Sunday Reading – 07/22/18

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.

The Vindication of Cheese, Butter, and Full-Fat Milk – A new study exonerates dairy fats as a cause of early death, even as low-fat products continue to be misperceived as healthier.

Difficult as it may be for Millennials to imagine, the average American in the 1970s drank about 30 gallons of milk a year. That’s now down to 18 gallons, according to the Department of Agriculture. And just as it appears that the long arc of American beverage consumption could bend fully away from the udder, new evidence is making it more apparent that the perceived health risks of dairy fats (which are mostly saturated) are less clear than many previously believed.

A new study this week in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is relevant to an ongoing vindication process for saturated fats, which turned many people away from dairy products such as whole milk, cheese, and butter in the 1980s and ’90s. An analysis of 2,907 adults found that people with higher and lower levels of dairy fats in their blood had the same rate of death during a 22-year period.

The implication is that it didn’t matter if people drank whole or skim or 2-percent milk, ate butter versus margarine, etc. The researchers concluded that dairy-fat consumption later in life “does not significantly influence total mortality.”

“I think the big news here is that even though there is this conventional wisdom that whole-fat dairy is bad for heart disease, we didn’t find that,” says Marcia de Oliveira Otto, the lead researcher of the study and an assistant professor of epidemiology, human genetics, and environmental science at the University of Texas School of Public Health. “And it’s not only us. A number of recent studies have found the same thing.”

Hers adds to the findings of prior studies that also found that limiting saturated fat is not a beneficial guideline. While much similar research has used self-reported data on how much people eat—a notoriously unreliable metric, especially for years-long studies—the current study is noteworthy for actually measuring the dairy-fat levels in the participants’ blood. Read More > in The Atlantic

NATO’s Challenge Is Germany, Not America – Polls show that in most NATO countries, the idea of fighting on behalf of another country receives scant public support. The notion that the Dutch would march into Estonia to save its capital, Tallinn, from Russia is a cruel joke.

NATO’s 21st-century problem is not the United States, which provides a large percentage of its wherewithal, but Germany. As the most populous and most affluent of European nations, Germany still insidiously dominates Europe as it has since its inception in 1871.

Berlin sends ultimatums to the indebted Southern European nations. Berlin alone tries to dictate immigration policy for the European Union. Berlin establishes the tough conditions under which the United Kingdom can exit the European Union. And when Berlin decides it will not pony up the promised 2 percent of GDP for its NATO contribution, other laggard countries follow its example. Only six of the 29 NATO members (other than the U.S.) so far have met their promised assessments.

Germany’s combination of affluence and military stinginess is surreal. Germany has piled up the largest trade surplus in the world at around $300 billion, including a trade surplus of some $64 billion with its military benefactor, the United States, yet it is poorly equipped in terms of tanks and fighter aircraft. Read More > at National Review

Amazon’s Brick-And-Mortar Footprint Has Officially Passed Costco – Not content to be the dominant force in online retail, Amazon is moving up the rankings of the largest brick-and-mortar presences in the United States.

Amazon now has nearly 600 brick-and-mortar stores across the country, GeekWire reports. That total surpasses wholesaling icon Costco, and it is mostly thanks to the acquisition of Whole Foods in June of last year.

Whole Foods now makes up 80% of Amazon’s footprint, according to GeekWire. The rest is a combination of Amazon Books, cashierless grocery store Amazon Go and the burgeoning frontiers of pickup storefronts for both its Amazon Prime and Amazon Fresh online services. Read More > at Bisnow

Terrafugia is going to put its Transition flying car on sale in 2019 – The Terrafugia Transition is a combination hybrid-electric road vehicle and pusher-style propeller-driven aircraft. It definitely looks more aircraft than car but its makers say that it complies with all FAA and NHTSA regulations, including those for safety equipment.

The production Transition gets some upgrades over previous iterations that have been shown, including a boost feature for extra speed while flying, a full-frame parachute system, upgraded avionics and a more comfortable interior for both pilot and passenger.

The Transition will cruise at a speed of around 100 miles per hour in airplane form, and its Rotax-sourced engine burns around 5 gallons of fuel per hour, giving it a range of around 400 miles. It will fly to a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet.

There’s no word on how much the Transition will cost, but it’s hard to imagine who the buyer for this would actually be. Like most two-in-one designs, it doesn’t seem like it’s particularly great at either flying or driving. Read More > at Cnet

When a DNA Test Shatters Your Identity – It was AncestryDNA’s customer-service rep who had to break the news to Catherine St Clair.

