indicate that it may also allow humans to read user’s emails. Read More > at Business Today

The curse that sank Toys R Us is now haunting J.Crew – J.Crew is in danger of falling victim to a curse that has been haunting retail for years.

Though falling sales have plagued the chain for years, its biggest problem doesn’t seem to have anything to do with an inability to keep up with the latest trends.

It’s actually the millions of dollars in debt the retailer has carried since 2011, when TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners helped it buy itself through a $3 billion leveraged buyout, taking the company private.

“There are so many issues here, but the biggest one is a crippling debt load — we’re talking $30 million a quarter just in interest payments,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, told the Washington Post. “It’s an eye-watering number and it makes a turnaround just about impossible.”

Toys R Us is a cautionary tale for J.Crew. It, too, was left with a large amount of debt as a result of a leveraged buyout.

Bain Capital, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and Vornado Realty Trust together invested $1.3 billion in a $6.6 billion leveraged buyout in 2005, taking Toys R Us private.

This saddled Toys R Us with over $5 billion worth of debt that the company could never shake. According to a bankruptcy filing, Toys R Us was still making $400 million payments on its debt each year. Read More > at Business Insider

The Warriors Are Making A Mockery Of The NBA Salary Cap – It’s probably clear by now just what a steal Cousins is at $5.3 million, but here’s one more note: Our CARMELO projection system, which spits out fair dollar values for every player’s production, thinks Cousins should be worth about $46.1 million next season. The NBA’s maximum salary rules preclude him from getting quite so much, of course, but he still figures to be worth far more than the mid-level pittance Golden State is doling out for his services.

From Cousins’s perspective, it does make some sense to cut this particular deal. He’s coming off a major injury last season, and he may not be available to the Warriors until after the 2018-19 season begins. The Pelicans’ unexpected surge without him during the playoffs reinforced old questions about Cousins’ ability to win, and the market for bigs was looking cash-poor anyway this summer, with the repercussions of 2016’s wild spending spree crashing down on teams’ cap and luxury-tax budgets. According to The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears, Cousins didn’t receive any “significant” contract offers when free agency opened up. So instead, Cousins is gambling that he can fit in with the Warriors’ legendarily unselfish group for a year, produce solid numbers, ease back into health, win a ring — and in the process, ditch his longtime label as a me-first malcontent. If all goes according to plan, he’ll be due for a much bigger payday next summer than he could’ve gotten had he played the normal free-agent game this summer.

But even if things work out well for Cousins, it will have meant dealing another blow to whatever competitive balance is left in the league. For a brief while, things seemed to be taking a turn toward increased excitement: The Rockets spent a season suggesting the Warriors weren’t as unbeatable as they seem — coming within a Chris Paul injury and some historically cold shooting of possibly proving it in the playoffs — and James is just starting to form his own Western Conference challenger in LA. But then, Golden State strengthened their grip on the NBA with another deal that turned the salary cap’s rules against their own underlying purpose. The Warriors proved once again that the most exciting time on the pro basketball calendar is during the summer free-agent frenzy — when no games are played, but the fate of the following season is sealed. Read More > at FiveThrityEight

New report outlines costs and benefits of self-driving technologies – The report found that by 2050, autonomous vehicles (AVs) will add between $3 and $6 trillion in cumulative consumer and societal benefits to the U.S. economy. Annually, $800 billion in economic and societal benefits could be realized when AVs are fully deployed. Nearly every American will benefit from improved safety; enhanced access to transportation for senior citizens, people with disabilities, and the disadvantaged; increased productivity; and the ability to gain productive time for work or errands.

“Self-driving technologies will have an enormously positive impact on our country, our economy, and our society. This is an opportunity too great to ignore and now is the time to prepare and implement policies that will unlock these myriad benefits and mitigate any negative impacts of this technological shift,” said Robbie Diamond, President and CEO of SAFE. “There is a balance we must strike to realize the billions in economic savings from increased travel access and productivity, to reduced congestion and fewer accidents. The more we maximize the economic and productivity benefits while minimizing any potential impacts on job holders, the better off our country and workforce will be.” Read More > at Autonomous Vehicle Technology

Pain control: “no evidence” cannabis improves outcomes – Depending on who you listen to, medical cannabis is either a rising star in the world of therapeutics or an over-vaunted pariah that should never have exited the grubby world of the illicit street corner deal.

