Sunday Reading – 12/23/18


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.

Swedroe: Putting Panic In Perspective – …To make sure you have a balanced view of things and are not just obsessing about potential risks, let’s first look at some of the economic news:

  • Economic growth is strong. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve’s Fourth Quarter 2018 Survey of Professional Forecasters projects real GDP growth for 2019 of 2.7%, down just slightly from the forecast of 2.9% for 2018.
  • Unemployment is at 3.7%, the lowest rate in 50 years.
  • Inflation is moderate. The Philly Fed’s latest 2019 forecast is for an increase in the CPI of 2.3%, down slightly from their forecast for 2018 of 2.4%.
  • Consumer sentiment (a leading indicator) is strong. The December University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey came in at 97.5, remaining near the highest levels we have seen over the past 18 years (despite the recent weakness in stocks). The last time the Consumer Sentiment Index was consistently above 90.0 for at least as long was 1997 through 2000, when it recorded a four-year average of 105.3.
  • The November ISM (Institute of Supply Management) Non-Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index came in at 60.7%, a 0.4 percentage point higher than the October reading of 60.3%—representing continued growth in the nonmanufacturing sector and at a slightly faster rate. The six-month moving average of the index is at about the highest level in more than 20 years. And the Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index increased to 65.2% in November, 2.7 percentage points higher than the October reading of 62.5%, reflecting growth for the 112th-consecutive month, at a faster rate.

The bottom line is there is nothing in the economic data to indicate we’re headed into a recession that could lead to a bear market (with the stock market being a leading indicator). While the economic expansion is now 10 years old, expansions don’t die of old age. They die either because geopolitical risks show up or because the Fed tightens monetary policy, driving real rates to high levels to fight inflation. Read More > at ETF

Housing fix clears a hurdle – The Metropolitan Transportation Agency Board of Directors voted 14-3 to sign the CASA Compact, a proposal from its disciple organization to streamline residential development, establish renter protections, facilitate affordable housing construction and more.

The vision of the proposal, which will head to the Association of Bay Area Governments then to the state Legislature, is to simultaneously battle the affordability crisis while relieving prevailing traffic congestion.

Under the decision, MTC will push forward a proposal to establish just-cause eviction protections, rent caps and other forms of rental assistance for those threatened by displacement. It also seeks to streamline taller and denser residential developments proposed adjacent to transit stops, while incentivizing affordable housing projects.

…“At the end of the day, this is a great program. We are in a crisis. And those who say we are not — we are in a crisis,” said Aguirre. She countered her support though by suggesting more outreach from MTC to local cities and agencies to discuss the initiative is in order.

Such a perspective was shared widely, especially by critics who felt the plan was too bold and formulated without enough input from cities or local officials.

Fears over loss of local control are central to the opposition’s case against the proposal, claiming a regional agency should not maintain authority over cities and counties on issues as pivotal as residential development, housing rights and traffic congestion.

In recognition of those concerns, Los Altos Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins, Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly and Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci voted against the proposal.
Advocates for the compact meanwhile claim stripping the authority from local officials is a necessary function of the proposal, suggesting the housing crisis was borne from an unwillingness by city and county officials to approve development.

“What we have lacked is the political will — especially at the local government level, especially in exclusionary communities across the Bay Area — to do anything meaningful,” said San Mateo resident Jordan Grimes in his support for the compact. Read More > at the The Daily Journal

Did the Pilgrims land on Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer? – The Mayflower colonists decided to settle at Plymouth because they were running low on beer. In an age when so many have lost their moral compass, it’s comforting to know that people in the old days had their priorities straight.

Pretty much everything you think you know about the Pilgrims is wrong (including their being called Pilgrims — that term didn’t catch on until centuries later)…

Problem two was that Cape Cod was not where the colonists were supposed to be. Their patent from the Virginia Company of London authorized them to establish a plantation between 38 and 41 degrees north latitude; the tip of Cape Cod was just north of 42 degrees. The group dutifully attempted to sail south, but shoals and contrary winds kiboshed that idea.

