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.
They Had It Coming – The parents indicted in the college-admissions scandal were responding to a changing America, with rage at being robbed of what they believed was rightfully theirs…
The first was sports. Legacy admissions have often been called affirmative action for white people, but the rich-kid sports—water polo, tennis, swimming, gymnastics, volleyball, and even (God help us all) sailing and actual polo—are the true affirmative action for the rich…
The second flaw in the system was an important change to the way untimed testing is reported to the colleges. When I began the job, the SAT and the ACT offered untimed testing to students with learning disabilities, provided that they had been diagnosed by a professional. However, an asterisk appeared next to untimed scores, alerting the college that the student had taken the test without a time limit. But during my time at the school, this asterisk was found to violate the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the testing companies dropped it. Suddenly it was possible for everyone with enough money to get a diagnosis that would grant their kid two full days—instead of four hours—to take the SAT, and the colleges would never know…
And, finally, there were large parts of the process over which no one entity had complete oversight. The kids were encouraged, but not required, to bring us their essays. Ditto the lists of extracurricular activities they were required to submit to the colleges. The holy trinity of documents—transcript, test scores, and teacher recommendations—never touches the kids’ hands. But the veracity of everything else depends on a tremendous leap of good faith on the part of the admissions offices…
And it was through these broken saloon doors—the great power conferred on coaches, untimed testing, and the ease with which an application can be crammed with false information—that Singer pushed unqualified students into colleges they wanted to attend. He told the parents to get their kids diagnosed with learning disabilities, and then arranged for them to take the test alone in a room with a fake proctor—someone who was so skilled at taking these tests that he could (either by correcting the student’s test before submitting it or by simply taking the thing himself) arrive at whatever score the client requested . (“I own two schools,” Singer told a client about the testing sites, one in West Hollywood and the other in Houston, where his fake proctors could do their work.) He allowed coaches to monetize any extra spots on their recruitment lists by selling them to his clients. And he offered a service that he called “cleaning up” the transcript, which involved, at the very least, having his employees take online courses in the kids’ name and then adding those A’s to their record.
…Much of the discussion of this scandal has centered on the corruption in the college-admissions process. But think about the kinds of jobs that the indicted parents held. Four of them worked in private equity, a fifth in the field of “investments,” others in real-estate development and the most senior management of huge corporations. Together, they have handled billions of dollars’ worth of assets within heavily regulated fields—yet look how easily and how eagerly they allegedly embrace a crooked scheme, as quoted in the court documents. Read More > in The Atlantic
These 10 States Watch the Most TV. Here’s How Your State Ranks. – It’s no secret Americans like their TV. Original scripted TV series have skyrocketed 69% since 2012h, and a record-breaking 495 scripted series aired in 2018. With this influx of quality TV—and streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu reaching an ever-climbing audience—one thing’s clear: TV is one of America’s most popular pastimes.
But how much TV do Americans actually watch? The team at verizonspecials.com dug into national statistics to determine which states watch the most and least TV. So as you await the highly anticipated season premieres competing for top ratings this year—such as Season 8 of Game of Thrones, Part 2 of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, or Season 3 of Stranger Things—take a peek at the rankings below to find out whether your state’s TV-watching habits match your neighbors’.
- “Sitcom” is the most popular TV genre in the US. Nine states—and Washington, D.C.—prefer these short comedies over any other category.
- Western states—along with Minnesota, Vermont, and Maine—lead the US in least-watched TV.
- West Virginians watch TV an average of 4.5 hours a day, adding up to 1,642.5 hours a year. In that amount of time, you could watch all eight seasons of Friends 13 times.
- The four states with the most national parks—California and Alaska, which each have 8; Utah, which has 5; and Colorado, which has 4—watch significantly less TV than the rest of the country. Could they be too busy being outside to watch TV?
- Reality shows are the biggest hits in the states that host them, including Nevada, which hosts Pawn Stars; Georgia, which hosts Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta and The Real Housewives of Atlanta; and New Jersey, which hosts Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
- Kids under age 20 only make up 20% of Massachusetts’ population, yet the most popular genre is children’s programing. Perhaps the Boston filmings of kids’ shows Zoom and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody play a role. Read More > from Verizon
Opinion: The jobs report nails it: It’s a slowdown, not a recession – The jobs report showing America added 196,000 jobs in March isn’t great news or awful news — it just tells us that what we thought we knew is basically accurate.
The Labor Department says the unemployment rate was 3.8%, and that average hourly pay rose 3.2% in the last 12 months — both solid readings portraying an economy that is near, but not at, full employment. That shouldn’t shock anyone — because it’s so consistent with everything else we learned about the economy this week, and have been learning over the last couple of months.
That picture points to what most experts have been saying all along — the economy will slow down this year, but likely not past the low 2% range where it has been banging along for years now.
The data all week have actually been pretty good, as this handy summary from MarketWatch’s data team shows. Tesla’s delivery woes aside, auto sales for March were stronger than expected. Purchasing-manager sentiment indexes from the Institute of Supply Management showed both manufacturing and services expanding, but more slowly than before. Construction spending beat forecasts.
Best of all, the report on personal income on March 29 showed that core inflation is slowing down — it’s at 1.8% for the last 12 months, which is below the Federal Reserve’s well-known 2% target. That means the Fed is under really no pressure to raise interest rates — and that’s good for both stocks and the real economy that the stock market ultimately reflects. Read More > at Market Watch
The National Teacher Shortage is Worse Than Previously Thought, Researchers Say – The national shortage of K-12 teachers is worse than most analysts estimated, particularly in high-poverty school districts, according to new research from the Economic Policy Institute.