For her part, St Clair thought she was inquiring about a technical glitch. Her brother—the brother who along with three other siblings had gifted her the DNA test for her birthday—wasn’t showing up right in her family tree. It was not a glitch, the woman on the line had to explain gently, if this news can ever land gently: The man St Clair thought of as her brother only shared enough DNA with her to be a half-sibling. In fact, she didn’t match any family members on her father’s side. Her biological father must be someone else.

“I looked into a mirror and started crying,” says St Clair, now 56. “I’ve taken for granted my whole life that what I was looking at in the mirror was part my mother and part my dad. And now that half of that person I was looking at in the mirror, I didn’t know who that was.”

…These are boom times for consumer DNA tests. The number of people who have mailed in their saliva for genetic insights doubled during 2017, reaching a total of more than 12 million. Most people are curious where their ancestors came from. A few are interested in health. Some are adoptees or children conceived from sperm donation who are explicitly looking for their biological parents. DNA testing companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA regularly tout happy reunions on their websites.

But not all biological parents want to be found. In conversations and correspondence with more than two dozen people for this story, I heard of DNA tests that unearthed affairs, secret pregnancies, quietly buried incidents of rape and incest, and fertility doctors using their own sperm to inseminate patients. These secrets otherwise would have—or even did—go the grave. “It’s getting harder and harder to keep secrets in our society,” says CeCe Moore, a prominent genetic genealogist who consults for the television show Finding Your Roots. “If people haven’t come to that realization, they probably should.” Read More > in The Atlantic

NATO’s problem is that Europeans won’t fight – …Why should Europeans spend money on arms, when they have no intention of using them? A recent opinion poll found that small minorities in the core European members of NATO were willing to fight for their country under any circumstances.

At the bottom of the rankings were the Netherlands and Germany, at 16% and 18% respectively; at the top was Poland, with 48%. Outside of European NATO, 56% of Russians, 66% of Israelis, 44% of Americans and 74% of Finns said they were willing to fight. The Israeli number reflects the diffidence of Israeli Arabs, who comprise about one fifth of the population. One wonders what would happen if Finland were to invade the Netherlands.

If you don’t plan to fight, you don’t need weapons, and it is no surprise that Germany, with its budget surplus, can’t bring itself to vote for urgently-need funds for its military. Germany’s armed forces are in disrepair; a German brigade designated to lead a NATO rapid response force has only nine of the 44 tanks it requires and only four of the country’s military aircraft are combat ready. Read More > in the Asia Times

Pittsburg Approves New Commercial Cannabis Manufacturing Lab – The Pittsburg City Council has approved a commercial cannabis permit, one of the first issued in Contra Costa County since commercial sales of recreational marijuana became legal in California earlier this year.

The council voted on Monday night 4-1 to allow Canyon Laboratories to use cannabis oil to manufacture medical and non-medical cannabis products out of a new facility at 780 Clark Avenue.

Currently, Canyon Laboratories manufacturers a wide range of products such as topical creams, dietary supplements and medical foods. Now, it will be able to add raw cannabis extracts in many of its products and create recreational ingestible products such as gummies.

Canyon Laboratories will be purchasing the raw cannabis extract and will not be growing marijuana in their labs. Read More > at KQED

Texas to pass Iraq and Iran as world’s No. 3 oil powerhouse – The shale oil boom has brought a gold rush mentality to the Lone Star State, which is home to not one but two massive oilfields.

Plunging drilling costs have sparked an explosion of production out of the Permian Basin of West Texas. In fact, Texas is pumping so much oil that it will surpass OPEC members Iran and Iraq next year, HSBC predicted in a recent report.

If it were a country, Texas would be the world’s No. 3 oil producer, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia, the investment bank said.

The hyper growth out of Texas is needed because oil prices have risen sharply and major players like Saudi Arabia are quickly maxing out their production.

Much of the excitement in Texas centers around the Permian Basin. Some oil execs believe the amount of oil in the Permian rivals Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar Field, the world’s largest conventional oilfield.

Rapid technological advances have dramatically brought down the cost of pumping oil everywhere, especially out of the Permian. Wells there can be profitable below $40 a barrel. Read More > at CNN Money

By Using The Wrong Comparisons, California Hides Big Collapse In Turnout – The June election is finally over. But the misinformation about it goes on.

The latest problem involves headlines and reports that June turnout was a tick up from June elections 2014 and above turnout in June elections in 2010. By using these comparisons, election officials and media folks were able to tout progress in turnout and participation.

Unfortunately, there is no real progress. To the contrary, turnout is actually down. Because the points of comparison are the wrong ones.

