Sunday Reading – 04/21/19


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.

Could This California Environmental Law Be the Cannabis Industry’s ‘Silent Killer’? -Given how often California’s regulatory state ensnares mundane things like plastic straws and apartment buildings, it should come as no surprise that the state’s now-legal recreational cannabis industry is having a hell of a time navigating a new world of red tape and restrictions. Causing particular grief is one of the Golden State’s more infamous laws: the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Passed in 1970 and signed into law by famed anti-pot scold and then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, CEQA has developed a reputation as the NIMBY’s weapon of choice for killing off disfavored developments. The law is now being used to frustrate cannabis entrepreneurs who are trying to go legit.

In brief, CEQA says that any project with the potential to change the physical environment of the state and which will undergo discretionary review by a government body must submit extensive studies to assess potential environmental impacts that might need to be mitigated.

As written, the law requires just about every construction project in California to undergo some sort of environmental review. Crucially for the cannabis industry, this requirement also applies to local zoning ordinances that dictate where new developments can build.

The law also gives third parties who feel a particular project or ordinance has received insufficient environmental review the ability to appeal. Should that appeal be rejected, these third parties can use the law to sue.

Given the huge of number of things that count as a project under CEQA, the long list of environmental impacts the law requires to be examined, and the low cost of filing an appeal, the law is often used as a weapon to delay or stop disfavored projects (a few of which Reason has profiled).

In the case of cannabis, CEQA has already sparked a number of lawsuits from anti-cannabis groups alleging that local governments performed inadequate environmental study before approving their own cannabis regulations. Read More > at Reason

Uber adds new safety alerts following the death of a college student – Following the murder of a college student who mistakenly entered a vehicle she believed to be an Uber, the ridesharing company is rolling out a number of new safety features. Starting today, the Uber app will send push notifications containing driver details including license plate number, vehicle type and color. An in-app banner will also remind people to confirm they are getting into the correct car.

In addition to the in-app notifications, which will be made available nationwide in the coming days, Uber is also launching a new Campus Safety Initiative. The company is partnering with the University of South Carolina to create dedicated pickup zones on campus. The areas will be well-lit and have law enforcement officers stationed nearby to ensure safe travel. Uber is also creating a new tool called “Campus Rides” that will provide lifts around the Unversity of South Carolina campus when other options are unavailable. Uber plans on working with other schools across the US to set up similar services.

While the case the sparked the latest safety features occurred off of Uber’s platform, the ridesharing service has long struggled with issues of violence. Hundreds of accusations of sexual assault and rape have been made against Uber drivers, prompting the company to eventually expand background checks for drivers and roll out safety features to quickly connect users to emergency services if they found themselves in a dangerous situation. Uber’s primary competitor Lyft has also worked to address these issues, most recently introducing continuous background checks that will alert the company if a driver picks up any disqualifying criminal convictions. Read More > at Engadget

CalPERS bill for California state worker pensions set to reach $7 billion next year – California state government’s bill for public employee pensions is set to rise by $676 million.

CalPERS on Tuesday advanced a scheduled increase in employer contribution rates, bringing the state’s total bill for the 2019-2020 budget year to about $7 billion. That money comes out of taxes and fees collected by the state and is part of the compensation promised to state workers.

The state’s pension bill will go up July 1 based on CalPERS’ review of the fiscal year ending June 30. Actuaries provided estimates ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. Most local governments’ pension payments also will go up next year.

The biggest factor in the state’s rising obligation is a $340 million increase in its share of the fund’s outstanding debt, or unfunded liability. The $362 billion pension fund, which currently has about 70 percent of what it would need to pay all its future obligations, is in the process of paying down the liability over 30 years.

The estimates approved Tuesday by a CalPERS Board of Administration committee didn’t include a $3 billion one-time payment toward the unfunded liability that Gov. Gavin Newsom requested in his budget. The Legislature has yet to approve the payment, and CalPERS officials told the board they couldn’t estimate with certainty the payment’s final impact until more details are known. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

Economy speeds up slightly in March, leading indicators show – The numbers: A survey of economic conditions in the U.S. rose in March after hardly any gain in the first two months of the year, pointing to steady if unspectacular growth in the months ahead.

