April 17, 2021 – It’s National Bat Appreciation Day

Each year on April 17th, National Bat Appreciation Day reminds us of the roles bats play in our daily lives. April is also the best time of the year to observe bats, as they are now beginning to emerge from hibernation.

The Bay Area is home to up to 16 species of bats, all of which are insectivores, a carnivorous plant or animal that eats insects. Some of the more common bat species you might see in the Bay Area include the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), and various mouse-eared bats (in the genus Myotis). The three most common


Karine Aigner

Studio portrait of a Mexican Free-Tailed Bat flying.

Bats are the number-one predator of insects that fly at night, and they can reduce mosquito problems substantially. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a colony of bats with approximately 100 members will consume more than 600 million insects in a 200-day feeding season. It is easy to see that bats provide a benefit to humans, including insect control and plant pollination.

There are 13 to 15 species of bats in the East Bay, but you need to be out at dusk to glimpse them in action, said East Bay Regional Park naturalist Cat Taylor, noting that bats use a dozen publicly accessible structures at Sunol Regional Wilderness, Black Diamond, and Big Break, with each structure housing 200 to 300 bats.

Taylor said your best chance of seeing bats is to look toward the sun as it sets, as the bats emerge from their roost.

“It illuminates the water, and you should be able to see bats feeding furiously on insects as they fly over the water for about 20 minutes, after which they go hang upside down to digest it all,” said Taylor, who recommends going on a full moon.

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When it comes to California’s big problems, big money isn’t always enough

From CalMatters

Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom will signed into law a $536 million wildfire prevention bill lawmakers sent to his desk on Monday. But even as the state Assembly and Senate unanimously passed the bill — which includes $280 million for projects to improve forest health and nearly $200 million to cut fuel breaks — lawmakers warned that it will take an even larger, sustained investment to get a handle on the threat, per CalMatters’ Julie Cart.

Last year, California spent more than $9 billion to combat more than 9,400 fires — its worst wildfire season on record. But the state, which appears to be on the brink of a serious drought, could feasibly set a new record this year. From the start of this year through April 4, firefighters have fought 995 fires that burned 3,007 acres — a massive uptick from the 697 fires that charred 1,266 acres during the same period last year.

  • Assemblymember James Gallagher, a Yuba City Republican: “If we think this is enough to address the crisis of catastrophic wildfires we are fooling ourselves.”

In other pervasive problems facing the state: Some lawmakers say more funding is needed to clear severe backlogs in California’s court system that have caused at least 1,300 defendants to wait behind bars for more than three years despite not being convicted or sentenced for a crime, CalMatters’ Robert Lewis reports.

But even when money is earmarked for a specific purpose, getting it can be a challenge.

Desperate child care providers who run state-subsidized programs are anxiously waiting on a one-time stipend of $525 per child promised by Newsom in February. But a complicated payment process — which involves routing the money from the federal government to state agencies to local organizations and then to providers — has caused significant delays, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports.

There is some good financial news, though: Californians enrolled in Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, will see substantial savings as $3 billion in federal aid kicks in, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports. Covered California opened a special enrollment period Monday to encourage hundreds of thousands more residents to benefit from the aid, which lasts through 2022.

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On The Anniversary Of The Titanic, Remember The Cruel Depths And Noble Heights Of Their Final Hours

From The Federalist

On the morning of April 15, 1912, the survivors of the Titanic were pulled from the icy North Atlantic by the Carpathia. The night before, at 11:40 p.m., the ship had struck an iceberg in a glancing-but-fatal blow, tearing into six of her 16 compartments — two more than the greatest ship ever made could withstand.

Capt. Edward Smith, a man with four decades on the seas, immediately went to the bridge and then down below with the ship’s architect, Thomas Andrews, to ascertain the extent of the damage. By five past midnight, Smith would order the passengers brought to the deck and the lifeboats prepared. Twenty minutes later, Andrews gave him the terrible news: “the unsinkable ship” was going to the bottom.