“The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought,” wrote researchers Emma García and Elaine Weiss with the liberal-leaning think tank. “When indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most.”
Their report, the first in a series of six on the teacher shortage, uses data from the federal Department of Education’s National Teacher and Principal Survey to determine the education and experience levels of teachers in a variety of schools. That matters, they argue, because most estimates of the teacher shortage ”consider the new qualified teachers needed to meet new demand. However, not all current teachers meet the education, experience, and certification requirements associated with being a highly qualified teacher.” Read More > at Route Fifty
Beyond the tampon tax: How far will California go to end “menstrual inequity”? – It’s part of a global movement—partially funded by feminine hygiene product manufacturers—to bring periods into the consideration of mainstream policymakers. A documentary about“period poverty”—the reality that some women miss work and some girls miss school because of cultural taboos or because they can’t afford period products—won an Oscar this year. Already in California, public schools in low-income areas are required to provide free period products, and college students are petitioning for free products in state universities. And an ongoing state Superior Court case claims the state is violating the 14th Amendment equal protection clause by taxing the sales of period products, arguing that tampons and pads are not luxuries.
But the most closely watched effort is underway in the state Capitol, where lawmakers expect to advance a bill to end that sales tax.
…With a new governor in place, she’s at it again. This time her colleagues have been so eager to back her Assembly Bill 31 that it has more co-authors than any other this session. Last time, she said, “I had to beg them to join me.” This bill is expected to garner Gov. Gavin Newsom’s support.
But Jerry Brown isn’t alone. Editorials in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times have contended that it’s unwise to carve out exemptions from state sales tax in such a random fashion—especially when the state taxes items equally as essential, such as toilet paper, diapers and toothpaste. The California Tax Reform Association criticized the bill for drawing a line new to the state sales tax: “gender necessity….The problem with drawing such a line is that many possibilities for exemption follow the logic of gender specificity. Clothing, cosmetics, over-the-counter and pharmaceuticals are all examples of products that can be construed as both gender-based and necessary,” the association noted.
And the California State Association of Counties also opposes the idea. “After the past thirty years of changes to sales and use tax collections, counties have come to depend on those revenues to balance their budgets and specifically offset the costs of providing realigned services, including criminal justice, health, mental health and social services,” the association wrote. Read More > at CALmatters
Troubled California utility names new chief executive, board – The troubled California utility Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. named a new chief executive and board members Wednesday amid a bankruptcy proceeding.
The San Francisco-based utility chose Bill Johnson as its chief executive officer and president and named 10 new board members, including former U.S. ambassadors and members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Johnson is ending a run leading the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest publicly owned utility, which serves parts of seven southeastern states. PG&E is owned by investors.
The utility’s “board refreshment” comes as it faces intense scrutiny for its equipment’s role in starting devastating California wildfires and its overall approach to safety. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, saying it couldn’t afford potentially tens of billions of dollars in wildfire liability costs.
A board meeting will be held as soon as possible to seat the new board, but all members will be up for election by at an annual shareholders meeting in May. Three current board members are remaining. Read More > from the Associated Press
Church Scores Federal Court Win in Zoning Dispute With Village – A federal judge has blocked a village in northern New York from enforcing local zoning regulations that prevented a church from using a building it bought in a commercial district as a place of worship.
The case, which pits the village of Canton against a church known as Christian Fellowship Centers of New York, Inc., hinges in part on a federal statute that shields religious institutions from discrimination under zoning and landmarking laws.
…The church filed its lawsuit over the zoning ordinance in February. Last year, it bought a three-story building for $310,000 located in the village’s “C-1” retail commercial zoning district. Previously the building was home to restaurants and bars.
Trouble began when Christian Fellowship Centers sought village approval to use it as a church. A zoning board of appeals concluded in January churches aren’t permitted in the C-1 zone.
…In contrast, the judge wrote, the equal terms provision of the law is violated whenever religious land uses are treated worse than comparable nonreligious ones.
The village also argued that because the zone is commercial, and the church is not, it could be lawfully excluded from the district.
And another issue, highlighted by the zoning board, was that New York law restricts its state liquor authority from issuing licenses to establishments where liquor is consumed on site, if the businesses are within 200 feet of a church or school.
The board reasoned that this state law allowed the village to treat the church differently from comparable assemblies that do not trigger the same restrictions for surrounding property.
But the judge rejected each of these positions as well. Read More > at Route Fifty
Killing the California Dream – Californians need to give up on their dream of a “ranch-house lifestyle” and an “ample backyard” and the state should become “more like New York City,” writes LA Times columnist George Skelton (reprinted in the Mercury-News and East Bay Times in case you run into the LA Times paywall). After reading his article, the Antiplanner has just one question: Why?
Skelton argues that California’s population has grown in the last 70 years and is still growing. But he doesn’t seem to realize that the vast majority of the state is still rural. The 2010 census found that urban areas covering just 5.3 percent of the state is urban and houses 95 percent of the state’s population.
In 2000, California conducted a housing supply study titled Raising the Roof. The full text of the study is no longer available on the California housing department’s web site, so I’ve posted it here. Chapter 3 assesses how much land in each county is available for development, data summarized in exhibit 13(previously cited here).
The study concluded that the four counties surrounding San Francisco — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, and San Mateo — had 595,000 acres of developable land. Santa Clara County (San Jose) had 235,000 acres, while Los Angeles and Orange counties had 509,000 acres. Even after deducting wet lands, prime and unique farmlands, flood zones, special natural areas, and areas needed by endangered species, the San Francisco area had 245,000 acres, San Jose 80,000, and LA-Orange counties more than 280,000 acres.
