Sunday Reading – 10/28/18


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.

Apple Reportedly Blocked Police iPhone Hacking Tool and Nobody Knows How – Apple’s latest iteration of iOS has reportedly turned the GrayKey hacking device into an expensive doorstop. Law enforcement around the world has taken to using GrayKey to break into locked iPhones but it appears Apple has finally gotten ahead of the device’s crafty manufacturers. For now.

Forbes’ Thomas Brewster has been on top of the GrayKey saga from the beginning. On Wednesday, he cited sources from the forensic community who’ve told him that Apple’s efforts to keep bad actors and law enforcement from cracking into its users’ phones have paid off. According to the report, the $15,000 tool made by a shadowy company called Grayshift is now only capable of performing a “partial extraction” of data. It can pull a few unencrypted files and some metadata that’s virtually worthless.

It’s still unclear what exact change could have been made to shut GrayKey out. Previous reporting has told us that the tool uses a workaround to brute force its way in by guessing a users’ password until it gets it right. Apple has protections in place to stop that kind of tactic and GrayShift’s methods are a closely held secret. Not much is known about the company. In March, Forbes reported that GrayShift counts at least one ex-Apple security engineer as part of its team. You can’t even view its website without a login given to members of law enforcement, though there have been indications that it works with private entities in some capacity as well. Read More > at Gizmodo

Opinion: Why the Dow Jones Industrial Average should be higher in six months – Halloween marks the beginning of one of the most seasonally favorable periods of the stock market calendar.

That should come as welcome news indeed to beleaguered investors, since the S&P 500 has shed nearly 7% so far for the month of October.

I’m referring, of course, to the U.S. stock market’s famous six-months-on, six-months-off seasonal pattern that goes variously by the names of “The Halloween Indicator” and “Sell in May and Go Away.” On average over the last century, almost all of the stock market’s gains have been produced in the Halloween-through-May-Day period — the so-called “winter” months. In contrast, the market has been little better than flat, on average, during the “summer” months.

To be sure, recent research has found that the market’s superior gain during the winter months comes from just one year of the four-year presidential term. That superior year is the third year, which is now just beginning.

So investors who follow this updated version of the Halloween Indicator are finally, after several years of patiently waiting, on the verge of the six-month period for which optimism appears to be based on more than mere hope. Read More > at Market Watch

California Voters Want a Third Party – Californians would prefer a major third political party. The new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll tells us so. But time and again the voters seem to settle into familiar patterns. So how strong is this rejection of the major parties?

While the news made from the new PPIC poll results deal with the governor and senate races and the controversial ballot measures, Propositions 6 and 10, let’s focus on some less covered items in the poll.

Likely voters were asked: “In your view, do the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job representing the American people, or do they do such a poor job that a third major party is needed?”

By more than two to one, 61% to 29%, likely voters opted for a third party over the current parties doing an adequate job.

But what kind of third party would be satisfactory. That’s where you will get disagreement.

For example, 70% of the San Francisco Bay Area likely voters wanted a third party. While all areas of the state also opted for a third party by a comfortable margin, one can imagine the party desired by the Bay Area voters would look a little different than a party endorsed in the Central Valley. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Your next doctor’s appointment might be with an AI – …The female voice belongs to Babylon, part of a wave of new AI apps designed to relieve your doctor of needless paperwork and office visits—and reduce the time you have to wait for medical advice. If you’re feeling unwell, instead of calling a doctor, you use your phone to chat with an AI.

The idea is to make seeking advice about a medical condition as simple as Googling your symptoms, but with many more benefits. Unlike self-diagnosis online, these apps lead you through a clinical-grade triage process—they’ll tell you if your symptoms need urgent attention or if you can treat yourself with bed rest and ibuprofen instead. The tech is built on a grab bag of AI techniques: language processing to allow users to describe their symptoms in a casual way, expert systems to mine huge medical databases, machine learning to string together correlations between symptom and condition.

When in doubt, the apps will always recommend seeking a second, human opinion. But by placing themselves between us and medical professionals, they shift the front line of health care. When the Babylon Health app started giving advice on ways to self-treat, half the company’s patients stopped asking for an appointment, realizing they didn’t need one.

