Friday Night Bites: Next Week’s Truck Line Up!

The February 4th line up includes burgers, tacos, gyros, desserts, and much more!

Friday Night Bites food trucks are back! Save the date to join us on the First Friday of each month beginning next Friday, February 4th for this fun event in Civic Center Plaza.

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No-cost COVID-19 home test kits now available for every household

To ensure that all Americans have access to timely COVID-19 testing, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the U.S. Postal Service have launched COVIDtests.gov, a new site for requesting free home test kits by mail.

Every address in the United States is now eligible to receive four free tests by signing up at the site, which is also a helpful resource for finding nearby COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics, and information about insurance reimbursement for purchasing home test kits.

Home test kits, also known as rapid antigen tests, are available over the counter at pharmacies. While the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests provided at community clinics are the most accurate for detecting COVID-19, antigen tests are the best choice for finding out quickly if someone is contagious right now.

Antigen tests produce a result in about 15 minutes, rather than the days it can take for a laboratory result from a PCR test. They are useful for determining whether a COVID-19 quarantine or isolation period can be shortened, and before visiting to help protect people at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

​That is why Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) encourages every household to request test kits from COVIDtests.gov, and any other available source, so they are available in the medicine cabinet when needed.

Antigen tests have been in short supply this winter because of high demand related to the national surge in new COVID-19 cases, as have appointments for testing at community clinics – about twice as many people are getting tested every day in Contra Costa than at any other time during the pandemic.

Learn more about how to get home test kits, or make a testing appointment in Contra Costa, on the Get Tested page.

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California is the 2nd Safest State During COVID-19 – WalletHub Study

With around 64% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but the omicron variant on the rise, WalletHub today released updated rankings for the Safest States During COVID-19, along with accompanying videos and audio files.  

In order to find out the safest states during the COVID-19 pandemic, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across five key metrics. Our data set includes the rates of COVID-19 transmission, positive testing, hospitalizations and death, as well as the share of the eligible population getting vaccinated. Below, you can see highlights from the report, along with a WalletHub Q&A.

California’s Safety During Coronavirus (1=Best; 25=Avg.):

  • 1st – Vaccination Rate
  • 9th – Positive Testing Rate
  • 18th – Hospitalization Rate
  • 6th – Death Rate
  • 12th – Transmission Rate

Note: Rankings are based on data available as of 12:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, January 26, 2022.

To view the full report and your state’s rank, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/safest-states-during-covid/86567

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Cities with the Highest Increase in Homicide Rates During Covid – WalletHub Study

With the homicide rate having spiked by an average of 37% in 50 of the biggest U.S. cities between Q4 2019 and Q4 2021, WalletHub today released its report on the Cities With the Highest Increase in Homicide Rates During COVID, along with accompanying videos and expert commentary.

In order to determine which cities have the biggest homicide problems, WalletHub compared 50 of the largest U.S. cities based on per capita homicides in Q4 2021 as well as per capita homicides in Q4 2021 vs. Q4 2020 and Q4 2019. 

Cities with Highest Increase in Homicide Rates
1. Memphis, TN6. Baltimore, MD
2. New Orleans, LA7. Oakland, CA
3. Cincinnati, OH8. Denver, CO
4. Washington, DC9. Albuquerque, NM
5. Norfolk, VA10. Chicago, IL

Note: Rankings are based on data available as of 12:30 p.m. ET on January 24, 2022.

To view the full report and your city’s rank, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/cities-homicide-rate/94070/

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Lawmakers go all in on COVID vaccine rules

From CalMatters

This week is shaping up to be a particularly consequential — and controversial — one in Sacramento.

Setting the stage Monday was state Sen. Richard Pan’s introduction of a bill that would supersede Gov. Gavin Newsom’s student COVID-19 vaccine mandate by eliminating the personal belief exemption — and requiring all kids in kindergarten to 12th grade to get the shot by Jan. 1, 2023. Under the Sacramento Democrat’s proposal, only students with rare medical exemptions could opt out.

It’s the latest bill to emerge from a vaccine work group Democratic lawmakers formed last week. On Thursday, state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco unveiled a proposal that would allow kids 12 and up to get vaccinated, including against COVID-19, without parental consent or knowledge.

And more are in the works: According to California Healthline, lawmakers are weighing introducing bills that would remove religious exemptions for health care workers and require proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter almost all public places, including workplaces, schools, malls, museums and restaurants.

The bold proposals are likely to intensify California’s already fierce vaccine wars, which saw an anti-vaccine protestor in 2019 throw a cup of menstrual blood onto state senators, including Pan. And, if the bills pass the Legislature, they could put Gov. Gavin Newsom in a tough spot. Although the governor has defended his first-in-the-nation vaccine mandates, he’s also taken pains to emphasize that the personal belief exemption for students leaves “plenty of latitude for families to make decisions.”

Meanwhile, a torrent of contentious bills that failed to pass either the state Assembly or Senate last year face a Jan. 31 deadline to clear their house of origin and stay alive. They include:

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2022’s Best States to Retire – WalletHub Study

With 27% of all nonretired adults having no retirement savings, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2022’s Best States to Retire, as well as accompanying videos and expert commentary.

To help retirees find a safe, enjoyable and wallet-friendly place to call home, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 47 key metrics. Our analysis examines affordability, health-related factors and overall quality of life.

Retiring in California (1=Best; 25=Avg.):

  • 49th – Adjusted Cost of Living
  • 46th – Annual Cost of In-Home Services
  • 11th – WalletHub ‘Taxpayer’ Ranking
  • 41st – Elderly-Friendly Labor Market
  • 45th – % of Population Aged 65 & Older
  • 33rd – Property-Crime Rate
  • 2nd – Life Expectancy
  • 35th – Health-Care Facilities per Capita
  • 13th – Percentage of Residents 12+ Who Are Fully Vaccinated

For the full report, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-to-retire/18592

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Sunday Reading – 01/23/2022

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.

After the Violent Eruption in Tonga, Is More to Come? – The Kingdom of Tonga doesn’t often attract global attention, but a violent eruption of an underwater volcano on January 15 has spread shock waves, quite literally, around half the world.

The volcano is usually not much to look at. It consists of two small uninhabited islands, Hunga-Ha’apai and Hunga-Tonga, poking about 100m above sea level 65km north of Tonga’s capital Nuku‘alofa. But hiding below the waves is a massive volcano, around 1800m high and 20km wide.

The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano has erupted regularly over the past few decades. During events in 2009 and 2014/15 hot jets of magma and steam exploded through the waves. But these eruptions were small, dwarfed in scale by the January 2022 events.

Our research into these earlier eruptions suggests this is one of the massive explosions the volcano is capable of producing roughly every thousand years.

It remains unclear if this is the climax of the eruption. It represents a major magma pressure release, which may settle the system.

A warning, however, lies in geological deposits from the volcano’s previous eruptions. These complex sequences show each of the 1000-year major caldera eruption episodes involved many separate explosion events.

Hence we could be in for several weeks or even years of major volcanic unrest from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano. Read More > at Real Clear Science

‘It’s ugly out there’: Rail thefts leave tracks littered with pilfered packages – “Everything comes on the train — cellphones, Louis Vuitton purses, designer clothes, toys, lawnmowers, power equipment, power tools,” said a 37-year-old man who declined to give his name. He said he comes to the tracks regularly and once found a Louis Vuitton purse and a robotic arm worth five figures: “We find things here and there, make some money off of it.”

Thieves are pilfering railroad cars in a crime that harks back to the days of horseback-riding bandits, but is fueled by a host of modern realities, including the rise of e-commerce and Southern California’s role as a hub for the movement of goods.

The images have generated national attention and revealed tension among rail operators, government officials and authorities over what can be done to reduce the thefts.

Later Saturday, approximately 17 cars on a Union Pacific train derailed in “the same area where the vandalism has been occurring,” said Robynn Tysver, a Union Pacific spokesperson. The crew was not hurt and the cause is under investigation, Tysver added.

Union Pacific reported what it claimed was a 160% increase since December 2020 in thefts along the railroad tracks in L.A. County. The railroad didn’t release specific data on what was stolen or the value of what was lost, but it said the increase in crime cost the company at least $5 million last year. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

California Single-Payer Health-Care Proposal Is in Trouble – Democrats are skeptical of the plan and it lacks the support of Gov. Newsom. It would require the largest state tax increase in history, estimated at $163 billion. The tax hike would need to be approved by voters.

TNS — contentious single-payer universal health care bill has cleared its first hurdle — but because of political courtesy, not policy accord.

It seems to face a very bumpy road ahead that, at this juncture, looks to be probably impassable.

One obstacle for the Democratic measure is lack of support from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The governor is taking a more pragmatic approach toward universal coverage, pushing something that’s very doable politically: allowing all low-income immigrants living in the country illegally to be eligible for the state’s Medi-Cal health care program.

That would be a major step, but less ambitious than the legislation approved Tuesday night by the Assembly Health Committee after a long, combative hearing.

The bill, AB 1400 by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), would tear down California’s present system of health care coverage and completely rebuild it. Insurance companies would be removed from the picture.

All Californians would be switched from their present coverage — whether private insurance, federal Medicare or Medi-Cal — to a new state-run plan called CalCare.

The idea is to cover everybody and cut health care costs by eliminating insurance company overhead and profits — and forcing reductions in provider fees and drug prices.

But it would require by far the largest state tax increase in history, estimated at $163 billion. The tax hike would need to be approved by voters. Read More > at Governing

Waymo has its first commercial autonomous trucking customer – Last June, Alphabet’s self-driving unit worked with J.B. Hunt, a trucking and logistics company, to test its Waymo Via technology in Texas. On Friday, the two announced they’re forming a strategic partnership with the hope of deploying a fully autonomous trucking operation within the state sometime in the next few years. In the immediate future, Waymo and J.B. Hunt say they plan to hold multiple pilots involving Waymo Via. That’s the Waymo Driver-powered unit the Alphabet subsidiary developed for Class 8 trucks. They also plan to complete additional market studies.