…As a result, the amount of land that was considered undeveloped but developable in 2000 is almost all still undeveloped today. Opening that land to development would allow California to grow out, not up, which is a lot more affordable. As the Antiplanner has noted before, both land prices and construction costs are higher for dense development than for low-density single-family homes. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
Controversial State Bill Pushing Construction of Taller, Denser Housing Moves Forward – A bill to compel California cities to allow more construction of higher density housing near transit hubs and job centers cleared its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 50 would override local zoning rules and give developers the green light to build four- or five-story apartment buildings near bus, rail, and ferry stops in an attempt to spur housing construction.
The bill’s higher density rules would also apply in “jobs-rich” areas, a designation yet to be fully defined in the legislation.
SB 50 would also ease local rules requiring developers to provide parking for each unit, in an effort to remove yet another barrier to construction. Read More > at KQED
Mortgage rates hold near 14-month lows as application demand revs up – Rates for home loans were little changed near recent lows as investors struggled to make sense of competing economic narratives, offering some breathing room to house hunters.
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.08% during the April 4 week, mortgage guarantor Freddie Mac reported Thursday. That was up two basis points, and marked only the third time this year that the popular mortgage product has charted a weekly rise. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.56%, down one basis point. The 5-year Treasury-indexed 3.66%, down from 3.75%. Read More > at Market Watch
America’s Biggest Economic Challenge May Be Demographic Decline – For many years, American economists have spoken of Japan and Western Europe as places where the slow grind of demographic change — masses of workers reaching retirement age, and smaller generations replacing them — has been a major drag on the economy.
But it is increasingly outdated to think of that as a problem for other countries. The deepest challenge for the United States economy may really be about demographics. And our understanding of the implications is only starting to catch up.
A new report from the Economic Innovation Group, a Washington think tank funded in large part by tech investors and entrepreneurs, adds rich new detail, showing that parts of the United States are already grappling with Japanese-caliber demographic decline — 41 percent of American counties with a combined population of 38 million.
At the national level, slower growth in America’s working-age population is a major reason that mainstream forecasters now expect the economy to expand around 2 percent each year rather than the 3 percent common in the second half of the 20th century. As a matter of simple arithmetic, lower growth in the number of people working will almost certainly mean slower growth in economic output. Read More > in The New York Times
Wrecked Cars Are Now a Treasure Trove of Personal Information – As cars grow more dependent upon computer-controlled driving aids and automakers implement permanent internet connectivity, we’ve grown increasingly concerned with how automakers handle their customer’s data.
It sounds conspiratorial, but there’s a series of events to hang the tinfoil hat on. In 2017, General Motors announced it had successfully monitored the listening habits of 90,000 motorists in a study aimed at improving marketing insights. It also rejiggered OnStar and introduced the Marketplace app for seamless in-car purchasing options. Our take was that it was as impressive as it was ominous — and GM is only leading the charge into a what analysts believe will eventually become a multi-billion dollar industry.
Naturally, this led to privacy concerns over how automakers will protect customer data on future models. But we might want to start worrying about the cars we have now. A couple of white-hat hackers (those are the good ones) recently probed the internal computer networks of wrecked and salvaged Teslas and found a mother lode of personal information waiting inside.
According to a report from CNBC, GreenTheOnly and fellow hacker Theo, a Tesla proponent who has repaired hundreds of wrecked Teslas, purchased a wrecked Model 3 for research purposes in 2018. During their time with the vehicle, the pair found it was owned by a Boston-area construction company and had held onto unencrypted data from at least 17 different devices.
Mobile phones or tablets had paired to the car around 170 times. The Model 3 held 11 phonebooks’ worth of contact information from drivers or passengers who had paired their devices, and calendar entries with descriptions of planned appointments, and e-mail addresses of those invited. (CNBC called and e-mailed several of the people who had paired their phones to the vehicle to verify their information was authentic.)
The data also showed the drivers’ last 73 navigation locations including residential addresses, the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club, and local Chik-Fil-A and Home Depot locations.
The car also stored the crash data, which included video footage from months prior. This allowed the hackers to pair the iPhone in use at the time of the wreck to a relative of the founder and chairman of the company that owned the Model 3. They even had the call logs and could tell that a family member had contacted the driver moments before the crash. Read More > at the truth about cars
Nordic nations have ‘disturbingly high’ levels of rape despite being gender equality trailblazers, says Amnesty – Nordic nations have “disturbingly high” levels of rape despite being gender equality trailblazers, according to a new report which also suggested they were failing victims.
Flawed legislation, prevalent harmful myths and gender stereotypes have given rise to endemic impunity for rapists across the region, Amnesty International found.
Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden – four countries which are among the top-ranking countries in the world for gender equality – were all found to have high levels of rape and survivors of sexual violence are being let down by their justice systems.
In Finland, around 50,000 women each year experience sexual violence but there were only 209 convictions for rape in 2017. In the same year, 24,000 women were victims of rape or attempted rape in Denmark, but only 94 people were convicted.
Despite changes in law in Sweden, one in 10 people believe gender-based violence against women is provoked by the victim herself, the report found. Read More > in the Independent
Incoming FDA Commissioner Sharpless Shouldn’t Stop Snus, the Safer Swedish Smoking Alternative – For more than a year, the makers of snus products—a flavored tobacco packet that’s placed inside the lip in a manner similar to dipping tobacco, or “dip,” but without the need for chewing or spitting—have been asking the FDA to concede what private researchers have already concluded: that snus is a safer alternative to cigarettes. That doesn’t mean it’s fully harmless, of course, but Swedish Match is seeking the FDA’s permission to put a label on its products saying “no tobacco product is safe, but this product presents substantially lower risks to health than cigarettes.”
