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 Earthquake Alerts To Become Available Statewide – Earthquake early warning alerts will become publicly available throughout California this week, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said Wednesday.
The system’s statewide debut Thursday will coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake that ravaged the San Francisco Bay area on Oct. 17, 1989, as well as the annual Great Shakeout safety drill.
The warnings produced by the ShakeAlert system will be pushed through a smartphone app called MyShake and the same wireless notification system that issues Amber Alerts.
The state earthquake app, developed at the University of California, Berkeley, is available for download to IOS users through iTunes and through GooglePlay stores for Android phones.
The system does not predict earthquakes. Rather, it detects the start of an earthquake and calculates location, intensity and sends alerts to areas where shaking is likely to occur from quakes of magnitude 4.5 or greater. Read More > from the Associated Press
Wells Fargo to lay off hundreds in the East Bay – Wells Fargo & Co. said Friday that it will lay off 350 people at an East Bay office, saying that it wanted to boost efficiency as the bank’s lease on the space was ending.
“Wells Fargo has made the difficult decision to close our Concord customer contact center in the first half of 2020,” said Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) spokeswoman Andrea Beasley. The Concord office that’s closing is located at 1220 Concord Ave.
“This business decision enables us to streamline and optimize our contact center operations at a time when our lease is expiring,” Beasley said.
Wells Fargo’s layoff underscores that the Bay Area’s high cost of doing business doesn’t support call center jobs that can be easily handled elsewhere. That’s especially true now, as the days when one could move to the East Bay for inexpensive housing are a distant memory.
Wells Fargo said eligible employees will be offered relocation packages to move with their job to other customer-service centers elsewhere in the country. A popular destination for the bank’s relocating employees over the years has been Charlotte, the bank’s largest employment center. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times
Cal Fire Moves to Dismantle Ham Radio System, Endangering Lives Amid Blackouts and Wildfires – As if things aren’t bad enough in California with wildfires and power outages, the state Fire District has decided that Ham radio equipment in remote areas must be removed unless radio operators cough up a big fee to lease the land from the government. In an email to Ham operators, Lorina Pisi wrote:
I do understand and appreciate all of the service you have provided in the past. However, with constantly changing technological advances, there is no longer the same benefit to State as previously provided. Therefore, the Department no longer financially supports HAM operators radios or tenancy. If you desire to enter into a formal agreement to operate and maintain said equipment, you must complete and submit attached collocation application along with fee as outlined on page one of application. There is cost associated with getting an agreement in place. In addition to the technical analysis fee ($2500/application), there is DGS Lease admin cost associated (typically between $3000-$5000) with preparation of lease. Also, there will be an annual rent charge based upon equipment type/space.
Ham operators have been assisting fire and emergency services for free for years. Their contributions are well-documented. The equipment costs the state nothing, as it is operated by the owners. There is no benefit to removing it and, in fact, removing the only source of communication available when the power is out and the cell towers are down is downright criminal. Ham radio is a time-tested, low-cost, reliable means of communication when emergencies strike. OffGrid Survival reports, “What is infuriating here is people are going to die because of this decision. It costs the State of California nothing to allow these repeaters on public land; in fact, Ham Radio Operators pay for the equipment and maintain the equipment at their own cost. Ham Radio operators also make nothing from running these radio repeaters; they do so as a service to the public to help ensure the public’s safety during natural disasters and emergencies.” Read More > at PJ Media
One California County Combats Homelessness Crisis With New, Sometimes Controversial Methods – A quarter of the nation’s homeless people live in the state of California.
Reports over the years have described the impact of the homelessness crisis in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco. But smaller cities and towns are also experiencing an uptick — including Bakersfield, California.
There’s been a 50% increase in the number of homeless people living in Kern County compared to last year. The county deployed about 300 volunteers last March to conduct a comprehensive count of the homeless population.
Jim Wheeler, executive director of Flood Bakersfield Ministries, has spent his entire career helping homeless people find places to live. He describes the current situation in Bakersfield as a “crisis.” There’s a plethora of reasons why, he says.
For one, it’s expensive to live in California. Then, there’s another, more contentious reason across the state.
“You have some bad public policy,” Wheeler says.
Specifically, he mentions Proposition 47, also called the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, which passed in 2014. The measure reclassified low level felonies to misdemeanors for crimes like possessing drugs, shoplifting or forging checks for small amounts. This action was an attempt to reduce overcrowding in the California state prison system.
Now, five years later, some county officials like Wheeler believe there have been grave consequences.
“You have people who are on the street right now who would normally be in jail. I’m not advocating that we put people who are experiencing homeless in jail,” he says. “I’m just saying that there’s definitely a correlation between that and the number of homeless people who have substance abuse issues that are on the street.”
During the county count, Wheeler says 68% of the county’s homeless population reported struggling with substance abuse problems.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood says the problems continues to grow “bigger, bigger and bigger.”
“These people have become enabled, they’ve become empowered, the people who are panhandling are becoming more aggressive,” he says. “There’s a lot of problems that go along with this.”
