Sunday Reading – 11/03/19


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.

PG&E equipment blamed for 6 fires in the last 8 days – Pacific Gas & Electric equipment has been identified as the cause of the Bethel Island and Oakley fires from over the weekend, the East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District said on Wednesday.

These mark the fifth and sixth fires that PG&E is linked to in the last eight days, according to filings with the California Public Utilities Commission. The other fires include the largest one in the state, the Kincade Fire, started last Wednesday when a high-voltage PG&E transmission tower with a broken line was seen shooting off flames, two smaller ones in Lafayette and a house fire in Milpitas.

Regarding Sunday morning’s Bethel Island Fire, the fire department said, “Upon conclusion of the fire investigation, the area of origin was identified under PG&E power lines with a video of the transformer casting sparks to the vegetation below.”

While that fire was brought under control, a second fire in the area of Bethel Island Road and East Cypress Road in the city of Oakley was reported early Sunday morning at around 5 a.m. The fire cast embers and forced evacuations.

“PG&E equipment again had a malfunction and cast sparks 200 yards to the South igniting vegetation,” the fire department said.

The fire was brought under control with no injuries and no structures lost.

In its report, California Public Utilities Commission, said the Oakley Fire was not in a high risk area. Read More > at Fox 2 KTVU

California Republicans Propose Suspending Renewable Energy Mandate to Fund PG&E Infrastructure Upgrades – Two California lawmakers announced they will introduce legislation to help prevent future wildfires and Public Safety Power Shutoffs by PG&E, but Democrats are already giving a thumbs-down to the plan.

Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) and Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City), who represent the town of Paradise and Camp Fire survivors, are authoring legislation to direct additional funding into utility infrastructure upgrades and forest fuel reduction projects by temporarily discontinuing the state’s renewable energy mandates until infrastructure and vegetation management conditions are improved.

Gallagher said last year 45 million metric tons of carbon was emitted by the wildfires. The year before it was 39 million metric tons. “That’s more than nine times California’s combined reductions achieved in 2016 and 2017,” Gallagher said. “We are literally losing when it comes to element policy. Why don’t we readjust this, because the power outages are the result.”

Gallagher said PG&E acknowledges that its infrastructure is so old, it can’t hold up to regular winds, much less high winds. They say it will take 10 years to complete all of the equipment and infrastructure upgrades. “That is totally unacceptable for the people and businesses of this state, to face 10 more years of power outages,” Gallagher said. “So, money needs to go into fast-tracking these upgrades.”

Gallagher said PG&E is currently spending $2.4 billion annually on a legislative mandate to buy renewable power. At the same time, the company spent only $1.5 billion to update its century old infrastructure in 2017. “That’s a lot of money to put into infrastructure if we suspend the renewables mandates,” Gallagher said.

He also said during this time there would be no salary increases or bonuses at PG&E, and any savings goes into infrastructure upgrades. “We will only use existing ratepayer money – no new spending.”

Gallagher also said revenues from the cap-and-trade auctions all go into the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF). “They only just started putting some of this money into forest management — about $200 million a year for the next five years.”

…The LAO report identifies the huge backlog of forest lands requiring actions to restore forest health and decrease wildfire risks including 20 million acres on state regulated lands and 9 million acres of federally regulated lands.

…Lastly, Nielsen and Gallagher will also be introducing a joint Resolution to urge the federal bankruptcy court to rescind PG&E’s current high-cost renewable energy contracts. Reports show that some of PG&E’s pre-2012 long-term solar contracts now cost the company an added $2.2 billion per year due to outdated above-market prices.  These contracts could be voided in the bankruptcy to allow PG&E to buy the same renewable power at a lower price. Savings from renegotiating these bloated contracts could be used to invest in projects that reduce fire danger and future blackout events. Read More > at California Globe

California Commission to Launch Formal Investigation, Direct Wildfire Mitigaton Plans – After another unprecedented series of Public Safety Power Shut-offs (PSPS) and historic wind events creating red flag warnings throughout much of the state, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) this week announced it was taking additional urgent actions focused on public health and safety to drive down risks of ignitions from utility infrastructure, risks that result from power loss, and the disruption to communities and commerce.

Grounded in the mandate established by Assembly Bill 1054 and building on a letter CPUC President Marybel Batjer sent to Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) on Oct. 14, 2019, as well as the results of a CPUC Emergency Meeting held to question PG&E on Oct. 18, 2019, the CPUC will take a number of steps to ensure that the state’s experience this year with PSPS is not repeated. Those actions include:

