Sunday Reading 10/07/18

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.

Where do Bay Area exiles move? Depends on income – Not everyone leaving the Bay Area is priced out. Take Nicolette Manahan, whose family of four recently left El Cerrito for Denver, saying that the Colorado capital’s more affordable housing market allowed her to purchase a larger home.

“I’m so excited and happy with our decision,” Manahan said. Both she and her husband are able to work remotely.

A new study from BuildZoom and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, took a close look at who is leaving the Bay Area and why. Defectors like the Manahans, who earn above $100,000 per year, tend to move to desirable cities in the country while lower-income people tend to end up in less costly areas of California, according to the study.

“Those moving into the Bay Area are substantially more affluent and educated than those leaving, whereas the latter are disproportionately more likely to be Hispanic or black,” the study states. “The discrepancy between the inbound and outbound movers captures the intensity with which the region’s social fabric is changing.”

About 65 percent of people who move out of the region earn less than $100,000 per year and tend to move to Sacramento and the Central Valley — sometimes only a few hours away from the Bay Area. The downside to cheaper housing is that those regions tend to offer fewer economic opportunities. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Grocery Shoppers Are Hungry for Deals – “Consumers have more options than ever before when it comes to how they purchase groceries,” said Curtis Tingle at marketing services firm Valassis. “Whether they shop online, in-store, use a delivery or pick-up service or prepare meal kits at home, it’s critical for grocery retailers to consider shopper preferences.”

The overarching factor behind those preferences? A hunger for deals.

A Valassis survey conducted in May and June found that 93% of consumers are interested in finding coupons, coupon codes and deals for groceries. That makes grocery the top category for deal and coupon-finding.

Eighty-three percent will stick with retailers that reward their loyalty with personalized offers and discounts. And while 82% of consumers typically use coupons for their routine, weekly grocery shopping trip, nearly half (47%) do so on fill-in trips as well.

…However, owners of grocery-anchored retail centers needn’t worry about their anchor tenants going dark. While online grocery shopping is an emerging trend, 57% of consumers surveyed by Valassis said grocery item availability makes them more likely to go into a physical store to shop than to go through online channels.

And, while online retail gives shoppers the ability to see the items as represented by photos, they can’t actually touch anything until it has already been delivered. The ability to see or touch an item in-person was cited by 70% of consumers who’d prefer buying groceries at brick-and-mortar locations. Read More > at Connect Retail

National Survey Finds Just 1 in 3 Americans Would Pass Citizenship Test – Only one in three Americans (36 percent) can actually pass a multiple choice test consisting of items taken from the U.S. Citizenship Test, which has a passing score of 60, according to a national survey released today by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Only 13 percent of those surveyed knew when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, even on a multiple-choice exam similar to the citizenship exam, with most incorrectly thinking it occurred in 1776. More than half of respondents (60 percent) didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II. And despite the recent media spotlight on the U.S. Supreme Court, 57 percent of those surveyed did not know how many Justices actually serve on the nation’s highest court.

“With voters heading to the polls next month, an informed and engaged citizenry is essential,” Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine said. “Unfortunately this study found the average American to be woefully uninformed regarding America’s history and incapable of passing the U.S. Citizenship Test. It would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today.”

Surprisingly, the poll found stark gaps in knowledge depending on age. Those 65 years and older scored the best, with 74 percent answering at least six in 10 questions correctly. For those under the age of 45, only 19 percent passed with the exam, with 81 percent scoring a 59 percent or lower. Read More > from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation

How a Revived Toys R Us Can Take Back the Toy Market – Top lenders to bankrupt retailer Toys R Us have canceled plans to auction off the chain’s intellectual property, name, and other remaining assets. Now the company’s debtholders plan to open a new company that will profit from licensing the Toys R Us name globally, develop a private brands business, and open new retail stores in the United States, Reuters reports.

And while details remain vague as to its retail plans, the revived company will be entering a market that has gotten more crowded since it left. A number of companies, including J.C. Penney and Party City, have added toys to their stores, while Target and Walmart have expanded their offering in that department in some cases.

Still, despite the crowded field that also includes Barnes & Noble and, of course, Amazon, there may be room for a different kind of Toys R Us.

Before Toys R Us closed, its management wanted to pursue a new, more interactive model built around stores that were destinations for customers. A lack of money and debt payments from its leveraged buyout stopped that from happening, as the chain was barely able to keep the lights on for years before it closed, let alone invest in a major overhaul.

The new Toys R Us could take what the old company had planned to do and go even further. It could attract customers by building stores around play. Doing that would require having gameplay areas for board games and collectible games, video game areas, and places where consumers can try new toys like drones or other gizmos.