Youngblood is proposing a radical idea. The county, he says, has over 600 empty jail beds — and he’s ready to use them by arresting homeless people who commit crimes like drug possession and other minor offenses. Read More > at Capital Public Radio
Trials should be settled by ‘scientific evidence, not speculation and emotion’: In unusual twist, California medical groups join appeal of jury verdict finding Monsanto’s Roundup causes cancer – Doctors and medical professionals in California have stepped into the ongoing courtroom fight between Bayer/Monsanto and a former groundskeeper who blames the popular Roundup herbicide for his terminal cancer.
Last month, three state medical associations filed an amicus brief supporting Bayer’s appeal of a jury’s verdict in a civil suit that found the weedkiller to have been a factor in causing Dewayne Johnson’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Initially, the San Francisco Superior Court jury awarded Johnson $289 million, but that figure was later reduced by a judge to $78 million.
The verdict is under appeal by Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in mid 2018 and is facing an avalanche of similar lawsuits across the country. Now it finds itself with several new allies, following the move by the California Medical Association, California Dental Association and California Hospital Association.
It’s not all that unusual for interested parties to file amicus briefs in high profile cases such as this. But what is unusual is seeing medical doctors take a step that could be seen as supportive of the safety of glyphosate. Of course, there’s also the fact that doctors, dentists and hospitals are often the target of emotionally-tinged lawsuits alleging negligence. In their brief, the associations made clear that they are not taking a side on the glyphosate/cancer issue. Instead, they expressed concern about how cases such as this — where physician testimony is critical — are handled:
Amici’s point is that the answer to complex scientific questions such as that which the jury was required to resolve in this case should be based on accepted scientific evidence and rigorous scientific reasoning, not speculation and emotion.
…Not surprisingly, the trial also included references to the controversial 2015 action by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which classified Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic.” The agency’s monograph — a “hazard evaluation,” dealing with long-term exposure — has been heavily disputed by industry, health organizations and regulatory bodies. Much of the criticism has focused on the fact that IARC did no original research and considered only a few dozen studies, eliminating all studies with financial links to industry or in which a researcher had professional associations with industry. It also did not consider hundreds of independent studies. Read More > at Genetic Literacy Project
The Biggest Housing Boom In History Has Just Begun – …Barry says a tidal wave of homebuyers is about to flood the market…
“On average, folks buy their first home at age 33. Guess what the median age of Millennials is right now? 34.”
Today’s young adults, as you probably know, are called “Millennials.” They’re the biggest generation in US history—bigger even than Baby Boomers.
There are a lot of rumors out there about Millennials. They’re famous for living in their parents’ basements, delaying marriage, and earning less money than their parents did. But as I explained back in June, Millennials are finally growing up and buying houses. According to the National Association of Realtors, one in three homebuyers today is a Millennial.
Barry emphasized we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far:
“Stephen, the housing market is like a rollercoaster train car. When the first few train cars go over the bump, it’s kind of slow, right? The real momentum kicks in when more and more cars go over the hump.
…In the past year or two, the first wave of young homebuyers came into the market. But every year for the next decade, tens of millions of Millennials will hit home-buying age.”
In other words, a whole generation of homebuyers will soon flood the market. At a time when there is a massive shortage of homes in America!
Remember, the most important driver of home prices is supply and demand. Today, supply is tight. And with record numbers of house hunters entering the market, it all but guarantees the housing boom will continue and likely accelerate. Read More > in Forbes
U.S. Workers Spend 226 Hours a Year Commuting, Data Shows – For employees who work in an office, commuting is a part of life. But there comes a point when too much commuting could destroy your work-life balance and put you in a bad mood on a regular basis.
The average U.S. commuter spends a whopping 226 hours a year in transit to get to and from work, according to Car Insurance Comparison. The average one-way commute takes 26 minutes, which equates to 52 minutes a day. Multiply that by 261 workdays during the year, on average, and you get 13,572 minutes, or just over 226 hours, on the road.
Of course, that’s just an average. In some cities, the typical commute is much longer. Read More > at The Motley Fool
Trapped body causes 14.5 million gallons of Tijuana sewage to leak into US – Border water officials said Tuesday nearly 14.5 million gallons of sewage flowed into the U.S. from Tijuana after a body became trapped in a sewage system.
The International Boundary Water Commission (USIBWC) said transboundary flows between about 9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, and 8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 14, brought 14,497,873 gallons of treated and untreated wastewater from Tijuana into the Tijuana River Valley.
Mexico’s International Boundary Water Commission (CILA) informed their U.S. counterparts Sunday that a cleanup crew at a pump station discovered a body trapped inside one of the sewage intake screens, causing a backup and sewage to overflow.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the person became trapped in the system.
The scene was cleared Monday and Mexico water officials rebuilt a temporary berm, or raised bank, to stop the overflow.
The CILA pump station was operational as sewage flowed across the border, according to USIBWC.
Last month, San Diego officials introduced a $404-million plan to the White House to address the flow of sewage from Mexico into the U.S. The centerpiece was a treatment facility that could process 163 million gallons of runoff per day, with the aim of reducing border sewage flow days from 138 to 12. Read More > at 10 News San Diego
Lakers Fan Raises Almost $43K to Hand Out “Stand with Hong Kong” Shirts at Season Opener – The controversy over the NBA’s reaction to Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet shows no signs of slowing down, and one Lakers fan is taking matters into his own hands to show his support.