…These days, June elections are actually general elections –the first round of two round general elections. California actually eliminated primaries at the beginning of the decade. Under the top two system, the June elections are the more important election, where voters enjoy the most choice among different candidates of different parties.

So it’s wrong to compare this June’s turnout to June elections in 2010 or previous years. If anything, we should be comparing top two June elections to the old November general elections in non-presidential years. And those comparisons show that turnout has all but collapsed.

Indeed, turnout among registered voters was well over 50 percent in general elections in California in 2010 and 2006. The turnout this year is 37 percent. In that difference lies a huge loss of political power and choice for voters.

There’s another problem with the comparisons we’re seeing published; they compare turnout among registered voters. The better way to chart turnout is to use the percentage of people who are eligible to vote age and citizenship and actually cast ballots. By that number, this year’s turnout was below 30 percent. In the 2010 general elections, by comparison, 45.9 percent of those eligible to vote cast ballots. In the 2006, general election, 41.2 percent of those eligible cast ballots. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

E.U. Hits Google With $5 Billion Ginned-Up Protectionist Fines – The European Union’s antitrust bureaucracy today levied a $5 billion fine on Google, a new European record.

In a statement, the European Commission alleged that Google violated the law in three ways: unlawfully tying its search and browser apps to the Android operating system, paying manufacturers to pre-install Google Search on devices, and making it difficult for device manufacturers to sell “forked” versions of Android, such as versions running Amazon’s Fire OS.

It’s a remarkable decision in a few ways, including that the Commission’s lengthy statement barely mentions Apple—except to insist that Cupertino’s iOS operating system is somehow “not part of the same market.” In this contrafactual view of the world, iOS never competes with Android, which may come as a surprise to the millions of Europeans cross-shopping the latest iPhone and Samsung phones. Also absent is any acknowledgement that Apple leads the worldwide tablet market, with’s de-Googlefied version of Android coming in second.

This rhetorical sleight of hand allowed the E.U. to ignore competitive threats posed by Apple and Amazon and conclude that Android enjoys a “market share of more than 95 percent” of “licensable smart mobile operating systems.” By this logic, Apple should fear becoming the E.U. bureaucracy’s next target: It commands a market share of approximately 100 percent of non-licensable “smart mobile operating systems.” And it’s far more controlled than Android; good luck trying to delete Safari, replace Siri with Google’s assistant, or even distribute your own app without Apple’s explicit permission.

By comparison, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been investigating the same allegations about Android since 2015, and has yet to take any action. The FTC closed a previous investigation in 2012 without bringing a case. In 2016, Canada’s Competition Bureau formally abandoned its three-year probe into Android after, according to the Wall Street Journal, “finding little evidence that the technology giant engaged in anticompetitive behavior.”

…The economics are simple: European firms have fallen behind their American counterparts to the point that not one European firm appears in the list of top 20 Internet companies ranked by market capitalization. Any aggressive approach toward antitrust enforcement of mobile or online business practices will, not-so-coincidentally, handicap Silicon Valley companies to the advantage of smaller European rivals. (Finland-based Nokia, once the world’s biggest phone maker, sold its shrinking handset business to Microsoft for $7 billion in 2014; two years later, Microsoft dumped it for the firesale price of $350 million.) Read More > at Reason

Daimler races to keep up on driverless cars – …California also issued its first approval for driverless shuttles to travel on public roads in March.

Randell Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, which worked on the plans, said multiple driverless car companies have approached the authority about getting in on the game, and he expects interest to grow.

The authority is not in discussions with Daimler and Bosch, he added.

“We think this has got some viability at least in suburban applications … and if it works here, then most likely it will work in any suburban application in the United States,” he said.

Two driverless buses, manufactured by the French firm Easymile, are expected to start taking passengers in the city of San Ramon later this year, Mr Isawaki said.

The vehicles, leased by the owner of the Bishop Ranch business park, are intended to help transfer employees at the site, reducing parking needs, he said.

Public transit agencies are also planning to offer a driverless Easymile bus in nearby Dublin in Alameda County, Mr Iwasaki said. Read More > from the BBC

Rent control laws nearly destroyed parts of New York City. They could do the same to California – In November, Californians will vote on Proposition 10, which would repeal the state law that limits cities from regulating rents on buildings occupied after February 1995. With rents skyrocketing across the state, capping rents may seem attractive, but experience shows rent control laws have serious downsides, including stifling investment in housing and building improvements, creating shortages and wasting time and money in litigation.

The textbook case against rent control comes from New York City, where government intervention in the rental market started in 1943. For decades, tightly-controlled rents failed to cover basic maintenance and operating costs. As a result, builders added few new rental units and landlords let buildings deteriorate since they couldn’t increase rents to pay for needed upkeep.