  • Launching a Formal Investigation: The CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division will ask CPUC Commissioners in the next 30 days to open an investigation (formally known as an Order Instituting Investigation) of the 2019 PSPS events, utility compliance with CPUC regulations and requirements, any resulting violations, and potential actions to ensure utilities are held accountable.
  • Immediate Re-Examination of How Utilities Use PSPS: To prevent widespread PSPS events by the next fire season, President Batjer is issuing a new Ruling to reexamine the current PSPS protocol and the use of PSPS by investor-owned utilities. This includes an examination of actions that utilities can take in the next six months to minimize impacts of future PSPS events by increasing grid redundancy, segmentation, and equipment hardening.
  • Ensuring Additional Consumer Protection: The CPUC will ensure that for PSPS events, the utilities do not collect from their customers the charges that are a part of every customer’s bill so that customers are not charged for services they do not receive during PSPS events.
  • Expanding Wildfire Mitigation Plans for Immediate Impact: President Batjer will direct the utilities to expand their upcoming 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Plans to focus on increasing the safe performance of utilities, reduce the need for PSPS events, create more resilient communities, and provide results before the next wildfire season.
  • Enlist New Technology Partnerships: The CPUC will pull together a panel of experts to use data modeling and other advanced technologies to identify specific projects that can be implemented in coming months to minimize the use and scope of PSPS events next fire season. This team of experts will also analyze the effectiveness of utility mitigation plans and evaluate past PSPS events. Read More > at T&D World

Has California Lost ‘The Mandate Of Heaven’? – In Chinese history, natural disasters were viewed as portents that the The Mandate of Heaven (tianming or “Heaven’s will”) had been withdrawn from the ruling dynasty. Broadening this concept a bit to regional dominance and power, we might ask: has California lost the Mandate of Heaven?

How many conflagrations does it take for it to sink in that the Golden State has lost its luster in some profoundly karmic fashion?

How many messes of human excrement on our doorstep does it take to realize the situation will never get better, it can only get worse–much worse?

How many power blackouts, traffic gridlocks and mandatory evacuations does it take for those in denial to accept that the Mandate of Heaven has been withdrawn?

Young residents of the state have never experienced the velocity and depth of California’s famous busts. The last real spot of bother in California’s economy occurred almost 30 years ago in the early 1990s. Since then, it’s been one boom after another.

…Extending booms into infinity doesn’t track reality. The last real recession circa 1990-1991 blew a $20 billion hole in the California state budget, and accounting for inflation and growth since then, we can expect a $35 – $40 billion hole being blown in the budget once the IPO / tech bubble collapses, as the state is heavily dependent on capital gains taxes for much of its income tax revenues. (There is no long-term capital gains rate in California; all capital gains are taxed as ordinary income, a rate that quickly hits 13.3%.)

Once capital gains dry up, the state is in a fiscal crisis with no solution.

And if the state can’t solve the homeless crisis with current spending in the hundreds of millions, then what will happen when the revenues dry up? What will happen if the homeless population doubles or triples? Look at the social havoc generated by the homeless population in San Francisco, which is roughly 1% of the total populace (around 9,000 homeless and a total population of 860,000.) Read More > at Zero Hedge

One of Internet’s Co-Creators — Notably, Not Al Gore — Wonders Aloud, How Did It Go So Wrong?On Oct. 29, 1969, the first message sent on the infant Internet was “lo.” The system crashed while the “g” in “login” was sent. Next year, the 2020 Census marks the first time you’ll have the option to respond online. You can even respond on your mobile device.

When I was a young scientist working on the fledgling creation that came to be known as the internet, the ethos that defined the culture we were building was characterized by words such as ethical, open, trusted, free, shared. None of us knew where our research would lead, but these words and principles were our beacon.

We did not anticipate that the dark side of the internet would emerge with such ferocity. Or that we would feel an urgent need to fix it.

How did we get from there to here?

During its first 25 years, the internet grew dramatically and organically with the user community seeming to follow the same positive principles the scientists did. We scientists sought neither patents nor private ownership of this networking technology. We were nerds in our element, busily answering the challenge to create new technology that would benefit the world.

Around 1994, the internet began to change quickly as dot-coms came online, the network channels escalated to gigabit speeds and the World Wide Web became a common household presence. That same year, Amazon was founded and Netscape, the first commercial web browser, was released.

And on April 12, 1994, a “small” moment with enormous meaning occurred: The transmission of the first widely circulated spam email message, a brazen advertisement. The collective response of our science community was “How dare they?” Our miraculous creation, a “research” network capable of boundless computing magnificence had been hijacked to sell … detergent?

By 1995, the internet had 50 million users worldwide. The commercial world had recognized something we had not foreseen: The internet could be used as a powerful shopping machine, a gossip chamber, an entertainment channel and a social club. The internet had suddenly become a money-making machine. Read More > at Governing

Are the wealthy fleeing California taxes? – Here is an indisputable fact about California taxation: More than two-thirds of state general fund revenues come from personal income taxes and about half of those taxes are paid by the 1% of taxpayers atop the income scale.

In other words, K-12 schools, state colleges and universities, health and welfare support for the poor, prisons and many other services for 40 million Californians are utterly dependent on the ability and willingness of a few thousand very high-income residents to cough up tens of billions of tax dollars each year.

There’s a perpetual political debate about that dependency. If nothing else, it creates what is called “volatility” — the tendency of state revenues to soar during periods of economic prosperity but plummet during downturns.

There is, however, another aspect of being so dependent on wealthy taxpayers. As their tax bites increase, some react by voting with their feet and moving from high-tax California to a state with low or no income taxes, such as neighboring Nevada.