Sun Lared created a GoFundMe page to raise funds to print “Stand with Hong Kong” t-shirts and distribute them at the team’s home opener. “China is trying to censor the Houston Rockets (update: and now the ENTIRE NBA) because of Hong Kong,” he wrote. “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if on opening night in Staples Center the NBA fanbase made a collective demonstration against censorship by wearing “STAND WITH HONG KONG” T-Shirts?”
The campaign raised $42,994, more than double his goal of $20,000, and he plans to distribute the shirts for free outside the Staples Center on Oct. 22 when the Lakers take on the Clippers. He also will be passing out “a small card explaining why you should wear the shirt” to each fan. Read More > at InsideHook
Weed Breathalyzer May Reassure Policymakers – “With alcohol, if you have over 0.08% in your blood, there’s the presumption that you’re intoxicated,” said Christopher Leusner, head of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.
“There hasn’t been a blood test or a breath test that can determine if you’re impaired by marijuana.”
Now there is.
It’s a breathalyzer device developed by Hound Labs in Northern California. It’s portable and can run tests for both alcohol and marijuana. It just may change the minds of many of those reluctant police officers, including in Pennsylvania as lawmakers consider several proposals to legalize recreational marijuana use.
Police have depended on the skunky stench of burnt marijuana to provide probable cause to search a car or conduct a field sobriety test on a driver. But a recent court ruling in Pennsylvania maintained that the smell alone isn’t sufficient reason to initiate an arrest.
In addition, cannabis consumers in many states are slowly trending toward edibles — from pot brownies to infused beverages and lozenges — and, until the recent scare, vaping.
So both the Hound and the SannTek breath analyzers appear to be arriving at the perfect moment.
The Hound breathalyzer, which is about a billion times more sensitive than a standard alcohol breath test, can detect the incredibly low concentrations of THC that are transported through the bloodstream and subsequently exhaled. Read More > at Governing
End of session wrap-up: Governor signs bills impacting Local Government – This is the introduction to a full update including dozens of individually tracked bills. To see the complete update in PDF, please click here.
From a local government perspective, some of the biggest impacts will be felt in housing, where Newsom signed roughly 20 bills designed to boost housing production and/or develop Accessory Dwelling Units.
Headlining these, Newsom signed SB 330, which temporarily bans cities from imposing a moratorium on new housing construction, prohibits “downzoning” (changing zoning law to outlaw denser housing like apartment buildings), and prevents cities from raising fees during the development approval process.
Newsom vetoed SB 5, which had been called “Redevelopment 2.0,” and would have allowed local governments to set aside a portion of property taxes that would otherwise go to public schools and use to fund affordable housing, transit-oriented development and infill projects. Newsom cited cost as the factor, the bill had a $2 billion price tag.
In other notable bills, AB 857 authorizes local agencies to create and operate publicly owned banks, and AB 116 which authorizes a public financing authority to issue bonds under specified circumstances without submitting a proposal to the voters. AB 1819 will allow a requestor certian public records to use their own equipment for the purposes of inspecting them. Read More > at California County News
California’s Oil Hypocrisy Presents A National Security Risk – California is well-known for its progressive policies. The state has waged an aggressive campaign to move away from fossil fuels. One of the consequences of this campaign has been a steady decline in California’s oil production.
As I pointed out in a recent article, 100 years ago California was the top oil producer in the U.S., responsible at one point for nearly 40% of U.S. oil production. But California’s oil production has been in decline for many years, with the state totally missing out on the shale oil boom that has boosted oil production across the U.S.
There are some geological reasons for this, but there is also staunch opposition to drilling for oil in California. The net result is that California’s oil production continues its long decline
But why do we care? After all, there’s nothing wrong with drilling less as long as California is cutting its consumption. Except it isn’t. Despite an aggressive campaign toward electrifying California’s infrastructure, petroleum use in the state has increased.
According to data from the California state government, gasoline sold in California increased from 942,000 barrels per day (BPD) in 2012 to over 1,012,000 BPD in 2018, an average annual increase of 1.2%, The increase in diesel sold was even greater – averaging a 2.9% average annual increase over the same period.
Most barrels used in California but not produced in California come from overseas due to lack of interstate crude oil transport. That, along with California’s declining oil production, means California’s dependence on foreign oil imports has steadily grown in recent years. In fact, California’s foreign oil imports have tripled in the past 20 years. This is in stark contrast to most U.S. states, which have seen crude oil imports plunge in recent years. Read More > in Forbes
Hispanics Become Largest Voting-Eligible Minority Group – Almost 20 percent more Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2020 than during the last presidential election cycle, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making the group the largest ethnic minority in terms of eligible voters in 2020.
About 32 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote in the 2020 elections, up from 27.3 million in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won two-thirds of the Hispanic vote and Donald Trump took the remaining third. Latino voters now comprise just over 13 percent of total U.S. voters, according to the Pew Research Center.
The change comes as the Hispanic population in the U.S. has spiked over the last decade. Hispanics in America numbered 59.9 million in 2018, about 12.1 million more than in 2008. They are now 18 percent of the U.S. population, a 13 percent increase since 1970. Read More > at National Review
Five Reasons the Diet Soda Myth Won’t Die – There’s a decent chance you’ll be reading about diet soda studies until the day you die. (The odds are exceedingly good it won’t be the soda that kills you.)
As usual, the study (and some of the stories) lacked some important context and caused more worry than was warranted. There are specific reasons that this cycle is unlikely to end.