The expanded partnership follows a successful first pilot in which Waymo and J.B Hunt said they moved 862,179 lbs of freight without their test trucks speeding or ending up in any accidents. The conclusion they drew at the time was that Waymo Driver was ready to deliver freight on-time and safely. Waymo is just one of a handful of companies working on autonomous trucking technology. A few months before the company completed its June pilot with J.B. Hunt, Aurora, the startup that acquired Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, announced it was working with Volvo to build fully autonomous semi trucks that would carry cargo across North America. Read More > at Engadget

Oil prices hit 7-year highs; Mideast unrest stokes supply jitters – Oil prices on Tuesday climbed to their highest since 2014 as possible supply disruption after attacks in the Mideast Gulf added to an already tight supply outlook.

Brent crude futures rose 77 cents, or 0.9%, to $87.25 a barrel at 11:05 a.m. EST (1605 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose $1.25, or 1.5%, to $85.07 a barrel. Trade on Monday was subdued because of a U.S. public holiday.

During the session, both benchmarks touched their highest since October 2014 with Brent at $88.13 and WTI at $85.74.

Supply concerns mounted this week after Yemen’s Houthi group attacked the United Arab Emirates, escalating hostilities between the Iran-aligned group and a Saudi Arabian-led coalition.

Also adding to geopolitical price premiums are rising tensions between Ukraine and OPEC+ member Russia.

In addition, some producers within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are struggling to pump at their allowed capacities under an agreement with Russia and allies to add 400,000 barrels per day each month.

OPEC on Tuesday stuck to its forecast for robust growth in world oil demand in 2022 despite the Omicron coronavirus variant and expected interest rate hikes, predicting the oil market would remain well supported through the year. Read More > in Reuters

One Step Closer to Kidney Transplants From Pigs – Nearly 107,000 Americans are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant; 90,000 of them are hoping for a kidney. The demand for organs clearly exceeds the supply.

In October, transplant surgeons at New York University (NYU) took a small but significant step toward addressing this shortage with organs from other species. They transplanted a kidney from a pig that had been genetically modified to not express the carbohydrate alpha-gal, which occurs in all mammals except humans and other primates. Because infants develop antibodies to alpha-gal in response to gut microbiota, transplants from other mammals provoke a devastating immune rejection.

The NYU surgeons attached the modified pig kidney to blood vessels in a deceased woman’s upper leg (with the permission of her family). Her bodily functions were maintained with a ventilator. Researchers observed the kidney for 54 hours. It functioned normally, producing urine and waste products like creatinine, with no signs of immune rejection. Read More > at Reason

Rewilding California: New $65 million preserve straddles north and south – If the Sierra Nevada mountains are California’s spine, the Transverse Range is its bulging disc. 

Tectonic pressure has squeezed this landscape against the grain — radiating east and west, defying the north-south orientation of the state’s mountains — creating a rocky front of steep slopes and broad valleys stretching from the western Mojave Desert to the Pacific Ocean.

The region connects California’s north to its south, providing a rare, undeveloped, east-west haven between the teeming population centers of the Los Angeles basin and the San Joaquin Valley. 

Its topographic rarity is rivaled only by its diversity of animals and plants. Condors, mountain lions, salamanders, legless lizards and the endangered Bakersfield cactus are among the two dozen sensitive species that inhabit it.

This region is such a jumble of desert, snowy mountains and broad oak woodland — described as a “complicated mess” by one evolutionary biologist — that it has long tantalized ecologists.

Conservationists have for decades envisioned this region in the Tehachapi Mountains as a great crossroads: Preserve it, limit human uses and stitch it together with already protected land around it to allow wildlife to move freely once again, unimpeded. 

Now that ideal, sometimes called “rewilding,” is well on its way to being realized. Last month The Nature Conservancy finalized the latest land purchase in the Frank and Joan Randall Preserve. Read More > at CalMatters

Netflix loses nearly $45 billion in market cap after ‘borderline catastrophic’ forecast’ showed almost 3.5M FEWER subscribers for 2022 first quarter – Netflix dashed hopes for a quick rebound after forecasting weak first-quarter subscriber growth on Thursday, sending shares sinking nearly 20 percent and wiping away most of its remaining pandemic-fueled gains from 2020, just a week after raising prices by up to $2 a month.

The streaming platform projected it would add 2.5 million customers for the first quarter of 2022 – January through March – less than half of the 5.9 million analysts had initially forecast.

Netflix tempered its growth expectations, citing the late arrival of anticipated content, such as the second season of Bridgerton, and the film The Adam Project.

The streaming giant’s announcement following the end of the trading day sent shares plummeting to 468.38, the lowest levels since June 2020. The precipitous fall comes after Netflix posted a 52-week high of 700.99. Read More > at the Daily Mail

A bitter feud centers on source of Arrowhead bottled water – High in the San Bernardino Mountains, water seeps from the ground and trickles down the mountainside among granite boulders and bay laurel trees.

Near this dribbling spring, water gushes through a system of tunnels and boreholes, and flows into a network of stainless steel pipes that join together in a single line. The water then courses downhill across 4.5 miles of rugged terrain in the San Bernardino National Forest to a tank, where some is hauled away in trucks to be bottled and sold as Arrowhead 100% Mountain Spring Water.

Local environmentalists say the bottled water pipeline doesn’t belong in the national forest and is removing precious water that would otherwise flow in Strawberry Creek and nourish the ecosystem. After nearly seven years of fighting against the extraction of water, activists say they hope California regulators will finally order BlueTriton Brands — the company that took over bottling from Nestlé last year — to drastically reduce its operation in the national forest.

The latest round in the fight over bottled water in the San Bernardino Mountains is playing out in a series of virtual hearings focusing on BlueTriton Brands’ water rights claims.

Last year, California water regulators issued a draft order telling Nestlé, which ran the operation at the time, to “cease and desist” taking much of the water. Staff of the State Water Resources Control Board announced the order after determining the company had been diverting far more water than it had rights to.

Records show about 180 acre-feet (58 million gallons) flowed through the pipeline in 2020. But state investigators concluded the company could only legally divert up to about 7.3 acre-feet (2.4 million gallons) of surface water per year, plus some as-yet-undetermined amount of “percolating groundwater.” If the order is eventually approved by the state water board, the company would be required to immediately stop “all unauthorized diversions.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

States Are Swimming in Cash Thanks to Booming Tax Revenue and Federal Aid – Numerous states are proposing tax rebates and bonuses for public workers as the fiscal doldrums of early 2021 give way to fat times fueled by booming markets, growing incomes and federal aid.

State revenues between April and November increased 24% from 2020 to 2021, according to a survey conducted by the Urban Institute think tank. Thirty-two states said revenue collections for fiscal years ending in 2022 were ahead of projections, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, including South Carolina, Minnesota and Washington.

While spending is going up in some areas, including K-12 and higher education, states are in many cases putting budget surpluses to one-time uses rather than programs with long-term commitments or permanent tax cuts. Officials say that is because pandemic-related federal aid is ending and revenue growth could halt if the economy slows.

Along with the tax rebates and bonuses, states are paying down debts and pension obligations and investing in short-term infrastructure projects. In addition, states’ reserve funds have reached a record level of nearly $113 billion for the 2021 fiscal year, the budget officers’ association said.

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a $286.4 billion budget plan. That spending is buoyed by an estimated $45.7 billion surplus in the current and next fiscal year, more than $20 billion of which can be used for discretionary spending. Much of that is due to higher-than-expected tax revenue from the state’s highest-income residents, who are making more money on stocks and investments.

Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, proposed to put $9 billion of the surplus toward budget reserves and pension debts and direct $5.5 billion to restore tax breaks for businesses that were suspended in the early days of the pandemic, when state officials thought they were facing down a staggering $54 billion deficit that never materialized. The governor’s budget also includes billions in one-time spending to address homelessness, wildfires, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last month proposed a $100 billion budget that includes a gas-tax holiday totaling $1 billion and $238 million for one-time, $1,000 retention payments for teachers and principals.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, on Wednesday proposed a budget that would add $2.4 billion to the state’s rainy-day fund and also begin phasing out income taxes for senior citizens.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Dan McKee, a Democrat, said this week that he will direct $150 million to infrastructure projects that combat climate change. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Microbusinesses flourished during the pandemic. Now we must tap into their full potential. – Amid the economic tumult of the past two years—with nearly 30% of small businesses closing their doors at the height of the pandemic, workers quitting their jobs at historic rates, and ongoing disruptions to the global supply chain—one positive trend shined through: A record number of Americans started online microbusinesses.

According to Venture Forward, a multiyear research program from GoDaddy to quantify this entrepreneurial activity, Americans created 2.8 million more online microbusinesses in 2020 than in 2019. Online microbusinesses are defined as businesses with a discrete domain name and an active website. About 90% of these online businesses employ fewer than 10 employees, and nearly 17% of the 20 million microbusinesses tracked in the U.S. were started after the onset of the pandemic, per Venture Forward’s latest national survey.

This increase aligns with larger entrepreneurial trends. The number of unincorporated, self-employed Americans reached 9.44 million in October—one of the highest numbers since the 2008 financial crisis, only trailing July and August of this year. This came one month after 3% of the U.S. workforce (4.4 million Americans) quit their jobs—an all-time high.

There are several factors that may explain the online microbusiness boom. Soaring unemployment rates in the early months of the pandemic forced millions to look for new income streams. Pandemic relief checks likely helped some people start new businesses. And compared to previous recessions, potential entrepreneurs now have more widely available broadband, greater digital fluency, and a more mature e-commerce marketplace that simplifies website creation, marketing, and online sales. Today, it’s much easier to translate an artisanal hobby or creative passion project into an online venture than it was in 2008. Read More > at Brookings

California water districts will get more supply than planned –  Last month’s wet winter storms led California officials on Thursday to announce they’ll release more water than initially planned from state storage to local agencies that provide water for 27 million people and vast swaths of farmland.

The Department of Water Resources now plans to give water districts 15% of what they’ve requested for 2022. That’s up from last month, when the state said it would supply 0% of requested water beyond what was needed for necessities such as drinking and bathing. It was the first time ever the state issued an initial water allocation of nothing.