By 1968, New York’s vacancy rate — the percentage of rental properties available — fell to 1.23 percent. For comparison, the vacancy rate in Los Angeles today is 3.7 percent. Many New York neighborhoods became blighted and abandoned buildings became common. Over 200,000 rental units were abandoned in the 1960s and ‘70s as rent control restrictions, along with other policies, reduced the South Bronx and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem to rubble.

Rent controls gave way to “rent stabilization” in 1969, but New York rents continued to fall short of breakeven costs for property owners. Lawmakers addressed neglected buildings by imposing a “duty to repair” on landlords. Enforcement, however, was difficult and landlords, tenants and regulators often ended up in court.

In 1994, New York City finally decontrolled rents on apartments occupied by high-income residents and on high-end units that became vacant. Read More > in The Orange County Register

Massive tree die-off brings unprecedented danger as wildfire burns near Yosemite – The Ferguson fire burning through Mariposa County has already charred nearly 10,000 acres and killed a firefighter working the front lines.

But its true destructiveness might lie ahead as it burns a path through a tinderbox already primed for disaster.

On either side of the Merced River, hillsides are filled with trees that have been killed by five years of drought and a bark beetle infestation, according to state maps. The ground is carpeted with bone-dry pine needles, which are highly combustible. These conditions, combined with dry, hot weather, have officials fearful that the fire could grow far worse as it burns near Yosemite National Park. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Voter Registration for Noncitizens Begins in S.F. School Board Election – For the first time in California history noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants, can now register to vote in upcoming school board elections in San Francisco.

In November 2016, San Francisco voters approved Proposition N, authorizing noncitizen voting in school board elections. Two previous attempts to do so failed at the ballot box.

To be eligible, a noncitizen must not be in prison or on parole for a felony conviction, and must be a parent, legal guardian or legally recognized caregiver of a child under the age of 19 living in San Francisco.

The city joins the few around the U.S. to grant undocumented immigrants limited local voting rights. The practice doesn’t extend to state and federal elections. Read More > at KQED

Pro-PG&E wildfire bill written by lawmaker whose son works at PG&E – The East Bay assemblyman who wrote a bill that would make Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers cover the costs of settling lawsuits from last year’s wildfires has a son who works at the utility, The Chronicle has learned.

Both PG&E and the office of the assemblyman — Democrat Bill Quirk of Hayward — confirmed Tuesday that his son, Ian, works for the company, whose equipment state investigators have blamed for starting 16 wildfires across Northern California in October.

Both PG&E and Quirk’s office say that the personal connection has nothing to do with the legislation, though the bill would greatly benefit the company. The bill, AB33, would let PG&E issue state-authorized bonds and use the proceeds to pay for settling the more than 200 lawsuits sparked by the fires. The company’s customers would pay back the bonds over time. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Powell backs more rate hikes as economy growing ‘considerably stronger’ – The U.S. economy is running at a fast enough pace to justify continued interest rate increases, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Tuesday.

Powell is delivering his semiannual testimony to Congress this week, starting with an appearance Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

In remarks he provided ahead of a question-and-answer session, Powell painted a largely positive picture of the economy, which he said is expanding at an increasing pace and is being boosted by aggressive fiscal policy on Capitol Hill. Read More > from CNBC

The Scientific Quest For the Perfect S’more – My goal was simple, yet audacious: I wanted to figure out how to make the perfect s’more, that gooey campfire treat composed of chocolate bars and toasted marshmallows sandwiched between two graham crackers. As it turns out, that mouthwatering Platonic ideal poses some challenges for physics and thermodynamics

This quest for ooey-gooey perfection was triggered by a fierce debate in the newsroom: what is the ideal s’more technique? How should you roast the marshmallow so that it melts the chocolate square just right? You see, far too often, the marshmallow isn’t hot enough to melt the chocolate, and you end up with inconveniently brittle chocolate. Other times, the outside of the marshmallow is burned to a crisp before the inside melts, and you’re stuck with more bitter char than you want.

Flummoxed by this distressing paradox, my editor turned to me for answers.

I started by going straight to the source: the Girl Scouts. The first documented recipe for a s’more stems from the 1927 publication Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. The instructions state: “Toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crisp gooey state and then put them inside a graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich. The heat of the marshmallow between the halves of chocolate bar will melt the chocolate a bit.” And here’s where that famous name comes from: “Though it tastes like ‘some more’ one is really enough,” the handbook advises. (Reader, feel free to disagree.) Read More > at the Smithsonian Magazine

Man Begs City Council to Legalize ‘Happy Endings’ – The world can’t get enough of a 20-something Lawrence, Kansas resident who showed up at a city council meeting to plea for legalized genital massage last week.