There have been anecdotal accounts suggesting such flight.

…The Oakland Raiders football team will soon become the Las Vegas Raiders and when the team’s quarterback, Derek Carr, who grew up in Fresno, negotiated a new contract a couple of years back, it was “back-loaded,” meaning most of the money will be paid after the team relocates. The Tax Foundation calculated that Carr would save $3.2 million a year in state taxes by plying his trade in Nevada. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

The Electric Car Fantasy – Let’s start with what consumers want. SUVs and pickups now account for 70 percent of all vehicles purchased. Most people, it seems, like big vehicles. The minority who buy purely for economy choose small cars with gasoline engines. This option, by the way, puts less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than a Tesla.

Consumers are price-sensitive in every category, a reality that politicians ignore at their peril. Batteries add about $12,000 to the cost of small and midsize cars. That’s meaningful for all consumers but the 1 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, automobiles constitute the most expensive category of consumables for the average household, costing twice that of health care. (Housing is the biggest expense, but that’s not a consumable.) A recent McKinsey analysis suggests that automakers could “decontent” EVs to cut costs—that is, take out the extra features that every salesman knows are what sells cars.

Setting aside details like cost and features, the key claim is that widespread use of EVs will reduce global carbon-dioxide emissions—except that it won’t, at least not meaningfully. First, it bears noting that regardless of Washington’s creative accounting, the all-EV-option would entail at least a $2 trillion cost to America’s economy, just in higher car costs. Then, simple arithmetic shows that this option wouldn’t even eliminate 8 percent of world oil demand. And the impact on global carbon-dioxide emissions would be even smaller.

Why? It takes energy—the equivalent of 80 to 300 barrels of oil—to fabricate a battery that can hold energy equal to one barrel. Thus, energy used to make batteries brings a carbon “debt” to EVs which, depending on where the factories are located, greatly diminishes, or even cancels out, emissions saved by not burning oil. Read More > at City Journal

October job creation comes in at 128,000, easily topping estimates even with GM auto strike – Nonfarm payrolls rose by 128,000 in October as the U.S. economy overcame the weight of the GM autoworkers’ strike and created jobs at a pace well above expectations.

Even with a decline of 42,000 in the motor vehicles and parts industry, the pace of new jobs well exceeded the estimate of 75,000 from economists surveyed by Dow Jones. The loss of jobs came due to the General Motors strike that has since been settled. That 42,000 job loss itself was less than the 50,000 or more that many economists had been anticipating.

The unemployment rate ticked higher to 3.6%, in line with estimates, but remains around the lowest in 50 years. A more encompassing measure that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time positions for economic reasons also edged up to 7%.

The unemployment rate for African Americans nudged down to a record low 5.4%. Also, the total employment level as measured in the household survey jumped to 158.5 million, also a new high Read More > at CNBC

This Jobs Report Is A Game-Changer Regarding Monetary Policy. Here’s Why – Nothing in the data now or in the recent past speaks to an economic recession. We’re in the longest expansion in US history. And given we had both an enormous global financial crisis and a European sovereign debt crisis during this expansion, it makes sense that people point to signs of weakness in the data as potential precursors to recession.

But the reality is that the data don’t point to a recession and they never have. All the things I look for are benign. For example, jobless claims have yet to rise year on year. The spread between 2 and 10-year bonds hasn’t gone negative, not for a single day. The ISM and Markit PMIs for manufacturing haven’t reached the low 40s. Sure, a lot of the numbers have been weak. But nothing has signaled or is currently signaling recession, just a growth slowdown.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the third time. There were two hawkish dissents again as well. In the press conference after the FOMC decision, Powell told us they would not cut any further unless the economy slowed dramatically. So, this jobs report puts paid to that guidance. It tells you, there are likely no more cuts coming this year, and that the Fed is on hold indefinitely.

The market is resisting this. All of the market economists I heard yesterday were saying that a weak consumer in Q4 puts a December cut on the table. Their stress was on poor data forcing the Fed back into retreat. But, after today, the focus has to be on a Fed tightening bias in the face of a potential bottoming of economic data. This jobs report is a game-changer regarding monetary policy. Read More > at Credit Writedowns

It’s A Smartphone Life: More Than Half Of U.S. Children Now Have One – Just over half of children in the United States — 53 percent — now own a smartphone by the age of 11. And 84 percent of teenagers now have their own phones, immersing themselves in a rich and complex world of experiences that adults sometimes need a lot of decoding to understand.

These stats come from a new, nationally representative survey of media use among children ages 8-18, by Common Sense Media, which has been tracking this since 2003.