Babylon is not the only app of its kind—others include Ada, Your.MD, and Dr. AI. But Babylon is the front-­runner because it’s been integrated with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), showing how such tech could change the way health services are run and paid for. Last year Babylon started a trial with a hospital trust in London in which calls to the NHS’s non-­emergency 111 advice line are handled partly by Babylon’s AI. Callers are asked if they want to wait for a human to pick up or download the Babylon-powered “NHS Online: 111” app instead. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

Where Your Car Is Most Likely to Be Stolen in Every State – Motor vehicle theft in the United States in 2017 remained effectively unchanged from 2016, when the rate increased by nearly 7%. Last year, there were 773,139 motor vehicle thefts across the country, a rate of 237.4 per 100,000 residents.

Of course, where you live can greatly increase or decrease the chances of your car getting stolen. 24/7 Wall St. determined the city in every state where your car is most likely to be stolen based on data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The city with the highest rate of car thefts in a state is not necessarily the city with the poorest community or with the biggest crime problems. The majority of these 50 cities have lower poverty rates, higher education levels, and higher household incomes than their respective statewide figures.

Some cars are also much more likely to be stolen than others. While expensive exotic cars may seem like the most efficient way to a large payout for a criminal, common cars like Honda Accord, Honda Civic, and Chevrolet and Ford pickup trucks are by far the most stolen vehicles in America. This is especially true of older models without modern security features. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Dear Parents: It’s Time To Reconsider Whether College Is Worth It – …A 2015 study by Georgetown University found that on average, workers with a bachelor’s degree earn $1,000,000 more over their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma. However, majors make a difference. Almost all of the highest-paying college majors are in engineering, with petroleum engineering ranking No. 1 at a median annual salary of $136,000. Education, arts and social work comprised many of the lowest-paying majors, with early childhood education coming in last, at a median annual salary of $39,000.

But lifetime earnings are just one piece of a pretty complicated puzzle. You should also take a step back and define what “worth it” means to you and your child.

For instance, the average Class of 2017 graduate who took out student loans graduated $39,400 in debt. Your child should consider whether getting into that level of debt in pursuit of a higher-paying job is worth putting off major life goals such as getting married or buying a home. According to a 2015 survey, 45 percent of Americans with student loan debt delayed these types of milestones because of the added financial burden.

Further, due to competition among college grads looking for jobs, many end up taking positions that aren’t in their field of study or that don’t even require a degree in the first place.

Researchers with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that nearly half of young adults who graduated from college during the post-Great Recession period of 2009-2013 worked “non-college jobs,” defined as a position in which fewer than half of workers with that job need a bachelor’s degree. About one-fifth held low-paying service positions such as baristas and bartenders, while many of the rest worked in better-paying roles such as administrative support and sales. Read More > in the Huffington Post

The Main Suspect Behind an Ominous Spike in a Polio-like Illness – As the summer of 2014 gave way to fall, Kevin Messacar, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado, started seeing a wave of children with inexplicable paralysis. All of them shared the same story. One day, they had a cold. The next, they couldn’t move an arm or a leg. In some children, the paralysis was relatively mild, but others had to be supported with ventilators and feeding tubes after they stopped being able to breathe or swallow on their own.

The condition looked remarkably like polio—the viral disease that is on the verge of being eradicated worldwide. But none of the kids tested positive for poliovirus. Instead, their condition was given a new name: acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. That year, 120 people, mostly young children, developed the condition across 34 states. The cases peaked in September and then rapidly tailed off.

After just a few dozen new cases the following year, AFM returned in force in 2016, afflicting 149 more people. The next year: another lull. And in 2018: another spike, with 62 confirmed cases so far and at least 93 more under investigation. Parents have described their children collapsing mid-run like “marionette dolls,” or going to bed with a fever and waking up paralyzed from the neck down.

This third wave confirms what many doctors had feared: AFM wasn’t a one-off, but likely a new biennial normal. It’s still rare, affecting just one in 1 million people, but that’s little comfort for the roughly 400 children who’ve been affected, many of whom are looking at lifelong disability or paralysis. “It’s exceptionally frustrating to see it again this year, when we know how much people’s lives are overturned,” says Priya Duggal from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “We don’t really know much more than we knew in 2014—but we’re trying.”

…So far, most of the signs point toward a virus as the cause, and specifically some kind of enterovirus. Unlike influenza, which circulates in the winter, enteroviruses are infections of the autumn, which is when AFM cases peak. They mostly infect young children, and the average AFM patient is 4 years old. Enteroviruses need a large enough population of susceptible hosts in which to circulate, so many lie low after waves of infection and crop up in cycles of two or three years—just as AFM does. And although many enteroviruses circulate widely but have little effect, they have a track record of occasionally infecting the spinal cord and causing paralytic illnesses. Read More > in The Atlantic

California Vs. Texas In Electricity: Comparing The Two States 1 In 5 Americans Call Home – California does use the least amount of electricity per capita of any state, at 6,536 kilowatt hours per year in 2016, compared to the average of 11,634 kWh nationally and 14,286 kWh in Texas.