The science, however, is decidedly patchy, plagued by poor quality studies and the challenge of giving standard doses of a drug with over 400 chemical ingredients – 60 of which are the cannabinoids implicated in pain relief, and others having opposing effects.

A new study, led by Gabrielle Campbell from the Australia’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of New South Wales in Sydney is unlikely to induce cheer in either stockholders of medical cannabis companies, or patients desperate for relief.

Published in the journal Lancet Public Health, the research examined cannabis use over four years in a nationwide cohort of 1514 Australian adults with chronic non-cancer pain. Most had back or neck pain, neuropathic pain, or arthritis, and the median duration was 10 years. All were using some form of opioid drug, such as oxycodone or morphine, to control symptoms.

The researchers tracked cannabis use with interviews and self-report questionnaires, categorising participants as non-users, infrequent users, or daily/near-daily users.

The results were underwhelming.

At the four year mark, just under a quarter had used cannabis as a painkiller. Those who did, however, reported more severe pain and greater disruption to their daily lives. Users also clocked higher anxiety and were less likely to think they could carry on in spite of pain. Read More > at Cosmos

Coal’s Coming Renaissance in the Middle East – Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi faces little opposition as he begins his second term, but the former field marshal has an immediate challenge coming in just a few weeks’ time. The Egyptian government budget that will be unveiled in July is pushing ahead with cuts to fuel and electricity subsidies that could see prices for both rise by 60 percent and 55 percent respectively.

A growing population and underequipped power sector have left Egypt with a continual energy shortage, with summer blackouts and regular shortfalls a fact of life since 2011. As part of its response, Egypt plans to build a major new coal plant at Hamrawein on the Red Sea. The government announced last month that it had received three competing offers from international consortiums including companies from China, Japan, and the United States to build the 6 gigawatt facility.

Coal currently accounts for less than 1 percent of primary energy production throughout the Middle East, but that is expected to change over the next decade as other countries join Egypt in reshaping the energy landscape. While Israel aims to fully expel coal from its energy mix by 2030, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Jordan, Turkey and Iran all have plans for new coal capacity. With coal the bugbear in most energy debates, why is it unexpectedly gaining popularity throughout a region rich in oil, gas, and solar power?

…For all of these governments, the risks to the environment and the global fight against climate change are outweighed by the imperative of reducing exposure to supply shocks and the threat they pose to regimes. In countries such as Egypt, the gradual recovery from post-revolutionary havoc is contending with population growth and the need for reliable and stable energy supplies.

Outside suppliers are perfectly aware of that demand. Where multilateral financing institutions like the World Bank are unwilling to back new fossil fuel projects, countries such as China provide both expertise and low-cost financing instead. Chinese power and engineering companies are spearheading the construction of coal factories such as Hamrawein, where the Chinese consortium produced the lowest bid. Chinese companies have until recently faced little to no serious competition from Russia or the United States, although General Electric is part of the Hamrawein bidding.

…None of this, of course, is good news to environmentalists. With the future of the fight against climate change resting in the balance, the question remains: Is there an alternative to coal in today’s Middle East?

Not really. In Abu Dhabi, despite a commitment to clean energy and low carbon emissions, energy costs remain high. Even though renewables are widely utilized across the Emirates, there are concerns about their capacity to power fast-tracked infrastructure development. If even wealthy Gulf emirates struggle to carry out the energy revolution, other countries of more modest means face even greater difficulties. Read More > at Real Clear World

López Obrador and the Future of Mexican Democracy – Yesterday, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, best known by his initials, AMLO, won Mexico’s presidential election decisively. After 18 years on the campaign trail, including two previous failed presidential runs, thousands of rallies, and, by his count, a visit to every one of Mexico’s 2,400 municipalities, the Tabasco-born politician received the support of 53 percent of voters at the polls, according to an offical rapid count by electoral authorities. Meanwhile, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), López Obrador’s four-year-old political party, gained a majority in congress, and a majority of the nine governorships up for grabs.

A big question now is what López Obrador will do. His campaign revealed a multitude of voices and positions, with his surrogates often contradicting both the candidate and themselves. But even more important for Mexico’s future will be how López Obrador chooses to enact his policies—and whether he will abide by the often frustrating institutional checks and balances within Mexico’s democratic political system. Here, Peña Nieto and his administration’s institutional chicanery has opened the space and set precedents for López Obrador to further erode the democratic rules of the game.

