Sunday Reading – 06/09/19

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.

Should California be worried about Volcanoes? Yes, says a new USGS report. – You already know that California is vulnerable to devastating earthquakes, wildfires, and even floods. But it may surprise you to learn we’re also home to at least seven active volcanoes that could erupt at any time, spewing toxic gas, threatening infrastructure, and causing earthquakes.

“At least ten eruptions have taken place in the past 1,000 years, and future volcanic eruptions are inevitable,” according to a recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The researchers identified eight volcanic areas that pose a moderate, high, or very high threat, including the seven “active” spots: Medicine Lake volcano, Mount Shasta, Lassen Volcanic Center, Clear Lake volcanic field, the Long Valley volcanic region , Coso volcanic field, and Salton Buttes. The chance of one of these erupting over the next 30 years is 16%.

Given these facts, the USGS says it’s critical that local governments be prepared to respond to a volcanic emergency, just as they are with earthquakes. The new report is their chance for a wake-up call before it’s too late. Read More > at California City News 

Newly Released Files Document the FBI’s Participation in the Hunt for Bigfoot – If the FBI only releases files to the public when the subject of a file has died, and the FBI is releasing its files on Bigfoot, does that mean Bigfoot is dead?

Sadly, you won’t find the answer to that question in the 22 pages of archival documents the FBI just released detailing its investigation of the mythical creature.

What those pages do reveal, amazingly enough, is that the FBI took the hunt for Bigfoot seriously enough to test hair samples provided by an Oregon-based sasquatch enthusiast.

The FBI’s brief investigation into the fictitious reclusive man-beast began in August 1976, when it received a letter from Irish-born cryptozoologist Peter C. Byrne, head of Oregon’s Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition. Read More > at Reason  

Walmart Plans to Walk Into Your House to Deliver Groceries – Walmart Inc. wants to offer people the ultimate way to get perishable groceries. One of its workers will bring them to your house, open the door and then open the refrigerator to put in your order. It is another ratcheting up in the battle between the world’s largest retailer and Inc.

Walmart spelled out its reasoning by saying that since it already delivers groceries, and also offers grocery pickup, delivery to refrigerators is the next level of service. Its grocery pickup will operate out of 3,100 stores by the end of 2019. Its delivery service will operate out of 1,600.

Groceries are among Walmart’s single largest categories of products and services. It competes with both Amazon (which owns Whole Foods) and Kroger (the largest grocery chain in America). Amazon has used Whole Foods as leverage to move further into the grocery business. It is one way Amazon means to strengthen the breadth of its e-commerce offerings. Walmart wants to defend its grocery turf and extends its online competition with Amazon with its grocery delivery tactics. Walmart’s e-commerce business in the United States rose 43% in the last quarter of 2018. Groceries were the primary engine of the improvement. However, it remains miles behind Amazon in overall online sales in the United States. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Even In Deep Blue California, New PPIC Poll Suggests Only Democrats Back Impeachment – As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the California Democratic Party convention over the weekend, some delegates interrupted, shouting for her to impeach President Donald Trump.

But a new poll shows impeachment is out of step with a majority of Californians, although two-thirds of Golden State Democrats say Congress should begin impeachment proceedings.

But even in deep blue California, likely voters oppose even starting impeachment proceedings — for the moment, at least — 54 percent to 42 percent.

That gives some Democratic delegates pause.

“I believe, as a Democrat, that if we continue on this course in the U.S. Congress, we’re gonna lose the House and we’re gonna lose the presidency,” said Los Angeles County delegate Tony Fellow, a professor at Cal State Fullerton. “That’s not what the voters want.”

Just 9 percent of Republicans and 39 percent of independents say they’d support impeachment proceedings. Read More > at Capitol Public Radio

More than 1 million people are diagnosed with an STI every day – Hearing that you’ve contracted a sexually transmitted infection is obviously not great news, but it’s a reality for up to a million people every single day.

And a new report from the World Health Organization emphasizes the insanely high rate of new STI diagnoses while urging sexually active individuals to put their health and the wellbeing of their partners first.

The research paints a dire picture for sexual health advocates, using the most recent data available to show that the top four sexual transmitted infections are claiming an incredible number of victims and the trend is troubling.

