Sunday Reading – 12/01/19


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.

Black Friday Sees Fewer Shoppers in Stores as Spending Moves Online – Fewer people lined up outside stores as Black Friday shopping kicked off, suggesting early discounts offered by retail chains and a surge in online buying may have taken the shine off America’s biggest shopping day.

Spot checks on the ground showed there were fewer shoppers this year as retail chains started offering discounts earlier than usual to make up for a shorter holiday season this year.

While store traffic still remains an important indicator, a lot of shopping during Thanksgiving and Black Friday now happens online. Adobe Analytics, which measures transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers, estimates $7.5 billion in sales for Black Friday online, a growth of over 20.5% year-over-year.

Online sales on Thanksgiving Day alone jumped 17% to $4.1 billion in the United States, according to data from Salesforce. Global online revenue rose 24% to $20 billion.

Companies including Walmart, Target, Costco, and Best Buy have bulked up their online presence, deliveries and fast in-store pickups to attract customers.

While Black Friday still matters, its relevance is fading as the holiday shopping season now begins the week before Halloween and stretches to Christmas Eve with retailers offering deep discounts throughout the season. Read More > from Reuters

Ick Factor Is High Hurdle for Recycled Drinking Water – Recycled wastewater can be cleaner than bottled water, but people still avoid drinking it because of their disgust over its past condition.

Would you drink water that had once been flushed down a toilet? After it’s been cleaned, that is. The climate is warming, and the population of drought-prone states like California continues to grow. So recycling wastewater into drinking water may become a necessity. But:

“People are grossed out by recycled water, because it as was once wastewater—you know, the stuff that goes down your kitchen drains, your showers, your toilets. And even though it’s cleaned up to a standard that is identical, if not better, than commercially bottled water, the key barrier to recycled water acceptance is people’s disgust regarding it.”

University of California, Riverside, psychologist Daniel Harmon. In a recent set of experiments, Harmon and his colleague Mary Gauvain learned just how difficult it can be for people to get over their disgust at the thought of drinking recycled water. Read More > at Scientific American 

3 kids. 2 paychecks. No home. – Traveling the length of Highway 68, a 20-mile road running from Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove to South Main Street in downtown Salinas, is like going from one version of California to another. On the Monterey Peninsula side of the “lettuce curtain” (as the invisible barrier separating Salinas from richer neighboring towns is often called) are exclusive beach communities, famous golf courses such as Pebble Beach, and a thriving tourism industry; on the opposite end of the highway, a working-class city with a poverty rate well above the state average.

Today, the region’s 91,000 farmworkers live with stagnant wages (the median pay for farmworkers is $12.79 per hour) and the constant threat of ICE (the majority of these laborers are undocumented). Public health officials describe an epidemic of malnutrition among the workers and their families, and hunger has become widespread. The perverse irony that “The Valley That Feeds the Nation,” the title of a colorful mural in nearby Soledad, is now struggling to feed itself has been lost on nobody. Activists argue that a lack of fair wages in agriculture, in particular, is a key driver of this food insecurity. But for now, charity is what the industry is willing to offer. Last year, at the Food Bank of Monterey County, much of the 12 million pounds of emergency food assistance it provided was donated by agricultural companies.

By far the greatest difficulty facing Salinas families, though, is the disappearance of affordable rental housing. In recent years, tech workers from the Bay Area have been relocating to Monterey County, and there are currently plans for a commuter rail that would run from the heart of Silicon Valley to Salinas. This influx of higher-earning tenants into an already congested market has led to a rise in rents, which in turn — together with the exclusionary zoning, no-fault evictions, and barriers to new construction that have beleaguered the rest of the state — is creating unprecedented housing instability among Salinas’s working poor. Over the past eight years, there has been a 37 percent loss of low-rent units in the city, while rents have shot up by almost 60 percent since 2014 — roughly four times the national average. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the “housing wage” necessary to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in Salinas, whose costs now exceed those of Miami and Chicago, is $29.62 per hour.

