Sunday Reading 08/26/18

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

California doesn’t have the worst drivers in the nation? Baloney! – Reading the latest SmartAsset survey of the states with the country’s worst drivers, Californians don’t know whether to be thrilled that we’re in third and not first place or angry because anyone who drives in the Golden State knows full well that we’re definitely the very best at very bad driving.

The financial tech company has ranked us after Mississippi and Tennessee, which is outrageous no matter what metrics you’re using to define “worst.” The only thing those two states have over us is a bunch of vowels and consonants aside one another, which California, of course, is sorely missing.

In any case, SmartAsset says it measured bad drivers by looking at four factors: “We look at the percent of drivers with insurance, number of DUIs per driver, average number of deaths per miles driven and how often residents Google terms like traffic ticket or speeding ticket.”

Smart Asset did offer us a tiny silver lining: “According to our data, there is more to worry about than just the traffic. California ranks 12th for DUIs per thousand drivers and 11th for percent of uninsured drivers. One piece of good news is the relatively low fatality rate. California ranks 32nd for number of people killed per 100 million miles driven.”

That’s just great. So we don’t KILL people at the same rate as they do, say, in Jackson, Mississippi, a state that SmartAsset found experienced roughly 1.7 people dying for every 100 million miles driven. But just because California’s death toll is more modest doesn’t mean we’re better drivers than the residents of Mississippi. Because we most certainly are not. Read More > in The Mercury News

In Defense of the Penny – Does it still make sense to have the penny when more purchases are made with credit cards and other forms of electronic payment and the cost to make coins has increased? The answer, for a variety of reasons, is a resounding “yes.”

First, consumers benefit with a low denomination coin. The penny helps keep high prices in check. The alternative to the penny, rounding prices to the nickel, hurts consumers.

Second, there is strong public support for the penny. National polling shows that more than 66 percent of Americans favor keeping the penny.

Third, penny elimination doesn’t save money. In fact, government costs will increase without the penny.

Forth, America’s wonderful charities raise millions from the penny. Groups like The Salvation Army and Ronald McDonald House Charities rely on these small contributions that prove the penny’s value. Each of these points deserves further discussion. Read More > at Inside Sources

San Francisco “Poop Patrollers” Will Cost $185,000 Each – We wish we could say this was a satire piece, but a new story in the San Francisco Chronicle reveals just how lucrative collecting shit actually is.

It’s but the latest in a string of shocking revelations to hit headlines throughout the summer exposing how deep San Francisco’s crisis of vast amounts of vagrant-generated feces covering its public streets actually runs (no pun intended).

We detailed last week how city authorities have finally decided to do something after thousands of feces complaints (during only one week in July, over 16,000 were recorded), the cancellation of a major medical convention and an outraged new Mayor, London Breed, who was absolutely shocked after walking through her city: they established a professional “poop patrol”.

As described when the city initially unveiled the plan, the patrol will consist of a team of five staffers and a supervisor donning protective gear and patrolling the alleys around Polk Street and other “brown zones” in search of everything from hepatitis-laden Hershey squirts to worm-infested-logs. At the Poop Patrol’s disposal will be a special vehicle equipped with a steam cleaner and disinfectant.

The teams will begin their shifts in the afternoon, spotting and cleaning piles of feces before the city receives complaints in order “to be proactive” in the words of the Public Works director Mohammed Nuru, co-creator of the poop patrol initiative.

While at first glance it doesn’t sound like the type of job people will be knocking down human resources doors to apply for, the SF Chronicle has revealed just how much each member of this apparently elite “poop patrol” team will cost the city: $184,678 in salary and benefits.

The SF Chronicle casually notes in parenthesis, “By the way, the poop patrolers earn $71,760 a year, which swells to $184,678 with mandated benefits.” Read More > at Zero Hedge

New Details Reveal Airman John Chapman’s Heroism at Roberts Ridge – Tech. Sgt. John Chapman ran out of a bunker on the Takur Ghar mountaintop for the second time, intentionally risking fire from heavily armed enemy fighters.

Shot several times already, Chapman attempted to halt the al-Qaida forces’ assault on an incoming MH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying U.S. special operators.

He no longer had the cover of night, and exposed himself to the enemy as he ran. Dashing out to the ridge line in five-foot-deep snow, Chapman fired at the enemy fighters who were loading rocket-propelled grenades, helping additional American forces to enter the landing zone.

It would be his final bold act before two shots from a large-caliber machine gun cut through his torso, one destroying his aorta and killing him instantly.