According to the report, which includes 2016 health statistics for men and women between the ages of 15 and 49, some 127 million new cases of chlamydia were recorded in just a single calendar year. That’s on top of 87 million cases of gonorrhea, over 6 million cases of syphilis and 156 million cases of trichomoniasis.

That amounts to more than 376 million new cases annually of the four most common infections, meaning that there are more than 1 million new cases of curable STIs among people aged 15-49 years every single day. Read More > in the New York Post

FCC Votes to Stop More Suspected Robocalls – The Federal Communications Commission struck a blow at nuisance robocalls Thursday, voting to allow phone carriers to automatically enroll consumers in call-blocking programs that weed out suspected spam calls.

Americans receive more than 5 billion robocalls each month, and the FCC’s action comes as the public and consumer protection groups have increasingly urged both the FCC and Congress to crack down on scam calls. State attorneys general, which receive a lot of complaints about robocalls, have urged federal action, with many officials saying the ability of states to respond to scammers located outside the country is limited.

The FCC’s order will allow telecom companies, like Sprint and AT&T, to automatically block suspected robocalls from going through to customers’ phones. The order will also let customers opt in to more aggressive call-blocking services by allowing carriers to block all calls not emanating from a pre-approved list or address book. Read More > at Route Fifty

Baltimore Officials Estimate Damage From Ransomware Attack At Over $18 Million, Likely to Rise – Early last month, hackers infected somewhere around 10,000 Baltimore, Maryland city computers with a “file-locking” ransomware variant called RobbinHood. Those hackers demanded a ransom of 13 bitcoin (at the time worth around $76,000, and today around $100,000) that would go up over time if it was not promptly paid out—and which the city refused to pay out.

According to a Wednesday report in Ars Technica, Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young told reporters on Tuesday that crucial city services were now open for business, despite ongoing disruption. City Finance Director Henry Raymond added that some email accounts and phone lines had been restored, though many municipal payment and finance systems had to be operated in manual modes. Ars wrote that Young estimated the ongoing damage to be over $18 million, including “$8 million lost because of deferred or lost revenue while the city was unable to process payments.”

Notable concerns included problems with access to parking and traffic violation databases, which along with some other systems were for the time being dependent on “paper documents and manual workarounds,” Ars wrote. Additionally, a slow and labor-intensive process of authenticating and restoring login credentials for around 10,000 city employees is still ongoing and may not be complete until the end of the week. Read More > Gizmodo

The last Soviet citizen: The cosmonaut who was left behind in space – Sergei Krikalev was in space when the Soviet Union collapsed. Unable to come home, he wound up spending two times longer than originally planned in orbit. They simply refused to bring him back.

While tanks were rolling through Moscow’s Red Square, people built barricades on bridges, Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union went the way of history, Sergei Krikalev was in space. 350 km away from Earth, the Mir space station was his temporary home.

He was nicknamed “the last citizen of the USSR.” When the Soviet Union broke apart into 15 separate states in 1991, Krikalev was told that he could not return home because the country that had promised to bring him back home no longer existed.

Four months earlier, Krikalev, a 33-year-old flight engineer, had set off for the Mir space station from the Soviet Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is located in Kazakhstan. Krikalev’s mission was supposed to last five months, and his training had not prepared him to be in space longer than this.

Then the coup d’état happened. “For us, this came as a complete surprise,” Krikalev would recall. “We did not understand what was happening. When we were discussing it, we tried to understand how it would affect the space industry.”

And affect the space industry it did. Krikalev was told there was no money to bring him back. A month later, he still got the same answer: mission control was asking him to stay out there a bit longer. Another month passed, but still the same answer yet again. “They say it’s tough for me — not really good for my health. But now the country is in such difficulty, the chance to save money must be (the) top priority,” Discover Magazine quoted him as saying. Read More > at Russia Beyond

Is white meat really more healthful than red meat? – A new study breaks some bad news for meat eaters, as researchers find that white meat is just as harmful to cholesterol levels as red meat.

The paper counters the widespread belief that white meat is more healthful than red. This belief relies on a variety of observational studies that have found a link between red meat intake and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study found that abstaining from eating meat altogether lowered blood cholesterol much more than researchers had previously believed.

Consuming both red and white meat raised blood cholesterol levels more than consuming equivalent levels of plant-based proteins. “This was due primarily to increases in large LDL particles,” note the authors.

The raised levels of cholesterol did not depend on whether the diets also had high levels of saturated fats.

