Sunday Reading – 05/19/19

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.

FCC set to let phone companies block more robocalls – U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday proposed allowing phone companies to block unwanted “robocalls” by default in a bid to reduce the flood of nuisance calls from telemarketers and scammers.

Pai said many service providers have held off developing and deploying default call-blocking tools because of uncertainty about whether the tools are legal under the FCC rules.

Allowing the default call-blocking could significantly increase development and consumer adoption of the tools, Pai said, adding that providers should offer call blocking services for free. In addition, companies could allow users to block calls not on their contact lists, Pai said.

“By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them,” Pai said.

The U.S. telecommunications regulator is expected to approve Pai’s proposal at its June 6 meeting. Read More > from Reuters

The market for recyclables is tumbling, the diversion rate of trash headed to dumps is shrinking and trash bills are going up as the cost of recycling increases. – “We used to pay haulers for recyclables,” said Bob Asgian, assistant department head of Los Angeles County’s recycling and landfill operations.

“Now, they’re paying us (to take them).”

China, the world’s largest importer of recyclables, is at the center of the trend. With 25% or more of its imported bales estimated to be non-recyclable, China launched its National Sword initiative in 2017, setting new standards for recyclables it would accept. By 2018, it was forcing the return of any bales that weren’t 99.5% recyclable. This year, they’ve whittled down what they’ll accept to only the most valuable plastics and paper.

With China’s focus on a cleaner economy and environment, the country has announced they will stop importing all recyclables Jan. 1. Other foreign markets are following with their own restrictions. As a result, U.S. waste companies are finding themselves stuck with recyclables nobody wants.

Asgian’s recycling stations — like those of many commercial haulers and recyclers in Southern California — no longer recycles plastics Nos. 3 through 7, and has become more selective in the paper products it recycles.

“We’re throwing out more because there’s no market,” he said.

The state hit a recycling peak in 2013 and 2014, with a 50% diversion rate. But by 2017 that had shrunk to 42%, according to the latest available data from CalRecycle, the state’s recycling agency. The downward trend is expected to continue, shrinking to 38% in 2020, according to Orange County Waste & Recycling projections.

The state target, meanwhile, is 75% recycling by 2020. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

California Has the Highest Poverty Rate in America. Why? – How is this possible? The Golden State’s economic growth has been robust in recent years, data show.

“California is the chief reason America is the only developed economy to achieve record GDP growth since the financial crisis of 2008 and ensuing global recession,” Bloomberg reported last year. “The capitalist juggernaut that is California helps explain why the state’s per capita income increased 9.5 percent since 2015, the most of any state and the most since 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

Nor does California’s notoriety as the nation’s most impoverished state stem from a lack of programs designed to alleviate poverty. Kerry Jackson explains in the Los Angeles Times:

“Sacramento and local governments have spent massive amounts in the cause. Several state and municipal benefit programs overlap with one another; in some cases, individuals with incomes 200% above the poverty line receive benefits. California state and local governments spent nearly $958 billion from 1992 through 2015 on public welfare programs, including cash-assistance payments, vendor payments and “other public welfare,” according to the Census Bureau. California, with 12% of the American population, is home today to about one in three of the nation’s welfare recipients.”

So how is it that California, which has spent nearly $1 trillion on antipoverty programs, has the highest poverty rate in the nation?

Jackson, a fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, suggests that the state’s war on poverty is one of the causes of California’s impoverished state, and why it is home to about one-third of the nation’s welfare population despite having just 12 percent of the population.

It turns out that state and local bureaucrats who administer California’s antipoverty programs have proven stubbornly resistant to pro-work reforms that have been effective at spurring individuals to pull themselves out of poverty. It’s a phenomenon familiar to those who have read the scholarship of economist Robert Niskanen, whose model of bureaucratic behavior suggested that bureaucrats tend to “maximize their own utility” rather than the interests of their constituents. Read More > from the Foundation for Economic Education

California’s hottest housing bill was just unexpectedly shelved. What you need to know: – In a procedural vote this morning, Senate Bill 50, which would have prohibited many cities from banning four-to-five-story apartment buildings around public transit and effectively ended local zoning rules exclusively reserved for single-family homes, failed to advance out of a key state Senate committee.

Its fate dealt an unexpected setback to pro-development forces in the state Capitol and a major victory for defenders of local control over housing decisions. It also throws an obstacle into Gov. Gavin Newsom’s path as he tries to goad the state into building a lot more housing.

While it’s theoretically conceivable that the bill could be resuscitated this year, odds are the earliest it will be reconsidered is January 2020.

…The new coalition was instrumental in getting the bill through two earlier committee votes, and gave proponents confidence that the legislation could be shepherded through the state Senate without significantly more pushback.

But supporters didn’t count on Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from the La Cañada Flintridge area and the chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Portantino’s district includes Pasadena, whose city representatives were some of the bill’s most vocal opponents.

The bill was among those Portantino’s committee suffocated as it sifted through its biannual suspense file—a rapid-fire approach to legislation that allows lawmakers to quickly pass favored bills while quietly dispatching others, either by holding them in committee or redesignating them “two-year bills,” effectively killing them for a year. Read More > at CALmatters

California’s Botched Motor-Voter Rollout Hovers Over 2020 – News of 2016 Russian hacking in Florida’s election system exploded in the headlines earlier this week, and fears that Kremlin agents or other foreign meddlers could do more of the same in 2020 has been a leading theme in news cycles for the last two years.

But a major foreign cyberattack on California’s new automated voter registration system during its glitch-filled rollout last spring flew mostly under the national media’s radar.

The California case is particularly vexing from election-integrity and voter-privacy perspectives because the hack targeted the motor-voter registration system just six days before its scheduled launch.

The state has had a motor-voter system up and running for years, but a new law required the Department of Motor Vehicles to electronically transmit information on drivers who are eligible to vote and who visit the Golden State’s DMV offices to the state’s voter rolls, unless they opt out.