But, that figure overlooks three very important factors.

The first is that more Californians use natural gas for their residential needs (heating their homes and water) than the average American. Thus, on measures of overall home energy efficiency, which takes into account this natural gas usage, California ranks a more average 18th in the nation with Texas coming in 35th.

The second is California’s famously mild climate. With 840 miles of coastline adjacent to the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean, the first few miles of densely populated coastal regions enjoy a temperate and dry environment, allowing many homeowners the luxury of rarely using their air conditioners. And home heating demand is very modest during the winter in Southern California, where the bulk of the population lives.

On the other hand, the farther one lives from the coast, the hotter it gets—an important consideration for the roughly one-third of Californians who don’t live near the ocean.

In contrast, Texas has vast urban areas more than 100 miles from the Gulf Coast, a body of water that, unlike the California’s section of the Pacific, produces heat-trapping humidity.

The third and most ignored reason California doesn’t use much electricity is that their tax and regulatory policies and high costs of doing business have steadily driven out industries that use a lot of energy to manufacture things such as steel and cement.

There’s irony in this, of course, and it’s this: California’s environmentally-minded leaders like to tout the virtue of their post-industrial policies, but in deindustrializing wide swaths of their economy, they have merely outsourced the energy use—and pollution—to other places and then, to add insult to injury, pay to have it shipped to California in carbon-emitting ships, planes, trains, and trucks.

In terms of electric production, California is the nation’s biggest importer of electricity. In the past, this meant a lot of coal-fired power from places such as Arizona and Utah.

…In the meantime, Californians paid an average of 18.41 cents per kilowatt hour for their electricity in July 2018, 67% higher than the national average and more than double the cost of electricity in Texas. In August, California’s rates jumped to 19.08 per kWh, 110% higher than Texas’ rates. In fact, Californians’ July and August electric rates were the highest in the contiguous 48 states. Read More > at Forbes

California Without Daylight Saving? Arizona Shares Lessons From 50 Years Of Noncompliance – Next Sunday, most Americans will change their clocks back to standard time, “falling back” after a summer of extended daylight hours. But California’s Proposition 7 could bring the state one step closer to eliminating the time-shift altogether

The measure doesn’t actually abolish daylight saving. It does repeal the 1949 rule that established the practice in California. This would allow the Legislature to look at other options, like keeping daylight saving year round or staying on standard time permanently. Their bill would need a two-thirds vote, and then Congressional approval.

Arizona abolished daylight saving time more than 50 years ago after public outcry over the practice. CapRadio checked in with historian Calvin Schermerhorn at Arizona State University to find out how life in permanent standard time works over there.

I guess it’s been going fine. But the problem is, for half the year we have to readjust, or tell people we’re still on Mountain Standard Time. Which means, for all intents and purposes that’s Pacific Daylight Time. We’re three hours from the east coast instead of two. And then it’s a little bit difficult for businesses to sync with those times, although with automation it happens automatically. Read More > at Capital Public Radio

18 volcanoes now pose ‘very high threat,’ U.S. government warns – Government scientists are classifying 18 U.S. volcanoes as a “very high threat” because of what’s been happening inside them and how close they are to people.

The U.S. Geological Survey is updating its volcano threat assessments for the first time since 2005. The danger list is topped by Hawaii’s Kilauea, which has been erupting this year.

The others in the top five are Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier in Washington, Alaska’s Redoubt Volcano and California’s Mount Shasta.

The agency says a dozen volcanoes have jumped in threat level since 2005. Twenty others dropped in threat level.

There are 161 active volcanoes in the U.S. Read More > at Global News

Boise and Reno Capitalize on the California Real Estate Exodus – For some Californians, the state’s punishing housing costs, high taxes, and constant threat of natural disaster have all become too much. They’re making their escape to areas such as Boise, Phoenix, and Reno, Nev., fueling some of the biggest home-price gains in the country. While the moves are motivated mainly by economics, they’re also highlighting political divides as conservatives from the blue state seek friendlier areas and liberal transplants find themselves in sometimes hostile territory.