At a scientific panel convened by the FDA in February, there was broad consensus for making snus the first product to qualify for the FDA’s Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) status. The MRTP designation was created by a 2009 law allowing the FDA to evaluate tobacco products on a spectrum, rather than treating all products as being identical, when they clearly are not.
Snus is an important test for the FDA. A peer-reviewed study published in Tobacco Control found that snus delivers high levels of nicotine with lower concentrations of other chemicals found in cigarettes, and that it “does not appear to cause cancer or respiratory diseases.” A study conducted in Norway and published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research found that snus users were three times as likely to quit smoking as smokers using nicotine gum. They believed snus was so effective because it delivered a dose of nicotine that was almost the same as cigarettes and provided a “sensory effect that medicinal nicotine products perhaps lack” because snus smells and tastes like tobacco. Read More > at Reason
Renewable energy is on the rise, but so is demand for fossil fuels – Recent reports from major climate organizations are painting a very mixed picture for the future of global energy use. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says that renewable energy now forms one-third of the world’s total energy capacity — its highest level ever — but at the same time, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that energy demand is growing at the fastest pace this decade, and fossil fuels are leading the charge.
According to IRENA, 171GW of renewable energy was added to the global mix in 2018, marking an annual increase of 7.9 percent, and accounting for two-thirds of new power generation capacity altogether. Hydropower takes the largest share with 1,172GW worldwide, followed by wind at 564GW and solar with 480GW, although solar saw the largest growth in 2018.
However, despite this growth — which IRENA says “continues the remarkable trend of the last five years” — it appears that our appetite for fossil fuels hasn’t subsided. In fact, it’s increased. As the IEA report demonstrates, natural gas emerged as the planet’s fuel of choice in 2018, posting the biggest gains and accounting for 45 percent of the rise in overall energy consumption. Add coal to the mix, and fossil fuels accounted for nearly 70 percent of the additional growth for the second year running. Read More > at Engadget
California bans state funded travel to SC over ‘discrimination’ against foster parents – California officials have decided to bar state sponsored travel to South Carolina in protest a move that could allow child foster care agencies to discriminate against prospective parents on a religious basis.
The ban will begin on April 15, and will prohibit state dollars from being used on travel to the Palmetto State, according to a statement from Becerra’s office. The ban is a part of a 2017 piece of California legislation, which prohibits state-funded travel to states with laws authorizing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
“The State of South Carolina recently enacted a measure that sanctions discrimination against families in the placement of children in need of homes. The State of California stands strongly against any form of discrimination” Becerra said in his statement. Read More > at The State
Amazon Is Losing This $35 Billion Opportunity to Walmart and Target – Amazon.com is the dominant force in online shopping in the U.S., accounting for about half of Americans’ online spending.
But there’s a growing area where Amazon lags well behind competitors like Walmart and Target. Curbside fulfillment for online orders is increasingly popular, and Amazon is hard-pressed to compete. Its main consumer-facing physical presence are its Whole Foods Market locations, which account for nearly all of Amazon’s 520 physical stores in North America. By comparison, Walmart has over 2,000 stores offering curbside pickup and will spin up 1,000 more by the end of the fiscal year.
A report by Cowen & Company estimates curbside fulfillment could generate between $30 billion and $35 billion next year. And while Amazon is working to compete, it’s playing from behind — and catching up will be extremely expensive.
The growth of curbside pickup at stores like Walmart and Target is a result of the fact that it combines the convenience of online shopping and the speed of physical retail. Customers don’t even have to get out of their cars and go into the stores.
While curbside pickup is still used by only a small percentage of shoppers, that number is growing. Cowen estimates 11% to 13% of Walmart shoppers use grocery pickup, and 14% of all shoppers used grocery pickup in 2018. The analysts expect the number of shoppers who have tried grocery pickup to climb to 25% by next year as the feature expands to more stores and retailers add more products available for curbside fulfillment. Read More > at The Motley Fool
California’s in an exceptional earthquake drought. When will it end? – California is in an earthquake drought.
It has been almost five years since the state experienced its last earthquake of magnitude 6 or stronger — in Napa. Southern California felt its last big quake on Easter Sunday 2010, and that shaker was actually centered across the border, causing the most damage in Mexicali.
Experts know this calm period will eventually end, with destructive results. They just don’t know when this well-documented geological pattern will shift.
“Earthquake rates are quite variable: We have a decade or two where we don’t have many earthquakes, and people expect that’s what California is always like,” said Elizabeth Cochran, seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Eventually, “we’re going to dramatically see a change in earthquake rates.”
Consider how much quieter California has been in regard to earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater:
• In the last 25 years, there have been 11 such temblors statewide. In the preceding generation, there were 32.
• In the last quarter-century, there have been three such earthquakes that shook California’s 10 southernmost counties. In the prior generation, there were nine, including the Sylmar temblor of 1971 (magnitude 6.6) and Northridge of 1994 (magnitude 6.7).
• The greater San Francisco Bay Area has been particularly quiet. Since the great 1906 earthquake destroyed much of San Francisco, there have been only three earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater. But in the 75 years before that catastrophe, there were 14, according to geophysicist Ross Stein. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
‘It Just Went Poof’: The Strange Aftermath of Virginia’s Cascade of Political Scandals – …This is the strange, suspended state of Virginia politics, just two months after scandal after scandal seemed to be devouring the state’s government from the top down.