State officials stressed California’s drought is far from over and urged people to keep conserving water. But December storms that dumped heavy snow in the mountains and partially refilled parched reservoirs have provided some relief from what had been an exceptionally dry year. Read More > at the Associated Press

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Oakley – Friday Night Bites Food Trucks Are Back!

Friday Night Bites food trucks are back! Save the date to join us on the First Friday of each month- beginning Friday, February 4th– for this fun event in Civic Center Plaza. Be sure to check back next week for the full truck line up!

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California Is 2022’s 4th Worst State to Drive in – WalletHub Study

With traffic congestion costing U.S. drivers an average of 36 hours and $564 during 2021, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2022’s Best & Worst States to Drive in, as well as accompanying videos and expert commentary.

To determine the most driver-friendly states in the U.S., WalletHub compared the 50 states across 31 key metrics. The data set ranges from average gas prices to rush-hour traffic congestion to road quality.

Driving in California (1=Best; 25=Avg.):

  • 45th – Share of Rush-Hour Traffic Congestion
  • 15th – Traffic Fatality Rate
  • 48th – Car Theft Rate
  • 50th – Avg. Gas Prices
  • 27th – Auto-Maintenance Costs
  • 44th – Road Quality

For the full report, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-states-to-drive-in/43012

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California has a massive budget surplus. How would you spend it? Create your own state budget

from CalMatters

Newsom may have just unveiled his priorities for spending California’s massive budget surplus — and state lawmakers have their own ideas — but what would you do? Well, you can now turn your vision into (virtual) reality by playing this super-fun Surplus Spender game created by CalMatters’ John Osborn D’Agostino. Tax (or don’t) Californians as you like, and pour money into whatever pot you want — just remember that the state can’t run a deficit! And once you finish your plan, compare it to those created by others — and share it on social media.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day Report: 2022’s States with the Most Racial Progress

With today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day and half of adults saying a lot more needs to be done to ensure equal rights for all Americans, the personal-finance website WalletHub released its report on 2022’s States with the Most Racial Progress, as well as accompanying videos and expert commentary.

To measure America’s progress in harmonizing racial groups, WalletHub measured the gaps between black people and white people across 21 key indicators of equality and integration in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The data set ranges from median annual household income to standardized-test scores to voter turnout.

This report examines the differences between only black people and white people in light of the high-profile police-brutality incidents that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. We released this report ahead of the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who played a prominent role in the Civil Rights Movement to end segregation and discrimination against black people.

Most Racially Integrated StatesStates with the Most Racial Progress
1. Arizona1. Wyoming
2. Hawaii2. Texas
3. Texas3. Georgia
4. Montana4. Mississippi
5. Maryland5. Florida
6. New Mexico6. Idaho
7. Wyoming7. New Mexico
8. Alaska8. Maryland
9. Washington9. North Carolina
10. Georgia10. New Jersey

Key Stats

  • The District of Columbia has the lowest gap in homeownership rates between white people and black people, at 14.31 percent. Connecticut has made the most progress in closing this gap since 1970, with a change of 8.97 percent.
     
  • Hawaii has the lowest gap in median annual household incomes between white people and black people, at 16.71 percent. Wyoming has made the most progress in closing this gap since 1979, with a change of 36.55 percent.
     
  • Alaska has the lowest gap in unemployment rates between white people and black people, at 0.72 percent. North Dakota has made the most progress in closing this gap since 1970, with a change of 10.41 percent.
     
  • Hawaii has the lowest gap in poverty rates between white people and black people, at 0.07 percent. Mississippi has made the most progress in closing this gap since 1970, with a change of 26.38 percent.
     
  • Wyoming has the lowest gap in the share of adults age 25 and over with at least a bachelor’s degree between white people and black people, at 1.54 percent. Wyoming has also made the most progress in closing this gap since 1970, with a change of 9.35 percent. 

To view the full report and your state or the District’s rank, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-the-most-and-least-racial-progress/18428

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Sunday Reading – 01/16/2022

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.

California budget confronts climate change, homeless, crime – California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday proposed a $286.4 billion budget that sets off months of budget talks with his fellow Democrats, who control the state Legislature, before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Newsom focused much of his budget proposal on some of the state’s biggest issues — climate change, homelessness, education, abortion, high-speed rail, the pandemic, crime.

Newsom wants to spend $22.5 billion over the next five years to fight climate change and protect communities most at risk from changing weather patterns.

About $15 billion would go to climate-related transportation projects such as helping low-income people purchase electric cars; expanding charging infrastructure in disadvantaged neighborhoods and helping schools buy electric buses.

Newsom also proposes to release $4.2 billion in bond money for the controversial high-speed rail project that advocates say will eventually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Assembly Democrats stalled the funding last year.

After consecutive record-setting wildfire seasons the past two years, the governor proposed a nearly 20% increase in the budget for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Spending would increase from $3.1 billion approved last year to $3.7 billion and add more than 1,200 new CalFire positions. It would also include $400 million to be spent to improve the health of firefighters who have been on the front lines during the lengthy seasons.

Newsom proposed spending another $2 billion on homelessness on top of the $12 billion in last year’s budget.

California taxpayers already pay for the health care of low-income young adults and people 50 and over who are living in the country illegally. Now, Newsom wants the state to pay the health care expenses for every low-income adult in the state regardless of their immigration status. The plan would cost about $2.2 billion per year and would begin in January 2024.

California’s K-12 public schools and community colleges would see $102 billion to help schools deal with the ongoing pandemic and expand early childhood education and childcare programs.

School funding would increase by $8.2 billion based on minimum funding guarantees under state law, with another $7.9 billion in one-time funds for facilities, transportation and other programs.

The proposal includes $1 billion to begin phasing in universal transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds by 2025 and an additional $3.4 billion for expanded learning opportunities, including before- and after-school programs for low-income elementary school students. Read More > in the Associated Press

Newsom’s budget sparks concernsFrom CalMatters Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff: Newsom’s record-breaking budget proposal was met with some caution on Thursday, when the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal advisor warned that his spending plan includes more proposals than districts and departments — many of which are still figuring out how to use funds from last year’s massive surplus — might be able to effectively implement. The Legislative Analyst’s Office suggested that lawmakers instead consider directing more of the surplus into the state’s reserve accounts, which hold more money than ever before but haven’t kept up with the growth in general fund spending — a potential risk in another economic downturn.

Newsom alluded to those concerns on Monday, but said his hands were tied by a 2014 ballot measure that annually directs a portion of taxes into a rainy-day fund until it reaches 10% of general fund revenue. After hitting that limit — as would be the case in this budget — any additional money must be spent on infrastructure.

  • Newsom: “I know many people believe that our reserves are not as high as they should be. I agree with you. But I hope they also would agree with me that in order to get those reserves where they need to go, we need a constitutional amendment to reform our reserve system.”

But that’s not exactly true. Once the rainy-day fund reaches the 10% cap, the state can still make additional optional deposits in the account. It remains to be seen whether Newsom and lawmakers have any desire to do so — let alone try to change the law to require even higher reserves — when there are so many billions of dollars to hand out. Read More > at CalMatters

Nearly extinct salmon spawn in the Bay Area for the first time in 18 years – At first, barely visible beneath the rippling waters of Montezuma Creek in Forest Knolls, the bright red tail of a coho salmon suddenly emerged, splashing along the surface as it swam upstream.

The recent sighting by Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) biologist Ayano Hayes was a milestone for the Bay Area, marking the first time the endangered fish has been spotted in the small tributary of the San Geronimo Valley in Marin County since 2004. 

The biologist also discovered salmon in Arroyo Creek, Woodacre Creek and Larsen Creek, where they had not been seen since 2006.

The species has experienced a “serious decline” since the mid-20th century, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, due to threats such as loss of habitat, overexploitation (which occurs when more fish are harvested beyond the species’ capacity to repopulate), interaction with hatchery-raised fish and climatic factors such as lack of precipitation. In recent years, the coho salmon that typically spawned in creeks between the Golden Gate and Monterey Bay were blocked by sand bars because of the drought. They faced extinction over most of their range. Read More > at SFGate

California education issues to watch in 2022 — and predictions of what will happen – There will be record school funding again next year, which will make staff shortages all the more frustrating. But as quotable film star Mae West would say: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and rich is better.”

Onward with the sobering future. Here are my forecasts for the new year plus background on big K-12 issues looming ahead.

Testing: This spring, California’s third- through eighth- and 11th-graders will resume taking a shortened version of Smarter Balanced standardized tests in language arts and math after missing two years because of the pandemic. Based on results from interim assessments that most districts have administered the past two years, the Smarter Balanced scores will be abysmal, with a widening of the already big gaps in scores between white students and their Black and Latino peers.

Chances that 2020-21 Smarter Balanced scores will drop more than 10% overall and significantly more for Black and Hispanic students:

Student wellness: Each year, most districts administer the state’s California Healthy Kids Survey, a confidential and anonymous survey of students in odd-numbered grades. It provides a window into school climate and student wellness. Many teachers this year are reporting that students’ stress and mental health issues that were somewhat hidden during distance learning were exposed with the return to school.

Chances that the percentage of high school students feeling connected to school (65% in 2019) and academically motivated (72% in 2019) will drop significantly in 2022: 

Chronic absenteeism: Based on early data,  McKinsey & Co. projects that the nationwide rate of chronically absent students will be 28% 2021-22, an astounding number that would be 2.7 times what it was two years ago. California, which has a similar definition — missing 10% or more of school days — doesn’t release timely absenteeism data, but some districts do. As of Dec. 17, 1 out of 7 students in Oakland Unified were absent more than 20% of the time and 1 out of 5 were absent between 10% and 20% of the time.

Hedy Chang, executive director of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Attendance Works, has created a new category: extreme chronic absences, describing students missing half of the school year. “There is a huge potential dropout crisis developing,” she said.

Chances that more than one-fifth of California’s students will be chronically absent in 2021-22: Read More > at EdSource

California Lets 23 Leases Expire as Workers Stay Remote – New budget documents show California’s state government has begun to make progress on one of the promises of telework: saving money on office leases.

The Department of General Services, which manages about 14.4 million square feet of leased office space for the state, has relinquished or is in the process of relinquishing about 767,000 square feet of space, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Monday budget proposal.