In a health-conscious era, soda has become almost stigmatized in some circles (and sales have fallen as a result).
It’s true that no one “needs” soda. There are a million varieties, and almost none taste like anything in nature. Some, like Dr Pepper, defy description.
But there are many things we eat and drink that we don’t “need.” We don’t need ice cream or pie, but for a lot of people, life would be less enjoyable without those things.
None of this should be taken as a license to drink cases of soda a week. A lack of evidence of danger at normal amounts doesn’t mean that consuming any one thing in huge amounts is a good idea. Moderation still matters.
…No matter how many times you stress the difference between correlation and causation, people still look at “increased risk” and determine that the risk is causing the bad outcome. For reporting on hundreds of thousands of people, observational studies are generally the only realistic option. With very few exceptions, they can tell us only if two things are related, not whether one is to blame for the other (as opposed to randomized control trials).
With respect to diet sodas, it’s plausible that the people who tend to drink them also tend to be worried about their weight or health; it could be a recent heart attack or other health setback that is causing the consumption rather than the other way around. But you shouldn’t assume that diet sodas cause better health either; it could be that more health-conscious people avoid added sugars.
Many of these new observational studies add little to our understanding. At some point, a study with 200,000 participants isn’t “better” than one with 100,000 participants, because almost all have limitations — often the same ones — that we can’t fix.
Dr. John Ioannidis wrote in a seminal editorial: “Individuals consume thousands of chemicals in millions of possible daily combinations. For instance, there are more than 250,000 different foods and even more potentially edible items, with 300,000 edible plants alone.”
And yet, he added, “much of the literature silently assumes disease risk” is governed by the “most abundant substances; for example, carbohydrates or fats.” We don’t know what else is at play, and using observational studies, we never will.
(Observational research is still the best way to study population-wide risk factors; sophisticated techniques like regression discontinuity can even create quasi-randomized groups to try to get closer to understanding causality. Too few employ such techniques.)
Moreover, too many reports still focus only on the relative risk and not on the absolute risk. If a risk increases by 10 percent, for example, that sounds bad. But if the baseline risk is 0.1 percent, that 10 percent increase winds up moving the baseline to only 0.11 percent.
It would probably be a public service if we stopped repeating a lot of this research — and stopped reporting on it breathlessly. If that’s impossible, the best people can do is stop paying so much attention. Read More > in The New York Times
Don’t Run a Government Like a Business – Businesses measure their success in profit. Governments don’t. Businesses offer products and services in exchange for money in voluntary transactions. Governments don’t. Businesses that fail go bankrupt and are disbanded (except for politically sensitive banks, automobile companies, steel producers, farmers . . .) while failed governments keep right on misgoverning in the city and state of New York, in Illinois, in New Jersey, in California, in Connecticut, in the District of Columbia, in Austin, and abroad. Businesses have customers. Governments don’t. Those who profess their desire to “run government like a business” most often mean that they seek to achieve a higher degree of administrative excellence and bureaucratic accountability than Americans are used to seeing from their governments. But that isn’t running government like a business — that’s running government like . . . Swiss government.
…What this is really about is bureaucracy and its troubles.
Americans do not care much for bureaucracy, to the extent that the word bureaucracy itself functions as a pejorative. But an excellent bureaucracy is a wonder to behold. It was a first-rate bureaucracy that put a man on the moon and brought him back safely. Dwight Eisenhower was one of the outstanding bureaucrats of his generation, a man who did a long and dreary apprenticeship as an administrative functionary before being anointed “supreme commander.” Bureaucracy matters in the business world, too: Administrative excellence and not technological innovation is what distinguishes Amazon from its would-be competitors, whereas dealing with your health-insurance company or your mobile-phone provider is in most cases a lot like a trip to the department of motor vehicles. Read More > at National Review
Californians Learning That Solar Panels Don’t Work in Blackouts – Californians have embraced rooftop solar panels more than anyone in the U.S., but many are learning the hard way the systems won’t keep the lights on during blackouts.
That’s because most panels are designed to supply power to the grid — not directly to houses. During the heat of the day, solar systems can crank out more juice than a home can handle. Conversely, they don’t produce power at all at night. So systems are tied into the grid, and the vast majority aren’t working this week as PG&E Corp. cuts power to much of Northern California to prevent wildfires.
The only way for most solar panels to work during a blackout is pairing them with batteries. That market is just starting to take off. Sunrun Inc., the largest U.S. rooftop solar company, said some of its customers are making it through the blackouts with batteries, but it’s a tiny group — countable in the hundreds. Read More > at Bloomberg
Cheap smartphones have a disturbing secret – Seventeen dollars for a smartphone sounds like a great deal, especially for people living in poverty who can barely afford rent.
But there’s a problem: low-cost smartphones are privacy nightmares.
According to an analysis by the advocacy group Privacy International, a $17 Android smartphone called MYA2 MyPhone, which was launched in December 2017, has a host of privacy problems that make its owner vulnerable to hackers and to data-hungry tech companies.