The leading economic index increased 0.4% in March, the privately run Conference Board said Thursday. The index rose just 0.1% in February and not at all in January.

What happened: The improved reading in March stemmed from stronger job creation, low layoffs and rising stock prices.

Big picture: The leading indicators confirm what other snapshots of the U.S. economy show: Growth has rebounded after a weak start in 2019. Read More > at Market Watch

The NFL Schedule Was Released and Network Bosses Are Pleased – In the teams’ 199th all-time meeting, the Green Bay Packers will visit the Chicago Bears to kick off the 2019-20 NFL season.

Though the Super Bowl champs typically play the first game of the season on Thursday Night Football, NFL executives opted to go with the classic rivalry matchup because the game will mark the start of the league’s 100th season. So, instead of playing on TNF, the champion New England Patriots will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football to open the season.

Closing out the league’s opening weekend will be the first week’s annual Monday Night Football doubleheader with the Houston Texans traveling to New Orleans to face the Saints and Denver heading to Oakland.

Howard Katz, the NFL’s point person for formulating the schedule, shared the regular-season schedule with Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN executives before it was released to the public. After speaking with reps from the networks, The Associated Press reports the consensus is Katz did a fair job of distributing the best matchups amongst all four. Read More > at InsideHook

The Truth About Dentistry – It’s much less scientific—and more prone to gratuitous procedures—than you may think.

We have a fraught relationship with dentists as authority figures. In casual conversation we often dismiss them as “not real doctors,” regarding them more as mechanics for the mouth. But that disdain is tempered by fear. For more than a century, dentistry has been half-jokingly compared to torture. Surveys suggest that up to 61 percent of people are apprehensive about seeing the dentist, perhaps 15 percent are so anxious that they avoid the dentist almost entirely, and a smaller percentage have a genuine phobia requiring psychiatric intervention.

When you’re in the dentist’s chair, the power imbalance between practitioner and patient becomes palpable. A masked figure looms over your recumbent body, wielding power tools and sharp metal instruments, doing things to your mouth you cannot see, asking you questions you cannot properly answer, and judging you all the while. The experience simultaneously invokes physical danger, emotional vulnerability, and mental limpness. A cavity or receding gum line can suddenly feel like a personal failure. When a dentist declares that there is a problem, that something must be done before it’s too late, who has the courage or expertise to disagree? When he points at spectral smudges on an X-ray, how are we to know what’s true? In other medical contexts, such as a visit to a general practitioner or a cardiologist, we are fairly accustomed to seeking a second opinion before agreeing to surgery or an expensive regimen of pills with harsh side effects. But in the dentist’s office—perhaps because we both dread dental procedures and belittle their medical significance—the impulse is to comply without much consideration, to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible.

Consider the maxim that everyone should visit the dentist twice a year for cleanings. We hear it so often, and from such a young age, that we’ve internalized it as truth. But this supposed commandment of oral health has no scientific grounding. Scholars have traced its origins to a few potential sources, including a toothpaste advertisement from the 1930s and an illustrated pamphlet from 1849 that follows the travails of a man with a severe toothache. Today, an increasing number of dentists acknowledge that adults with good oral hygiene need to see a dentist only once every 12 to 16 months.

Many standard dental treatments—to say nothing of all the recent innovations and cosmetic extravagances—are likewise not well substantiated by research. Many have never been tested in meticulous clinical trials. And the data that are available are not always reassuring. Read More > in The Atlantic

Gavin Newsom Filled His First 100 Days As California Governor With Splashy Announcements. Not All Are As Bold As They Appeared. – During his first 100 days as California’s 40th governor, Gavin Newsom has grabbed a lot of headlines.

In some cases, the substance of Newsom’s announcements has yet to match the sizzle.