In the space of a week in early February, the public was stunned by revelations about each of the three highest statewide elected officials, all Democrats: the racist photo in the governor’s yearbook; accusations of sexual assault against the lieutenant governor; and the attorney general’s appearance in blackface at a party in college. Protesters and news crews swarmed the Statehouse. Calls for resignations came from fellow Virginia Democrats, Republicans and even 2020 presidential candidates.
And then? “It just went poof,” said Natalie Draper, a librarian sitting in the back of a coffeehouse last week in Richmond. “It’s like it never happened.”
Virginians have various theories as to how this surreal normalcy set in.
Some say the whole mess was so exhausting and embarrassing that by the time the legislature adjourned on Feb. 24, the outrage had burned itself out. Others point to polls that showed Virginia voters were considerably less hungry for resignations than their representatives were. Some political observers mused about more fundamental changes to the life span of scandal, describing President Trump’s approach to bad press as if it were a revolutionary medical breakthrough.
“Don’t apologize, move on, and everybody will talk about something else next week,” is how Ben Tribbett, a Democratic strategist, described it. “Maybe we’ve been doing it wrong over the last 100 years.” Read More > in The New York Times
Flu Season Isn’t Over Yet — and More Serious Strains Are On the Rise, CDC Says – Flu season has been relatively mild in the U.S. this year. But even though it’s late in the season — flu activity tends to wrap up by May — influenza viruses are still circulating, according to a recent health alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
H3N2, an influenza strain known to cause more severe illnesses, is now making up a greater proportion of cases than it did early in the season, while lower-severity H1N1 and influenza B viruses are dropping off, the CDC says. Flu shots tend to protect against H1N1 and influenza B better than they do against H3N2.
Given those trends, flu season is likely to continue for several more weeks, the alert says. As of the week ending March 23, 20 U.S. states were still experiencing high influenza-like illness activity, according to CDC data. Read More > at TIME
The World might actually run out of people – YOU KNOW THE story. Despite technologies, regulations, and policies to make humanity less of a strain on the earth, people just won’t stop reproducing. By 2050 there will be 9 billion carbon-burning, plastic-polluting, calorie-consumingpeople on the planet. By 2100, that number will balloon to 11 billion, pushing society into a Soylent Green scenario. Such dire population predictions aren’t the stuff of sci-fi; those numbers come from one of the most trusted world authorities, the United Nations.
But what if they’re wrong? Not like, off by a rounding error, but like totally, completely goofed?
That’s the conclusion Canadian journalist John Ibbitson and political scientist Darrell Bricker come to in their newest book, Empty Planet, due out February 5th. After painstakingly breaking down the numbers for themselves, the pair arrived at a drastically different prediction for the future of the human species. “In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline,” they write. “Once that decline begins, it will never end.” Read More > at Wired
During all the Russia hacking hype, China is rising in influence – We’ve spent a lot of time talking about Russian spying in the United States…
But with all the attention focused on Russia, maybe we need to pay a bit more attention to the spying — and related meddling — being done by the People’s Republic of China. Because China is a bigger threat in general, and seems to be doing a lot without engendering much of a response, or even much awareness.
In fact, it may be that the Chinese government is quite happy to see us focus on Russians, as a distraction from what it’s doing. I would be, if I were them.
It wasn’t the Russians, after all, but the Chinese who were fingered for a massive 2015 hack on Office of Personnel Management records that was so damaging some dubbed it a Cyber Pearl Harbor.
But that attack now seems almost forgotten, though its damage lives on. And it’s not as if China has stopped. But it goes beyond spying, to actual operations within the United States.
Just last week, Politico reported on extensive Chinese spying in Silicon Valley, noting that it’s not just traditional cloak-and-dagger stuff, but the Chinese government leveraging the family connections of Chinese immigrants. Read More > at USA Today
‘New York Times’ Journalist Describes An ‘Almost Unimaginable’ Crisis In Venezuela – As Andes bureau chief for the Times, Casey has been covering the deepening economic and political chaos in Venezuela. He says the current crisis in the country is “almost unimaginable.”
“This is an oil-producing country. This was one of the most wealthy countries in Latin America,” he says. “And now this is a place where there are shortages of food, shortages of medicine. People’s daily lives are spent trying to figure out how they’re going to get basic things like eggs or coffee.”
Casey notes that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who took over after the 2013 death of Hugo Chávez, has become increasingly authoritarian, imprisoning political rivals and cracking down on protesters. Maduro has also cut off access for journalists, including Casey.
The U.N. estimates that it’s upwards of 3 million people who have left. Now remember, this is a country of 30 million people. So we’re talking about 10 percent of the population that has gone. And you see this when you walk around the streets of Caracas, which I have, or Maracaibo, which I did just a few weeks ago. There are areas which are completely empty. You walk down streets and you see that there’s two or three people in one house, and then another house is gone, or another house has got a family of what looked like squatters, because they’ve just moved into the place.
…On one end, these countries are trying to pressure [President] Maduro now to step down, because they know that this migrant crisis is going to get even worse the more politically unstable the country gets. Countries like Colombia understand that Venezuela used to be a country that took their immigrants, especially during the darkest days of the paramilitaries and the guerrilla fighting, but at the same time, they understand they can’t take every Venezuelan that comes.