California’s history of booms and busts has fueled exoduses before, but its soaring real estate costs have made living there ever more difficult for people who don’t earn big salaries. In the second quarter, only 26 percent of homebuyers in the state could afford to purchase a median-price single-family house, which was almost $600,000, according to the California Association of Realtors.

Almost 143,000 more people left the state than arrived from elsewhere in the U.S. in 2016. Trump’s tax overhaul, which capped some mortgage interest and property tax deductions, has probably added “gas to the fire,” says Glenn Kelman, chief executive officer of Redfin Inc., a national real estate brokerage that recently opened a Boise outpost.

But mostly it’s the prices. “Eventually the laws of supply and demand are going to drive people to other parts of the country,” Kelman says. “Boise isn’t five times worse than California as a place to live. But places in California are five times more expensive.” Boise is becoming an alternative to traditional havens for Californians such as Portland and Seattle that have also gotten too pricey, he says. Read More > in Bloomberg

Despite Local Government Objections, California Moves Ahead With Statewide Cannabis Deliveries – The Bureau of Cannabis Control, the state Department of Food and Agriculture, and the state Department of Public Health released the final draft of regulations governing commercial marijuana on Friday. By far, its most controversial component is one that would allow marijuana delivery services statewide, regardless of any objections from affected cities and counties. Local government advocates and public safety agencies, including the League of California Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association, have been working around the clock to convince state regulators to forgo this idea. They don’t appear to be listening.

Though the cannabis industry has been supportive of the statewide delivery idea, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine for them either. It seems there’s something for everyone to hate in the hundreds of pages of new rules.

There are “so many regulations in there that are just oppressive and difficult,” Debby Goldsberry, executive director of the cannabis shop Magnolia Oakland, wrote on her Facebook page. “It’s confusing, overcomplicated, overbearing, and ultimately unenforceable.”

Former California Growers Association President Hezekiah Allen said newer businesses will bear the brunt of those burdens. Read More > at California City News

Inside Europe’s quest to build an unhackable quantum internet – …My trip was a reminder that while shipping people from place to place is still fraught with unforeseen glitches, gargantuan amounts of data flow smoothly and swiftly all day, every day through the fiber-optic cables connecting cities, countries, and entire continents.

And yet these data networks have a weakness: they can be hacked…

The research institute I was visiting in Delft, QuTech, is working on a system that could make this kind of surveillance impossible. The idea is to harness quantum mechanics to create a flawlessly secure communications network between Delft and three other cities in the Netherlands by the end of 2020….

The internet is vulnerable to the kind of hacking revealed by Snowden because data still travels over cables in the form of classical bits—a stream of electrical or optical pulses representing 1s and 0s. A hacker who manages to tap into the cables can read and copy those bits in transit.

The laws of quantum physics, on the other hand, allow a particle—for example, an atom, an electron, or (for transmitting along optical cables) a photon of light—to occupy a quantum state that represents a combination of 1 and 0 simultaneously. Such a particle is called a quantum bit, or qubit. When you try to observe a qubit, its state “collapses” to either 1 or 0. This, explains Wehner, means that if a hacker taps into a stream of qubits, the intruder both destroys the quantum information in that stream and leaves a clear signal that it’s been tampered with. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

LIST: MTC names worst commutes in the Bay Area – The Bay Area’s traffic congestion is lousy, but you already know that. It’s the second worse commute in the country after Los Angeles. Today the Metropolitan Transportation Commission put out its top ten list of most congested freeways along with recommendations to avoid getting stuck in traffic.

Here are the top 10 worst commutes:

  1. U.S. Route 101, northbound/Interstate 80, eastbound, p.m. in San Francisco County: From Cesar Chavez Street to Treasure Island Tunnel.
  2. Interstate 80, westbound, all day in Alameda & Contra Costa counties: SR-4 to Bay Bridge Toll Plaza.
  3. U.S. Route 101, southbound, p.m. in Santa Clara County: Fair Oaks Avenue to Oakland Road/13th Street.
  4. Interstate 680, northbound, p.m. in Alameda County: Scott Creek Road to Andrade Road.
  5. State Route 4, eastbound, p.m. in Contra Costa County: Morello Avenue to Port Chicago Highway.
  6. Interstate 80, eastbound, p.m. in Alameda County: West Grand Avenue to Gilman Street.
  7. Interstate 880, southbound, p.m. in Alameda County: Union Street to 29th Avenue.
  8. Interstate 280, southbound, p.m. in Santa Clara County: Foothill Expressway to Seventh Street/10th Street/Virginia Street.
  9. State Route 24, eastbound, p.m. in Alameda and Contra Costa counties: Interstate 580 to Wilder Road.
  10. Interstate 680, northbound, p.m. in Contra Costa County: Sycamore Valley Road to Buskirk Avenue/Oak Park Boulevard.

