Sunday Reading – 05/12/19


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.

43% of voters in California say they can’t afford to live there—and the problem may be bigger than housing – A full 43 percent of Californian voters, and an astounding 61 percent of those aged 18 to 34, feel they can’t afford to live in the state, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. And over three-quarters of voters agree that there’s a “housing crisis.”

The median value for a house in the Golden state is about $550,000, according to real-estate website Zillow. That’s more than twice the national median.

The median monthly rent for an apartment in California is $2,750, which is also about 1.75 times the national median.

But it may not just be housing that’s causing residents to feel strapped. Other research suggests it’s the cost of living overall. Read More > at CNBC

In Oakland, money intended to be used for this being used for that so lights stay on – At a time when Oakland is trying to cure its pothole epidemic, the city is planning to use $2.9 million in state gas tax money to keep its streetlights on, then use what it saves of its own money to stave off cuts in parks and recreation.

It’s a bit of a financial loop-de-loop, but money is money.

Here’s the story, straight from the source.

“Though cranes are rising across the skyline and Oakland’s revenues are growing at a steady rate due to the strong real estate market, the city’s expenses continue to rise faster than revenues,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said in her recent budget statement. “Particularly the cost of medical benefits and pensions — as well as insurance, utilities and fuel costs — are growing at two to three times the rate of inflation and revenue growth.

“These structural problems threaten our ability to deliver core services to Oakland residents, including our youth,” she said.

As a result, Oakland is facing an estimated $25 million deficit in its operating fund this year. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Gavin Newsom’s $209 billion budget calls for new taxes. Can he get them passed? – Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed new taxes and fees to fund health care subsidies, clean drinking water and tax credits for low-income families. But state revenue outpacing even his most optimistic predictions could present a challenge for him as he attempts to raise taxes.

Last month, corporate taxes came in at $3.4 billion, much higher than the Newsom administration’s estimated $2.6 billion. Income taxes also came in ahead of projections, making up for a shortfall earlier in the year, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

If the trend continues, the state is looking at another big surplus this year.

In his $209 billion January budget proposal, Newsom called for several new fees on Californians:

He’s also endorsed two other expensive proposals that could require additional revenue:

  • A revamp of the state’s 911 system that would be funded by a phone tax
  • Six months of paid family leave for newborns, an expansion to a program currently funded by a payroll tax

Newsom this week is expected to release an updated budget proposal, the May revision. Lawmakers must send him a final budget to sign by June 15. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Does California’s Minimum Wage Make Economic Sense? – A new study on California’s minimum wage policies raises serious questions about whether the state’s minimum wage makes good economic sense.

The April 2019 study, titled “The Minimum Wage: An Analysis of the Impact on the Restaurant Industry,” was prepared by the UC Riverside Center for Economic Forecasting and Development for the California Restaurant Association.

“This will, of course, benefit minimum-wage workers. But a higher minimum wage could also create distortions in the labor market, potentially causing employers to cut employee hours, and for fewer job opportunities to arise for low-skilled and teenage workers. Policy makers must consider these issues and ways to mitigate their effects, otherwise they risk causing more harm than good to the economy,” states the April 2019 report.

…“Data analysis suggests that while the restaurant industry in California has grown significantly as the minimum wage has increased, employment in the industry has grown more slowly than it would have without minimum wage hikes,” states the study.

“The slower employment is nevertheless real for those workers who may have found a career in the industry. And when the next recession arrives, the higher real minimum wage could increase overall job losses within the economy and lead to a higher unemployment rate than would have been the case without the minimum wage increases,” concludes the report.

The report issued a series of very interesting specific findings on the economic impact and costs of the State of California’s minimum wages policies.

…Furthermore, the report also found that “the impact of the minimum wage hike is greater in lower income communities than higher income communities, presumably because restaurants in high-income areas can pass on the additional costs to customers more easily.”

The study’s economic model also found that the industry added significantly less jobs due to the minimum wage increase, and the overall increases in employee take home pay were very marginal compared to the amount of the minimum wage increase. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

UN Elects Somalia, Congo to Women’s Rights Boards – The United Nations decided it would be a good idea to elect several countries with terrible track records on women’s rights to sit on boards that promote…women’s rights.

Somalia was elected to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lebanon, Nigeria and Sierra Leone were among those elected to the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

Oddly, the U.N. Women’s website acknowledges some of these countries’ atrocious records regarding women’s rights.

On Somalia, for example, it says “Somalia has extremely high rates of maternal mortality, rape, cases of female genital mutilation, violence against women and child marriage. Women’s access to justice is restricted both within the formal, clan based and sharia-based judicial systems. Women face limited access to economic resources and assets. This is compounded by women’s low participation in politics and decision making spheres.”

The description continues: “Violence against women and girls remains high in Somalia with displaced women and girls targeted. Somalia also has a history of violent attacks on women leaders, women who speak out against gender-based violence and the men and women who defend them.”