Increasingly, the city’s residents have found themselves bereft of adequate shelter altogether. “There’s always been poverty here,” said Reyes Bonilla, who runs Community Homeless Solutions, a local nonprofit. “But homelessness on this scale? It’s an entirely new thing.” He added that many of those coming to his organization for support defy the stereotypes about homelessness: The vast majority of them are working and have simply been priced out of a place to live. Families are doubling and tripling up in overcrowded, substandard conditions; they’re resorting to garages and toolsheds, cars and abandoned properties. In Monterey County, approximately 8,000 schoolchildren were homeless last year, more than San Francisco and San Jose combined. For many of these kids, the safest, most dependable part of their lives is the school they attend. Read More > at The California Sunday Magazine

Economy growing better than economists had expected just a few weeks ago – Economists are boosting their fourth quarter growth forecasts after the trade deficit narrowed and business investment showed a surprise pickup in October.

The CNBC/Moody’s Analytic’s rapid update of economists forecasts showed a median increase of 0.1 percentage points to 1.8%. The government also reported a bigger-than-expected revision to growth in the nation’s third quarter gross domestic product to 2.1% from a first reading of 1.9%.

Economists are watching to see if October’s business investment rebound is signaling that the slowdown in spending and manufacturing could be coming to an end. Read More > at CNBC

California Plans to Hike Tax on Legal Marijuana, Threatening New Market With Rapid Extinction – California plans on increasing business tax rates on legal marijuana in 2020, which will hurt struggling companies that have trouble growing profits in the state’s toxic regulatory environment

The Golden State’s marijuana tax schemes are already threatening the new market with rapid extinction, despite the promises that the revenues from the legalized pot would create a veritable Utopia

There are other signs that the situation is dire. Hundreds of people working in California’s cannabis industry are now losing their jobs. Read More > at Legal Insurrection

No more fire in the kitchen: Cities are banning natural gas in homes to save the planet – Fix global warming or cook dinner on a gas stove?

That’s the choice for people in 13 cities and one county in California and one town in Massachusetts that have enacted new zoning codes encouraging or requiring all-electric new construction.

The codes, most of them passed since June, are meant to keep builders from running natural gas lines to new homes and apartments, with an eye toward creating fewer legacy gas hookups as the nation shifts to carbon-neutral energy sources.

These “reach” or “stretch” building codes, as they are known, have almost all been passed in California. The first was in Berkeley in July, then more in Northern California and recently Santa Monica in Southern California. Other cities in Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington state are contemplating them, according to the Sierra Club.

Brookline’s was the first outside of the state, and the first to address renovations. Though it differs from the California town rules in that the bylaw exempts fuel piping needed for backup generators, cooking, laboratories and medical offices, and for central domestic hot water systems in large buildings. Read More > at USA Today

Lawsuits by developers challenge Windsor’s ban on natural gas in new homes – Windsor’s fledgling natural gas ban is under legal fire from developers who argue its new mandate will increase costs for future homeowners and fails to account for the continued potential of widespread electricity shut-offs imposed by PG&E.

Two lawsuits filed by Sonoma County developers last week ask a judge to block Windsor’s requirement that most new homes use electric appliances for cooking and heating instead of natural gas technology. The court fights could shape future development in Windsor and ripple out to Santa Rosa, where the City Council enacted a similar ban earlier this month.

The suits claim Windsor’s rule violates state environmental law, glosses over the dangers of increased generator use by residents of gas-free homes and ignores some research showing higher utility bills for those who live in all-electric homes.

The suits cite PG&E’s recent electricity shut-offs and the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County — apparently sparked by the utility’s power equipment — to bolster claims that banning natural gas is unwise. Read More > in The Press Democrat

Why Apocalyptic Claims About Climate Change Are Wrong – I also care about getting the facts and science right and have in recent months corrected inaccurate and apocalyptic news media coverage of fires in the Amazon and fires in California, both of which have been improperly presented as resulting primarily from climate change.

Journalists and activists alike have an obligation to describe environmental problems honestly and accurately, even if they fear doing so will reduce their news value or salience with the public. There is good evidence that the catastrophist framing of climate change is self-defeating because it alienates and polarizes many people. And exaggerating climate change risks distracting us from other important issues including ones we might have more near-term control over.

I feel the need to say this up-front because I want the issues I’m about to raise to be taken seriously and not dismissed by those who label as “climate deniers” or “climate delayers” anyone who pushes back against exaggeration.

With that out of the way, let’s look whether the science supports what’s being said.

First, no credible scientific body has ever said climate change threatens the collapse of civilization much less the extinction of the human species. “‘Our children are going to die in the next 10 to 20 years.’ What’s the scientific basis for these claims?” BBC’s Andrew Neil asked a visibly uncomfortable XR spokesperson last month.

