Sunday Reading – 07/05/2020

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.

APWA -Small Cities/Rural Communities Project of the Year Oakley Recreation Center

How California went from model student to pandemic problem child – California was long the nation’s shining star on the coronavirus, heralded by national media and White House advisers as an example of how other states could beat the disease. The state was so confident in April that it sent hundreds of ventilators to the East Coast.

Now, the Democratic state joins Republican-dominated Florida, Texas and Arizona as America’s problem children, with new cases skyrocketing and leaders seemingly caught flat-footed as the spread grows beyond their control. California has seen a 70 percent increase in daily new cases over the past two weeks, while hospitalizations have shot up 51 percent.

Disease experts, public health officials and even state leaders themselves say they had too much faith that residents would continue social distancing in bars, restaurants and backyards. Epidemiologists are now wondering if California was too eager to reopen its economy in a state with the nation’s largest, most diverse population of nearly 40 million people.

Newsom initially laid out a slow, phased-in reopening process that started in May with retail pick-up, offices and manufacturing, all with social distancing. He then allowed restaurant dining and in-store retail to resume later that month. Facing litigation and pressure from the White House, Newsom allowed church services to start with limitations.

By June, however, Newsom opened the floodgates to other sectors. In the next stage came hair salons and barber shops. Then bars and gyms, followed by nail salons and tattoo parlors. Simultaneously, protesters were hitting the streets throughout California — though officials have insisted that demonstrations did not lead to outbreaks — while residents were increasingly tired of quarantining without seeing friends and family.

The governor has insisted that he did not allow California to reopen on a broad scale, putting that responsibility — and blame, perhaps — on officials in the state’s 58 counties. He says he only told counties “how” they could open, not “when.” Still, by issuing guidelines for each sector, his administration gave a tacit green light to counties where residents had been clamoring for a return to normalcy. Read More > at Politico

Here’s how Gov. Newsom plans to enforce his latest coronavirus order – How will the orders be enforced? That’s a key question sparked by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest wave of anti-coronavirus orders on Wednesday — including banning indoor dining and other inside activities at such businesses as wineries, museums and casinos in a list of counties that included Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside.

At Norco’s The Cowgirl Cafe, owner Karen Hendrickson was prepared to test the governor. By Wednesday afternoon, she had already contacted her attorney and was preparing to stay open for indoor dining, despite the state order.

The governor made it clear, however: If you run a business that’s not adhering to directives — dining outdoors, requiring face masks and six-feet separations — and you’re getting repeated complaints, you stand a good chance of getting fined. And if the virus is spreading at your establishment, you could be closed.

Newsom described the enforcement process in these terms:

  • It will be “targeted,” he said, citing businesses and public attractions that are not in compliance;
  • “Multi-Agency Strike Teams” will be formed to inspect businesses and follow up with those that don’t follow the rules;
  • Teams will partner with county health departments;
  • They will be made up of staff from such agencies as the Highway Patrol, Department of Consumer Affairs and Department of Business Oversight, CalOsha and Alcohol and Beverage Control, the Board of Barbers and Cosmotology.

Newsom said that the aim is to target people who are “thumbing their nose” at the directives — and by doing so are threatening both their workers and their customers. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

A Long Talk With Anthony Fauci’s Boss About the Pandemic, Vaccines, and Faith – A big question is whether somebody who has had COVID-19 is now immune from getting it again. So far we don’t see compelling evidence of people getting reinfected, but that’s still a bit early to say for sure. That’s going to make a huge difference in everything we try to do about this going forward. A vaccine, of course, depends upon the idea that immunity is protective.

I am guardedly optimistic that by the end of 2020 we will have at least one vaccine that has been proven safe and effective in a large-scale trial. Nobody should accept it as safe and effective without that large-scale trial. There are at least four vaccines that will be getting into such large trials this summer beginning as early as July. Each one of those trials will involve roughly 30,000 volunteers, half of whom will get the vaccine, half of whom will get a dummy placebo. You have to have that control or you will never know if the vaccine worked or not.

Those trials will have to be conducted in areas where the virus is actively spreading because that’s the only way you’re going to know whether it was protective. With four different vaccines with four different approaches, we’ve kind of hedged our bets against putting too much emphasis on one particular strategy. That’s good — because vaccines are really interesting science, but every new virus presents surprises in terms of how the vaccine turns out to work. So I’d be very worried right now if we had one platform that everybody was counting on. Having four makes me feel a lot better.

Maybe all four of them will work. As long as one of them works, we’ll be in a far better position by the end of the year to see our way out of this global pandemic mess. But there will be, then, a time of having to do the scale-up to have billions of doses, which might be what the world needs. So there will still be some time involved, even though we are doing everything possible to prepare for that by manufacturing millions of doses of each of those vaccines even before we know if they would work, so that the highest-risk people can get access right away. So I’m guardedly optimistic that we will see all that happen. But again — this is uncharted territory. Read More > at New York Magazine

Study: World’s pile of electronic waste grows ever higher – The world’s mountain of discarded flat-screen TVs, cellphones and other electronic goods grew to a record high last year, according to an annual report released Thursday.

The U.N.-backed study estimated the amount of e-waste that piled up globally in 2019 at 53.6 metric tonnes (59.1 tons) — almost 2 million metric tons more than the previous year.

The authors of the study calculated the combined weight of all dumped devices with a battery or a plug last year was the equivalent of 350 cruise ships the size of the Queen Mary 2.

Among all the discarded plastic and silicon were large amounts of copper, gold and other precious metals — used for example to conduct electricity on circuit boards. While about a sixth of it was recycled, the remainder of those valuable components — worth about $57 billion — weren’t reclaimed, the study found.

Discarded electronic equipment also poses a health and environmental hazard, as it contains substances such as mercury that can damage the nervous system. Read More > from the Associated Press

Oakland Zoo teeters on permanent closure – The Oakland Zoo is reckoning with a common existential question in the time of Covid: Can it survive?

The zoo is bleeding money — $2 million each month — according to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle, and is at risk of having to shutter permanently. The facility has been closed since the first shelter-in-place orders were given in mid-March. Zoo President and CEO Joel Parrott said emergency federal funds have been exhausted and the zoo is now surviving on a $3 million reserve fund, which will be gone in months, the Chronicle reported.

The zoo is now requesting permission from the county to be classified as an outdoor museum so that it can begin to accommodate a limited number of visitors each day by reservation only. Masks and social distancing would be required, indoor exhibits and restaurants would be closed and the number of daily visitors would be reduced from 7,000 per day to just 2,500, the Chronicle reported. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Stanford research provides a snapshot of a new working-from-home economy – The new “working-from-home economy,” which is likely to continue long past the coronavirus pandemic that spawned it, poses new challenges – from a ticking time bomb for inequality to an erosion of city centers – according to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom.

We see an incredible 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time. About another 33 percent are not working – a testament to the savage impact of the lockdown recession. And the remaining 26 percent – mostly essential service workers – are working on their business premises. So, by sheer numbers, the U.S. is a working-from-home economy. Almost twice as many employees are working from home as at work.

More strikingly, if we consider the contribution to U.S. gross domestic product based on their earnings, this enlarged group of work-from-home employees now accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

Without this historic switch to working from home, the lockdown could never have lasted. The economy would have collapsed, forcing us to return to work, reigniting infection rates. Working from home is not only economically essential, it is a critical weapon in our fight against COVID-19 – and future pandemics.

Not everyone can work from home. Only 51 percent of the survey respondents – mostly managers, professionals and financial workers who can carry out their jobs on computers – reported being able to work from home at an efficiency rate of 80 percent or more.

The remaining (nearly) half cannot work remotely. They work in retail, healthcare, transport and business services, and need to see customers or work with products or equipment. Read More > from Stanford

Record jobs gain of 4.8 million in June smashes expectations; unemployment rate falls to 11.1% – Nonfarm payrolls soared by 4.8 million in June and the unemployment rate fell to 11.1% as the U.S. continued its reopening from the coronavirus pandemic, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting a 2.9 million increase and a jobless rate of 12.4%. The report was released a day earlier than usual due to the July Fourth holiday.

The jobs growth marked a big leap from the 2.7 million in May, which was revised up by 190,000. The June total is easily the largest single-month gain in U.S. history. Read More > at CNBC

Without firing a shot, China has killed Hong Kong – At the height of the protests in Hong Kong there were fears that the Xi administration would send in the troops, that we might see a 21st century rerun of Tiananmen Square.

But Beijing is not so stupid. The last thing it wants is images of chaos and bloodshed to be sent around the world. Its solution to what it sees as the problem of Hong Kong has therefore been administrative. The new National Security Law came into force at 11pm last night, and criminalises a wide range of ‘subversive’ activities (in effect making it easier to punish the slightest form protest). With Beijing having sole control over how the law is interpreted, it has legally, publicly, and effectively killed Hong Kong.

No matter that Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms were guaranteed for 50 years from 1997 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. That was publicly torn up years ago, when China forbade British parliamentarians from visiting the Special Administrative Region in 2014. Since then Chinese officials have repeatedly asserted that as sovereignty returned to China in 1997, the agreement is null and void. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, for example, said the Declaration was a “unilateral policy announcement by China, not a promise from China to the UK, even less a so-called international commitment”.

In one sense it does not matter what, exactly, the National Security Law states. It is a simple, brutal, assertion of the power of the mainland over Hong Kong. Beijing has struck against the one area over which it governed which still guaranteed some freedoms. Xi does not believe in contested areas. The unity of China, the party and the people is his ceaseless watchword.

He fears becoming the Chinese Gorbachev: the man seen as losing the battle of ideas with the West and so overseeing his nation’s collapse. Xi’s entire approach to governing has been about emphasising the ideological battle between China and the West. No dissent is permitted, no liberties may be taken. This is a new Cold War, a form of ideological and diplomatic autarky in which China has chosen its path. The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which Hong Kong is having to wrestle. Read More > at CapX

Russians vote to allow Putin’s rule to extend for 16 more years – Russian voters approved changes to the constitution that will allow President Vladimir Putin to hold power until 2036, but the weeklong plebiscite that concluded Wednesday was tarnished by widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.

With the nation’s polls closed and 30% of all precincts counted, 74% voted for the constitutional amendments, according to election officials.

The vote completes a convoluted saga that began in January, when Putin first proposed the constitutional changes. He offered to broaden the powers of parliament and redistribute authority among the branches of government, stoking speculation he might seek to become parliamentary speaker or chairman of the State Council when his presidential term ends in 2024.

His intentions became clear only hours before a vote in parliament, when legislator Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet-era cosmonaut who was the first woman in space in 1963, proposed letting him run two more times. The amendments, which also emphasize the primacy of Russian law over international norms, outlaw same-sex marriages and mention “a belief in God” as a core value, were quickly passed by the Kremlin-controlled legislature.

Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades — longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin — said he would decide later whether to run again in 2024. He argued that resetting the term count was necessary to keep his lieutenants focused on their work instead of “darting their eyes in search for possible successors.” Read More > in the New York Post  

Support All Schools – “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” With those words, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by four other members of the Supreme Court, gutted the nineteenth-century Blaine Amendments—a legacy of anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment from the nineteenth century—still found in 37 state constitutions. Those amendments barred the use of public money for religious schools. With this week’s ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court leaves it up to individual states to decide if they support private and religious schools directly with taxpayer dollars, grants, and school vouchers, or indirectly, through tuition-tax credits.

Approximately 4 million students across the country attend religious schools, and another 1 million go to private, nonsectarian schools. All these schools serve a “public” function, in that the education they provide is of benefit to a functioning society. Private and religious schools are a small but critical portion of our K-12 educational system, giving families and communities greater choice in schooling. That educational pluralism is an American virtue. Read More > at City Journal

How Empty Stadiums Could Influence Referee Decision-Making – …After the Calcio-Palermo brawl, two Swedish economists, Per Pettersson-Lidbom and Mikael Priks, studied the various Italian soccer matches played in the empty venues. And they found something remarkable. In Serie A, as in most sports leagues worldwide, the home team won the majority of the matches, according to the study, published in the journal Economics Letters. Why? For a variety of possible reasons, but, chief among them, home teams received the majority of favorable calls from the officials. In Serie A—as in virtually all leagues—home teams received fewer red cards and yellow cards, and fewer penalty and foul calls. When home teams were trailing, they received more injury time, the minutes that officials discretionarily tack onto the end of games, increasing their odds of catching up. When home teams were leading, injury time dwindled.

Yet when the Swedish economists looked at games played between Serie A teams with no fans in the stands, the home team advantage effectively vanished. Teams didn’t win at home any more than on the road.

And when no fans were in the stands, the home/away penalty differential shriveled. The favorable calls conferred on the home team dropped by 23%–70%, depending on the type of calls (a decline of 23% for fouls, 26% for yellow cards and 70% for red cards). Subjective close calls no longer favored the home team. Injury time favoring the home team declined as well.

The researchers looked closely at officiating crews pre- and post-riot. They noted that the same referees overseeing the same two teams in the same stadium behaved dramatically differently when spectators were present, versus when no one was watching.