When we planned this study, we expected red meat to have a more adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels than white meat, but we were surprised that this was not the case — their effects on cholesterol are identical when saturated fat levels are equivalent.”

Dr. Ronald Krauss

Read More > at Medical News Today

As feds prepare antitrust case, Facebook and Google face a billion-dollar question: Does your data have value? – Some 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day. If 2.5 quintillion pennies would be laid out flat, they would cover Earth five times, MarketWatch previously reported. Most of the data is harvested, stored and owned by large companies.

When Facebook, Instagram and Twitter sell this data to advertising companies — in the form of billions of dollars a year in collective revenue — users get nothing in return except the free use of the social-media platform.

However, Facebook log-ins can be sold for as little as $5.20 each on the “dark web” because they afford criminals access to personal data that could potentially provide a gateway to other accounts.

The credentials to a PayPal account with a relatively high balance can be sold on the dark web for $247, on average, according to a report by content-marketing agency Fractl, which analyzed all the fraud-related listings on three large “dark web” marketplaces.

The value of data to companies and hackers provides insight into the contradictions on how much that data is actually worth.

The market is grappling with putting a price tag on your data, but the courts have yet to decide the value of that information. “It’s definitely up in the air,” said privacy-law expert William McGeveran, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota. Read More > at MarketWatch

Facebook shareholder revolt gets bloody: Powerless investors vote overwhelmingly to oust Zuckerberg as chairman – The Facebook shareholder revolt just got bloody.

Facebook revealed in a filing on Monday how investors voted on a raft of proposals at its annual shareholder meeting last week — and the results underline the unrest among outside investors.

According to an analysis of the results by Open Mic — an organization that works with activist shareholders to overhaul corporate governance at America’s biggest companies — independent shareholders overwhelmingly backed two proposals to weaken Mark Zuckerberg’s power.

Some 68% of ordinary investors, those who are not part of management or the board, want to oust Zuckerberg as chairman and bring in an independent figure to chair Facebook’s board. This was a significant increase on the 51% who voted in favor of an almost identical proposal last year.

Shareholders are furious at the way Zuckerberg has handled a series of Facebook scandals, including election interference on the social network in 2016 and the giant Cambridge Analytica data breach last year. They think the company would benefit from an independent chairman meant to hold Zuckerberg and his top team accountable. Read More > at Business Insider

GM and Michelin will bring airless tires to passenger cars by 2024Airless tires for everyday cars might soon be far more practical. GM and Michelin have unveiled a prototype of Uptis (Unique Puncture-proof Tire System), a Michelin-made tire intended for passenger cars. It looks like Tweel and other air-free concepts of years past, but its mix of composite rubber and resin embedded fiberglass lets it operate at highway speeds — earlier options tend to work only when you’re slowly putting around. It’s not as visually appealing as conventional tires, but Michelin claims it’s just as comfortable.

More importantly, there’s a tangible roadmap. GM will start testing the Uptis in Michigan later in 2019 on a fleet of Chevy Bolts, and expects the finished version to reach production cars as soon as 2024. The automaker hasn’t named specific car models that will use the new tires.

The Uptis should have immediate financial and safety benefits. While it won’t be completely invulnerable, blowouts, flat tires and irregular wear would be things of the past. However, GM and Michelin see this as particularly important for a future where electric and self-driving cars are commonplace. Airless tech reduces the need for environmentally harmful tire production, and eliminates the need for a spare tire that adds weight and shrinks fuel economy. They’d also help autonomous vehicles drive around the clock without fear that a stray nail will ruin a trip. Don’t be shocked if this becomes the norm, if just because the expectations for cars themselves will have changed. Read More > at Engadget

What 10,000 Steps Will Really Get You – In America, the conventional wisdom of how to live healthily is full of axioms that long ago shed their origins. Drink eight glasses of water a day. Get eight hours of sleep. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Two thousand calories a day is normal. Even people who don’t regularly see a doctor are likely to have encountered this information, which forms the basis of a cultural shorthand. Tick these boxes, and you’re a healthy person.

In the past decade, as pedometers have proliferated in smartphone apps and wearable fitness trackers, another benchmark has entered the lexicon: Take at least 10,000 steps a day, which is about five miles of walking for most people. As with many other American fitness norms, where this particular number came from has always been a little hazy. But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a default daily goal for some of the most popular activity trackers on the market.