Among the concerns surfacing now is that state officials never publicly acknowledged the hacking until California media reported on it last month. And there are lingering questions — and serious doubts — over whether the system’s numerous glitches have been fixed in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential primary and general election.

…The hack was hardly the only problem the DMV system faced. The entire rollout was bogged down with bugs and glitches responsible for upwards of 100,000 inaccurate voter-registration records, including wrong party preferences, voters incorrectly being designated as wanting to vote by mail, and at least 1,500 noncitizens wrongly allowed to register to vote. Read More > at Real Clear Politics

What The Hell Is Going On With UFOs And The Department Of Defense? – …In recent years, from what we can tell, in part by the reporting done by The War Zone itself, is that there is no real way to distinctly classify something like a UFO or USO in such a way that it gets reported and an investigation occurs on an official level within the military. This appears to be true for civilian government institutions, like the FAA, as well. The lack of a structured procedure and classification system, and the nebulous fear of being stigmatized by reporting things like UFOs—something that has long plagued the military and private sectors alike—has repressed the conveyance of information in unquantifiable, but hugely significant ways.

This reality has led to much speculation, and rightfully so, that the military knows far more about these strange happenings than they are willing to let on, at least on the surface. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they want to know more about intruders wielding fantastic technology that makes them impervious to existing countermeasures and defenses?

Now all this appears to be changing on a grand level, but why?

The fact is that we actually know that in the last 15 years, under at least somecircumstances, the military has wanted certain high-fidelity data related to encounters with what many would call UFOs. The most compelling encounter of our time, at least that we know of, occurred in and around where the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group was operating during workups to deployment in 2004.

The incident, or really the series of incidents as they occurred over a number of days, have become near legendary in nature as the witnesses involved are highly credible in nature and numerous. In addition, we have official reports detailing the incident that convey a very compelling story, as well as hours of testimony from those who were there—a group of sailors and naval aviators that seems to be emerging more and more out of the shadows with each passing day. Read More > at The WarZone

Energy and the Information Infrastructure Part 5: Robots Eat Too: Huang’s Law & The Voracious Appetite of Artificial Intelligence – Will future bureaucrats impose CAFÉ-like fuel efficiency standards on the engines of artificial intelligence (AI)?

After all, computing necessarily uses energy. And we know that AI computers under the hood of a useful robocar won’t have extension cords. If you do the math, when the all-robocar future does arrive, the energy used just by all those automotive AI ‘brains’ will itself outstrip the fuel used by all the cars on California roads today. That is, as they say, not nothing.

Or, put differently, the energy needed by silicon sensors and logic to navigate cars will degrade a vehicle’s propulsion fuel mileage by at least 10%, likely more. Measured in Detroit rather than Silicon Valley terms, that means a robocar’s brain will burn fuel at the equivalent rate of 150 mpg. That may sound impressive but it’s at least 1,000 times less efficient than the fuel use of the average natural, if addled brain.

With the emergence of AI as an entirely new class of computing, one can ask interesting questions: How much energy will it take to drive to work, or compose a symphony, or discover a new drug? We’re not talking about the electricity to power an electric car, a concert hall, or laboratory. Instead the question is about the energy needed to power the brains. Read More > at Real Clear Energy

When Some Films Are Banned, Only Outlaws Will Have Banned Films – The prerecorded disc market is about to disappear. At some point in the near future, UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and standard DVDs will no longer be sold by Amazon and other retailers because most content will be available for streaming in very high definition. As Jerry Del Colliano explains in his article “Netflix and Amazon are Killing Ultra HD Blu-ray and I Feel Fine” at Home Theater Review, Netflix and Amazon are leading the transition to eliminate the disc market because the economics of streaming content are so much more profitable than shipping a physical disc, even as it undercuts the traditional studio industry.

Long term, the silver disc is going the way of the dodo bird. That is going to piss off some people in the enthusiast home theater world, but the advantages that streaming bring to the table likely outweigh the downside of losing UHD Blu-ray someday. Yes, HD streaming kinda sucked as recently as a few years ago, but today it is so very close in performance to UHD Blu-ray that most people will want to just dial up a cover flow list of movie titles and shop that way versus having discs sent via USPS. Netflix could have kept the silver disc game going a little longer, but it was going to go away sooner or later, and they’ve got a horse in the race when it comes to the end of the silver disc.

The good news is that unlike the rise of MP3 audio, which was far inferior to Compact Disc, home theater enthusiasts are going to gain the convenience that Apple has taught us sells over all else while not having to sacrifice much quality (if any at all after another codec revolution or two). A strong argument can be made that streaming has the ability to innovate better quality audio and video for music and movies faster than any silver disc format could, thus the long-term outlook for performance-oriented home theater enthusiast is a bright one.

When the day comes that only a handful of major streaming services – Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and soon Disney and Apple and others that fund the creation of content and control the content that you are able to view — then some films and television series that are now or in the future considered politically incorrect will begin to disappear.

It should be apparent that the number of movies on discs are already beginning to disappear from brick-and-mortar retailers (Costco, Best Buy, Walmart) even as some brick-and-mortars themselves are beginning to disappear. If you accept the idea that the prerecorded disc market will disappear then you should have the same concerns about censorship that you already have about social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (Google) because streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and soon Disney and Apple have already established their social justice/politically correct wokeness. Read More > at Ricochet

Cars will change more in the next decade than they have in the past century – They’ll likely look a lot different too. From the outside, the large air intakes and front grills that cool our combustion engines will no longer be needed, while wing mirrors will be replaced with cameras and sensors. Windows could be larger to allow liberated passengers to enjoy the view, or near non-existent to provide privacy. The Mercedes-Benz Vision URBANETIC demonstrates these radical new looks with a modular vehicle that can switch bodies to either move cargo or people.
Cars’ interiors will be much more flexible, some allowing customisation of colour, light, privacy, and layout at the touch of a button. Volvo’s recent 360c concept car envisages a multi-functional space that can transform into a lounge, an office and even a bedroom.