He canceled California’s high-speed rail project. Except, he didn’t. A closer look in the days that followed revealed that Newsom didn’t really change too much.

He pulled the California National Guard off the Mexico border. Well, almost. He left about a third of the troops at the border to fight drug smuggling.

He cut the Delta Tunnels water project in half, from two to one, which former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration was already floating.

And he placed a moratorium on the death penalty, even though California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006. Read More > at Capital Public Radio

Would You Eat a CBD Burger? Carl’s Jr. Wants to Find Out. – It’s a fast food innovation that could give new meaning to “special sauce.”

Burger chain Carl’s Jr. announced Wednesday that it will offer burgers infused with cannabidiol (CBD) oil at one Denver, Colorado, location on April 20. The special “Rocky Mountain High: Cheese Burger Delight” will cost $4.20, natch.

The burgers won’t actually contain any CBD, CNBC reports, but about 5 milligrams of the cannabis-derived oil will be mixed into a special version of Carl’s Jr.’s “Santa Fe Sauce” that tops the burger (along with jalapenos and pepper jack cheese).

Still, those CBD-sauced burgers are technically a violation of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that prohibit the mixing of cannabis-derived products like CBD oil with food or drink. But they are yet another sign that the CBD fad is overwhelming prohibitionist policies—at least in places where CBD is legal at the state level. Read More > at Reason

Tweet on out-of-state commute for Bay Area family sparks debate on housing, traveling costs – All it took was one tweet to spark a heated debate on social media about skyrocketing housing costs in the Bay Area and the commutes people are willing to go through to make it all work.

Redditor DudeWhoLived posted a screenshot of a tweet from a local journalist in which she shared the plight of her hairdresser’s commute.

“Bay Area Cost Index. TIL (Today I learned) my hairdresser and her family decided it made more financial sense for them to buy a home in Arizona and commute to their jobs on the Peninsula 4 days/week via Southwest Airlines,..

They’re called “Super Commuters,” and not surprisingly, the Bay Area is home to the highest number of workers who commute at least three hours daily.

According to data compiled by analysts at Apartment List, the number of super commuters has increased by 31.7 percent since 2005.

The Bay Area and surrounding regions lead the nation with more than 120,000 people commuting at least three hours. Read More > at KRON

Oil Could Fall To $40 If OPEC Abandons Its Deal – In more proof that U.S. oil production is continuing to alter global oil markets, Russia’s finance minister Anton Siluanov said on Saturday that Russia and OPEC might decide to increase production to fight for market share with the U.S. His remarks were first covered by Russia’s Tass News Agency.

Siluanov said that lower oil prices would then have a negative impact on U.S. oil production, an argument that was also made as far back as late 2014 when the Saudis sought to drive U.S. producers out of business by opening the oil production spigots in spite of an already flooded global oil market.

“(If the deal is abandoned) the oil prices will go down, then the new investments will shrink, American output will be lower because the production cost for shale oil is higher than for traditional output.” He said that prices could drop to $40 per barrel or even less for up to one full year, adding that there had been no decision on the deal yet and he did not know whether OPEC countries would be happy with this scenario.

Siluanov’s comments aren’t without precedent. Russia has hinted before that it could start to pump more oil, which would in effect cause the world’s second-largest oil producer to nullify its participation in the OPEC+ oil cut deal put in place at the start of the year to remove 1.2 million b/d of oil from the market for six months, with a review period after this time. Read More > at Oil Price

An early look at the 2020 electorate – The 2020 U.S. presidential election is rapidly coming into view – and so is the electorate that will determine its outcome.

While demographic changes unfold slowly, it’s already clear that the 2020 electorate will be unique in several ways. Nonwhites will account for a third of eligible voters – their largest share ever – driven by long-term increases among certain groups, especially Hispanics. At the same time, one-in-ten eligible voters will be members of Generation Z,  the Americans who will be between the ages 18 and 23 next year. That will occur as Millennials and all other older generations account for a smaller share of eligible voters than they did in 2016.