“If a grown adult wants a hand job and another grown adult is willing to give one for money, then let them. That’s both freedom and capitalism, and that’s the foundation of our country,” Chris Flowers told stunned city leaders.

Flowers noted that masseuses are allowed to touch all sorts of body parts as part of their work. “Hell,” he added, “we let proctologists spend their day fingering men.”

“So I propose this: The city allows for licensed masseurs to give genital massages, if the masseur and the client both agree to it.”

You’ve got to admire this guy’s passion for a little rub-down. His plea is already making the rounds on Vice and Jimmy Kimmel live.

Watch the video here (warning: not safe for work.) Read More > at California City News

Baltimore police stopped noticing crime after Freddie Gray’s death. A wave of killings followed. – Just before a wave of violence turned Baltimore into the nation’s deadliest big city, a curious thing happened to its police force: officers suddenly seemed to stop noticing crime.

Police officers reported seeing fewer drug dealers on street corners. They encountered fewer people who had open arrest warrants.

Police questioned fewer people on the street. They stopped fewer cars.

In the space of just a few days in spring 2015 – as Baltimore faced a wave of rioting after Freddie Gray, a black man, died from injuries he suffered in the back of a police van – officers in nearly every part of the city appeared to turn a blind eye to everyday violations. They still answered calls for help. But the number of potential violations they reported seeing themselves dropped by nearly half. It has largely stayed that way ever since.

…Millions of police records show officers in Baltimore respond to calls as quickly as ever. But they now begin far fewer encounters themselves. From 2014 to 2017, dispatch records show the number of suspected narcotics offenses police reported themselves dropped 30 percent; the number of people they reported seeing with outstanding warrants dropped by half. The number of field interviews – instances in which the police approach someone for questioning – dropped 70 percent.

Police officials acknowledge the change. “In all candor, officers are not as aggressive as they once were, pre-2015. It’s just that fact,” says acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, who took command of Baltimore’s police force in May.

…But some officers drew a different lesson: “Officers no longer put themselves on the firing line,” says Victor Gearhart, a retired lieutenant who supervised the overnight shift in Baltimore’s southern district before he was pushed out of the department for referring to Black Lives Matter activists as “thugs” in an email.

“These guys aren’t stupid. They realize that if they do something wrong, they’re going to get their head bit off. There’s no feeling that anybody’s behind them anymore, and they’re not going to do it,” he says. “Nobody wants to put their head in the pizza oven when the pizza oven is on.” Read More > at USA Today

Enforcing the Law Is Inherently Violent – Law professors and lawyers instinctively shy away from considering the problem of law’s violence. Every law is violent. We try not to think about this, but we should. On the first day of law school, I tell my Contracts students never to argue for invoking the power of law except in a cause for which they are willing to kill. They are suitably astonished, and often annoyed. But I point out that even a breach of contract requires a judicial remedy; and if the breacher will not pay damages, the sheriff will sequester his house and goods; and if he resists the forced sale of his property, the sheriff might have to shoot him.

This is by no means an argument against having laws.

It is an argument for a degree of humility as we choose which of the many things we may not like to make illegal. Behind every exercise of law stands the sheriff – or the SWAT team – or if necessary the National Guard. Is this an exaggeration? Ask the family of Eric Garner, who died as a result of a decision to crack down on the sale of untaxed cigarettes. That’s the crime for which he was being arrested. Yes, yes, the police were the proximate cause of his death, but the crackdown was a political decree.

The statute or regulation we like best carries the same risk that some violator will die at the hands of a law enforcement officer who will go too far. And whether that officer acts out of overzealousness, recklessness, or simply the need to make a fast choice to do the job right, the violence inherent in law will be on display. This seems to me the fundamental problem that none of us who do law for a living want to face. Read More > in The Atlantic

Taking Away the Phones Won’t Solve Our Teenagers’ Problems – Even Silicon Valley insiders demanded that Apple make its devices “less addictive.” Some researchers have gone so far as to declare that smartphones have psychologically destroyed a generation of millennials and are fueling the epidemic of teenage anxiety and suicide in the United States. One study notes a spike in anxiety and depression among teenagers in 2011 — around the time of broad smartphone adoption.

Although some research does show that excessive and compulsive smartphone use is correlated with anxiety and depression, there is a lack of direct evidence that devices actually cause mental health problems.