Sun visors will become a thing of the past, with smart glass allowing us to control the amount of entering daylight at the touch of a button. The Mercedes F015 concept car’s doors even have extra screens that can function as windows or entertainment systems.

Many cars will be fitted with augmented-reality systems, which will superimpose computer-generated visualisations onto the windscreen or other suitable display areas, to ease the passenger’s nerves from relinquishing the wheel by showing what the car is about to do.

Drivers will be able to communicate with their cars through speech or gesture commands. In high-end models, we may even see some early versions of brain-computer interfaces, which would associate patterns of brain activity with commands to control the car or entertain occupants. Similar technology has already been used to control prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs.

The ever-growing internet of things will become central to how our integrated cars move us around and communicate with the outside world. Sensors designed to recognise and communicate with upgraded road signs, markings, networks of cameras, pedestrians, and other vehicles will allow cars to synchronise their movement, minimising fuel consumption and improving traffic flow. Cars will also be able to help authorities maintain road infrastructure, for example with tyre sensors that notify them of deteriorating road conditions. Read More > at The Conversation

Highly Potent Weed Has Swept The Market, Raising Concerns About Health Risks – As more states legalize cannabis, the number of people buying and using the drug has spiked — and the strains they have access to have become increasingly more potent.

That concerns scientists who study marijuana and its effects on the body, as well as emergency room doctors who say they’re starting to see more patients with weed-associated issues.

Some 26 million Americans, ages 12 and older, said they used marijuana in 2017, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It’s not clear how many users have had serious health issues from potent weed, and there’s a lot that’s still unknown about the potential risks. But scientists are starting to learn more about some of them.

The potency of weed depends on the amount of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main compound responsible for the drug’s psychoactive effects. One study of pot products seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found the potency increased from about 4% THC in 1995 to about 12% in 2014. By 2017, another study showed, the potency of illicit drug samples had gone up to 17.1% THC.

…But people might not be aware of the potential health risks of highly potent weed. “The negative effects of cannabis have primarily been isolated and localized to THC,” says Gruber. “So it stands to reason that higher levels of THC may in fact confer a greater risk for negative outcome.”

“In general, people think, ‘Oh, I don’t have to worry about marijuana. It’s a safe drug,’ ” says Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The notion that it is a completely safe drug is incorrect when you start to address the consequences of this very high content of 9-THC.” Read More > from KQED

Trump Administration Cancels Feds’ High-Speed Rail Agreement With California – The Trump administration says it’s terminating a federal agreement with California’s high-speed rail project and taking away nearly $1 billion in funding, setting up yet another legal fight between California and Washington.

In a statement released Thursday, the Federal Railroad Administration says California has “repeatedly failed to comply” with the agreement and “failed to make reasonable progress on the project.”

It adds that the state has “abandoned its original vision of a high-speed passenger rail service connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, which was essential to its applications for FRA grant funding.” The statement also said the FRA was still exploring “all options” on getting $2.5 billion federal dollars it has already awarded for the project back from the state.

In a statement Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom called the termination “political retribution,” illegal, and “a direct assault on California.”

He would argue California has not abandoned its original high-speed rail vision, though cost hikes and delays have already led the state to scale the project — now estimated at $77.3 billion. But he did himself no favors in his February State of the State address, when he said that “right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.” Read More > from Capital Public Radio

Levin introduces bill to end sales of gasoline-powered cars in US by 2040 The measure also mandates 50% of all passenger vehicle sales in the nation must be zero-emission by 2030, ramping up to 100% by 2040

Zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs, may make up less than 2 percent of the nation’s car sales but a bill introduced on Capitol Hill by Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, would require half of all sales of new passenger vehicles in 2030 be ZEVs, with the mandate ramping up 5 percent per year to 100 percent by 2040 — essentially eliminating the sale of gasoline-powered passenger cars in the U.S. in little more than 20 years.

Levin introduced what is called the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act in the House of Representatives while fellow Democrat, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, introduced the bill in the U.S. Senate.

“I think it’s really important that we not just have big, bold principles but that we actually have concrete actions that will help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Levin, who in January succeeded Darrell Issa in California’s 49th Congressional District that includes parts of San Diego and Orange counties.

The bill would amend the Clean Air Act and set a federal zero-emissions standard for vehicles and boost the sales of battery electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Read More . in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Off-Price Grocery Chain Hopes To Raise $100M With IPO, Open 2,000 More Stores – Though it has been around for over 70 years, Grocery Outlet’s business model perfectly aligns with current retail trends, and it is trying to take advantage.

The off-price supermarket chain filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission this week for an initial public offering with the goal of raising $100M, CNN Money reports. The new capital would help fulfill Grocery Outlet’s aim of opening 2,000 new stores in the coming years.

Grocery Outlet’s business model consists of buying products straight from suppliers with overstocked products or who had other stores cancel orders. The increased urgency of the suppliers to get rid of their product allows Grocery Outlet to offer prices that it claims are 40% less than its competitors.

With over 300 stores spread among California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Pennsylvania, Grocery Outlet brought in $2.3B in revenue last year and reported same-store sales growth for the 15th straight year. Of the 2,000 planned openings, the company believes it can deliver 30 in 2019. Read More > at Bisnow

Youth Unemployment Is Down, but Are Young People Actually Working? – Last summer, President Donald Trump was jumping with joy at news that the unemployment rate for workers between the ages of 16 and 24 had reached a worth-tweeting-about 50-year low.

At the time of the president’s Twitter post, youth unemployment had dropped to 9.2 percent. It was later revised to 8.6 percent, then dipped to 8.1 percent in November—a rate unseen since February 1969. It currently stands at 8.9 percent.

These numbers are a helpful indicator of America’s improving labor-market conditions, signaling that younger Americans looking for a job are having an easier time finding one. The United States has seen an overall decline in the youth unemployment rate from its Great Recession height of 19.2 percent in December 2010.