What might these demographic shifts mean politically? In 2016, nonwhite voters were more likely to back Democrat Hillary Clinton, while white voters were more likely to back Republican Donald Trump. Younger generations, meanwhile, differ notably from older generations in their views on key social and political issues. It remains unclear how these patterns might factor into the 2020 election and, as always, a great deal will depend on who turns out to vote.

We project that the 2020 election will mark the first time that Hispanics will be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the electorate, accounting for just over 13% of eligible voters – slightly more than blacks. This change reflects the gradual but continuous growth in the Hispanic share of eligible voters, up from 9% in the 2008 presidential election and 7% in the 2000 election. The black eligible voter population has grown about as fast as the electorate overall, meaning their share has held constant at about 12% since 2000. Read More > from Pew Research Center

In the age of legal marijuana, many employers drop ‘zero tolerance’ drug tests – When Rye Electric was founded in Orange County five years ago, it screened all prospective workers for drugs. If a test showed traces of cannabis, the applicant was nixed.

But the fast-growing construction company, which has a millennial-heavy workforce, has since adapted to the times. “We still do the tests,” Chief Executive Chris Golden said, “but we choose to look the other way on marijuana.”

Some 20 of the company’s 150 workers were hired despite flunking a pre-employment screening for cannabis. “We let them know they can’t do it on the job and we trust them not to,” Golden said. “What are we going to say – you can’t do something that’s legal?”

Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law. But California was the first state to defy federal prohibition, legalizing medical cannabis in 1996. A 2016 ballot initiative opened the way to recreational pot.

With a growing economy and a low unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, many California companies face a shortage of qualified workers. Legal marijuana is making hiring even harder for those who take a strict stance on screening for drugs. So, increasingly, they’re not testing – or ignoring some of the results. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

American retailers already announced 6,000 store closures this year. That’s more than all of last year – This year, US retailers have announced that 5,994 stores will close. That number already exceeds last year’s total of 5,864 closure announcements, according to a recent report from Coresight Research.

Bankruptcies in the retail sector are piling up and chains have aggressively closed under-performing stores. That has led to an uptick in store closures this year.

Payless, Gymboree, Charlotte Russe and Shopko have all filed for bankruptcy this year and will close a combined 3,720 stores, according to the report. The majority of those are because of Payless, which filed for its second bankruptcy in February and said at the time it would shutter 2,100 stores in the United States.

Other retailers, such as Family Dollar, GNC (GNC), Walgreens (WBA), Signet Jewelers (SIG), Victoria’s Secret and JCPenney (JCP), are struggling and are shrinking their store footprints to save money.

Family Dollar will close 359 stores this year, while Signet Jewelers, the parent company of mall stalwarts Kay, Jared and Zales, will close 159.

Even thriving retailers such as Target (TGT)and Walmart (WMT) are quietly closing a handful of their stores — although those companies are opening some, too. And department stores such as Nordstrom (JWN), Kohl’s (KSS) and Macy’s (M) are shuttering a few stores each.

Thousands more store closings could be on the way in the coming years as online shopping replaces purchases at physical stores. Read More > at CNN Business

Helicopter Parenting for Pet Owners – When Lisa Weiss and her family decided to adopt a dog a few years ago, they contacted a rescue organization near their home in Chappaqua, New York, and were told to fill out a form.

“It was, like, 20 pages!” Weiss, a lawyer, recalls. “It took me an hour. I was very honest and very detailed because I was pretty proud of what great pet parents we are. I thought we were fantastic. We had a Lab rescue who had lived to 13, which was well past her sell-by date. She died of old age, no illnesses. She was a happy, outside dog. We had an electric fence and she came and went as she pleased. She was a completely independent soul.”

Right on—free-range!

And yet there was still more information the form demanded. “It also asked things like ‘Who will take the dog if you die?’” recalls Weiss. “And ‘If you both die, who takes the dog?’” Slightly freaked out, she nominated her sister-in-law.

When all her ts were crossed, she submitted the paperwork and waited to hear back from the rescuers.