Now new research is calling the usefulness of the 10,000-step standard into question—and with it, the way many Americans think about their daily activities. While basic guidelines can be helpful when they’re accurate, human health is far too complicated to be reduced to a long chain of numerical imperatives. For some people, these rules can even do more harm than good.

I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the lead author of a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, began looking into the step rule because she was curious about where it came from. “It turns out the original basis for this 10,000-step guideline was really a marketing strategy,” she explains. “In 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers, and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means ‘the 10,000-step meter.’”

Based on conversations she’s had with Japanese researchers, Lee believes that name was chosen for the product because the character for “10,000” looks sort of like a man walking. As far as she knows, the actual health merits of that number have never been validated by research. Read More > in The Atlantic

Why HBO’s “Chernobyl” Gets Nuclear So Wrong – In interviews around the release of HBO’s “Chernobyl,” screenwriter and show creator Mazin insisted that his mini-series would stick to the facts. “I defer to the less dramatic version of things,” Mazin said, adding, “you don’t want to cross a line into the sensational.”

In truth, “Chernobyl” runs across the line into sensational in the first episode and never looks back.

In one episode, three characters dramatically volunteer to sacrifice their lives to drain radioactive water, but no such event occurred.

Nor did radiation from the melted reactor contribute to the crash of a helicopter, as is strongly suggested in “Chernobyl.” There was a helicopter crash but it took place six months later and had nothing to do with radiation. One of the helicopter’s blades hit a chain dangling from a construction crane.

The most egregious of “Chernobyl” sensationalism is the depiction of radiation as contagious, like a virus. The scientist-hero played by Emily Watson physically drags away the pregnant wife of a Chernobyl firefighter dying from Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS).

“Get out! Get out of here!” Watson screams, as though every second the woman is with her husband she is poisoning her baby.

But radiation is not contagious. Once someone has removed their clothes and been washed, as the firefighters were in real life, and in “Chernobyl,” the radioactivity is internalized.

The baby dies. Watson says, “The radiation would have killed the mother, but the baby absorbed it instead.” Mazin and HBO apparently believe such an event actually occurred.

HBO tries to clean-up some of the sensationalism with captions at the very end of the series. None note that claiming a baby died by “absorbing” radiation from its father is total and utter pseudoscience.

There is no good evidence that Chernobyl radiation killed a baby nor that it caused any increase in birth defects.

At the end of the show, HBO claims there was “a dramatic spike in cancer rates across Ukraine and Belarus,” but this too is wrong.

Residents of those two countries were “exposed to doses slightly above natural background radiation levels,” according to the World Health Organization. If there are additional cancer deaths they will be “about 0.6% of the cancer deaths expected in this population due to other causes.”

Radiation is not the superpotent toxin “Chernobyl” depicts. In episode one, high doses of radiation make workers bleed, and in episode two, a nurse who merely touches a firefighter sees her hand turn bright red, as though burned. Neither thing occurred or is possible. Read More > at Forbes

How California’s big plans to address housing affordability crashed – The state’s housing cost problems are well documented. Nine of the 15 metropolitan areas with the highest median home values in the country are in California, with those in Silicon Valley topping the list at $1.2 million, according to real estate website Zillow. Many interest groups involved in housing issues have broadly agreed that the answer should involve more homebuilding, preserving existing housing stock and advancing protections to renters vulnerable to eviction.

At the beginning of the year, it appeared support was coalescing around bills aimed at making inroads in those areas. Newsom made housing a centerpiece of his campaign in 2018, promising to more than quadruple housing production and provide stability for tenants.

Bolstering that momentum, a coalition of Bay Area city leaders, nonprofits, developers and labor groups decided to support a series of proposals to address housing problems, a previously unseen level of unity behind such a robust housing package.

But the effort split the Democratic supermajority in control of the Legislature, exposing divisions between lawmakers over how to address the rising costs.

The first major measure to meet its demise in May was Senate Bill 50, a plan by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), to allow midrise apartment construction near rail stations and four or more homes on parcels of land in most single-family neighborhoods across the state. The bill attracted national attention for its efforts to spur homebuilding in communities that had already been developed and for fierce opposition from homeowners worried about changes to their neighborhoods.

