Sunday Reading – 02/10/19

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.

For the first time in 6 years, California names its lowest-performing schools. Is yours on the list? – For the first time in six years, California has released the names of its lowest-performing schools.

The 780 schools are in the bottom 5 percent of public K-12 schools as measured by the state’s new accountability tool, the California School Dashboard, and require “comprehensive school improvement.”

The state identified a total of 1,640 schools that need comprehensive or targeted assistance because they are struggling to adequately serve students.

They represent 16.5 percent of all California public schools.

The names of the schools can be found in spreadsheets included with California Department of Education letters sent last Thursday to district superintendents. It is the first time the state has identified its lowest-performing schools since the old API scores that measured student achievement were discontinued in 2013.

The federal law known as ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, requires that states identify the bottom 5 percent of schools — the lowest-performing schools — and additionally identify schools with one or more groups of students whose performance meets the criteria for “lowest performing.” Schools that have been flagged for targeted support won’t be eligible for that support until the 2020-21 school year. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

State tells Encinitas to abolish anti-housing growth law – Encinitas has been told by state officials it needs to “amend or invalidate” an anti-growth ordinance passed by voters in 2013, or continue to violate California laws.

On Tuesday, the city received a letter asking it to take necessary action to eliminate or change Proposition A, a law approved by 52 percent of voters that requires a public vote every time a developer proposes changing zoning or increasing density.

It also set a citywide building height limit of 30 feet, about two stories, and low by even coastal community standards.

In its letter, the state Department of Housing and Community Development, or HCD, said the 2013 law — called “right to vote” — has continued to disqualify the city’s proposals to comply with requirements.

The move by the department comes as the state continues to push for more housing, and increase its legal options. Huntington Beach was sued by California in January for not complying with state law to allow enough homebuilding to accommodate its growing population. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Walgreens ‘Top Violator’ Among Pharmacies for Selling Tobacco Products to Minors: FDA – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites tobacco use as the nation’s leading cause of preventable disease and death, noting that nearly all tobacco use begins during youth and young adulthood. On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested an order to ban sales of tobacco products at a Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. store in Miami. The FDA also sought a similar ban on a Circle K store in Charleston, South Carolina.

The FDA action against the Walgreens store cites five repeated violations beginning in December 2015, with the last coming in October 2018. The FDA sent two warning letters and initiated two civil money penalty cases against the store before filing the complaint.

In the announcement of the filing, the FDA noted that “Walgreens is currently the top violator among pharmacies that sell tobacco products, with 22 percent of the stores inspected having illegally sold tobacco products to minors.” As of last August, Walgreens reported that it operates 9,560 stores in the United States, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

CVS Health Corp. is the only pharmacy chain that has so far eliminated the sale of tobacco products from its stores. CVS stopped sales in October 2014 and said at the time that annual revenue would take a hit of about $2 billion.

The FDA includes e-cigarettes among its tobacco products, although none of the citations for the Walgreens store cites e-cigarettes or their flavors as the product sold illegally to a minor. More than 11% (1.73 million) of U.S. high school students claimed e-cigarette use 2017 of a total of 19.6% (2.95 million) who said they used any tobacco product. Some 7.6% said they smoked cigarettes and 5.5% used smokeless tobacco. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Opinion: The tech industry is getting away with the murder of capitalism – India has been accused of resorting to protectionism because it enacted regulations that impose limits on e-commerce platforms. The criticisms are unfair; India is doing what the U.S. should have done: preserve capitalism and free markets. Unchecked, the tech industry will keep breaking every rule.

In 2014, Facebook board member and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel openly exposed one of Silicon Valley’s darkest secrets: that it likes to build monopolies. Competition is for losers, he wrote, because it limits profits; a monopoly can set its own prices and “deviously eliminate rivals.” He proclaimed that capitalism and competition were opposites, on the basis that “capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition, all profits get competed away.”

The tech moguls love monopolies because they enable them to amass unprecedented money and power — at the expense of everyone else. “Profits come out of customers’ wallets, and monopolies deserve their bad reputation,” Thiel admitted. His argument was that in a fast-changing technology world, “creative monopolies” such as Google make the world better by bringing in innovations.

The reality, though, is that monopolies are a cancer on capitalism. They limit competition and lead to abuses of power. In truly free markets, competition causes a constant churn and makes it difficult to be complacent in service, quality, or innovation; it creates checks and balances.

The tech industry is literally getting away with the murder of capitalism, and the forces that have enabled it to do so have outpaced U.S. policy makers, who understand neither the technologies nor the underlying dynamics. Note how Facebook, in the short 15 years of its existence, has been able to dominate social media globally and to fan the flames of hatred and divide societies by spreading misinformation. It used the tricks of psychological addiction to keep us coming back for more so that it could continue increasing its massive profits. It has either stomped competition or acquired it. Such are the powers that monopolies gain. Read More > at Market Watch

Nursing Shortages Will Put California’s Plans for Universal Healthcare on Hold – Based on his inaugural promises, early administrative appointments and first budget, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is preparing to make some type of universal healthcare coverage the centerpiece of his administration. It is unclear if he will take the single-payer route or focus mainly on expanding access for the state’s residents to various state and federal healthcare programs, including Medicare.

Whatever one thinks about the wisdom of expanding medical care in this manner, it’s clear that demand will increase for medical services. That is the economic reality whenever a highly sought-after service is subsidized, and therefore offered to more people at a discounted price. That means more pressure on the existing system of medical care and a growing need for the services of people who work in the healthcare field.

In particular, Newsom’s proposals—whatever their final details—will exacerbate a long-running problem that California policy makers have thus far failed to address: The state’s growing shortage of nurses. A 2017 report by the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, a project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, predicted the need for registered nurses to grow by 28 percent by 2030 largely because of an aging population and an aging workforce. Many states are on track to keep up with the demand, but not California. Read More > at Reason

The World Might Actually Run Out of People – You know the story. Despite technologies, regulations, and policies to make humanity less of a strain on the earth, people just won’t stop reproducing. By 2050 there will be 9 billion carbon-burning, plastic-polluting, calorie-consuming people on the planet. By 2100, that number will balloon to 11 billion, pushing society into a Soylent Green scenario. Such dire population predictions aren’t the stuff of sci-fi; those numbers come from one of the most trusted world authorities, the United Nations.

But what if they’re wrong? Not like, off by a rounding error, but like totally, completely goofed?

That’s the conclusion Canadian journalist John Ibbitson and political scientist Darrell Bricker come to in their newest book, Empty Planet, due out February 5th. After painstakingly breaking down the numbers for themselves, the pair arrived at a drastically different prediction for the future of the human species. “In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline,” they write. “Once that decline begins, it will never end.” Read More > at Wired

A New Way to Keep Mosquitoes From Biting – …The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads dengue and Zika, is an exceptional human hunter, drawn to our body heat, odors, and exhalations. When a female finds and bites a person, she doubles her body weight in blood, before lapsing into a days-long food coma. During that time, while she slowly digests the blood and converts it into eggs, “her interest in human cues is dialed down to zero,” Vosshall says. “You can put your hand in a cage of blood-fed females and you won’t get a bite.”