And waited. And waited.

Finally, she called to ask what was taking so long “and they were like, ‘Oh, we rejected you.’”

The problem, they said, was that Weiss planned to allow her dog to be outside unsupervised…and he might get stolen.

And there you have it: proof that as go kids, so go pets. Not only are human children barely allowed to walk by themselves from the house to the bus stop, but pets aren’t allowed to play by themselves in a merely electric-fenced yard. Read More > at Reason

Tinder Lies – The rise of Internet dating—in recent years especially through the use of mobile-based apps such as Tinder or Bumble—forces us to reexamine an old problem in the law: how to handle sexual fraud. Many people with romantic aspirations today meet individuals with whom they do not share friends or acquaintances, which allows predators to spin tales as to their true identities and engage in sexual relations through the use of deceit on a greater scale than was previously practicable. Indeed, according to some studies, about eighty percent of individuals lie on at least some part of their online dating profiles, and a subset of those individuals tell lies that undermine their sexual mates’ subsequent ability to give consent. Whether and how to criminalize this type of fraudulent behavior has been debated for some time, and the difficulties involved in prosecutions in this context have made criminal law a fairly ineffective tool. Previous proposals for tort recovery have failed to gain many adherents for similar reasons, and courts have been unwilling to extend existing tort doctrines due to a reluctance to legally recognize noneconomic harms. Read More > at SSRN

This Is America’s Favorite Coffee Brand – Walk through any large grocery store and the coffee aisle goes on forever. The same can be said as people walk down streets of major cities — coffee shops everywhere, from national chains to local, single-store retailers. Of all the coffees sold at all these places, one stood out in a new major national survey of brands.

Harris, the polling company, asked over 45,000 people about almost 2,000 brands that were sorted among 196 categories. Ninety-one companies were awarded Best Brand of the Year. The Harris Poll CEO, John Gerzema, said: “These are brands Americans especially love and expect great things from in the future.” Dunkin’ Donuts coffee won the coffee brand crown. Harris is also known for its survey of the companies with the best and worst reputations.

Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is the flagship product of Dunkin’ Brands. The company has about 11,000 restaurants around the world. Of these, about 8,500 are spread across 41 states. The company says it serves 3 million people a day and has over 50 kinds of donuts. The company was founded in 1950. Last year, total Dunkin’ Brands revenue came to $1.3 billion. The price Dunkin’ charges in each country almost certainly varies, based on research on the price of a cup of coffee around the world. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

232 Unmanned Ships May Be Key To Countering China, Russia – …The biggest gamble — with potentially the highest payoff — is the $3.7 billion worth of unmanned programs the service included in its 2020 budget submission. The spending includes $447 million to buy two large unmanned surface vehicles that can provide a variety of missions from long-range surveillance to offensive operations.

After the 2020 budget, the Navy plans to buy two LUSVs a year until 2024, for a total of about $2.7 billion. Overall, the Navy plans to buy 232 unmanned platforms of different sizes and configurations over the next five years.

The hulls the the LUSV should be about 200- to 300-feet long, and weigh 2,000 tons and eventually carry vertical launch cells that would give the emerging Ghost Fleet real combat punch, Navy leaders have said. Read More > at Breaking Defense

50,219,667 Tax Return Filers Paid $0 or Less in Income Taxes – Of the 150,272,157 tax returns filed for the 2016 tax year, 50,219,667—or 33.4 percent–were classified by the Internal Revenue Service as “nontaxable returns,” meaning the people who filed them paid $0 or less in income taxes, according to data published by the Statistics of Income Division of the IRS.

At the same time, 80 percent of all income taxes paid that year were paid by tax return filers who had adjusted gross incomes of $100,000 or more.

Table 2.3 in the Statistics of Income data released by the IRS lists the total number of all returns the IRS estimates it received in a tax year. It also breaks that number down by the number “taxable returns” and the number of “nontaxable returns.”

“A taxable return,” the IRS says, “is a return that has total income tax greater than $0.”