Without allowing the legislation to proceed to a public vote, Sen. Anthony Portantino shelved SB 50 in the Senate Appropriations Committee he chairs. Portantino, a Democrat who represents the wealthy bedroom community of La Cañada Flintridge outside Los Angeles, has said the bill was too punitive because it took away power from cities and counties to plan for housing. A powerful bloc of community and local government activists largely from suburban areas shared Portantino’s criticisms and agitated against the bill up and down the state, and their pressure led to its failure. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Facebook lawyer says users ‘have no expectation of privacy’ – A lawyer for Facebook argued in court Wednesday that the social media site’s users “have no expectation of privacy.”

According to Law360, Facebook attorney Orin Snyder made the comment while defending the company against a class-action lawsuit over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy,” Snyder said.

In an attempt to have the lawsuit thrown out, Snyder further claimed that Facebook was nothing more than a “digital town square” where users voluntarily give up their private information.

“You have to closely guard something to have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Snyder added.

Although Snyder said that the social media site would be focusing more on privacy in the future, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria reportedly pushed back on Facebook’s argument.

“What you are saying now sounds contrary to the message that Facebook itself disseminates about privacy,” Chhabria said, according to Read More > at The Daily Dot

How Chick-fil-A Levels Up and Rules the Chain Restaurant Galaxy – …Currently, despite having far fewer stores than McDonald’s and KFC, Chick-fil-A is building a more loyal fan base and a much more positive reputation. That’s not just good PR, it’s earned. According to franchise expert John Hamburger — yes, that’s his actual name — Chick-fil-A is growing when many national franchise brands are in danger of dying off. The stores it does have are mega-successes and generate triple the revenue of KFC. In fact, Chick-fil-As earn more per store than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Subway — combined. Even though Chick-fil-A restaurants have one fewer day every week to sell chicken because they’re closed every Sunday.

It’s also a study in strong, innovative management and nearly any business can learn from Chick-fil-A’s success.

How so?

1. They’re fanatics — about service

Chick-fil-A is very selective with its franchisees. Only about 70 to 80 out of every 20,000 who apply for a Chick-fil-A franchise gets accepted by Chick-fil-A’s corporate office. Additionally, Chick-fil-A franchisees are prohibited from owning more than one Chick-fil-A, which is unusual in the franchise industry. Many McDonald’s owners own hundreds of stores. Once you pass muster, though, a Chick-fil-A franchise fee is an affordable $10,000. McDonald’s cost $45,000.

Why is Chick-fil-A so selective? They want be sure that their franchises all reflect the same quality and qualities nationwide. That means a commitment to great food and great service. Chick-fil-A staff are the most polite in the fast food world. If you’ve visited a Chick-fil-A anywhere, you know what that means. You hear staff say “please” and “thank you” because they are trained to be polite. The corporation insists on it. So no matter where you visit a Chick-fil-A, you can count on being treated well. No exceptions. Read More > at PJ Media

The Mall Meltdown Continues – Retailers’ earnings season has gone from bad to worse. The bleeding intensified last week, with shares of Abercrombie & Fitch plummeting 26% on Wednesday, the biggest percentage decline since the company went public. PVH Corp., owner of brands including Van Heusen, Tommy Hilfilger, and Calvin Klein, dropped 10% that day, too. On Thursday, women’s wear chain J.Jill was down a jaw-dropping 53% and on Friday, Gap Inc. slid 9%.

It is hard to miss what all of these retailers have in common: They are mall-based.

While retailers posted generally strong numbers in 2018, raising hopes of a retail renaissance, this year has seen a reversion to the pre-2018 trend: department stores and mall-based retailers giving up share to discount stores and e-commerce. The perceived renaissance now seems to have been largely a function of lean inventories, not an actual increase in demand. Now inventory is high again, and retailers are resorting to promotions. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

United Nations Deems Siri and Alexa Tools of the Patriarchy – Just when you thought there was nothing about identity politics that could not surprise you, we have this: a United National report finds that Siri, the Apple voice helper, and Amazon’s Alexa are tools of the patriarchy.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

The revelation about this digital plot for male dominance comes in a 146-page report from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in cooperation with the German government and the EQUALS Skills Coalition, a partnership of governments, businesses and nonprofits.