But this, Chapman’s final fight, occurred well after the special tactics airman had already been presumed dead.

A 30-month investigation involving eyewitness testimony from nearby Army and Air Force service members and drone targeteers, intelligence reports and aircraft video feed proved that Chapman not only lived after he was initially hit and knocked unconscious early in the mission, but that he at one point engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, fighting for about 70 harrowing minutes on the ground alone. This week, officials who investigated the circumstances surrounding his death spoke publicly for the first time about their findings.

Chapman, a combat controller assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor, an upgrade of his Air Force Cross, for his actions on March 4, 2002, during a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday. He will become the first U.S. airman to receive the military’s highest award since the Vietnam War. Read More > at Military

Another 46 Sears and Kmart stores closing in November: Here’s the list – Sears Holdings is closing 46 more Sears or Kmart stores as the struggling retailer seeks stability amid questions about its future.

The department store chain also said it will “continue to evaluate our network of stores” and “make further adjustments as needed,” raising the distinct possibility of additional closures as the company continues reeling.

The latest plan involves closing 13 Kmart locations and 33 Sears stores in November, all of which are losing money. The company has closed several hundred locations in recent years.

Going-out-of-business sales will begin as soon as Aug. 30.

Here’s the list of latest closures:

Kmart closures

Spring Valley – 935 Sweetwater Road

Clovis – 1075 Shaw Avenue

Antioch – 3625 East 18th Street

Los Angeles – 6310 W 3rd Street
Read More > at USA Today

Small business optimism at 35-year high – Small business owners’ optimism touched a 35-year high in July, with businesses setting records in terms of job creation and hiring, while they cited the availability of qualified workers as their biggest challenge. In another signal of just how good this economy is, the small business owners also noted that they were able to increase prices.

In July 2018, the NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index marked its second highest level in the survey’s 45-year history, at 107.9 – just shy of the July 1983 record-high of 108.

Records were set for job creation plans. A seasonally-adjusted net 23 percent of businesses are planning to create new jobs, while 37 percent of business owners said they had job openings that they could not fill in July. Read More > at Fox Business

San Francisco Man Prevented from Turning His ‘Historic Laundromat’ Into Apartment Building Is Suing the City for $17 Million – Robert Tillman, the owner of San Francisco’s most famous laundromat, is suing the city for repeatedly frustrating his attempts to build a code-compliant, 75-unit apartment building on land he owns in the housing-starved city.

Tillman has been trying to get approval for his project since 2014. He has faced always-heated, ever-shifting objections from local activists and allied politicians. At various times they have complained that he is not adding enough below-market rate units, that his laundromat is of historic significance, or—most recently—that it might cast shadow on the playground of a nearby school. (The playground is already shaded by trees.)

That last objection was accepted by the city’s Board of Supervisors in June at the urging of Supervisor Hillary Ronen. Ronen represents the Mission District, where Tillman’s laundromat is located; she is a close ally of the activists trying to kill Tillman’s project; and she had demanded that a new shadow study (over and above the two already performed) needs to be conducted.

San Francisco requires that shadow impacts be studied only when they have a chance of impacting a public park managed by the city’s Parks Department. Staff at San Francisco’s own Planning Department say the school does not fall into that definition, and the school itself has offered no objection to the possibility of shadow from Tillman’s planned building.

Nevertheless, Ronan says the school’s park could at some point be made available to the public and thus should be studied further. As Tillman’s suit notes, if this logic were accepted, more than just his project would be at risk. “Over 250 schools are located in the City,” the complaint states. Read More > at Reason

Target Posts Blockbuster Results – Walmart reporting its strongest growth in years last week was a tough act to follow, but Target proved up to the challenge Wednesday morning. The retailer put up spectacular second-quarter numbers, with both its stores and its online business booming. A combination of strong consumer spending, a flurry of new exclusive brands, and major e-commerce initiatives led to the best quarter for Target in more than a decade.

Target reported total second-quarter revenue of $17.8 billion, up 6.9% year over year. Comparable-store sales rose 4.9%, driven by a 6.4% increase in store traffic. That’s the strongest traffic growth number Target has posted since it began reporting traffic 10 years ago.

Like Walmart, Target benefited from strong consumer spending. The U.S. Census Bureau reported a 6% year-over-year increase in adjusted retail sales for July, which likely provided some fuel for Target’s exceptional quarter. This rising tide didn’t lift all boats — department stores like J.C. Penney and Macy’s, for example, failed to benefit much from consumers opening their wallets. So Target certainly deserves some credit for its blockbuster results. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Betty Yee to cannabis industry: Grow up and deal with stoned drivers – California Controller Betty Yee, injured last month in an auto collision suspected to have been caused by a 25-year-old driver under the influence of marijuana, used sharp language today to demand that the state’s nascent cannabis industry “step up” and address pot-related traffic accidents.