Why would officials call a game so differently based on the presence of a crowd? Let’s dispense with the conspiracy theories: It is not because officials are biased, much less because they are corrupt. It is because they are human. As such, they are susceptible to the powerful force that is social influence. Read More . in Sports Illustrated 

Dow caps off best quarter since 1987 as strong economic data drives gains – US stocks rose on Tuesday as better-than-expected economic data outweighed mounting concern over a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

The Dow Jones industrial average’s 18% gain in the three-month period from April through June marked the index’s best quarterly return since 1987. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 saw its best gain since 1998 during the period, while the Nasdaq capped off its best quarter since 2001.

Equities got a lift from data showing US consumer confidence jumped in June by the most since 2011, exceeding consensus economist forecasts. Read More > at Markets Insider 

FBI Says Background Checks on Gun Buyers Surged 70% to a Record 3.9 Million in June – The FBI says gun sales are soaring. Data from its National Instant Criminal Background Check System showed a record 3.9 million background checks were conducted in June, surpassing the previous record of 3.7 million in March.

Criminal background checks are up over 38% in 2020, with three of the top four busiest months ever occurring this year. In fact, the 19.1 million investigations done over the first six months is almost as many as were performed in all of 2012, when 19.5 million background checks were done.

Fear-based buying is typically the cause of such surges, whether it’s due to concern over more restrictive gun laws being passed or worries for personal safety. It is undoubtedly the latter that is driving the latest wave of gun purchases. Protests, riots, city centers being annexed, and even calls from politicians to defund law enforcement or drastically reduce such budgets have people deciding they need to be better prepared to protect themselves, their families, and their property. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Is it safe to send kids back to school? – Covid-19 has been disruptive and bewildering for everyone, but especially for children. In the UK and in most US states, schools closed in March. Many of them will keep their doors shut until the fall. That’s six months without the normality of a school day, not to mention a significant break without any formal education for the many children who cannot access online classes.

It’s a global issue. Schools have had to close in 191 countries, affecting more than 1.5 billion students and 63 million teachers, according to the United Nations. But in many countries, schools are now cautiously reopening: in Germany, Denmark, Vietnam, New Zealand, and China, children are mostly back behind their desks. These countries all have two things in common: low levels of infection and a reasonably firm ability to trace outbreaks.

What about the UK or the US, where the number of cases is relatively high and tracing systems are still in the early stages? How will we know when it’s safe for children to return? There can never be a cast-iron guarantee. But for parents to be able to gauge the level of risk, there are three questions that need answering. How susceptible are children to covid-19? How badly does it affect them? And do they spread it to others?

We know that children are less likely to catch covid-19 than adults. They’re about half as likely, to be precise, according to a recent study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) using data from China, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Canada, and South Korea, published in Nature Medicine. …

The LSHTM study suggests that when children catch covid-19, they usually get very mild effects. Only one in five of those aged 10-19 had any clinical symptoms, compared with 69% of adults over 70. Children are extremely unlikely to die from coronavirus…The message seems to be that parents should not worry unduly about what might happen to their kids should they catch the virus.

It is possible for children to introduce covid-19 into their household—a study from China identified three occasions when a child under 10 was the “index case” in a home. But it seems to be rare.

The crux of the issue is data, or more precisely a lack of it. Because children are less likely to catch covid-19, and are likely to have milder symptoms if they do, they are less likely to be seen by doctors or tested. That means high-quality, reliable data on this question is hard to come by. Read More > at MIT technology Review

Mea culpa: Another leading environmentalist admits he got it wrong over climate change, but MSM tries to CENSOR him – Michael Shellenberger, a well-known US green campaigner, has sparked controversy by admitting that climate change alarmism is out of control in a new book and an article for Forbes – which, ominously, has now been ‘deactivated’.

Michael Shellenberger’s green and left-wing credentials are solid. He sought the Democratic nomination for governor of California in 2018, was named a Hero of the Environment by TIME magazine in 2008, and was winner of the 2008 Green Book Award.

He’s not the usual run-of-the-mill green, however. He has long been a critic of some of the policies put forward by environmentalist groups, while accepting the seriousness of environmental issues like climate change. But now he may finally have burned his bridges with the tree-huggers.

His new book is called Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All and it explodes multiple myths about supposed ecological crises. In his article for Forbes, Shellenberger argues, among other things, that humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction,” that the Amazon is not “the lungs of the world,” that climate change is not making natural disasters worse, that fires have declined 25 percent around the world since 2003 and that the build-up of wood fuel and more houses near forests, not climate change, explain why there are more and more dangerous fires in Australia and California.

His sources for these statements are not fringe climate skeptic websites but “the IPCC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other leading scientific bodies.”

His confession now is that he should have been more critical of the alarmist statements made by environmentalists. In a tweet pointing to his Forbes article, he tweeted“On behalf of environmentalists, I apologize for the climate scare. Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world. It’s not even our most important environmental problem.” Read More > at RT

What’s Behind the Great American Fireworks Boom? – When it comes to government no-win scenarios, this fireworks crisis is as close as they come. Municipalities across the country are grappling with calls to defund the police and abolish prisons in the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality and racism, and local leaders are under fire to justify the disproportionate spending for law enforcement in city and county budgets. At the same time, a spike in neighborhood fireworks displays has unleashed a deluge of reports to law enforcement. Block Club Chicago reports that Chicago residents have made 7,042 noise complaint calls over fireworks this year, a whopping 736% increase over the figure for this time last year. Boston logged 1,445 calls in the first week of June versus just 22 for the same week in 2019, an absurd 2,300% spike in complaints. Philadelphia residents registered nearly 1,000 fireworks calls over the last three weeks. This latest calamity pits reformers of urban policing against the equally powerful phenomenon of urban complaining.

This summer’s Great American Fireworks Conflagration has everything: It’s a culture story about cooped-up teens finding release during the summer of shutdown. It’s a postcard from the Covid economy, with the pyrotechnics industry offering fire-sale discounts in the wake of so many canceled Fourth of July shows. And it’s a multi-city portrait of the nation’s Karens, those much-memed embodiments of white entitlement who demand police intervention over every trifling annoyance. But centrally, the fireworks discourse offers a test case in the national conversation over policing, with reformers and abolitionists arguing that most police work should be handed off to social workers even as residents dial up quality-of-life noise complaints to police faster than dispatchers can log them. In the middle are America’s mayors, caught between the Scylla of #DefundThePolice activists and the Charybdis of Nextdoor NIMBYs.

…The widespread nature of the fireworks freakout seems to lend credence to the notion that these aren’t just the usual pre–Independence Day detonations. But, as many local news stories have concluded, there are more mundane explanations for it: At least 15 states, for example, passed laws relaxing access to fireworks over the last two decades. After lockdown lulls, fireworks retailers are marking down their inventories and racking up big sales this season. And some cities have many years of experience in dealing with amateur seasonal fireworks. Arguments over the prosumer-grade excesses of the “people’s fireworks” have riled residents of Washington, D.C., for years. Police in the District confiscate tens of thousands of pieces of explosive contraband every year, with a big jump in 2017, when police seized more than 72,000 fireworks off the streets — a six-fold increase from the previous year. “Clearly New Yorkers have never been to D.C. between June and August before,” reporter Abdallah Fayyad observed. Read More > at CityLab

With single-use bag ban back, you’ll be paying for grocery sacks again – Get ready to pack your own reusable bags again, or pay for 10 cents for store bags when you go shopping, if you aren’t already.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s April 22 suspension of the state’s single-use bag ban expired June 22, and stores are eliminating their interim free-bag policies.

Suspension of the state law came after some retailers unilaterally stopped allowing reusable bags out of concern that they could contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

Now, environmentalists are celebrating the return of the single-use ban. They — along with many health experts — say reusable bags pose little health risk, particularly if they’re washed regularly and handled only by the shopper.

The most recent Cal-OSHA guidelines, dated May 26, simply say that customers should leave their reusable bags in their cart, that employees should not touch the bags and that customers should bag their own purchases. Read More > in The Orange County Register

Want to Reform the Criminal Justice System? End the Drug War. – Protesters say America’s criminal justice system is unfair.

It is.

Courts are so jammed that innocent people plead guilty to avoid waiting years for a trial. Lawyers help rich people get special treatment. A jail stay is just as likely to teach you crime as it is to help you get a new start. Overcrowded prisons cost a fortune and increase suffering for both prisoners and guards.

There’s one simple solution to most of these problems: End the war on drugs.

Our government has spent trillions of dollars trying to stop drug use.

It hasn’t worked. More people now use more drugs than before the “war” began.

What drug prohibition did do is exactly what alcohol prohibition did a hundred years ago: increase conflict between police and citizens.

Because drug sales are illegal, profits from selling drugs are huge. Since sellers can’t rely on law enforcement to protect their property, they buy guns and form gangs.

Cigarettes harm people, too, but there are no violent cigarette gangs—no cigarette shootings—even though nicotine is more addictive than heroin, says our government. That’s because tobacco is legal. Likewise, there are no longer violent liquor gangs. They vanished when prohibition ended. Read More > at Reason

Here Comes the Hard Part: States, Cities Face Grim Budget Picture – The new fiscal year is here but budget writers are still in the bargaining phase. Although it starts for most states and localities on July 1, so many uncertainties remain that budgets are effectively works in progress, with lawmakers still hoping for an after-the-last-minute rescue from Washington.

All but a few states have enacted budgets for fiscal 2021, but several have punted harder decisions until later this summer or perhaps the fall — either formally pushing back the start of the budget year or passing continuing resolutions to keep spending levels intact for a while yet, in hopes cuts can still be avoided. On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new budget that is filled with asterisks. Billions of dollars’ worth of scheduled spending cuts will be canceled, if Congress comes up with an aid package.

That may well happen. Congressional Republicans have been wary of sending more aid to states, cities and counties, wanting to see whether the economy would recover without additional priming. There now appears to be a grudging realization that further aid is necessary. No one knows what that will look like, however, and help isn’t likely to come any time sooner than the end of the month.

Waiting on Washington may be the hardest part, but states and localities face other unknowns. For one thing, most states followed the feds in moving their income tax filing deadlines back, from April 15 to July 15. Since returns will reflect last year’s income levels, they should be pretty healthy. Still, quarterly payments that normally would have been due in June may come in short of expectations. Read More > at Governing

California cities begin embracing cannabis in desperate search for cash – California local governments scrambling to find tax revenues during the coronavirus pandemic are turning toward an industry they had considered taboo until now: cannabis.

It has been almost four years since voters legalized recreational marijuana in California, and nearly 70 percent of cities and counties have yet to embrace pot businesses because they see regulatory problems or have concerns about public safety and negative publicity.

But some, facing insurmountable budget gaps as unemployment rises to its worst level since the Great Depression, would now rather open their doors to cannabis than lay off more workers or cut services. So far, a handful of cities have begun developing cannabis tax measures for the November ballot since voter approval is required to add local taxes. It’s a trend many in the industry expect to continue over the next month absent approval of a federal bailout for state and local governments. Read More > at Politico

Nearly Half Of All COVID-Related Deaths In The US Are Directly Tied To Nursing Homes: Report – More than 50,000 people have died from coronavirus-related illness at the country’s nursing homes for older adults, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The Times’s database collected data showing that coronavirus, or COVID-19, has infected more than 282,000 people at 12,000 facilities. Total deaths from such long-term facilities constitute roughly 43% of all COVID-19-related deaths, the paper reported.

Nursing homes constitute only 11% of all COVID-19 cases even though they account for nearly half of all deaths, data show.

The Times compiled a database of coronavirus cases and deaths at nursing homes in the absence of comprehensive information from states. Some states regularly collect and release data on cases and deaths at nursing homes, as well as assisted-living facilities.

New York releases facility-level data on deaths but not about cases, while Wisconsin and Minnesota provide details on cases but not on deaths. Other states report practically nothing, the report showed. The Times based its data on official confirmation from states, along with the facilities themselves.

The data could be undercounted, the paper noted.

A recent report has highlighted the degree to which regulators have been unable to monitor the country’s nursing homes.

More than 82% of the United States’ 15,500 nursing homes were cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies between 2013 and 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote in a blog post in May. Read More > at the Daily Caller

1 in 5 Ballots Rejected as Fraud Is Charged in N.J. Mail-In Election – Following accusations of widespread fraud, voter intimidation, and ballot theft in the May 12 municipal elections in Paterson, N.J., state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Thursday he is charging four men with voter fraud – including the vice president of the City Council and a candidate for that body.

With races still undecided, control of the council hangs in the balance. Paterson is New Jersey’s third largest city and the election will decide the fate of a municipal budget in excess of $300 million, in addition to hundreds of millions more in education spending and state aid.

In the City Council election, 16,747 vote-by-mail ballots were received, but only 13,557 votes were counted. More than 3,190 votes, 19% of the total ballots cast, were disqualified by the board of elections. Due to the pandemic, Paterson’s election was done through vote-by-mail. Community organizations, such as the city’s NAACP chapter, are calling for the entire election to be invalidated.

Mail-in ballots have long been acknowledged by voting experts to be more susceptible to fraud and irregularities than in-person voting. This has raised concerns from President Trump and other Republicans about the integrity of national elections in November, which are expected to include a dramatic increase in mail-in ballots. If Paterson is any guide, it ought to concern Democrats as well. Read More > at Real Clear Politics 

Californians continue to trek to Texas – If Texas does indeed turn blue this November, the yearslong exodus of Californians to the Lone Star State will be one major reason.