…López Obrador’s personal record also seems contradictory: although he often appears thin-skinned and autocratic, he can be a pragmatic dealmaker, as evidenced by his collaboration as mayor of Mexico City with multi-billionaire Carlos Slim to restore the capital’s historic downtown. Portrayed as a leftist populist by most media outlets, he is also deeply socially conservative—opposed to gay marriage, same-sex adoption, abortion rights, and the legalization of marijuana. While crusading against corruption, he has defended supporters with tainted records, most recently Senator Layda Sansores, who became mired in scandal for charging makeup, jewelry, her grandchildren’s toys, and a host of other personal expenses to taxpayers. Most important, although promising to give voice to Mexico’s oppressed, to throw out the “mafia of power” that has controlled Mexico for so long, López Obrador doesn’t seem to particularly care for democracy’s norms, routinely criticizing the press, independent civil society organizations, the Supreme Court, and others he perceives to have wronged him. Read More > at Foreign Affairs

Banning plastic straws is more scam than science – Seattle just became the first US city to impose the trendy ban, and New York may soon follow suit, with Mayor Bill de Blasio backing an anti-straw City Council bill.

But even a national ban wouldn’t dent worldwide plastic output. Nor does any serious research justify targeting straws: The oft-cited figure that Americans use 500 million plastic straws a day comes from a survey conducted by a 9-year-old.

Even ban proponents admit the cause is a con: “Our straw campaign is not really about straws,” Dune Ives, executive director of the outfit that pushed hardest for Seattle’s ban, told Vox. “It’s about pointing out how prevalent single-use plastics are in our lives.”

Meaning: It’s not just the straws, but the plastic bags, red Solo cups and so on. The green conceit is that plastic is bad — even if alternate materials really don’t net out as more enviro-friendly.

Notably, those supposedly more-eco-friendly straws made from plant-based materials also take forever to decompose. If they end up in the ocean, they’re just as likely to harm sea creatures as plastic ones. Read More > in the New York Post

Tip: Viagra Is Great for Bodybuilders – Few drugs have had such a social impact on society. Old men, or even not-so-old men, could suddenly indulge in a part of life they thought was lost to them. But perhaps unexpectedly, much younger men also glommed onto the drug, as they also did with its chemical cousins Cialis and Levitra, which would arrive later.

They covet the drugs because they serve as a hedge against performance anxiety and reduce downtime between sexual episodes, but it turns out there are other reasons men, both young and old, might use these drugs and they’re not only health related, but bodybuilding related, too.

In fact, there may be sufficient evidence to support the idea of taking these drugs every day, like vitamins or any other health-promoting supplement.

The most elemental and basic effect of Viagra and its cousins is increased blood flow, not only to the heart and penis, but to all body parts, including muscles. More blood flow means a better pump from resistance exercise and subsequently, increased nutrient flow to muscles, which is a good thing. Read More > at T-Nation

MS-13 is ‘taking over the school,’ one teen warned before she was killed – From New York to Virginia to Texas, schools in areas racked by MS-13 violence are now struggling with a sobering question. What to do when the gang isn’t just in your community, but in your classrooms?

Faced with an influx of scores of unaccompanied minors and an uptick in gang violence, Brentwood High has been criticized both for doing too little and too much to address the problem.

A $110 million federal lawsuit, filed in December by Kayla’s mother, claims administrators failed to protect her 16-year-old, allowing MS-13 to create an “environment filled with fear within the school.”

Meanwhile, a class-action suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Trump administration alleges the school went too far, hastily labeling kids as gang members and leading to their wrongful imprisonment.

School officials say they walk a fine line, reporting illegal activity while respecting students’ rights.

“We can see a gang member coming a mile away,” said Carlos Sanchez, safety director for the Brentwood Free Union School District. “The problem is that it’s not against the law to be a gang member, even if they identify themselves as MS.”

Starting in 2013, thousands of unaccompanied minors — most from Central America — began entering the United States illegally from Mexico each month, many turning themselves in to authorities. More than 200,000 have been detained, screened and then placed with relatives by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Nearly 5,000 have been sent to Suffolk County.

Schools are required by law to enroll and educate these students. At Brentwood High, the student population soared to 4,500, making it one of the largest high schools in the state.

Sanchez, the school district safety director, said MS-13 had long been overshadowed by gangs like the Bloods and Latin Kings.

“The last couple of years, when we had the unaccompanied children coming, that’s when we saw the change,” he said. By providing vulnerable newcomers with a sense of belonging, MS-13 “became a powerhouse.” A deadly one. Read More > in The Washington Post

SF’s appalling street life repels residents — now it’s driven away a convention – In a move that is alarming San Francisco’s biggest industry, a major medical association is pulling its annual convention out of the city — saying its members no longer feel safe.