First, it comes with an outdated version of Android with known security vulnerabilities that can’t be updated or patched. The MYA2 also has apps that can’t be updated or deleted, and those apps contain multiple security and privacy flaws. One of those pre-installed apps that can’t be removed, Facebook Lite, gets default permission to track everywhere you go, upload all your contacts, and read your phone’s calendar. The fact that Facebook Lite can’t be removed is especially worrying because the app suffered a major privacy snafu earlier this year when hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users had their passwords exposed. Facebook did not respond to request for comment. Read More > at Fast Company
ABC News Airs Phony Syria Footage – ABC News aired footage claiming to show a Turkish attack on a Syrian border town that was actually from a 2017 video of an American shooting range.
During Sunday’s ABC World News Tonight, host Tom Llamas showed footage of several large explosions and machine gun fire over a night sky that he described as “appearing to show Turkey’s military bombing Kurdish civilians in a Syrian border town.” The same footage aired Monday in an early morning World News Now segment, where it was dated to October 11 and described as “video obtained by ABC News” that “appears to show the fury of the Turkish attack on the border town of Tel Abyed.” Good Morning America aired a brief snippet of the footage hours later while introducing a segment on Syria.
But the footage appears to be taken from a YouTube video uploaded by user derekknoll titled “Knob Creek night shoot 2017,” showing a controlled machine gun fire at a gun range. The caption reads “2017, Merica.” Read More > in The Washington Free Beacon
AMC Theatres launches streaming service in latest blow to Netflix – In the latest blow to Netflix Inc., AMC Theatres, the biggest cinema chain in the world, said Tuesday it is launching a streaming service that will allow members of its loyalty program to rent or buy films and watch them at home, the first such offering from a cinema operator.
Starting today, the 20 million-plus U.S. households that have signed up to the company’s AMC Stubs program will be able to access about 2,000 films from every major studio. Later in the year, the service will be expanded to include films from AMC Networks’s IFC Films and RLJE Films. AMC Theatres will promote AMC Networks’ targeted streaming services, marking the first cross-platform marketing between the two companies. Those services include Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC.
Customers can rent or buy films through the AMC Theatres , mobile app, Roku and SmartTVs with more services and devices to be added in the future. Read More > at MarketWatch
Walmart Opens Its First In-Store Health Center: An Interesting Avenue for Growth – Retail giant Walmart’s exploration of expanding further into the healthcare market turned into action last month when the company opened its first Walmart Health center in Dallas, Georgia. Walmart has been working with healthcare professionals for the last year to design a one-stop-shop for affordable healthcare.
Health and wellness are already a large part of Walmart’s business model, with $35.79 billion in U.S. net sales in the fiscal year ending January 2019. That’s about 10.8% of the total. Included in that figure are prescription drug sales, vision services, medical product sales, over-the-counter drug sales, and services offered in its 19 Care Clinics, including immunizations, lab tests, physicals, and referring to specialists. Walmart is looking to build on that by adding additional services to this existing list, all available under one roof.
You might be quick to dismiss this as nothing new. You can already go to a CVS or Walgreens clinic, or even a Walmart Care Clinic, and get healthcare. Walmart says its Walmart Health center in Dallas, Georgia, goes further and is the first of its kind to put all of the following services under one roof, outside of a hospital or dedicated medical facility:
- Primary care
- Urgent care
- Lab testing
- X-rays and X-ray diagnostics
- EKG tests
- Dental care
- Optical care
- Hearing services
The ability to take care of all these health needs under one convenient blue roof and pick up supplies you might need while feeling poorly — like tissues, over-the-counter medicine, and bandages — sounds appealing. And current in-store quick care facilities don’t have the capability to do blood tests or labs in-house. The redesigned store in Dallas, Georgia, also offers a pet-care clinic. Read More > at The Motley Fool
What If Yellowstone’s Supervolcano Erupted? – Concealed beneath the park rests the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano in North America. Each year, millions of visitors trek over a massive magma chamber that, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), stretches from 5 km to 17 km beneath the surface and is about 90 km long and about 40 km wide. A little deeper rests another chamber that’s 4.5 times larger.
The Yellowstone supervolcano has unleashed three cataclysmic eruptions in the past 2.1 million years; all well before humans populated North America. The most recent was 640,000 years ago, which formed Yellowstone as we know it and spewed 240 cubic miles of ash, rock and pyroclastic materials over roughly half of what is now the United States.
Science writer Bryan Walsh explored the subject in frightening detail in his recently-published book End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World. As he described, Yellowstone National Park would literally be erased from the face of the continent.
“First would come a swarm of increasingly intense earthquakes, a sign that magma was rushing toward the surface. The pressure would build until, like champagne in a bottle given a vigorous shake, the magma would burst through the ground in a titanic eruption that would discharge the toxic innards of the Earth to the air. It would continue for days, burying Yellowstone in lava within a forty-mile radius of the eruption.”
The devastation would not be restricted to the local environment. Yellowstone’s plume of ash, lava, and volcanic gases would reach a height of fifteen miles or more, and from this lofty position, be blown across North America. Ash would darken the skies and blanket the ground from coast to coast, with up to three feet of ashfall in the Northern Rockies and a few inches over much of the Midwest. Citizens might be mildly amused at first at the “black snow,” but they’d soon realize the danger it presents. Walsh painted a bleak picture.