That switch between relentless hunter and disinterested layabout is so stark that about a decade ago, Vosshall started wondering if she could control it. She focused on a small protein called neuropeptide Y, or NPY. Among its many roles, it acts as a universal appetite controller, influencing feelings of hunger across the animal kingdom. Its exact effect varies among species: It drives flies and humans to eat but, as Duvall found, it does the opposite in mosquitoes, suppressing their appetite.

NPY acts by sticking to receptor proteins, and the pharmaceutical industry has tried to develop appetite-controlling drugs that target these receptors. Duvall got her hands on some of these drugs five years ago, and fed them to Aedes mosquitoes. She then put the insects in a trap that was baited at one end with a stocking that she had worn on her arm. Normally, unfed mosquitoes would “go toward eau de Laura,” Vosshall says. But after swallowing drugs that stimulate NPY receptors, their attraction to her scent fell by 80 percent. They hadn’t drunk any blood, but they were behaving like mosquitoes that had.

…Vosshall thinks it should be possible to bait mosquito traps with NPY-targeting chemicals to dose the insects in more realistic conditions. “There are already surveillance traps that work by attracting mosquitoes,” she says. “We’d just need to engineer a feeding cup where we can put in our drug.”

Such traps don’t lure beneficial insects, so the drugs have little chance of unintentionally getting into, say, pollinators such as bees or butterflies. And since NPY receptors are so similar across species, Vosshall thinks that the same approach could help to control other vector-borne diseases. “I got Lyme disease earlier this year, so I’m very interested in that,” she says. “We know these drugs work on Lyme vectors, so you’d just need a different tick-specific delivery system. It’s all in the art of the trap.” Read More > in The Atlantic

Human composting option passes Senate – Washington residents could become the first people in the nation who could decide to become “human compost” after they die.

A bill allowing two new technologies for the disposal of human remains, natural organic reduction and alkaline hydrolysis, were easily passed Wednesday by the Senate.

The bill “may change the world,” said bill sponsor Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle,, adding that Washington could be a leader in environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional burial practices.

…An alternative is human composting, the controlled, accelerated reduction of human remains into organic matter for use in soil. It involves covering a body with organic materials, like straw and wood chips, allowing it to break down over a few weeks. The result is a cubic yard of soil indistinguishable from other compost. The remnants could be taken home by family members, with the rest being scattered on conservation land around the Puget Sound.

Washington would be the first state in the country to allow the composting method while 19 states – including Idaho and Oregon – allow alkaline hydrolysis, which involves reducing a body with water and alkaline chemicals.

Advocates say both processes use less energy and produce significantly less carbon dioxide than traditional burial and cremation practices. Washington had the highest rate of cremations in the country in 2017, at 77 percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America. Read More > at The Spokesmen-Review

The Oddly Tragic Position of Wishing We Had Been Wrong… – We have repeatedly documented how ex-Governor Jerry Brown, falsely promised that violent felons would not be freed early from prison under Prop 57. Brown knew if he admitted the truth voters would reject his pet initiative.

Reality has struck again.

An appellate court just ruled that Gregory Gadlin, a convicted rapist and child molester serving 35 years to life in prison for a new conviction of assault with a deadly weapon, is eligible for early release under Prop 57. In the crime of assault with a deadly weapon for which he is currently incarcerated, Gadlin viciously assaulted his girlfriend Tamara (the ADDA does not publish the full names of domestic assault victims) with a seven-inch butcher knife, slashing her several times across the face, back and stomach. When Tamara raised her hands to tried to shield herself from his attack, he slashed three of her fingers to the tendon. The injuries required numerous stitches, and as detailed in filed court documents,left Tamara with limited mobility in her hand and scars from the attack on her face and back.

His prior convictions-both “strikes” under the three-strikes law-are even more alarming. In 1980, while he was on parole from the California Youth Authority, Gadlin raped a pregnant 17-year-old girl. The girl had just been assaulted on the street by two females. The injured victim accepted Gadlin’s offer to take her to the hospital. Instead, he took her into his residence where he hit her in the face, threatened to kill her, then raped her, sodomized her, and forced her to orally copulate him. Gadlin was sentenced to nine years for the rape. He was again out of prison in 1986, when he took his eleven-year-old niece to a hotel room where he raped her, forced her to orally copulate him, then urinated in her mouth.

Most lucid individuals would concur that the brutal assault by Gadlin on his girlfriend in every way fit the definition of a violent offense. However, thanks to obvious flaws in the way Prop 57 was written, assault with a deadly weapon is a “non-violent” offense. So, notwithstanding his prior strike convictions for forcible rape and child molestation, based on Gadlin’s current conviction the court ruled he must be considered for early release. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Facebook: No, we don’t limit your News Feed to 26 people – There’s no shortage of weird copypaste memes and fake news circulating on Facebook, but it seems to be sick and tired of one in particular. In a blog post, the social network has clarified that a meme claiming its News Feed only shows posts from 26 of your closest friends is categorically false. It’s an old copypasta that’s been circulating on the website since 2017 and has been debunked again and again. However, the company has taken the time to address it now, because it apparently still keeps on popping up. Facebook-owned Instagram recently issued a similar statement to put an end to a nearly identical meme going around on the platform.

Ramya Sethuraman, Facebook’s product manager for ranking, said:

“The idea that News Feed only shows you posts from a set number of friends is a myth. The goal of News Feed is to show you the posts that matter to you so that you have an enjoyable experience. If we somehow blocked you from seeing content from everyone but a small set of your friends, odds are you wouldn’t return.”

That said, Facebook admits that there’s a grain of truth in that old copypasta (see below), which includes a plea to leave a comment on the post. Its algorithm determines the content you’d like to see on your News Feed based on nature and level of interaction, after all.

Live videos are more likely to show up at the top of your feed than recorded ones, for instance, and you’re more likely to come across status updates from people you regularly Like or engage with on the comments section. Meanwhile, you’d usually have to scroll down quite a bit to see posts from friends you don’t usually talk to. Read More > at Engadget 

Study: Prescription Crackdown Won’t Do Much to Stop Crisis – …To combat the opioid crisis, policymakers have leaned heavily on policies controlling the supply of prescription opioids. This is not necessarily because of its efficacy, but because of its ease—the entire prescription opioid infrastructure falls under the oversight of the DEA, which sets national quotas for production every year. As a result of conscious reductions in supply, the number of opioid prescriptions has fallen steadily since 2012. Other interventions, like Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, are similarly focused on the prescription opioid supply.