But this happy figure doesn’t tell us everything we need to know. The unemployment rate is a narrow measure that counts only those who are actively looking for work. One way to get a broader view of the health of the labor market is to look at the labor force participation rate of younger Americans.

That number tells an interesting, and at times puzzling, story. After a surge from the ’60s to the end of the ’70s, the share of young adults who are in the labor force—the percentage, that is, who are either working or looking for work—has been declining. Labor force participation for people aged 16–24 fell from 69.1 percent in 1979 to 54.1 percent in 2014. It has since gone back up a little to 55 percent.

The numbers are even lower if you only look at teens: According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, labor-force participation for people under the age of 20 peaked at 59.3 percent in 1978 and then started dropping precipitously around 2001 to reach a low of 32.5 percent in 2014. It stands at 35 percent today. Read More > at Reason

Gov. Newsom’s Reverse Robin Hood Ploy – This week California Governor Gavin Newsom is taking a statewide tour to promote his plans to expand Obamacare, including coverage to undocumented adults.

To pay for the expansion, Gov. Newsom wants to reinstate the individual mandate penalty – penalizing Californians who don’t buy insurance they cannot afford. This is the wrong approach.

When the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalty first went into effect under Pres. Barack Obama, the penalty was 1% of income or a maximum of $285 per family ($95 per adult and $47.50 per child).

The Newsom healthcare penalty will be $695 per adult per year or 2.5% of annual household income. But that’s just part of the story on who will pay the penalty.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the majority of penalties were assessed against taxpayers earning less than $50k annually: “Taxpayers with incomes below $25,000 accounted for about 45% of returns subject to the penalty, while those with incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 accounted for another 37%.”

So Gov. Newsom’s effort to expand Obamacare will come at a cost to lower-income taxpayers, pressed by increasing costs for housing, fuel, and other aspects of daily life, and it will be at the expense of communities who can least afford to pay for another government program. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

10 new things we’ve learned about death – If you don’t want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.

1) You are conscious after death

Many of us imagine death will be like drifting to sleep. Your head gets heavy. Your eyes flutter and gently close. A final breath and then… lights out. It sounds perversely pleasant. Too bad it may not be that quick.

Dr. Sam Parnia, the director of critical care and resuscitation research at NYU Langone Medical Center, researches death and has proposed that our consciousness sticks around while we die. This is due to brainwaves firing in the cerebral cortex — the conscious, thinking part of the brain — for roughly 20 seconds after clinical death…

2) Zombie brains are a thing (kind of)

Recently at the Yale School of Medicine, researchers received 32 dead pig brains from a nearby slaughterhouse. No, it wasn’t some Mafia-style intimidation tactic. They’d placed the order in the hopes of giving the brains a physiological resurrection.

The researchers connected the brains to an artificial perfusion system called BrainEx. It pumped a solution through them that mimicked blood flow, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the inert tissues.

This system revitalized the brains and kept some of their cells “alive” for as long as 36 hours postmortem. The cells consumed and metabolized sugars. The brains’ immune systems even kicked back in. And some samples were even able to carry electrical signals…

5) Near-death experiences may be extreme dreams

Near-death experiences come in a variety of styles. Some people float above their bodies. Some go to a supernatural realm and meet passed-on relatives. Others enjoy the classic dark-tunnel-bright-light scenario. One thing they all have in common: We don’t know what’s going on.

study published in Neurology suggests near-death experiences stem from a type of sleep-wake state. It compared survivors who had near-death experiences with those who did not. The researchers found that people with near-death experiences were more likely to also undergo REM intrusions, states in which sleep intrudes upon wakeful consciousness… Read More > at the Big Think

Key conflicts roil California’s ever-evolving waterscape – As 2018 was winding down, one of California’s leading newspapers suggested, via a front-page, banner-headlined article, that the drought that had plagued the state for much of this decade may be returning.

Just weeks later, that same newspaper was reporting that record-level midwinter storms were choking mountain passes with snow, rapidly filling reservoirs and causing serious local flooding.

Neither was incorrect at the time, but their juxtaposition underscores the unpredictable nature of California’s water supply.

The fickleness of nature has been compounded by a decades-long, multi-front struggle among hundreds of water agencies and other interested parties over allocations of the precious liquid, not unlike the perpetual religious and ethnic wars that consumed medieval Europe.

Adding another layer of complexity, the conflicts over California’s water supply are often proxy wars for land-use disputes, involving such issues as whether the state’s chronic shortage of housing should be addressed by continuing to carve farmlands into subdivisions or shift to a high-density mode that builds up rather than out. Water supply is very often the decisive factor in land-use decisions, thanks to state laws requiring developers to prove they can obtain enough water to serve their projects.

Even though the state doesn’t seem to have a comprehensive approach to managing its water—although Gov. Gavin Newsom says he wants one—the big conflicts are deeply interconnected and appear to be reaching their climactic phases. How they are resolved over the next few years will write an entirely new chapter in California’s water history, changing priorities and perhaps shifting water from agriculture to urban users and environmental enhancement. But how that diversion will occur and how much water will be affected are very much up in the air. Read More > at CALmatters

Study: Media shifts to opinion, advocacy, ‘personal perspective’ – That shift many have sensed from hard news to opinion and advocacy in the media, especially on cable TV, is real, according to a new and authoritative report from research giant Rand Corporation.

In a study of trends from before 2000 to 2017, it found a big shift in how news is presented on TV and in online reports that means more “personal perspective,” issue advocacy, and opinion.

Rand, in its report News in a Digital Age,compared the periods for newspapers, broadcast TV, cable, and online. It looked at the words used, but did not analyze the politics of the stories, reporters, or outlets.

Newspapers, it said, have shifted in how they tell their stories, away from the old who, what, when, where, why and how approach to storytelling and personal perspective.

Broadcast has shifted to offering more opinions and arguments.

Cable TV has gone all in on opinion over news. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Don’t Be Afraid of a Cashless Future – This spring, Philadelphia became the first U.S. city to require retailers and restaurants to accept cash payments. Proponents of the law say it will ensure people without credit cards or phones have access to food and services. Certainly, looking out for our least fortunate residents is admirable and well intentioned. But there are ways to have a positive impact on communities without stifling innovations.