What followed is a story of the heights and the depths of humanity. Rare virtues such as duty, honor, selflessness, and gentlemanly respect were on full display, as too were man’s based, beastial natures: selfishness, cravenness, and abandonment of duty. Pride, ignorance, and more than a little old-fashion stupidity walked hand-in-hand with both the rare and common reactions of that horrible night. What separated the two types of reactions was something different: courage.

In those last hours aboard the Titanic, confusion reigned both above and below the decks, with many factors involved. The night was bitter cold. The ship lacked a mass intercom, making communication among the crew and with the passengers haphazard at best.

The different classes of passengers had different numbers of stewards — with fewer assigned to the masses of steerage — and different lengths and heights to journey to the deck, with the richer closer to escape. The only lifeboat drill that had thus far been scheduled had been called off. U.S. law demanded that the Third Class passengers — many of them immigrants who did not speak English — be kept separately for immigration and disease checks once in-country.

A good number of those poorest immigrants were culturally schooled to wait and do what they were told. Finally, many of all classes believed a ship such as this simply wouldn’t go down.

While some members of the crew locked the gates to keep throngs of steerage passengers from swamping boats, ignoring the cries of women and children, others, like Third Class Steward John Edward Hart, made multiple trips into the lower decks to escort them to the lifeboats.

“Then there were the people Colonel [Archibald] Gracie, [Second Officer Charles] Lightoller and others saw surging up from below, just before the end,” Titanic chronicler Walter Lord wrote in his seminal 1955 book, “A Night To Remember.”

Until this moment Gracie was sure the women were all off — they were so hard to find when the last boats were loading. Now, he was appalled to see dozens of them suddenly appear. The statistics suggest who they were — the Titanic’s casualty list included four of the 143 First Class women (three by choice) … 15 of 93 Second Class women … and 81 of 179 Third Class women.

Not to mention the children. Except for Lorraine Allison, all 29 First and Second Class children were saved, but only 23 out of 76 steerage children

Fr. Thomas Byles, whom Pope Pius X would later declare a blessed martyr of the church, helped as many Third Class passengers board the lowering boats as he could, refusing escape multiple times and staying aboard to pray the rosaries, hear confessions, and deliver final absolution to the remaining faithful after all the lifeboat were gone.

Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon and her secretary, Laura Mabel Francatelli, turned down two boats for women and children, choosing to wait for a third, which agreed to also take her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon. Her husband went on to receive heavy criticism in the press for allegedly giving a bribe to the sailors so they did not return their under-capacity craft to the desperate survivors soon stranded in the dark waters.

While some of those still on deck fought and clawed, jumping down and nearly toppling some of the lifeboats into the sea while still others boats remained foolishly under-capacity, some men chose to stoically help their families into boats and then stand aside, assuring crying wives they would be right after them.

“It is only a matter of form to have women and children first,” Lucien Smith yelled out to his crying wife, Eloise, as she boarded to safety. “The ship is thoroughly equipped and everyone on her will be saved.”

“Go, Lottie!” Harvey Collyer yelled out to his crying wife, Charlotte. “For God’s sake, be brave and go! I’ll get a seat in another boat!”

Benjamin Guggenheim boarded his French mistress, Léontine Aubart, and her maid, Emma Sägesser, aboard and comforted the frightened German, promising, “We will soon see each other again! It’s just a repair. Tomorrow the Titanic will go on again.”

Lt. Col. Jacob Astor — the richest man aboard and the highlight of ensuing news stories in a time before Hollywood and sports stars, when the American aristocracy dominated our imaginations — helped his sickly wife, her maid, and her nurse aboard a below-capacity boat but was denied his request to join them by Lightoller, a heroic officer who foolishly interpreted the captain’s order to help women and children before men as excluding men from rescue. “Well, tell me the number of this boat so I may find her afterwards,” Astor told the officer so his wife could be assured by his words.

Astor, Collyer, Guggenheim, and Smith all knew by the time they boarded their wives they wouldn’t see their families again, but they comforted them and knew their widows would understand that their sacrifices for the other women and children were no selfish abandonments. As the ship listed and desperate passengers scrambled for the remaining rafts, Astor, joined by his loyal valet Victor Robbins, lit a cigarette with the author Jacques Futrelle, who perished with them in the sea.