The heavy ash would collapse roofs, contaminate water supplies, down power lines, prevent air travel, and perhaps even take out electrical transformers, bringing the nation’s power grid to its knees. Worse still, ashfall would likely wipe out the Midwest’s crop of corn and soybeans, should the eruption occur during the grow season. Much of America’s rich farmland might also be poisoned for a generation. Combine this with a likely worldwide volcanic winter, in which global average temperatures could plunge as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit for a decade, and you have a recipe for a global starvation event that could endanger hundreds of millions of people. Read More > at Real Clear Science
Vaping illness, deaths likely very rare beyond U.S., experts say – E-cigarette or vaping-linked lung injuries that have killed 29 and sickened more than 1,000 people in the United States are likely to be rare in Britain and other countries where the suspect products are not widely used, specialists said on Monday.
Experts in toxicology and addiction said they are sure that the 1,299 confirmed and probable American cases of serious lung injuries linked to vaping are “a U.S.-specific phenomenon,” and there is no evidence of a similar pattern of illness in Britain or elsewhere.
“What’s happening in the U.S. is not happening here (in Britain), nor is it happening in any other countries where vaping is common,” said John Britton, a professor and respiratory medicine consultant and director of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies at Nottingham University.
U.S. investigators and health officials have said there may be more than one cause for the cases of vaping lung illness. They have also pointed to vaping oils containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, as being especially risky.
In Britain, which currently has 3.6 million regular e-cigarette users, such oils are banned and advertising of vapes is much more tightly regulated than in the United States, said Ann McNeill, a professor of tobacco addiction at the Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London. Read More > at Reuters
Do California Power Shutoffs Work? Hard To Know, Experts Say – Experts say it’s hard to know what might have happened had the power stayed on, or if the utility’s proactive shutoffs are to thank for California’s mild fire season this year.
“It’s like trying to prove a negative,” said Alan Scheller-Wolf, professor of operations management and an energy expert at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “They can’t prove they prevented a disaster because there’s no alternative universe where they didn’t try this.”
California is experiencing the first major fire activity of the season after two years that brought some of the most devastating fires on record, many of them caused by utility equipment. Until Monday, fires had covered only about 5% of the acreage burned by that date last year, and only about 13% of the average for the last five years.
But it’s too early — and maybe impossible — to tell if that can be attributed to increased measures to cut power.
“We have good reason to be skeptical, and the reason is that PG&E bears the costs of starting a fire, but they don’t bear the costs of shutting off power,” said Severin Borenstein, faculty director of the Energy Institute at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
He noted that weather forecasting is notoriously difficult, “so even if PG&E were doing the best possible job, it would not get it right sometimes.” Read More > at Capital Public Radio
How Do We Prevent Pets from Becoming Exotic Invaders? – This summer a professional trapper caught an alligator in a lagoon in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, following a weeklong search that drew crowds of onlookers and captured national headlines. Dubbed “Chance the Snapper,” after a local hip-hop artist, the five-foot, three-inch reptile had likely been let loose by an unprepared pet owner, say experts at the Chicago Herpetological Society (CHS). This was no anomaly: pet gators have recently turned up in a backyard pool on Long Island, at a grocery store parking lot in suburban Pittsburgh (the fourth in that area since May) and again in Chicago.
Keeping a pet alligator is illegal in most U.S. states, but an underground market for these and other exotic animals is thriving—and contributing to the proliferation of invasive species in the U.S. and elsewhere. As online markets make it steadily easier to find unconventional pets such as alligators and monkeys, scientists and policy makers are grappling with how to stop the release of these animals in order to prevent new invasives from establishing themselves and threatening still more ecological havoc. New research suggests that simply banning such pets will not solve the problem and that a combination of education, amnesty programs and fines might be a better approach…
Owners sometimes release alligators, as well as other exotic pets such as snakes and certain varieties of aquarium fish, when they prove too big, aggressive or otherwise difficult to handle. But unleashing them on a nonnative habitat risks letting them establish themselves as an invasive species that can disturb local ecosystems. According to one estimate, nearly 85 percent of the 140 nonnative reptiles and amphibians that disrupted food webs in Florida’s coastal waters between the mid-19th century and 2010 are thought to have been introduced by the exotic pet trade.
To date, the main way officials have tried to combat the problem is with laws that simply prohibit keeping certain categories of animals as pets. But the effectiveness of this approach is unclear. Even though Illinois has outlawed keeping crocodilians as pets for more than a decade, Chance is just one of many CHS has had to deal with this year alone, says its president Rich Crowley. He likens the problem to illegal fireworks, noting that bans on exotic pets are inconsistent from one state to the next. For Illinois residents, “there’s still a supply that is readily available, legally, across the border” in Indiana, he says. “There are people out there who are willing to take the chance of skirting the law because the reward of keeping [these] animals is worth the risk.” Read More > at Scientific American
‘Dark Money’ in political campaigns is about to get darker – California is the latest state to enter the fray with a significant ‘reform’ targeted at the 482 cities and 58 counties. Until recently, California was one of only four states that set limits for campaign contributions on legislative races but was silent on local government elections, essentially making local races the ‘wild west’ of politics. Local elected officials could set the limit on how much campaign contributors could give them — or not. Some local elected officials would get upwards of 40 percent of their entire campaign war chest from one donor. Perhaps not surprisingly, most chose not to establish ANY campaign contribution limits. To the tune of nearly 80 percent of local governments according to government watchdog group Common Cause.