Requiring businesses to take cash to protect poor people superficially makes sense. Existing law already requires certain places to accept various forms of government assistance. However, most airlines, Amazon Go convenience stores and newer fast casual chain restaurants like Tender Greens do not accept cash. And many other food chains, including some Starbucks stores and Dig Inn, Dos Toros and Argo Tea locations, don’t take cash, according to the New York Times.

And cash is nonsensical for sellers of luxury products. Should jewelers, piano sellers and art galleries be required to take cash? But simply exempting those with expensive or luxury items wouldn’t make this Luddite law better.

…This is a law choking innovation.

Businesses have great reasons for moving away from cash transactions. Not having to deal with cash saves time, cuts costs, reduces theft, eliminates armed robberies for cash and mitigates disease transmission from handling cash. It also reduces the need to buy expensive cash registers and hire and train cashiers. These costs are often a barrier to entry for new retail businesses. A cashless environment allows easy record keeping and reduces fraud. From a customer standpoint, it moves lines quicker. More than once, I have waited in line with frustration as the person in front of me fumbled to find coins to pay. Read More > at Route Fifty

Uber Drivers Cannot Unionize, Says National Labor Relations Board – Uber drivers are contractors, not employees, according to a memorandum from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), striking a blow to union organizing efforts among ride-hailing operators.

The memo, written by NLRB General Counsel Peter B. Robb, states that drivers are free to set their schedules and work for competing companies, which means they are not employees under federal labor law. While the ultimate decision falls under the purview of the NLRB’s regional director, they typically adopt the advice of the board’s general counsel.

Robb’s memo concurs with a letter the Labor Department released last month that classified gig economy workers similarly.

The NLRB’s final ruling will apply only to union rights. It will not affect the slew of lawsuits brought against ride-hailing companies in pursuit of higher wages and overtime protections, among other demands. And it likely won’t placate the Uber and Lyft drivers across the country who went on strike last week, demanding that companies provide the benefits they grant to employees. Read More > at Reason 

Fewer babies as US birth rate fails to rebound with economy – America’s baby bust isn’t over. The nation’s birth rates last year reached record lows for women in their teens and 20s, a government report shows, leading to the fewest babies in 32 years.

The provisional report, released Wednesday and based on more than 99% of U.S. birth records, found 3.788 million births last year. It was the fourth year the number of births has fallen, the lowest since 1986 and a surprise to some experts given the improving economy.

The fertility rate of 1.7 births per U.S. woman also fell 2%, meaning the current generation isn’t making enough babies to replace itself. The fertility rate is a hypothetical estimate based on lifetime projections of age-specific birth rates.

Whether more U.S. women are postponing motherhood or forgoing it entirely isn’t yet clear.

“I keep expecting to see the birth rates go up and then they don’t,” said demographer Kenneth M. Johnson of University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy.

He estimates 5.7 million babies would have been born in the past decade if fertility rates hadn’t fallen from pre-recession levels.

“That’s a lot of empty kindergarten rooms,” said Johnson, who wasn’t involved in the report.

Other experts are not concerned, predicting today’s young women will catch up with childbearing later in their lives. The only two groups with slightly higher birth rates in 2018 were women in their late 30s and those in their early 40s. Read More > from the Associated Press

An entire industry is being built around CBD, but we really don’t know that much about it – An entire industry is being built around cannabidiol, or CBD, one of the many chemical constituents of the cannabis plant. Advocates of the compound say it confers all sorts of health benefits, from mitigating the symptoms of depression and anxiety to treating glaucoma.

CBD is cropping up in protein powders, bath salts, makeup and even jelly beans. But scientists are still unsure of exactly what the benefits — and pitfalls — of CBD are.

Here’s what we do know: CBD can help treat some types of pediatric seizures. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved GW Pharmaceuticals PLC’s Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy in patients two years of age and older. But, to get to that point, GW Pharmaceuticals had to go through a long and rigorous drug-approval process to show the drug’s safety and efficacy through clinical trials. This hasn’t been done with CBD for any other indication.

While it’s true that CBD has shown promise in pre-clinical and animal trials in addressing a number of issues such as pain, anxiety, neuroinflammation and substance-use disorder, there’s still not nearly enough peer-reviewed research available, said Ziva Cooper, research director of the Cannabis Research Initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles. To truly determine the effects of CBD in humans, many further studies need to be done — studies with humans, not just animals, she said. Read More > at MarketWatch

Truth Decay – What is the greatest threat facing human civilization? This question is obviously meant to be provocative, and is probably inherently unanswerable. But I think there is a reasonable argument to be made that perhaps the greatest threat is the deterioration of fact-based political and social discussion. The argument is that this is a meta-problem that keeps us from effectively addressing all other problems.

There are, of course, potential threats that could override everything else, such as an asteroid barreling down on the Earth or a super pandemic that could wipe out humanity. Most problems we face or are likely to face, however, can be potentially effectively managed, or at least mitigated, if we optimally marshal our resources and planning. The real problem we are facing is that we appear to be increasingly unable to do so.

Some observers identify a large part of the problem as “Truth Decay.” The RAND corporation (a think tank of scientists and researchers), which has been researching the issue, defines Truth Decay as:

1- increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data

2- a blurring of the line between opinion and fact

3- the increasing relative volume and resulting influence of opinion and personal experience over fact

4- declining trust in formerly respected sources of facts.

I think that list seems reasonable. Clearly this is a multifaceted problem, and other researchers have identified these various factors before. In The Death of Expertise, for example, Tom Nichols focuses on item 4, the declining trust in experts and the very notion of expertise itself. Read More > at NeuroLogica

Car Keys Mysteriously Stopped Working in This Small Ohio Town, And We Now Know Why – A perplexing riddle affecting dozens of families in the Cleveland area has finally been solved, but not before weeks of wreaking havoc on people who – bizarre as it sounds – were unable to open their car and garage doors.