“A nontaxable return, on the other hand, could either have a zero or negative tax liability after accounting for all credits (including refundable credits),” says the IRS. Read More > at CNSnews

This 1 State Is Turning America Into an Oil-Exporting Juggernaut – Saudi Arabia is currently the largest oil-exporting country in the world. Last year, the Middle Eastern nation shipped 7.1 million barrels of oil per day (BPD) to global markets. That’s light-years ahead of the roughly 2 million BPD the U.S. exported last year.

However, America is currently on track to ship more oil than Saudi Arabia within the next five years. Fueling that surge will be the state of Texas, which should drive the bulk of the country’s oil growth through 2025.

The U.S. currently produces about 12.1 million BPD, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That has the nation’s oil industry on track for another record-smashing year. Several states supply this output, including California, Alaska, North Dakota, and Texas.

However, Texas is by far the biggest contributor, thanks to the presence of the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale. Those two regions currently produce a combined 5 million BPD. While some of that output comes from the New Mexico side of the Permian, Texas is on track to pump more oil this year than any country besides Russia and Saudi Arabia. Read More > in The Motley Fool

Brick-And-Mortar May Be The Only Way For E-Tailers To Really Grow – The ease and speed of online shopping upended traditional retail. Now, the companies that made their names in the world of e-commerce are finding real-life, brick-and-mortar locations are a key part of truly scaling up the business.

“When they open a physical store, their e-commerce sales pop, sometimes 70% or 80%,” said Kimco Realty Corp. CEO Conor Flynn, who was speaking at Bisnow’s NYC Retail Annual event Thursday morning.

Several national online brands have already moved forward into the world of brick-and-mortar. Fashion retailers Bonobos, Everlane and Adore Me have all set up locations.

The online mattress retailer Casper opened its first store in New York City last year, where naps were reportedly encouraged, and the goliath of online retail itself, Amazon, has a bookstore in The Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle and is making a significant push with its Amazon Go concept stores.

In the next few years, hundreds more online-only retailers are expected to join them, as the data begins to indicate setting up within four walls is worth the cost and effort. Read More > at Bisnow

Nobody Thinks They’ve Gotten a Recent Tax Cut, but a Majority Have – Fewer than 40 percent of Americans surveyed think they’ve seen a tax cut since 2017, when President Donald Trump signed the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” In fact, most people think their personal tax burden has gone up. But “independent analyses have consistently found that a large majority of Americans would owe less because of the law” and “preliminary data based on tax filings has shown the same,” reports The New York Times. Meanwhile, “not even one in 10 households actually got a tax increase.”

Data from the Tax Policy Center show 64.8 percent of Americans got a tax cut, while SurveyMonkey/New York Times data found only 39.6 percent thought they got a tax cut.

People with household incomes of less than $30,000 were the most likely to accurately perceive the situation (32.1 percent got a tax cut, and 30 percent think they did). Much larger tax-cut perception and reality gaps exist at higher household income levels:

  • About 69 percent of people with a household income of $30,000 to $50,000 got a tax cut, but just 36.1 percent think they did.
  • Nearly 82 percent of those in the $50,000 to $75,000 range got a tax cut; 41.5 percent think they did.
  • 86.6 percent of households making $75,000 to $100,000 saw a tax cut, but just 47.9 percent think they did.
  • And 89.5 percent of those in the $100,000 or more bracket got a tax cut, while just 46.4 percent think they did.

“To a large degree, the gap between perception and reality on the tax cuts appears to flow from a sustained—and misleading—effort by liberal opponents of the law to brand it as a broad middle-class tax increase,” write the Times‘ Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersley. Read More > at Reason

The numbers prove this economy is not letting up – …As partly highlighted above, the labor market is white-hot. Not only is the unemployment rate near an all-time low, but wages are on the rise as well — increasing by three percent or more (measured year-over-year) for the last eight consecutive months. And in February, wage growth hit the fastest pace since 2009 — a result of businesses competing for employees to fill a growing number of open positions, rather than people battling for a select number of jobs.