These stores would also have to offer game days and regular play for games aimed at both adults and kids. Card games like Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering can attract dozens of people to multi-hour weekly gameplay sessions or tournaments and those players will buy merchandise, snacks, and drinks. The same is true for board game fans and, in some cases, video game players. Read More > at The Motley Fool

New Record Low Tornado Count as of October 3 – NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center keeps a daily count of cumulative number of tornadoes in the U.S. each year, and recent years have had an unusually low number of tornadoes.

As of October 3, the cumulative total for 2018 is 759; the previous lowest number of tornadoes for this date was 761. The SPC has records extending back 65 years.

This lack of tornadic storms in recent years should also correlate with lesser severe thunderstorm activity in general in the U.S., since the conditions which produce large hail and damaging winds are generally the same as are required for tornadoes (strong instability, plentiful moisture, and wind shear). Read More > from Dr Roy Spencer

U.S. plans to rewrite rules that impede self-driving cars – The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to revise safety rules that bar fully self-driving cars from the roads without equipment such as steering wheels, pedals and mirrors, according to a document made public on Thursday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “intends to reconsider the necessity and appropriateness of its current safety standards” as applied to automated vehicles, the U.S. Department of Transportation said in an 80-page update of its principles dubbed “Automated Vehicles 3.0.”

The department, as reported by Reuters earlier on Thursday, disclosed that the NHTSA wants comment “on proposed changes to particular safety standards to accommodate automated vehicle technologies and the possibility of setting exceptions to certain standards that are relevant only when human drivers are present.” Read More > at Reuters

Will Amazon Gobble Up Barnes & Noble Like Whole Foods? – Barnes & Noble, the last of the major brick-and-mortar bookstore chains, is contemplating a sale, though it has not yet named any possible buyers.

The company announced this week that the “decision follows expressions of interest from multiple parties in making an offer to acquire the company, including from the company’s chairman, Leonard Riggio.”

Who else might buy Barnes & Noble? Speculation at once turned to Amazon, which has about $20B in cash on hand, TheStreet reports. B&N has a market cap of about $400M.

Other than shutting down a competitor — and one that hasn’t done very well with online sales — it isn’t clear what Amazon would do with B&N or its real estate. Currently B&N operates 630 stores, selling about 190M physical books each year.

A committee appointed by the B&N board of directors will decide the fate of the bookseller. For his part, Riggio has promised to vote in favor of the recommendation by the committee.

“The company further notes that it has observed rapid material accumulations of its stock by a party or parties that cannot be identified,” B&N said in its statement. Read More > at Bisnow

Houston’s City Council amends ordinance to short circuit proposed robot brothel – A Canadian company’s plan to open a so-called robot brothel in Houston has been short circuited by city leaders.

Houston’s City Council on Wednesday updated one local ordinance to specifically ban individuals from having sex with an “anthropomorphic device,” a device that resembles a human being, at a sexually-oriented business. But the change wouldn’t ban the company from selling the dolls for use elsewhere.

The company, KinkySdollS, had previously said it wants to open a “love dolls brothel” in Houston in which people would be able to use its human-like dolls at a business that has drawn comparisons to the robotic hosts on the science fiction series “Westworld.” Read More > at Fox 6

Lawsuit seeks to stop FEMA’s “Presidential Alert” system to cellphones citing First Amendment violation – A new lawsuit filed in New York is seeking to stop the implementation of FEMA’s new “Presidential Alert” messaging system, an alert used for national emergencies that can be deployed by President Trump. Plaintiffs in Manhattan are suing Mr. Trump and FEMA Administrator Brock Long, claiming the alert system is a “violation of Americans’ First and Fourth Amendment rights to be free from Government-compelled listening, as well as warrantless, non-consensual trespass into and seizure of their cellular devices.”

Plaintiffs compare the alert system to “hijacking private property for the purpose of planting a Government-controlled loudspeaker in the home and on the person of every American.” This new presidential alert is nationwide and only used for advance warning of national crises.

According to FEMA, the alert is not a text or SMS (short message service) but an audio and text warning that will display as a notification across a user’s cellphone — similar to the ones carriers receive during Amber Alerts and weather emergencies. Read More > at CBS News

Supreme Court, missing a justice, considers a trucking case that could rattle the economy – Truckers got their day in court on Wednesday, as a not-quite-complete slate of Supreme Court justices weighed arguments in a closely watched case that could saddle the industry with higher costs that could hit consumers and ripple throughout the economy.