According to the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap ranking based on “Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment,” among the 10 worst places to be a woman are Lebanon and the DRC.  Read More > at Townhall

Mortgage rates slump for the third-straight week as big questions dog the housing market – Rates for home loans fell along with the broader bond market even as the transformation of the real-estate industry quickened pace.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.10% in the May 9 week, Freddie Mac said Thursday. That was down 4 basis points during the week.

The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.57%, down from 3.60%. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.63%, down 5 basis points. Read More > at Market Watch

High-Speed Alternatives to High-Speed Rail – On the campaign trail, California governor Gavin Newsom expressed support for the state’s high-speed rail project, but he’s been more reticent since taking office earlier this year. In February, he proposed to cut back on the plan because it “would cost too much and . . . take too long,” a welcome note of skepticism, but soon afterward, his staff issued a “clarification” explaining that the governor was simply “refocusing to get a finished product from Bakersfield to Merced,” the first leg of the envisioned rail system.

The high-speed rail project is a disaster, with cost projections ballooning and the anticipated time of a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles coming in at four hours; an airplane can get you there in one. The practical thing for Newsom to do would be to scrap it entirely, but that’s not politically feasible. He might be better advised to consider a private-market alternative that could satisfy both practical and political considerations: an autonomous autobahn, where, according to Motor Trend writer Mark Rechtin, “vehicles equipped with self-driving technology run in platoons at a constant 120 mph.”

It may be some time before autonomous cars can navigate streets and adapt to all the complexities of urban life, but self-driving freeway travel might not be so far off. It will require better highways, which don’t come cheap in California, where road construction costs 2.5 times the national average, due in large part to costly environmental reviews and pro-union contracts. But even at $7 million a mile for new rural-freeway construction and $11 million per mile for its urban counterpart, the price tag for a California superfast highway, stretching roughly 500 miles—the distance between San Diego and Sacramento—would be only about 5 percent of that of high-speed rail, which current projections put between $70 billion and $120 billion. The model is Germany’s autobahn, “a reliable national highway system that is very safe despite an unrestricted speed limit,” according to state senator John Moorlach of Orange County. Moorlach cites a World Health Organization study that estimates that road traffic deaths-per-mile in Germany are one-third as common as in the United States. Read More > at City Journal

When Will We Confront the ‘Columbiner’ Subculture? – We would be better off as a country with a longer discussion about the ‘Columbiner’ subculture, and how to prevent teenagers and other young people from falling under its sway.

Yesterday’s shooting at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch, Colo.  — only a few miles from Columbine high school — involved two shooters, which is rare in school shootings. The school will be closed for the rest of the week and other schools in the area are adding additional security.

This comes just a few weeks after parents in the area awoke to warnings that an armed 18-year-old woman with an infatuation with the massacre had flown across the country to Colorado; she later was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. And this year marked the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting; the date fell on a Saturday with the community marking its third annual “Day of Service” and other events to remember that awful day.

Columbine wasn’t just a massacre; it was a form of ideation, and it cracked open some barrier that made the unthinkable thinkable for many disturbed, deeply troubled, and angry individuals. Some family members of the victims are still getting harassed, two decades later:

Coni Sanders’ father Dave Sanders was the only teacher killed at Columbine.

To this day, Sanders still gets bombarded with messages from what she calls “Columbiners,” people obsessed with every last detail of the massacre that took her father.

“There are hundreds of social media accounts claiming to be the killers,” Sanders said. “Worse, some claim to be my dad.”

Maybe you love more background checks for gun purchases, maybe you don’t, but either way, background checks for gun purchases won’t solve the problem of angry, emotionally unstable young people developing an obsession about Columbine. And when a teenager starts getting obsessed about Columbine, the odds of him attempting a school shooting increase dramatically. Read More > at National Review 

Denver first in US to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms – Denver is set to become the first city in the nation to effectively decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms.

After trailing in results postings Tuesday night and early Wednesday, final unofficial results just posted show a reversal of fortune — with Initiative 301 set to pass with nearly 50.6 percent of the vote. The total stands at 89,320 votes in favor and 87,341 against — a margin of 1,979 votes.

As written, I-301 directs police via ordinance to treat enforcement of laws against possession of psilocybin mushrooms as their lowest priority.

It’s similar to measures approved by Denver voters for marijuana years before Colorado’s Amendment 64 legalized the possession and sale of that drug.

While efforts are afoot to get psilocybin-related measures on the ballot in Oregon and California in 2020, Denver hosted the first-ever U.S. popular vote on the matter, according to organizers. An earlier effort in California last year failed to qualify for the ballot. Read More > in the Denver Post

San Francisco Votes To Outlaw Cashless Businesses – Cash is king in San Francisco.

The city’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to outlaw cashless businesses on Wednesday, citing the effect that such establishments have on the unbanked population.

“The future may be cashless,” Supervisor Vallie Brown, who introduced the legislation, tells the San Francisco Examiner. But until we get there, the current landscape is “excluding too many people” with a select group of retailers that forego cash transactions.