Beer was a dietary mainstay in those days. Chances are the beverage in question was “ship’s beer,” a not-very-alcoholic concoction that, along with the even weaker “small beer,” was drunk in formidable quantities during the colonial era (upwards of a quart per day seems to have been a typical ration). Undoubtedly an advantage was that, unlike more perishable foodstuffs, ship’s beer would keep during long voyages and, having been boiled, was likely purer than ordinary water.

The colonists used up their beer by Christmas. At first the ship’s captain gave them a little out of the crew’s supply, but when sickness, possibly scurvy, began felling the travelers (about half died that first winter), things got ugly. “As this calamity fell among the passengers that were to be left here to plant, and were hasted ashore and made to drink water that the seamen might have the more beer, and one in his sickness desiring but a small can of beer, it was answered that if he were their own father he should have none” (Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, circa 1650). Read More > at The Straight Dope

The Really Worst Pseudoscience of 2018 – …There were certainly many candidates for specific pseudosciences I have not yet covered on this list – the raw water nonsense, flat-earthers, anti-GMO propaganda, more alternative medicine and free energy claims, and a continuation of all the pseudosciences from previous years.

It is important to address specific claims, drilling down to individual facts and arguments, but it is also important to step back and look at the cultural and institutional patterns behind those specific claims.

The real story over the last few years is that of fake news. This is actually a multi-headed monster, with completely fake news stories, biased and distorted news, and real news dismissed as fake. What these variations all have in common is the blurring of the lines between valid and invalid, legitimate and fake, fact and opinion, skepticism and denial, and expertise vs elitism.

Distinguishing real from fake has always been a challenge, and there is also the demarcation problem – there is often a fuzzy line between the two, not a clear bright line. Also, experts make mistakes, the consensus of opinion is sometimes wrong, there is bias and fraud in science, corporations often put their thumb on the scale – and people, in general, are flawed, so their institutions are also flawed. For these and other reasons, most of the things you think you know are wrong, or at least incomplete, distorted, misleading, or flawed.

The optimal approach to figuring what is likely to be true in a complex world full of flawed people spreading misinformation, therefore, requires time and nuance. But nuance takes work, and it is not as satisfying as having a simple clear narrative that is emotionally appealing. But this is the line that skeptics walk. If you care about what is really true, and not just supporting your tribe and stroking your emotions, then you have to be content with partial tentative conclusions. You have to be willing to change your mind when evidence and arguments suggest you should. You need to see all sides of an issue, and give the devil his due. Read More > at Neurologica

California transformed its justice system. But now crime is up, and critics want rollbacks – Over the last decade, California has led the nation in reducing its prison population.

The state has shortened sentences and diverted some offenders to the counties for incarceration and supervision, transforming California’s criminal justice system into what supporters hope will become a humane model around the country.

But amid the changes, crime has increased in recent years, sparking debate about the causes and giving ammunition to those leading a new effort to roll back some of the reforms.

An analysis by the Marshall Project and the Los Angeles Times found that California’s crime rates remain near historic lows, but overall crime spiked in both 2012 and 2015, the years that immediately followed two major statewide measures aimed at decreasing the number of people in prison. Those jumps were mainly driven by increases in property crimes, particularly thefts from motor vehicles. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Der Spiegel’s first-class faker – Fake news wasn’t invented by the Russians.

The New York Times had Jayson Blair, who faked dozens of articles and interviews over the years. U.S.A. Today had Jack Kelley, who made up sensational stories about events he had not witnessed and places he had not seen. In both cases, the editors were forced to resign.

Now, it’s Der Spiegel’s turn. The fabled German news magazine’s award-winning reporter Claas Relotius, 33, a legend in his time, replaced facts with fantasy. He quoted people he had not interviewed. He described streets and buildings he had seen on Google Earth only. Painted in exquisite detail, the scenes were nothing more than figments of his imagination.

For Spiegel, which prides itself on having the best fact-checking department in the business, this is Armageddon.