In New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, No. 17-340, the justices heard the case of Dominic Oliveira, a long-haul truck driver who filed a suit against the transportation outfit New Prime three years ago, alleging that the company failed to pay him minimum wage and at times even charged him for working.

The case pits business interests against labor groups in the first major case of the term that could have consequences for hundreds of thousands of American workers and potentially millions of consumers. It could shape an industry that generates more than half a trillion dollars in annual revenue.

The case also raises questions about the use of the “independent contractor” designation to reduce pay and benefits for workers who perform essentially identical work as employees. On that front, the court’s decision could have ramifications for virtually every sector of the economy. Read More > at CNBC

Report: Raiders Not Moving to Las Vegas Before 2020 – The Oakland Raiders, who are slated to relocate to Las Vegas, won’t do so before the 2020 season, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The team’s deal with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum expires at the end of the season.

Sam Boyd Stadium, the home facility for UNLV, is not considered a contingency site for the 2019 slate of home games, according to the report, leaving the Raiders without a place to play if the lease is not extended.

Oakland Alameda Coliseum Authority general manager Scott McKibben has said that the Raiders could play at the Coliseum next season and beyond if their new Vegas stadium is not ready, but that deal goes away if any lawsuit is filed.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday that the Raiders will leave at the end of the season if the city of Oakland files a multimillion-dollar antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and the Raiders, with council members predicting award damages of up to $500 million if the city wins a potential lawsuit.

A far as a contingency plan for the Raiders should they not return to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, options appear slim. Read More > at Sports Illustrated

The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies – The attack by Chinese spies reached almost 30 U.S. companies, including Amazon and Apple, by compromising America’s technology supply chain, according to extensive interviews with government and corporate sources.

n 2015, Inc. began quietly evaluating a startup called Elemental Technologies, a potential acquisition to help with a major expansion of its streaming video service, known today as Amazon Prime Video. Based in Portland, Ore., Elemental made software for compressing massive video files and formatting them for different devices. Its technology had helped stream the Olympic Games online, communicate with the International Space Station, and funnel drone footage to the Central Intelligence Agency. Elemental’s national security contracts weren’t the main reason for the proposed acquisition, but they fit nicely with Amazon’s government businesses, such as the highly secure cloud that Amazon Web Services (AWS) was building for the CIA.

To help with due diligence, AWS, which was overseeing the prospective acquisition, hired a third-party company to scrutinize Elemental’s security, according to one person familiar with the process. The first pass uncovered troubling issues, prompting AWS to take a closer look at Elemental’s main product: the expensive servers that customers installed in their networks to handle the video compression. These servers were assembled for Elemental by Super Micro Computer Inc., a San Jose-based company (commonly known as Supermicro) that’s also one of the world’s biggest suppliers of server motherboards, the fiberglass-mounted clusters of chips and capacitors that act as the neurons of data centers large and small. In late spring of 2015, Elemental’s staff boxed up several servers and sent them to Ontario, Canada, for the third-party security company to test, the person says.

Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.

During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.

There are two ways for spies to alter the guts of computer equipment. One, known as interdiction, consists of manipulating devices as they’re in transit from manufacturer to customer. This approach is favored by U.S. spy agencies, according to documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The other method involves seeding changes from the very beginning.

One country in particular has an advantage executing this kind of attack: China, which by some estimates makes 75 percent of the world’s mobile phones and 90 percent of its PCs… Read More > at Bloomberg

Amazon eliminates monthly bonuses and stock grants after minimum wage increase – Amazon garnered praise for raising the minimum wage for its hourly workers to $15 yesterday, but the widely-publicized move also came at the expense of monthly bonuses and stock options. The company explained its decision to shift to a new stock purchase program in the announcement blog post yesterday, citing that hourly employees preferred the “predictability and immediacy of cash to RSUs,” or restricted stock units, but the post doesn’t mention the loss of monthly incentives, which Bloomberg reported earlier today.

Several Amazon warehouse employees have criticized the move, stating they would actually be losing thousands in incentive pay. Currently, warehouse workers get two shares of Amazon stock when they’re hired ($1,952.76 per share as of writing), and an additional stock option each year. After the changes take effect, the RSU program will be phased out for stocks that vest in 2020 and 2021, and it will be replaced with a direct stock purchase plan by the end of next year.