Here are some other highlights of the report, paired with context from our other reporting:

  • As it has for decades, video viewing beats all other screen media activity — averaging 2 hours, 52 minutes per day for teens and 2 and a half hours for tweens.
  • Online video viewing has doubled — and most children say it is their most enjoyable online activity. There is a corresponding decrease in watching old-fashioned TV, whether broadcast, or time-shifted onto a digital recorder.
  • About 1 in 5 children has a phone by age 8. There could be a silver lining to children getting their first phones closer to elementary school than high school. Scholars like Jordan Shapiro and Stacey Steinberg have argued that parents need to model healthy social media use with younger children, and let them participate. And parenting expert Ana Homayoun says that parents can help establish healthier habits with the first phone by taking a heavier hand while children are younger — by checking the phone periodically, actively coaching kids on social media etiquette and handing the phone over only at certain designated times. Read More > from NPR

Are So Many Americans Fat Because They’re Getting Terrible Nutrition Advice From ‘The Experts’? – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of American adults, both men and women, are “obese,” as defined by body mass indices, and millions more are somewhat overweight. Call them the “weight-challenged.” Children are in better shape, but obesity rates rise steadily with age.

This level of national obesity is new. In 1960, rates were about 10 percent for men and 15 percent for women. They drifted up a little for the next few years, then in the late 1970s inflected upward in a steady rise to their current levels. No reason exists for concluding the trend has reached any limit.

It would be safe to bet that no one wants to be fat. It would be almost as safe to bet that almost every one of the weight-challenged has tried to do something about it, often repeatedly, and that many have succeeded, for a time, only to have the pounds return like some unkillable horror movie monster. Study after study has found that vanishingly few dieters are able to maintain a weight loss for long.

Despite the never-ending tales of failure and frustration, the “Dietary Establishment” (that is, the “Deep State, Food and Agriculture Division,” in alliance with major food-producing firms and grant-hungry academicians) persists in the view that anyone who is weight-challenged just needs one more turn of the ratchets of willpower, exercise, and low-fat food. So what caused this national epidemic of obesity?

The most persuasive answer is that in the late 1970s, the U.S. government, acting under pressure from such senators as former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, launched a nutrition campaign that resulted in the 1980 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and, a decade later, the “Food Pyramid.” Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta were the base of the pyramid. Then in order upward were vegetables; fruits; milk, yogurt, and cheese; meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts; with fats, oils, and sweets in the small apex.

…In 2001, investigative journalist Gary Taubes published “The Soft Science of Dietary Fat” in the peer-reviewed and prestigious journal Science. The article, and his subsequent book “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” argued that the food pyramid was almost totally wrong. Read More > in The Federalist

Safran to Refurbish Building for $900K Plus Per Unit on VA Property – Yesterday morning, Curbed LA reported Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to provide an additional $24,300,000 in homeless housing bonds to “repurpose a building (207) on the Veterans Affairs campus in West Los Angeles for housing for veterans.” As reported, the completed would provide 59 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless and chronically homeless senior Veterans.”

https://la.curbed.com/2019/10/24/20927147/west-la-veterans-affairs-homeless-housing

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1yda2BlYLzDd-PUyLSp1dgfQcCU4M5UG_/view?usp=sharing

The article refers to the West Los Angeles Veterans Collective as the developers of the project. The article reports that, according to that Collective, the project previously received $8,200,000 in LA City Measure HHH Bonds and $5,750,000 in funds from LA County. Total funding for the Project to date purportedly finance 70% of its total budget.

If the foregoing amounts, units and total funding status are accurate, the developer’s budget is $54,642,857.14, or a $926,150.12 per unit cost. This is the cost to remodel an existing building owned by the Federal Government that is legally mandated to house disabled Veterans?

The Greater Los Angeles VA has an annual operating budget well over a billion dollars.

Although the article reports, or at least infers the West Los Angeles Veterans Collective is the developer of the project; at the very least, it’s not the developer receiving the funds.

That developer is VA Building 207 LP, a company formed by Thomas Safran of Thomas Safran Associates in March 2019. Read More > at Venice Update

Consumers lift spending in September and take advantage of rising incomes and falling rates – Americans increased spending in September for the seventh month in a row but did so at a more moderate pace, keeping the economy expanding at a steady, if unspectacular, rate.

Consumer spending rose 0.2% last month, the government said Thursday. That is a touch below the 0.3% MarketWatch forecast.

Taking advantage of rising incomes and falling interest rates, consumers boosted spending by a robust 2.9% in the third quarter after a heady 4.6% increase in the spring. They have kept the economy moving forward even as businesses scale back.

A key barometer of inflation, meanwhile, was unchanged in September. The Federal Reserve on Wednesday cited low inflation as one of the reasons it cut interest rates for the third time this year in as many meetings. Read More > at MarketWatch

GPS is going places – You might think you’re an expert at navigating through city traffic, smartphone at your side. You might even hike with a GPS device to find your way through the backcountry. But you’d probably still be surprised at all the things that GPS — the global positioning system that underlies all of modern navigation — can do.

GPS consists of a constellation of satellites that send signals to Earth’s surface. A basic GPS receiver, like the one in your smartphone, determines where you are — to within about 1 to 10 meters — by measuring the arrival time of signals from four or more satellites. With fancier (and more expensive) GPS receivers, scientists can pinpoint their locations down to centimeters or even millimeters. Using that fine-grained information, along with new ways to analyze the signals, researchers are discovering that GPS can tell them far more about the planet than they originally thought it could.