In fact, the number of available employment opportunities now exceeds the number of Americans looking for work. This isn’t surprising considering that nearly 5.8 million net new jobs have been created since the 2016 election — with 215,000 new blue collar employment opportunities that many thought were lost forever being added in 2018 alone.

Moreover, during the last week of March, jobless claims — or the number of Americans that filed for first-time unemployment benefits — hit the lowest level in five decades. All while more Americans are getting off the sidelines and entering the labor market after being pushed out during the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Overall, compared to the fourth quarter of 2017, the economy grew by 3 percent last year — well-above the expansion rates of the past decade. It’s clear the economy is roaring. Read More > in The Hill

DMV crisis could make or break Newsom – …It’s much too early to tell whether Newsom’s ambitions on immigration become reality, but as he was touring El Salvador, another crisis much closer to home was blowing up – and how he handles it will probably have much more impact on his gubernatorial career.

It involves the state agency that Californians love to hate, the Department of Motor Vehicles.

It has been plagued by spectacular failures in customer service, manifested in hours-long wait times at DMV offices, and in implementing the federally mandated “REAL ID” program of more secure driver’s licenses, and the state’s “motor voter” program of automatically registering customers as voters.

..Last month, the Department of Finance released its audit, declaring that “DMV has operated with significant weaknesses in its underlying governance structure and organizational culture” and urging a major overhaul.

Newsom now owns DMV’s many deficiencies and has pledged – implicitly departing from Brown’s lackadaisical attitude – to create what his strike team calls “the DMV of the future” that will be efficient and responsive.

All those steps laid the groundwork for a three-hour-long hearing of an Assembly budget subcommittee last week – and it didn’t go well for Newsom’s representatives.

The administration is seeking hundreds of millions of new dollars to hire thousands of new employees and upgrade its ancient technology, but Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, flatly told Newsom’s officials that the request “will not be approved as is.” Read More > at CALmatters

The funeral as we know it is becoming a relic – just in time for death boom – Death is a given, but not the time-honored rituals. An increasingly secular, nomadic and casual America is shredding the rules about how to commemorate death, and it’s not just among the wealthy and famous. Somber, embalmed-body funerals, with their $9,000 industry average price tag, are, for many families, a relic. Instead, end-of-life ceremonies are being personalized: golf-course cocktail send-offs, backyard potluck memorials, more Sinatra and Clapton, less “Ave Maria,” more Hawaiian shirts, fewer dark suits. Families want to put the “fun” in funerals.

The movement will accelerate as the nation approaches a historic spike in deaths. Baby boomers, despite strenuous efforts to stall the aging process, are not getting any younger. In 2030, people over 65 are expected to outnumber children, and by 2037, 3.6 million people are projected to die in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, 1 million more than in 2015, which is projected to outpace the growth of the overall population.

Just as nuptials have been transformed – who held destination weddings in the 1990s? – and gender-reveal celebrations have become theatrical productions, the death industry has experienced seismic changes over the past couple of decades. Practices began to shift during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, when many funeral homes were unable to meet the needs of so many young men dying, and friends often hosted events that resembled parties. Read More > at SFGate

‘Phone Addicts’ Are the New Drunk Drivers, Report Says – Drivers are 10 percent more distracted now than last year, a problem driven largely by smartphones, according to new research from Zendrive, a company that collects and analyzes data on driver behaviors.

“Out from under the shadows, phone addicts have positioned themselves as public enemy number one, replacing drunk drivers as the ultimate threat on the road,” says the 2019 distracted driving study, released this week.

The study analyzed driving data from 1.8 million anonymized drivers over 92 days, for a total of 4.5 billion miles. All data comes from smartphone sensors, which detect phone usage “when the driver handles the phone for a certain period of time for various purposes such as talking, texting, or navigating.” Researchers also spoke to 500 drivers to obtain details on how they use phones while driving, including which apps were most commonly tapped by people behind the wheel. Read More > at Route Fifty

About Kevin

Councilmember - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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