An Amazon warehouse worker told The Verge via email that the news was devastating to fulfillment employees, many of whom depend on their RSU and VCP (variable compensation pay, a performance-based monthly bonus program) incentives on top of their hourly wages. VCP incentives, which are dependent on good attendance and hitting productivity targets, could get Amazon workers an 8 percent monthly bonus, and a 16 percent bonus during the peak November and December seasons. Read More > at The Verge

How the Government Fails to Help the Mentally Ill – They live on the street, often foraging through dumpsters. Some threaten us. Occasionally, they assault people.

Thousands of mentally ill people cycle in and out of hospital emergency rooms. They strain our medical system, scare the public, and sometimes harm themselves.

Most, says DJ Jaffe, are schizophrenic or bipolar and have stopped taking their medication.

Years ago, such people were locked up in mental hospitals. That protected the public, but the asylums were horrible, overcrowded places, where sick people rarely got good treatment.

“We decided we would largely replace that system with mental health care in the community,” says Stephen Eide, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Community treatment made sense. Care would be easier and cheaper in the patients’ own neighborhoods. Patients would be closer to their families, who could visit.

But community treatment never really happened. Politicians didn’t fund it. Neighborhood mental health facilities were not popular with their constituents.

…Unfortunately, most of those initiatives address people who are not very sick. “They wrap anything that makes you sad—bad grades, poverty, coming from a single-parent household—in a mental health narrative,” says Jaffe.

“Blurring the lines between mild mental disorders such as anxiety or mild depression—and schizophrenia—is not a bug; it’s a feature of the program,” says Eide. “They believe the only way New Yorkers will support improvements to mental illness policy is if they are convinced that everybody has a mental illness.”

So most funds don’t go to helping the people diving into dumpsters or to protecting us from threatening people on the street.

“If we’re going to spend all our money on people who are anxious or can’t sleep, what’s left for the seriously ill?” asks Jaffe. “Ask any cop what we need, he’s going to say: more hospitals, easier civil commitment, so that when I bring somebody they’re admitted. We need to keep them on their medications so they don’t deteriorate.” Read More > at Reason

The next generation of wireless networking will be called WiFi 6 – Not all WiFi is created equal, and determining which generation of WiFi technology your devices use can be pretty complicated. Did you know that 802.11n predates 802.11ac, for example? For those that don’t, the Wi-Fi Alliance is about to make things easier, introducing the next version of WiFi — 802.11ax — simply as “WiFi 6.”

The new approach is designed to help manufacturers, operators and users more easily market and understand the presence of advanced WiFi capabilities in their devices, so companies have a more straightforward way to tout their products, and consumers know when their stuff is as up-to-date as possible. The roll-out includes “WiFi 4” naming for 802.11n and “WiFi 5” for 802.11ac. While the terminology doesn’t have to be used by relevant parties in any regulatory sense, the Wi-Fi Alliance does expect it to be widely adopted by the WiFi ecosystem — it is considerably easier, after all. Read More > at Engadget

There are now more $100 bills than $1 bills in the world – A funny thing happened on the way to a world of cryptocurrencies and mobile payments. Cash became more popular than ever. The main reason? The one hundred dollar bill.

In 2017, for the first time ever, the one hundred dollar bill became the most popular US bill in circulation, beating out the one dollar bill. It is quite the turn of events for Benjamin Franklin-faced banknote. Just 10 years ago, it was less common than both the $20 and the $1

Why are hundreds so much more common these days? It’s not because more people are using them for day-to-day spending. The vast majority of cash transactions are still made in small bills.

According to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, the $100 bill is on the rise as a form of savings. With low inflation and a financial crisis still relatively fresh in people’s memories, more savers than ever are choosing to keep some of their wealth in large-denomination banknotes. And it’s not just Americans. The Fed researchers suggest that people across the world are stashing hundreds under their beds as an alternative in case their local currency takes a dive. Read More > at Quartz

California lawmakers wrote 1,016 new laws this year. Here’s some of what did and didn’t make it – California’s Legislature revved into high gear when it came to writing laws in 2018, sending the most bills to the governor’s desk in more than a decade.

In all, Gov. Jerry Brown weighed in on 1,217 pieces of legislation passed by the state Senate and Assembly. He signed 1,016 into law, and most will take effect on Jan. 1.

Some of the new laws are momentous, others minuscule. Taken together, they are a grab bag of limitations and expectations on the personal and professional lives of Californians. Few residents will agree with all of them; some might not pass legal muster. And of those Brown vetoed, some are expected to be reintroduced when a new governor takes office in January.

Here are a few key themes from the work of state lawmakers in 2018.

The ink from Brown’s signature was barely dry on Sunday when the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block a state law that regulates internet access provided by national companies. California’s effort to establish its own net neutrality rules generated controversy all year in Sacramento and was the focus of intense lobbying by the telecommunications industry.