In other words, there simply does not yet exist a prospective longitudinal study showing that, all things being equal, teenagers who use smartphones more often or in certain ways are more likely than their fellows to subsequently develop mental illness.

Large studies that fail to follow individuals over time can reveal only correlation, not cause. Luckily, some recently begun studies will be poised to weigh in on causation — but we’ll have to wait years for the results.

In the meantime, we can’t just blame the machines. This is especially important because if smartphones aren’t a direct cause of teenagers’ mental health struggles, their use might instead be a crucial way in which these struggles are expressed. This calls for a different set of solutions.

Teenagers are struggling with anxiety more than any other problem, and perhaps more than ever before. There’s a good chance that it is anxiety that is driving teenagers (and the rest of us) to escape into screens as a way to flee fears. Across most types of anxiety runs a common thread — difficulty coping with feelings of uncertainty: something today’s teenagers have more than their fair share of. Read More > in The New York Times

Germany Just Agreed To Essentially Close Its Borders. How Did We Get Here? – German Chancellor Angela Merkel stunned the world in 2015 by announcing that she would allow nearly a million asylum seekers into her country, a humanitarian gesture offering hope to those suffering from the ravages of wars worldwide.

The move transformed her into the poster child for opening up international borders. High-profile German politicians, mainstream media outlets, and the public rallied behind the idea. Images of Germans welcoming refugees at train stations matched public opinion polls showing majority support for the new arrivals. To those who were feeling a bit nervous, the chancellor reassured them that the country and her government could “handle it.”

But by 2018, the public mood had soured significantly. A new YouGov poll finds 72 percent of Germans saying their country’s immigration policy is negligent, with only 12 percent saying it’s about right. Last week, the reversal in public sentiment became official when the German chancellor ended a standoff with hardline immigration restrictionists in the government by dealing a mortal blow to the concept of open borders. She agreed to speed up deportations, to turn back refugees already registered in another European Union nation, and to let anti-immigration leader Horst Seehofer remain as head of the ministry charged with implementing these policies. She even acceded to opening “transit centers” along the border in Bavaria where refugees could be detained, though this provision was later dropped.

The deal is a dramatic repudiation of everything Merkel asked Germans to believe in just three years ago, which leaves many wondering: What on Earth went wrong?

…But even as officials worked to help the newcomers, restrictions designed to zealously protect native workers’ jobs made the effort nearly impossible. Aside from needing legal status, in Germany, refugees face regulatory hurdles—from additional training and certification requirements to demands that they already know the language—before they can qualify for jobs at any level.

Germany’s bureaucratic monolith, not exactly known for its efficiency, and resistant to rapid change, was expected absorb the sudden influx. And refugees’ new lives hung in the balance. Without approved legal residency and permission to enter the job market, they could not hope to support themselves and contribute to society. Instead, hundreds of thousands of people would sit in camps, in limbo, living on taxpayer money, indefinitely. A report from the Institute for Employment Research found that just 10 percent of the working-age refugees who arrived in 2015 were employed by 2017.

…Migration is still a must for Germany’s future, thanks to worrying demographic patterns. Without a lot of new workers, the aging population and its shrinking taxpayer base will lay ruin to the country’s generous welfare system.

But the country is stuck wondering how to successfully integrate such a huge mass of outsiders. This riddle is one shared by a number of countries worldwide. Read More > at Reason

40 Million–And About to Fall? – This should be the summer when the population of California finally surpasses 40 million.

California, like an insecure male lover, is always bragging about how big it is. And so reaching 40 million threshold—there is no red-letter date, though, by state figures, it’s likely to happen in late summer—will occasion another round of boasting about our size, not merely in population but in economic output and cultural impact. And this moment is likely to produce new predictions—offered either with pride or fear—about how soon we’ll get to 50 million or even 100 million people.

…To the contrary, this is the moment to consider the very real possibility that California’s rapid population growth is over—and that shrinkage may be in our future.

The very factors that have produced population declines in other places are now strong trends in California. Our birth rate has fallen to a record low – even lower than during the depths of the Great Depression. Also, we’re now three decades into a serious out-migration of California residents, with the Golden State losing about one million more people per decade than it takes in from the rest of the United States.

…As the number of children declines and young people leave California, the state is aging rapidly. San Francisco now has the lowest proportion of children (13 percent) of any major U.S. city. Aging populations tend to be less supportive of the very things that boost population: immigration and taxes to pay for child development. And, economically, aging populations consume less and innovate less (most new things are invented by the young), making their economies smaller and reducing the number of jobs.