The authors note with alarm that “most leading voice assistants are exclusively female or female by default, both in name and in sound of voice.” This includes Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft ’s Cortana. The report says that these voices send “a signal that women are obliging, docile, eager-to-please helpers, available at the touch of a button or with a blunt voice command like ‘hey’ or ‘OK.’” Read on, they’re rolling.

If you tell Cortana she’s hot, the report frets, she’ll quip that “beauty is in the photoreceptors of the beholder.” Digital assistants “greet verbal abuse with catch-me-if-you-can flirtation” and “give deflecting, lacklustre, or apologetic responses to verbal sexual harassment,” the report says. This response fails “to encourage or model, let alone insist on, healthy communications about sex or sexual consent.”

Good to know that the United Nations is tackling the important issues that matter to the fate of humankind.

But this frankly puzzles me:

The report identifies still more signs of digital oppression: “The assistant holds no power of agency beyond what the commander asks of it. It honours commands and responds to queries regardless of their tone or hostility.” This reinforces “gender biases that women are subservient and tolerant of poor treatment.”

I am trying to imagine how Siri could gain more agency?  Read More > from the Independent Women’s Forum

How California’s Homeless Crisis Grew Obscenely Out of Control – Every other year, local governments desiring some of the roughly $2.7 billion that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spends annually on homeless services must complete a task: Tell HUD how many homeless people there are to service.

The method used is inexact at best. To count the unhoused and unsheltered population—the shelters are usually full to bursting with waitlists hundreds or a thousand names long—county health or human services agencies, or nonprofits to which the task is contracted out, often resort to the simplest method of enumeration known, the one you learn in kindergarten: They (or citizen volunteers, mostly) go out with flashlights, clipboards and pencils, and literally count heads, or curled-up street sleepers, or RVs, or tents.

How many people an office manager or sales rep guesses are sleeping in an RV or a tent they’re peering at in the semi-dark becomes data. Whether the volunteer presumes two or four is up to them—I can tell you this, for I have done it twice, in 2009 and 2017, and I don’t believe my guessing skills improved much—and thus wholly arbitrary, a snap decision that can result in a variance of 100 percent. Or more. Is that just some old car, or an old car someone lives in? Is that RV the glamping vehicle for an Instagram influencer or some eccentric Burner type, or does it house the family of four who couldn’t afford the landlord’s latest offer? You don’t know and you can’t know. Yet, this is the data the federal government uses, and we arrive at neat numbers like, “500,000 homeless people in America, 8,011 homeless people in San Francisco.”

As CityLab wrote, among many homeless experts, the consensus is that the result you get when untrained volunteers make guesses in the dark is inexact and flawed and probably an under-exaggeration. Whenever you ask “how many homeless people are there,” you can take the official number and add to it by maybe a third. (Compounding the underestimation of the problem is the federal government’s restrictive definition of homeless; if you are couch-surfing on a relative’s or a friend’s couch or staying in a motel without a permanent address, you are not homeless.) Read More > in the Observer

Study Shows That Extreme Poverty Statistics Have Been Overestimated, Especially Among Families With Children – New research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows that more than 90 percent of people who had previously been classified as living in extreme poverty were actually misclassified. The number of people deemed to be living in extreme poverty was significantly inflated due to a combination of misreporting on surveys as well as a lack of accurate administrative data.

Now, new data “allows us to re-examine rates of extreme poverty,” which NBER defines as “living on less than $2/person/day.” It turns out the actual percentage of U.S. households living in extreme poverty is 0.24 percent.

Using information from the 2011 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) as well as administrative tax and benefit program data, researchers Bruce D. Meyer, Derek Wu, Victoria R. Mooers, and Carla Medalia found that “of the 3.6 million [non-homeless] households with survey-reported cash income below $2/person/day,” the vast majority92 percentwere “not in extreme poverty once we include in-kind transfers, replace survey reports of earnings and transfer receipt with administrative records, and account for the ownership of substantial assets.”

In fact, new research shows “more than half of all misclassified households have incomes … above the poverty line” entirely.

Essentially, the new NBER working paper attempts to more accurately reflect the cash income and overall assets of U.S. households. “Nearly 80% of all misclassified households are initially categorized as extreme poor due to errors or omissions in reports of cash income,” researchers found.