It’s a trend that continues even during the coronavirus pandemic, according to reporting from Marketplace. The news organization spoke to members of a “Move to Texas From California!” Facebook page and a Riverside county resident who’s moving to Texas in early July. Despite the difficult logistics of the pandemic and explosive virus rates in places like Houston, the soon-to-be ex-pats are not disuaded.

More than 86,000 Californians packed up and left for the Lone Star State in 2018, according to a 2020 Texas Relocation Report published by Texas Realtors. That represents a 36% increase. Motivations range from cost of living and lack of affordable housing to political climate, high taxation, and legislation that is onerous for small business. Read More > at California County News 

Call it the Do-Over Ballot – Label the coming election on ballot measures the Do-Over Ballot. Many of the propositions headed for the November ballot are intended to re-do previous actions taken by voters and/or legislators.

Removing some property tax limits, changing other property tax rules, undoing a ban on affirmative action, toughening criminal penalties—all these ballot measures are intended to undo what California voters did with initiative measures in the past.

There are also attempts to undo legislative actions. There is a referendum to turn over the law passed by the legislature to eliminate cash bail. There is an initiative to separate app-linked drivers that work with companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash from the new labor mandates of AB 5, the worker classification law. There is a measure to supplant rent control limitations set by the legislature with a broader rent control law.

The California ballot is giving current voters a chance to reconsider what was codified in the past and rewrite the law.

However, just because voters can make changes does not mean they will or they should. The wisdom on certain issues expressed by voters in the past can stand the test of time. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Mexico Is Facing A Dual Crisis: Deadly Drug Cartels And A Deadly Pandemic – With so much turmoil and trouble across the country right now, most Americans are probably not thinking about our southern neighbor. But they should be, because Mexico is in trouble, facing a dual crisis of deadly drug cartels and a deadly coronavirus pandemic. As conditions there deteriorate, we should expect Mexico’s problems to become our own.

First, the cartels. Last week, one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels brought the country’s ongoing drug war right into the heart of Mexico City, long considered an island of calm in an ocean of chaos and violence.

Not anymore. Gunmen believed to be members of the violent Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG)  unleashed a carefully coordinated assassination attempt against Mexico City Police Chief Omar García Harfuch in one of the city’s most posh neighborhoods, attacking García’s armored vehicle at dawn on Friday with grenades, assault rifles, and a .50-caliber sniper rifle. García was hit three times but lived. Two of his bodyguards and a bystander were killed….

So much for Mexico’s worsening drug war. Meanwhile, the country is also facing a deadly pandemic that risks spiraling out of control. Like the United States, Mexico has seen rising coronavirus infection rates in recent weeks. But unlike in the United States, the coronavirus death rate is rising, not falling…

Between the rising power of the cartels and the destabilizing effects of the pandemic, the Mexican state is in serious trouble. A collapse of government authority, and perhaps of the regime itself, isn’t unthinkable under these conditions.

Americans shouldn’t wave away the consequences of a collapse of the Mexican state. Our history with Mexico has shown time and again that chaos and disorder south of the Rio Grande never stays there.  Read More > in The Federalist

Mexico’s demolition derby picks up speed – The situation in Mexico is getting increasingly desperate. Last Friday, the chief of police of Mexico City, a man who commands a force of 80,000 armed police, was attacked on his way to work in one of the city’s best neighborhoods. Some 28 assailants fired nearly 500 bullets – including several rounds from high-velocity sniper rifles that pierced the police chief’s armored vehicle, killed two of his bodyguards and hit him three times. Fortunately, he survived but stray bullets killed an innocent passerby and penetrated several nearby houses.

In AMLO’s first 18 months in office, the President’s strategy to confront organized crime with “embraces, not bullets” has led to double the number of murders compared with the administration of Felipe Calderón (2006-12), who began the war against organized crime, and 55% more than Enrique Peña Nieto’s term (2012-18), and reached 54,000 by the end of May. June has been even worse with 100 deaths per day on average, the deadliest of all months so far.

If the public security situation is dire, the state of the economy is worse. In April, GDP had collapsed by 19.7%, very much in line with my forecast that second-quarter GDP would fall by about 20%. Twelve million jobs have been lost, in a country with virtually no social network to help those who lose their source of income. It is estimated that this year 15,000 corporations will go bankrupt, just in the formal sector. Casualties in the more vulnerable underground economy are expected to be huge, but no statistics exist.

AMLO’s hostility to foreign investment was again illustrated when the government blocked a plan by the Spanish firm Iberdrola to build an electricity-generating plant in northern Veracruz. The decision was cloaked with anti-Spain nationalist rhetoric, insinuating that corruption was involved. Phrases such as “we will no longer tolerate being treated like a conquered nation” were frequently used by the government. Spain is the second largest foreign investor in Mexico behind the US. Its vote will be crucial to gain the ratification of the new free trade agreement between Mexico and the European Union.

As has been the case with other incompetent populist leaders, AMLO’s management of the pandemic is disastrous, first by denying that Mexicans could be susceptible to Covid-19 infection, and then by minimizing the damage it could do. Read More > in the Asia Times

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2020’s Most Patriotic States in America – WalletHub Study

With Fourth of July celebrations likely to be more subdued than usual this year due to COVID-19, and people protesting police brutality all across the U.S., the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2020’s Most Patriotic States in America, as well as accompanying videos.

To determine where Americans have the most red, white and blue pride, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 13 key indicators of patriotism. Our data set ranges from the state’s military enlistees and veterans to the share of adults who voted in the 2016 presidential election to AmeriCorps volunteers per capita. Below are some additional highlights from the report.

Top 20 Most Patriotic States
1. New Hampshire 11. Missouri
2. Wyoming 12. Montana
3. Idaho 13. Virginia
4. Alaska 14. Ohio
5. Maryland 15. Maine
6. Utah 16. Nevada
7. North Dakota 17. Oregon
8. Wisconsin 18. Arizona
9. Minnesota 19. Indiana
10. South Carolina 20. Arkansas

Key Stats

  • Red states are more patriotic, with an average ranking of 23.73, compared with 28.15 for blue states (1 = Best).
  • Alaska has the most veterans per 1,000 civilian adults, 127, which is 2.4 times more than in New York, the state with the fewest at 54.
  • Maine has the highest share of adults who voted in the 2016 presidential election, 72.68 percent, which is 1.5 times higher than in Hawaii, the state with the lowest at 47.27 percent.
  • Utah has the highest volunteer rate, 51.00 percent, which is 2.2 times higher than in Florida, the state with the lowest at 22.80 percent.

To view the full report and your state’s rank, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/most-patriotic-states/13680/

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Reusable Bag Use Changes in Grocery Stores

As one of the few public-facing industries that has remained open throughout the pandemic, California’s grocery community was the first to implement social distancing and a number of transmission protection practices. From markings six feet apart on the floor to plexiglass partitions at checkout, many new procedures have been implemented quickly and we expect these to remain in place for some time.

Reusable bags and other items, like mugs, have also been restricted in order to keep consumers and employees safe. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order banning the use of reusable bags at grocery stores has expired, but this does not mean back to business as usual at the checkout stand.

According to Cal/OSHA, the passing of reusable bags back and forth to employees for packaging groceries presents a high public health risk. The risk is similar to why contactless payment is encouraged.

Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Infection Prevention in Grocery Stores” states that when customers bring their own bags the safety protocols are the following:

  • Bags make no contact with employees
  • Customers are to leave their own bags in the shopping cart.
  • Bags are not placed on conveyor belts or other area outside shopping cart
  • Customers do not bag groceries in the checkout area
  • Groceries can be placed in a cart and bagged elsewhere by the customers

CGA and the grocery industry remain fully committed to California’s carryout bag laws and reducing waste.

Unfortunately, at this time the use of reusable bags as we have become accustomed to must change. Expect stores in your community to follow the Cal/OSHA guidance regarding bags for the safety of our consumers and employees.

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Franks Tract Futures – Public and user survey of design concepts


The Franks Tract Futures project is exploring concepts for achieving ecosystem, recreation, economic, water quality and other benefits at Franks Tract, located in the heart of the California Delta. Since June 2019, the project has been conducting a collaborative planning process initiated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and working with the local community, local agencies, and interested stakeholders to develop an enhancement plan for Franks Tract using a transparent and collaboratively structured decision-making process.

In this survey, you can rate, comment on and ask questions about the design concepts that have been developed thus far, with input from the public and the previous stakeholder and user survey.

Take the design concepts survey or visit the Franks Tract Futures website for more information.

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Saturday, July 4 Throughout California – Free Fishing Day!

Have you ever wanted to learn to fish or just need to feel the pull of the line? Head out to your favorite Delta location for Free Fishing Day – no license required! Have a great time, but remember…fishing regulations, such as bag and size limits, gear restrictions, report card requirements, fishing hours, and stream closures remain in effect. For more information visit the CDFW website to learn more.

On Free Fishing Days, every angler must have the appropriate report card if they are fishing for:

  • steelhead
  • sturgeon
  • or salmon in the Smith and Klamath-Trinity River Systems.
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Contactless parking payment now available systemwide

As part of our 15-step plan to welcome back riders as the region reopens, we are expanding contactless parking payment via the official BART app to all stations that offer parking.

With the feature, riders can park at any station and pay for their parking stall on their phones through the official BART app, allowing them to avoid touching payment machines.

The payment feature marks a milestone in BART’s efforts to modernize BART’s parking payment and enforcement systems and address longstanding wishes from riders throughout the system.

“Part of our 15-step Welcome Back plan in this era of COVID-19 is to protect our riders by reducing the number of touchpoints they encounter”, says BART General Manager Bob Powers. “The parking payment by app feature helps us fulfill that commitment while modernizing the rider experience as customers continue to return to the system.”

The agency’s most significant parking payment modernization effort to date initially launched in February 2019 with the Early Bird Express parking feature of the app. In March 2020, a 5-station pilot program was implemented at Antioch, West Oakland, Hayward, South San Francisco and El Cerrito Del Norte stations.

Paying for parking is easier than ever

The new daily fee parking payment feature allows riders to pay through their credit card, debit card, Venmo or PayPal account. Riders can choose paying individually for each parking transaction or creating a wallet which will deduct parking fees from the balance. A convenience fee may be applied at a later date for individual parking transactions so riders are encouraged to create a wallet which will automatically load $25 each time the balance drops below $5.

To use the new daily fee parking payment feature, riders will need to download the latest version of the official BART app, create a profile, enter a Clipper card number and a parking payment method (credit card, debit card, Venmo or PayPal account). After parking, riders will need to pay for their daily fee parking before they tag into the station with the Clipper card registered with the official BART app profile.

Previously daily fee parkers had to memorize their stall number, wait in line, and pay with cash or use the same paper ticket they entered with or BART’s EZ rider program.  These options remain available. EZ rider customers can easily close their accounts to begin using the official BART app parking payment feature.

All parking permits payments will continue to be sold online through Select-a-Spot and are not yet offered through the official BART app.

Learn more about the new daily fee parking payment feature on the official BART app at www.bart.gov/parking

Carpool program expands

The app has offered other parking payment options prior to the daily fee parking payment, including parking payment for Early Bird Express riders and carpoolers at select stations. BART’s carpool program is now available at all stations with Permit parking. Accessible through the official BART app, the carpool program allows carpoolers to park in the permit sections of BART parking lots, which fill later and have greater availability.

 

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2020’s Best States for Racial Equality in Education – WalletHub Study

With nationwide protests over racial inequality sparking public discourse about government funding priorities, and predominantly non-white school districts receiving $23 billion less funding per year than predominantly white districts, WalletHub today released its report on the Best States for Racial Equality in Education, along with accompanying videos and audio files.

In order to determine which states have the most racial equality in education, WalletHub compared the 50 states across six key metrics. Our data compares the difference between white and black Americans in areas such as high school and college degrees, test scores and graduation rates. Below, you can see highlights from the report, along with a WalletHub Q&A.

Racial Equality in Education in California (1=Most Equality; 25=Avg.):

  • 1st – Share of Adults with at Least a High School Degree
  • 18th – Share of Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree
  • 43rd – Standardized-Test Scores
  • 41st – Mean SAT Score
  • 44th – Average ACT Score
  • 39th – Public High School Graduation Rate

To view the full report and your state’s rank, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/states-education-racial-equality/75962/

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Sunday Reading – 06/28/2020

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.

Bay Area cities must build nearly 450K homes, the state says – Ready or not, the Bay Area’s new state-mandated housing development goals have arrived, and the numbers are bigger than ever before.

Bay Area municipalities are expected to be responsible for planning, zoning and approving a combined 441,176 new homes between 2023 and 2030, according to the state’s most recent Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) determination.

That’s up from the 187,990 Bay Area cities were tasked with generating between 2015 and 2023, marking a 135 percent increase, or more than doubling the goals in the coming decade.

The news comes as most cities in the region are already struggling to meet the existing housing development goals.

The RHNA increase this year was roughly what local leaders expected it would be, driven by the existing housing shortage and paired with the projected rate of employment and population growth in the region. And it’s still a far cry from the 229 percent increase that Southern California saw.

But the question is whether cities will actually build that many homes. Though municipalities are required to set aside enough land to build their share of housing, there’s no punishment from the state if they don’t meet the development goals. Read More > at San Jose Spotlight

Americans Disagree About What Racism Is, And It’s A Big Problem – According to a recent NBC News poll, 62 percent of Americans polled said racism is a “major problem.” Last year, Gallup found that 42 percent are “very worried about race relations.” In 2001, when Gallup began that survey, the percentage was only 28 percent, and in 2010 it was a mere 13 percent.