…California’s population growth is at record lows—less than 0.8 percent annually—and falling. During the heyday of immigration in the 1980s, annual population growth was 2.5 percent a year.

Indeed, with many other states growing faster than the Golden State, in 2022 California could lose a seat in the House of Representatives for the first time. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Homicide, Hate, and Theft: The Latest Snapshot of Crime in California – The California Department of Justice has released a series of reports on crime in California. The latest data is a mixed bag, with progress being made in some areas and troubling new trends emerging in others.

According to the DOJ, California’s violent crime rate per 100,000 increased 1.5 percent in 2017. The property crime rate decreased 2.1 percent. Robberies and vehicle thefts were up while burglaries were down. Disturbingly, arson and rape rates rose 10.7 percent and 6.9 percent respectively.

Cannabis legalization also had a significant impact on crime statistics in California. Marijuana arrests decreased by 56 percent in 2017. Marijuana felony arrests were down 74 percent.

Hate crimes were also a pressing issue for California last year. Hate crime events increased from 931 in 2016 to 1,093 in 2017 (17.5 percent).

The following counties saw the largest number of hate crime events in 2017:

  1. Los Angeles (419)
  2. San Diego (95)
  3. Alameda (86)
  4. Santa Clara (57)
  5. San Francisco (47)

Another DOJ report specifically looked at California’s homicide rate. It found a 5.2 decrease statewide. Kern County had the highest rate of homicide rates per capita.
Read all three state reports, plus another report on juvenile justice, here. Read More > at California County News

CalPERS Returns 8.6% for Fiscal Year, Underperforms Benchmark – Sacramento-based California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s (CalPERS) reported an underperformance of 6 basis points for its fiscal year, even as the pension’s funded status rose to 71% from 68% the previous year, according to preliminary reports. CalPERS reported a net return of 8.6% for the 12-month period ended June 30.

In a video reporting the results, CalPERS’ Ted Eliopoulos said “While we’ve seen some expected volatility in the markets, our diversified global portfolio has allowed us to exceed our expected rate of return of 7%.”

The strongest portfolio performance for the $354.7-billion pension fund was returned by infrastructure, real estate and public and private equities.

CalPERS’ real estate portfolio returned 6.8%, 26 basis points below its benchmark for the year. Read More > at California Connect

China files WTO challenge to Trump’s $200-billion tariff plan – China announced Monday it has filed a World Trade Organization challenge to President Trump’s proposal for a tariff hike on $200 billion of Chinese goods, reacting swiftly amid deepening concern about the economic impact of their spiraling technology dispute.

The one-sentence Commerce Ministry statement gave no legal grounds for the challenge or other details. It is an unusually rapid move for a trade case, coming less than a week after the U.S. Trade Representative announced the tariff plan, which wouldn’t take effect until at least September.

The USTR said last week that it proposed the levy in response to Beijing’s decision to retaliate for U.S. tariff hikes over complaints China is hurting American companies by stealing or pressuring foreign enterprises to hand over technology. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

The $42 Trillion Bubble – Over the past few weeks, financial media has focused almost solely on one thing, a U.S trade war with China. On Friday, the United States enacted its first wave of tariffs, and we are currently waiting to hear details on Chinese retaliation.

However, we see a much larger problem in China; and it isn’t their trade income; it’s their assets, specifically in their Real Estate and Banking sector.

The “trade war” may just be the relatively small spark that finally ignites a 42 trillion dollar fire.

If a recession is on the horizon, it is likely to be from China. Not from a Chinese domestic spending slowdown, but from a credit crunch that reverberates across their entire real estate and banking sector.

The Chinese total debt load (public and private) is estimated to be a staggering 300%+ of their GDP. Read More > at Seeking Alpha

Worms may hold the secret to longer life – Humans have long dreamed of finding the secret to eternal youth, but despite the benefits of better living conditions and modern medicine, time still takes its unrelenting toll on our bodies.

While people today live longer than ever before, age-related diseases such as dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions rob people of the chance of living healthy lives into old age.

But researchers have a secret weapon in the battle with the ageing process – the humble worm. Flatworms have the ability to regrow large parts of their bodies after losing them. Roundworms, meanwhile, may hold the secret to counteracting neurodegenerative scourges like Alzheimer’s disease and conditions such as muscular dystrophy.

Scientists see these creatures as a rich source of potential clues about the ageing process and how we too might regenerate tissues. Read More > at Horizon

Life after the Bay Area: Fleeing residents feel heartbreak, joy – From Santa Rosa to San Jose, more and more residents are making the bittersweet decision to leave the Bay Area, abandoning its near-perfect weather, booming economy and thriving arts, culture and food scenes in favor of less-glamorous destinations like Austin, Boise and Knoxville.