1. Feel an earthquake
For centuries geoscientists have relied on seismometers, which measure how much the ground is shaking, to assess how big and how bad an earthquake is. GPS receivers served a different purpose — to track geologic processes that happen on much slower scales, such as the rate at which Earth’s great crustal plates grind past one another in the process known as plate tectonics. So GPS might tell scientists the speed at which the opposite sides of the San Andreas Fault are creeping past each other, while seismometers measure the ground shaking when that California fault ruptures in a quake….

2. Monitor a volcano
Beyond earthquakes, the speed of GPS is helping officials respond more quickly to other natural disasters as they unfold.

Many volcano observatories, for example, have GPS receivers arrayed around the mountains they monitor, because when magma begins shifting underground that often causes the surface to shift as well. By monitoring how GPS stations around a volcano rise or sink over time, researchers can get a better idea about where molten rock is flowing… Read More > at Knowable Magazine

City Finances Squeezed by Pensions – Perhaps the most telling comment in response to the California State Auditor’s report on the financial health of the state’s cities came from a League of Cities official who complained that the auditor was working off old figures because cities have approved new taxes and other measures to improve finances.

The crux of the matter for cities is the obligation for pensions and other post-employment benefits like health care eating away at the municipalities’ budgets to perform core services. Cities have to count more and more on taxpayers to fill the budget holes. In turn, that means to meet generous pension and health care payments to public workers taxpayers must dig deeper into their reserves and have less for their own retirements.

The state auditor, Elaine Howle’s, study ranked the state’s 471 cities based on current complete information as of 2016-17. The auditors considered a city’s cash position, debt burden, financial reserves, revenue trends and retirement obligations.

While cities have other fiscal issues to deal with, Howle noted that 70-percent of California cities do not have the necessary funds set aside to cover post-employment benefits.

Should a recession hit, the pension and health care commitments do not go away but the budget shrinks forcing cities to cut services or go back to taxpayers. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

The NCAA will now allow players to profit. But what about recruits? – …The announcement is “historic” in a sense that an organization so historically sedentary in its policies declared it voted unanimously to “permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.” So, yes, a significant philosophical shift – one that’s been years overdue – has occurred to potentially cut athletes a slice of the pie.

…The vexing part for NCAA officials, and why they are playing four corners without making specific decisions, is that it’s much easier for them to attempt to legislate the campus environment than a recruiting environment. But this would be such a seismic change to the landscape that you could spend months discussing unintended consequences.

Take college basketball, for example. Rivals.com recruiting analyst Corey Evans said he generally feels the rich could get richer, but there’s also the notion basketball-centric programs like Wichita State, Creighton and Murray State could offer more financial upside than a bigger brand school with less basketball zeal. He adds that geography will be important: “Imagine UNLV,” he said. “It just matters what rules go into effect.”

The biggest subsidiary issue from the recruiting piece would be the agent piece. If recruits are going to be allowed to essentially be bid on, to what extent will NCAA rules allow agents to guide them through the process? (Historically, agent rules have varied by sport.) Ask Rich Paul how the NCAA feels about agents. And, of course, ask NBA agents how they feel about NCAA.

This much is certain. The biggest meaning of Tuesday’s news is that schools are rushing to study up on potential avenues of what could be next. Could car dealers assure that every football recruit gets new wheels? Could that $100,000 corporate sponsorship in the stadium get divvied up to some kind of achievement bonus for players? Could the NCAA figure out a way to allow NLI rights to start when an athlete plays in the first game to stave off unintended consequences on the recruiting trail? Could recruits sue if they can’t immediately cash in?

“In theory this all sounds great,” said the athletic director. “The challenge is how you apply it and how it really works. My guess is that it ends up in court.” Read More > at Yahoo! Sports 

The United States Should Fear a Faltering China – The defining geopolitical story of our time is the slow death of U.S. hegemony in favor of a rising China. Harbingers of Beijing’s ascent are everywhere. China’s overseas investments span the globe. The Chinese navy patrols major sea lanes, while the country colonizes the South China Sea in slow motion. And the government cracks down on dissent at home while administering a hefty dose of nationalist propaganda.

Beijing’s newfound assertiveness looks at first glance like the mark of growing power and ambition. But in fact it is nothing of the sort. China’s actions reflect profound unease among the country’s leaders, as they contend with their country’s first sustained economic slowdown in a generation and can discern no end in sight…

China’s economic woes will make it a less competitive rival in the long term but a greater threat to the United States today. When rising powers have suffered such slowdowns in the past, they became more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad. China seems to be headed down just such a path.

In March 2007, at the height of a years-long economic boom, then Premier Wen Jiabao gave an uncharacteristically gloomy press conference. China’s growth model, Wen warned, had become “unsteady, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.” The warning was prescient: in the years since, China’s official gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate has dropped from 15 percent to six percent—the slowest rate in 30 years. The country’s economy is now experiencing its longest deceleration of the post-Mao era.