How much will these interventions actually affect the trajectory of the opioid crisis? To answer this question, the JAMA study’s authors used publicly available data on opioid use and overdose to build a model of how the crisis will play out.

Using their model, the researchers projected the opioid crisis to 2025. They predict that the number of opioid overdose deaths will rise to 81,700 by 2025, assuming no change in current trends. That rate of increase will account for a total of 700,400 deaths between 2016 and 2025. Most tellingly, 80 percent of those deaths will be attributable to illicit opioids, primarily meaning heroin or fentanyl.

In other words, most actual overdose deaths are attributable to these illicit drugs, not to prescriptions. In fact, the researchers find that if prescription opioid misuse continues to decline at the rate it declined from 2008 to 2015—about 7.5 percent per year—the total number of opioid deaths between 2016 and 2025 will be reduced by just 3.8 percent. Faster rates of decline still led to only a 5 percent overall reduction; even in a hypothetical where prescription opioid abuse abates entirely after 2015, total overdoses would only fall by 17.3 percent.

What this means practically is that simply targeting the prescription drug supply is not enough to stop the drug crisis. In fact, there is evidence that the current crackdown actually exacerbated it: Analysis of drug deaths indicates that the reformulation of the opioid drug OxyContin to be tamper proof was directly linked to the rise in heroin overdose deaths. Read More > in The Washington Free Beacon  

Sources: MLB and players discussing rule changes that could alter game – Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are discussing potentially drastic changes to the on-field game and economic landscape of the sport in the middle of a collective bargaining agreement, a significant departure from the past that speaks to the chasm between the parties but represents a thaw in the chill that has divided the sides, sources familiar with the talks told ESPN.

Dueling proposals from MLB on Jan. 14 and the union on Friday covered a wide range of topics, according to sources. Among them include:

  • A three-batter minimum for pitchers
  • A universal designated hitter
  • A single trade deadline before the All-Star break
  • A 20-second pitch clock
  • The expansion of rosters to 26 men, with a 12-pitcher maximum
  • Draft advantages for winning teams and penalties for losing teams
  • A study to lower the mound
  • A rule that would allow two-sport amateurs to sign major league contracts

With owners meetings set to begin this week and spring training next week amid another tepid free-agent market, the willingness to bandy about ideas — and the openness to addressing concerns — is seen as a step in the right direction by both sides. Whether any substantive change comes of it, sources said, remains unclear. Read More > at ESPN

Those annoying robocalls are about to get even worse – Spam robocalls have taken over the phone lines to an astonishing degree.

Modern technology has made the annoying practice easy and cheap, and by the middle of the year, robocalls are expected to make up half of all calls that occur in the U.S. Some companies are working on a plan to curtail robocalling, but it hasn’t appeared to help much yet.

According to new data from Transaction Network Services (TNS), which facilitates calls for small and large carriers, April 15 – tax day – will most likely be the worst day of the entire year for robocalls. Call volume was up 13% over last year, so this year may see similar gains.

The analysis, which processed over a billion calls across hundreds of carriers, found that tax season is generally the most dangerous time when it comes to robocalls. Last year, tax day had the most robocall volume, a whopping 143 million “nuisance and high-risk calls,” according to the data.

Some of them are scammers, and TNS expects that this year they will especially seek to take advantage of the confusion surrounding the government shutdown to prey on people leading up to tax day. You may have heard of them before, or know of someone who was duped by a caller claiming to be the IRS “demanding payment” or something like that. (The IRS will never call you as mode of first contact; instead they will send a bill in the mail.)

But not all. Some of them simply aim to take advantage of consumers in a more traditional marketing play, even if robocalls can be illegal. The study found that robocall volume has been up, but “high risk” scammy and fraudulent calls were actually down in 2018.

A few other key findings: Tuesdays are the worst, with 15% of all annoying calls, and Sunday had the least at 5%. While April is the worst month for robocalls, December is the best. Read More > at Yahoo! Finance

Food myths debunked: When do canned foods really expire? – …When it comes to canned foods — and a lot of foods in general — it turns out many consumers aren’t always sure what those stamped dates actually mean.

Sell by dates and best by dates are not actually mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Unless it’s for infant formula, the dates on packages are voluntarily provided by the manufacturers. Stores can even sell products that are weeks or months “past” their dates.

So, what do the numbers on the cans really mean? TODAY Food reached out to the Canned Food Alliance, whose spokesperson pointed us to their basic guide referencing expiration dates. According to their guidelines, canned food (when kept at relatively stable temperatures) will remain at peak quality for at least two years after it’s been processed. They note that while food in cans “retains its safety and nutritional value well beyond two years,” its color and texture may change after that time. Many factors affect how long a food will stay edible in the can, but food kept at “moderate temperatures [75 degrees or below]” may last indefinitely. Read More > at Today

Why Security Breaches Just Keep Getting Bigger and More Expensive – The battle against hackers and online criminals seems almost unfairly tilted to their advantage. After all, hackers just need to find one vulnerability, while companies must secure all possible vulnerabilities to keep their data secure.

While data security is a hard enough challenge for professional technology companies to manage, all kinds of companies from retailers to health care providers have your personal information, and they have to maintain security even though their core focus is elsewhere.

The result is that we’ve seen monumental breaches of personal data over the last decade, and the problem is only growing worse. In the last few months alone, companies ranging from Marriott and Discover to Reddit have notified users about data breaches, ranging from minor to severe.

…The data on security breaches reveals the scale of the problem: Breaches are increasing, they’re big (up to 3 billion accounts have been hacked at a time), and they’re especially costly in industries like healthcare and in countries like the United States.

A data breach is an unauthorized release of secure or private information into an unauthorized environment. These breaches can range from “hacks” from external sources or a company inadvertently making confidential information public. 

Breaches range in severity on two dimensions: the sensitivity of the leaked data and whether that data is encrypted or not. Sensitive data could include things like credit card numbers, passport numbers, or the password to your email address or bank account. Even data that might not seem sensitive actually could have unforeseen consequences: Your birthdate could be used to open up accounts in your name when paired with other stolen information or if you re-used a password for opening up an account on a new social network you never really used (that was later hacked) for your bank account, you could be in serious trouble. Read More > at Priceonomics

It’s not getting any easier to buy a house, and more Americans may just give up – At the end of 2017, 27% of prospective home buyers thought their house hunt would get easier in the months ahead, but by the end of last year, that number had dropped to 19%. Over the same period of time, the share of people saying they planned to buy a home in the next 12 months fell from 24% to 13%.

Those two measurements characterize what might be the housing market’s biggest headwind right now. There’s a litany of hurdles for any would-be buyer to overcome, from rising mortgage rates to a lack of affordable supply. But taken together, they may make it too hard for many people to buy a home.

The numbers come from the National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Trends Report, a series of quarterly polls of a sizable number of American adults — 17,000 in the fourth quarter of 2018.