Read More > from ABC 7 News

Widespread food recalls hit Whole Foods, Walmart and Trader Joe’s – You may want to check your food labels.

More than a dozen companies have recalled millions of pounds of potentially contaminated premade foods in recent days due to listeria and salmonella risks.

The result has led to several big name retailers such as Whole Foods, 7-Eleven, Trader’s Joes, Walmart and Harris Teeter pulling millions of pounds of premade food items, including ready-to-eat salads, burritos and wraps from its shelves.

The massive recalls were issued from major food manufacturers, including Bakkavor Foods, Envolve Foods and Ruiz Food Products, who notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture that their products may include ingredients such as corn, diced onions and other vegetables possibly tainted with bacteria by a single company called McCain Foods. Read More > at Fox Business News

Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology – Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.

Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

…Like the existence of God, however, there’s no actual scientific proof. Astrology has been debunked by numerous academic studies, but Banu Guler, co-founder of artificial intelligence powered astrology app Co—Star said the lack of structure in the field is exactly what drives young, educated professionals to invest their time and money in the practice. Read More > at Market Watch

Viewpoint: Chemophobia epidemic—Fanning fears about trace chemicals obscures real risks and ‘damages public health’ – When is a chemical dangerous?

This is not a question we consciously ask ourselves much, but in fact, we interrogate the world and our safety unconsciously dozens of time each day about it. Is our child’s plastic sippy cup made with dangerous chemicals? Does the cleaner we are using on our car give off dangerous fumes? What about the spray to kill dandelions?

…Just this week, an appellate judge upheld a jury verdict blaming the herbicide found in Monsanto’s Roundup® and generic formulations for a California groundskeeper’s cancer. As the judge noted, the ruling came despite hundreds of reviews and studies, most by government regulatory oversight agencies and independent scientists, that has found the popular weed killer to be safe as used. The judge cut the jury’s punitive damage award by 84% to $39 million after hinting during a prior hearing that she was considering throwing out the verdict altogether because of a lack of independent research linking glyphosate to cancer.

The verdict turned on a June 2015 evaluation by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” It was not a finding of “risk” but of “hazard”—and did not take into account exposure. IARC put glyphosate in the same category as coffee and salted fish. It was deemed less possibly carcinogenic than alcohol, which is very hazardous and can lead to cancer—if you are exposed to (consume) extraordinary amounts of it. The IARC evaluation was also plagued by conflict of-interest charges and allegations uncovered during a Reuters investigation that data was manipulated or left out. Also, it emerged during the trial that Christopher Portier, the chief IARC investigator, had negotiated to be a well-paid consultant ($160,000 in disclosed fees) before the the hazard decision was even announced.

The fact is that almost all chemicals we encounter on a regular basis have undergone reviews of one kind or another and are safe as used. Yet people still believe that somehow one government agency or another “missed something” or that it’s in cahoots with “big business” and has fudged the safety data. Read More > at Genetic Literacy Project

Air Dryers vs Paper Towels – This seems like an almost comically mundane topic, but it is one we face on a regular basis, and can be extremely important in certain environments. Which method of drying hands is superior – hot air dryers, paper towels, or the newer jet air blades (which blow room temperature but fast air)?

First we need to define our question, specifically what criteria will we use to determine which method is superior. I found studies looking at several criteria: effectiveness of hand drying (including compliance), carbon footprint, cost, the degree to which bacteria and viruses are deposited on the hands during the drying process, and the degree to which bacteria and viruses are spread from the hands to the environment.

Another layer of complexity is the assumptions made during the comparison. Not all air blowers are created equal, and some are more efficient than others. Also, paper towels can vary in thickness, and be made from recycled paper or be recyclable or not. The method of paper distribution also affects the average amount consumed by each user. Further, the source of electricity affects calculations of the overall carbon footprint.

…The authors of the review also point out that wet hands spread bacteria much more efficiently than dry hands, so just having more complete dryness is a significant advantage.

So here the bottom line appears to be that paper towels dry hands more quickly and effectively, and people use them more. With air dryers, people are more likely to incompletely dry their hands, or not dry them at all.

Air jet manufacturers would argue that their newer products are faster, solving the problem, but that remains to be seen in careful studies. The question, however, is a bit of a moving target as technology advances.