There are many plausible explanations for this jump, including a spate of media-highlighted, race-related police shootings and the controversial presidency of Donald Trump. What is less clear is how our society can reverse this trend. One tremendous obstacle to improving race relations is that Americans cannot even agree on what racism is.

There are two basic definitions of racism in the United States, one roughly associated with progressives and one roughly associated with conservatives. The former describes racism as the failure to acknowledge and seek to redress systemic discrimination against select disadvantaged minority groups. It is very broad and captures everything from unconscious bias to white supremacy. The latter views racism as making assumptions about, or taking action towards, an individual or group on the sole basis of their race. It is narrow and generally requires belief, intent, and animosity.

These definitions don’t simply differ; to a great extent they actually contradict each other. Much of the contradiction stems from the fact that the progressive definition of racism requires that an advantaged individual or group must be attacking the less privileged. The more conservative and narrow definition of racism requires no appeal to power structures, only to bias, and can be committed by anyone towards anyone. Read More > in The Federalist

PG&E power shut-offs are coming back. Here’s what you need to know. – For the millions of Californians sticking close to home during the coronavirus pandemic, unwelcome news from PG&E has landed: The dreaded Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) may be coming back.

The beleaguered company claims that, unlike last year’s days-long shutoffs, this year any power outages due to dangerous wildfire conditions will be shorter and smaller.

“PG&E is upgrading its electric system to prevent wildfires and reduce the impact of future PSPS events on our customers,” PG&E said in a statement. “The company’s efforts this year are expected to reduce the number of customers affected by a potential PSPS event by about one-third compared to a similar weather event last year.”

Here’s what you need to know before we head into another summer and fall of potential PSPS events.

Update your contact information to receive alerts

The utility company will notify customer at 48 hours, 24 hours and just prior to shutting off power. Alerts will be sent through automated calls, texts and emails.

To update your contact information with PG&E, you can use their website or call 866-743-6589. Even if you think PG&E has your information, it’s good to check in to make sure they have your specific address on record and not only your zip code. Read More > in the SF Gate

Judge prohibits California from putting cancer warning on weed killer Roundup – Despite three trial verdicts awarding nearly $200 million to cancer victims who used Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, California cannot require a cancer warning on the product label because it is contradicted by “the great weight of evidence,” a federal judge ruled Monday.

In issuing a permanent injunction against the state’s attempt to place a cancer warning on the world’s most widely used weed killer, U.S. District Judge William Shubb of Sacramento did not prevent California from including Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, on its own list of probable human carcinogens.

…under Supreme Court rulings, cannot require a private company to change its label or say anything about its products unless the statement is “purely factual and non-controversial.” A cancer warning on Roundup would not come close to meeting that standard, he said, because most regulatory bodies — including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and most of its counterparts in Europe — have found no connection between the herbicide and the disease.

California relied on a finding in 2015 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, that glyphosate was a probable cause of cancer in humans.

But Shubb said the state “may not skew the public debate” by “relying solely on the IARC’s determination, when the great weight of evidence indicates that glyphosate is not known to cause cancer.” Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Over Past 15 Years, a Quarter of US Newspapers Have Folded – It is well known that the digital transformation of the local news business robbed newspapers of much of their print advertising and subscription revenue. They have tried to transform themselves into digital properties with online advertising and paid subscriptions for products people read online. For the most part, it has failed. One outcome is that an extraordinary quarter of all American newspapers have closed in the past 15 years. Many others are on their last legs.

A major new research report from the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill covers the carnage in great detail via a 124-page document called “News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers: Will Local News Survive?” The analysis points out that vast parts of America have been left without any newspaper.

Due to the shuttering of local papers, half of the journalists in the industry lost their jobs over the same period. The other major by-product is that 1,800 American communities have been left without a newspaper at all. At the start of the period examined, which was 2004, there were 9,000 local papers in the United States. Print circulation across the country has dropped by 5 million since then.

Seventy of the papers that have closed are dailies. About 2,000 weeklies and other “non-dailies” are gone. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Lost continent of Zealandia mapped in unprecedented detail – Earth’s mysterious eighth continent doesn’t appear on most conventional maps; that’s because almost 95% of its land mass is submerged thousands of feet beneath the Pacific Ocean.

Zealandia — or Te Riu-a-Māui, as it’s referred to in the indigenous Māori language — is a 2 million-square-mile (5 million square kilometers) continent east of Australia, beneath modern-day New Zealand. Scientists discovered the sprawling underwater mass in the 1990s, then gave it formal continent status in 2017. Still, the “lost continent” remains largely unknown and poorly studied due to its Atlantean geography.

Now, GNS Science — a geohazards research and consultancy organization owned by the government of New Zealand — hopes to raise Zealandia (in public awareness, at least) with a suite of new maps and interactive tools that capture the lost continent in unprecedented detail. Read More > at Live Science 

California Voters to Decide on Restoring Affirmative Action, Allowing Parolees to Vote – California voters will weigh in this fall on restoring affirmative action and allowing people on parole to vote, after the Senate gave final approval to the two constitutional amendments on Wednesday.

The measures were both priority bills for the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, and passed amidst growing calls for lawmakers to address racial injustice in the state.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 would overturn a ban on affirmative action in California. Voters passed Proposition 209 in 1996 with support from then-Gov. Pete Wilson. It prohibited the state from considering race, gender and ethnic diversity in hiring, contracting and college admissions.

The second measure placed on the November ballot would grant the right to vote to the roughly 40,000 Californians on parole for a felony.

ACA 6 would add California to the growing list of states that are expanding voting rights to formerly incarcerated citizens in recent years. Read More > at KQED

Keep Your Cat Out Of Your Dating Profile, CSU Researchers Warn Men – Men who like cats are less likely to get a date. That’s the takeaway from a study by Colorado State University, which found that women are less likely to swipe right — or say yes — to men if they’re posing with a cat in a picture.

Scientists showed hundreds of women photos of two men, both men pictured with and without a furry companion. Their responses showed that the men’s luck got noticeably worse when women saw the picture with a cat.

“Men holding cats were viewed as less masculine; more neurotic, agreeable, and open; and less dateable,” the authors wrote.

When shown the cat-free picture of one of the subjects, 38% of women said they were likely or very likely to casually date him, while 37% said they’d consider a serious relationship with him.

But a picture of the same man holding a cat gave the respondents paws for thought — and those numbers dropped to 33% for each category. Meanwhile, the proportion of women saying they’d never consider getting involved with him rose from 9% to 14%. Read More > at CBS Denver

The Wet Rag and More Weird Rules MLB Is Implementing for Its Pandemic Season – First there are the changes to the rules of the game. There will be a universal DH. Games that go past nine innings will start each additional inning with a runner on second base. The rule instituted this winter limiting position player pitching appearances to blowouts won’t go into effect after all. Active rosters will be expanded to 30 players at the start of the season and eventually be contracted to 26 as the season progresses.

Where things really get wild is with the health protocols. The first draft of the health manual was 67 pages, but the final copy clocks in at a whopping 101 pages. It’s that long because the league really did think of everything. (You can read the whole thing here if you really want.)

They’re really, really concerned with players touching the same surfaces as other players. This is from The Athletic’s Jayson Stark:

All hitters will now have to bring their own pine-tar rags, bat donuts and other equipment to and from the on-deck circle — and will have to retrieve their own caps, gloves and sunglasses from the dugout if an inning ends with them on base or batting. All pitchers will now have to bring their own rosin bag to the mound and use only their own baseballs for bullpen sessions. And baseballs used in batting practice can be used only that day, then need to be cleaned and sanitized, and not be re-used for at least five days. So one thing is clear: Teams are going to have to have thousands of baseballs in the old storage closet.

Similarly, pitchers are not allowed to transmit their germs to the baseball by licking their fingers and are instead allowed to carry a “wet rag” to moisten their fingers on the rubber.

Spitting is out, too.

“Players or managers who leave their positions to argue with umpires, come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager for the purpose of argument, or engage in altercations on the field are subject to immediate ejection and discipline, including fines and suspensions,” the full entry reads. Read More > in Sports Illustrated 

California Pot Merchants Hit by New Labeling Requirement – Beginning on January 1, 2021, products containing any amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, sold in California will be required to carry a label alerting consumers to possible reproductive harm caused by using the products. The requirement brings THC into compliance with Proposition 65, which was enacted into law in 1986 as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.

The labeling requirement follows a state study reported in October 2019 that added THC to a list of some 900 chemicals that the state has identified as potential causes of cancer or reproductive harm. Marijuana smoke has been included on the list since 2009.

The threat to cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD) comes from two main directions. First, the products must warn of the presence of THC no matter how tiny the amount. CBD products, which contain less than 0.3% THC, also must be labeled.

The second wave of growth for the cannabis industry, dubbed Cannabis 2.0, revolves around the sale of derivative products, including THC-laced food and non-THC products like ointments and creams that use CBD.

According to a report in Cannabis Business Executive, “Many cannabis and CBD products rely on the consumers’ belief that the product is harmless and even therapeutic.” A warning label could shatter that belief and abruptly choke off sales. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Los Angeles councilman charged in ‘staggering’ bribery scheme – A Los Angeles councilman was charged Tuesday with accepting bribes from a host of developers, including a Chinese billionaire, as part of a sweeping “pay-to-play” scheme, authorities said.

Jose Huizar, 61, was arrested at his home on a federal racketeering charge amid an ongoing FBI corruption probe, according to federal prosecutors in California.

Huizar is accused of turning his city council seat into what U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna described as a “money-making criminal enterprise that shaped the development landscape in Los Angeles.”

Huizar accepted illicit cash from developers in exchange for help in securing approvals for major real estate projects, according to the criminal complaint.

The money was provided as collateral to help Huizar settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a former staffer, according to the complaint.

The ongoing FBI corruption probe has already swept up a former aide to Huizar, a real estate consultant, a political fundraiser and former City Council Member Mitchell Englander.

Englander faces up to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to obstructing a public corruption investigation related to his acceptance of gifts — including cash, hotel rooms and expensive meals — from a developer during trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs in 2017. Read More > from NBC News

Self-powered alarm fights forest fires, monitors environment – Smokey the Bear says that only you can prevent wildfires, but what if Smokey had a high-tech backup? In a new study, a team of Michigan State University scientists designed and fabricated a remote forest fire detection and alarm system powered by nothing but the movement of the trees in the wind.

As detailed in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the device, known as MC-TENG—short for multilayered cylindrical triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG)—generates  by harvesting energy from the sporadic movement of the tree branches from which it hangs.

TENG technology converts external mechanical energy—such as the movement of a tree branch—into electricity by way of the triboelectric effect, a phenomenon where certain materials become electrically charged after they separate from a second material with which they were previously in contact.

…”The self-powered sensing system could continuously monitor the fire and environmental conditions without requiring maintenance after deployment,” he said. Read More > at PHYS.org 

The Right Way to Breathe During the Coronavirus Pandemic – Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. It’s not just something you do in yoga class – breathing this way actually provides a powerful medical benefit that can help the body fight viral infections.

The reason is that your nasal cavities produce the molecule nitric oxide, which chemists abbreviate NO, that increases blood flow through the lungs and boosts oxygen levels in the blood. Breathing in through the nose delivers NO directly into the lungs, where it helps fight coronavirus infection by blocking the replication of the coronavirus in the lungs. But many people who exercise or engage in yoga also receive the benefits of inhaling through the nose instead of the mouth. The higher oxygen saturation of the blood can make one feel more refreshed and provides greater endurance. Read More > at Real Clear Science

Why the World’s Most Advanced Solar Plants Are Failing – The government’s leading laboratory for renewable energy has released a new report detailing the strengths and flaws of concentrated solar energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) published the report with the stated goal of using very mixed feedback on existing concentrated solar projects to create a list of suggested best practices going forward.

The NREL report “is titled CSP Best Practices, but it can be more appropriately viewed as a mix of problematic issues that have been identified, along with potential solutions or approaches to address those issues,” it begins. What’s inside includes problems shared across concentrating solar power (CSP) projects as well as general issues of large-scale construction. There are also issues with specific kinds of CSP plants based on their designs.

Parabolic trough CSP plants use solar collectors to heat water and generate steam heat, the same as a traditional coal or even nuclear power plant. But in between is a stage called heat transfer (HTF), where a fluid medium like oil or liquid metals carries the heat from the collection area to the turbine.

The CSP report says some of the issues with these systems are the extreme and dangerous heat of the HTF and the waste hydrogen produced by these processes. Designers have also positioned elements vertically at a higher cost, when most CSPs are built in rural places with plenty of space.

The other kind of CSP plant is a tower design, where mirrors concentrate the solar power directly into a central reservoir usually made of molten salt. These plants take a very long time to come to temperature and are subject to leaks and underperformance. All of these factors mean that molten salt plants have not yet reached their performance goals or the numbers their builders have often promised locals served by these grids. Read More > at Popular Mechanics

IEA: The Energy Sector Will Never Be The Same Again – In its annual report World Energy Investment 2020, published late last month, the International Energy Agency describes ‘drastically altered’ energy markets in the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic. It documents the largest fall in energy sector investment ever and uncovers historic shifts along the way, such as that for the first time ever there will be more consumer spending on electricity than on oil. More crucially, it asserts that the sudden fall in investment flows, in all energy sectors, leaves a troubling legacy for the future, for conventional and for ‘clean’ energy.