The changes will save the state about $22.5 million per year, according to the state’s projections.

They’re the first specific figures on lease savings the state has released since Newsom announced in May 2020 that he would move to make telework a permanent option for state workers with jobs that could accommodate it.

Over the next three years, the state expects to reduce leased office space by 20%, which would save about $84.7 million per year, according to the budget proposal. Read More > at Governing

In a First, Man Receives a Heart From a Genetically Altered Pig – A 57-year-old man with life-threatening heart disease has received a heart from a genetically modified pig, a groundbreaking procedure that offers hope to hundreds of thousands of patients with failing organs.

It is the first successful transplant of a pig’s heart into a human being. The eight-hour operation took place in Baltimore on Friday, and the patient, David Bennett Sr. of Maryland, was doing well on Monday, according to surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“It creates the pulse, it creates the pressure, it is his heart,” said Dr. Bartley Griffith, the director of the cardiac transplant program at the medical center, who performed the operation.

“It’s working and it looks normal. We are thrilled, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring us. This has never been done before.”

Researchers hope procedures like this will usher in a new era in medicine in the future when replacement organs are no longer in short supply for the more than half a million Americans who are waiting for kidneys and other organs. Read More > in The New York Times

Expect ‘huge battles’ over working from home between employees and bosses soon, says Stanford professor who’s studied remote work for 20 years – Flexible work arrangements have become non-negotiable for job-seekers and employees alike — so much so that people now value such flexibility as much as a 10% pay raise, according to new research from the WFH Research Project. But not all companies are on the same page as their employees when it comes to remote and hybrid work.

Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University, co-founded the research team in May 2020 alongside Jose Maria Barrero, an assistant professor at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) in Mexico City, and economist Steven J. Davis.

Their latest research, shared on Jan. 3, collected responses from more than 17,000 employees in the United States about their attitudes toward working from home versus returning to the office. 

About 50% of respondents who have worked from home during the coronavirus pandemic said they would prefer a hybrid schedule once the virus is under control. 

Although large shares of people prefer a remote or hybrid work arrangement, Bloom, who has studied remote work for nearly 20 years, tells CNBC Make It that he expects there to be “huge battles” between employees and managers over remote work in the coming months. Read More > at CNBC Make It

Even Mark Zuckerberg is leaving California for Texas – First Elon Musk, now Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg’s company, Meta (formerly Facebook), announced it would lease offices in a massive new building in Austin, Texas. Big tech companies, who cut their teeth and built empires in California, are fleeing the state and relocating to Texas. It’s almost as if high taxes, stifling corporate regulations, and out-of-control housing costs are unattractive to businesses and long-term sustainability. Who knew?

The Austin Business Journal was among the first to report on Meta’s move.

“Months of speculation have come to an end as California-based Meta Platforms Inc. — the parent company of Facebook — recently leased the entire commercial half of Sixth and Guadalupe, the 66-story high-rise under construction downtown that will be Austin’s tallest building when finished. The social media company has also pledged hundreds more jobs in the Texas capital,” the Austin Business Journal reported.

The California-to-Texas “techs-odus” is becoming a trend. Other tech companies such as Oracle, HP Inc., and 8VC have recently relocated to Texas. As of November 2020, 35 major companies had relocated or opened new sites in Austin, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

California has become not just advantageous for businesses to remain in the state. Compared to California’s high cost of living and regulatory burdens, Texas offers companies fewer restrictions, less taxation, and lower housing prices. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Rare Earths: Fighting for the Fuel of the Future – Rare earths have become a fundamental part of modern life. Cell phones, computers, televisions, and cars are among the indispensable products powered by the strong internal magnets manufactured from rare earths. Modern medical devices, communication systems, and a sustainable, “green” energy transition are entirely dependent on successful exploitation of this non-renewable resource and, as can be easily inferred, rare earths are vital for the development of military technology.

To introduce a more familiar comparison, OPEC controls 41 percent of oil production and, with that, has wielded tremendous geopolitical power for decades. This dependency compelled the United States to aggressively support the development of alternative supply chains. Today, despite China controlling approximately 60 percent of rare earth ore, producing 85 percent of the oxides, and accounting for more than 95 percent of the rare earth manufacturing, there is no comparable response.ADVERTISEMENT

With growing tensions in Southeast Asia, an ongoing trade war, and mounting global pressure to combat climate change with “green” technology, the potential for a global crisis is rising. In such a situation, beyond diplomatic and economic measures, military supremacy and deterrence are essential for the United States to continue defending its interests.

To complicate matters, the ability for the U.S. to maintain any militarily competitive edge over China is largely dependent on the same vulnerable supply chain. Precision-guided weapons, stealth technology, drones, and satellites are among the key strategic defense elements that rely on rare earths. Each F-35 aircraft, shared by 14 allied nations and considered instrumental for future warfare, contains 920 pounds of rare earth material. China has already demonstrated the ability to directly affect this development. Read More > in The Diplomat

Heating Up Testicles With Nanoparticles Could Be a Form of Male Birth Control – Women have a variety of methods for contraception, but only two methods are commonly available to men: condoms and vasectomies. Both methods have their drawbacks.

Condoms can break, and some men are allergic to the latex in standard condoms. Vasectomies are surgical procedures that can be painful and difficult to reverse.

So the search for alternative male contraceptive options continues, and one method currently being investigated is nanocontraception.

Nanocontraception is based on the idea that nanoparticles — here, about 100 nanometres in diameter, or roughly one-thousandth the width of a piece of paper or of a strand of human hair — can somehow be delivered to the testicles, where they can be warmed.

If you could warm up the testicles just a bit, you would have a way to turn sperm production on and off at will because the warmer they get, the less fertile they become. But it’s a delicate process because the testicles can be irreversibly destroyed if they become too warm; the tissue dies and can no longer produce sperm, even when the testicles return to their normal temperature. Read More > at Real Clear Science

CDC says ‘over 75 percent’ of COVID deaths were in those with ‘at least 4 comorbidities’ – Speaking to Good Morning America, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky confirmed that “the overwhelming number of deaths, over 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so these are people who were unwell to begin with.”

These comments come as questions are being raised about the data collected and parsed by the CDC, with concerns about the gap between those who died with COVID as opposed to those who died because of COVID. There have been concerns that those who died from other causes, but also had COVID at the time of death, have had their deaths attributed to COVID.

Walensky was citing a CDC study released on Friday that found that so-called breakthrough coronavirus deaths among those who are vaccinated were more likely to happen in those with 4 or more comorbidities, Fox News reported. According to CDC data, 52 percent of COVID deaths in the US were COVID plus pneumonia.

Walensky spoke to Fox News’ Bret Baier, saying “In some hospitals that we’ve talked to, up to 40 percent of the patients who are coming in with COVID are coming in not because they’re sick with COVID but because they’re coming in with something else and have had COVID or the omicron variant detected.” Read More > at Post Millennial

The true story behind the West Coast’s only native oyster. – At San Francisco’s nostalgia-inducing Swan Oyster Depot, the menu includes oysters from both coasts: you might choose among Kumamotos from Humboldt Bay, California; Miyagis from Puget Sound, Washington; Blue Points from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. But if you go to the restaurant, with its marble counter and 18 wooden stools, half of which date back to the 1800s, you might be able to try the favorite oyster of one of the restaurant owners. “If I had one oyster I could eat from anywhere in the world, it would be the Olympia. It’s a very unique oyster, with a very briny, very mineral-y, almost coppery taste,” says Steve Sancimino.

Sancimino loves to tell interested customers that the Olympia is San Francisco Bay’s native oyster and that the miners came and ate them all. Then, two of the biggest growers—John Stillwell Morgan and Michael Bolan Moraghan—cultivated them in places like Oyster Point, in South San Francisco, and the East Bay. But during the gold rush, the sludge from hydraulic mining came down from the rivers and smothered the oyster beds.

However, the history of the hometown oyster may be more about quiet resilience than boom and bust. When throngs of gold-seekers arrived in San Francisco in the mid-1800s, they definitely brought their appetite for oysters with them. But the ’49ers, while guilty of many things, may not have actually plundered and then destroyed the bay’s native oyster beds. Andrew Cohen, director of the Center for Research on Aquatic Bioinvasions, who has been investigating the story intermittently for more than a decade, thinks that the bay’s wild-oyster population could be about the same as or even greater than it was back in the day. “There’s no evidence to support the idea that native oysters were more abundant in the bay when the Europeans first showed up and were wiped out during the gold rush,” he says. “People who are trying to restore them are laboring under a misconception.”

Restoration-minded scientists in California agree that the historical record is spotty, but the overarching reasons to support native oysters are sound. “Oysters have always been present in the bay, and we know that they have benefits. I’m not sure it’s important whether they were enormously abundant 50 years ago, 500 years ago, or 5,000 years ago,” says Ted Grosholz, a professor of ecology at UC Davis.  Read More > at Alta Online

Oil Bulls Begin The Year With A Bang – Oil has started off on a positive note in 2022 so far, with robust demand continuously exceeding market expectations and Omicron fears waning.

– Even though there has been a relative lack of major developments in the market, partial supply disruptions in Libya and Ecuador have kept markets tighter than expected, pushing oil prices above the $80 per barrel mark.  

– Initial production data seem to suggest that the gap between OPEC+ quotas and actual production keeps on widening, with a recent Platts survey hinting that December additions amounted to only 310,000 b/d. 

– A total of 14 counties (out of the 18 nations participating) failed to hit their production targets in December, including Russia whose crude output has been stagnating for a couple of months already. 

The limited impact of Omicron on markets compared to all previous COVID variants has been the main bullish factor for oil prices in 2022, with demand continuously proving skeptics wrong. This week finally brought a resolution to Libya’s prolonged infrastructure blockade yet it will be weeks before we see production and exports back at levels they were before December 2021. That being said, global inventories are still low and there has been little change on that front recently. News of European stocks dropping 11% month-on-month in December, as well as the tacit anticipation of US crude inventories seeing their seventh consecutive weekly draw, is only adding to bullish sentiment. Read More > at Oil Price

Your teen’s being sarcastic? It’s a sign of intelligence – If I were to tell you that sarcasm is one of our most powerful linguistic tools, your first response might reasonably be, yeah right! Perhaps you’d even simply assume that I was indulging in a little irony myself.