“It’s the first time that we have had an out-and-out cancellation over the issue, and this is a group that has been coming here every three or four years since the 1980s,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of S.F. Travel, the city’s convention bureau.

D’Alessandro declined to name the medical association, saying the bureau still hopes to bring the group back in the future.

The doctors group told the San Francisco delegation that while they loved the city, postconvention surveys showed their members were afraid to walk amid the open drug use, threatening behavior and mental illness that are common on the streets. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Whoa! Meet the future phones that fold up, have 9 cameras and charge over thin air. – Picture this: You pull your phone out of your pocket and unfold it like a napkin into a tablet. You press your finger on the screen, and it unlocks. You switch to the camera app, and a spider-like array of lenses shoot simultaneously to capture one giant photo.

These are all things I’ve seen phones do — some in prototype form, others in models you can get only in China. Analysts in Korea say we might see a folding “Galaxy X” phone from Samsung as soon as next year. When I look into my crystal ball, I’m convinced we’re on the cusp of the most significant changes to the design and functionality of smartphones since they first arrived.

…From the front, the iPhone 8 is pretty much indistinguishable from the iPhone 6 that came out nearly four years ago. Americans are holding onto old phones longer than ever — 25.8 months, according the most recent research from Kantar Worldpanel.

The tech industry has been doubling down on software and artificial intelligence capabilities, which still hold huge potential. But there’s a lot to be done on improving phone hardware, too, the number one reason most people upgrade.

Recent breakthroughs let phonemakers embed the fingerprint reader inside the screen. Just press your finger over the right area of the screen — indicated by a thumbprint image — and the phone unlocks. Component maker Synaptics figured out how to take a picture of fingers by looking in between the phone’s pixels; Qualcomm created an ultrasonic sensor capable of scanning not only though screens but also metal … and even underwater. So far, the tech has made its way into phones from Chinese makers Vivo and Xiaomi.

Phone snaps could soon compete in quality with big-honking-lens cameras. How? By covering the back of the phone with a bunch of small lenses that shoot simultaneously — and then stitch it into one big photo.

We once had flip phones. Now here come the flip tablets. At a display industry conference in May, the buzz was about prototypes of screens that were flexible enough to roll and flap in the wind. One firm, called BOE, showed a gadget it dubbed a ”phoneblet” with a 7.5-inch screen that folded, without seams, into a phone and back again … without breaking. Read More > in The Washington Post

Californians cross border to vote in Mexican election – Waiting to vote were mothers pushing strollers, airline passengers pulling luggage, groups of friends on vacation and a dozen nuns wearing full habit. Literally feet from the border, the station also proved convenient for many Mexicans living in southern California — both dual U.S. and Mexican citizens or U.S. legal residents.

As in other Mexican presidential elections, the National Electoral Institute set up special polling stations across the country for “voters in transit” — often at bus stations, airports, even hospitals. Early Sunday, a half-dozen Tijuana special stations were mobbed with these voters.

…Mexicans living abroad have since 2006 had the option of casting votes by mail in their country’s presidential elections. This year’s election for the first time allowed them to register without returning to Mexico, and more than 180,000 had done so by May, according to the Electoral Institute.

But several in the line said they had not been able to fill out the proper forms before the deadline, and driving across the border was a easy option. And one woman said she registered, but never received the ballot. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

A Scandalous Abuse of the Legislative Process – In a startling abuse of the legislative process, a budget clean-up bill has just been used to sneak in radical and never-debated changes in the criminal justice system. It allows a defendant suffering from a mental disorder to be granted pre-trial diversion and the charges later dismissed for any crime if a judge finds the disorder played a significant role in the crime and if a defendant has “substantially complied” with mental health treatment during the diversion period. In short, this new law allows diversion and the dismissal of charges for any crime, including those where a victim was killed or seriously injured.

This massive change in law was slipped into AB 1810, the “Omnibus Health Trailer Budget Bill” for 2018. The purpose of trailer bills is supposed to be to implement provisions in the budget bill, not to write substantive new policy. However, as columnist George Skelton explained last year, these trailer bills are “created in the dark without much legislative or public scrutiny” and “mostly used now by Democrats for slipping through touchy new policy.”