In late April, residents of the town of North Olmsted, Ohio began finding that their wireless car key fobs and garage door openers had simply ceased to function, or worked unpredictably when they did work at all.

Sometimes it would be one of a pair of remote key fobs that wouldn’t work, while the other one did. At other times, car doors could be opened wirelessly when parked in other places, but if the vehicle returned to North Olmsted, the locked doors became inert once more.

While dozens of neighbours across multiple nearby streets all reported the same phenomenon, nobody knew what was causing the widespread malfunction.

Some suggested it might be related to goings on at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, or even a technological hazard related to a NASA research centre in the area.

Others, including city officials, suggested the malfunction might be related to telecommunications and electricity providers, who dispatched their own crews to investigate whatever could be jamming the residents’ radio transmitters.

Despite those early suspicions, an intensive door-to-door investigation led by local authorities determined it was indeed just one rogue device behind the town’s radio transmitters going dark.

The culprit, it turns out, was a home-made device invented by a local electronics enthusiast. He’d designed a specialised gadget to inform him if anybody was upstairs in his house while he was working downstairs in the basement.

“The way he designed it, it was persistently putting out a 315 megahertz signal. There was no malicious intent of the device.”

That constant broadcast effectively jammed the radio signal for radio devices installed in car doors and garage doors, which frequently operate in the 315MHz to 433MHz radio band. Read More > at Science Alert

Oakland port commissioners move A’s stadium plan forward – The Oakland A’s cleared a big hurdle toward a new stadium, with Oakland port commissioners unanimously approving an exclusive negotiating agreement for the team’s chosen 50-acre site at Howard Terminal.

Turning away objections from maritime interests, port commissioners said the A’s will be given four years to reach a final agreement, obtain necessary permit and conduct environment reviews. Under terms of the 66-year lease, the A’s would pay $3.8 million per year for the first 20 years, with payments increasing after that. A last-minute amendment added by commissioners to the term sheet requires the A’s to work with seaport businesses to ensure the stadium doesn’t hurt the maritime industry or interfere with port operations.

After years of false starts, the A’s are moving forward toward building a privately financed, 35,000-seat ballpark that would open by 2023. The port agreement is non-binding, but during its four years the port will not negotiate with parties other then the A’s. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

The Places in America with the Most Cases of Human Trafficking – Human trafficking is the crime of transporting a person from one country to another, usually for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and it’s much more common that one may know. Underlying much of the prostitution industry and illegal massage parlors is the horrible fact that many of the women supposedly working there are being held against their will.

Spotting when someone is being trafficked against their will is challenging, but increasingly airlines, hotels, and other industries are training their employees to spot when it’s happening and to alert authorities. Increasingly, flight attendants and hotel receptionists are helping to spot and rescue these victims.

Just how common is human trafficking in the United States and where is it taking place? Along with Priceonomics customer, Geoffrey Nathan Law we analyzed data from The National Human Trafficking Hotline organization on the number of reports it receives each year and their location. While it’s important to recognize that only a small fraction of actual human trafficking cases get detected and reported, the data set provides a glimpse into the prevalence of the crime.

We found that reported human trafficking has been increasing over the last decade, though thankfully 2018 was first recent year that saw a decline. Reports of human trafficking is most prevalent in Washington DC, Nevada and Florida and least prevalent in New Hampshire, Idaho and Massachusetts. The US cities where human trafficking is most reported per capita are Washington DC, Atlanta, Orlando, and Las Vegas.

Read More > Priceonomics

Emerald Trash Heap – Seattle is overwhelmed by garbage and filth, but the city’s leaders won’t admit it. – Over the past few years, Seattle has become a dumping ground for millions of pounds of garbage, needles, feces, and biohazardous waste, largely emanating from the hundreds of homeless encampments that have sprouted across the city. Now, the Emerald City is on the verge of a full-blown public-health crisis. Last year saw a 400 percent increase in HIV infections among mostly homeless addicts and prostitutes in the city’s northern corridor. Public-health officials are sounding the alarms about the return of diseases like typhus, tuberculosis, and trench fever. Even the region’s famed mussels and clams have tested positive for opioids.

While anyone who travels through Seattle can see the trash and litter along the roadside and green spaces, I wanted to understand the scale of the problem with more quantitative precision. Last month, I requested from the city all public complaints about trash, needles, tents, feces, and biohazardous waste from 2018. I then geocoded each complaint to create a data visualization that I call the Great Seattle Trash Map. The map documents more than 19,000 citizen complaints, from mundane reports of abandoned appliances to more serious pleas to clean up dangerous waste. Each data point on the map demonstrates that homeless encampments, opioid addiction, and mental illness have created significant disorder in almost every corner of Seattle.

Only a few years ago, while Jenny Durkan, now mayor, was campaigning for office on a centrist policy platform, city government responded to growing public discontent and made an honest effort to clean up the streets. From 2017 to 2018, municipal cleanup crews picked up 8.6 million pounds of trash from illegal homeless encampments. Since then, however, the numbers have fallen off dramatically, partly because of pressure from activists to “stop the sweeps” of homeless encampments, which they call inhumane and unconstitutional. In the first four months of this year, municipal crews have cleaned up only eight sites.

Rather than take additional steps to remove illegal encampments, officials have chosen to accept, and even enable, them. The city council recently launched a pilot program to offer weekly garbage-pickup services to ten of the more than 400 encampments, promoting the illusion that these illegal tent cities are just like any other neighborhood. The program has been a failure. According to a Seattle Times report, campers returned only 26 percent of the trash bags that the city distributed and “even some of the ones returned had been ripped apart by people looking for needles with a bit of heroin left.” Read More > at City Journal

German Failure on the Road to a Renewable Future – In 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country was turning away from nuclear energy in favor of a renewable future. Since then, however, progress has been limited. Berlin has wasted billions of euros and resistance is mounting.