The new classifications also take into account whether households are receiving significant benefits from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and other assistance programs. Read More > at Reason 

Remembering the biggest mass murder in the history of the world – Who was the biggest mass murderer in the history of the world? Most people probably assume that the answer is Adolf Hitler, architect of the Holocaust. Others might guess Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who may indeed have managed to kill even more innocent people than Hitler did, many of them as part of a terror famine that likely took more lives than the Holocaust. But both Hitler and Stalin were outdone by Mao Zedong. From 1958 to 1962, his Great Leap Forward policy led to the deaths of up to 45 million people – easily making it the biggest episode of mass murder ever recorded.

Historian Frank Dikötter, author of the important book Mao’s Great Famine recently published an article inHistory Today, summarizing what happened:

Mao thought that he could catapult his country past its competitors by herding villagers across the country into giant people’s communes. In pursuit of a utopian paradise, everything was collectivised. People had their work, homes, land, belongings and livelihoods taken from them. In collective canteens, food, distributed by the spoonful according to merit, became a weapon used to force people to follow the party’s every dictate. As incentives to work were removed, coercion and violence were used instead to compel famished farmers to perform labour on poorly planned irrigation projects while fields were neglected.

A catastrophe of gargantuan proportions ensued. Extrapolating from published population statistics, historians have speculated that tens of millions of people died of starvation. But the true dimensions of what happened are only now coming to light thanks to the meticulous reports the party itself compiled during the famine….

What comes out of this massive and detailed dossier is a tale of horror in which Mao emerges as one of the greatest mass murderers in history, responsible for the deaths of at least 45 million people between 1958 and 1962. It is not merely the extent of the catastrophe that dwarfs earlier estimates, but also the manner in which many people died: between two and three million victims were tortured to death or summarily killed, often for the slightest infraction. When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, local boss Xiong Dechang forced his father to bury him alive. The father died of grief a few days later. The case of Wang Ziyou was reported to the central leadership: one of his ears was chopped off, his legs were tied with iron wire, a ten kilogram stone was dropped on his back and then he was branded with a sizzling tool – punishment for digging up a potato.

The basic facts of the Great Leap Forward have long been known to scholars. Dikötter’s work is noteworthy for demonstrating that the number of victims may have been even greater than previously thought, and that the mass murder was more clearly intentional on Mao’s part, and included large numbers of victims who were executed or tortured, as opposed to “merely” starved to death. Even the previously standard estimates of 30 million or more, would still make this the greatest mass murder in history. Read More > from The Washington Post

Dust to Dust – Burials and cremations can be environmentally toxic. States are weighing another option: allowing bodies to decompose naturally.

…n 2014, Spade launched the Urban Death Project, a nonprofit that later morphed into Recompose, a Seattle company that studies and advocates for the legalization of “natural organic reduction,” otherwise known as human composting. The process involves human remains being mixed with natural compounds in a vessel. After a month, the composted remains become soil that can be returned to the ground to help flowers and trees grow.

Now Washington is the first state to sanction and regulate that process, under a measure signed by Gov. Jay Inslee this week.

The new law comes amid a broader shift in attitudes about burial practices, particularly around their impact on the environment. Conventional burials introduce toxic chemicals into the ground and use up land and other valuable resources — including some 30 million board feet of casket wood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid each year in America alone.

That’s one reason why cremation has been growing in popularity, from being used for 28 percent of American deaths in 2002 to more than half by 2016. (By 2035, an estimated 80 percent of deaths will result in cremation, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.) The process is less resource-intensive than burials, but it still has an environmental impact. A single cremation requires 28 gallons of fuel and releases 540 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air, along with trace amounts of other harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide and mercury. On the whole, cremations in America release some 270,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year — equivalent to the CO2 from 22,000 homes. Read More > at Governing

E-Cig Company Juul Planning Retail Stores – E-cigarette maker Juul Labs, which is the dominant player in that field with about a 75% U.S. market share, is mulling plans for its own retail shops.

Juul sells its wares at about 100,000 stores nationwide, especially convenience stores and gas stations, but none under its own banner.

Setting up its own stores would give Juul data that could be used to pump up sales at other retailers, the Wall Street Journal reports. It would also test the idea that some customers might prefer shopping in a Juul-branded store, and give the company more control over distribution of its products.

Juul is considering Houston and Dallas for its first stores, though no final decision has been made on exactly where or how many locations there would be, CNBC reports, citing anonymous sources. The company also plans to open a store in South Korea. Read More > at Bisnow

About Kevin

Mayor - 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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