The report states bluntly, ‘The energy industry that emerges from the crisis will be significantly different from the one before.’

But how? The IEA does not predict. Instead it lays out the main factors that investors should be monitoring.

For its new report the IEA draws upon its extensive tracking of investment and capital flows. It looks at capital expenditures by companies and governments. It examines investment from institutional investors and venture investors to assess the levels of investment now flowing into energy supply (major fuels, electricity supply), efficiency, and R&D. Its estimates for 2020 are based on actual data though mid-May and assume a U-shape (not V-shape) economic recovery.

What the agency expected last year was that total energy investment (fuel, power, end use and efficiency) would grow by 2%, the largest annual rise in six years. Now it is expected to fall from $1.9 trillion to $1.5 trillion, a 20% decline in 2020 compared to last year. Of course, this decline – the largest recorded – is due to the pandemic and the shocking fall in energy sector revenues (government and corporate), which are likely to fall by over $1 trillion this year. Read More > at Oil Price

This California city defunded its police force. Killings by officers soared. – Twelve years ago, officials in Vallejo, Calif., reluctantly took a step that activists are now urging in cities across the country: They defunded their police department.

Unable to pay its bills after the 2008 financial crisis, Vallejo filed for bankruptcy and cut its police force nearly in half — to fewer than 80 officers, from a pre-recession high of more than 150. At the time, the working-class city of 122,000 north of San Francisco struggled with high rates of violent crime and simmering mistrust of its police department. It didn’t seem like things could get much worse.

And then they did. Far from ushering in a new era of harmony between police and the people they are sworn to protect, the budget cuts worsened tensions between the department and the community and were followed by a dramatic surge in officers’ use of deadly force. Since 2009 the police have killed 20 people, an extraordinarily high number for such a small city. In 2012 alone, officers fatally shot six suspects.

…Nevertheless, some Vallejo residents and public officials who have seen the reality of a dramatically smaller police department view the current calls to slash law enforcement budgets with caution. Beyond consequences such as decreased responsiveness to burglaries, car thefts and other lower-priority offenses, this city has learned the hard way that a smaller police force is not necessarily a less deadly one. Read More > in The Washington Post

How We Used Internet During Lockdowns Proves Ending Net Neutrality Was The Right Call – June 11 marked the second anniversary of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eliminating Title II regulations on internet providers, including the rules that many dubbed “net neutrality.” You probably didn’t even realize it, did you?

There’s a good reason for that, because all the doomsday predictions for how the FCC’s move under Chairman Ajit Pai would destroy the internet did not come to pass.

If anything, how well American internet service has performed during the pandemic and stay-at-home orders proves criticism of repeal was way overblown. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr wrote of the economic lockdown period that “America’s Internet infrastructure is showing strength, speed, and resilience,” outpacing other countries.

In Europe, for example, Netflix and YouTube were asked to slow their content to lower resolutions so the data would not interfere with more important communications in countries with sluggish internet. Bret Swanson, a visiting fellow at American Enterprise Institute, pointed out that Netflix came up with an alternative solution of prioritizing slower speeds for areas with bigger health crises or less robust broadband. Swanson notes this smart solution “is the type of traffic management Netflix and other advocates of strong net neutrality spent the last 15 years telling us was evil.” Read More > in The Federalist

Prominent Researchers Say a Widely Cited Study on Wearing Masks Is Badly Flawed – Outside researchers are calling for the retraction of a study published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that claimed to have discovered a strong correlation between public facemask-wearing and a subsequent decline in confirmed COVID-19 cases. In the challenged study, a team of atmospheric chemists led by Texas A&M chemist Renyi Zhang sought to compare how trends in confirmed diagnoses changed before and after mask-wearing had been mandated in Wuhan, China, Italy, and New York City.

The researchers calculated that mandated masking reduced the number of confirmed cases by more than 78,000 in Italy from April 6 to May 9, and by more than 66,000 in New York City from April 17 to May 9. In addition, the researchers argued that while recommendations like social distancing and frequent hand washing slowed the epidemic, the dramatic reductions in viral transmission in Italy and New York City occurred only after wearing masks in public was mandated. The reduction in confirmed cases occurred, they argued, because masking prevents the transmission of the disease by blocking the atomization of virus-containing respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing, talking) and their subsequent inhalation by uninfected people. On that evidence, they concluded the airborne spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is the dominant route of infection.

Almost immediately, the study received pushback from outside statisticians and epidemiologists who argued that the study is severely flawed by sloppy statistical analyses. A group of critics has now sent a letter to the editors of the PNAS asking them to immediately retract the study. In addition, an evaluation of the study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health also urges the PNAS to strongly consider retraction.

According to the critics, the study’s two most egregious errors were claims that other non-pharmaceutical interventions—e.g., social distancing, quarantine, and handwashing recommendations—had essentially no effect on pandemic trends until facemask-wearing was mandated, and the subsequent conclusion that because masks were so allegedly effective, “airborne transmission represents the only viable route for spreading the disease.” The letter urging retraction observes, “While masks are almost certainly an effective public health measure for preventing and slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the claims presented in this study are dangerously misleading and lack any basis in evidence.”

As PNAS retraction letter co-signer Harvard emergency medicine physician Jeremy Faust notes on Twitter: “Masks matter. So does good science. Let’s do both.”

What must be borne in mind is that this fight about the PNAS study’s methodology is not over whether or not wearing facemasks is a useful tool in blunting the COVID-19 pandemic. Accumulating evidence shows that wearing facemasks in public does significantly contribute to reducing the spread of COVID-19. Read More > at Reason 

Lawmakers end bid to legalize sports betting in California – California lawmakers on Monday ended a bid to put a measure on the November ballot that would legalize sports wagering in the nation’s largest market, potentially setting up a showdown with tribal casinos in 2022.

The tribes had hoped to put their own version on the November ballot to legalize sports wagering at racetracks and tribal casinos, but say they will be delayed unless they win a court-ordered extension of the deadline to verify petition signatures.

Both sides blamed the coronavirus pandemic for delaying what they initially hoped would be votes this fall.

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association said Monday that internet sports betting would have “threatened brick-and-mortar establishments” and would “reward out-of-state commercial business entities and raise regulatory challenges.”

More than 1 million people have signed the tribes’ ballot measure to legalize sports wagering at racetracks and tribal casinos, said spokesman Jacob Mejia.

But the group has not yet submitted its signatures for verification, and the deadline for completing that entire process is Thursday. If the signatures are verified later, the measure will be on the November 2022 ballot. Read More > from the Associated Press

California governor, lawmakers agree how to close deficit – California will make up its estimated $54.3 billion budget deficit in part by delaying payments to public schools and imposing pay cuts on state workers, according to an agreement announced Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders.

The agreement avoids billions of dollars in permanent cuts to public schools and health care programs, including proposals from Newsom that would have made fewer low-income older adults eligible for government funded health insurance and would have eliminated programs aimed at keeping people out of nursing homes where the coronavirus has spread with deadly consequences.

Instead the agreement, which still requires legislative approval, would make up the deficit in part by imposing $2.8 billion in pay cuts to state workers and delaying roughly $12 billion in payments to public schools to future years. The rest would come from borrowing from some restricted funds that must be paid back, spending cuts to other programs and temporary tax increases on businesses that would bring in $4.4 billion in new revenue.

Some of those cuts and delayed payments would be eliminated if the federal government sends the state more aid by October. Read More > from the Associated Press

California’s bullet-train project faces unprecedented woes – Even before the coronavirus pandemic, it wasn’t clear how California would pay for its dream of running 220-mph bullet trains from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Now, the project is as close to the precipice as it’s ever been. The California High-Speed Rail Authority faces two new threats: Its largest source of funding is evaporating and state legislators have attempted to derail the agency’s plans en masse.

The culmination of woes has cast new doubt on the viability of the rail plan and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strategy to focus on building the system’s Central Valley segment first.

…In an unprecedented move, a bipartisan majority of the Assembly rebuked the agency’s plans for the Central Valley segment. The move, led by Frazier and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, was cosponsored by 63 of 80 members.

The resolution demanded the High-Speed Rail Authority not award contracts to build the Central Valley track and electrical grid until the Legislature signs off on funding. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Breathtaking new map of the X-ray Universe – A German-Russian space telescope has just acquired a breakthrough map of the sky that traces the heavens in X-rays.

The image records a lot of the violent action in the cosmos – instances where matter is being accelerated, heated and shredded.

Feasting black holes, exploding stars, and searingly hot gas.

The data comes from the eRosita instrument mounted on Spektr-RG.

This orbiting telescope was launched in July last year and dispatched to an observing position some 1.5 million km from Earth. Once commissioned and declared fully operational in December, it was left to slowly rotate and scan the depths of space. Read More > from the BBC

Your Mexican Beer Might Be Coming From Europe – The next time you open a bottle or can of the popular Mexican beer called Dos Equis, according to Beer Business Daily, it might have been produced not in Mexico at all, but roughly 5,400 miles away in the western Netherlands.

When the Mexican government declared a state of emergency in the face of the coronavirus on Mar. 31, one provision was the effective closing of what it considered non-essential businesses. To the dismay of cerveza-lovers on both sides of the border, this included breweries.

We drink a lot of Mexican beer in this country. Five examples made the list of the 31 biggest beer brands in America.

The most popular of these is the perhaps unfortunately branded Corona Extra, which is America’s sixth-largest-selling beer.

Constellation, which owns Corona, was able to continue producing some suds with a skeleton crew in Mexico exclusively for the U.S. market. On the other hand, Grupo Modelo, which produces Dos Equis, America’s 20th-most-popular beer, shut down its operations entirely until restrictions were lifted — perhaps imperiling the brew’s impressive performance in recent years as one of America’s fastest growing beer brands.

Luckily for lovers of the beer, Grupo Modelo is owned by Holland’s Heineken company, and the firm made the decision to transfer production of Dos Equis to its main brewery in the Dutch municipality of Zoeterwoude for the moment, shipping it across the Atlantic to make up for any shortages in the U.S. supply chain. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Big Tech Monopolies Are a Threat to First Amendment – The current rules regulating free speech and the “monopoly social media” (Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, Google/YouTube — together, the MOSM) are a mess, but the basic principles should be obvious. They should be treated as the new public square, and subject to First Amendment requirements. Ideally, Congress would establish a “public square trust” on each of the MOSM properties — a section for political speech sites that would be clearly protected from the censorship whims of the private company owners, or from an employee revolt.

The MOSM have become such a dominant location for political speech that they deserve to fall under the First Amendment, even though they are private companies. The Supreme Court has itself pointed the way under two key precedents: Packingham and Marsh.

“A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then after reflection, speak and listen once more,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. “A basic rule, for example, is that a street or a park is a quintessential forum for the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

Kennedy noted that while in the past it wasn’t always easy to identify the most important places for free speech to be protected, in the 21st century it is clear. “It is cyberspace,” he wrote, “the vast democratic forums of the Internet in general, and social media in particular.”

A respected swing vote on the high court before he retired in 2018, Kennedy noted that seven in 10 Americans use at least one Internet social networking service and that governors in all 50 states and nearly every member of Congress communicate with their constituents via social media.

Given these court precedents, it is inconceivable under our Constitution that the MOSM could decide, for example, that only Democrats could speak on their sites while censoring Republicans, or that only Republicans could speak while censoring Democrats. Even as private companies, they have reached such an extreme level of power and importance as our stage for political speech that they fall under the Marsh and Packingham standards. Read More > at Real Clear Politics

The Internet of Things Has a Consent Problem – As we add connected devices to homes, offices, and public places, technologists need to think about consent.

Right now, we are building the tools of public, work, and home surveillance, and we’re not talking about consent before we implement those tools. Sensors used in workplaces and homes can track sound, temperature, occupancy, and motion to understand what a person is doing and what the surrounding environment is like. Plenty of devices have cameras and microphones that feed back into a cloud service.

In the cloud, images, conversations, and environmental cues could be accessed by hackers. Beyond that, simply by having a connected device, users give the manufacturer’s employees a clear window into their private lives. While I personally may not mind if Google knows my home temperature or independent contractors at Amazon can accidentally listen in on my conversations, others may.

For some, the issue with electronic surveillance is simply that they don’t want these records created. For others, getting picked up by a doorbell camera might represent a threat to their well-being, given the U.S. government’s increased use of facial recognition and attempts to gather large swaths of electronic data using broad warrants.

How should companies think about IoT consent? Transparency is important—any company selling a connected device should be up-front about its capabilities and about what happens to the device data. Informing the user is the first step.

But the company should encourage the user to inform others as well. It could be as simple as a sticker alerting visitors that a house is under video surveillance. Or it might be a notification in the app that asks the user to explain the device’s capabilities to housemates or loved ones. Such a notification won’t help those whose partners use connected devices as an avenue for abuse and control, but it will remind anyone setting up a device in their home that it could have the potential for almost surveillance-like access to their family members. Read More > at IEEE Spectrum 

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Best of the Delta 2020 – Presented by Visit CA Delta


Visit CA Delta presents… Best of the Delta 2020! The Delta is a GREAT PLACE filled with people, homes, and businesses, and it is awash with history, cultural richness, and diversity. It is also a fantastic destination filled with food, wine, recreation opportunities, and more. Vote now to showcase your favorite places in the Delta!