A growth rate of six percent could still be considered spectacular. By way of contrast, consider that the U.S. economy has been stuck at a rate of around two percent. But many economists believe that China’s true rate is roughly half the official figure. Moreover, GDP growth does not necessarily translate into greater wealth. If a country spends billions of dollars on infrastructure projects, its GDP will rise. But if those projects consist of bridges to nowhere, the country’s stock of wealth will remain unchanged or even decline. To accumulate wealth, a country needs to increase its productivity—a measure that has actually dropped in China over the last decade. Practically all of China’s GDP growth has resulted from the government’s pumping capital into the economy. Subtract government stimulus spending, some economists argue, and China’s economy may not be growing at all. Read More > at Foreign Affairs

CA Gov. Newsom Gives OK for State, Local Agencies to Destroy Emails – California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a measure last weekend that would have required local governments to preserve copies of email records for disclosure under the state’s public records law.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1184, would have required local and state agencies to preserve communications sent by email for at least two years so that members of the public may inspect and copy them.

Opponents of AB 1184 contended that California Public Records Act already creates burdens on public agencies in terms of staff time responding to requests, according to bill analysis. “Given the volume of electronic mail generated, opponents contend, a mandatory retention period of two years would place even greater burdens on agencies in terms of reviewing and identifying relevant e-mail.”

California’s open records law, the California Public Records Act (CPRA), already requires agencies to preserve public records for at least two years and prohibits agencies from destroying them beforehand. But some agencies have argued that email records are not subject to the CPRA and don’t need to be preserved under the law.

AB 1184, introduced by Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), would have corrected this thinking by codifying email records as subject to the preservation rule of the CPRA. The California News Publishers Association, a news media advocacy group, supported the measure.

Gov. Newsom vetoed the bill on Sunday. In a veto message, Gov. Newsom said AB 1184 did “not strike the appropriate balance” between transparency and the “burdens of a dramatic increase in records-retention requirements.” Read More > at California Globe

Slanting ballot measure titles – Article II Section 10(d) of California’s constitution is brief, to wit:

“Prior to circulation of an initiative or referendum petition for signatures, a copy shall be submitted to the attorney general who shall prepare a title and summary of the measure as provided by law.”

That sounds like a routine ministerial chore and for decades, under attorneys general of both parties, it was just that.

However, in the last years of the 20th century, it began to evolve into another arena for pitched political warfare, when proponents and opponents of high-impact ballot measures realized that the wording of the terse official summary could decisively impact voters.

With Democrats dominating the attorney general’s office, a pattern emerged. Ballot measures sponsored by those on the political left, such as unions, would receive titles and summaries that enhanced chances of passage, while initiatives from the political right, such as anti-tax groups, would be cast in a negative light.

A classic of the genre was last year’s initiative aimed at repealing a multi-billion-dollar increase in gasoline taxes and automotive fees that the Legislature and then-Gov. Jerry Brown had enacted.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office wrote a summary that said it “Eliminates certain road repair and transportation funding. Requires certain fuel taxes and vehicle fees to be approved by the electorate.”

It ignored the measure’s central purpose, repealing the fees and taxes. At the time, polls indicated that voters were opposed to paying more to drive, but the misleading title helped the measure’s foes persuade voters to reject the initiative. Read More > at CALmatters

When Will We Finally Take Title and Summary Away from Attorneys General? – It’s become a dishonorable California tradition: state attorneys general draft titles and summaries for ballot initiatives that don’t pass the laugh test.

Our current A.G., Xavier Becerra, is getting justified criticism for his summary of the split roll initiative. That measure should be properly explained as lifting the Prop 13 limits on reassessments of commercial property, but was described by the A.G. as, “Increases funding for public schools, community colleges and local government services by changing tax assessment of commercial and industrial property.”

Becerra surely will defend that as accurate—or at least close enough for government work. But being able to defend a title legally is not the point when it comes to ballot initiatives. The process requires public confidence, and that requires that measures be described fairly, so as not to favor one side or the other. That’s because a legitimate democracy requires the support of the losers.

After decades of dealing with this problem, it’s time for a change. No elected official should be involved in writing those title and summaries. The process should be given to citizens themselves. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

MIT engineers develop a new way to remove carbon dioxide from air – The process could work on the gas at any concentrations, from power plant emissions to open air.

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A new way of removing carbon dioxide from a stream of air could provide a significant tool in the battle against climate change. The new system can work on the gas at virtually any concentration level, even down to the roughly 400 parts per million currently found in the atmosphere.

The technique, based on passing air through a stack of charged electrochemical plates, is described in a new paper in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, by MIT postdoc Sahag Voskian, who developed the work during his PhD, and T. Alan Hatton, the Ralph Landau Professor of Chemical Engineering. Read More > at MIT News

Taking blood-pressure medication at this time of day could save your life – People who take all of their blood-pressure medication in one go at bedtime are better able to control their condition and have “a significantly lower risk of death or illness” caused by heart or blood vessel problems compared to those who take their anti-hypertensive medication in the morning, according to research published this month in the peer-reviewed European Heart Journal.

The trial instructed 19,084 patients to take their pills on waking or at bedtime, and followed them for more than six years — during which time the patients’ ambulatory blood pressure was checked over 48 hours at least once a year. The results were adjusted for age, gender, Type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, smoking and cholesterol levels.