It’s worth noting that there is still sturdy demand for housing, and specifically for ownership. For example, as mortgage rates have fallen, mortgage applications have surged.

But rates are just one piece of the puzzle, as MarketWatch has noted in the past. In a blog post analyzing some of the survey findings, NAHB blamed the overall lack of affordability for many Americans deciding to give up. Read More > at Market Watch

California’s public pensions are worse off than we thought – Rolling up big paper profits on stocks and other capital investments during 2017 and most of 2018 was very easy, and the California Public Employees Retirement System, the nation’s largest pension trust fund, took full advantage.

Its strong earnings, particularly in 2017, narrowed a yawning gap between its assets and future liabilities for pension payments to state and local government workers. But it was short-lived and CalPERS has not only regressed but could actually be underwater because of a new way of calculating liabilities.

A little history:

By its own calculations, CalPERS was 100 percent funded during the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st century – so healthy, in fact, that state and local officials sharply increased pension benefits retroactively.

However, pension funds took immense hits during the Great Recession. CalPERS alone lost $100 billion; most have not fully recovered.

From 2007 to 2016, before the 2017-18 stock market surge, CalPERS’ total liabilities increased by a startling 76 percent, from $248 billion to $436 billion, while its assets increased by just 19 percent, from $251 billion to $298 billion, sharply increasing the fund’s unfunded liabilities.

The earnings surge, plus big increases in mandatory “contributions” from state and local governments, raised CalPERS’ official funded level slightly to 70 percent, but that was still a long way from 100 percent – and now it’s again declining.

Very quietly, CalPERS officials told its governing board last month that the trust fund actually lost 3.9 percent during 2018, apparently due to the sharp stock market decline late in the year, pushing funded levels back down to 67 percent. Read More > in The Modesto Bee

Coal Isn’t Dead. China Proves It. – Responsible for 46% of global production and 51% of global demand, China’s coal reliance is not falling nearly as fast as some like to claim

For demand, too many confuse the crucial difference between “growing less slowly” or remaining “buoyantly very high” versus “shrinking” or “declining.” Similar to U.S. oil demand, China’s coal consumption aligns with the first two. While it could indeed be said that Chinese coal demand has been relatively flat for a few years now, importantly, it hasn’t been falling in the absolute sense.

For production, China’s December coal output was 2.1% higher than it was in 2017, hitting the highest level in over three years. The country started up new mines last year and then ramped up production to meet high winter demand. Due to domestic gas supply shortages in recent years, China has been softening its stance to displace coal heating with natural gas.

China approved nearly $6.7 billion worth of new coal mining projects in 2018, and production increased 5.2% to 3.55 billion tonnes.

For imports, now a much larger portion of the supply mix, coal imports in China were up 9% last year. Read More > at Forbes

California will investigate whether DMV voter registration errors changed election results – Faced with evidence that some voter registration forms weren’t properly filed by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, state officials will now investigate whether any votes were wrongly rejected and whether the final results in any state or local races should be reconsidered.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla and leaders of the agency that oversees the DMV agreed on Monday to settle a federal lawsuit brought by advocacy groups including the League of Women Voters of California and the American Civil Liberties Union. The settlement, in part, states that Padilla’s office will “take steps to ensure that every vote is counted” if ballots were rejected and will provide “guidance to elections officials in the relevant jurisdiction(s) on how to count the affected ballots and, if appropriate, recertify election results.”

On Dec. 14, DMV officials revealed that staff members had not transmitted voter registration files for 589 people whose applications or updated applications were filled out before the close of registration for the Nov. 6 statewide election. At the time, state officials could not confirm whether any of those voters had been turned away on election day, or if any had cast last-minute provisional ballots that were rejected in the final tally.

Monday’s settlement raises the possibility that a full investigation of the delayed voter registration documents could reveal races in which the outcome might have changed had those voters been allowed to participate. State officials now have 60 days to complete an investigation into the identity of those voters and why DMV staff members failed to transmit the files in a timely fashion.

The error was the latest in a series of mishaps revealed in the first six months of operation for California’s new automated “motor voter” program, under which DMV customers are registered to vote unless they decline. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

What California’s ‘nonbinary’ gender designation will cost teen drivers – In a little-noticed side impact of California’s 2018 law granting drivers the option of listing their gender as nonbinary, California’s Department of Insurance has decreed that auto insurance companies can no longer grant breaks in insurance rates to teen drivers who are female or charge young men more.

Outgoing Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, in one of his final acts in office, issued a regulation last month prohibiting the use of gender in automobile insurance rating, similar to regulations in six other states.

Jones’ replacement, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, supports that policy, saying in a statement: “Gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation are beyond your control, and it is not a fair or even an effective way to predict risk.” Read More > at CALmatters 

10 Mind-Numbing Figures That Define PG&E’s Bankruptcy – This past week, on Tuesday, Jan. 29, California gas and electric utility PG&E (NYSE:PCG) became the latest brand-name company to declare bankruptcy and join this dubious list. Of course, PG&E’s bankruptcy, which was coerced by its potential liabilities tied to the Camp Fire in 2018 and more than a dozen other Northern California fires in 2017, will be anything but straightforward. The proceedings, ultimate resolution, and presumed reemergence from bankruptcy could take years, with the costs to the company, its consumers, and ancillary industries being almost mind-numbing.

With the bankruptcy process just kicking off, here are 10 of the most outrageous figures you should know:

1. $51.69 billion in liabilities

To start with, PG&E is facing nearly $52 billion in liabilities, according to its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. The company currently has more than $18 billion in debt on its balance sheet, but is contending with over $30 billion in possible liabilities tied to the Camp Fire and other Northern California fires in 2017. The company was recently found to not be liable for the Tubbs Fire in 2017, but this was merely a few baby steps forward in what’ll likely be a marathon.

2. $71.39 billion in assets

On the other end of the spectrum, PG&E listed over $71 billion in assets during its bankruptcy filing. Why file for bankruptcy when it has almost $20 billion more in assets than liabilities? It’s a good question, and it likely relates to the uncertainty of the final costs it’ll bear from its responsibility in these numerous fires. What it does signify is that the business has value, and that a sale of its gas business to raise capital is a very real possibility.

3. Up to $150 billion in costs to regain compliance

According to U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is tasked with ensuring that PG&E meets the conditions of its probation following a 2010 gas pipeline explosion, PG&E was to inspect its power grid and remove or trim trees that could potentially fall onto power lines and cause a fire. But based on a filing in U.S. District Court in San Francisco during the second week of January, per Reuters, doing so would cost PG&E up to $150 billion, and is simply not economically feasible. The utility estimates that in order to accomplish this task, it would have to pass along a 400% rate hike to its 16 million customers.