“This legislation will go far in ensuring all San Franciscans have equitable access to the city’s economy,” she said—an ode to those without bank accounts, many of whom are impoverished. The bill applies to brick-and-mortar spots, and thus excludes ride-hailing services, pop up shops, and food trucks. Repeat violators would be subject to a $1,000 fine. Read More > at Reason

Most of America’s Rural Areas Are Doomed to Decline – Since the Great Recession, most of the nation’s rural counties have struggled to recover lost jobs and retain their people. The story is markedly different in the nation’s largest urban communities.

I’m writing from Iowa, where every four years presidential hopefuls swoop in to test how voters might respond to their various ideas for fixing the country’s problems.

But what to do about rural economic and persistent population decline is the one area that has always confounded them all.

The facts are clear and unarguable. Most of the nation’s smaller urban and rural counties are not growing and will not grow.

Metropolitan areas consist of those counties with central cities of at least 50,000, along with the surrounding counties that are economically dependent on them. They make up 36% of all counties. Between 2008, the cusp of the Great Recession, and 2017, they enjoyed nearly 99% of all job and population growth.

What remained of job and population growth was divided among the 21% of counties that are called micropolitans, which have midsized cities with between 10,000 and 50,000 residents, and the remaining 42% of counties that are rural.

Nationally, 71% of all metropolitan counties grew between 2008 and 2017, but more than half of the remaining micropolitan and rural counties did not grow or shrank in population. Read More > at Route Fifty

Why Are So Many More Stores Closing Than Last Year? – It may seem like a paradox: National retailers have already announced more store closures this year than all of last year, but sales numbers have remained healthy amid high consumer confidence.

The simple answer, one that has been repeated ad nauseum for years now, is that consumer preferences are changing, and the closures represent the stores that could not change with them.

But under the surface of the growing sales is a secular change for which there is no real estate fix.

Non-store sales represent a growing portion of overall retail sales. The retailers that are expanding are avoiding much of the space that is going vacant, and not at an overall pace that can sustain occupancy levels long-term, according to a February report from Green Street Advisors.

The most proactive landlords with the best-positioned shopping centers will be able to adapt, but even then it could take costly redevelopments and more leasing turnover than ever before. Everyone else could be in deep trouble.

Just as Sears was synonymous with retail ingenuity for nearly a century, it is now the poster child for brands that are falling by the wayside in today’s climate. As it flails in bankruptcy proceedings to avoid liquidation, it faces three chief issues that all retailers closing stores in large numbers at least partially share: a failure to adapt, bad real estate and high debt burdens. Read More > at Bisnow

Is Science Broken? Major New Report Outlines Problems in Research – A new report released this week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is weighing in on a contentious debate within the science world: the idea that scientific research is fundamentally flawed, rife with published findings that often can’t be reproduced or replicated by other scientists, otherwise known as the replication and reproducibility crisis.

Their report, the collaborative work of more than a dozen experts from universities and the private research world, doesn’t go so far as to call it a crisis. But it does call for wide-scale improvements in how scientists do their work, and it also takes scientists—and journalists—to task for sometimes overhyping the latest research findings.

For years now, some scientists have sounded a clarion call about the overall quality of published research. Common issues highlighted by these scientists have included fraudulent, poorly done, or overhyped studies, with embellished findings based on small sample sizes; statistical manipulation of a study’s results during or after the experiment is over to achieve a desired outcome; and studies with negative conclusions being suppressed by their authors or rejected by scientific journals, which can then skew the medical literature on a particular topic, such as a drug’s effectiveness. Read More > at Gizmodo

Don’t Let Students Run the University – When did college students get it into their head that they should be running the university? The distressing trend of students somehow thinking that they’re the teachers began in earnest in the 1960s, a time when at least some of the grievances of campus protesters—from racism and sexism to the possibility of being sent to die in Southeast Asia—made sense.

A more noxious version of this trend, however, is now in full swing, with students demanding a say in the hiring and firing of faculty whose views they merely happen not to like. This is a dangerous development—a triple threat to free speech, to the education of future citizens, and to the value of a college education.

…This is not activism so much as it is preening would-be totalitarianism. If college is to become something more than a collection of trade schools on one end and a group of overpriced coffeehouses on the other, Americans have to think about how we got here and how to restore some sanity to the crucial enterprise of higher education.

First, we have to recognize a shameless dereliction of duty among faculty and administrators. Student activism can be an important part of education, but it is in the nature of students, especially among the young, to take moral differences to their natural extreme, because it is often their first excursion into the territory of an examined and conscious belief system. Faculty, both as interlocutors and mentors, should pull students back from the precipice of moral purity and work with them to acquire the skills and values that not only imbue tolerance, but provide for the rational discussion of opposing, and even hateful, views.

…To some extent, unbridled and performative student activism is a disease of affluence. Young people who are working their way through school or who are immersed in difficult subjects have less time, and often less economic flexibility, to engage in protest.