…The vision of the fantastic new world of the future was born eight years ago, on March 11, 2011, the day an earthquake-triggered tsunami damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. The disaster led Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet to resolve to phase out nuclear power in Germany. It was an historic event and an historic decision.

But the sweeping idea has become bogged down in the details of German reality. The so-called Energiewende, the shift away from nuclear in favor of renewables, the greatest political project undertaken here since Germany’s reunification, is facing failure. In the eight years since Fukushima, none of Germany’s leaders in Berlin have fully thrown themselves into the project, not least the chancellor. Lawmakers have introduced laws, decrees and guidelines, but there is nobody to coordinate the Energiewende, much less speed it up. And all of them are terrified of resistancefrom the voters, whenever a wind turbine needs to be erected or a new high-voltage transmission line needs to be laid out.

Analysts from McKinsey have been following the Energiewende since 2012, and their latest report is damning. Germany, it says, “is far from meeting the targets it set for itself.”

Germany’s Federal Court of Auditors is even more forthright about the failures. The shift to renewables, the federal auditors say, has cost at least 160 billion euros in the last five years. Meanwhile, the expenditures “are in extreme disproportion to the results,” Federal Court of Auditors President Kay Scheller said last fall, although his assessment went largely unheard in the political arena. Scheller is even concerned that voters could soon lose all faith in the government because of this massive failure.

Surveys document the transformation of this grand idea into an even grander frustration. Despite being hugely accepting initially, Germans now see it as being too expensive, too chaotic and too unfair. Read More > at Spiegel Online

The dark reason so many millennials are miserable and broke – Nearly half say social media has influenced what they’ve bought, versus only about a third of the rest of us, a new survey reveals.

You’re not going to like this.

Millennials spend more time on social media than older generations: People ages 25-34 spend 141 minutes per day on it, versus 105 for the 35-44 set. And that could be hurting both their finances and mental health.

Indeed, nearly half of millennials (49%) say that their spending habits have been influenced by the photos and experiences their friends share on social media, compared with only about one-third of Americans in general, according to a data survey of more than 1,000 Americans by financial firm Charles Schwab.

Other surveys have uncovered similar trends: Roughly two in three millennials think that social media has a negative impact on their financial well-being, according to a 2018 survey of more than 2,000 millennials from financial firm Fidelity. Data released in 2018 by mobile bank firm Varo Money found that 53% of millennials admit to buying something they saw advertised on social media. And a 2018 survey from Allianz Life shows that more than half of millennials (57%, versus just 28% of Gen Xers and 7% of boomers) say they’ve spent money they hadn’t planned to because of something they saw on social media.

This is partly because millennials say they feel pressure to keep up with their friends’ spending — and of those, nearly half say that social media posts of friends’ vacations and lifestyles contribute to that pressure, according to 2017 data from TD Ameritrade. … Read More > at MarketWatch

California Gov. Newsom Changes Course On Plan To Pay For Immigrant Health Coverage – The California Governor had planned to divert public health dollars from several counties to help provide health coverage to young undocumented immigrants.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration Friday reversed course on his plan to divert public health dollars from several counties to help provide health coverage to young adults who are in the country illegally.

The administration heeded the alarm sounded by Sacramento, Placer, Santa Barbara and Stanislaus counties, which had warned that the governor’s plan would compromise their ability to cope with surging rates of sexually transmitted diseases and, in some cases, measles outbreaks.

“The Administration has subsequently reevaluated this proposal due to the potential negative impacts to public health activities in these counties,” Vivek Viswanathan, chief deputy director of the state Department of Finance, wrote in a letter Friday to the chairs of the state Assembly and Senate Budget Committees. Read More > at Route Fifty

California’s Marijuana Tax Revenue Still Sucks Stale Bong Water – California’s largely incompetent and heavily taxed roll-out of legal recreational marijuana sales continues to not pay dividends.

This week Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration cut $223 million out of the state’s projections of tax revenue from marijuana sales through June 2020.

At this point, that’s not a surprise. Between its extremely high tax rates and its foot-dragging in vendor licensing, California has done such a terrible job implementing marijuana legalization that it made only half the taxes over the first year that the authorities projected—$345 million rather than $643 million. The Golden State has made it such a nightmare for consumers to buy legal recrational marijuana and for vendors to sell it—so much so that the state still has a massive black market. In some communities, according to the Associated Press, half of all marijuana purchases still take place illicitly.

This isn’t entirely due to the state’s huge excise taxes, but Sacramento still deserves a good chunk of the blame. It set high tax rates, then gave cities and counties the authority to charge additional taxes and to control the local licensing. And some cities have done an awful job of actually letting legal marijuana sales happen. Los Angeles, for example, has been so bad about licensing vendors that illegal dispensaries continue to operate, prompting the possibility of an expensive police crackdown that will perpetuate the drug war rather than end it. Read More > at Reason

Hitting the Books: Autonomous cars will do more than drive you around – The idea that the ideal future involves fleets of shared-use autonomous cars does not acknowledge the true nature of how humans interact with their personal transportation, nor does it acknowledge the motives of carmakers. Shared RTMs (Robotic Transportation Machine) make a lot of sense in dense urban areas, places where a high proportion of the population may not already own a car. This is a significant market, and I’m pretty sure there will, one day, be self-driving fleet vehicles to serve the transportation needs of the people there.

The idea that RTMs will bring about the death of private car ownership is taken almost as a given by many, including many Very Serious Business media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, which has published articles like “The End of Car Ownership,” or the Economist’s “Why driverless cars will mostly be shared, not owned,” or Business Insider, which in 2017 cited a study that predicted that in fifteen years only 20 percent of Americans will own a car.