4. More than $29 billion in lost market cap

PG&E’s woes also come at the expense of investors. Traditionally, utilities are about as safe a business model as they come. Electric utilities are often regulated by state energy commissions, which leads to predictable cash flow and dividend yields that regularly top the average payout of an S&P 500 stock. But PG&E wasn’t cut from the same mold as many of its peers. Rather, after hitting a nearly $36 billion market cap in the months before the fires began in 2017, PG&E’s stock has since shed more than $29 billion in market value. Read More > at The Motley Fool

I Cut Google Out Of My Life. It Screwed Up Everything – Long ago, Google made the mistake of adopting the motto, “Don’t be evil,” in a jab at competitors who exploited their users. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has since demoted the phrase in its corporate code of conduct presumably because of how hard it is to live up to it.

Google is no stranger to scandals, but 2018 was a banner year. It covered up the potential data exposure of a half million people who probably forgot they were still using Google+. It got caught trying to build a censored search engine for China. Its own employees resigned to protest Google helping the Pentagon build artificial intelligence. Thousands more employees walked out over the company paying exorbitant exit packages to executives accused of sexual misconduct. And privacy critics decried Google’s insatiable appetite for data, from capturing location information in unexpected ways—a practice Google changed when exposed—to capturing credit card transactions—a practice Google has not changed and actually seems proud of.

I’m saying goodbye to all that this week. As part of an experiment to live without the tech giants, I’m cutting Google from my life both by abandoning its products and by preventing myself, technologically, from interacting with the company in any way. Engineer Dhruv Mehrotra built a virtual private network, or VPN, for me that prevents my phone, computers, and smart devices from communicating with the 8,699,648 IP addresses controlled by Google. This will cause some huge headaches for me: The company has created countless genuinely useful products, some that we use intentionally and some invisibly. The trade-off? Google tracks us everywhere. Read More > at Gizmodo

Who’s Responsible for Curbing the Teen Vaping Epidemic? – Investors are trying to capitalize on the phenomenal growth. In July 2018, Juul Labs, the company that owns 70 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market share, raised $1.25 billion at a $16 billion valuation, then sold a 35 percent stake to Phillip Morris USA owner Altria Group in December. The second transaction valued the company at $38 billion. While the traditional tobacco market remains much larger, it’s projected to grow at less than two percent a year, making the attractiveness of the rapidly expanding e-cigarette market obvious.

While Juul and other e-cigarette manufacturers argue that their products help adults quit smoking – and there’s some research to back this narrative up – much of the growth has been driven by children and teenagers. One CDC study showed a 48 percent rise in e-cigarette use by middle schoolers and a 78 percent increase by high schoolers between 2017 and 2018, a jump from 1.5 million kids to 3.6 million. In response to the study, F.D.A. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said, “We see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion.”

And the product is seriously addictive. A single Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes. Considering that 90 percent of smokers are addicted by 18 years old, it’s clear that steps need to be taken to combat the growing epidemic.

But who should take the lead? Juul and other e-cigarette companies? The F.D.A. and other government regulators? Schools? Parents?

The regulation battle has already begun. In September, the F.D.A. announced that Juul had 60 days to show a plan that would prevent youth from getting their hands on the product. The result was for the company to announce that it wouldn’t sell flavored pods in retail stores except for tobacco, menthol, and mint; Juul also shuttered its Instagram and Facebook accounts. These regulations mirrored an F.D.A. mandate two days later that required flavored e-cigarettes to be sold in closed-off areas. “This policy will make sure the fruity flavors are no longer accessible to kids in retail sites, plan and simple,” Commissioner Gottlieb said when announcing the moves. “That’s where they’re getting access to the e-cigs and we intend to end those sales.”

…Just last week, the American Association of Pediatrics issued a new policy statement calling for the F.D.A. to immediately ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under age 21 and to prohibit the online sale of vaping products and solutions, among other measures. And in its annual report, the American Lung Association gave the F.D.A. an “F” for failing to take mint and menthol e-cigs off the market, since those flavors remain popular with teens.

Few, if any people involved, want more regulation from the federal government. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be necessary. But many experts agree that it is. Anything else is just blowing smoke. Read More > at Leapsmag

No Choice, No Exit: The Truth About “Medicare for all” Proposals – Polls from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health with Politico show a majority of Americans favor “Medicare for All” proposals – at least in concept, which is simple enough: a single, government-controlled health insurance program that would cover every person residing in the United States.

The Harvard-Politico poll found that 68 percent of respondents say that adopting a national health plan like “Medicare for All” should be an “extremely important” priority for the new Congress. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 56 percent of Americans favor the proposal, and just 42 percent oppose it.

But do Americans really understand what such a project would entail? Based on the available survey evidence, the answer is no.

For example, the Kaiser survey found that 55 percent of respondents erroneously think that they would be able to keep their current health insurance. Only 35 percent realize (correctly) that they would lose it. Likewise, a national survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that 55 percent of respondents think (incorrectly) that participation in such a plan would be voluntary.

In fact, any American can easily learn “what’s in” the leading “Medicare for All” proposals. The legislative language of the leading Democratic bills (H.R. 676 and S. 1804) is clear.

The House bill prohibits any private health insurer from offering any of the 10 statutorily designated categories of health benefits or specialized services authorized by Congress. According to Title I, Section 104 of the House bill, “It is unlawful for a private health insurer to sell health coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act.”

The House bill, in other words, would prohibit ordinary Americans from purchasing any alternative health coverage, except for items such as “cosmetic surgery” or health services that government officials decide are not “medically necessary.”

Not surprisingly, the Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that if the “Medicare for All” plan would “eliminate private insurance companies,” respondents would oppose it by a margin of 58 to 37 percent.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), also prohibits any private health plan that “duplicates” the benefit coverage of the government’s national health insurance program. Under Section 801, the bill outlaws employer-sponsored health insurance: “No employee benefit plan may provide benefits that duplicate payment for any items or services for which payment may be made under the Medicare for All Act of 2017.”

Ironically, the House and Senate “Medicare for All” bills abolish Medicare. Yet the Kaiser Family Foundation survey finds that a majority of Americans would oppose the “Medicare-for-All” plan by a margin of 60 to 32 percent if it “threatens the current Medicare program.” Read More > at The Heritage Foundation

“America’s love affair with firearms has got to end:” Democrats vow new gun control package – California already has 109 laws on the books that regulate the use of firearms, more gun-control rules than any other state. More, it seems, are on the way.

This morning an all-Democratic contingent of lawmakers announced plans to send a raft of new gun-related bills to the governor before the end of the legislative session. The 16 lawmakers were joined by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, a gun control advocate and mass shooting survivor, along with representatives of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

With Democrats now wielding unprecedented political power in Sacramento and with the recent election of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who embraces his role as public enemy of the National Rifle Association, the time seems ripe for a new legislative push.