Indeed, students at Brown University noticed the time-consuming nature of changing the world, and in 2016 demanded less schoolwork so that they could devote more effort to their “social-justice responsibilities.” As one anonymous undergraduate told the Brown school newspaper, “There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes, and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on.” A senior with the wonderfully appropriate name of Justice Gaines told the paper, “I don’t feel okay with seeing students go through hardships without helping and organizing to make things better.”

As I wrote in a book titled The Death of Expertise, much of this, at institutions both great and humble, proceeds from a shift in the late 20th century to a kind of therapeutic model of education, which prioritizes feelings and happiness over learning. Colleges take the temperature of their students constantly, asking if they feel fulfilled, if they like their courses, and if they have any complaints. Little wonder that the students have made the short and obvious jump to the conclusion that they should be in charge. Read More > in The Atlantic

Shock: Over 1% of Guatemala, Honduras entered US since September – In a shocking demonstration of the latest surge of illegal immigrants border officials are struggling with, over 1% of the populations of Guatemala and Honduras have entered the United States since September, according to the Homeland Security Department chief.

Worse, 3% of the population of one Guatemalan county has crossed into the U.S., acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan told the 49th Washington Conference of the Americas tonight.

“The current migration flows, especially of vulnerable families and children, from Central America through Mexico, to remote areas all along the U.S. border, represent both a security and humanitarian crisis. The situation is not sustainable,” said the longtime border and immigration official.

“In March, we had over 103,000 irregular arrivals of undocumented migrants — 90% crossing the U.S. border unlawfully and unsafely in the hands of human smugglers. We will see similar numbers in April,” said McAleenan.

He detailed a shift in illegal immigrants coming from Central America, from predominantly Mexican to Guatemalan, Honduran and El Salvadoran. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Oakland’s ‘Pothole Vigilantes’ Are the Batman and Robin of Road Repair – Imagine Batman and Robin, two masked vigilantes fighting crime by night on the streets of Gotham. Now, replace Gotham with Oakland, California. And instead of crime, think potholes.

For the past several weeks, two anonymous men have been taking to the streets and filling some of the city’s many potholes. They’ve posted pictures of their work on Instagram and even have a GoFundMe page that’s raised more than $2,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.

In theory, Oakland residents can call 311 to report potholes. But there’s no guarantee the city will do anything about it. Enter the “pothole vigilantes,” as they like to call themselves. “We love the city, we hope they fill the potholes faster. And if they’re not going to do it, we’ll do it ourselves,” one of the men told KGO. “We have lived in a few other places, and none of them have been as bad in terms of road repair as Oakland,” the other said.

It’s a real problem, and one that the local government has not yet been able to solve. Drivers in the Bay Area spend significantly more money on road-related vehicle repairs than most other drivers around the country, according to the results of a studypublished in October by the national transportation research group TRIP and reported in the San Francisco Chronicle. Bad roads cause drivers in San Francisco and Oakland to spend about $1,049 in additional maintenance costs on a yearly basis, much higher than the national average, which is under $600. Moreover, 71 percent of roads in the San Francisco-Oakland area are in poor condition, the study says. Read More > at Reason

New plastic material can be recycled again and again – We’re drowning in plastics. That’s why the world’s brightest minds are trying to find a way we can effectively deal with plastic waste and make sure we don’t add more in the coming years. Now, researchers from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have created a plastic material that’s fully recyclable. It’s called poly(diketoenamine) or PDK, and it can be disassembled at a molecular level and then reassembled into another object with a different texture, color and shape again and again “without loss of performance or quality.”

As Berkeley Lab explains, the fillers and chemicals used in plastic objects are usually tightly bound to monomers — molecules that join up to form large plastic molecules called polymers. These additives could lead to unexpected properties when mixing various plastics for recycling. That means items already made with recycled plastics might have to go straight to landfills.

PDK monomers, however, can be completely separated from their additives simply by immersing the object in a highly acidic solution. “With PDKs, the immutable bonds of conventional plastics are replaced with reversible bonds that allow the plastic to be recycled more effectively,” explained team leader Brett Helms. Objects made with the material can then be reshaped, recolored and upcycled again and again and again. A watchband could become part of a keyboard, which could then be used to make a phone case. Read More > at Engadget

Newsom plan to cover young undocumented immigrants would divert public health dollars – California Gov. Gavin Newsom wants the state to provide health coverage to low-income young adults who are in the country illegally, but his plan would siphon public health dollars from several counties battling surging rates of sexually transmitted diseases and, in some cases, measles outbreaks.

Public health officials describe the proposed reallocation of state dollars as a well-meaning initiative that nonetheless would have “dire consequences” to core public health services.

The reallocation of state money “would exacerbate our already limited capacity to respond to outbreaks and public health emergencies,” said Jeff Brown, director of Placer County’s Health and Human Services Department, which has responded to three measles cases so far this year.

California already allows eligible immigrant children up to age 19 to participate in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents, regardless of their immigration status. The current budget sets aside $365.2 million to pay for the coverage.

In his 2019-20 budget plan, Newsom proposes expanding eligibility to unauthorized young adult immigrants from age 19 through 25.