The governor issued no statement explaining why he signed Senate Bill 822. But his decision seemed to mirror last year’s pushback to President Trump over law enforcement cooperation with immigration agents — culminating in a “sanctuary” law that was challenged in federal court.

Legal challenges are also expected over a decision focused on the national conversation about gender equity: a law requiring publicly held corporations based in the state to include women on their boards of directors. Brown made it clear in a brief signing message that he wasn’t sure the law would survive in the courts.

…Few topics seem to divide California lawmakers more than whether the state should impose additional gun control laws. But because Democrats hold overwhelming majorities in both houses of the Legislature, the real question for almost any bill in recent years on the topic has been will the governor support it?

Perhaps most striking from 2018 will be Brown’s decision to sign a bill requiring rifle and shotgun owners to be at least 21 years old; state law already sets the same age restriction for handgun possession. Also notable is a new law that imposes a lifetime weapons ban on most who are convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence and new restrictions on those treated for mental health problems. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

California Schools Face Bleak Financial Future – A team of researchers managed by Stanford University and Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) recently released a massive study of California schools’ successes and shortcomings.

It concluded that for California’s elementary and secondary schools to reach academic performance goals, the state should expand education into early childhood, prior to kindergarten, and raise overall school spending by 32 percent.

The report said that “while public schools in California spent about $69.7 billion on school operations in 2016-17, an additional $22.1 billion—32 percent above actual spending—would have been necessary for all students to have had the opportunity to meet the goals set by the state Board of Education.”

One could question the premise that spending more—a lot more—would have the desired effect. Nationwide school finance and academic data reveal almost no correlation between the level of per-pupil spending and outcomes as measured by the federal government’s nationwide testing. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Bombshells in opening statements of college basketball corruption trial – We knew there were going to be fireworks during the trials for the eight men facing wire fraud charges stemming from the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, and day one did not disappoint.

The defense attorney for Jim Gatto, a former Adidas executive accused of funneling money from the apparel company to recruits and their families, acknowledged that her client had more or less done all of the above.

According to Casey Donnelly, Gatto did facilitate a payment of $100,000 to the family of Brian Bowen because “Oregon, a Nike school, offered [Bowen] an astronomical amount of money if he’d go to Oregon.” Bowen was never cleared and eventually turned pro before heading to Australia for this season.

Donnelly admitted that Gatto paid $40,000 to the family of Dennis Smith Jr. while the current Dallas Maverick was playing at N.C. state. She said that Gatto paid $20,000 to Silvio De Sousa, who played for Kansas during the second semester last season, because “Under Armour had paid for De Sousa to [commit] to the University of Maryland.” Donnelly then confirmed that Gatto was also involved in the discussions surrounding the recruitment of Nassir Little, who Adidas was considered paying to attend Miami after the player was “offered” $150,000 by Arizona. Little has since enrolled at North Carolina. Read More > from NBC

Exclusive: The Evidence That Persuaded U.S. Department of Justice to Investigate MLB Recruitment of Foreign Players – The migration of Latin American talent to Major League Baseball—particularly players from Cuba—has long been an unseemly business, shrouded in don’t-ask-don’t-tell secrecy. These exodus stories often come suffused with tales of bribes, kickbacks, side deals with smugglers, dubious immigration documents and middlemen skilled at working around immigration laws.

This baseball underbelly might soon be exposed. Sports Illustrated has learned that the U.S. Department of Justice has begun a sweeping probe into possible corruption tied to the recruitment of international players, centered on potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. What’s more, SI has learned that multiple alleged victims of smuggling and human trafficking operations have already given evidence to law enforcement agents or testified before a federal grand jury. Read More > at Sports Illustrated

City Manager Says Rampant NIMBYism Led Him to Resign – Lafayette’s city manager has resigned from his position saying he can no longer stand by while NIMBYism destroys opportunities for environmental progress and affordable housing in his city.

Steven Falk issued a cutting resignation letter last week. In it, he blamed opposition to multifamily housing at the Bay Area Rapid Transit station and the rejection of other development-related measures for the end of his 28-year career in Lafayette, which included 22 years as city manager.

“All cities—even small ones—have a responsibility to address the most significant challenges of our time: climate change, income inequality, and housing affordability,” Falk wrote. “I believe that adding multifamily housing at the BART station is the best way for Lafayette to do its part, and it has therefore become increasingly difficult for me to support, advocate for, or implement policies that would thwart transit density. My conscience won’t allow it.”