…Climate scientists are starting to push back against exaggerations by activists, journalists, and other scientists.

“While many species are threatened with extinction,” said Stanford’s Ken Caldeira, “climate change does not threaten human extinction… I would not like to see us motivating people to do the right thing by making them believe something that is false.”

I asked the Australian climate scientist Tom Wigley what he thought of the claim that climate change threatens civilization. “It really does bother me because it’s wrong,” he said. “All these young people have been misinformed. And partly it’s Greta Thunberg’s fault. Not deliberately. But she’s wrong.” Read More > in Forbes

It’s a New and Troubling Era in Mexico Under AMLO – Some welcomed the return of the left to the height of political power in Mexico nearly a year ago as a promising new chapter in the country’s history. Yet 12 months into Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s presidency, drug violence and attacks on freedom of speech have spiraled and the economy has stagnated, adding to the sense that Mexico is floundering. While all these challenges existed before AMLO—as he is better known in Mexico—took office, the bigger concern now is the way his government is seeking to address them.

There is no mistaking that this is a new era for Mexican politics. Gone are the globally minded, centrist administrations that swapped power in the years following Mexico’s transition from one-party rule to free elections in the 1990s. In their place is a self-styled champion of the people whose inward-looking economic vision harkens back to the country’s statist past. AMLO openly dismisses a role for experts and civil society in policymaking, calling them “neoliberal nostalgics,” while lacing his public rhetoric with an almost religious call of devotion to his presidency—all with the passionate approval of his unwavering political base.

Amid widespread dissatisfaction among voters heading into last year’s presidential election, AMLO won a landslide victory, vowing to reduce inequality, fight corruption and put an end to years of deadly drug violence. Like many Latin American populists, he put neoliberalism and corrupt, privileged elites at the center of his critique of the policy path Mexico has followed over the past two decades. He promised nothing less than the country’s “fourth transformation”—a brash reference to the seminal events in Mexican history, from its independence from Spain in 1810, to the War of Reform that led to separation of church and state in the mid-19th century, to the revolution of 1910 that ended decades of dictatorship and established a constitutional republic.

Yet his actual policy positions were always vague. Corruption would be “eradicated,” AMLO insisted, but he has left the previous administration’s plans for an independent anticorruption commission in limbo. Next year, he will slash the budgets for the attorney general’s office, the National Electoral Institute and the Supreme Court, institutions that, while flawed, have been key building blocks in Mexico’s democracy. The drug cartels would be fought with “hugs, not bullets,” AMLO declared, yet they continue to wreak havoc, with the recent massacre of a Mormon family of nine, including six children, in the state of Sonora drawing international headlines. With nearly 26,000 homicides documented by federal authorities as of October, 2019 looks likely to end as Mexico’s most violent year in recent memory.

In March, AMLO announced that the era of neoliberalism, the great scourge of the Latin American left, was over. Yet his budgeting plans have been far from progressive. He has drastically reduced spending on health and education, among other areas, in favor of costly infrastructure projects, including a new international airport and what many economists view as a dubious attempt to revive Mexico’s debt-ridden and unproductive state energy giant, Pemex. A number of international organizations have subsequently downgraded their forecasts for Mexico’s growth this year to as low as 0.2 percent amid a decline in oil output and slumping construction and service sectors—its worst year since the global financial crisis. Read More > at WPR

Heads Should Roll at CDC after Botched Vaping Investigation – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has finally identified a primary suspect in the wave of vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths.

Examining lung tissue samples of patients hospitalized with vaping-related illnesses, 100 percent tested positive for vitamin e acetate, often used to cut marijuana oils. This was not a surprise to those who have been arguing that the cause of these illnesses is not the commercial e-cigarette market, but the illicit market for THC vapes.

For the past three months, the CDC’s data showed a clear pattern. Those getting sick have been vaping illicit or adulterated THC. A tiny minority of patients claimed to have vaped just nicotine but were often found to be lying, most likely due to the fact that marijuana is still a schedule one substance.

It should have been obvious to CDC that regular e-cigarettes were not and could not have been causing these illnesses. Commercial nicotine e-cigarettes have been on the American and European markets for more than a decade and are used by tens of millions of people.