But as lawmakers ramp up gun control legislation in California, the judicial winds seem to be blowing against them.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to a New York City law that strictly limits where gun owners can carry their firearms. That decision was widely taken as a sign that the current court may take a more expansive view of the Second Amendment—perhaps at the expense of California’s strict gun control laws. Read More > at CALmatters

Census Bureau: 75 million more immigrants by 2060, 95% of future US growth – The Census Bureau is projecting that the population of the United States will hit 404 million by 2060, and nearly all of the net growth will be from immigrants and their families.

A new analysis of the figures shows that of the 79 million more in 2060, 75 million will be legal and illegal immigrants and their families, a population the size of France and Belgium combined.

Without immigration, according to the Census analysis from the Center for Immigration Studies, the U.S. population would increase by just 3.7 million, the latest sign that the country is on a path to zero native population growth.

Concerns that America won’t produced enough new citizens on its own has alarmed some politicians who have advocated for expanding immigration so that there are enough younger workers to fill jobs in the figure.

But the CIS analysis, from Steven Camarota the Center’s director of research and lead author of the report, said that the age of the population won’t be significantly impacted, or lowered, from younger immigrants.

“There is no question that immigration will add tens of millions of people to the U.S. population in the next four decades, while only modestly impacting the ratio of workers to non-workers,” Camarota said. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Scientists Are Warning of a Future Parkinson’s Pandemic, And We Can No Longer Ignore It – By most accounts, we’ve achieved a relative utopia of health. Revolutions in pharmacology and medical technology, better nutrition, and improvements in public healthcare promise a longer, healthier future for our global population.

For all there is to celebrate, this prosperity comes at a cost. We live in the shadow of a looming pandemic, as age-related neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease threaten to affect more of us than ever before, setting the stage for an unprecedented medical challenge.

“By 2040, we can truly talk about a pandemic that will result in increased human suffering, as well as rocketing societal and medical costs,” warns Patrik Brundin, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.

The growing problem isn’t limited to Parkinson’s disease. Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is also expected to skyrocket with our ageing population, as more of us survive long enough to see our aged bodies burdened with conditions few once lived to endure. Read More > at Science Alert

Whole Foods’ First Year Under Amazon Didn’t Live Up To Expectations – Amazon’s path to world domination hasn’t moved as quickly through the territory of grocery stores as once expected.

In its fourth-quarter earnings report, Amazon told investors that its revenue from physical in-store sales, including at Whole Foods, Amazon Go and pop-up stores, totaled $4.4B, MarketWatch reports. That is a 3% decline from Q4 2017, which was the first full quarter of Amazon’s Whole Foods ownership.

Part of the decline, Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky told analysts on the call, was due to Whole Foods adding five additional days to its fourth quarter last year to account for a difference in fiscal year end dates before the acquisition. Olsavsky said Whole Foods’ in-store revenue grew 6% when compared “apples to apples,” though he declined to elaborate and that comparison was not made in the physical report.

Also impacting the physical sales figure was that in-store pickup of products ordered online through Whole Foods’ Amazon Prime Now service counted as online sales, rather than in-store sales. Online sales increased 13% year over year in the fourth quarter for Amazon. The company’s non-consumer arms, Amazon Web Services and its ad sales, grew at 45% and 95%, respectively, MarketWatch reports.

One factor that could explain Whole Foods’ relative stagnation is that the lower prices Amazon promised to bring to the stores has reportedly yet to materialize. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey cited those lower prices when he announced the discontinuation of value-focused offshoot Whole Foods 365 in mid-January. Read More > at Bisnow

California Warms to Solar Homes; Other States May Give a Cold Shoulder – California’s first-in-the-nation requirement that all new homes have solar panels is a giant leap toward its goal of a fossil-free future, but the challenge of managing a surge of electricity to the grid could keep other states—even sun-soaked ones—from following suit.

Opposition from utilities and homebuilders, and a slower return on investment, also could stall similar efforts in other states.

With 80,000 houses built in California each year, the mandate that takes effect in 2020 will more than double the amount of solar energy produced in the state by 2025, the state said. California hopes to have 100 percent of its electricity come from carbon emission-free sources by 2045.

But energy experts, even those supportive of renewable energy, say the move could create difficulties for the state’s electric grid as more residents contribute energy to the grid by selling their excess solar power. Utilities will have to manage that increase in energy production to keep it from overwhelming the system. Read More > at Route Fifty

Check your compass: The magnetic north pole is on the move – True north isn’t quite where it used to be.

Earth’s north magnetic pole has been drifting so fast in the last few decades that scientists  past estimates are no longer accurate enough for precise navigation. On Monday, they released an update of where true north really was, nearly a year ahead of schedule.

The magnetic north pole is wandering about 34 miles (55 kilometers) a year. It crossed the international date line in 2017, and is leaving the Canadian Arctic on its way to Siberia.

The constant shift is a problem for compasses in smartphones and some consumer electronics. Airplanes and boats also rely on magnetic north, usually as backup navigation, said University of Colorado geophysicist Arnaud Chulliat, lead author of the newly issued World Magnetic Model. GPS isn’t affected because it’s satellite-based.

Since 1831 when it was first measured in the Canadian Arctic it has moved about 1,400 miles (2300 kilometers) toward Siberia. Its speed jumped from about 9 mph (15 kph) to 34 mph (55 kph) since 2000.

…In general Earth’s magnetic field is getting weaker, leading scientists to say that it will eventually flip, where north and south pole changes polarity, like a bar magnet flipping over. It has happened numerous times in Earth’s past, but not in the last 780,000 years. Read More > at Phys.Org

Don’t trust all of those health articles you see in your Facebook feed – Facebook’s battle with fake news stories goes beyond the world of politics. According to fact-checking site Health Feedback, seven of the 10 most shared health stories on Facebook in 2018 contained false or misleading information. The top 100 stories fared slightly better, but stories with misinformation were shared 12.3 million times. Well-sourced and accurate stories were shared 11 million times.

Health Feedback’s research looked health-related articles from a number of well-known publications, as well as obscure sites that managed to spread stories with attention-grabbing headlines and misleading information. The most common topics to be subjects for these highly-shared storied were disease and disease treatment, food and nutrition and vaccinations. Surprisingly, most of the vaccine stories were accurate — though Health Feedback notes most of the stories were covering an uptick in vaccine-preventable diseases caused by anti-vaccination movements. Food and nutrition suffered from the most instances of false or misleading information.

If there’s a glimmer of hope in the study, it’s that on the whole, there were actually more articles in the top 100 with valid information than not, with 45 percent receiving a “high” or “very high” reliability rating compared to just 35 percent receiving a “low” or “very low.” Facebook has launched several initiatives with the goal to weed out fake news, though most are focused on political stories. It might be time for the social network to turn its attention to health news seeing as the stories don’t just hurt political discourse, it can actually hurt people. Read More > at Engadget

There Is No ‘Fat Burning Zone’ – All of the cardio machines are lying to you. There’s probably some workout on the elliptical that promises to keep you in the “fat burning zone,” and a chart on the treadmill informing you that the zone exists when your heart is beating at a certain rate. Forget it. The fat burning zone is a myth.