His office estimates it would cost nearly $260 million to cover them in 2019-20. While state and federal governments usually share Medicaid costs, California would have to bear the full cost of covering this population.

To help pay for it, Newsom proposes to redirect about $63 million in state funds from 39 counties, arguing they would no longer need to provide health benefits to low-income young adults covered by the state. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

The Reason Renewables Can’t Power Modern Civilization Is Because They Were Never Meant To – Over the last decade, journalists have held up Germany’s renewables energy transition, the Energiewende, as an environmental model for the world.

“Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset,” thanks to the Energiewendewrote a New York Times reporter in 2014.

With Germany as inspiration, the United Nations and World Bank poured billions into renewables like wind, solar, and hydro in developing nations like Kenya.

But then, last year, Germany was forced to acknowledge that it had to delay its phase-out of coal, and would not meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction commitments. It announced plans to bulldoze an ancient church and forest in order to get at the coal underneath it.

But Germany didn’t just fall short of its climate targets. Its emissions have flat-lined since 2009.

Now comes a major article in the country’s largest newsweekly magazine, Der Spiegel, titled, “A Botched Job in Germany” (“Murks in Germany“). The magazine’s cover shows broken wind turbines and incomplete electrical transmission towers against a dark silhouette of Berlin.

“The Energiewende — the biggest political project since reunification — threatens to fail,” write Der Spiegel’s Frank Dohmen, Alexander Jung, Stefan Schultz, Gerald Traufetter in their a 5,700-word investigative story (the article can be read in English here).

Over the past five years alone, the Energiewende has cost Germany €32 billion ($36 billion) annually, and opposition to renewables is growing in the German countryside.

…Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk proclaimed that a rich, high-energy civilization could be powered by cheap solar panels and electric cars.

Journalists reported breathlessly on the cost declines in batteries, imagining a tipping point at which conventional electricity utilities would be “disrupted.”

But no amount of marketing could change the poor physics of resource-intensive and land-intensive renewables. Solar farms take 450 times more land than nuclear plants, and wind farms take 700times more land than natural gas wells, to produce the same amount of energy.

Efforts to export the Energiewende to developing nations may prove even more devastating. Read More >in Forbes

The world shrugs as China locks up 1 million Muslims – China has detained an estimated 1 million to 2 million Uighur Muslims in the region of Xinjiang, and millions more live one step away from detention under the watchful eye of the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: It has been two years since the internment camps first came to light internationally, and a series of reports from Xinjiang have made vivid the scale of the abuses. Yet foreign governments and corporations are content to pretend it isn’t happening.

“If right now, just about any other country in the world was found to be detaining over 1 million Muslims of a certain ethnicity, you can bet we’d be seeing an international outcry,” says Sophie Richardson, china director for Human Rights Watch.

  • “Because it’s China, which has enormous power in international institutions these days, it’s hard to muster any response at all.”
  • “There has been this almost childlike hope that as China gets wealthier and more secure it would change” and adapt to international norms, Richardson says. Instead, China is using its economic clout and influence at the UN to undermine those norms.

China has long waged a campaign of “assimilation and cultural destruction” in Xinjiang, but under President Xi Jinping it has “dramatically escalated,” says Omer Kanat, a prominent Uighur activist. “The camps are designed to eradicate the Uighur’s religious and ethnic identity once and for all.”

China used to deny the camps existed; it now claims they’re voluntary and designed to root out extremism. Read More > at Axios

U.N. Says 1 Million Species Will Go Extinct Without a ‘Fundamental, System-wide Reorganization’ – A new United Nations report warns that “global rate of species extinction is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than the average rate over the past 10 million years and is accelerating.” The only solution to the possible extinction of 1 million species: “Transformative change” in human society, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values,” explained IPBES Chair Robert Watson in a press release. Recommended “transformative changes” include reducing human population growth, eschewing “overconsumption,” and “addressing inequalities, especially regarding income and gender, which undermine capacity for sustainability.”

How did the IPBES researchers come up with their estimate of 1 million species at risk of extinction? Among other things, they find that more than 40 percent of amphibian species, almost a third of reef-forming corals, sharks and shark relatives and over a third of marine mammals are currently threatened. There are about 8,000 known species of amphibians440 shark speciesabout 1,000 species of reef corals, and about 120 species of marine mammals. Parsing those numbers suggest that 3,680 or so species are at risk of extinction. Certainly not good, but far from 1 million. Insect extinction estimates are where the numbers really get boosted…

A world bereft of giraffes, tigers, whooping cranes, hammerhead sharks, karner blue butterflies, and hellbender salamanders would indeed be a poorer place. However, many of the transformative changes advocated by the IPBES are already happening as a result of the economic growth the U.N. agency wants us to steer away from. Due to increasing wealth, education, and urbanization, world population will peak later this century at around 8 to 9 billion. As result of urbanization, the number of people living on the landscape will drop by half from 3.6 billion now to 1.8 billion by the end of this century. The result is more land spared for nature. With respect to concerns about “overconsumption,” human ingenuity is dematerializing the economy by constantly squeezing more and more value out of less and less stuff. And to the extent that income and gender equality undergird a sustainable future, the good news is that both global income inequality and gender inequality is falling. Read More > at Reason