Recent attention has been paid to a number of studies looking at the spread of bacteria onto or from the hands during the drying process. Here the clear winner is also paper towels. A 2014 study found:

Jet air and warm air dryers result in increased bacterial aerosolization when drying hands. These results suggest that air dryers may be unsuitable for use in healthcare settings, as they may facilitate microbial cross-contamination via airborne dissemination to the environment or bathroom visitors.

A lot of attention was focused on a 2015 study that found that jet dryers spread 1,300 times more bacteria than paper towels. This study was criticized (mainly by Dyson, the maker of jet dryers) for being contrived – it used gloved subjects and exposed them to high amounts of bacterial contamination. It was more of a proof-of-concept study than real world study. Read More > at Science Based Medicine

California Has a Housing Crisis and Can’t Figure Out How to Solve It – Here’s just one tidbit from California’s housing affordability crisis: According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, families in the northern California counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin who make as much as $117,000 a year are eligible to live in low-income housing projects. Want another one or two? Well, here you go: California’s median home value has increased by almost 80 percent to $544,900 since 2011, while more than half of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Not that there’s much of a mystery of what’s really happening. As the Los Angeles Times notes, “Academic researchers, state analysts and California’s gubernatorial candidates agree that the fundamental issue underlying the state’s housing crisis is that there are not enough homes for everyone who wants to live here.”

A few examples: UCLA researchers find, “Opposition to new housing and increased housing density are major components of California’s current housing problem. In many of the state’s cities a vast majority of residential land is zoned only for single-family housing, which drastically limits potential supply.” Likewise, experts at UC Berkeley conclude that “it is clear that supply matters, and there is an urgent need to expand supply in equitable and environmentally sustainable ways.”

I mean, this is just basic supply-and-demand economics. As Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko wrote in the Winter 2018 edition of the Journal of Economic Perspectives: “When housing supply is highly regulated in a certain metropolitan area, housing prices are higher and population growth is smaller relative to the level of demand. . . . The great challenge facing attempts to loosen local housing restrictions is that existing homeowners do not want more affordable homes: they want the value of their asset to cost more, not less.” Read More > at Ricochet

The Public Sector Pension Crisis – Will you be able to retire? Maybe not.

Will your state pay what its politicians promised? Almost certainly not.

Politicians in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Illinois are especially irresponsible when it comes to not funding pension plans, but most every municipality has promised more than it will have.

“The money hasn’t been set aside for years and years,” says City Journal editor Daniel DiSalvo in my new internet video. “Nobody was paying attention.”

His colleague Steve Malanga complains that the media rarely report on the coming crisis.

“To a certain extent, I have sympathy with the media, because the media’s looking for what happens next,” says Malanga. “This is not something that’s going to happen next week.”
But the collapse is coming. Current retirees may find their pension check is cut by 10 percent or 50 percent.

“We just don’t have enough money, and the amount of money that we have to put into this is just mountainous,” says Malanga.

Neither party wants to make the tough choices involved. “Both Democrats and Republicans have incentives to short the pension fund,” says DiSalvo. “For Democrats, if we can not put as much in, we can free up more money for greater public spending on public programs that we think are good. If we’re Republicans, we probably want to cut taxes.”

“Ten years from now, they’re gonna have a problem,” says Malanga. “But 10 years from now somebody else is in office!” Read More > at Reason

Housing Development Boom Hits Contra Costa County, But How Long Will It Last? – Despite Contra Costa County being a bit of an afterthought for investors and developers, a steady pipeline of new housing units has brought the county into a development boom. Ongoing demand for housing and accessibility to BART and other means of transportation has allowed people to live in a more affordable area while commuting to their jobs in urban cores.

Housing demand has historically been driven by employment growth, but there are only a handful of large employment centers in Contra Costa County, Griggs said. Because overall job growth across the entire Bay Area has been at an all-time high, there has been an enormous shortage of new housing to meet demand, he said.

Renters and first-time homebuyers have turned toward Contra Costa County for more affordable housing alternatives and are willing to commute to employment centers, Griggs said.

“This trend has been building up since the end of the last recession and has driven up occupancies and rents of the existing housing supply in cities like Walnut Creek, Concord and Pleasant Hill … and financially allowed for new housing developments to occur in these cities,” he said.