Some are fleeing the Bay Area’s sky-high housing and rent prices, both among the most expensive in the nation. Others are cashing out, selling their homes to get more for their money in a less expensive city. Nearly all of them are fed up with miserable, hours-long commutes on snarled freeways.

More people are leaving the Bay Area than are moving in, according to a 2018 report by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Silicon Valley Community Foundation. An average of 42 people left San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties each month in 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. That’s a sharp uptick from the year before, when the region gained an average of 1,962 residents per month.

Of the Bay Area residents who are still here, nearly half of those surveyed recently said they plan to move out of the region in the next few years, according to a poll released in June by the Bay Area Council. Read More > in The Mercury News

Strong retail sales report suggests robust economic growth in the second quarter – U.S. retail sales rose solidly in June, boosted by increases in purchases of motor vehicles and a range of other goods, cementing expectations for robust economic growth in the second quarter.

The Commerce Department said on Monday retail sales increased 0.5 percent last month. Data for May was revised higher to show sales rising 1.3 percent instead of the previously reported 0.8 percent gain. May’s rise in retail sales was the largest since September 2017.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales rising 0.5 percent in June. Retail sales in June increased 6.6 percent from a year ago.

In addition to the solid retail sales data, a sharp narrowing of the trade deficit in April and May has also bolstered expectations of a strong GDP reading in the second quarter. The government will publish its snapshot of second-quarter GDP later this month.

Consumer spending is being driven by a tightening labor market, which is steadily pushing up wages. Consumption is also being supported by tax cuts and savings. Read More > at CNBC

In rebuke of Dianne Feinstein, Kevin de León wins endorsement of California Democrats in Senate race – California Democratic Party leaders took a step to the left Saturday night, endorsing liberal state lawmaker Kevin de León for Senate in a stinging rebuke of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

De León’s victory reflected the increasing strength of the state party’s liberal activist core, which was energized by the election of Republican Donald Trump as president.

The endorsement was an embarrassment for Feinstein, who is running for a fifth full term, and indicates that Democratic activists in California have soured on her reputation for pragmatism and deference to bipartisanship as Trump and a Republican-led Congress are attacking Democratic priorities on immigration, healthcare and environmental protections. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Restaurants Need To Adapt To The Rise Of Dark Kitchens – Like every part of the retail and leisure sector, traditional restaurants are being disrupted by new technology.

The latest iteration of this — the rise of dark kitchens and the food delivery apps that they service…

People have always been able to pick up the phone to order takeaway, and they have been able to order online as well for some time. But these orders were typically fulfiled by restaurants, and the range was limited.

Apps like Deliveroo and Uber Eats have vastly increased the range and quality of restaurants able to fulfil takeaway orders, making ordering in a much easier experience.

Now, these companies offer restaurants the ability to fulfill these orders from outside the brick-and-mortar traditional storefront. Deliveroo has more than a dozen dark kitchen sites across the U.K., which it previously called Rooboxes but has now given the more prosaic name Editions.

These dark kitchens tend to be repurposed buildings or more often shipping containers fitted out with the kitchen equipment required to cook an off-site meal exactly as it would be cooked in a restaurant kitchen. Diners can get restaurant quality food without the need for a physical space. Read More > at Bisnow

3 reasons why the US is vulnerable to big disasters – During the 2017 disaster season, three severe hurricanes devastated large parts of the U.S.

The quick succession of major disasters made it obvious that such large-scale emergencies can be a strain, even in one of the world’s richest countries.

As a complex emergency researcher, I investigate why some countries can better withstand and respond to disasters. The factors are many and diverse, but three major ones stand out because they are within the grasp of the federal and local governments: where and how cities grow; how easily households can access critical services during disaster; and the reliability of the supply chains for critical goods.

Where Americans live

Large shares of the U.S. population live in the parts of the country most vulnerable to major disasters, mainly coastal areas prone to hurricane damage. Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey and Irma all hit heavily populated coasts.

Seven of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. are on or near the coast, accounting for more than 60 million people. In fact, the vast majority of counties with more than 500,000 inhabitants are concentrated on the coast…

Access to emergency funds

In a disaster, people often need money to cover medical care, food, water and other crucial needs. In a frustrating catch-22, however, access to funds can be severely limited if power outages take out ATMs and credit card terminals. That was the case in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

A 2015 Federal Reserve survey found that even with access to bank accounts and ATMs, almost half of Americans would be unable to find US$400 for an emergency without borrowing or using a credit card… Read More > at CNBC

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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