In an interview with CALmatters, Yee said pot growers and retailers “grousing” about taxes and regulation need to accept that the legalization of recreational weed carries social obligations, including a need to do something about the increased risk to public safety.

The controller, a Democrat campaigning for a second term, detailed how she lost consciousness on the afternoon of Friday, July 13, when the state car in which she was riding was rear-ended by a driver allegedly high on marijuana in the Posey Tube connecting Alameda and Oakland. Yee told CALmatters that she, her husband and their driver, a California Highway Patrol security officer, were in standstill traffic when their vehicle was hit by a Nissan sedan moving 40-55 mph.

The CHP later reported that the 3:25 p.m. crash shoved the state vehicle into the back of a nearby Toyota. “The last thing I remember seeing before losing consciousness was the floor of the car as if I were suspended looking down,” said Yee, recalling how the state vehicle was lifted from behind.

…The trend in some states toward cannabis legalization has generated national concern about the potential for impaired driving. A study released this year by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that some 44 percent of drivers killed in crashes in 2016 who were tested afterward had drugs in their system, up from 28 percent in 2006.

Yee cited research from other states that showed an uptick in the number of crashes involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana. Colorado reported 51 cannabis-involved fatalities in 2016, up from 19 in 2014 and 2015. However, the reports were only made uniform in 2016.

While California does not have a defined cutoff level for drugs in a driver’s blood as it does for alcohol, the state does rely on officers to use their observations, perform field sobriety tests and blood tests to prove impairment. The CHP has estimated the Bay Area could see a 70 percent increase in driving under the influence of marijuana if the current rate of DUI arrests continues through the end of the year. Read More > at CALmatters

Lowe’s Plans $400 Million Shutdown of All Orchard Supply Stores – Home improvement chain Lowe’s announced that it will close 99 Orchard Supply Hardware stores by the end of the year, taking a second-half charge of more than $400 million. Lowe’s purchased the chain in 2013 after it was spun off by Sears Holdings Corp. in 2011. Shares of Lowe’s rose over 8 percent, and began trending upward over $100 after the announcement.

Lowe’s is the second-largest home improvement chain in the U.S., behind Home Depot. Lowe’s has lagged behind Home Depot in same-store sales for some time, and declining growth in the home improvement industry has not helped.

Lowe’s also announced it will cut back on slow-moving inventory. Closing the stores and paring down inventory should help the chain’s same-store figures, which compare a store’s sales over a set period of time, usually a year. An increase in same-store sales is seen as a positive indicator of a retail chain‘s health.

The closure of the Orchard Supply Hardware stores and the inventory reduction measures should mean that consumers will see more of the products they are looking for when they shop at their local Lowe’s store, although those in some parts of the country might have to drive a bit further to get to that store. They may also see more competitive pricing as inventory moves more quickly. Read More > at Yahoo! Finance

Hospitals shut at 30-a-year pace in U.S., with no end in sight – Industry M&A may be no savior as the pace of hospital closures, particularly in hard-to-reach rural areas, seems poised to accelerate.

Hospitals have been closing at a rate of about 30 a year, according to the American Hospital Association, and patients living far from major cities may be left with even fewer hospital choices as insurers push them toward online providers like Teladoc Inc. and clinics such as CVS Health Corp’s MinuteClinic.

Morgan Stanley analysts led by Vikram Malhotra looked at data from roughly 6,000 U.S. private and public hospitals and concluded eight percent are at risk of closing; another 10 percent are considered “weak.” The firm defined weak hospitals based on criteria for margins for earnings before interest and other items, occupancy and revenue. The “at risk” group was defined by capital expenditures and efficiency. among others.

The next year to 18 months should see an increase in shut downs, Malhotra said in a phone interview. Read More > at Crain’s Chicago Business

Why Hollywood’s Silence on Free Speech Matters – Bill Maher is all alone. Again.

The avowed liberal chastised his fellow progressives Aug. 17 during the latest “Real Time with Bill Maher” show. Most left-leaning voices either applauded conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ removal from major platforms like Facebook and YouTube or stayed silent.

How many stars held their nose and said the Alex Jones of the world deserve to have a voice, too? Chelsea Handler, Billy Eichner, George Takei and Debra Messing did just the opposite, cheering on Jones’ dismissal via their Twitter accounts.