“Lafayette residents deserve a city manager who is better aligned with their priorities,” he added.

Falk represents a growing chorus of city planners and other public officials who have expressed frustration with community efforts to thwart transit density projects in spite of the pressing need for affordable housing and greener development. Read More > at California City News

NAFTA Reborn as USMCA, New Trade Pact Hailed as Win for U.S. Workers – The U.S. and Canada reached a deal to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, which will allow Canada to join the accord that was reached in August between the U.S. and Mexico. The new agreement is called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, and is aimed at bringing more jobs into the U.S., as well as imposing more restrictive commerce on Canada and Mexico, its main export customer.

President Donald Trump hailed the deal as a win for U.S. workers. At the same time, investors were granted a reprieve on key pillars of NAFTA that survived the President’s hardline stance on global commerce.

The new deal will bring significant changes to rules governing trade since 1994. Perhaps the biggest impact will be on autos, the region’s largest industry. The accord will require a greater portion of vehicles to be made in North America, and by high-wage labor in the U.S. and Canada. Read More > at Connect

Hundreds of People Have Died Taking Selfies, Study Says – A new study has found more than 250 people have died in pursuit of a perfect selfie.

The study published by the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care journal (and republished by the National Library of Medicine in the US) looks into how many of us social media obsessed plebs are dying for the ‘gram. Led by Dr. Agam Bansal at the India Institute of Medical Sciences, the study analyzed news articles from October 2011 to November 2017 and found there have been 259 reported deaths—dubbed selficides in one part of the article—resulting from that never-ending thirst for Instagram likes.

…In regards to those 259, the researchers broke down the geography of the deaths and found that the “highest number of incidents and selfie-deaths” were in “India followed by Russia, the United States, and Pakistan.” The average age of those getting killed was unsurprisingly pretty young at 22.94 years. According to the data, the chance of you reaching death by selfie drops off significantly (again, unsurprisingly) by the time someone hits 30. Just over three-quarters of those killed taking selfies were men (also, unsurprisingly).

The top three causes of deaths were drowning, being hit by a vehicle, or falling. In terms of the vehicle-related deaths the biggest killer has been people trying to get that perfect shot in front of a moving train. Unsurprisingly the United States leads when it comes to firearm-related selfie deaths. Read More > at Vice

California’s voter registration errors draw close look – Errors in the new California Motor Voter registration system may undermine the credibility of elections, some worry.

The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles announced early in September that it sent 23,000 voter registrations with errors to the secretary of state. This included mistakes in political party selections, vote-by-mail options and 3,000 registrations from people who had opted not to be registered.

The Election Integrity Project California, a nonpartisan election oversight group, said it is unacceptable that technological problems are plaguing the system, especially in a state that is the birthplace for cutting-edge technology. “Californians deserve to have all voter registrations projected, and all elections conducted with the utmost integrity,” said Linda Paine, the group’s president.

Under Motor Voter, all eligible voters are automatically registered to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses, unless they opt out. They are also given the chance to select a political party, choose whether to vote by mail and select a language for election materials.

The mistakes were caused when DMV staffers had more than one customer record open on their computer screens and inadvertently merged the records, said DMV spokesperson Jessica Gonzalez. Those affected were sent letters urging them to check their voter registration status on the secretary of state’s website. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

Study: Limiting kids’ screen time improves brain function – Cutting back on screen time, along with the right amount of sleep and physical activity, is linked to improvements in cognition among children, a study suggests.

The observational study analyzed data from a broader study funded by the National Institutes of Health, focusing on 4,500 children ages 8 to 11.

Researchers compared time spent on screens, sleeping and engaging in physical activity from that study against the Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines, created by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology to advise how kids should spend their time in a given day.

The study associates kids who met the guidelines – which include nine to 11 hours of sleep, at least one hour of physical activity and less than two hours on screens – with improvements in cognition.

Researchers found even just limiting screen time or getting enough sleep had the strongest links to better cognition.

“Evidence suggests that good sleep and physical activity are associated with improved academic performance, while physical activity is also linked to better reaction time, attention, memory and inhibition,” said Jeremy Walsh, the study’s lead author who works with the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa, Canada, in a statement. Read More > at CNBC

More Evidence That Nutrition Studies Don’t Always Add Up – Not too long ago, Brian Wansink was one of the most respected food researchers in America.

He founded the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, where he won attention for studies that showed that small behavioral changes could influence eating patterns. He found that large plates lead people to eat more food because they make portions look smaller and that children eat more vegetables when they have colorful names like “power peas.” Dr. Wansink wrote best-selling books and published hundreds of studies. For over a year, he served in a top nutrition policy role at the Department of Agriculture under George W. Bush, where he helped shape the government’s influential Dietary Guidelines. His research even led the government to spend almost $20 million redesigning school cafeterias, an initiative known as the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement.