BEST SMALL TOWN
BEST RESTAURANT TAKE-OUT
BEST BAR
BEST MUSIC & DANCING
BEST WINERY
BEST INN OR B&B
BEST RV CAMPING
BEST MARINA
BEST FISHING SPOT
BEST SOUVENIR & GIFT SHOP

BEST ART GALLERY
BEST NATURE AREA OR TRAIL
BEST WEDDING VENUE
BEST MUSEUM OR VISITOR CENTER
BEST ANNUAL EVENT

VOTE HERE!

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Contra Costa Accessible Transportation Strategic Plan

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How much more housing do we need?

In 1969, the state mandated that all California cities, towns and counties must plan for the housing needs, regardless of income, in their community.

Every eight years the state goes through a process to determine how much more housing units are needed and how they will be distributed between California’s 482 cities and 58 counties. Planning for the next eight year cycle, 2023 to 2031, has begun. The process is called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). RHNA is the state-mandated process to identify the number of housing units, by affordability level, that each jurisdiction must accommodate in the Housing Element of its General Plan (Government Code §65584).

The process begins in Sacramento with the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). HCD  performs a Regional Housing Needs Determination (RHND) to identify the total housing need and how affordable those homes need to be—in order to meet the housing needs of people at all income levels across California. HCD turns these numbers over to a regional government agency know as Council of Governments (COG) to determine the numbers for each jurisdiction within the COG. There are 23 COGs in California. The nine Bay Area Counties and 101 cities are represented by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

On June 9th, HCD issued the Bay Area a housing need of 441,176 units as part of the RHND process for the years 2023 to 2031. This is an increase of about 135% from the current goal for the period between 2015 and 2023, which is 187,990 housing units, and reflects changes to state law and growth over the past eight years.

As in past RHNA cycles, ABAG has convened a Housing Methodology Committee (HMC) to advise and make recommendations on the RHNA methodology for allocating the RHND. The HMC began meeting in September 2019 and includes local elected officials and staff as well as regional stakeholders to facilitate sharing of diverse viewpoints across multiple sectors.

Some of the key topics discussed by the HMC to date include understanding the State’s new equity framework and identifying the factors to be included in the methodology for allocating a share of housing needs to every local government in the Bay Area. Over the next several months, the HMC will continue to refine the methodology factors while also discussing potential approaches for determining the distribution of units by income for each jurisdiction and considering the options on incorporating data from the Plan Bay Area 2050 Blueprint into the RHNA methodology.

More information about the HMC and its activities is available here. The page includes the roster, member biographies, and materials from HMC meetings.

Below are the current statutory deadlines for the Bay Area’s RHNA process from late 2020 to early 2023, with the latter date reflecting the deadline for updates to jurisdictions’ Housing Elements. We will share HCD’s response when it is received.

Key milestones for completing the RHNA process include:

  • June 2020 — HCD Regional Housing Needs Determination
  • Fall 2020 — Proposed RHNA methodology
  • Winter 2021 — Draft RHNA methodology to HCD for review
  • Spring 2021 — Final RHNA methodology, release draft allocation
  • Summer 2021 — RHNA appeals
  • End of 2021 — Final RHNA allocation
  • January 2023 — Local Communities Housing Elements due to HCD

The schedule is subject to potential further modifications based on decisions made by the ABAG Executive Board or changing circumstances outside our control. A more detailed RHNA schedule is available on the ABAG website.

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Critical track replacement goal achieved at Orinda Station; July 4th weekend track closure cancelled

BART and its lead contractor PrōVen Management have completed installation of the critical components for the major track replacement project that’s been underway near the Orinda Station since April.  Because of this earlier completion BART is cancelling the last scheduled track shutdown weekend between the Lafayette and Rockridge stations. The final shutdown weekend had been scheduled for July 4-5 but instead BART will run regular service between Lafayette and Rockridge that weekend.

BART crews worked around-the-clock on previous shutdown weekends to replace critical trackway components.  In many cases those components dated back to when BART first started service on the Yellow Line through Contra Costa County back in 1973.  Project accomplishments include:

  • Replaced four mainline track switches that were at the end of their useful lives. These large track components can measure up to 200 feet in length and allow trains to move from line to line.
  • Installed approximately 3,000 feet of new rail.
  • Replaced 1.200 tons of rock ballast, which is essential for stabilizing the trackway.
  • Replaced platform edge tiles at the Orinda Station.

The result of this work is a more comfortable and reliable trip through Orinda for BART riders as well as a quieter BART experience for neighbors.

BART rebuilding a priority during stay-at-home

BART is making the most of this time with extremely low ridership and the new 9 pm service closure to advance rebuilding projects across the system.  A priority has been placed on how critical projects are to the core mission of providing reliable train service.

The earlier closing time has allowed downtown San Francisco electrical cable replacement work to start at 9 pm on some weeknights.  Since March 23, workers have pulled 23,000 feet of 34.5kV cable and installed 3,000 feet of conduit to protect the new cable. Six months of Sunday single tracking in downtown San Francisco are eliminated for every six weeks BART can single track at 9 pm on weeknights.

Other projects being advanced include the 19th Street Station Modernization, El Cerrito Del Norte Station Modernization, rail grinding to reduce noise, and transbay tube cathodic protection

Capital projects are supported by multiple funding sources including Measure RR, which was approved by BART District voters in 2016 and provides $3.5 billion in funding for infrastructure work.

Next big track rebuild to begin in July in Hayward

The next major track replacement project is scheduled to begin the weekend of July 18-19 in Hayward.  Between July and September, BART crews will replace and rebuild a nearly 50-year-old interlocking and other critical track components just south of the Hayward Station.

The work is expected to require five weekend track shutdowns between the Bay Fair and South Hayward stations. Free buses will replace trains on those weekends and riders can expect delays of 20-40 minutes. The track shutdown weekends are scheduled to be July 18-19, August 1-2, August 22-23, September 5-7 (Labor Day weekend), and September 19-20.

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10:00 PM on Friday, June 26, through 6:00 PM on Sunday, June 28, 2020 – Full Highway Closure on State Route 12 for Mokelumne River Bridge Repairs

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is planning an additional, 44- hour, full highway closure of eastbound and westbound State Route 12 (SR12) between SR-160 and Interstate 5 (I-5) for repair work on the Mokelumne River Bridge located at the San Joaquin/ Sacramento County line.

Updated schedule:

  • 44-hour full closure – starting at 10:00 PM on Friday, June 26, through 6:00 PM on Sunday, June 28, 2020, to complete the final polyester concrete overlay, matching the bridge grade to the roadway grade.

Motorists should consider I-5 and I-80 as alternate routes and should allow additional travel time due to the detour. Detour routes are below (an approximate 30-mile, 45- minute detour) and will be posted:

  • Traveling Eastbound on SR-12, take SR-160 north to Walnut Grove-Thornton Road to I-5
  • Traveling Westbound on SR-12, take I-5 north to Walnut Grove-Thornton Road to SR-160 south
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Update on the District’s Mosquitofish Service

Gambusia affinis are commonly known as Mosquitofish

Since the Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District office closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, residents seeking mosquitofish could not pick up fish in person. The District’s mosquitofish service changed to allow residents to request mosquitofish as they have with other District services. Now, as we all slowly move toward life in the “new normal”, one thing that is staying the same, and until further notice, the District remains closed to the public and in-person fish pick up remains unavailable. 

At this time, the only way Contra Costa County residents may receive mosquitofish from the District is by requesting mosquitofish here or by calling the District at 925-685-9301.

Upon receiving your request for mosquitofish:  

    • A District employee will follow up with you and make an appointment for an inspection.
    • During the inspection, the District employee will determine if the water feature is an appropriate location for the fish.
    • If the location is appropriate for mosquitofish, the District employee will place fish in the water feature.
      • If, for example, the water feature is found to be producing more mosquito larvae than the fish can initially handle, the District employee will provide assistance and advice on the appropriate action to mitigate the mosquito issue.

Please do not visit the District to pick up mosquitofish. We’ll bring the mosquitofish to you.

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Summer 2020 Heat Tips

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Sunday Reading – 06/21/2020

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.

Will COVID kill off the office? – The most useless technology is the one you invent but fail to exploit. The Incas invented the wheel, but seem only to have used it on toys. Hero of Alexandria designed the first steam engine in the 1st century ad, but it was seen as a gimmick. The technological opportunity to escape from city-center offices has been stuck in a similar limbo between invention and implementation.

In the 1970s, Nasa engineer Jack Nilles envisaged ‘teleworking’ from local work centers. In 1984, the Times reported that tele-commuting was the ‘magical buzzword’ on the US microcomputing scene. In the 1990s, the UK had 200 ‘telecottages’: rural workspaces with computers, communications and social support. More recently, there has been a proliferation of latte-sipping freelancers hunched over MacBooks at coffee shops and WeWorks.

Despite all the fanfare and substantially better technologies, little has changed in recent decades. Last year, just 5.1 percent of adults in employment worked primarily from home in the UK, according to the ONS. This was barely an increase from 4.3 percent in 2015. A larger number — about 12 percent — spent some of the week working from home.

Then, suddenly, a plague descended. Overnight there was a mass exodus from skyscrapers. City streets emptied. The cafés and sandwich shops closed. Millions began working from home (now known simply as ‘WFH’). Half of employed adults are now working from home. And to almost everyone’s surprise, it works. Read More > at The Spectator

Rasmussen: Majority Of Likely Voters’ Distrust Political News – A new Rasmussen Survey released Thursday is more bad news for the national news media looking to bolster their credibility. This new poll revealed, “just 30% of likely U.S. Voters trust the political news they are getting.”

“Most (53%) do not,” according to Rasmussen. “That compares to 32% and a high of 54% a year ago.”

The distrust is led by Republicans and independents.

Even worse, Rasmussen found, “Just 10% of voters think most reporters are trying to help Trump pass his agenda when they write or talk about the president. Forty-four percent (44%) believe instead that most are trying to block Trump’s agenda, although that’s down from a high of 51% in August of last year.”

Ten years ago a Rasmussen survey reported a whopping 48 percent of likely voters “think most reporters when they write or talk about President Obama are trying to help the president pass his agenda. Only 18% think most reporters are trying to block the president from passing his agenda.” Read More > at The Lid

This Is How the Amazon Juggernaut Will Finally Be Stopped – There was good news this week for some small companies using Shopify to manage their online selling operations. Around 1,200 of these outfits will be invited by Walmart to join its sizable e-commerce platform sometime this year. This development sets the stage for what Shopify hopes will be a win-win scenario that ultimately takes back some market share from online behemoth Amazon.

Realistically, that probably won’t happen in a meaningful way. Any Shopify user already has an online presence, and Walmart currently lists millions and millions of items offered by tens of thousands of third-party merchants. A few more of either won’t be a game-changer.

Nevertheless, this is a noteworthy development simply because it’s a sampling of how Amazon is finally going to be thwarted. A collective of small businesses, rather than one huge rival, is going to drive that disruption, and the Walmart/Shopify teamup isn’t the only recent step toward that outcome.

In April, shipping company FedEx offered special-rate shipping for users of BigCommerce. BigCommerce is not unlike Shopify in that it provides small and mid-sized businesses with a suite of tools that allow those organizations to operate an online business effectively. FedEx certainly negotiated a high-volume delivery rate with Amazon as well, as it should. But FedEx’s decision to support small and mid-sized business clients of one particular organization is a rather sweeping one, likely leading many of those outfits to rethink their need for Amazon at all.

Then there’s eBay. Once a powerhouse that was distinctly different than Amazon, the online auction platform has arguably lost its way in recent years because it lost its identity. Now it’s getting it back. In April, it unveiled its “Up & Running” campaign, specifically to get existing small businesses without an online presence onto the web and selling. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Americans More Upbeat About Personal Finances – Slightly more Americans today than two months ago rate their personal financial situation positively. A May 28-June 4 Gallup poll finds 53% of U.S. adults describing their personal finances as either “excellent” or “good,” compared with 49% in early April, when most of the country was under stay-at-home orders, and the effects of these on the economy were more uncertain.

Americans are still not as positive about their finances as they were in 2019 (56%) but remain much more upbeat than during the 2007-2009 Great Recession and ensuing years of high unemployment.

In addition to the 53% evaluating their financial situation positively, 33% describe their finances as being “only fair” and 14% as “poor.”

The increase in ratings of personal finances may reflect the return of millions of Americans to work, though unemployment remains higher than at any point since the Great Depression. The poll’s fieldwork was completed before the federal government’s June 5 announcement of an unexpected decline in the unemployment rate, from 14.7% to 13.3%. Read More > at Gallup

T-Mobile offers an explanation for its twelve-hour outage on Monday – On Monday T-Mobile’s voice and text messaging services were down all evening, with the outage stretching for over twelve hours. Now, its President of Technology Neville Ray has given some explanations of what happened and what the company says it’s doing to keep it from happening again.

Contrary to reports from some Twitter accounts or trending hashtags, the company didn’t cite any DDoS attack or other nefarious behavior as a reason for the problem. Specifically, a fiber circuit owned by another provider somewhere in the southeastern US failed, and their redundant features that were supposed to help manage the situation instead created a traffic storm of their own that overwhelmed the capacity of their network that handles Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) calls.

As Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince pointed out that day, internet exchanges didn’t show the increase in traffic that would’ve suggested an attack under way, revealing the “boring” explanation of what happened. Throw in DownDetector highlighting reports from highly-populated areas where T-Mobile customers live and reported the outage, along with customers for other carriers who couldn’t get through to people on T-Mobile, and you get the storm of misinformation and confusion that surrounded the outage. Read More > at Engadget

Poll: Voters oppose ‘Defund the Police’ but back major reforms – Most voters believe police departments need to be seriously overhauled but don’t back the “Defund the Police” movement, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted after weeks of protests against racial injustice and police brutality.

In the poll, conducted Friday through Sunday, a combined 59 percent say police departments across the country need either a complete overhaul (22 percent) or major reforms (37 percent). Just over 1-in-4, 27 percent, say police departments need a minor overhaul, and only 5 percent think they don’t need any reforms at all.

But that support does not extend to the slogan “Defund the Police,” which some activists say is about reforming law enforcement as much or more than actually making sizable budget cuts. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, more voters oppose the movement to “Defund the Police” (57 percent) than support it (29 percent). More than 4-in-10, 43 percent, strongly oppose the movement. Read More > at Politico

The No. 1 thing Americans are spending their stimulus checks on — even more than shopping at Costco, Walmart and Target – U.S. retail sales jumped by 17.7% in May, the government said Tuesday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast an 8.5% increase.

The rebound in U.S. retail sales follows record drop in prior two months, with clothing, home-furnishing stores and stores that sell books, music, sporting goods and other hobby items showing an increase. However, food-service sales were still down 40% in May on the year.

“The comeback was much faster than expected, and looks like a beginning of a v-shaped recovery in consumer spending,” wrote Jefferies analysts Aneta Markowska and Thomas Simons in a note. “That’s assuming the positive momentum is sustained, something we remain skeptical about.”

Nearly one-third (30%) of people said they used their stimulus checks to pay bills, according to a survey released this week, another sign that Americans are struggling to make ends meet, particularly with more than 38 million people filing for unemployment since mid-March. Read More > at MarketWatch

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? –  The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of the journalism literati, and usually associated with such apocalyptic terms as “ecosystem collapse” and “food crisis”. The culprit: modern agriculture, which is often linked to the Brave Not-So-New World of GMOs and gene-edited crops and the chemicals purportedly used to support it.

As recently as last month, an opinion writer for the New York Times, Margaret Renkl, warned of the dark ages about to be ushered in by pesticides. She makes a case for preserving “weedy” backyards filled with blood-sucking mosquitoes and other human-threatening flying and crawling creatures of various species.

Insect Armageddon, another popular phrase, is now one of the most common tropes in science journalism.

As I’ve chronicled numerous times in recent years, (including herehere and here), environmental activists have been advancing a succession of insect- and animal-related environmental apocalypse scenarios over the last decade—first honeybees, then wild bees and more recently birds. In each case they fingered modern, intensive farming, particularly crop biotechnology and pesticides, as the culprit, and warned of the terrible consequences in store for the Earth, including the mass extinction of pollinators and the global famine that would surely follow. In each case, small or poorly executed studies predicting imminent catastrophes were ballyhooed by many in the media; in each case, as more research came to the light, the hyped claims were eventually retracted or dramatically readjusted.  Read More > from the Genetic Literacy Project 

How Much Has the World Changed? (Not much) – “This changes everything!”

That declaration should always be greeted with extreme skepticism. Your daily sheltering-in-place experiences are definitely different from what you previously thought of as your “normal” life. But what you should expect to experience post-pandemic will look remarkably similar to what it was like pre-lockdown — perhaps with more hand washing.

This will be especially true once there is a treatment and vaccine for Covid-19. The biggest change will be the rapid acceleration of trends that were already in place. The future is coming, just a little quicker than previously scheduled. Huge events can have that effect.

That does not stop the prophesies of doom.

Post-pandemic, some pre-existing trends might be easier to spot. With 93% of Americans sheltering in place for months, some trends that are not novel or new will have been given a boost by circumstances. Consider these questionable forecasts:

The Death of Cities: Larger, expensive urban areas like New York, San Francisco and Chicago have been seeing a 1% population decrease for years. Some expect this to accelerate, especially as younger residents who cannot afford to live in expensive cities go elsewhere.

No more offices? Consider the tech that we are using today in lockdown: Facetime videos, Screenshare, Skype calls, Google Hangouts, Zoom. All predate the Coronavirus by years or decades. The technology has improved, mostly because of increased scale and greater bandwidth. I was surprised to learn how few people knew this was all pre-lockdown tech, and not just the “OK, Boomer” crowd.

The outsourcing of workers to cheaper economic regions is forever old; Remote work has also been around almost as long.

End of retail stores (and malls): Truly, this has been the longest trend of them all. Amazon went public in 1997, and immediately began taking market share. The rest of the internet soon joined in, and online commerce has been growing at a 30% annual rate. Online retailers now account for about 15% of sales.

America has been over-retailed for decades. America has had way too much physical retail space on a per-capita basis since the 1990s. Read More > at The Big Picture

When Workers Can Live Anywhere, Many Ask: Why Do I Live Here? – The coronavirus is challenging the assumption that Americans must stay physically tethered to traditionally hot job markets—and the high costs and small spaces that often come with them—to access the best work opportunities. Three months into the pandemic, many workers find themselves in jobs that, at least for now, will let them work anywhere, creating a wave of movement across the country.

Recessions tend to damp migration. Americans typically move with a new job already in hand, and hiring plummets during downturns. The 2008 financial crisis limited Americans’ mobility because millions of homeowners found themselves underwater on their homes, unable to sell without taking a loss.

But this time might be different. Home prices haven’t yet taken a major hit. And the forces at play are novel. Confronted with the prospect of not being able to easily fly in for a visit with an elderly parent, grown children are suddenly questioning why they live so far away in the first place.

Many newly remote workers are finding they prefer somewhere closer to family or fresh air. Others are giving up on leases they can’t afford, chasing opportunities in states that are reopening faster or heading back to hometowns.

All told, at one point in April, Americans were relocating at twice the pace they did a year earlier, according to Cuebiq, a data firm that tracks movement via mobile phones. They continued to move at an elevated rate through mid-May. Cuebiq’s tally includes any trips away from home that last at least three weeks, so it also captures some temporary movement, like people decamping to vacation homes and students moving home from college. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Baseball Is Wasting A Golden Moment During The Great Lockdown of 2020 – Each passing day without Major League Baseball stands as a stain on America’s national pastime and represents a sad failure to capitalize on a golden opportunity for the game and the country. Today, we should be distracted from our work, glued to our televisions, computers, or smartphones watching otherwise meaningless spring training games with greater interest than ever before, in anticipation of the return to normalcy of the daily drama of baseball.

At a minimum, our ailing nation could use the entertainment of skills competitions, or a reprised “home run derby” series. Baseball in any form, that most cherished spring-fall companion, would provide a needed respite from the mundane of the everyday grind that has only been accentuated by the effects of the Chinese coronavirus.

Instead, MLB’s folly is coming into clear view as June comes and goes. Players, owners, and the league remain unable to come to terms on an agreement to play ball while engaging in an ugly, short-sighted, and ultimately damaging public confrontation.

This year, even the most spoiled of fans, blessed with allegiances to the winningest of franchises, face agony. Through natural disasters, civil strife, economic calamity, and world wars, baseball has always marched on as a joyous diversion. No matter what was happening in your life or the world, you could always count on an unscripted three hours each night that would guarantee you something you had never seen before — one installment of 162, comprising the glorious narrative arc that is a Major League Baseball season. Read More > in The Federalist

California Legislature OK’s budget, but changes coming – Facing an estimated $54.3 billion budget deficit because of the coronavirus, California lawmakers on Monday approved a state spending plan that rejects most of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed cuts to public education and health care with the hope that Congress will send the state more money by Oct. 1 to cover the shortfall.

But the budget likely won’t become law because it does not have the backing of Newsom, who has the power to sign, veto or alter whatever the Legislature sends him.

Lawmakers passed a budget anyway to make sure they met a constitutional deadline and will continue to be paid. Legislative leaders will continue to negotiate with the Newsom administration to reach an agreement before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

California’s budget problem is the same issue plaguing other states. Newsom ordered most people to stay at home for nearly three months to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That forced many businesses to close and more than 6 million Californians to file for unemployment benefits.

The state has already delayed its tax filing deadline to July 15, making it harder for state officials to know for sure how much money they will have to spend. The Newsom administration predicts state revenues will drop by $41 billion. The rest of the $54 billion deficit comes from the billions of dollars the state spent purchasing protective gear for health care workers and securing extra hospital beds to prepare for a potential surge in patients that never happened. Read More > from the Associated Press

Young Americans Less Patriotic Than Ever Before – A Gallup poll published Monday found that only 20 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are “extremely proud to be an American.” This is the lowest percentage of any demographic, falling 23 percent since 2017.

According to the poll, this is the sixth consecutive year of decline in American pride across all demographics, and the first time “extreme pride” among whites fell below 50 percent. American pride among nonwhites is 24 percent.

The partisan gap in American pride also fell to 43 percent from 54 percent a year ago. This year, 67 percent of Republicans—a 9 point drop from last year—and 24 percent of Democrats said they are extremely proud to be an American. Read More > in The Washington Free Beacon

Why do so many Americans refuse to wear face masks? It may have nothing to do with politics – In early April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans wear a face cloth covering or mask in places where it is difficult to social distance from other people. However, there currently is no federal mandate to wear face coverings.

Individual states including Delaware, New York, Virginia and Illinois require citizens to wear masks in public places. Other states require essential business employees and patrons while on premises, while some only require employees to wear them. Meanwhile, many states don’t have any mask requirements and instead recommend that they be worn in public places.

But even in states with mask mandates, Americans are defying these orders despite evidence that suggests that widespread use of face masks can greatly limit the transmission of coronavirus, which is believed to occur mainly from respiratory droplets.

Gender, political affiliation, race, income and geography all appear to play a role when it comes to wearing a mask or not. Read More > at MarketWatch

The Milky Way Contains 36 Contactable Alien Civilizations, Scientists Estimate – For hundreds of millions of years, Earth has nurtured a spectacular diversity of lifeforms, including humans, the only species known to develop advanced technologies. So, what’s the rest of the galaxy’s excuse? Are there intelligent alien civilizations out there in the Milky Way, and if so, how many?

The answer to that second question is 36, more or less, according to a study published on Monday in The Astrophysical Journal. This is only a statistical estimate, not an announcement that we have stumbled across three dozen civilizations in the galaxy, so there’s no need to pledge allegiance to any alien overlords yet.

But though its conclusions are speculative, the study incorporates new metrics and approaches in approximating how many alien societies within the Milky Way are capable of interstellar messaging (a group known as Communicating Extraterrestrial Intelligent civilizations, or CETI). Read More > at Vice

In Xi Jinping’s effort to make China No. 1, he’s forgotten the basics – Xi Jinping has set China the goal of leading the world in cutting edge technology, but has overlooked the very basics. While the regime is pursuing quantum computing, artificial intelligence and space dominance, it has neglected one of the founding concepts of physics. Isaac Newton’s third law says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

As Xi pushes harder and harder for global dominance, he is provoking a growing pushback. Not just from the US. A growing number of people, countries and organisations are realising that Xi’s China is not the China they thought they knew.

The China that had followed Deng Xiaoping’s dictum to “hide your brightness, bide your time” for the preceding four decades was given a new direction by Xi: “Strive to achieve.” It’s no sin to strive. But when you are striving to take territory from your neighbours, sovereignty from your friends, and liberties from people everywhere, you are going to ruffle a few feathers.

Among the latest to awaken is the secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance was forged to protect Europe from Russia. But Stoltenberg has now named China as a threat, too. China was too big a threat for America to manage by itself, the former Norwegian Labour prime minister said in a remarkable speech last week. Beijing was now a threat to democratic values everywhere and a global military force to be reckoned with.

…But it’s not just Washington. The major powers of western Europe have grown alarmed about Beijing’s intentions too. Germany has toughened its laws to protect companies against Chinese takeover, for instance.

And Britain is rethinking its embrace of China’s cyber champion, Huawei. Government MPs have been angered by Beijing’s behaviour over the pandemic and forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to review whether the company will be allowed any part in its 5G network. Read More > in The Sydney Morning Herald

‘It’s Racist’: How California Disregarded Its Own Liberal Faculty to Ditch the SAT – The Board of Regents of the University of California spoke as one when it scrapped the Scholastic Aptitude Test in a virtual meeting last month.

“I believe the test is a racist test,” said one regent, Jonathan Sures, whose day job is co-president of the United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills. “There’s no two ways about it.”

Unsurprisingly, given comments like that, the regents voted 23-0 to eliminate the SAT over the next five years — a victory for the system’s president, Janet Napolitano, who has long called for scrapping its use in university admissions.

But very surprising to some at UC was this: The regents’ decision flouted a unanimous faculty senate vote a few weeks earlier to retain the SAT for now — after a year-long study by a task force commissioned by Napolitano herself found the test neither “racist” nor discriminatory nor an obstacle to minorities in any way.

The 228-page report, loaded with hundreds of displays of data from the UC’s various admissions departments, found that the SAT and a commonly used alternative test, ACT —  also eliminated – actually helped increase black, Hispanic, and Native American enrollment at the system’s 10 campuses, and that their use should be continued.