That, Maher said, is simply wrong.

“If you’re a liberal, you’re supposed to be for free speech. That’s free speech for the speech you hate. That’s what free speech means. We’re losing the thread of the concepts that are important to this country. If you care about the real American s*** or you don’t. And if you do, it goes for every side. I don’t like Alex Jones, but Alex Jones gets to speak. Everybody gets to speak.”

He’s right, of course. Read More > at Hollywood in Toto

Developers sue Navy over $6 billion Concord Weapons Station redevelopment – A group of developers and property owners filed a lawsuit to challenge the U.S. Navy’s environmental clearance to transfer nearly 5,000 acres of land at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station.

Developer Five Point Holdings plans to transform the mostly vacant land and dilapidated military buildings at the station into a new transit village with 12,200 homes and 6.1 million square feet of commercial space adjacent to the North Concord BART Station.

The group challenging the project in Concord claims that the Navy’s environmental study of the site does not comply with the National Environmental Protection Act and failed to adequately issues such as traffic impacts, air quality and environmental remediation of the land.

Other plaintiffs listed on the suit include developers Faria Land Investors and Debonnevelle LLC that like Discovery Builders, operate or own development sites near the former weapons station. Faria owns approximately 606 acres of land directly adjacent to the Concord weapons station to the west. The site has been planned for residential use for over fourteen years. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Who’s the Cleanest of Them All – Take a wild guess what country is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions the most? Canada? Britain? France? India? Germany? Japan? No, no, no, no, no and no.

The answer to that question is the U.S. of A. Wow! How can that be? This must be a misprint. Fake news. America never ratified the Kyoto Treaty some two decades ago. We never enacted a carbon tax. We don’t have a cap-and-trade carbon emission program.

Yet the latest world climate report from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy finds that in 2017, America reduced its carbon emissions by 0.5 percent, the most of all major countries. That’s especially impressive given that our economy grew by nearly 3 percent — so we had more growth and less pollution — the best of all worlds. The major reason for the reduced pollution levels is the shale oil and gas revolution that is transitioning the world to cheap and clean natural gas for electric power generation.

Meanwhile, as our emissions fell, the pollution levels rose internationally and by a larger amount than in previous years. So much for the rest of the world going green.

The world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions is China. According to the invaluable Institute for Energy Research, “China produces 28 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. India is the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide and had the second-largest increment (93 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide emissions in 2017, more than twice as much an increase as the U.S. reduction.” This means it doesn’t really matter how much America reduces its greenhouse gases because China and India cancel out any and all progress we make. Those who think they are helping save the planet by purchasing an electric car or putting a solar panel on their roof are barking up the wrong tree. There is no way to make progress on greenhouse gases without China and India on board — which they clearly are not. Read More > at Real Clear Politics

Chicago Mayor Faces More Heat After Linking Gun Violence to Minority Neighborhoods’ Lack of Morals – Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is dealing with heavy backlash after his recent comments, where he linked the recent spike in shootings to lack of morals in the minority neighborhoods.

Fox News reported Emanuel directed blame after being asked about police staffing and strategy following a weekend where over 70 people were shot:

“This may not be politically correct, but I know the power of what faith and family can do. … Our kids need that structure. … I am asking … that we also don’t shy away from a full discussion about the importance of family and faith helping to develop and nurture character, self-respect, a value system and a moral compass that allows kids to know good from bad and right from wrong.

If we’re going to solve this … we’ve got to have a real discussion. Parts of the conversation cannot be off-limits because it’s not politically comfortable. … We are going to discuss issues that have been taboo in years past because they are part of the solution. … We also have a responsibility to help nurture character.”

“It plays a role,” he continued. “Our kids need that moral structure in their lives. And we cannot be scared to have this conversation.” Read More > at IJR

The Recruitment Problem the Military Doesn’t Want to Talk About – …Since becoming his service’s senior officer, Milley has argued that to meet its obligations, the Army will need 540,000 soldiers in its ranks by 2022, an increase of some 70,000 soldiers over four years. “It is not some arbitrary number,” Milley told a gathering of Army veterans back in August. “We have done the analysis. We need to be bigger, and we need to be stronger and more capable.”