But this month, Dr. Wansink’s career at Cornell came to an unceremonious end. On Sept. 20, the university announced that a yearlong investigation had found that he committed “academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data,” and that he had tendered his resignation. The announcement came one day after the prestigious medical journal JAMA retracted six of Dr. Wansink’s studies because of questions about their “scientific validity.” Seven of his other papers had previously been retracted for similar reasons. Read More > in The New York Times

Brown Signs Bill Allowing For Housing At BART Stations – With Gov. Jerry Brown signing Assembly Bill 2923 into law Sunday, Bay Area Rapid Transit officials say they want to build 20,000 new housing units – at least 35 percent of them affordable – at or near its stations by 2040.

The bill was authored by Assemblymen Tim Grayson, D-Concord, and David Chiu, D-San Francisco and supported by business groups, unions and transportation officials who favor the “transit village” approach to building and locating housing near transit stations. Supporters contend the approach eases pressure on area highways and helps employers by making homes more affordable and commuting easier.

Opponents of AB 2923 have included many Bay Area cities that did not relish the idea of BART having any zoning and/or development influence on land within their city limits. Officials from Walnut Creek, Fremont, Livermore, Hayward, Lafayette and Pleasant Hill made trips to Sacramento and San Francisco to lobby against the bill. Read More > at CBS Local

Bay Area home sales slowed to lowest point in seven years, as prices spiked – San Francisco Bay Area residents can no longer keep up with the region’s record-shattering home prices.

Homebuyers’ activity in the region last month dropped 10 percent from last year — the slowest for the month of August in seven years, according to a recent Corelogic report. The only two counties where sales activity didn’t drop were Napa and Marin.

Amid skyrocketing home prices, many residents have found building a successful life in the region out of reach. A recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute, for instance, found that only 45 percent of Bay Area residents say the American Dream — if you work hard, you will get ahead — is still true today, compared to 44 percent who say it “once held true but not anymore.” Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

California governor signs tough net neutrality bill, and Justice Dept. sues – California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the nation’s toughest net neutrality measure Sunday, requiring internet providers to maintain a level playing field online, and on the same day, the Justice Department responded by filing a lawsuit against California.

Advocates of net neutrality hope that Brown’s move in the home of the global technology industry will have national implications, prompting Congress to enact national net neutrality rules or encouraging other states to follow suit.

It’s the latest example of the nation’s most populous state seeking to drive public policy outside its borders and rebuff President Trump’s agenda. As far as the Justice Department is concerned, California’s new law is an attempt to subvert the federal government’s deregulatory approach.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a statement Sunday, said, “Under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce—the federal government does. Once again the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy.” Read More > at CBS News

U.S. housing market faces ‘5-percent’ test – The U.S. housing market, already struggling with tight inventory and rising building costs, faces a fresh headwind as 30-year mortgage rates rise close to the 5 percent threshold for the first time in years.

Even as home prices have climbed steadily thanks largely to a lack of supply of homes for sale, housing affordability has remained relatively stable thanks to historically low borrowing costs.

But that is changing. Mortgage rates have surged to 4.97 percent from 4.23 percent in January, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Including fees, most 30-year mortgage costs have reached 5 percent or higher.

The rise in mortgage rates so far this year means a potential homebuyer would pay about $35,000 more interest on a $220,000 loan over 30 years. Read More > from Reuters

Are We on the Verge of Civil War? Some Words of Reassurance – Recent articles here and here by Victor Davis Hanson—my colleague at the Hoover Institution–paint a frightening picture of the United States as a country teetering on the edge of civil war. In addition to being an exceptional prose stylist, Hanson is an active combatant in today’s political wars, so his impressions are understandable. As a data guy and a noncombatant, however, I am happy to report that the available data provide grounds for feeling much more sanguine about the state of our country. Although they are noisy and harmful to our politics, the kinds of people Hanson criticizes are many fewer in number than generally believed. They are what political scientists call the political class, a small minority of self-appointed activists, demonstrators, donors, partisan media commentators and office-seekers. Given that such people are the public face of politics, many Americans understandably take them as representative, but they are statistically abnormal—what we call “outliers.”