“To sum up,” the task force report determined, “the SAT allows many disadvantaged students to gain guaranteed admission to UC.” Read More > at Real Clear Investigations

The Postal Service Is Steadily Getting Worse—Can It Handle a National Mail-In Election? – Two weeks after the polls closed in this year’s Ohio primary, two U.S. Postal Service employees showed up in the office of Diane Noonan, the director of elections in Butler County. The workers carried a tray of 317 unopened ballots that had been sitting in a Postal Service warehouse since the day before the election.

The ballots would have counted if they had been delivered on time. Now, there was no way to legally count them. The next day, another ballot that had been postmarked in time to be counted arrived with no explanation. In Geauga County, officials found 26 such ballots; Lucas County saw 13. Many election administrators in Ohio had already lost patience with the Postal Service. During Ohio’s April 28 primary, mail delivery had been so slow that the secretary of state publicly warned voters and called for the Postal Service to add staff. As they counted votes, Noonan and her team checked in with the service every day until the deadline. “We said, ‘Listen this is the last day,’” she recalled. “‘If we get ballots after this, they’re not going to be counted.’ They assured us.”

The Postal Service’s official excuse for misplacing the Butler County ballots was an “unintentional missort.” That response satisfied neither Ohio’s secretary of state nor Noonan. “We got an explanation that really wasn’t an explanation,” Noonan said. “It’s all in their hands. That’s what’s scary.” The missing ballots in Ohio were just one sign of a larger problem. Frequently attacked by President Donald Trump and his supporters, the beleaguered Postal Service is under tremendous pressure to ensure that an unprecedented number of Americans can vote by mail in November, avoiding the potential health risk of in-person polling places during the coronavirus outbreak. The disarray Tuesday in the Georgia primary, in which voting machines malfunctioned and people waited in line for hours to cast their ballots, underscores the potential value of voting by mail.

Complicating the Postal Service’s task is that many states are building large vote by mail systems on the fly. In 2018, 26 states and Washington, D.C. had vote by mail rates under 10%, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. States that don’t regularly send ballots to voters may keep inaccurate voter address lists, leaving overburdened postal workers to deliver ballots to the wrong places. Read More > at Route Fifty

In the Middle of a Severe Recession, California Prepares To Raise Its Gas Tax to 50 Cents a Gallon – The Golden State has the highest gas tax in the nation, and one of its worst-performing highway systems.

In the middle of a severe recession, the California state government is doing what it does best: raising taxes.

On July 1, the state’s motor fuel excise tax will rise by 3.2 cents to 50.5 cents a gallon. That heavily regressive levy secures the Golden State’s status as the nation’s top taxer of gasoline. This coming increase—the third in four years, according to the Los Angeles Times—is the first time the tax will go up as the result of an automatic inflation-adjustment mechanism added in 2017.

That law requires that every July, beginning this year, the state’s gas tax rate be adjusted to match any change in overall consumer prices, as measured by the California Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Inflation rates have plummeted around the globe during the pandemic, and California is no exception. The California CPI shows an overall decline in prices between February and April 2020, according to the latest figures published by the state’s Department of Industrial Relations.

But that decline comes a little too late for the state’s drivers. While California’s economy is being ravaged by COVID-19 and the related shutdowns of businesses, the data the state relies on to calculate its gas taxes are coming from rosier times.

The 2017 law specifies that the tax’s first inflation adjustment be based on the changes in the California CPI from November 2017 to November 2019. Because prices went up about 6 percent over that time, the gas tax is set to increase by the same amount.

That’s prompted a group of Republican legislators to propose suspending the gas tax increase. Read More > at Reason

Newsom, Legislature build new wall of debt – …Newsom pegs the multi-year deficit at $54 billion and his budget proposes to bite the bullet and make steep spending cuts that would be rescinded if the federal government provides a big state and local government relief appropriation. The Legislature’s budget would maintain spending more or less at pre-recession levels and make cuts later only if federal aid doesn’t materialize.

What no one is talking about, at least publicly, is that both Newsom and the Legislature want to run up many billions of dollars in new debt. They want to raid state special funds for “loans” that would have to be repaid later, make “deferrals” in state aid to schools that would have to be repaid later, and impose temporary ceilings on corporate tax breaks that businesses could recoup later.

The new wall of debt would be at least $20 billion over several years, the biggest chunk of it in deferrals of constitutionally required aid to K-12 schools and community colleges.

Newsom’s revised education budget would defer “approximately $13 billion” in this fiscal year and next with the promise to repay it slowly beginning in 2021-22 and in doing so, raise the schools’ share of state revenues. The Legislature takes a different approach but still counts on education deferrals to balance its budget on paper.

The caps on business tax breaks would, both budgets assume, generate $9 billion over two years, but corporations could accumulate unclaimed deductions and take them after the caps are lifted. So in reality, they are loans that would have to be repaid. Read More > at CALmatters

24 Hour Fitness files for bankruptcy, permanently closes more than 130 clubs – San Ramon-based 24 Hour Fitness filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Monday and said it would permanently close more than 130 of its 400 clubs across 10 states, including 13 in the Bay Area.

All 24 Hour Fitness clubs nationwide had closed in mid-March as stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders rippled across the country, and CEO Tony Ueber said in a statement that those shutdowns are entirely responsible for the company’s resort to bankruptcy reorganization.

“If it were not for Covid-19 and its devastating effects, we would not be filing for Chapter 11,” he said. “With that said, we intend to use the process to strengthen the future of 24 Hour Fitness for our team and club members, as well as our stakeholders.”

The 10 Bay Area clubs to close permanently include four in San Francisco, plus single outlets in Alamo, Berkeley, Fairfield, Fremont, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, San Jose, Vallejo and Walnut Creek.

While 24 Hour Fitness laid blame for its Chapter 11 filing and closures on the pandemic, the company was struggling prior to Covid-19 with membership numbers falling. Traditional clubs that rely on initiation fees and monthly subscription revenue have been caught in a squeeze between low-cost operators like Planet Fitness on one hand, and upscale boutiques like Orange Theory on the other. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

3 big California police unions release national reform plan to remove racist officers – Three major police unions in California introduced a reform agenda Sunday to improve outcomes between police officers and their communities and “root out any racist individual” from their ranks.

The San Jose Police Officers’ Association, the San Francisco Police Officers Association and the Los Angeles Police Protective League outlined the plan in a full-page advertisement published Sunday in The Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

The plan outlines action items aimed at holding law enforcement officers accountable during their interactions with community members, including:

• A national database of former police officers fired for gross misconduct that would prevent other agencies from hiring them.

• A national use-of-force standard that focuses on de-escalation, intervening when officers witness use of excessive force or misconduct, appropriate responses to dangerous incidents and stronger accountability provisions, following a model by the Los Angeles Police Department.

• A warning system to identify officers in need of additional training and mentoring, modeled after the San Francisco Police Department.

• A public website that would allow people to track use-of-force incidents, similar to a model adopted by the San Jose Police Department.

• Frequent crisis intervention and de-escalation training. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle 

When Silicon Valley Goes Dark This Time, There Will Be No Refuge – Blackouts that hit millions of Californians in 2019 could be doubly calamitous this year with tech giants GoogleTwitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. among the many companies keeping offices closed until the fall or later in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

If utilities cut power again, home offices set up during the pandemic could go dark and stay dark for days, and they’ll have no corporate offices to flee to for power. In October 2019, more than 3 million people were affected by a series of rolling blackouts over more than a week as PG&E Corp. and Edison International tried to prevent live wires from sparking wildfires.

Call it a collision of crises. Blackouts could limit California’s push to revive an economy largely paralyzed by stay-at-home orders this spring. The state, utilities and individual companies are all seeking ways to deal with blackouts before a wildfire season forecast to be worse than normal. Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., for one, has “long contemplated this type of scenario,” according to spokesman Adam Bauer.

California regulators last month adopted new shutoff rules that will require the companies to restore electricity within 24 hours after the weather clears, although the state’s wind storms can last several days. PG&E, the state’s largest utility, has set its own goal of 12 daylight hours after the winds ease, and has nearly doubled the number of helicopters it will use to look for downed lines. Read More > at Bloomberg

Gov’s Power During COVID Doesn’t Sit Well With Legislators – When the California Legislature voted to recess in mid-March during the height of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, few lawmakers realized they were clearing the way for Gov. Gavin Newsom to assume unprecedented control of state government.

The Democratic governor has been widely credited for using his executive authority to prevent a massive surge of the virus early in the pandemic. At the same time, his unilateral decision-making has also fueled bipartisan frustrations in the Legislature, where lawmakers are still struggling to balance the scales of power with Newsom’s administration.

“When we were away, our state government collapsed into one-person rule with a governor issuing, at this point, 41 executive orders changing over 200 California laws with a stroke of a pen,” Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) said during the Assembly floor session Wednesday. “But here’s the issue. We’re back now. We’re here. We’re in session. And yet the governor is still issuing executive orders that usurp our legislative authority.”

…The legislative break that some initially expected to last a few weeks stretched to May 4 as counties statewide implemented health restrictions. Lawmakers had little choice but to sit back and watch Newsom roll out one executive order after the next during his near-daily press briefings. The governor issued more executive orders over three months in response to the pandemic than he signed in all of 2019.

A couple of days after lawmakers returned, Newsom signed an executive order to make it easier for essential workers who contract COVID-19 to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. Labor unions hailed the decision as a win for workers, while business interests questioned the unilateral decision made without any public hearings and outside of the typical legislative process. Read More > at Governing

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Summer Solstice 2020: The First Day of Summer

Saturday, June 20, at 2:44 P.M. PDT. This date marks the official beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, occurring when Earth arrives at the point in its orbit where the North Pole is at its maximum tilt (about 23.5 degrees) toward the Sun, resulting in the longest day and shortest night of the calendar year.

The timing of the June solstice is not based on a specific calendar date or time; it all depends on when the Sun reaches its northernmost point from the equator. Therefore, the solstice won’t always occur on the same day. Currently, it shifts between June 20, 21, and 22.

Although the day of the solstice has the most daylight hours of the year, in the Bay Area we will have 14:46 hours of daylight, the earliest sunrises of the year occur before the summer solstice. The exact timing will depend in part on your latitude: In the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, it occurs about a week earlier than the June solstice.

The reason for the timing of sunrises is related to the inclination of the Earth’s rotational axis and Earth’s elliptical (rather than circular) orbit.

The latest sunsets of the year will occur several days after the solstice, again depending on latitude.

You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn’t reach its hottest. The solstice marks the height of the sun, but the hottest weather comes a month or two later. That’s because the land and oceans have to warm up, too, before the truly hot summer heat can begin. This phenomenon is called the lag of the seasons.

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Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa – “Drive Thru” Food Drive: Wednesday, June 24, 12-2pm

325 N Wiget Ln #130, Walnut Creek, CA 94598

 

As you know, Loaves and Fishes is on the front lines. As an “essential service provider,” Loaves and Fishes has remained open and is serving meals to the community. The reality is, Loaves and Fishes provides food to the most vulnerable in our community; without our services many will not be able to feed themselves or their families.

They need:

  • Bottled Water
  • Peanut Butter
  • Pasta and Pasta Sauce
  • Rice and Beans
  • Mac and Cheese
  • Snack Cups and Snack bars
  • Canned Fruits and Vegetables

Donate

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States Whose Unemployment Claims Are Recovering the Quickest – WalletHub Study

The latest job report released a few hours ago shows new unemployment claims 78% below the peak during the COVID-19 pandemic. To help put these numbers in context, WalletHub just released its report on the States Whose Unemployment Claims Are Recovering the Quickest, along with accompanying videos and audio files.

To identify which states’ workforces are experiencing the quickest recovery from COVID-19, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across three metrics based on changes in unemployment claims. Below, you can see highlights from the report, along with a WalletHub Q&A. To see the states most recovered since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

Change in California Unemployment Claims (1=Quickest Recovery, 25=Avg.):

  • 527.94% Change in Unemployment Claims (Latest Week vs Last Year)
    • 243,344 the week of June 8, 2020 vs 38,753 the week of June 10, 2019
    • 26th quickest recovery in the U.S.
  • 562.70% Change in Unemployment Claims (Latest Week vs Start of 2020)
    • 243,344 the week of June 8, 2020 vs 36,720 the week of January 1, 2020
    • 14th slowest recovery in the U.S.
  • 1,061.06% Change in Unemployment Claims (Since Start of COVID-19 Crisis vs. Last Year)
    • 5,377,078 between the week of March 16, 2020 and the week of June 8, 2020 vs 506,763 between the week of March 18, 2019 and the week of June 10, 2019
    • 4th quickest recovery in the U.S.

To view the full report and your state’s rank, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-the-biggest-increase-in-unemployment-due-to-coronavirus/72730/.

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Summer time disaster safety tips

It’s been a challenging year thus far and looking back at the recent past we know what might be heading our way in the next few months. No one expects to be caught in a potentially dangerous and extreme situation but, having a plan and knowing what to do could make all the difference for you.

Earthquakes

Wildfire

Heat Waves

Drought Safety Tips

Public Safety Power Shutoff – PG&E

How to Survive a Prolonged Power Outage

Driving In Emergencies and Disasters 

The Ultimate Home Fire-Safety Checklist: Tools and Safety Measures that Will Keep Your Family Safe

Pets and Animals

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