We are often reminded, after all, of Oscar Wilde’s jibe that “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit” while forgetting that the famous twister of words immediately qualified his statement by adding “but the highest form of intelligence”. Parents or teachers of teenagers, in particular, may find it hard to believe that this linguistic quirk is a sign of a flexible and inventive mind.

Yet that is exactly what psychologists and neuroscientists have been arguing. They have found that sarcasm requires the brain to jump through numerous hoops to arrive at a correct interpretation, requiring more brainpower than literal statements. And although it’s often dismissed as juvenile snark, sarcasm is actually evidence of maturity – as it takes years for a child’s developing brain to fully grasp and master it.

The mental effort pays off. Sarcasm allows us to add much-needed nuance to our interactions, softening the blows of our insults or adding a playful tease to a compliment. There is even some evidence that it can prime us to be more creative and that it can help us to vent negative emotions when we’re feeling down Read More > at the BBC

Grocery shortages seen across country amid omicron surge – Many people going grocery shopping recently have come out empty-handed as the omicron variant of COVID-19 has disrupted food supply chains.

Over the past few weeks and days, photos of empty shelves have popped up on social media.

The new omicron variant of COVID-19 has helped cause the shortages at grocery stores.

When workers at jobs such as meatpacking factories or warehouses are out, products end up being delayed getting onto trucks for delivery. Furthermore, if truckers are out sick, they aren’t able to deliver food products to stores, resulting in empty shelves and unhappy shoppers.

“So what’s changed now in the past couple weeks? Obviously, there’s omicron,” said John Rosen, an adjunct economics professor at the University of New Haven. He noted that the new strain of the virus affects supply chains, and thus grocery stores, in a number of ways.

The first is simply the scale of the virus’s spread. While it is believed to be less severe than other iterations of COVID-19, omicron is thought to be much more contagious than previous variants.

Another way omicron is affecting grocery stores is through schools. Some schools have gone back to remote learning, which means that in many cases, parents need to watch their children during the day.

“People who work at grocery stores tend to be part-time people who have young children, so [when] the schools are closed, like they are in Chicago, that has a disproportionate impact on things like retail stores,” Rosen told the Washington Examiner.

The Food Industry Association’s vice president of industry relations, Doug Baker, said the pandemic “has transformed almost every aspect of the food retail industry” and that despite the supply chain issues and problems with getting food on shelves, the supply of food is still plentiful.

“A combination of several factors, from labor and transportation shortages to recent extreme weather events, continues to impact the movement of food through the supply chain,” Baker said in a statement. “These issues can be difficult for grocery stores to predict, as they’re often regional and inconsistent.”

While the omicron variant may be exacerbating the supply chain situation recently, the situation was far from good to begin with.

Another cause of shortages is the so-called “great resignation,” named as such because so many people are quitting their jobs, causing labor to be hard to come by for some businesses, particularly in lower-paying industry spaces where grocery stores and warehouses operate.

About 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November, up from 4.2 million the month before . The number of people quitting is the highest since the country began keeping records of the statistic about two decades ago and is equivalent to about 3% of the workforce. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Gallup’s least ethical: TV reporters, Congress, lobbyists – There’s a not-so-hidden message in Gallup’s latest survey on the honesty and ethics of professions: America hates Washington, D.C.

At the bottom of its list of 22 professions sits the media-politics industry that dominates the city.

“Americans are most skeptical of the ethics of elected officials, particularly at the federal level, as well as the media,” the analysis dryly reads.

Professionals that should be viewed as having high standards are instead graded low in the survey, putting reporters, House and Senate members, and lobbyists at the bottom.

Of those three groups, newspaper reporters have the highest marks in average honesty and ethics at 39%. Car salespeople do better, with an average score of 49%.

But in the key column of “very high/high” ethics and honesty that Gallup focused on, newspaper reporters earned just 17%.

Still better compared to TV reporters (14%), members of Congress (9%), and lobbyists at the very bottom (5%).

At the top, as usual, were nurses, members of the military, and teachers. As with most polls, the politics of those questioned played a big role in how professions were viewed. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Climate Industrial Complex Left Clueless as Fossil Fuels Proliferate – It has been a little more than a month since the United Nations climate meeting at Glasgow, yet global use of fossil fuels has increased rapidly.  

As climate doomsayers met in November in Glasgow for the annual U.N. meeting, Asian political leaders promoted policies that sought to increase fossil fuel production — largely because of lessons learned from acute coal shortages in India and China earlier in the year.  

The Indian government has opened more coal mines and has allocated new mines to private players through auctions. India’s coal minister has asked the government’s coal production arm, Coal India Limited, to meet an annual target of 1 billion tonnes by 2024.  

Meanwhile, China is taking similar measures to ensure its coal supply. Coal production for November hit record highs as Beijing scrambled to ensure enough of the fuel to meet winter needs. October 2021 witnessed the highest monthly production since March 2015. Overall, the first 11 months of this year accounted for 3.67 billion tonnes of coal, which is 4.2% higher than 2020.  

So, if anyone is thinking that fossil fuels are dead, they should think again. The 2.6 billion people in India and China will continue to use fossil fuels as their primary energy source until 2070.  Even the most advanced European and Scandinavian countries are witnessing a revival of the fossil fuel sector.  

It is as if the anti-fossil climate conference never happened this year. As if promises to end fossil fuels are nothing but vapors from the incense offered at the altar of climate drama — only to be consumed by an inescapable energy reality. Read More > at Real Clear Energy

U.S. Producer Prices Slipped From Record Peak in December – Prices that suppliers are charging businesses and other customers closed out 2021 near the highest level in over a decade, though December showed a slight cooling of producer inflation.

The Labor Department said Thursday that its producer-price index rose 0.2% in December from November, the slowest pace since November 2020 and down sharply from a revised 1.0% the prior month—a possible sign of easing inflationary pressures in the U.S. supply chain.

However, prices remain much higher than they were a year ago, climbing 9.7% on a 12-month basis, down just slightly from November’s revised 9.8% rise, the fastest since records began in 2010.

The producer-price numbers, which generally reflect supply conditions in the economy, suggest that uncomfortably high consumer inflation will persist in 2022, though the pace of price gains might begin to slow or gradually reverse. The consumer-price index hit a 39-year high of 7% in December, the Labor Department said on Wednesday.

Mahir Rasheed, U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, said that though the slowdown in producer-price inflation was encouraging, he expects inflation to remain high throughout the U.S. supply chain in early 2022. He added that the effects of the Omicron variant could push them up further. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

More than 1 million fewer students are in college. Here’s how that impacts the economy – More than 1 million fewer students are enrolled in college now than before the pandemic began. According to new data released Thursday, U.S. colleges and universities saw a drop of nearly 500,000 undergraduate students in the fall of 2021, continuing a historic decline that began the previous fall.

“It’s very frightening,” says Doug Shapiro, who leads the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse, where the new data comes from. “Far from filling the hole of [2020’s] enrollment declines, we are still digging it deeper.”

Compared with the fall of 2019, the last fall semester before the coronavirus pandemic, undergraduate enrollment has fallen a total of 6.6%. That represents the largest two-year decrease in more than 50 years, Shapiro says.

The nation’s community colleges are continuing to feel the bulk of the decline, with a 13% enrollment drop over the course of the pandemic. But the fall 2021 numbers show that bachelor’s degree-seeking students at four-year colleges are making up about half of the shrinkage in undergraduate students, a big shift from the fall of 2020, when the vast majority of the declines were among associate degree seekers. Read More > at NPR

U.S. craft breweries could raise beer prices due to supply chain issues, economist says – The next time you pop into your favorite brewery, there could be a price shift for that pint you’re about to order.

Despite the pandemic and all of its challenges, overall, it’s been a better-than-expected year for craft beer in Florida. Now, looking ahead, economists say they will face new hurdles that could lead to some tough decisions for independent brewers – including whether to increase prices to offset their increased costs.

An aluminum can shortage is another ripple effect of the pandemic as breweries had the capability to shift to to-go crawlers or cans, increasing the need for the product.

“Overnight, we started drinking a lot more beverage, not just beer, but beverages in package form,” Watson said. “We didn’t drink soda at the movie theater or beer at the bar. We drank those things in cans. So, we’re still seeing the effects of that on package markets.”…

As part of the snowball effect, a deficit of truck drivers that started building before the pandemic also remains a problem. The American Trucking Associations said in October that the U.S. was short an estimated 80,000 drivers, a historic high.

And shipping remains delayed, impacting everything from imported foods to packaging that is printed overseas…

“The malt and barley crops in 2021 were not very good in either the U.S. or Canada, so that might mean increased prices and decreased quality,” he said. “They’re going to have to communicate to the brewhouse. Breweries have to have yeast to deal with barley that has higher protein. It will just mean more work or challenges for them.”

According to NPR, barley is described as an “unforgiving crop… Read More > at FOX13 News

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Smoking Costs the Average California Smoker $2,688,526 Over a Lifetime 

With the economic and societal costs of smoking totaling more than $300 billion per year, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on The Real Cost of Smoking by State, as well as accompanying videos and expert commentary.

To encourage the estimated 34.2 million tobacco users in the U.S. to kick this dangerous habit, WalletHub calculated the potential monetary losses — including the lifetime and annual costs of a cigarette pack per day, health care expenditures, income losses and other costs — brought on by smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.

The Financial Cost of Smoking in California (1=Lowest, 25=Avg.):

  • Out-of-Pocket Cost per Smoker – $155,928 (Rank: 39th)
  • Financial-Opportunity Cost per Smoker – $1,631,258 (Rank: 39th)
  • Health-Care Cost per Smoker – $234,261 (Rank: 44th)
  • Income Loss per Smoker – $650,030 (Rank: 43rd)
  • Other Costs per Smoker – $17,048 (Rank: 50th)
  • Total Cost Over Lifetime per Smoker: $$2,688,526
  • Total Cost per Year per Smoker: $56,011

For the full report, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/the-financial-cost-of-smoking-by-state/9520

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Bay Trail Website Moves to MTC

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has launched a new Bay Trail section to its website at mtc.ca.gov/baytrail. Featuring refreshed content and the latest news about the Bay Trail, a planned 500-mile regional trail along the shoreline of 47 Bay Area cities, these web pages will replace the website formerly found at baytrail.org.