Demographics also have shifted. Older millennials are moving out of city centers in exchange for homeownership and starting families, Griggs said. Walnut Creek, Concord and Pleasant Hill offer viable options for these buyers where they can own a home but still have a city-like experience nearby to connect with friends, he said. Read More > at Bisnow

Number of unvaccinated children increasing in US despite overall high coverage – Despite increased efforts by federal health officials to vaccinate children early in life, the number of unvaccinated children in the U.S. continues to rise, according to a new report.

The percentage of children who were unvaccinated increased from 0.3 percent in 2001 to 1.3 percent in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children by the age of 3 should have already gotten several vaccines, including some follow-up shots and boosters. The CDC points to two reasons why vaccination rates have fallen: lack of health insurance and access to doctors in rural parts of the country. Read More > at ABC News

No, giving up burgers won’t actually save the planet – Abandoning meat is now the latest advice for saving the planet: A “major new study” suggests that a “huge reduction in meat-eating” is “ ‘essential’ to avoid climate breakdown,” as The Guardian puts it.

This follows claims from the Humane Society that “your diet could save the planet” and the German Green Party’s proposal for a national weekly vegetarian day. Even the UN’s former top climate official believes “the best solution would be for us all to become vegetarians.”

The science clearly shows that meat production — especially beef — emits methane and requires CO2-heavy inputs. But when we dig deeper, it turns out such claims are massively overhyped.

I’ve been a vegetarian for four decades because I don’t want to kill animals. If much of climate change could be prevented by more people following suit, it’s an idea that should be discussed.

Doing so means setting aside our distaste with the idea of politicians or the UN dictating what people eat, and ignoring the sticky fact that 1.45 billion of the world’s vegetarians are actually the poorest people on Earth who would like nothing more than to eat meat.

Almost all articles on this topic suggest going vegetarian could achieve emission cuts of 50 percent or more. But these figures are never a reduction of total emissions, just those emitted from food. This is an important distinction because four-fifths of emissions are being ignored. The real impact is five times less. Read More > in the New York Post

Longtime Shoeshiner Who Donated $202K To Children’s Hospital Of Pittsburgh Dies At 76 – A 76-year-old Pennsylvania man whose tips from his one-man shoeshine business raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh died on Tuesday.

Albert Lexie, with his purple shoeshine push cart, was a beloved fixture for more than 30 years within the hospital’s corridors, but his generosity became renowned across the nation and the public learned about his kindness through newspapers, magazines and television shows.

Lexie died of an undisclosed health condition, hospital officials said in a statement. Read More > at NPR

Business Relationship Between Newport Mayor, Councilman Raises Questions – Last month, Newport Beach activist Susan Skinner filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that business ties between the mayor and Councilman Scott Peotter constituted a possible conflict of interest. Today, the nature of their relationship is starting to become a bit clearer.

From the Daily Pilot:

A business linked to Newport Beach Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield paid his City Council colleague Scott Peotter to help convert part of Duffield’s boat manufacturing facility in San Bernardino County to a medical marijuana cultivation or distribution hub, records show.

Peotter made at least $10,000 from DC Developments, a Duffield-associated company, according to Peotter’s state-required statement of economic interest forms.

A string of corporations that financially tie the two together appears to answer a question — has Peotter ever worked for Duffield? — that has dogged them for weeks as they seek reelection in November.

Records list Duffield as a “manager/member” of DC Developments, as well as Muskrat Consultants — one of 16 licensed marijuana distribution facilities in Adelanto, California. According to a city staff report for the Planning Commission meeting, Peotter asked for permission to subdivide the 4.7-acre Muskrat Avenue parcel into three lots. He said Duffield planned to apply for a cannabis cultivation permit on the site.

The city’s charter doesn’t specifically address members of the council employing one another. But other provisions of municipal and state law call the legality of the arrangement into question. City Attorney Aaron Harp refused to comment pending his review of the records. He had previously dismissed Ms. Skinner’s allegations as ‘based on rumor.’

Former City Councilman Keith Curry has been far more blunt. He notes that Duffield and Peotter both voted to ban a medical marijuana cultivation, distribution, and processing facility in Newport Beach three years ago — a decision he concurred with.

“Now we find out that not only are they in business together, they’re in a pot business together.”

Curry said a business relationship between the two would be “unacceptable” and called on them to provide answers to the public immediately. Read More > at California City News

Issue of married Catholic priests gains traction under pope – As the Vatican copes with the growing clergy sex abuse scandal and declining number of priests worldwide, it is laying the groundwork to open formal debate on an issue that has long been taboo: opening up the priesthood to married men in parts of the world where clergy are scarce.