And not only that, because of this crisis that’s getting worse and worse, because of lack of medicine mainly, people are coming into these countries with diseases that should be controlled in Venezuela — diseases like diphtheria, malaria, tuberculosis have made a huge comeback in Venezuela. So if you’re a neighboring country like Brazil or Colombia or a country like Ecuador or Peru, who are farther away but are also taking immigrants, this is a very scary situation that’s right on your doorstep. Read More > at NPR
San Jose: Petri Dish of an American Housing Crisis – For the second time running, Zillow crowned San Jose, California, with an auspicious title this year: It’s the hottest housing market in the country. When Zillow released stats ranking the median income of buyers and renters in cities around the country, San Jose topped the list again. Look around, though, and few are celebrating.
In one apartment, Shavell Crawford lives with her fiancé and four roommates. She works days as an executive assistant, studies nights as a law student, and often thinks about leaving the state before her wedding. “Do we want to live in California and have our first house be between $800,000 and $1.5 million?” she asks. “When we say our ‘I Do’s’ are we going to come back to roommates?” Behind another door is Nuemi Guzman, who wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every morning and gets home at 7:30 p.m., after a two-and-a-half-hour commute to work in Los Banos. Her parents spend more time with her kids than she does. She dreams of Arizona.
Meanwhile, in a $1,500-a-month studio, two cats live alone while their owner resides elsewhere and stops in to feed them daily. “Peak Silicon Valley,” the Mercury News called the plush set-up. But the apartment is actually a steal: Average rent for a studio in the city is closer to $2,000.
This dynamic has made San Jose an emblem of California and the Bay Area’s widening inequality. But at a time when dozens of cities around the state are facing similarly dire housing crises, San Jose has also tried to position itself as the laboratory for working with the state’s new governor to make the problem better. The stand both Governor Gavin Newsom and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo are taking: Neither city nor state can solve this alone.
Shortly after starting his governorship in January, Newsom announced a dramatic housing “Marshall Plan,” saying he’d aim to build 3.5 million new homes across the state by the end of his term. To do it, the state will earmark $1.75 billion of new funding in California’s 2019-2020 budget towards affordable housing projects, Newsom said. That investment may just scratch the surface of housing action needed, however—and the plan’s success will rely heavily on regional collaboration and participation from city leaders. Read More > at City Lab
California Prosecutors Move to Clear Old Pot Convictions – The medicinal use of marijuana has been legal in California for over 20 years. Last year, the Golden State legalized recreational use. Yet a great many state residents still have marijuana-related convictions on their records. On Monday, two prosecutors announced a new effort to clear tens of thousands of those weed-related convictions.
Statements from District Attorney Jackie Lacey of Los Angeles County and District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar of San Joaquin County announced that the counties were teaming up with Code for America to automatically dismiss or reduce 54,000 weed-related convictions. The initiative would seek to harmonize the criminal justice system with the new legalization rules.
The initiative would make use of Code for America’s Clear My Record program. The program takes criminal records, determines eligibility for relief, and then completes the necessary forms which are then filed in court. This helps governments like L.A. and San Joaquin County process applications more quickly. The program creators, who launched their pilot program in California last year, hope to expand the model nationwide. Read More > at Reason
No, Burger King’s New Meatless ‘Impossible Whopper’ Is Not an April Fools’ Prank – Burger King is taking “Have it Your Way” to a whole new extreme.
The fast food chain is introducing a meat-free version of its flagship Whopper. And no, it’s not an April Fools’ joke, though you could be forgiven for thinking so.
The Impossible Whopper is made in conjunction with Impossible Foods, whose “Impossible Burger” has won raves from even hardcore carnivores for having many of the same qualities as a beef burger, while still being entirely plant-based.
Burger King isn’t the first fast food chain to team with Impossible (Carl’s Jr. and White Castle have both offered Impossible versions of their own burgers), but none have embraced the concept quite so enthusiastically. The Impossible Whopper will be served at 59 Burger King locations in St. Louis initially, but it’s expected to be rolled out to 7,200 stores nationwide soon after. Read More > at Fortune
Britain’s Version Of ‘Medicare For All’ Is Collapsing – Nearly a quarter of a million British patients have been waiting more than six months to receive planned medical treatment from the National Health Service, according to a recent report from the Royal College of Surgeons. More than 36,000 have been in treatment queues for nine months or more.
Long waits for care are endemic to government-run, single-payer systems like the NHS. Yet some U.S. lawmakers want to import that model from across the pond. That would be a massive blunder.
Consider how long it takes to get care at the emergency room in Britain. Government data show that hospitals in England only saw 84.2% of patients within four hours in February. That’s well below the country’s goal of treating 95% of patients within four hours — a target the NHS hasn’t hit since 2015.
Now, instead of cutting wait times, the NHS is looking to scrap the goal.
Wait times for cancer treatment — where timeliness can be a matter of life and death — are also far too lengthy. According to January NHS England data, almost 25% of cancer patients didn’t start treatment on time despite an urgent referral by their primary care doctor. That’s the worst performance since records began in 2009. Read more > at Forbes
Grocery Store Openings Spike, With Small Stores Leading The Way – Grocery stores are the stars of the retail industry, anchoring developments large and small and providing one of the increasingly few services that shoppers can’t get online. Last year, supermarkets showed their strength by growing their footprints by 30%.
Grocers opened about 17M SF of new space nationwide in 2018, an increase of 29.4% compared with 2017, according to the JLL 2019 Grocery Tracker report. The previous year, grocery chains opened only about 13.4M SF of new space.
The spike in new space is concentrated in growing states such as Florida, Texas and California, with about one-quarter of all new store space last year located in those three. Chains that are already leaders in those places opened most of the new space.