Milley’s goal meant that the Army not only needed to find 17,500 new soldiers every year, it needed to find replacements for those who retire or leave the service every year—about 20 percent of the force. So it is that the Army set its 2018 recruiting goal at 80,000 soldiers. Initially, at least, Milley’s target seemed modest, reachable. It wasn’t.

n April, the Army revised that number—downwards. Instead of recruiting 80,000, it announced that it would recruit 76,500 new soldiers. But even that number might be too high, as the Army notes that it’s recruited only 28,000 in the first six months of the year. The problem, it seems, isn’t that young people don’t want to join the Army—or any of the services—it’s that they can’t. And therein lies a paradox: for while the U.S. military represents the best in America (as its most senior officers claim), it doesn’t actually represent America. For that to be true, two thirds of our military would have to consist of obese, under-educated former drug users and convicted criminals.

Here’s the arithmetic: one in three potential recruits are disqualified from service because they’re overweight, one in four cannot meet minimal educational standards (a high school diploma or GED equivalent), and one in 10 have a criminal history. In plain terms, about 71 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds (the military’s target pool of potential recruits) are disqualified from the minute they enter a recruiting station: that’s 24 million out of 34 million Americans. The good news is that while the military takes pride in attracting those who are fit, educated, law abiding, and drug-free, they’re having difficulty finding them—manifestly because fewer of them actually exist.

Then too, of the pool of remaining potential recruits, only one in eight actually want to join the military, and of that number, fully 30 percent of those who have the requisite high school diploma or GED equivalent fail to pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test (the AFQT), which is used to determine math and reading skills. Tutoring companies produce sample tests and there’s an “AFQT for Dummies” on the shelves. Here’s a sample question: “Five workers earn $135/day. What is the total amount earned by the five workers?” Put more simply, the purpose of the AFQT isn’t to identify the most qualified, but to winnow out the illiterate, the 30 percent who can’t read, write, or count, despite their high school diplomas. Read More > at The American Conservative

Transportation And Technology – So Interlinked It’s Almost Impossible To Plan For Tomorrow – How do government officials plan for transportation costs considering the fact that the technology that will be required in three, five or ten years is still being developed? It is a critically important task because there is no doubt that technology will define the future of transportation.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will definitely be a major technology consideration, but who can predict how it will be used? AI collects data and uses algorithms to make all kinds of decisions in a split second. Automated rail projects, sensors that control traffic, highway signage, roadway conditions, autonomous cars and more – who knows how to calculate these future costs?

Today, AI is most commonly used for control signals for traffic at road intersections, ramp metering on freeways, dynamic route guidance, positive train control on railroads, etc. However, AI is also used for pattern recognition and automatic incident detection, image processing for traffic data collection and for identifying cracks in pavements or bridge structures and transportation equipment diagnosis.

AI is used extensively in transportation planning. It factors into almost every major decision – including deciding whether to build a new road, how much money to allocate for maintenance and rehabilitation and which road segments or bridges to prioritize for maintenance. AI is also used in decision-making related to diverting traffic to alternative routes in incident situations and clearing a path for emergency vehicles. Read More > at Smart & Resilient Cities

As Plastic Straw Bans Gain Momentum, Will Balloons be Next? – Having extracted the straw from your milkshake in Seattle and ruined your boba tea experience in San Francisco, America’s anti-straw crusaders have moved on to a new cause: banning birthday balloons.

Or at least that is what the headlines say.

“Plastic Bags and Straws Are Banned in Some Places. Here’s Why Balloons Could Be Next,” reads the headline at Time. “Plastic balloons join plastic straw controversy,” announces Newsweek. “First it was plastic bags, then plastic straws. Now environmental groups are urging a ban on balloons,” says National Public Radio.

An anti-balloon movement is certainly blowing in the wind. In April of this year, the town of New Shoreham, Rhode Island, banned the “sale, use or distribution” of balloons; pop off one of these prohibited inflatables and you’ll be looking at a maximum $200 fine. And New Shoreham isn’t alone. According to the anti-balloon group Balloons Blow, the Massachusetts towns of Nantucket and Provincetown both ban the sale and use of balloons. (Provincetown’s only applies to the helium-filled ones.)

…But the obsessive focus on banning single-use plastic straws may have breathed new life into a dormant war on balloons. That has, in fact, been the explicit hope of anti-straw groups like Lonely Whale. One argument they have offered for straw bans is that the suckers are a “gateway plastic” whose prohibition will lead to bigger and better crackdowns on single-use plastic items.

The justifications for banning balloons mirror those of straw prohibitions: saving sea turtles and other wildlife from yet another aspect of our throwaway culture.