Enter the California state legislature. In its zeal to limit the influence of money in politics, a new law (AB 571) has been instituted that sets the default contribution limit for local governments at the same amounts that they, as legislators are limited to. That campaign limit currently sits at $4,700 per election. There are some exceptions and there are grandfather provisions for cities that already have limits but the effect of the new law is essentially to push locals to set some cap on their campaign contributions and if not, default to what it is for state lawmakers.
If you’re wondering what this has to do with dark money here’s the…ahem, payoff. When the state government instituted its current campaign contribution limits in May of 2015 the hope was that the amount of money influencing the political process would by stymied.
Not only did the exact opposite happen, but it did so by creating an environment where the same moneyed interests hid the true source of their donations through Independent Expenditure committees, or IE’s, as they’re commonly known in the business. IE’s not only saw a significant increase in number (these dark money vehicles weren’t used much when they could contribute unlimited amounts directly to candidates) they’ve also seen a significant increase the amount of money moving through those vehicles and directly into the electoral process. Beacuse these groups re ‘Independent’ they are legally prohibited from coordinating with the candidates they support or oppose. This means we have essentially taken the candidates out of the very campaigns they are running in. Yup, more money is moving through IE committees than actual candidate campaign accounts because the candidate campaigns are….wait for it…limited in how much they can take. Not a good look Democracy.
That’s right…these reforms actually create the very environment they are trying to limit. They are creating a situation where more money that is far more difficult to trace has a greater incentive to get into the game. Read More > at Medium
US Energy Reliability Gone With the Wind – It is too often assumed that making maximum use of renewables is the answer to addressing environmental goals. So easy is it to buy into this assumption that intermittent wind power is pulling ahead of coal in Texas.
Energy analysts forecast that wind turbines in Texas will generate about 87,000 megawatt-hours of electricity next year, eclipsing the anticipated output from coal. Coal power is falling in Texas and nationally, while wind power is on a rapid upward climb. Wind power already supplies 20% of the Lone Star state’s power and it’s expected to reach 24% in 2020, second only to natural gas, while coal plants continue to close.
If you think those trends don’t come with a downside, think again. The economy in Texas and nationally demands full-time electricity. Wind only generates part-time electricity. In West Texas this summer, on some hot and humid days it was so still there wasn’t enough of a breeze to stir a leaf. Hundreds of wind turbines stopped spinning. When the Texas grid needed wind power the most, it was nowhere to be found. The Texas electric power grid came perilously close to collapsing.
Electricity prices spiked from their normal range of $20 to $30 per megawatt-hour to $9,000 not once but twice. The state teetered on the edge of rolling blackouts and no air conditioning for millions of families during triple digit temperatures. Operators of the Texas grid issued alert after alert asking consumers to turn off devices and conserve power.
…It brings into sharp focus the most urgent challenge: How will the United States scale back the use of fossil fuels, yet maintain an adequate energy supply? Are renewables ready to fill the gap alone? Can wind and solar power be advanced fast enough and of sufficient scale, given that energy consumption is expected to grow over the next 30 years. For all the investment in wind and solar, despite all of the billions in subsidies, their limitations remain immense. The United States and the rest of the world will continue to rely on traditional sources of power for decades as populations grow, economies expand and living standards rise.
The current path forward that ignores the need for a balanced mix of energy sources is a road to nowhere. Read More > at Real Clear Energy
Is America Entering a Dark Age? – Does anyone believe that contemporary Americans could build another transcontinental railroad in six years?
Californians tried to build a high-speed rail line. But after more than a decade of government incompetence, lawsuits, cost overruns and constant bureaucratic squabbling, they have all but given up. The result is a half-built overpass over the skyline of Fresno — and not yet a foot of track laid.
Who were those giants of the 1960s responsible for building our interstate highway system?
California’s roads now are mostly the same as we inherited them, although the state population has tripled. We have added little to our freeway network, either because we forgot how to build good roads or would prefer to spend the money on redistributive entitlements.
When California had to replace a quarter section of the earthquake-damaged San Francisco Bay Bridge, it turned into a near-disaster, with 11 years of acrimony, fighting, cost overruns — and a commentary on our decline into Dark Ages primitivism. Yet 82 years ago, our ancestors built four times the length of our singe replacement span in less than four years. It took them just two years to design the entire Bay Bridge and award the contracts.
Our generation required five years just to plan to replace a single section. In inflation-adjusted dollars, we spent six times the money on one quarter of the length of the bridge and required 13 agencies to grant approval. In 1936, just one agency oversaw the entire bridge project.
California has not built a major dam in 40 years. Instead, officials squabble over the water stored and distributed by our ancestors, who designed the California State Water Project and Central Valley Project.
Contemporary Californians would have little food or water without these massive transfers, and yet they often ignore or damn the generation that built the very system that saves us.
America went to the moon in 1969 with supposedly primitive computers and backward engineering. Does anyone believe we could launch a similar moonshot today? No American has set foot on the moon in the last 47 years, and it may not happen in the next 50 years. Read More > at PJ Media
Newsom’s first rodeo: In year one, the governor bucks both Trump and Brown – Californians will soon be allowed to eat roadkill but be prohibited from buying fur coats. Abortion pills will become available on college campuses, but tiny bottles of shampoo will be banned from hotel rooms. High school and middle school kids will get a later first bell, but schools won’t be forced to give kindergarteners a full-day program.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed and vetoed the year’s final batch of legislation Sunday night, making decisions that will shape California in ways big and small. His choices during his first year as governor largely reflect Newsom’s progressive vision for the state. But they also offer a window into how he approaches his role as a leader — not only of California, but of the broader “resistance” movement opposed to Republican President Donald Trump.