In Europe, there is no such outbreak of vaping-related illnesses, nor is there one in Canada. According to the Deputy Director of CDC Anne Schuchat, the agency doesn’t believe these illnesses were occurring in previous years but being underreported. Instead, on October 25, Schuchat told journalists on a telebriefing, “we think something riskier is in much more frequent use.” Read More > at Real Clear Policy

Women, mothers lead increases in U.S. binge drinking rates – A new study shows that women without children still drink more than those with children — and men without children still drink more than everybody — but the number of women and parents who binge drink is up.

Researchers from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York, in a study published online Tuesday in PLOS Medicine, report that, for the most part, levels of binge drinking are up. Only men with children saw declines in the rate of their drinking or binge drinking.

Men and women with children reported consistently lower levels of binge drinking than those without children, but the number of adults who admit engaging in the practice has increased over the past decade.

But the study found that women between 20 and 40 years of age, both parents and non-parents, have significantly increased their alcohol consumption over the past decade. And the percentage of women with children who reported binge drinking increased from 17 percent in 2006 to 29 percent in 2018. Read More > at UPI

California DMV Makes 50 Million Dollars a Year Selling Drivers’ Info to Private Companies – A California Department of Motor Vehicles document revealed that the government agency is generating $50 million a year by selling drivers’ personal information to private companies.

According to a report from VICE, which received the document through a public records request, revenue from selling information — which includes names, physical addresses, and car registration information — has climbed from $41 million in fiscal year 2013-2014 to $51 million in 2018-2019.

In an email explaining the numbers, the California DMV did not specify which private companies have purchased the data, but said the list may include insurance companies, vehicle manufacturers, and prospective employers. Past investigations into DMVs have shown that data broker LexisNexis and consumer credit reporting agency Experian are active participants in buying data.

It is unclear how California’s DMV data-selling will be affected by the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which will take effect in January. The law requires businesses, after passing a certain user or revenue threshold, to disclose any personal data they collect, the purpose of its collection, any third-party sharing, and an opt-out for any individual objecting to the selling or sharing of their data. Read More > at National Review 

US abortions hit record low since Roe v Wade: Rates fell 24% in 10 years, CDC report reveals – Abortion rates continue fall in the US, decreasing by nearly a quarter in less than a decade, new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data reveal.

In 2016, a total of 623,471 abortions were performed in the US, declining two percent from the previous year.

The report authors dubbed the number, rate and ratio of abortions to live births ‘historic lows.’

Most experts argue that the declining abortion rates come too soon to reflect changes affected by abortion restrictions and bans enacted in conservative states.
Instead, the CDC scientists say the shift likely indicated that efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies – by encouraging the use of long-acting contraception, like IUDs – are working and driving the decrease in teen pregnancies reported by the CDC earlier today. Read More > in The Daily Mail

U.S. birth rate falls for 4th year in a row – A final tally of babies born in the U.S. last year confirms that the birth rate fell again in 2018, reaching the lowest level in more than three decades.

The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics finds there were 3,791,712 births registered in the U.S. in 2018, down 2 percent from 2017.

A closer look at the data suggests that Americans are not having enough babies to sustain the population.

The total fertility rate for 2018 was 1,729.5 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. (The fertility rate refers to how many children women have overall; birth rate refers to how many children women have in a single year.) But in order for the nation to reproduce its population and remain stable, the CDC says there would need to be 2,100 births per 1,000 women.

That means each woman needs to have at least two babies to replace fathers and mothers, as well as account for extra deaths. Read More > at NBC News

Political Earthquake Strikes Manteca. Here’s What We Know. – Three Manteca city leaders — the police chief, the city manager, and the finance director— have been placed on administrative leave and another terminated pending some sort of an investigation.

The city will not say what led to the shakeup. Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu described it only as “a perfect storm” of employee issues (ABC 10).

“I feel it is important that you have reassurance that city hall is not ‘going to hell,'” Cantu wrote on Facebook. “City hall is still under management and public services provided and conducted (without disruption) by the same experienced employees that have been doing so for years.”

The sequence of events was as follows, per to ABC 10 News:

Finance Director Jeri Tejada was placed on paid leave back in September by City Manager Tim Ogden. Ogden was then put on paid leave that same month by the Manteca City Council. Manteca PoliceChief Jodie Estarziau was placed on paid leave on Wednesday, Nov. 13, and temporarily replaced by police captain Mike Aguilar.

To add to the list, Community Development Director Greg Showerman quit in October for another job with the City of Modesto.

The matter is now in the hands of “fair, impartial outside investigators,” said Johanna Ferreira with the City Attorney’s Office. Read More > at California City News

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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