Under AB 1810, a defendant charged with any crime can get those charges dismissed if they convince a judge the mental disorder they suffer from played a “major” role in the charged crime; if a mental health expert says the symptoms motivating the criminal behavior would respond to treatment; and if the defendant undergoes “treatment” during a diversion period with no minimum time period and a maximum of two years. Incredibly, only the defense gets to submit a psychiatric report; the prosecution has no opportunity to rebut that report with their own report or have their own expert examine the defendant. Finally, the mental health treatment shall be deemed “satisfactory” and dismissal granted should a defendant “substantially comply” with the diversion conditions and commit no “significant” new crimes while in diversion, although what constitutes “substantial completion” or a “significant” crime is not defined in the bill. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Weaponizing the Initiative Process – Three ballot initiatives with enough signatures to qualify for the November election were pulled by the proponents when legislative deals were worked out satisfying the initiative sponsors. The initiatives were used as blunt instruments in forcing legislative compromise and in these three instances it worked. Expect to see more of that in the future.

An initiative to make it tougher to pass taxes was put aside when a bill signed by the governor prohibited soda taxes for a dozen years, satisfying the main financial sponsors of the initiative, the soda industry. A bill toughening privacy laws with data collected from Internet users prevented a tougher privacy measure from going forward. And the promise to scuttle three bills aimed at paint manufacturers persuaded those manufacturers to stop their initiative effort to place a bond on the ballot to clean up lead paint in homes.

Many point to initiative reform legislation from 2014 that set the stage for the action that took place last week. While the 2014 reform allowed for the proponents to pull initiatives the last minute thus encouraging the initiative as threat strategy…

The fact that a number of interests were successful in forcing legislative action with the threat of an initiative is bound to encourage copycat behavior. Expect more initiatives as a bargaining tool to move legislative action. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

New Evidence That the World Really Is Getting Better – If you allow your perception of humanity to be shaped by the news, it is easy to lose sight of the narrative of human progress. Struggling democracies, suicide epidemics, climate change, and acts of violence are among the daily headlines that continue to overwhelm us with angst. It seems like every year is getting worse.

Mainstream news channels are dominated by the idea that “If it bleeds, it leads.” Psychologists have long shown that people tend to read articles with negative tones over positive ones.
Biologically, our brains are wired for a pessimism bias, which urges us to pay more attention to negative news.

So you’re not constantly seeing negative headlines because the world is getting worse; you’re constantly seeing negative headlines because that’s what audiences react to. Social media has also created an echo chamber in which these headlines travel at the speed of light.

Yet the solution isn’t to stop reporting the problems in our world today. In fact, it is critical for us to acknowledge the many challenges and atrocities in our modern-day society. However, focusing disproportionately on bad news is detrimental to our sense of empowerment as a species.

…Before you panic, it’s important to recognize that 30 years ago, there were 23 wars, 85 autocracies, 37 percent of the world population in extreme poverty, and more than 60,000 nuclear weapons. From this perspective, 2017 doesn’t seem too bad after all.

We are living longer than ever before. For most of human history, life expectancy at birth was around 30. Today it is more than 70 worldwide, and in the developed parts of the world, more than 80.

Despite the ongoing challenge of wealth inequality, we are seeing a decrease in global poverty. 200 years ago, 90 percent of the world’s population subsisted in extreme poverty. Today, fewer than 10 percent of people do. Read More > at Singularity Hub

Under Tesla, SolarCity — once king of rooftop solar — slips into shadows – Five years ago, SolarCity ruled the rooftops.

No other company in the fast-growing solar industry installed nearly as many panels on American homes. The pace of installation was accelerating quarter after quarter, leaving such rivals as Sunrun and Vivint far behind.

Then electric auto manufacturer Tesla bought the company. Now, what once was SolarCity appears to be fading away.

Installations have plunged 62 percent. Reuters, citing internal Tesla documents, recently reported the company is closing a dozen installation facilities across the country, part of a broader restructuring within Tesla that cut 9 percent of the company’s workforce. In announcing the cuts to Tesla staff, CEO Elon Musk also said the company will stop selling solar arrays through Home Depot, moving some of the salespeople involved to Tesla stores while letting others go.

…The company grew quickly, commanding 33 percent of the residential solar market in 2015, according to GTM Research. Utah’s Vivint Solar had 11 percent of the market, while Sunrun of San Francisco had 5 percent.

But in pursuit of that growth, SolarCity piled up $3.56 billion of debt, according to a March 2018 court decision allowing a shareholder lawsuit over the Tesla deal to proceed. The company also faced the real possibility of defaulting on some of its debt. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

When you finish this editorial, pick up a book – In taking some time this weekend to read this editorial, you are part of the shrinking portion of the public that uses leisure time to read.