Lawmakers frustrated by past vetoes saw fresh opportunity with a new governor and re-introduced many bills this year that Newsom’s Democratic predecessor had rejected. In most cases, Newsom obliged, signing numerous bills that amounted to do-overs from the past.
Other legislation Newsom signed that Brown had rejected: measures to make abortion pills available at college health clinics, allow child care workers to form unions, ban smoking on state beaches, make charter schools more transparent, start school later for sleep-deprived adolescents, and make it easier for victims of sexual harassment and child sex abuse to sue.
Newsom’s decisions reflect a steady effort to distinguish himself from Brown, which began early in the year with a State of the State speech that signaled he would depart from his predecessor’s approach on water, education and housing. By the end of the year he had vetoed a higher proportion of bills than Brown did — 16.5% compared to 13.5% in Brown’s second stint as governor.
Newsom did agree with Brown on a few vetoes, however. In giving a thumbs down to AB 1451, Newsom became the third consecutive governor to veto a bill that sought to change the process for qualifying initiatives for the ballot by limiting the use of paid signature-gatherers. Read More > at CALmatters
California governor ends Legislative session with vetoes – California’s Democratic governor ended the Legislative session on Sunday by rejecting expansions of full-day kindergarten programs and paid family leave for teachers while signing a new law that bans high schools from starting the day before 8:30 a.m.
Gov. Gavin Newsom had until Sunday to act on legislation passed this year. On Sunday night, Newsom announced he had signed 870 laws. But Sunday’s action included more vetoes than signings, mostly for things Newsom said the state could not afford to implement.
They included blocking a bill by Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that would have required all school districts, charter schools and community colleges to provide at least six weeks of full pay for pregnancy-related leaves of absences.
Newsom also vetoed a bill by Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber that would have required all elementary schools, including charter schools, to have at least one full-day kindergarten program by 2022…
Newsom said most of the bills he vetoed on Sunday were because of money concerns. He did sign an additional 12 bills, including one that bans public high schools from starting the day before 8:30 a.m. It also bans middle schools from beginning before 8 a.m. Read More > from the Associated Press
CalPERS is Heavily Invested in Chinese Companies – On October 1st, 2019, the People’s Republic of China celebrated its 70th anniversary. The centerpiece of their festivities was a massive military parade down the streets of Beijing, and the centerpiece of that parade was China’s newest intercontinental ballistic missile, the Dongfeng-41. This missile travels at a speed of Mach 25, carries multiple nuclear warheads, and can reach the United States in under 30 minutes.
California’s public employees should know that their retirement funds have invested in companies controlled by the Chinese military, which manufacture parts for the DF-41 missile, along with a range of aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems, and airborne weapons.
For that matter, these pension funds not only invest in Chinese companies (and index funds, tracked by mutual funds, that are heavily weighted with Chinese companies) directly involved in manufacturing military equipment and surveillance equipment, they also invest in Chinese companies involved directly or indirectly in human rights, labor rights, and environmental protection violations all over the world.
California’s largest public employee pension fund, CalPERS, provides a case in point. Despite its quest for the elusive 7 percent annual return, CalPERS nonetheless foregoes investments in Iran, Sudan, assault rifles, tobacco products, and thermal coal. Yet CalPERS continues to invest in Chinese companies. Read More > at California Globe
AT&T raises prices 7% by making its customers pay AT&T’s property taxes – AT&T tacks on fee after locking customer into contract, raises it from 3% to 7%.
Telecom companies like AT&T love creating new fees to tack on customer bills, and they really love raising those fees after customers sign contracts that are supposed to lock in a consistent price.
It’s a win-win for the company, but not the customer: AT&T gets to advertise a lower price than it actually charges and has a mechanism for raising customer bills whenever it wants to. Customers who are angry enough to cancel service would have to pay early termination fees.
This story about AT&T thus isn’t likely to surprise anyone, but it’s possible you haven’t heard about the particular fee we’ve been looking into this week. AT&T has been charging business Internet customers a “property tax” fee, claiming it needs to charge this to recover AT&T’s own property taxes. AT&T has been charging the fee for at least a couple of years and just hit customers in California with an increase that more doubled the fee. Read More > at ars TECHNICA
Michigan Bill Aims to Stop Facebook, Google From Blocking Speech – Two Michigan lawmakers are hoping to put new restrictions on what social media and other technology companies like Facebook, YouTube or Google could ban from their sites.
House Bill 4801, sponsored by John Reilly, R-Oakland Twp., and co-sponsored by Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford, would prevent “content neutral” internet companies from restricting a user’s free speech by blocking or removing content, or preventing the content from being seen by other users.
It’s unclear how the legislation would be enforced or regulated if signed into law, and the bill hasn’t advanced past the committee level.
But during testimony in a recent House Communications and Technology Committee meeting, Reilly said he’s concerned about the influence big tech companies have on regulating speech through internal moderation now that the internet has become the “public square” for discourse. Read More > at Governing