“Things weren’t so bad at first,” survivor and first-class Steward James Etches told The New York Times once ashore, “but when I saw Mr. Guggenheim about three-quarters of an hour after the crash there was great excitement.”

What surprised me was that both Mr. Guggenheim and his secretary were dressed in their evening clothes. They had deliberately taken off their sweaters, and as nearly as I can remember they wore no lifebelts at all.

‘What’s that for?’ I  asked.

‘We’ve dressed up in our best,’ replied Mr. Guggenheim, ‘and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.’

Etches delivered a message Guggenheim had given him for his wife. “If anything should happen to me,” he had said, “tell my wife in New York that I’ve done my best in doing my duty.”

“That’s all he said,” Etches told the press after delivering the message. “There wasn’t time for more.”

The 63-year-old Ida Strauss refused to leave her husband, Rep. Isidor Strauss, sitting instead in a chair beside his. “We have been living together for many years. Where you go, I go.”

The communication officers stayed at their posts long after their futile rescue calls had grown garbled, fleeing only in the final moments.

“Now it’s every man for himself,” Captain Smith told the radio officers and crew at the very end. “Well boys, do your best for the women and children, and look out for yourselves. ” In an account confirmed by some but disputed by others, he then went to the bridge to meet his Maker.

One of the Titanic’s two band leaders, Wallace Hartley, who went down with the ship, heeded the captain’s orders to keep the calm as best he could, and organized the musicians to play waltzes and other light-hearted music to the increasingly panicked passengers until the increasingly sloping decks could no longer hold their instruments in place.

“Today,” Lord writes, “nobody could carry off these little gestures of chivalry, but they did that night. An air of noblesse oblige has vanished too.”

Among those few who survived the plunge into the 28-degree water, Lightoller, Col. Archibald Gracie, and teenager Jack Thayer made it to a capsized boat, trying with several others in the waves to keep it afloat on the small pocket of water left between the upside-down deck and oblivion.

“Hold on to what you have, old boy,” Gracie called to one soul who tried to board after the barely floating boat was at its capacity. “One more of you aboard would sink us all.”

“In a powerful voice,” Lord recounts, “the swimmer replied ‘All right boys. Good luck and God bless you.’”

“The last voice I heard,” Lady Duff-Gordon later recounted, “was a man shouting, ‘My God! My God!’”

“But along with the prejudices,” Lord writes of the tumultuous years after the sinking, “some nobler instincts also were lost. Men would go on being brave, but never again would they be brave in quite the same way.”

But he is wrong in that. Courage is not a permanent state, it’s a choice, and it’s a choice some men and women made while others chose cowardice. But he is correct in seeing how those nobler impulses on display in the ship’s final, fateful moments came from a sense of God and honor our society often fails to teach.

Cowardice is also not an immutable characteristic — it too is a choice, and one we face at some low level most days, and someday will face for real. Often it won’t be so clear as in those frantic minutes, but other times it will, and we must always be on guard.

Although the Titanic went to the bottom 109 years ago on April 15, its passengers’ and crews’ legacies of cowardice and bravery stand to us as testaments to both the cruel depths and enlightened heights mere men can achieve.

Let us remember those men and women who went before us: The lessons of how they lived and died reach out through the voices of those who survived them, and they are as real for those who live now as they were those whom the dead left that terrible early morning, alone in the darkness. Strive to wrap yourself in their courage, wearing it like armor for the trials you will face — in this life and at its end.

And may God bless the souls of the RMS Titanic.

Christopher Bedford is a senior editor at The Federalist, the vice chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, a board member at the National Journalism Center, and the author of The Art of the Donald. Follow him on Twitter.

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Report Dead Birds to Protect Public Health

The Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District (District) has been protecting public health since 1927. By reporting dead birds, Contra Costa County residents can take an active role in protecting public health as well. And now reporting dead birds is easier, as the California West Nile virus (WNV) and Dead Bird Call Center is open and taking calls for 2021. 

WNV is a virus carried by certain birds. Mosquitoes can bite an infected bird and spread the virus by biting another bird or a human. Some infected birds, particularly crows and jays, can die of WNV and are often the first sign of WNV in a particular area.