DISQUALIFIED: Inside the Historic Decision That Shocked the Kentucky Derby – This is what had happened. Nineteen three-year-old colts had run 1¼ miles around a giant oval inside this cathedral of racing, as they have done in the spring of the year since 10 years after the end of the Civil War. On this day they ran on a racing surface turned to pale brown slop by the rain that began only in the 90 minutes before post time. They ran strangely, at first quickly and then in a beehive bunch, bumping and grinding along. “Like a little kids’ soccer game,” said five-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert, whose three horses would finish fourth, fifth and 14th. One of them led by a tiny margin, towing the others. It was a bay named Maximum Security. He was one of those horses that should not win the Kentucky Derby, but sometimes does and sometimes becomes the favorite, as Maximum Security did on Saturday, at 4-1 odds. Just because.

Maximum Security pulled away, ever so slightly, tiring less than the others. There was a moment of chaos near the top of the stretch. At least one jockey rose in his irons, a sign that a collision has been averted. In the mud and slop and in real time, it was difficult to interpret. Horse races are always difficult to interpret—giant animals running fast with brave and gifted small humans astride them. Maximum Security held together and won the Derby by one and three-quarter lengths over fast-closing Country House and three-quarters of a length over Code of Honor. The earth shook just a little as it always does and more so when it is the favorite who has won. He rides with more money on his back than the rest.

…Pause: Here is what the head-on replay (not the so-called “pan” shot that is commonly shown on television) seemed to show: That as the field began to straighten, Maximum Security darted to his right at least three “paths” (a path being a running lane). As he made this move, he passed directly in front of War of Will, who had been gathering for a potential move toward the front. This move caused War of Will’s jockey, Tyler Gaffalione, to check his mount to keep both rider and horse from falling, which, given their place in the field, would have been disastrous. Maximum Security’s move in front of War of Will forced War of Will in front of Long Range Toddy, a 55-1 shot who Court was forced to steady in similar fashion to Gaffalione. “I got knocked sideways,” said Court, “and then I got knocked sideways again.”

Finally, both War of Will and Long Range Toddy continued to slide sideways, nudging Country House at least one path wide, but less dangerously than the other two. All of this transpired in just more than a second. But it was a moment fraught with danger in a year when horse racing suffered mightily from too much death (the 23 horses who died at Santa Anita between Dec. 24 and March 31).

Chief steward Borden said, “We had a lengthy review of the race.” Indeed. More Borden: “We determined that the seven horse (Maximum Security) drifted out and impacted the progress of the number one, in turn, interfering with the 18 and 21 (Bodexpress, the longest shot in the field at 71-1). These horses were all affected, we thought, by the interference. Therefore we unanimously determined to disqualify number seven (Maximum Security) and place him behind the 18, the 18 being the lowest-placed horse that he bothered, which is our typical procedure.”

The decision is likely to be debated further, probably endlessly. What’s unknown is unknown forever, but it seems unlikely that Country House would have caught Maximum Security no matter how far they ran. War of Will is another matter. But it’s difficult to imagine the carnage that would have ensued if Gaffalione had not kept War of Will upright. However: It is baffling that the stewards watched that rodeo and did not instantly initiate a stewards’ inquiry into the finish, which is standard practice when there might have been fouls. Also: For the stewards to refuse questions after changing the order of finish in the Kentucky Derby for the first time in history is a terrible look that will not age well. Read More > in Sports Illustrated 

The Most Wanted Cars in America – What’s the most desired car in America?

One way to determine this would be to look at which cars people search for most often online. We decided to analyze carmax.com search trends across the country to see which used cars, used trucks, and vehicle features are America’s most wanted so far in 2019.1

What was the most-searched vehicle on carmax.com from sea to shining sea? That would be the Ford F-150 pickup. Whether Americans are thinking about hauling cargo, making a grocery run, or towing a boat, they love surfing our site for F-150s.

When it comes to the most sought-after vehicle features, four-wheel drive (4WD) /all-wheel drive (AWD) and leather seats dominate searches nationwide. According to our data, many Americans see themselves sitting tall and proud in a leather seat when they fire up their 4WD Ford F-150. The least-searched feature? Remote start capability. Read More > at Priceonomics

Even Transit-Oriented Development Can’t Stop The Ridership Drop – …State Farm’s arrival could not cushion Dunwoody from MARTA’s systemwide ridership decline. The transit agency is experiencing the broader national trend of dipping transit ridership since 2014: Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles have seen public transit ridership drop more than 20%, according to the Cato Institute. Overall, transit ridership dropped 7.5% nationally from 2014 to 2018.

This trend has emerged even as businesses have been returning to the city’s heart after decades of suburban sprawl. Developers have touted projects’ access to transit as a major selling point, and companies are willing to pay higher rents to be close to a MARTA station.

A confluence of commuting attitudes and new technologies are holding transit systems back from growing their ridership in the time of the TOD.