These predictions are pretty out there, I think. Do any of these people have kids? Have they seen how much equipment, junk, and random stuff hauling around a human child generates? Have they thought about the logistics of moving all that stuff from car to car? No, of course they haven’t. Half the reason for having a car is that it is a mobile base for you and all the stuff you don’t know where else to put. Sure, in some dense cities, not having a car means a lot less hassle and an easier life. But everywhere? No. No way. Even in some dense but vast urban areas, like sprawling Los Angeles, where a lot of the population could be served with fleet cars, for logistical and cultural reasons private car ownership will still be desirable. Ever had an awful job and eaten lunch or taken a nap in your car because it was your only refuge? Do you keep jackets and umbrellas and other useful real-world things in your car? Do you like to listen to your own music in your car? Do you sometimes do multiple things in the course of a day that involves multiple packages or parcels or items and you don’t want to have to haul them around everywhere on your back like some refugee?

Of course you do, for all these things, because a car isn’t just a transportation device. It’s also a space. A location. A car is one of the few things that can be a means to a location and an independent location itself. Very often when we’re, say, talking to someone on the phone while driving (using our hands-free options of course, with our hands firmly gripping the wheel at 9 and 3) and the person asks where we are, an entirely acceptable answer is “in the car.” No further elaboration is often needed. You’re in the car, and the space of the car is sufficient description about your surroundings and what you’re likely to be doing. Read More > at Engadget

Gavin Newsom wants to fix California’s housing crisis. So what are his options? – Three months ago Newsom challenged lawmakers to get him housing proposals that he could sign into law. He’s put his office to work, too, setting aside $1.75 billion in his budget to spur home construction, and threatening to sue cities that fail to create plans for affordable housing.

“No one can disagree that we have a housing crisis in the state of California, highlighted by the fact that we only built 77,000 housing units last year. Which is deplorable,” Newsom said when heunveiled his updated budget during a May 9 press conference.

…A leading housing proposal is Senate Bill 50, which would rewrite zoning regulations and force cities and counties to allow “high density” housing construction near transit hubs and job centers.

The proposed solution requires the state’s largest counties to allow taller buildings — and therefore more units — within half a mile of rail and ferry stations, as well as within one-fourth mile of a bus stop. SB 50 also allows developers to construct “fourplex” buildings throughout the state.

…Newsom applauded an Assembly committee in late April, after members passed a bill that imposes a rent increase cap of no more than 5 percent above the Consumer Price Index.

“The California Dream is in peril if our state doesn’t act to address the housing affordability crisis,” Newsom said after Assembly Bill 1482 earned approval from the committee. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

Want to earn six figures? Consider working at Walmart – Walmart, long criticized for underpaying workers, seems particularly eager to shed that label. The world’s biggest retailer revealed this week that its store managers earn an average of $175,000 a year — that’s nearly four times the roughly $47,000 a typical U.S. worker makes.

Full-time workers at Walmart earn $14.26 per hour, which comes to just under $30,000 a year and is nearly double the federal hourly minimum wage of $7.25 (More than half the company’s hourly U.S. employees are full-time, according to Walmart, suggesting that many of its workers are part-time and may earn less.) The lowest starting wage for any worker at Walmart, full-time or part-time, is $11 an hour, according to the company.

Walmart moved to rehabilitate its reputation for paying poorly in 2015, when it pledged to boost wages by $2.7 billion over two years, as well as offer more training and education for workers. Last year, it increased starting hourly pay to $11 for full-time employees. Meanwhile, Walmart made headlines in January when it announced that it was boosting the annual salary for 8,000 truck drivers to an average of $87,500 year. Read More > at CBS News

After Losing Nearly $4 Billion Last Year, Postal Service on Track to Lose $7 Billion This Year – The U.S. Postal Service lost more than $2 billion during the second quarter of the fiscal year, putting it on track to finish the current year more than $7 billion in the red—way worse than the nearly $4 billion in losses it posted last year.

In its quarterly fiscal report, published today, the Post Office reported small decreases in mail volume and overall revenue compared to the same quarter of 2018. Its big losses are driven by a sharp increase in expenses, primarily workers’ compensation costs, pension liabilities, and payments for retirees’ health benefits.

For the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2018, the Postal Service recorded a then-record loss of $3.9 billion. At the time, Postmaster General Megan Brennan bluntly declared that the agency “cannot generate revenue or cut enough costs to pay our bills” and predicted that the agency would continue to post losses at “an accelerating rate.”

After losing $1.5 billion in the first quarter of the current fiscal year, the Post Office has now lost $3.6 billion in just six months. That comes even after an increase in the cost of sending first-class mail. The cost of a stamp jumped 5 percent on January 1, and other mailing services increased by 2.5 percent. The agency predicted that those changes would increase revenue by $1.7 billion—but expenses have been outpacing revenues by a wide margin. Read More > at Reason 

Drones in Aisle 5? Grocery stores are becoming unusual hotbeds of innovation – In a grocery store somewhere in North America, a small drone floats from aisle to aisle, hovering like a hummingbird that has traded its nimble wings for tiny propellers.

Each time the autonomous robot drops down to scan a crowded shelf using an onboard camera, the machine collects valuable data about the store’s ever-changing inventory.

What would take a person hours to accomplish — tediously checking shelves for missing or misplaced products — is accomplished in minutes by the tiny aircraft. Once finished, the drone uploads its findings to the cloud, setting a massive supply chain in motion and offering the store’s owners, and potentially brand manufacturers, the kind of precise data about shopping habits that has largely eluded brick-and-mortar stores.

Not so long ago, stepping inside a grocery store — with its canned goods, harsh lighting and outdated Muzak playlists — felt like going back in time. The industry’s business model had changed little over the past century. Now, experts say, the industry finds itself in the midst of a technological upheaval, one that is providing the public with a glimpse of a future far beyond self-service kiosks and online shopping.

Those changes are not without risk. As U.S. retail companies embrace automation, many experts believe that the impact on jobs will be significant, with some analysts predicting as many as 7.5 million retail workers could lose their jobs over the next decade. Yet the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests the retail-sales labor force will grow over the decade between 2016 and 2026, though more slowly than average. Read More > in The Denver Post

About Kevin

Councilmember - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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1 Response to Sunday Reading – 05/19/19

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