As with straws, balloons’ effect on the oceans have been overblown. They make up a tiny portion of the overall number of items collected via coastal clean ups each year—not even cracking into the top 10 number of items found, according to Ocean Conservancy, which runs a global coastal clean up each year. Balloons make up about 1 percent of items collected by California’s coastal clean-up. (Straws make up about 3 percent.)

Nevertheless, the fact that balloons can be such a tiny percentage of the plastic debris in animals’ stomachs shows the absurdity of focusing on a single item rather than dealing with the problem of plastic (and rubber) marine debris holistically. Solving that problem requires fewer bans on individual items and better waste management in East Asia and Africa, where the vast majority of marine debris and plastic waste originates. Read More > at Reason

Why San Francisco is joining Valley farmers in a fight over precious California water – Originating in a glacier at the eastern edge of Yosemite, the Tuolumne River runs into a man-made roadblock in the towering granite cliffs of the Hetch Hetchy Valley. A massive concrete dam captures its icy water and ships much of it through pipes and tunnels to the residents of San Francisco.

Farther downstream, the Tuolumne is halted again, this time by a dam in the oak-covered Sierra foothills. From there, a network of canals spreads the Tuolumne’s waters over mile after mile of rich San Joaquin Valley vineyards, orchards and dairy farms.

The meager amount left in the river to flow to the Pacific — some years, as little as 11 percent of what would have been its natural flow — must sustain a population of salmon and steelhead plummeting toward extinction.

In short, the Tuolumne embodies just how much California has overtaxed its rivers.

Little wonder, then, that a plan by California regulators to re-divide the waters of the Tuolumne — and much of the rest of the lower San Joaquin River watershed — has ignited one of the fiercest fights over water California has seen in years. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

America’s Invisible Pot Addicts – Evan, who asked that his full name not be used for fear of professional repercussions, has a self-described cannabis-use disorder. If not necessarily because of legalization, but alongside legalization, such problems are becoming more common: The share of adults with one has doubled since the early aughts, as the share of cannabis users who consume it daily or near-daily has jumped nearly 50 percent—all “in the context of increasingly permissive cannabis legislation, attitudes, and lower risk perception,” as the National Institutes of Health put it.

Public-health experts worry about the increasingly potent options available, and the striking number of constant users. “Cannabis is potentially a real public-health problem,” said Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University. “It wasn’t obvious to me 25 years ago, when 9 percent of self-reported cannabis users over the last month reported daily or near-daily use. I always was prepared to say, ‘No, it’s not a very abusable drug. Nine percent of anybody will do something stupid.’ But that number is now [something like] 40 percent.” They argue that state and local governments are setting up legal regimes without sufficient public-health protection, with some even warning that the country is replacing one form of reefer madness with another, careening from treating cannabis as if it were as dangerous as heroin to treating it as if it were as benign as kombucha.

But cannabis is not benign, even if it is relatively benign, compared with alcohol, opiates, and cigarettes, among other substances. Thousands of Americans are finding their own use problematic in a climate where pot products are getting more potent, more socially acceptable to use, and yet easier to come by, not that it was particularly hard before.

…In terms of long-standing risks, the lack of federal involvement in legalization has meant that marijuana products are not being safety-tested like pharmaceuticals; measured and dosed like food products; subjected to agricultural-safety and pesticide standards like crops; and held to labeling standards like alcohol. (Different states have different rules and testing regimes, complicating things further.)

…This is not to say that prohibition is a more attractive policy, or that legalization has proven to be a public-health disaster. “The big-picture view is that the vast majority of people who use cannabis are not going to be problematic users,” said Jolene Forman, an attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance. “They’re not going to have a cannabis-use disorder. They’re going to have a healthy relationship with it. And criminalization actually increases the harms related to cannabis, and so having a strictly regulated market where there can be limits on advertising, where only adults can purchase cannabis, and where you’re going to get a wide variety of products makes sense.” Read More > in The Atlantic

The Great Schools Squeeze – Call it The Great California School Squeeze. The state is stuck in a nasty school funding paradox: Even though our school districts never have had higher funding levels than they do right now, many districts face financial peril.

First, escalating payments and obligations for retirement benefits are growing so fast (more than 100 percent in this decade in many districts) that they gobble up most of the rising education funding all by themselves. That leaves little for today’s students and teachers.

Second, with California’s birth rate at a record low, the number of students is stagnant in some districts and declining in others. Since school funding is granted on a per-student basis, fewer students means less funding, even at the higher rates.