The new Bay Trail landing page provides easy access to:

  • An interactive map that shows locations of the Bay Trail paths, the type of surface (to better help visitors plan for the terrain) and other amenities along the way
  • Maps By Numbers that have details for segments of the Bay Trail, including sites and activities along the way
  • Ways to explore the Bay Trail, organized by activity, including walking, biking and places where you can bring your dog on the trail
  • The history of the Bay Trail, including how it got started, where it’s going and how the public can support this resource for future generations

The Bay Trail is a joint project of MTC and the Association of Bay Area Governments. The project works with partners across the Bay Area to fulfill the vision of a shoreline bicycle and pedestrian path that will be enjoyed for generations.

The MTC website was refreshed in 2021 with accessibility and ease-of-use (especially for mobile devices) in mind, and users will benefit from an improved experience.

MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

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Concord Naval Weapons Station Reuse Project a Virtual Meeting Thursday, January 27th from 6:00pm to 7:30pm

Please join us for our first virtual community meeting on Thursday, January 27th from 6:00pm to 7:30pm. This will be the first of a series of ongoing meetings hosted by the Master Developer team, Concord First Partners, LLC and will be an opportunity for community residents and stakeholders to share their thoughts and provide valued input, comments and perspectives as pertains to the Concord Naval Weapons Station Project. All are invited and welcome to attend. See newsletter for more…… Read on

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Bay Area Streets Pavement Quality are Considered Fair

Overall pavement conditions on the Bay Area’s nearly 44,000 lane-miles of local streets and roads landed once again in fair territory last year, with the typical stretch of roadway showing serious wear and likely to require rehabilitation soon. Data released today by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) put the region’s 2020 pavement condition index (PCI) score at 67 out of a maximum possible 100 points, as computed on a three-year moving average basis. This marks the fifth consecutive year Bay Area streets and roads have registered an average score of 67 and underscores the continuing challenges faced by cities’ and counties’ public works departments.

PCI scores of 90 or higher are considered “excellent.” These are newly built or resurfaced streets that show little or no distress. Pavement with a PCI score in the 80 to 89 range is considered “very good” and shows only slight or moderate distress, requiring primarily preventive maintenance.  The “good” category ranges from 70 to 79, while streets with PCI scores in the “fair” (60-69) range are becoming worn to the point where rehabilitation may be needed to prevent rapid deterioration. Because major repairs cost five to 10 times more than routine maintenance, these streets are at an especially critical stage. Roadways with PCI scores of 50 to 59 are deemed “at-risk,” while those with PCI scores of 25 to 49 are considered “poor.” These roads require major rehabilitation or reconstruction. Pavement with a PCI score below 25 is considered “failed.”

Cupertino tops the list of Bay Area pavement rankings for the 2018-20 period, with an average PCI score of 85.  Other cities with three-year PCI scores in the “very good” range include Dublin and Palo Alto (84); Brentwood, Clayton, Orinda and Woodside (81); and Danville, Foster City and unincorporated Solano County (80).

The lowest-ranked pavement in the Bay Area was found in Pacifica, which recorded a PCI score of 42 for 2018-20. The only other jurisdictions with three-year average PCI scores in the “poor” range are Petaluma (44), unincorporated Napa County (45), Sebastopol (48) and Vallejo (49). The three-year moving average PCI score for the nearly 2,700 lane-miles of rural roads in unincorporated Sonoma County last year inched into the “at-risk” range (50) after many years in the “poor” bracket and a PCI score of 49 for the 2017-19 period.

Find where your city ranks –  2020 Pavement Conditions Summary 

MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

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30×30 California

In October 2020, Governor Newsom signed his Nature Based Solutions Executive Order N-82-20, elevating the role of natural and working lands in the fight against climate change and advancing biodiversity conservation as an administration priority. As part of this Executive Order, California committed to the goal of conserving 30 percent of our lands and coastal waters by 2030.

The California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) has released California’s draft strategy to conserve 30 percent of the state’s land and coastal waters by 2030 (30×30). The draft of Pathways to 30×30: Accelerating Conservation of California’s Nature is now available for public review and feedback. Input is welcomed through January 28. For more information, click here

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State Route 239 Project News – Public Scoping Open House

READY FOR VISITORS – SR 239 ONLINE PUBLIC SCOPING OPEN HOUSE

Caltrans has released a Notice of Preparation (NOP) for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the State Route 239 project and is seeking your input. We continue to engage with the public at this time but understand that COVID-19 remains a concern in many communities. For this reason, we have decided to host an online public open house for the environmental scoping phase of work on the State Route 239 project. This scoping is being done as per the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). During this phase of work, we will be gathering information from agencies, stakeholders, and the public about the environmental impacts that should be studied and the alternatives to be considered for the State Route 239 project.

The State Route 239 online open house is now ready for visitors and will remain open until February 4, 2022. This website offers important details about the environmental evaluation of this project, the environmental process, a poster gallery for easy viewing of technical information, and multiple ways for you, the public, to ask questions or leave comments for our team…and all from the comfort of your home!

In addition to our online open house, we are offering a live virtual public meeting that will be hosted at 5:30 p.m. on January 20, 2022, during which our team will do a presentation about State Route 239 and a panel of experts will be available to answer any questions you have about this project. Details about how to join this January 20th meeting will be shared on our online open house website at www.SR239project.net.

While we prefer to host important meetings like this one in person, we are dedicated to keeping our project schedule moving and hope that you’ll join us virtually to learn more about State Route 239. For more information and to stay informed about the latest developments, please visit our project webpage, email us at info@SR239project.net or give us a call at (925) 390-3794.

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Sunday Reading – 01/09/2022

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.

Sacramento gas price could soar above $5 per gallon by spring. Here’s what we know so far – Sacramento’s national pump price is predicted to soar to over $5 by spring, according to a new gas report.

According to GasBuddy, a fuel-saving website, most major U.S. cities could see prices peak around $4 per gallon. But California cities like Sacramento could see average prices for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline reach between $4.95 and $5.25 this year.

The reason for the predicted jump is largely due to pandemic recovery.

As of Monday, California’s price for a gallon of regular fuel was $4.66, which is about the same price as one month ago but roughly $1.41 more than one year ago, according to the American Automobile Association. But the state’s average for a gallon hasn’t surpassed the Nov. 27 record average of $4.71. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Just how serious is California’s COVID-19 situation? – On the one hand, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top public health official, on Wednesday extended California’s indoor mask mandate — which was set to run through Jan. 15 — through at least Feb. 15, citing a surge in COVID cases that has pushed the state’s test positivity rate to a whopping 21.3%.

On the other hand, Ghaly acknowledged that the state lacks critical data on just how severely the virus, especially the omicron variant, is affecting Californians. He noted that around 8,000 of the state’s approximately 51,000 hospital patients on Wednesday morning had tested positive for COVID. But, Ghaly said, it’s unclear how many of those patients were hospitalized because of COVID versus how many were admitted for different reasons and ended up incidentally having COVID.

  • Ghaly: “That distinction … is really important and helps us not only help manage the staffing challenges within some of the hospitals, but also project out the need for additional ICU capacity. … And as we see an increasing number of fully vaccinated individuals, boosted individuals, admitted to the hospital with incidental COVID … I think we’re starting to see a sort of different approach to that.”

Indeed, as of Tuesday, roughly two-thirds of COVID-positive patients at hospitals run by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Services were admitted for something other than the virus. Marin County hospitals on Monday had a near-record high of 19 COVID patients — but at least 42% were incidental cases. And Berkeley is experiencing a “phenomenal” surge in cases, but only three residents at minimum have been hospitalized for COVID-19 in the past month.

Hospitalization data may be opaque, but staff shortages are clear. Thousands of police officers, firefighters and paramedics are in quarantine, straining critical public safety services. Unprecedented numbers of health care workers have been sidelined after testing positive for the virus, prompting some hospital departments to operate at half capacity and others to postpone elective surgeries. Ghaly said California has brought in more than 1,800 out-of-state health care workers to fill gaps at more than 150 facilities and is working to hire even more.

Although Ghaly emphasized that both he and Gov. Gavin Newsom don’t foresee future COVID-related shutdowns, they’re happening anyway. Courtrooms up and down the state are temporarily suspending jury trials, as CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons reports. The Los Angeles City Council has returned to virtual meetings, and Newsom cleared the way for state agencies to do the same in a Wednesday executive order. Some Sacramento restaurants are closing, and on Wednesday the Grammy Awards ceremony was postponed indefinitely.

But the Super Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 13 in Los Angeles, got an implicit go-ahead from Ghaly.

  • Ghaly: “I think Californians are excited to see that event occur, and the work is to make sure that as it is moving forward and planned, that the mitigation strategies that create safety around that event are in place.” Read More > at CalMatters

Crime, drug crisis stay in spotlight – Other issues certain to keep dominating California discourse in 2022: rising crime rates and the drug overdose epidemic. Los Angeles closed out 2021 with its highest rate of gun violence in 15 years, notching 392 homicides as of Dec. 29 — the city’s highest total since 2007 and a more than 50% increase from 2019, according to the Los Angeles Times. Oakland, meanwhile, finished the year with 134 homicides, its largest tally since 2006, and has already recorded its first murder of 2022, the Mercury News reports. Despite Newsom pledging to spend more on crime-fighting efforts and other prominent California Democrats ramping up their tough-on-crime rhetoric, some shaken residents are taking matters into their own hands: After four men robbed him at gunpoint, longtime Oakland resident Trevor Lawrence bought a firearm of his own.

  • Lawrence“When you’ve been through that level of trauma, I feel that’s the only sense of security I have.”