To salvage its honor, it has launched a top-to-bottom investigation of the publication, ruthlessly trying to answer the Big Question that tortured the Times and U.S.A. Today as well: How could this have happened — and to us, the best of the best? Read More > at Politico

Vaping could be snuffed out in California if these bills become law in 2019 – California lawmakers on both the left and the right are working up plans to restrict vaping in the coming year, citing their worries that flavored tobacco in e-cigarettes entices too many young people to take up a potentially harmful habit.

Two proposals, Senate Bills 38 and 39, would ban the sale of flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products in the state and require e-cigarette vendors to deliver their products in “conspicuously marked” containers and only with the signature of a person 21 or older.

The pending bills would not affect the sale of unflavored e-cigarette products. SB 38 defines flavored tobacco as “any tobacco product that contains a constituent that imparts a characterizing flavor.

In the Assembly, AB 131 would prohibit e-cigarette manufacturers from advertising or promoting products that appeal to children, such as using cartoons. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Hunger has gotten worse in San Francisco in the past 5 years, despite $48 million in increased spending – “Food is a basic human right.” That was part of a resolution passed in 2013 by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors which pledged to end hunger in the city by 2020.

Five years later, food insecurity has only gotten worse in San Francisco, according to a 200-page report released by the city’s Food Security Task Force Thursday. The city has increased spending on nutrition programs by $48 million in that time period; yet the extra meals and groceries are still not enough to meet the needs of the estimated 227,000 San Franciscans who are at high risk of food insecurity, according to the report.

Chronicling statistics district by district, the report finds food insecurity especially acute among pregnant women, low-income families with children, seniors, people with disabilities and those in insecure housing. While the escalated cost of housing is the biggest reason for the increase, the issue overall is extremely complex, said Paula Jones, an author of the report and director of food security at the S.F. Department of Public Health. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Why Aren’t People Signing Up For Free Money In Stockton? – At least 1,200 letters have been mailed out to households in Stockton offering a chance at receiving $500 a month, no strings attached, but not everyone is signing up.

The program is part of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration or SEED. It’s the nation’s first city-led guaranteed basic income.

Since learning about SEED, Deborah Gurley, who is on a fixed income, has checked her mailbox several times a day.

“Nope, not yet. Not in my mailbox,” she said.

…A team of independent researchers randomly selected 1,200 households where the median income is at or below $46,000. From the group, 100 will be selected to receive $500 a month for 18 months. But the response has been slow.

“We’re looking for at least half of the folks who have received the letter to respond back because it gives the evaluators a chance to select the 100 people from that group,” said Tubbs.

SEED is looking to study how an extra $500 will impact people’s health and stress level. They are looking to see if people feel financially secure. Read More > at CBS Sacramento

California governor: Democrats are likely to spend too much – Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown helped make his party even more powerful in California during the last eight years and now, less than a month before leaving office, he predicts that dominance will make it difficult for his successor to control Democrats’ hunger for spending and regulations.

The leader of the most populous state has kept Democratic lawmakers in check by limiting spending on social programs in favor of saving it to protect against a future economic downtown. He sometimes butted heads with legislative leaders, warning spending too much now could hurt taxpayers or require budget cuts later.

“I’d say we’re in for contentious times and for too many rules, too many constricting mandates and probably too much spending,” Brown told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.

He said Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom may have a hard time keeping fellow Democrats in check because “he’s got to please some of these groups enough of the time to still be viable as a political leader.”

…Brown’s comments on Democratic priorities reflect the more frugal attitude he brought to Sacramento. He entered office with a $27 billion deficit and leaves behind a nearly $15 billion rainy day fund and a budget surplus.

Brown, however, has backed his own expensive plans. He used Democratic majorities to pass a controversial gas tax increase for road maintenance and has steadfastly defended a $77 billion project to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco that’s seen repeated delays and cost overruns. Read More > from the Associated Press

Deer Are a Menace and We Need to Kill a Lot More of Them – In 2017, the total deer population in the United States was an estimated 33.5 million, down from 38.1 million in 2000. Hunters should rejoice over their excellent shooting, and then get outside and kill millions more.