Pope Francis has convened a meeting of South American bishops next year focusing on the plight of the church in the Amazon, a vast territory served by far too few priests. During that synod, the question of ordaining married men of proven virtue — so-called “viri probati” — is expected to figure on the agenda.

This week, a two-hour documentary on Italian television is likely to contribute to the conversation. “The Choice: Priests and Love” profiles more than a dozen men in four European countries who are either living clandestinely with women, have created their own unsanctioned church communities where married priests preside at Mass, or left the Catholic priesthood altogether to marry. Read More > at Yahoo! News

Americans will spend $9 billion for Halloween – With a strong economy and more than 179 million Americans expected to partake in Halloween celebrations this year, consumer spending is expected to reach record highs once again.

Americans are expected to spend nearly $9 billion this year, mirroring last year’s record of approximately $9.1 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Despite a slight decrease in overall spending, per-peson spending is predicted to increase from $86.13 to $86.79. Read More > at Fox Business News

Midterms: Poorest states have Republican legislatures, and richest have Democratic ones – On Oct. 4, USA TODAY published a breathtaking economic profile of all 50 states, ranked by household income. Embedded within it is arguably the greatest unseen political truth of our time.

Fathom it, and you will see how politics may unexpectedly affect economics and wealth for years to come.

Though income drives the rankings from poorest (West Virginia) to richest (Maryland), the list also includes population, unemployment and poverty rates. To unlock the political secret in these data points, cross-reference them with figures available from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) showing which party controls state legislatures.

What you see is exactly the reverse of our cultural mythology: Heading into midterms, Republicans are very much the party of the poor and Democrats are the party of the rich. This seemingly sounds nuts. It isn’t. Thirty-two states have Republican-controlled legislatures. Read More > in USA Today

Study shows higher rate of stroke among pot smokers – “We can’t establish causation, but what we can say is that recreational marijuana users are at higher risk in terms of stroke,” said researcher Dr. Krupa Patel.

The risk for any stroke could increase by 15 percent and it could jump 29 percent for an ischemic stroke — the most common kind, said lead investigator Dr. Krupa Patel. She is a research physician at Avalon University School of Medicine in Willemstad, Curacao.

Patel cautioned that the study can’t prove that using marijuana causes strokes, only that the two are associated.

“We can’t establish causation, but what we can say is that recreational marijuana users are at higher risk in terms of stroke,” she said.

In addition, the researchers don’t know if the risk is tied to smoking marijuana or ingesting it in other ways, and whether it depends on the amount of the drug used or if it is due to other psychoactive ingredients mixed in with the marijuana. Read More > from UPI

Measles outbreak raging in Europe could be brought to U.S., doctors warn – A raging measles outbreak in Europe may be a warning sign of what could occur in the U.S. if something doesn’t change soon, experts say.

So far this year, there have been 41,000 cases in Europe and 40 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The European experience may offer a window on how quickly things can go awry when parents choose not to vaccinate their children, doctors caution.

Because measles is relatively rare in the U.S., many Americans have no idea of the disease’s frightening impact and its stunning contagiousness.

…The reason, experts say, is that in Europe, many parents have opted to skip vaccinating their children. “It’s the main factor leading to the outbreaks,” said Anca Paduraru of the European Commission in Brussels. “It’s unacceptable to have in the 21st century diseases that should have been and could have been eradicated.”

At least 95 percent of the population must have received at least two doses of measles vaccine to prevent outbreaks, WHO said. Some parts of Europe are below 70 percent.

The measles vaccine has been available in the U.S. since 1963, and is now commonly administered to children in tandem with the vaccines for mumps and rubella. The effectiveness of the vaccine led federal officials to declare measles eradicated in the U.S. back in 2000. Before the vaccine, there were 3 million to 4 million cases annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read More > NBC News

Why Cow’s Milk Is the Perfect Drink for Supremacists – As when Christoph Waltz’s character in Inglorious Bastards drinks a glass of milk and a character in a pivotal scene of Get Out sips the cow secretion, dairy milk has long been embraced as a symbol of white supremacy.

Aside from “lactose-tolerant” white supremacists, cow’s milk really is the perfect drink of choice for all (even unwitting) supremacists, since the dairy industry inflicts extreme violence on other living beings. PETA is trying to wake people up to the implications of choosing this white beverage and suggesting that they choose something else pronto. Read More > at Peta

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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1 Response to Sunday Reading – 10/28/18

  1. Hal Bray says:

    Another Gem, Kevin. Thanks.

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