The reasons for ridership declines vary. Some maintain that relatively low fuel prices and easy, cheap car loans as continuing to fuel a vehicle-based economy. Other experts point to the advent of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. A 2018 study by researchers from the University of Kentucky found that for each year after a ride-share service is introduced to a city, train ridership declines 1.3% and bus ridership by 1.7%.

…The only form of commuting that has gained market share is not commuting at all. In 2008, an estimated 150,000 Atlanta residents worked remotely, or 5.7% of total workers, according to the ARC. By 2016, the last time the ARC surveyed the population, that number had risen to more than 196,000, 7% of Atlanta workers. Read More > at Bisnow

A Major Newspaper Fires Its Entire Staff – The Times-Picayune, the primary newspaper in New Orleans, was founded in 1837. It was just announced that it had been sold to its major rival. The deal will result in the layoff of every member of the Times-Picayune staff. It is another reminder of how hard the traditional newspaper industry has fallen.

The Times-Picayune has been owned by the extremely wealthy Newhouse family, via its Advance Publication umbrella…

The owners of The Advocate, John and Dathel Georges, are the buyers of NOLA. It was their decision to fire the staff of their newly acquired company. In total, 161 people lost their jobs.

The deal shows two themes about the newspaper industry as it continues to implode. The Newhouse family has a net worth of over $12 billion, but they were not willing to use some of that fortune to save a major daily newspaper. The Georges family, on the other hand, was willing to take over the money-losing property, but only if it could cut its expenses to zero. The Georges have gambled that the brand is enough to keep subscribers and advertisers. It will use the infrastructure of The Advocate to support the bet With the 161 staff gone, that is a very little risk at all. The major financial cost to seller and owner was only the end of one of America’s oldest major city newspapers.

Every city has to look to the New Orleans decision and consider whether it could lose its newspaper as well. Some cities have watched their major papers gutted already. Among the most well-known of these was the decision of owner Alden Global Capital to fire about a third of the Denver Post newsroom staff in 2018… Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Grappling with the Meaning of Martyrdom – It’s an unfortunate symptom of our times that tragedy can so often invite cynicism, but what else can we expect in our politically-myopic age? A recent example of violence being appropriated as political spectacle came with the truly heart-wrenching mosque shooting in New Zealand. No doubt it represented the worst kind of racist, bigoted violence. But the zeal with which the mainstream Western media reported the incident tipped their hand. Religious persecution, including violent attacks targeting specific groups, is unfortunately common around the world. For instance, just recently 40 Nigerian Christians were killed as part of what some have called a “genocide” in the country. What makes one killing more newsworthy than another? One starts to wonder if the deciding factor in whether or not an attack is Facebook-status-worthy is whether or not the perpetrator supports Trump.

It’s difficult not to feel cynical about a morality of convenience. After all, such a morality will consistently confirm the biases of your own political narrative and allocate sympathy solely to victims adjacent to your own provincial interests. And yet to some degree it’s something that we all do. This is why German author Martin Mosebach’s The 21: A Journey Into the Land of Coptic Martyrs is so essential. In a time when digital and social media have created narrow ideological ruts through which our news and opinions flow, it’s important—necessary, really—to explore different ways of understanding. Not newer, mind you, just deeper alternatives to the anodyne. Perhaps even antecedent to it. And in the case of the Copts and their sense of martyrdom, we’re talking about a very ancient way of understanding indeed. Read More > at Law & Liberty

Soda Scolds Ignore the Truth: Soda Consumption is Down – Just this week, I saw terrifying media headlines about the cancer-causing luncheon meat I pack in my kids’ lunches, the toxic cleaners I use to scrub their bathroom, and the poisonous sodas I occasionally let them drink when we go out for pizza.

Clearly, I’m trying to kill my kids.

Of course, the stories attached to those headlines are mostly click bait and are filled with the sort of dodgy “studies” that are easily debunked. Yet, to the average consumer, these stories create doubt and fear and makes one feel like a bad parent. That’s the real harm being done here.

Take this week’s claim that soda is causing childhood obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association are both calling for additional taxes and warning labels on sugary drinks like sodas, claiming these drinks are the reason kids are getting fat. Reporting on this call to action, ABC News trotted out some scary childhood obesity data, saying that childhood obesity rates have more than triples since the 1970s and that “sugary drinks are one of the many factors that have contributed to this rise.”

While it’s true that obesity rates for children have increased in the last several decades, the beverage a child drinks has little to do with it. While it’s fun to point the finger at big, bad soda, the truth is soda consumption has plummeted during that same time frame, as has consumption of sugar in general. How can we lay blame on sodas, if fewer and fewer kids are drinking them?

…Secondly, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, sugary drinks, like sodas, only make up 6 percent of a child’s calories. While I certainly don’t think kids should be swigging Orange Crush on the school playground and I am actually a bit of a soda scold with my own kids, it’s common knowledge that kids consume more than just beverages, which is where the other 94 percent of the calories are coming from. Might it behoove the AAP and the AMA to consider these sources of a child’s calories too?