This macabre call to arms might unsettle anyone whose heart ached at viewing the plight of poor Bambi, but it’s a prescription that’s sorely needed, for at their current population, deer are ravaging ecosystems across the country.

This wasn’t the case in the very early 1900s. Then, after decades of wanton hunting, there may have been as few as 300,000 deer left roaming the wilds of America. Hunting moratoriums, favorable human-caused ecosystem changes (i.e. more farm land), declining wolf and cougar populations (the major natural predators of deer), two world wars (leaving fewer hunters at home), and yes, the influential film Bambi, all combined to send deer populations skyrocketing during much of the 20th century. The recovery was wonderful for deer, but terrible for other organisms.

Deer devoured countless wildflowers close to extinction and devastated saplings of cedar, hemlock, and oak. All of this eating, amounting to more than 2,000 pounds of plant matter per deer per year, might account for widespread declines of North American songbird populations, which rely on many of the plants upon which deer gorged themselves.

…It’s for all of these reasons that wildlife managers, ecologists, and even The Nature Conservancy have labeled deer, at their current populations, a grave threat to ecosystems all over the United States, and advocate measures to limit their spread, of which hunting is the most effective option.

Unfortunately, hunters are increasingly in short supply. As Jason Stein reported for OnWisconsin, “Nationally, the number of hunters dropped 16 percent from 2011 to 2016, according to a national survey released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Census Bureau. The level of hunting in 2016 was the lowest measured in the past 25 years.” Read More > at Real Clear Science

Californians keep asking Google, ‘Should I move out?’ – Over at AT&T Savings—a retail blog associated with the telecom giant AT&T—there’s some potentially alarming Google trend data suggesting that more and more Californians might be eyeing the exit doors.

Last week, blogger Cara Fuller examined the most popular Google searches phrased in the form of a “Should I?” question and then ranked common queries in each state.

“Using Google autocomplete, we looked at over 100 of the most popular Google search,” writes Fuller. “From there, we found the most distinct search for every state using Google trends data from the past year.”

The most commonly Googled “Should I?” query for Californians in 2018 was “Should I move out?”

Fuller concluded this was also the most common query in other states like Utah, Colorado, South Carolina, and Hawaii. Read More > at Curbed

For the First Time, a U.S. State Will Have a Majority-Female Legislature – Nevada’s state Legislature this week became the first in the U.S. to gain a majority of female members, the National Conference of State Legislatures said on Wednesday.

The state took on that distinction after the Clark County Commission on Tuesday appointed two women—Beatrice Duran and Rochelle Nguyen—to fill vacant seats in the Assembly.

Those appointments, NCSL says, increases the total number of women in the Assembly to 23 of 42 members who, along with nine women in the Senate, mean that 32 of 63 legislators in the state are female.

Information the Conference of State Legislatures updated Wednesday shows that, preliminarily, 2,092 women will serve in state legislatures in 2019, comprising 28.3 percent of all state lawmakers nationwide. Read More > at Route Fifty

Scant Evidence Behind the Advice About Salt – Low-sodium diets are widely recommended for people who have a variety of ailments, but there’s little proof they help those with heart failure.

Despite a number of studies questioning the usefulness of very low-salt diets in the last few years, most major medical organizations continue to recommend them. We would assume that they do so from a strong base of evidence.

But with respect to heart failure, there is a shockingly small amount of evidence.

Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body. About 5.7 million people in the United States suffer from it. Chronic high blood pressure can force the heart to work too hard over time, weakening it and leading to heart failure. Treatment usually involves trying to strengthen the contractions of the heart muscle with drugs, or reducing the volume of blood with other drugs (like diuretics) or by restricting salt intake.

Recently, researchers searched for randomized controlled trials that evaluated the use of reduced sodium intake to treat heart failure. In all the literature, they found nine studies that involved 479 patients. One of them was published only in abstract form. None involved more than 100 patients. Over all, none were considered at low risk for bias.