Another jaw-dropping statistic: San Francisco police in 2021 seized 56 pounds of fentanyl from the Tenderloin neighborhood alone — a 500% increase from the amount seized there in 2020. The figure, which police officials described as “unprecedented,” was released a few days after San Francisco supervisors approved Mayor London Breed’s proposal to declare a state of emergency in the Tenderloin to ramp up the city’s response to overdose deaths. “This is a status quo that we absolutely need to challenge and disrupt with everything we have,” Supervisor Matt Haney — who’s running for a state Assembly seat — told the San Francisco Chronicle. Read More > at CalMatters

California continues to face wildfire risks. Insurers think they have an answer. – California is struggling to prevent wildfires from decimating communities each year. Now insurers wonder if they can accomplish what politicians can’t.

State leaders are pouring money into firefighting and clearing brush from drought-parched forests. They’ve allowed utilities to cut power on the riskiest days. But they’ve done little to discourage residents from living in extreme fire areas. And they’ve continued to allow development on the outskirts in a state desperate for housing.

Enter the insurance industry, which says it can no longer afford to back homes facing a high risk of burning up each year. It’s pushing for a new model that would account for future climate change risks — an approach that California has been alone in resisting.

…Many property owners are already struggling to find insurers willing to renew their policies. The state also has intervened, demanding that they continue covering at-risk homeowners for the time being. But insurers dropped about 212,000 California properties in 2020, and about 50,000 homeowners — many in the Sierra Nevada foothills on the eastern side of the state — couldn’t find another option on the private market.

That has led to a reckoning over whether California should allow insurers to account for future climate change risks.

The industry is arguing the state should let the market reflect the true risk. Insurers say the time is ripe to unlock a long-sought policy tool: Basing rates on estimates of fire damages to come, rather than actual damages from the previous 20 years. Read More > at Politico

Headaches and Backlogs Loom as Tax Filing Season Nears Again – The third tax-filing season during the coronavirus pandemic is set to begin soon with more delays, uncertainty and frustration likely for taxpayers and tax preparers.

There will be some signs of business as usual. The individual tax deadline will return to its usual mid-April date for the first time since 2019, and the Internal Revenue Service says it has been steadily reducing its backlog of 2020 returns and other lingering paperwork.

Even so, the agency is still contending with piles of work from the messy 2020 tax year while facing new challenges, including the prospect of retroactive legislation and pandemic-era tax-law changes that will require extra attention from taxpayers.

“The IRS is going to start the filing season in a hole,” said Erin Collins, the national taxpayer advocate, who leads an independent group within the IRS.

In late December, the IRS said it was on schedule opening its mail and that it has processed returns it received before April 2021 that didn’t require special attention or contained errors. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Activist makes list to bust imposters claiming to be Native American – They’re coming for white lies.

A list of allegedly fake Native Americans has begun circulating in tribal and academic circles, accusing 195 people of falsely claiming an Indian identity for personal gain. 

The “Alleged Pretendians List” is the creation of Jacqueline Keeler, a Native American writer and activist who has spent years busting fakers in politics and academia.

The list is a hodgepodge, with some entries containing detailed genealogical records to back up the claims, while others offer little beyond Keeler’s j’accuse. The list contains both those being probed and those who have already been disavowed by tribes they claim affiliation with.

The list includes well-known imposters and claimants like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Johnny Depp, but also less well-known figures in media and the arts.

The issue of Pretendians made headlines last month when Canada’s top indigenous health expert, Carrie Bourassa, was ousted after her claims of membership in the Métis nation were debunked. Researchers found her people actually originated from Eastern Europe and Russia. Read More > in the New York Post

No convincing scientific evidence that hangover cures work, according to new research – A new systematic review has found only very low-quality evidence that substances claiming to treat or prevent alcohol-induced hangover work.

The researchers call for more rigorous scientific exploration of the effectiveness of these remedies for hangovers to provide practitioners and the public with accurate evidence-based information on which to make their decisions.

Numerous remedies claim to be effective against hangover symptoms; however, up-to-date scientific examination of the literature is lacking. To address this gap, a team of researchers from King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust conducted a systematic review to consolidate and assess the current evidence for hangover treatments.

The study, published today by the scientific journal Addiction, assessed 21 placebo-controlled randomized trials of clove extract, red ginseng, Korean pear juice, and other hangover cures. Although some studies showed statistically significant improvements in hangover symptoms, all evidence was of very low quality, usually because of methodological limitations or imprecise measurements. In addition, no two studies reported on the same hangover remedy and no results have been independently replicated. Read More > at Medical Xpress

When They Warn of Rare Disorders, These Prenatal Tests Are Usually Wrong – …Ms. Geller had been misled by a wondrous promise that Silicon Valley has made to expectant mothers: that a few vials of their blood, drawn in the first trimester, can allow companies to detect serious developmental problems in the DNA of the fetus with remarkable accuracy.

In just over a decade, the tests have gone from laboratory experiments to an industry that serves more than a third of the pregnant women in America, luring major companies like Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics into the business, alongside many start-ups.

The tests initially looked for Down syndrome and worked very well. But as manufacturers tried to outsell each other, they began offering additional screenings for increasingly rare conditions.

The grave predictions made by those newer tests are usually wrong, an examination by The New York Times has found.

That includes the screening that came back positive for Ms. Geller, which looks for Prader-Willi syndrome, a condition that offers little chance of living independently as an adult. Studies have found its positive results are incorrect more than 90 percent of the time.

Nonetheless, on product brochures and test result sheets, companies describe the tests to pregnant women and their doctors as near certain. They advertise their findings as “reliable” and “highly accurate,” offering “total confidence” and “peace of mind” for patients who want to know as much as possible. Read More > in The New York Times

L.A.’s Arms Race of the Affluent – In Beverly Hills, even the purchase of a firearm comes with certain…expectations. The city’s only gun store, Beverly Hills Guns, is a “concierge service” by appointment only, for a largely affluent clientele. And business is booming.

Since opening in July 2020, the store has seen upscale residents from Santa Monica to the Hollywood Hills increasingly in a panic following several high-profile smash-and-grab and violent home invasion robberies. The apparent siege has brought in a daily stream of anxious business owners and prominent actors, real estate moguls and film execs, says owner Russell Stuart. Most are arming themselves for the first time.

“This morning I sold six shotguns in about an hour to people that say, ‘I want a home defense shotgun,’” says Stuart, whose store is discreetly located in a Beverly Hills office building, with no sign on the doors, down the hall from a diamond dealer. “Everyone has a general sense of constant fear,  which is very sad. We’re used to this being like Mayberry.”

That fear has the wealthiest of local gentry contemplating every more elaborate security measures: armored luxury cars, safe rooms and bullet-proof glass in their homes. One client asked about creating the “Tony Stark-level” security of a half-dozen automated drones to hover over his house, says Stuart, whose gun store is part of his larger security company, Force Protective Agency. Read More > at Los Angeles Magazine

$29,000 for an Average Used Car? Would-Be Buyers Are Aghast – Consider that the average price of a used vehicle in the United States in November, according to Edmunds.com, was $29,011 — a dizzying 39% more than just 12 months earlier. And for the first time that anyone can recall, more than half of America’s households have less income than is considered necessary to buy the average-priced used vehicle.

The days when just about anyone with a steady income could wander onto an auto lot and snag a reliable late-model car or buy their kid’s first vehicle for a few thousand dollars have essentially vanished.

When the government reported that consumer inflation rocketed 6.8% in the 12 months that ended in November — the sharpest jump in nearly 40 years — the biggest factor, apart from energy, was used vehicles. And while the rate of increase is slowing, most experts say the inflated vehicle prices aren’t likely to ease for the foreseeable future.

The blame can be traced directly to the pandemic’s eruption in March of last year. Auto plants suspended production to try to slow the virus’ spread. As sales of new vehicles sank, fewer people traded in used cars and trucks. At the same time, demand for laptops and monitors from people stuck at home led semiconductor makers to shift production from autos, which depend on such chips, to consumer electronics.

When a swifter-than-expected economic rebound boosted demand for vehicles, auto plants tried to restore full production. But chip makers couldn’t respond fast enough. And rental car companies and other fleet buyers, unable to acquire new vehicles, stopped off-loading older ones, thereby compounding the shortage of used vehicles.

Bleak as the market is for used-car buyers, the computer chip shortage has also driven new-vehicle prices higher. The average new vehicle, Edmunds.com says, is edging toward $46,000.

Even so, prices of used cars are likely to edge closer to new ones. Since the pandemic started, used vehicle prices have jumped 42% — more than double the increase for new ones. Last month, the average used vehicle price was 63% of the average new vehicle cost. Before the pandemic, it was 54%. Read More > at U.S. News & World Report

California court rejects early releases for violent crime – The California Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that corrections officials need not consider earlier release for violent felons, even those whose primary offense is considered nonviolent under state law.

The ruling stems from inmates’ latest attempt to expand the application of an initiative championed by former Gov. Jerry Brown and approved by nearly two-thirds of voters in 2016.

But the high court ruled that corrections officials acted properly in drafting regulations that “exclude from nonviolent offender early parole consideration any inmate who ‘is currently serving a term of incarceration for a ‘violent felony.’”

The justices said that includes prisoners serving sentences for a combination of violent and nonviolent felonies. Read More > from the Associated Press

This Mysterious Fire in Australia Has Been Burning For at Least 6,000 Years – In a national park a four-hour drive north of Sydney in Australia, a fire is smoldering out of control – and it’s been doing so for at least 6,000 years.

Known as ‘Burning Mountain’, the mysterious underground blaze is the oldest known fire on the planet. And some scientists estimate it may be far more ancient than we currently think.

Located under Mount Wingen in the state of New South Wales (Wingen means ‘fire’ in the language of the local Wanaruah people, the traditional custodians of the land), this underground smolder is a coal seam fire – one of thousands burning at any one time around the globe. 

Once ignited, these subterranean fires are almost impossible to put out. Slowly but intensely, they travel through the coal seam, a layer of coal that naturally occurs beneath Earth’s surface. 

Unlike a typical fire, a coal seam fire burns underground; it’s smoldering, which means there’s no flame and it’s more like embers in a barbecue, rather than a typical coal fire. It’s also not to be confused with more dramatic coal seam gas fires, which are known to set even waterways on fire.