Those machines will tell you the zone exists somewhere in the range of 50 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate (which it is probably miscalculating anyway). There is nothing special about exercising in this zone, and it certainly won’t make your body burn more fat than exercising any other way.

If you’re trying to lose weight, the first factor to look at is how much you’re eating. It should be less than the total calories you end up burning in a day.

But can’t you burn more calories by exercising? Sure. The longer you exercise, the more you burn; the harder you exercise, the more you burn. It’s up to you how you’d like to plan your workouts. An hour’s walk burns about the same calories as a half-hour run. Read More > at Lifehacker 

California’s new use tax collection requirements: What the Wayfair ruling means for retailers – With online retail becoming the preferred method of shopping in America, it was only a matter of time until states would start demanding their share of the sales pie. Unlike purchases in a physical store location, loopholes let bargain buyers purchase online goods from out-of-state retailers without having to immediately pay state and local taxes.

However, in the wake of a sweeping Supreme Court case, California has announced that as of April 1, 2019, out-of-state retailers will be required to collect and remit
sales tax for goods sold online to customers within the state.

California’s new rule materialized shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of South Dakota collecting taxes from the online retail giant, Wayfair, in the June 2018 case of South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. Prior to the ruling, states were limited in their ability to collect tax on transactions with businesses that did not have a physical presence in the state.

While the new tax rule does not create or increase taxes, it will require more businesses to collect and remit taxes in the same way traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have always done.

As of April 1, 2019, certain out-of-state retailers are required to register with the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA), collect California sales tax and remit taxes to the CDTFA regardless of having a physical presence in the state. The new rule is effective for all taxable sales on or after April 1 and is not retroactive. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

A Game Only a Punter Could Love: The Historically Boring Super Bowl Sent Football Back to the Stone Age – Super Bowl LIII was not a battle between young offensive guru Sean McVay and grizzled football mastermind Bill Belichick, or between California quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jared Goff, but rather a rematch of the 2008 competition between two Oregon State walk-on punters. Eleven years after Johnny Hekker and Ryan Allen were both trying to win OSU’s punting job, they were two of only three exciting players in the Super Bowl.

Even for those who self-identify as defense enthusiasts, this game was tough to watch. New England’s 13-3 win was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever and brought to mind an era before the Patriots dynasty, when the Super Bowl was one of the least entertaining games of the year. The Patriots suffocated the Rams’ elite offense, holding it to just 260 total yards and 14 first downs. Los Angeles became the second team to fail to score a touchdown in the championship game along with the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, who also put up three points in a loss. At halftime, eventual game MVP Julian Edelman had more yards than the Rams offense, Hekker had more punts than Goff had completions, and the Rams had twice as many three-and-outs as first downs. Considering the Rams had the fewest three-and-outs and punts per drive in the league this year, it was nothing short of stunning—and disappointing.

…Both defenses deserve credit—the hyped McVay vs. Belichick matchup turned out to be a mask for the true matchup of Belichick vs. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The Rams defense, which had been slightly disappointing in the regular season, put up its best performance of the year in the Super Bowl, forcing Brady to throw outside the numbers, picking off the QB once, and holding the Pats to 3-of-12 on third down and 13 points—the fewest the Patriots have ever scored in the Super Bowl. (Ironically, this was the Patriots’ largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl.) But the Pats outschemed and outexecuted the Rams and consistently confused Goff while also allowing just two rushing first downs and dominating the Rams offensive line. Read More > in The Ringer

What the Strong January Jobs Report Tells Us About the Economy – In an analysis of Friday’s report, Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, pointed out that, in the past three months, job growth has averaged two hundred and forty-one thousand a month, and in the past year it has averaged two hundred and thirty-four thousand a month. With all this hiring going on, and vacancies plentiful, many people who had retired or dropped out of the labor force have returned to it. In the past twelve months, the labor force has risen by more than 2.1 million. But, even with more people looking for work, job growth has been strong enough to keep the unemployment rate at or below four per cent, and employers have been forced to raise wages in order to retain their own employees and find new ones.

In other words, American workers are finally enjoying economic conditions that favor them over employers. This is drawing people back into the labor force and producing higher wages. Indeed, Bernstein suggested that recent wage growth has probably been strong enough to tilt the over-all split between wages and profits in the direction of workers, which would reverse long-standing trends. In summing up the lessons of the jobs figures, Bernstein wrote, “First, in an economy with too little worker bargaining power and too much inequality, the benefits of closing in on full employment are powerful and equalizing. And second, Chair Powell and the FOMC were smart to put interest-rate hikes on hold. There’s non-inflationary room-to-run in this job market!”

That there is, but how much room? The Fed’s decision to call a time-out on raising interest rates was predicated on the assumption that the economy is likely to slow down in the coming months, which would keep inflationary pressures at bay. Perhaps this will happen, but the boffo payrolls figure for January was accompanied by another strong report for industrial production. A separate indicator—consumer sentiment—did fall sharply last month. Most analysts attributed that to the government shutdown. Now that the shutdown has ended, consumer sentiment will probably pick up again. (The shutdown didn’t significantly affect the jobs report: federal workers who were furloughed were counted as employed.)

Friday’s strong numbers are a reminder that the American economy isn’t a zippy speedboat that can stop and start at short notice. It’s a vast supertanker that tends to plow ahead once it has built up some momentum. Bringing it shuddering to a halt requires something dramatic, such as the bursting of an asset-price bubble, a big financial crisis of the sort we saw in 2008, or sharply higher interest rates. Right now, none of those things is in place. Read More > in The New Yorker

Here’s how much California is spending to put electric cars on the road – California policymakers are committed to making sure that electric vehicles — and the charging stations and other infrastructure needs associated with them — transform the state’s transportation sector. But it won’t come cheaply.

A review conducted by the San Diego Union-Tribune showed various state agencies have committed $2.46 billion in public funds — some of it already spent and the rest planned over a number of years — for programs aimed at luring drivers out of cars and trucks powered by internal combustion engines and encouraging them into zero- or low-emission vehicles.

And that doesn’t count the $800 million in electric vehicle, or EV, programs that Volkswagen is spending across the state as part of an unprecedented settlement to help resolve the car maker’s emissions scandal. A state entity — the California Air Resources Board — is overseeing how and where the money is spent.
When the VW settlement is taken into account, investments to electrify California’s transportation landscape go well north of $3 billion, thus far.

…The two largest portions of the money come from a pair of the most influential agencies in state government — the utilities commission, or CPUC, and the California Air Resources Board, also known as CARB.

The CPUC has set aside $1.048 billion for various EV programs, with a lot of emphasis on constructing charging stations. The money comes from ratepayer fees collected by the three investor-owned utilities the CPUC oversees — San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.