The researchers found that patients who took their medication at bedtime reduced by 45% their risk of dying from or suffering heart attacks, myocardial infarction, stroke, heart failure or requiring a procedure to unblock narrowed arteries, compared to those who took their medication after waking up in the morning.

The risk of death from heart or blood vessel problems was reduced by 66%, the risk of myocardial infarction was reduced by 44%, coronary revascularization (unblocking narrowed arteries) by 40%, heart failure by 42%, and stroke by 49%. However, the researchers noted there are no studies showing that treating hypertension in the morning reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Read More > at MarketWatch

The NBA’s Hong Kong Protests Will Not Go Quietly Into the Night – It has now been almost a month since Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of protests in Hong Kong. Though the tweets were later deleted, the Chinese response was swift, with several vendors suspending their contracts with the Rockets, and the NBA’s media partner in China deciding not to air two preseason games that were being played in their country, according to NPR.

The controversy picked up even more steam when, a week later, LeBron James criticized the pro-Hong Kong protest tweet sent by Morey. The NBA called Morey’s tweets “regrettable” and Morey later apologized for offending China. Since then, demonstrations have broken out in and around NBA arenas, with several protesters escorted out of games after raising signs or voicing support for Hong Kong. Others had their signs confiscated in accordance with a league policy that bans signs with political messages at games.

Part of why this has all been so surprising is that the NBA is frequently outspoken on human-rights issues. James has taken on President Trump, successful coaches like Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich have criticized lawmakers’ inaction on gun legislation, and high-profile players have worn shirts speaking out against police brutality, all without fear of retribution from the NBA.

But Morey’s tweet was different.

Basketball has become massively popular in China over the last two decades, more so than any other American sport. Salon estimates that the NBA earns $4 billion annually from television deals, merchandise sales and sponsorships in the Asian country. Read More > at InsideHook

Californians Could See New Rent Control Measure On November 2020 Ballot – Less than a year after California voters decisively rejected Proposition 10, backers of that measure say they are close to qualifying a similar rent control initiative for the November 2020 ballot.

The campaign for the Rental Affordability Act says this measure is different from Prop. 10 because it would chip away at the state law blocking rent control on units built after 1995, but not get rid of it entirely.

“If you are building new housing, for those first 15 years of that new housing’s life there will be no rent control on it. So, we are not disincentivizing new construction,” said Rene Christian Moya, director of Housing Is a Human Right, the housing advocacy division of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is sponsoring the measure.

The campaign said this month it had collected 625,000 signatures, about 2,000 more than required to qualify for the ballot. The state must still certify the signatures.

Builders and landlords strongly opposed Prop. 10, saying it would have made the state’s affordable housing crisis worse by slowing new construction. Voters defeated it with 59 percent of the vote.  Read More > at Capital Public Radio 

A Player With Shoulder Pain, and a League Happy to Turn Its Back – Kelechi Osemele’s staredown with the Jets over a painful injury pulled back the curtain on the ugly reality of a league that views athletes as commodities.

The Jets are their usual dispiriting mess on the field, but in the executive suites their leaders sound testosterone-infused, insisting that their players manifest the manly virtues of playing through pain.

Of late the Jets confronted the challenge posed by Kelechi Osemele, a 6-foot-5, 300-plus-pound offensive lineman who has the accumulated scars of an eight-year-long N.F.L. life. He’s had sprained and twisted toes, knees and ankles, and his back can creak like an old wooden door. Sometime in the past year, perhaps in August and perhaps earlier, he tore the labrum in his right shoulder. A magnetic resonance imaging exam, he said, showed the muscle had torn clear off the shoulder bone.

The Jets shrugged. Be a manly man, they told this two-time Pro Bowl selection. He took Toradol, a brand name version of the painkiller ketorolac, and it was suggested that he consider a cortisone shot or two. As cortisone is known to weaken cartilage and mask pain, doctors often recommend against it. Osemele passed.

On Friday, Osemele ignored the Jets’ advice and had surgery. On Saturday, the Jets doubled down on their foolishness and released him.

So a $15 billion industry flogs another of its players like a worn-down donkey. Osemele, to his credit, sought another opinion, and then another. The most recent doctor recommended surgery, and Osemele went under the knife on Friday, when, his agent said, surgeons found more extensive damage than expected. In consultation with the N.F.L. Players Association, Osemele’s representatives may take legal action against the team’s doctors. Read More > in The New York Times

Not Free, Bird: Russian Researchers Were Bankrupted by Their Tagged Eagles’ Roaming Charges – Steppe eagles have 7-foot wingspans, mainly eat carrion, and never read the fine print on their cell phone plans.

Russian researchers collectively face-palmed when they realized that the trackers on their tagged eagles had been sending text messages from regions outside of their cell service coverage, resulting in exorbitant roaming charges.