The fire at Mount Wingen is currently burning around 30 meters underground, and moving south at a speed of around 1 meter (3.2 ft) per year. Read More > at Science Alert

5 Places Where World War III Could Erupt In 2022 – Entering 2022, the world looks more dangerous than it has at any time since the late 1980s. Real conflicts of interest in Eastern Europe and the East China Sea have set the table for the first serious great-power conflict in decades. Crises in the Middle East, Northeast Asia, and the Himalayas continue to smolder.

Here are the five most dangerous flashpoints for the eruption of World War III, in descending order of peril:

Ukraine

Easily the most likely flashpoint for great power war in 2022 lies along the border between Russia and Ukraine.

Over the past six months, Russia has steadily built up forces along the frontier as Kyiv, Moscow, and Washington have traded barbs. Russia’s immediate concerns involve the Ukrainian acquisition and use of Turkish drones along its border regions, along with a general increase in Ukrainian military power. Moscow’s long-range problem is its inability to reverse the Western orientation that Kyiv has adopted since 2014…

Taiwan

Over the past year, long-simmering US concern over the Chinese threat to Taiwan has seemed to come to a boil.

Chinese military capabilities have grown rapidly over the past decade, and now constitute a major obstacle against US intervention. At the same time, China’s military remains untested, and an amphibious assault across the Taiwan Strait would constitute one of the most sophisticated military operations in history… Read More > 19fortyfive

With Sexually Transmitted Infections Off the Charts, California Pushes At-Home Tests – California has become the first state to require health insurance plans to cover at-home tests for sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, chlamydia and syphilis — which could help quell the STI epidemic that has raged nearly unchecked as public health departments have focused on covid-19.

The rule, part of a broader law addressing the STI epidemic, took effect Jan. 1 for people with state-regulated private insurance plans and will kick in sometime later for the millions of low-income Californians enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program.

By making it easier and cheaper for Californians to self-administer tests in the privacy of their homes, the provision could bring better disease monitoring to rural and underserved parts of the state, reduce the stigma patients experience when seeking care and give them more control over their health, say experts on infectious diseases.

But being first has its downsides. Because the concept of insurance coverage for home STI tests is so new, the state’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, could not establish by Jan. 1 the billing codes it needs to start paying for tests. Federal regulators also haven’t approved the tests for home use, which could make labs reluctant to process them. And a state analysis predicts most in-network health care providers won’t start prescribing home tests for at least a year until they adjust their billing and other practices. Read More > at California Healthline

California adopts water restrictions as drought drags on – For the second time in a decade, Californians will face mandatory restrictions governing their outdoor water use as the state endures another drought and voluntary conservation efforts have fallen short.

The rules adopted Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board are fairly mild — no watering lawns for 48 hours after a rainstorm or letting sprinklers run onto the sidewalk— and could take effect as soon as the end of the month. Scofflaws could face $500 daily fines, though regulators say they expect such fines will be rare, as they were in the last drought.

The action comes as Californians have failed to meet Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call for a voluntary 15% reduction in water use compared to last year. Between July and November, the state’s water usage went down just 6%.

Among the water uses that won’t be allowed under the new rules: outdoor watering that results in excessive runoff into the street and sidewalks; using water for landscaping and irrigation during the 48 hours after storms that bring at least .25 inches (.63 centimeters) of rain; washing cars with hoses lacking shut-off nozzles; using potable water to wash driveways, sidewalks, buildings and patios and for street cleaning or to fill decorative fountains or lakes. Read More > from the Associated Press

New Mercedes could be Tesla killer with 47in TV on board and 620 mile range – The vehicle could be set to rival Elon Musk’s electric Tesla and looks like the perfect mashup between classic and futuristic.

Mercedes tweeted: “Introducing the most efficient Mercedes-Benz ever built: the VISION EQXX.

“Making way for a new era of electric mobility with a range of over 1,000km on a single charge and an outstanding energy consumption of less than 10 kWh per 100 kilometers.”

That means the car could travel 620 miles on just one charge.

That’s the equivalent of a trip from Berlin to Paris or New York to Cincinnati, Ohio on a single charge.

Mercedes intends for a road-legal version of the car to prove this range by spring this year.

It has solar panels on its roof for added energy and an aerodynamic design. Read More > in The U.S. Sun

Prop. 47 targeted by Dem, GOP lawmakers – Little did California voters know, when they approved a 2014 ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain theft offenses, that their decision would still be making headlines in 2022.

On Tuesday, Democratic Assemblymember Rudy Salas of Bakersfield introduced a bill that, if passed by state lawmakers and a majority of voters, would reverse a key aspect of Prop. 47 by moving the felony threshold for petty theft and shoplifting from $950 back to $400.

  • Salas: “Enough is enough, we need to fight back against the criminals who are stealing from our communities. We have seen the unintended consequences of Prop. 47’s weakening of our theft laws and I believe California voters are ready to make their voices heard on this issue again.”

Salas’ statement sharply contrasts with those from prominent Democrats including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, who have repeatedly emphasized that Prop. 47 has nothing to do with California’s surge in smash-and-grab robberies. But it could help Salas, who’s running for the U.S. House of Representatives seat currently held by Republican David Valadao, court GOP voters — many of whom blame Prop. 47 for the uptick in organized retail crime.

Indeed, a few hours after Salas unveiled his bill, a group of Republican state lawmakers — including Assemblymembers Kevin Kiley of Rocklin, James Gallagher of Yuba City and James Patterson of Fresno — introduced a proposal to repeal Prop. 47 altogether. Read More > at CalMatters

The great population growth slowdown – At the stroke of midnight on January 1, New York City welcomed its first new inhabitant of 2022: Leyla Gessel Tzunun Garcia, born as the new year began at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn.

Given changing trends around population and fertility, though, there’s less competition to become the first baby of the new year than there used to be. Fewer babies were born in New York City in 2020 than any year on record, while the US population grew by just 0.1 percent in the year between July 2020 and July 2021, with the country adding just 392,665 people from net migration and births over deaths.

That’s the lowest numeric increase since the Census Bureau began making annual population estimates at the beginning of the 20th century. On a percentage basis, it’s the lowest growth in the nation’s history.

Increased deaths from the pandemic plays a role, as do inevitably creeping mortality rates in an aging population. But the primary cause is declining fertility rates, as fewer Americans have children, and those that do tend to have smaller families. The total fertility rate in the US — an estimate of the average total number of children a woman will have over her lifetime — has declined from 2.12 in 2007 to 1.64 in 2020, well below the 2.1 needed for a population to replace itself without immigration.

Nor is this merely an American phenomenon. By one estimate, half the world’s population lives in countries with below-replacement-level fertility, and nations like Japan — with very low birth rates and little immigration — are already experiencing population decline. Read More > at Vox

New DHS data reveals border jumpers no longer predominantly Mexicans – The old model of illegal immigration along the southern border was shattered in 2021, according to data released by the Department of Homeland Security this week that shows the demographics of the typical border jumper have been completely rewritten.

Mexicans, who for decades represented the overwhelming number of illegal immigrants, dropped to 28% of the flow, their lowest share “in recorded history,” according to Customs and Border Protection. Meanwhile, the number of women and girls jumping the border soared to nearly 400,000, more than doubling the average in recent years.

The figures were released in a belated fiscal 2021 data dump from Customs and Border Protection, which included a warning that the shifting demographics are making jobs more challenging for immigration agents. Read More > in the Washington Times

Tax hikes for universal health care? – To implement single-payer health care, or not to implement single-payer health care?

That’s the question facing state lawmakers after a group of Democratic legislators on Thursday unveiled a package of bills to create a universal health care program called CalCare. The proposal has already earned better reception than it did last year, when it was tabled without a hearing after lawmakers raised concerns about its lack of a funding source.

Democratic Assemblymember Jim Wood of Santa Rosa said Thursday that he will vote to move the bill forward next week when it’s scheduled to be considered by the Assembly Health Committee, which he leads.

  • Wood: “I continue to feel the frustration, desperation, and quite frankly, the anger that many Californians experience in their efforts to access quality and affordable health care. … Something’s got to give, so next Tuesday, I’ll be voting for change.”

But the funding source — taxes — proposed in a separate bill will likely face an uphill battle. Tax hikes must be approved by two-thirds of lawmakers in both the state Assembly and Senate — a tall order, especially in an election year — and a majority of voters to go into effect. And the doctors’ lobby, insurance industry and business groups are already mobilizing against the bill.

  • Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable: This “middle-class tax increase will drive more families into poverty, force more small businesses to close and compel more employers — and jobs — to leave this state.”

Here’s a closer look at how state lawmakers are proposing to pay for universal health care, which state analysts in 2017 estimated could cost about $400 billion annually:

  • A 2.3% excise tax on businesses after their first $2 million in income.
  • A 1.25% payroll tax on employers with 50-plus workers.
  • An additional 1% payroll tax on wages for resident employees earning more than $49,900.
  • A progressive income tax starting at 0.5% for Californians earning more than $149,500, up to 2.5% for people making about $2.5 million annually. (Those rates would also be adjusted for inflation.)

The bills present a conundrum for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who vowed to implement single-payer health care when campaigning for the governorship in 2018. That earned him the backing of powerful groups like the California Nurses Association and progressive activists — and now they want him to make good on his promise, especially after they mobilized to help him defeat the recall last September. An estimated 3.2 million Californians remain uninsured. Read More > at CalMatters

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Go the (400 mile) distance in 2022 – Bay Area Ridge Trail

With 400 miles of Ridge Trail…

Challenge yourself to explore them all!

A new year means new challenges, as well as new possibilities ahead. With 400 miles of Ridge Trail now open to explore, why not hike, run, bike or ride the entire Ridge Trail as your 2022 New Year’s Resolution? There’s a whole community of trail lovers who are ready to “circumnavigate” all 400 miles of Ridge Trail with you!

We know that some of you are already on your way around the Ridge Trail, and many of you have already finished. Wherever you are in your journey, we want to connect with you! 

Join the Ridge Trail Circumnavigator Circle today and get helpful tools and resources for your adventure. Plus receive invites to gatherings in 2022 to connect you with other circumnavigators, share stories, and get advice.

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