Pleasure reading is at an all-time low, a new study shows, and the culprit is television. More TV and less reading leaves people less imaginative, less informed, and less fully alive. The trend needs to reverse.

Rekindling love of reading starts with how children learn to read, at home with their parents. As families spend less time together and schools focus more on testing than teaching, children miss opportunities to learn the pleasure of reading. They learn instead for external reward. Television and the Internet have rendered reading an afterthought. Even as Americans are more highly educated than before, and books are more accessible than ever, reading for pleasure is steadily declining. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Tech mobilizes against California privacy law – The tech industry is mobilizing against a new California privacy law, likely the toughest in the country.
The California Consumer Privacy Act was rushed through the state legislature, where it was approved unanimously, and quickly signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The new law requires websites to show users what data is collected on them, what the data will be used for and to identify third parties who have been given access to the data. Internet users will also have the right to opt out of having their data collected and sold and to request that their information be deleted.

It is one of the most comprehensive privacy laws passed in the U.S. and comes after the European Union implemented a set of data privacy regulations that cracked down on data collection practices.

But the law, which doesn’t take effect until 2020, is now the center of a new fight as the tech industry pushes for changes. Read More > in The Hill

In Denmark, Harsh New Laws for Immigrant ‘Ghettos’ – Starting at the age of 1, “ghetto children” must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in “Danish values,” including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments. Other Danish citizens are free to choose whether to enroll children in preschool up to the age of six.

Denmark’s government is introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying that if families there do not willingly merge into the country’s mainstream, they should be compelled. Read More > in The New York Times

The Deadliest Drug – Most Americans have a general sense that drunken driving isn’t as bad a problem as it was a generation ago. But few realize how much those numbers changed in a relatively short time. When the federal government started counting alcohol-impaired traffic deaths in 1982, there were more than 21,000 a year. By 2011, the death toll was down by 53 percent. States had raised the legal drinking age to 21 and adopted a common rule that a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 meant “too drunk to drive.” Many states also mandated the installation of interlock devices to prevent those with a history of drunken driving from turning on their ignition unless they were sober. Those laws, coupled with education and prevention campaigns, helped reduce drunk driving deaths to fewer than 10,000 in 2011.

But recently the trend has stalled. The total number of alcohol-impaired traffic fatalities actually rose in both 2015 and 2016. “Drunk driving has been around since the automobile was invented and it’s still the biggest killer on the highway,” says J.T. Griffin, the chief government affairs officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Indeed, alcohol causes more traffic deaths per year than either speeding or driving without a seatbelt.

…The report provided a package of policy recommendations, one of which was for every state to lower the legal BAC limit from .08 to .05. In practical terms, that would mean most women couldn’t drive after two glasses of wine in an hour; most men couldn’t drive after three. The report is only the latest to call for a more stringent BAC limit: The National Transportation Safety Board has also called for a lower level.

Up to now, no state has imposed a limit of .05, but that’s about to change. Utah will go to .05 in December. In the past year, Delaware, Hawaii, New York and Washington state have also considered legislation to lower the limit.

…American alcohol policy is in a curious state of flux. On one hand, states and localities continue to tax alcoholic beverages not only to raise revenue but also to educate the public about the risks associated with drinking. On the other hand, states are passing laws that make alcohol easier to purchase by permitting sales on Sundays, in movie theaters and at grocery outlets. In December, Congress cut federal alcohol excise taxes to the tune of $4.2 billion over two years. The reduction is expected to bring down prices and increase consumption. Read More > Governing

Coming Soon: The 100 SF Home – As housing becomes less and less affordable in major cities around the world, governments, developers and designers are looking for ever-more radical solutions. One area of focus is micro-apartments, and one architect has come up with one of the smallest solutions yet.

Earlier this year Hong Kong-based James Law Cybertecture unveiled designs for homes inside concrete water pipes, called OPods. And they are only 100 SF.

The homes include a bench that folds out into a bed and cooking and bathroom facilities, as well as space-saving furniture.

The inspiration came from the city’s notoriously small and expensive housing. Consumer trend analysis firm Trend Watching points out that they may be tiny, but these rooms are still about twice the size of the houses some people inhabit in Hong Kong. They may be small, but at least they are well-designed, the theory goes. Read More > at Bisnow

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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