Third, the state is pressuring schools to take expensive new measures to address major social problems — including shortages of college graduates and systemic inequality that leaves poorer young people lagging. Elaborate new state measurement systems for schools go far beyond test scores to assess everything from equity to school discipline. A new funding formula that gives more money to poorer schools has created pressure to eliminate achievement gaps. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

More than 50% of this California county has burned since 2012. Some residents say they’ve had enough – A Los Angeles Times analysis found that more than 50% of the county’s land has been burned since 2012. And it has sparked debate for some residents about whether living in this rural enclave about 120 miles north of San Francisco is worth it.

In the last five to 10 years, the Lake County region has become one of the most active in the state in terms of fires, said Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Twenty years ago, it was Southern California — in areas such as Orange and Riverside counties — that experienced the most fires, officials said. Now Lake County competes for the top spot, along with Mariposa County.

Lake County’s topography, specifically its canyons, mean winds travel quickly there, Tolmachoff said. But what has made the area more prone to fire recently is the growing popularity of Napa and Sonoma valleys’ wine country spilling into Lake County, she said. More people means more opportunities for fires to start.

UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said the Mendocino Complex fire — actually two blazes, the Ranch fire and the River fire — became so bad because of explosively flammable vegetation, warm overnight temperatures and the lingering effect of years of drought. The blaze has burned mostly into the Mendocino National Forest. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

With an epidemic of mental illness on the streets, counties struggle to spend huge cash reserves – When California voters passed a tax on high-income residents in 2004, backers said it would make good on the state’s “failed promise” to help counties pay for the treatment of the mentally ill.

After nearly 15 years, Proposition 63 — the Mental Health Services Act — has steered billions of dollars to the counties across the state. But huge sums remain unspent at a time when mental illness has become an epidemic among the homeless population.

As of June 2017, $1.6 billion was being held in reserve in nearly three-quarters of the counties in the state. In Los Angeles County, the Department of Mental Health had accumulated nearly $900 million. The unspent funds are believed to have increased in the fiscal year that ended June 30, but figures were not yet available.

…Experts cite a number of factors for these balances: the volatility of the fund, its spending requirements and a lack of guidance from Sacramento.

In a February report, the state auditor faulted the California Department of Health Care Services for “poor oversight” of the agencies statewide that receive these funds every month. Health Care Services, which agreed with most of the auditor’s recommendations, declined to comment for this article.

The money raised by Proposition 63 accounts for 25% of the California’s $8-billion budget for mental health programs, and in the last six years, the administration of this money has been routinely criticized. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Rounding Up the Science Behind the Monsanto Glyphosate Ruling – Last week, a California state court handed down a $289-million verdict against Monsanto, the St. Louis-based agribusiness titan. The massive jury award to plaintiff Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper, comes after Johnson and his attorneys argued successfully that his repeated on-the-job use of Monsanto pesticides caused him to develop a terminal case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer.

Monsanto, now part of Bayer after a recent merger, has vowed to appeal the ruling. But Johnson’s suit may be the first of thousands of similar lawsuits the company could face.

Johnson’s case centered on his use of two of Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing pesticides, Ranger Pro and Roundup, the latter the most popular pesticide in this country. Johnson’s attorneys argued Monsanto failed to warn their client about the potential risks of using their products, namely that such use could cause harm, if not cancer.

Does glyphosate cause cancer? The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, concluded in 2015 that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” That conclusion appears to have been sufficient to sway jurors.

Indeed, if it’s true that Monsanto’s products caused Johnson’s cancer and the company failed to warn him of the potential for its products to do so, then I am very confident the court was right to rule in Johnson’s favor. (Reasonable people may quibble over whether the award of nearly $300 million is too high or, I suppose, not high enough.)

But that if is a big one. Indeed, critics of the ruling are sounding the alarm over the science that formed the backbone of the jury’s ruling, noting the IARC conclusions are a controversial outlier when it comes to glyphosate research.

…”Today’s decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews—and conclusions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world—support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer,” said Monsanto vice president Scott Partridge in a statement issued after last week’s ruling that also expressed sympathy for Johnson. Read More > at Reason

Cold Atlantic Water Means Less Hurricane Activity As Peak Approaches – We are approaching the latter part of August, which typically means that we are entering the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) statistics, September 10th is the peak of the season with the month of August serving as a significant ramp up period. This year forecasters have continued to adjust their forecasts downward. One of the primary reasons is that the region of the Atlantic that “breeds” storms at this time of year has colder than normal waters.