The spike in grocery comes while Amazon is upping its game in the sector. Not content merely with expanding Whole Foods — though it’s doing that, too — the e-commerce giant is also planning a line of separate grocery stores, the first of which is expected to open toward the end of this year. Read More > at Bisnow
Here Is Why a Federal Judge Nixed California’s Ban on ‘Large Capacity Magazines‘ – On Friday evening, a federal judge in San Diego blocked enforcement of California’s ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, deeming it inconsistent with the Second Amendment right to keep arms for self-defense. U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez concluded that “California’s law prohibiting acquisition and possession of magazines able to hold any more than 10 rounds places a severe restriction on the core right of self-defense of the home such that it amounts to a destruction of the right and is unconstitutional under any level of scrutiny.” Benitez, who in 2017 issued a stay that prevented the law from taking effect, also agreed with the plaintiffs that the ban amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property without compensation.
In the landmark 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment applies to arms in common use for lawful purposes. Benitez notes that highly popular firearms owned by millions of Americans, such as the Glock 17 pistol, the Ruger 10/22 rifle, and the AR-15 rifle, come equipped with magazines that exceed California’s arbitrary limit, which was originally imposed in 2000 and extended to pre-existing hardware by a 2016 ballot initiative. “Millions of ammunition magazines able to hold more than 10 rounds are in common use by law-abiding responsible citizens for lawful uses like self-defense,” Benitez writes. “This is enough to decide that a magazine able to hold more than 10 rounds passes the Heller test and is protected by the Second Amendment.”
While Benitez thinks that is the appropriate test, he also concludes that California’s ban on “large capacity magazines” (LCMs) fails “strict scrutiny,” which requires the government to prove that the law is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest, and even “intermediate scrutiny,” which requires that the law be substantially related to an important state interest. The LCM ban “burdens the core of the Second Amendment by criminalizing the acquisition and possession of these magazines that are commonly held by law-abiding citizens for defense of self, home, and state,” he writes. “It also fails the strict scrutiny test because the statute is not narrowly tailored—it is not tailored at all. Even under the more forgiving test of intermediate scrutiny, the statute fails because it is not a reasonable fit.” Read More > at Reason
Forget the trip to El Salvador, Newsom needs to focus on California’s problems – It looked like an early April Fools’ joke at first. But, no, it was just an ambitious rookie governor trying to play world leader.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that he’ll be flying to El Salvador to learn “the root causes of migration” to the United States.
Does anyone in this hemisphere not know the root cause of why caravans of Central American refugees are seeking asylum in the U.S.? Newsom quickly answered his own question in the same prepared sentence in which he raised it: They’re “fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries.”
That has been a reason why humans have migrated for thousands of years. Escaping poverty and bullies — seeking opportunity and a better life — have been root motivators forever.
There’s nothing in the California Constitution about the duty of a governor to get up to speed on why people migrate to the U.S.
And if Newsom wanted to enmesh himself in foreign affairs, he should have run for the U.S. Senate three years ago when a seat opened.
…He did promise to provide early childhood education, reduce homelessness, develop affordable housing, deliver universal healthcare, fix delta plumbing and try to prevent wildfires.
The governor has some good proposals, but they need to be pushed hard and implemented.
When Newsom gets all of that done, he can turn to the nagging problems of an unstable tax system, abuse of environmental regulations that stymie homebuilding and subpar K-12 education. And let’s not forget that pokey, costly bullet train project. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
Voters Say They Pay Too Much in Taxes—But Vote for More – While a group of legislators push a constitutional amendment to lower the voting requirement for certain local taxes and bonds, voters told Public Policy Institute of California pollsters that they pay too much in local taxes. Maybe it is time they stop voting for some of the tax increases on the ballot.
PPIC reported that six in ten Californians said they pay more in state taxes than they should. Democrats (53%), Independents (67%) and Republicans (76%) said they pay much more or somewhat more than they should.
They all can pay a lot more if ACA 1 becomes law.
The proposal by Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and some 30 co-authors would lower the vote standard to pass a tax or a bond for housing and infrastructure from two-thirds to 55%. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
The True Dollar Cost of the Anti-Vaccine Movement – TWO YEARS AGO, a 6-year-old boy playing on his family’s farm in Oregon cut himself. His parents cleaned the wound and stitched it, and everything seemed fine—until, six days later, he began having muscle spasms, arching his back, and clenching his jaw. The boy had tetanus, the first case in a child to occur in Oregon in more than 30 years.
Tetanus is rare because a routine childhood vaccine prevents it. The boy’s parents had elected not to vaccinate him. A case report written by a physician who treated him along with staff members at the state health department and published this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relates what happened next.
The boy was airlifted to a university medical center and given immunotherapy and the first dose of the vaccine regimen he had missed. His spasms were so severe he could not open his mouth or breathe, so he was admitted to an intensive care unit, placed in a medical coma, and put on a ventilator. His body couldn’t regulate itself; his heart rate sped up and his temperature soared and dipped, so he had to be pumped full of IV drugs to keep his vital signs under control.
There’s a coda to the story of the boy’s unnecessary endangerment and unlikely survival. The CDC reports that his care, just in the hospital—exclusive of the air ambulance or the more than two weeks in rehab—cost more than $800,000. Read More > at Wired
Election results fuel war on charter schools – Elections have consequences, and while some are unintended, one major impact of last year’s California elections is very much intended.
Organizations and wealthy individuals favoring education reforms and charter schools went head-to-head with the California Teachers Association and other elements of the education establishment.