There were no data that showed that salt restriction reduced mortality or cardiac disease; affected whether someone was admitted to the hospital; or influenced how long they had to stay if admitted. Of four outpatient studies, two showed no improvement in heart function, and two did. Read More > in The New York Times

Worry over kids’ excessive smartphone use is more justified than ever before – Parents who fear their kids are spending too much time in front of screens now have more reason for concern.

New research funded by the National Institutes of Health found brain changes among kids using screens more than seven hours a day and lower cognitive skills among those using screens more than two hours a day.

When studies find links between screen time and negative outcomes, some have argued that this is just the latest moral panic over technology.

After all, didn’t the parents of baby boomers and Gen Xers worry that their kids were watching too much TV or talking on the phone too much? Those kids turned out OK, right?

So how are portable electronic devices, the chosen technology of today’s kids and teens – a generation I call “iGen” – any different?

New research I’ve conducted on the relationship between portable device use and sleep provides some answers. Read More > at The Conversation

1,800 Companies Left California in a Year, Texas Remains Top Destination – A new study shows that 1,800 companies left California in 2016, the most recent year figures were available. The main destination for those relocations to more business-friendly states was Texas, according to research by Spectrum Location Solutions LLC.

Spectrum Location Solutions’ Joseph Vranich, the study author, says, “Departures are understandable when year after year CEOs nationwide surveyed by Chief Executive Magazine have declared California the worst state in which to do business.”

Vranich added, “The top reason to leave the state no longer is high taxes. The legal climate has become so difficult that companies should consider locating in jurisdictions where they will be treated fairly.”

The top 10 states starting in the order of those that gained the most from California business relocations were (1) Texas, which has held the first-place distinction for at least a decade, (2) Nevada, (3) Arizona, (4) Colorado, (5) Oregon, (6) Washington, (7) North Carolina, (8) Florida, (9) Georgia and (10) Virginia.

The top 10 municipalities gaining company migrations from California were (1) Austin, (2) Reno, (3) Las Vegas, (4) Phoenix, (5) Seattle, (6) Dallas, (7) Portland, OR, (8) Denver, (9) San Antonio and (10) Scottsdale. Read More > Connect California

Jack In The Box Mulls Sale – Fast food operator Jack in the Box, which has about 2,200 restaurants in 21 states that sell tacos, burgers and other fast food, is talking to buyers about a potential sale.

A timetable has yet to be specified, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Lately activist investors, such as Blue Harbour Group and Jana Partners, have taken stakes in the company. Each holds about 7% of outstanding shares in the chain, a circumstance that might be pressuring the company to consider a sale. Jana Partners held Whole Foods shares as an activist investor before Amazon snapped up the grocer.

Jack in the Box has seen revenue and earnings slide recently. The company generated revenue of $869.7M for the year ending in September, down from $1.1B a year ago, and earnings dropped to $104.3M from $128.6M over the same period.

Also, same-store sales companywide eked out a 0.1% gain for the year ending in September compared to the previous year. Read More > at Bisnow

Cannabis Regulators Ok Statewide Deliveries – Officials with the California Bureau of Cannabis Control have made a final decision on one of the most controversial issues involving commercial pot, much to the chagrin of the state’s cities and counties. Cannabis deliveries can be made anywhere in the state under final draft rules issued by the BCC, despite objections by a local jurisdiction.

Local government advocacy groups such as the League of California Cities fought hard to oppose the idea, saying it usurps the power of local governments. A court battle could soon follow.

In addition to approving statewide deliveries, the new rules prohibit partnerships between permit holders and unlicensed operators, new packaging and labeling rules, and less restrictive testing requirements.

The BCC’s new proposed regulations can be read here. They are expected to be approved by the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) in January. Read More > at California City News

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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1 Response to Sunday Reading – 12/23/18

  1. Hal Bray says:

    Thanks Kwvin. Great column/blog this year. Have a wwonderful Christmas and New Year Holiday.

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