NOAA recently released its updated projections for the season. Periodic updates are often issued by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and many of the academic organizations that release seasonal hurricane forecasts. The August 9th update by NOAA calls for below-normal or near normal activity going forward. It notes,

“The outlook indicates a 60% chance of a below-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10% chance of an above-normal season. Less activity is now expected compared to NOAA’s pre-season outlook issued on 24 May…..The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico”. Read More < at Forbes

Andrew Cuomo doesn’t see America’s greatness because he doesn’t know where to look – Somewhere between Nickelsville and Bear Wallow Hollow along Virginia state route 71, the remains of a redbrick home smolders on the hillside overlooking the single lane road. Several volunteer firemen sit, drinking water near the remains of the home. It’s over 90 degrees out. The sun and heat are punishing, exaggerating the heaviness of their efforts.

None of these men will get a paycheck for risking their health and possibly their lives. But that’s okay, that’s not why they do it.

An elderly gentleman stands outside of his vehicle along Route 11 West, the Virginia-Tennessee bi-way made infamous in the 1958 movie Thunder Road about moonshine running — he’s not far from a service station. Two young men pull over and offer their help. Minutes later, he is steering, and they are pushing. He makes it to the station; they walk back toward their white service van with two sandwiches in hand he bought them at the lunch counter inside the service station.

A new waitress at a Chattanooga diner drops her tray full of ribs, macaroni and cheese, and wings just as she is about to deliver it to a table filled with family members from out of town. Half of it lands on the father of the family, staining his white shirt and tangling gooey macaroni and cheese in his hair. She is filled with apologizes and tears. They handle it with grace.

When they leave — after they finally have their dinner — they refuse an offer for complimentary dinner and leave her a generous tip.

None of these are extraordinary moments. In fact, they are really quite ordinary things that happen every day in this country. They are the tiny measures of character, which is best measured in such granular increments. Character is the mosaic of tiny acts, rather than a large bold mural making an obvious statement.

Speaking at a bill-signing ceremony last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great” — a line that caused some of those in attendance to gasp, others oddly to cheer, before he continued.

It was a line meant to take on his nemesis, President Trump, and his signature “Make America Great Again” slogan — but keeps with the notion that some in politics truly believe, that America is not all that great.

Great is an aspiration — a higher elevation to which you constantly try to take yourself and your countrymen.

And that greatness resides in our people. It’s visible in the volunteer firefighters, the Good Samaritans, the compassionate, the people in this country hidden in plain sight that do the right thing not for glory, but out of a sense of duty.

America has never been perfect for all people, but it never stops striving to be that place taking on our shortcomings with protests, church meetings, policy changes and societal upheavals. It often takes too long, it often has setbacks, but at our core, we fundamentally never stop trying. Read More > in The Washington Examiner

A Milestone in Afghanistan – Sometime late next year, possibly as early as September, news crews will gather in Afghanistan for a unique event: To interview an American serviceman or woman who was not born when the war they are fighting began. He or she will not remember 9/11, and will have grown up with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as background noise. No doubt also a senior commander will be on hand to pronounce that the war against the Taliban is making progress, the same pronouncements the young recruit will have seen on TV all his or her life.

It will be a stark reminder that America has been at war for 225 of the 242 years of its existence: A handful of those conflicts — the defeat of Hitler and Japan, for example — go down as “good wars.” But most go down as operations that cost dearly in blood and treasure for little appreciable result. Read More > from the Ron Paul institute

New report offers an autonomous vehicle technology overview – Forrester found that some companies, like Ford Motor Company and General Motors, are acquiring or investing in software startups, while others, like Toyota, are developing entirely new AV companies. Still other OEMs, like Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover, have partnered in a bid to be the primary vehicle provider to tech companies that need vehicles to outfit.

In its research, Forrester found that venture capital funding more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, up from $7 billion in 2016 to $17 billion in 2017.

Acquisitions and partnerships are numerous, according to the report. For example, Intel purchased computer vision leader Mobileye to help build an end-to-end platform for AV development; and Ridecell, a platform provider for car-sharing, ridesharing, and autonomous fleet management, acquired AV technology developer Auro Robotics.

AV activity is concentrated in Silicon Valley and China, with three out of four companies evaluated in the report located in the U.S. China’s entrance into the market is largely due to its government policies that promote AV development.

For autonomous vehicles to continue to grow and proliferate, standardization in how the vehicles communicate and interact with the environment is needed, states the report. In addition, battery technologies are expected to continue to advance because electric vehicle technology is progressing in parallel with autonomous driving systems. Further developments in nanocarbon technology will yield a new source of material for batteries, with faster charging times and greater energy storage capability. Read More > at Autonomous Vehicle Technology

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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