It was a wipeout. The CTA, et al, swept the table, including the elections of Gavin Newsom as governor and Tony Thurmond as state superintendent of schools, and stronger Democratic supermajorities in the Legislature.
And now there are consequences – a frontal assault on charter schools, which the CTA and other unions see as rivals for students and the funds that come with their enrollments.
Striking teachers in Los Angeles and Oakland blamed charters for depriving their systems of much-needed state aid and demanded a study that would pinpoint the shift of funds. Newsom readily complied, assigning the job to Thurmond, who’s already made it clear that he endorses the union complaints.
…The bills now pending in the Legislature would place a cap on charters at their current numbers, make it much more difficult to open new charters and allow school districts to deny charters based on financial impacts – something now specifically barred by current law. Read More > at CALmatters
Zuckerberg for Regulation – Beware of tech CEOs bearing gifts from government.
Sooner or later you knew it would happen: Big tech would invite government regulation to deflect even greater intervention such as an antitrust breakup.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the latest to welcome governments to play a “more active role” in governing the internet, presumably including his company. In an op-ed Saturday in the Irish Independent and Washington Post, Mr. Zuckerberg invited European-style privacy rules for the U.S. and called on regulators to set clearer rules on “harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.”
This plea for big government to regulate big business will go down well in liberal precincts, where the tech giants have lost the political immunity they had during the Obama years. Politicians like nothing better than to claim to be taming unpopular businesses, and Mr. Zuckerberg may think he’s buying some protection from calls to break up the company.
The rest of us should be wary of CEOs bearing government gifts. The costs of regulation, such as privacy rules, are easier for bigger businesses to bear and they can create higher barriers to entry for competitors. And forgive us if we’re wary of letting politicians on the right or left dictate content decisions. Before he invites the protection of the political class, Mr. Zuckerberg should have Facebook fix Facebook. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
The Day the Dinosaurs Died – A young paleontologist may have discovered a record of the most significant event in the history of life on Earth.
If, on a certain evening about sixty-six million years ago, you had stood somewhere in North America and looked up at the sky, you would have soon made out what appeared to be a star. If you watched for an hour or two, the star would have seemed to grow in brightness, although it barely moved. That’s because it was not a star but an asteroid, and it was headed directly for Earth at about forty-five thousand miles an hour. Sixty hours later, the asteroid hit. The air in front was compressed and violently heated, and it blasted a hole through the atmosphere, generating a supersonic shock wave. The asteroid struck a shallow sea where the Yucatán peninsula is today. In that moment, the Cretaceous period ended and the Paleogene period began.
A few years ago, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory used what was then one of the world’s most powerful computers, the so-called Q Machine, to model the effects of the impact. The result was a slow-motion, second-by-second false-color video of the event. Within two minutes of slamming into Earth, the asteroid, which was at least six miles wide, had gouged a crater about eighteen miles deep and lofted twenty-five trillion metric tons of debris into the atmosphere. Picture the splash of a pebble falling into pond water, but on a planetary scale. When Earth’s crust rebounded, a peak higher than Mt. Everest briefly rose up. The energy released was more than that of a billion Hiroshima bombs, but the blast looked nothing like a nuclear explosion, with its signature mushroom cloud. Instead, the initial blowout formed a “rooster tail,” a gigantic jet of molten material, which exited the atmosphere, some of it fanning out over North America. Much of the material was several times hotter than the surface of the sun, and it set fire to everything within a thousand miles. In addition, an inverted cone of liquefied, superheated rock rose, spread outward as countless red-hot blobs of glass, called tektites, and blanketed the Western Hemisphere.
…The damage had only begun. Scientists still debate many of the details, which are derived from the computer models, and from field studies of the debris layer, knowledge of extinction rates, fossils and microfossils, and many other clues. But the over-all view is consistently grim. The dust and soot from the impact and the conflagrations prevented all sunlight from reaching the planet’s surface for months. Photosynthesis all but stopped, killing most of the plant life, extinguishing the phytoplankton in the oceans, and causing the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere to plummet. After the fires died down, Earth plunged into a period of cold, perhaps even a deep freeze. Earth’s two essential food chains, in the sea and on land, collapsed. About seventy-five per cent of all species went extinct. More than 99.9999 per cent of all living organisms on Earth died, and the carbon cycle came to a halt. Read More > in The New Yorker
Food Waste Is a Major Problem. Confusing Date Labels Are Making It Worse. – Rummaging through your refrigerator, you come across a jar of mayonnaise labeled “BEST IF USED BY 06/10/19.” If it’s mid-July, are you risking illness by slathering it on your sandwich and eating it?
It’s hard to say.
Massachusetts and New Jersey are considering measures to clear up the confusion, following a California law that went into effect earlier this year. Several other states also are looking at labeling bills, as anti-food waste groups advocate for clearer signs to indicate when food is okay to eat, even if it’s not the freshest.
A bill that would establish federal standards for the labels, first introduced in 2016, has gone nowhere in Congress. Meanwhile, 43 states have their own rules, but they vary widely. Most limit labeling requirements to certain items, such as milk or shellfish. Some states prohibit the sale of past-date foods, and about half restrict donations of them. And the seven states without any laws leave it up to manufacturers.
The result: confusion for retailers and consumers, who throw out tons of food that is perfectly safe to eat.
More than a third of the food in the United States goes to waste—about 400 pounds a year per American. Food is the largest category of waste in landfills, where it generates methane that contributes to global warming. Discarding past-date food is a huge cost for retailers.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans are going hungry. Read More > at Route Fifty