As Gizmodo reports, the trackers automatically sent texts with location updates back to the researchers at the Russian Raptors Research and Conservation Network so they could chart the eagles’ summer migration patterns. If you’re thinking it was a little presumptuous for the researchers to assume the birds would stay within the invisible boundaries of good cell reception, you’re right—but they didn’t assume that. In fact, they expected just the opposite: that the birds would spend the summer in a region of Kazakhstan with no cell reception at all. That way, the researchers would receive the backed-up texts whenever the birds flew back through regions with cell service.

To their credit, the plan mostly worked. The majority of the birds did stay in Kazakhstan and transmitted their unsent messages while flying over parts of Russia and Kazakhstan where the researchers had cell coverage. Unfortunately, a few aberrant adventurers soared all the way to Iran, where there was good reception—just not on the researchers’ cell plan. For months, the trackers sent four messages per day per bird, at about $0.77 each. Read More > at Mental Floss

The race is on to repurpose garbage – Towns in central and northern Maine were seeking a workable alternative to landfills and incinerators when they engaged Fiberight to build a municipal solid-waste-processing unit in the town of Hampden. In 2017, the UK-based firm began constructing a sorting facility intended to pick out and recycle metal, paper, and plastic from 135,000 metric tons (t) per year of waste generated by the towns.

The $80 million facility was to be up and running by early 2018. An engineering marvel, it would convert food waste into biogas for injection into the local gas grid, mixed paper into recyclable pulp for egg cartons, and plastic film into fuel briquettes for energy generation. In the process, the plant would reduce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide compared with landfills and incineration, Fiberight said.

But by March of this year, the facility was still incomplete. Local press reports noted weather-related construction delays, a challenge to the plant’s environmental permits, and difficult markets for recycled materials.

Those delays point to the hurdles that municipalities face when dealing with new ways to handle and process waste. Reducing mountains of trash by turning it into fuels and chemicals would solve a lot of problems, but so far that has been difficult to do.

Several firms have tried and failed to develop new trash gasification technologies, including Range Fuels, KiOR, and Air Products and Chemicals. Air Products alone took a $1 billion write-off in 2016 for its attempt to gasify garbage and generate energy. High costs, technical complications, and cheap competing petroleum-derived fuels and chemicals doomed the projects to failure. Read More > at C&EN

California to train poll workers how to interact with transgender voters – All poll workers in California will be trained on how to properly interact with and assist transgender and gender-nonconforming voters when they cast ballots.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) announced the new initiative last week, saying his office is partnering with the Equality California Institute ahead of next year’s presidential primary.

The training will provide county registrars with materials detailing best practices for assisting voters whose “gender identity, expression, or pronouns don’t match their name on the voter rolls,” according to a news release from Padilla’s office.

Voters in the state do not need to provide identification in order to vote, though many transgender and gender-nonconforming voters may be registered under a name that does not match their gender presentation. Read More > in The Hill

It Was Supposed to Be the Safest Building in the World. Then It Cracked. – Built at a cost of $2.2 billion, the Salesforce Transit Center and Park formed the cornerstone of the Bay Area’s ambitious regional transportation plan: a vast, clean, efficient web of trains, buses, and streetcars, running through a hub acclaimed as the Grand Central Station of the West. Naming this structure—the embodiment of a transformative idea—could yield marketing gold for Salesforce. It also could make Benioff a household name on the level of Bezos, Gates, or Zuckerberg.

…He couldn’t imagine that at that moment, less than a mile away, the ambassadors trained to welcome the public to the STC were now frantically waving commuters away. Rather than Grand Central Station or the High Line, the Salesforce Transit Center and Park suddenly resembled the Titanic.

Earlier that day, workers installing panels in the STC’s ceiling beneath the rooftop park un­covered a jagged crack in a steel beam supporting the park and bus deck. “Out of an abundance of caution,” officials said, they closed the transit center, rerouting buses to a temporary terminal. Inspectors were summoned. They found a similar fracture in a second beam.

Structural steel is exceptionally strong, but given certain conditions—low temperatures, defects incurred during fabrication, heavy-load stress—it remains vulnerable to cracking. Two types of cracks occur in steel: ductile fractures, which occur after the steel has yielded and deformed, and brittle fractures, which generally happen before the steel yields. Ductile fractures develop over time, as the steel stretches during use, explains Michael Engelhardt, Ph.D., a professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the peer-​review committee overseeing the STC’s response to the cracked-beam crisis.

“Engineers can predict ductile fracture and make adjustments during design, such as redistributing the load among various parts of the structure,” Engelhardt says. “Brittle fractures, by contrast, happen suddenly and release a great deal of energy. They’re concerning. They aren’t supposed to happen.”

The cracks discovered beneath the rooftop park were classic brittle fractures. The tapered 4-inch-thick steel beams—2.5 feet wide and 60 feet long, with a horizontal flange on the bottom—undergirded the 5.4-acre park on the building’s fourth level, and buttressed the roof of the bus deck on the second level. By themselves, the cracks formed a point of weakness with potentially hazardous consequences. But they also suggested the possibility of a larger crisis.

If two brittle fractures had appeared in the building’s 23,000 tons of structural steel, couldn’t there be others? Read More > in Popular Mechanics

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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