The air resources board has budgeted a slightly higher amount — $1.087 billion.

More than half goes to the state’s rebate program that is offered to Californians who buy or lease low- or no-emissions vehicles the state deems eligible, such as battery-electric and plug-in hybrids. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Francisco — where drug addicts outnumber high school students – San Francisco has more drug addicts than it has students enrolled in its public high schools, the city Health Department’s latest estimates conclude.

There are about 24,500 injection drug users in San Francisco — that’s about 8,500 more people than the nearly 16,000 students enrolled in San Francisco Unified School District’s 15 high schools and illustrates the scope of the problem on the city’s streets.

It’s also an increase of about 2,000 serious drug users since 2012, the last time a study was done.

The problem is particularly visible in the Tenderloin, where police reported more than 600 arrests for drug dealing last year. And where 27 suspects were booked into County Jail for dealing drugs in the first 20 days of the new year.

The out-in-the-open use of drugs on city sidewalks and at the Civic Center BART Station was a huge embarrassment for the city and triggered more police patrols and crackdowns in the past year. The BART station has been cleaned up, but the problem continues in the Tenderloin. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

How many colleges and universities have closed since 2016? – The last few years have been tumultuous ones for the U.S. higher education industry.

Increased regulation and falling enrollment were among several factors contributing to the closure or consolidation of hundreds of colleges and campuses around the country.

That consolidation also had an impact on the priorities of ones that remained open. Institutions are adding degree programs in emerging tech fields such as artificial intelligence, dropping low-enrollment programs including some in the liberal arts, and looking online where they can reach a bigger audience with niche subject matter.

That activity is ongoing and analysts forecast more ahead for 2019, which is why we’ve started publishing a list of closures and M&A activity from 2016 to the present. We’re pairing it with analysis of the major trends the data reveal. We’ll update the list and our analysis as we hear about closures, M&A and other consolidation. We’re also keeping track of major news around departments and programs added, dropped or otherwise changed each quarter.

If you see something we missed, let us know by using this form. You can see the full list here.

Below, we explore some of the biggest trends in higher ed consolidation.

The future of for-profits

Education Dive’s list includes more than 50 for-profit colleges that closed, were acquired or consolidated since 2016. Among them are chains such as Brown Mackie College and ITT Technical Institute, which together operated more than 100 campuses across the country, meaning the count of affected locations is much higher…

Small liberal arts colleges fight to stay open

A different set of headwinds is contributing to a spate of closures among small liberal arts colleges, many of which have a religious affiliation.

Most significantly, undergraduate enrollment is on the decline, reducing the tuition revenue that many small colleges rely on for lack of a sizable endowment. Experts say the drop off is due in part to a strong economy and low unemployment rate, and to projections of a cyclical decline among the college-age demographic. To help attract more students, the rate of tuition discounts is going up… Read More > at Education Drive

Grocery Stores Remain Solid, But The Amazon Pain Is Coming – Among all forms of shopping centers, neighborhood strips anchored by grocery stores are considered a far safer investment than malls or power centers anchored by department stores. But they are beginning to feel similar pressures.

The top of the grocery store food chain is occupied by national brands with deep pockets, and they are spending billions to adapt to shoppers’ changing habits. While the consequences of their efforts will not be immediate, they will likely be felt by brands without the capital or market coverage to sustain that competition.

A few regional brands have already reorganized through bankruptcy and closed stores to stay alive. Southeastern Grocers, the parent company of Southern grocery chain, filed for and subsequently emerged from bankruptcy last year with fewer stores. Catch-all retailer Shopko, which has some grocery elements, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month, and its restructuring plan includes closing over 100 stores to stay viable.

Multiple sources interviewed for this story believe that eventually, consolidation among grocery brands is inevitable. Whether that comes in the form of mergers and acquisitions or closures is yet to be determined, but the regional operators who don’t have niches like Trader Joe’s or Sprouts Organic Market are the most vulnerable, according to Colliers International Market Research Director Rose Penny. If and when they start to close, it would pose serious challenges for their landlords. Read More > at Bisnow

Local leaders find that supporting Bay Area housing plan spurs anger at home – In Rohnert Park, hometown of Sonoma State University, the Graton Casino and strip malls packed against Highway 101, the regional housing battle has become personal.

The North Bay city is also home to Jake Mackenzie, local councilman and chair of the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a powerful transit planning agency that recently became bullish on housing.

Earlier this month, Mackenzie landed in the crosshairs of a debate that has split cities and counties throughout California. In an abrupt decision, his City Council colleagues removed him from two board seats — one on the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, the other on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District (SMART).

They said it was time for new leadership. Mackenzie said it was payback for his support of the MTC’s far-reaching plan to build 35,000 homes a year throughout the region.

He’s not the only MTC commissioner to face a backlash after supporting the new 15-year housing initiative, called the CASA compact. Redwood City Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre lost her spot on the MTC last week. She represented San Mateo County, where mayors of 20 cities regularly meet to select members of boards and commissions. Several mayors told Aguirre that because she backed CASA, “they couldn’t vote for me.”

The MTC comprises 21 commissioners from cities, counties and transit agencies throughout the nine-county Bay Area, most of them picked by the mayor or board of supervisors in their respective cities and counties — the Association of Bay Area Governments also appoints one member. The commission makes planning and funding decisions for major transportation projects, including highway lanes, bridge tolls, mass transit systems and housing. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Bay Area home sales drop 21 percent in December – Orange County-based data firm Core Logic made yet another startling announcement about the state of the Bay Area’s real estate market Friday, reporting that December 2018 home sales figures dropped more than 21 percent year over year in the region and down nearly 19 percent in San Francisco.

While the results are not necessarily a surprise—Core Logic’s monthly Bay Area home sales’ reports have indicated a decline in home sales year over year for most of 2018—December represented the single biggest drop yet.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • December’s dip was particularly dramatic. Across all nine counties, Core Logic records 5,431 sales in December, down from 6,154 the same time the previous year. That’s a 21.6 percent decline, the largest all year.
  • The month-to-month sales gap was notably large too. Between November and December of last year, sales dropped 13.2 percent across all nine counties. It’s normal for fewer homes to sell in December, but “since 1988, the average change in San Francisco Bay Area home sales between November and December is a gain of 7.8 percent.”
  • Most of 2018 saw year-over-year declines in sales. This was the seventh straight month that Core Logic reported a drop between 2017 and 2018 sales. During that period the decline in July was just 0.5 percent, a very narrow gap compared to other months, which saw drops of anywhere from 8.6 to 21.6—but still a drop nevertheless.
  • Prices remain up compared to last year. The latest report estimates that “the median price paid for all homes sold in the San Francisco Bay Area in December 2018 was $785,000.” That’s up from $750,500 the previous year. Note that this figure includes both condos and houses. Read More > at SF Curbed

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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