…Soda taxes and bans do nothing to help kids stay healthy and these restrictive policies won’t solve the complex issue of childhood obesity. What children need is outside the realm of government intervention–strong parents who pass on the value of healthy eating, portion control, personal responsibility, and the necessity of moderate exercise. Read More > at Real Clear Health

Lessons from a Previous Venezuela Crisis – The Venezuelan national assembly has held that the country’s 2018 presidential election was illegal and that Juan Guaido, not Nicolas Maduro, is the lawful president. As a result, Venezuela is undergoing an internal political crisis while also owing significant financial debts to Russia and China. To protect their interests, these rising great powers have deployed military forces to the region and are increasing the number of diplomats and intelligence operatives in Latin America. They are also directly protecting Maduro from his own government and people. As it considers how best to deal with the threat of hostile foreign governments covertly taking control in Venezuela, the Trump administration would be well advised to examine the lessons from the last great Venezuelan crisis over 100 years ago.

Venezuela sits atop the largest proven oil and natural gas reserves in the world. Yet due to the outright technical incompetence of the Maduro government, Venezuela is currently over $100 billion in debt to foreign nations, mostly Russia and China, intent on ensuring that every dollar is repaid, with interest. Additionally, these foreign powers view Venezuela as a comfortable base for military and intelligence assets in South America; Russia has recently deployed nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuelan airfields, and China has opened the path for naval warship visits to the troubled South American nation by first sending its hospital ship for a goodwill port call. Additionally, Russia has sent a contingent of security forces to Venezuela, including cyber-war experts, and Iran, which also has financial interests in Venezuela, recently initiated a regular series of commercial Mahan Air flights. Such flights have previously provided useful cover for the insertion of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps elements into foreign nations. Each of these countries can and do claim that they are simply supporting their friend, Nicolas Maduro. They also state that they are protecting their financial interests. But they of course have the ulterior motive of undermining American leadership and the current global liberal order.

Today’s Venezuelan crisis parallels the events of the winter of 1902–1903. In the late fall of 1902 the government of Venezuelan president Cipriano Castro, just recovering from an internal civil war, was unable to make payments on the debts Venezuela owed to European powers. In a reaction typical of that era, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy imposed a naval blockade on the South American nation. With three European powers strangling the Venezuelan economy and threatening to seize its customs houses (another common tactic), Castro requested that the claims against his country be settled through international arbitration. Read More > at National Review

Death by Loneliness– Economically, America is more prosperous than it has ever been. We are richer, more connected, electronically, and have more information available to us than ever before. And yet, we are in the midst of a crisis that is claiming thousands of American lives: loneliness.

Since the turn of the century, Americans have been dying from suicide, alcohol-related illnesses, and drug overdoses at a rate that has never before been seen. Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have aptly named these tragedies “Deaths of Despair.” In fact, suicide is now the second leading cause of death for American teenagers and the tenth leading cause of death for Americans, overall. The suicide rate has increased more than 30 percent in half of U.S. states since 1999. Equally harrowing, drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of fifty. Since 2015, our nation’s average life expectancy has been declining — suggesting that the toll of American despair can no longer be outpaced by technological or medical advancements. In 2017 alone, approximately 47,000 Americans committed suicide, and over 70,000 individuals died of a drug overdose. To put these number into perspective, 40,000 Americans died in motor vehicles accident during that same year, while roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers died in the Vietnam War as a whole.

While the statistics are daunting, the reality is devastating. In every age group, and across every geographic region, alarming numbers of mothers are finding themselves childless, husbands suddenly without their wives, and sisters without their brothers. We are having less sex and fewer children than previous generations — another sign of diminished hope. Our material lives may be outwardly prosperous, but our psychological and spiritual lives are in freefall.

What is driving us to self-destruction? There are many factors, all with one unifying theme: We are no longer living in community with one another and, consequently, we are lonely. Read More > at Real Clear Policy

The Economy That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen: Booming Jobs, Low Inflation – The labor market the United States is experiencing right now wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Not that long ago, the overwhelming consensus among economists would have been that you couldn’t have a 3.6 percent unemployment rate without also seeing the rate of job creation slowing (where are new workers going to come from with so few out of work, after all?) and having an inflation surge (a worker shortage should mean employers bidding up wages, right?).

And yet that is what has happened, with the April employment numbers putting an exclamation point on the trend. The jobless rate receded to its lowest level in five decades. Employers also added 263,000 jobs; the job creation estimates of previous months were revised up; and average hourly earnings continued to rise at a steady rate — up 3.2 percent over the last year.

Compare that reality with the projections the Federal Reserve published just three years ago. In mid-2016, Fed officials thought that the long-run rate of unemployment would be around 4.8 percent, and that this would coincide with 2 percent inflation.

If that were the jobless rate today, 1.9 million Americans would not be working who are instead gainfully employed. And despite this ultralow unemployment rate, inflation is only 1.6 percent over the last year, below the level the Fed aims for. Read More > in The New York Times

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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