To understand contemporary American political life, you should begin with the realization that most of the people blabbering on cable television, venting on Facebook, and/or fulminating on Twitter are abnormal. They are abnormally interested and involved in politics, they tend to occupy the policy extremes, and they are abnormally opinionated (yes, many readers of Hanson’s article and this one are probably abnormal). Consider some numbers. As of today, there are about 235 million eligible voters in the United States. About one percent of them subscribe to either The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Liberals rail against Fox News and conservatives against MSNBC; they should take consolation in the fact that the Fox viewing audience is about one percent of the eligible electorate while news shows on MSNBC fall short of that. Sean Hannity’s is the highest-rated political show on cable television with an audience of about 1.5 percent of the eligible electorate. On the other end of the spectrum Rachel Maddow gets a bit over one percent. Anderson Cooper 360 draws in a paltry 0.4 of one percent. Granted, these small audiences may spread the word to some non-subscribers and non-viewers, but even taking such second-order effects into account, the simple fact is that the ranks of the politically interested are surprisingly thin.

Some suggest that the internet and social media have replaced the older print and electronic media, but the available research does not support that suggestion. If “hundreds of millions of people” really were doing politics on social media, I would share Hanson’s worries, but such a claim overstates the number of social media activists by several orders of magnitude. A 2013 Facebook study that tracked Bing toolbar searches found that 96 percent of the users clicked on zero or one opinion column in a three-month period. In 2017 the Pew Research Center reported that less than four percent of adults consider Twitter an important source of news. (Twitter audiences are exaggerated, but for what it’s worth, President Trump reportedly has 53 million followers; Katie Perry has about twice that many.) Studies of fake news conclude that its impact is minimal. Read More > from the Hoover Institute

‘The house doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to a Gus Kramer’: East Bay assessor sells woman’s Oregon home to his private attorney – About a year ago, Kendall Orr called an Oregon water company to pay the bill on the house she had given her daughter, as she regularly did. She was shocked to hear the clerk’s response.

“The person told me, ‘You can’t pay the bill because the house doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to a Gus Kramer’, ” Orr said.

The Contra Costa County assessor, who briefly was married to Orr’s sister decades ago, had somehow wound up with control over her former 8.5-acre property in Bend. It was the start of yet another bizarre land deal involving Kramer, a man with a history of questionable property transfers.

Between 2005 and 2008, Kramer — the elected official who sets assessed property values in the East Bay county — was listed on at least 18 deeds that show real estate transactions listed as gifts without transfer taxes paid.

The latest case is one of Kramer’s most convoluted and curious yet. After acquiring control of the Oregon home, Kramer, acting as a trustee for Orr’s daughter Veronika Farago, sold the property for $160,000 — less than half its estimated market value — to his personal attorney. Documents indicate he then issued a loan to his lawyer, who used the property as collateral.

The perplexing transactions raise flags, two estate law experts say, as to whether Kramer followed his legal duties to act in the best financial interest of the beneficiaries. Read More > in The Mercury News

A global tipping point: Half the world is now middle class or wealthier – Something of enormous global significance is happening almost without notice. For the first time since agriculture-based civilization began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty. By our calculations, as of this month, just over 50 percent of the world’s population, or some 3.8 billion people, live in households with enough discretionary expenditure to be considered “middle class” or “rich.” About the same number of people are living in households that are poor or vulnerable to poverty. So September 2018 marks a global tipping point. After this, for the first time ever, the poor and vulnerable will no longer be a majority in the world. Barring some unfortunate global economic setback, this marks the start of a new era of a middle-class majority.

…Our “middle class” classification was first developed in 2010 and has been used by many researchers. While acknowledging that the middle class does not have a precise definition that can be globally applied, the threshold we use in this work has the following characteristics: those in the middle class have some discretionary income that can be used to buy consumer durables like motorcycles, refrigerators, or washing machines. They can afford to go to movies or indulge in other forms of entertainment. They may take vacations. And they are reasonably confident that they and their family can weather an economic shock—like illness or a spell of unemployment—without falling back into extreme poverty. Read More > from Brookings

California Governor Signs Bill Requiring Corporate Boards to Include Women – California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation on Sunday that would require publicly traded companies with principal executive offices based in the Golden State have women sit on their corporate boards, something that business groups and others have questioned the legality of.

Companies not in compliance with S.B. 826, sponsored by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, would face a $100,000 fine for the first violation.

Brown wrote in a signing message for S.B. 826: “There have been numerous objections to this bill and serious legal concerns have been raised. I don’t minimize the potential flaws that may indeed prove fatal to its ultimate representation. Nevertheless, recent events in Washington, D.C.—and beyond—make it crystal clear that many are not getting the message.” Read More > at Route Fifty

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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