That’s why reporting dead birds is so important. When you report a dead bird, the District is notified and the information helps the District pinpoint areas for surveillance and control. A District employee may pick up the bird for testing if it meets certain criteria, but it’s important to know that every dead bird report is important regardless of whether or not the bird can be tested.

So, the next time you find a dead bird on or near your own property, please report that dead bird by phone at 877-WNV-BIRD (877-968-2473) or online at www.westnile.ca.gov. Operators will be answering the phones from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and online reports can be submitted at any time. 

By making that phone call or submitting a dead bird report online, you are taking an active role to protect public heath for yourself, your family and your neighbors

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Contra Costa Health Services Pauses Use of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine

To ensure that every dose of COVID-19 vaccine provided in our county is safe for patients, Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) will today temporarily pause its use of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine while federal regulatory agencies examine new information about a possible, rare side effect that can cause blood clots. 

CCHS is closely following guidance issued this morning by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding this vaccine. CCHS continues to administer the other vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S., from Pfizer and Moderna. 

Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine is a very small part of Contra Costa’s vaccine allocation from the state and federal governments and CCHS does not anticipate cancelling any of its vaccination appointments at this time. 

Patients with vaccination appointments through CCHS should attend at their scheduled time. 

CCHS is not aware of any reported cases of adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccine in the county that were inconsistent with those documented during the extensive clinical trials conducted to ensure the safety of all vaccines used in the U.S. 

The risk of an adverse reaction for people who received Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine more than a month ago is extremely low, according to the CDC. 

People who received this vaccine more recently should contact a healthcare provider immediately if they develop symptoms such as severe headaches, severe abdominal pain, severe leg pain or shortness of breath – these symptoms are different than the usual, minor reactions that some people may experience in the day or two following their vaccination. 

The FDA has not received any reports of similar side effects associated with the use of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. 

CCHS will update the public at cchealth.org/coronavirus as more information becomes available about this developing situation.

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Reduce the Risk of Dog Heartworm by Preventing Mosquitoes Now

Springtime, with its warmer weather, tends to draw Contra Costa County residents outdoors. After all, there’s nothing like a sunny day to take the dog on a walk. It turns out these same sunny, warmer days are exactly what the Western tree hole mosquito (Aedes sierrensis) needs to develop from egg to biting adult—and those bites can spread the worms that cause canine heartworm disease. 

According to the Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District (District), Western tree hole mosquitoes are often found in the water that collects in tree holes that can develop in older trees such as oak, laurel, and eucalyptus. These mosquitoes, which are found in Contra Costa County, are frequent biters that can be attracted to residential and recreational areas. To reduce the risk of mosquito bites and canine heartworm disease, follow these tips.A tree hole where mosquitoes liveRainwater can collect in tree holes,allowing mosquitoes to develop into biting adults.

Reducing the Risk of the Dog Heartworm Mosquito

  1. Examine trees on your property and identify any tree holes.
  2. Fill the holes with dirt or water absorbing polymer crystals that are available at local nurseries or garden departments. Consult an arborist for additional ways to prevent water collection in tree holes.
  3. Clear debris from gutters to allow water to flow out of gutters.
  4. Dump out standing water that collects in cans, buckets, toys and tires because the Western tree hole mosquito can develop from egg to adult in artificial containers.
  5. Make sure window screens are free of rips or tears because tree hole mosquitoes have been known to try to come into homes during the day. 

How Dogs Become Infected with Heartworm Disease
Canine heartworm disease is caused by a roundworm and is a serious and possibly fatal veterinary problem associated with dogs, coyotes, and foxes. A tree hole mosquito bites a dog, coyote or fox that is already infected with heartworm. That mosquito becomes infected with the microfilariae (immature stage of the heartworm parasite), and can then bite and infect a different dog. 

Veterinary products are available to prevent the disease and it is curable if diagnosed in the early stages. In Contra Costa County, the time of highest risk for dogs to contract heartworm is March through August, however unseasonable rain and warm weather may extend this period. 

The key is to take proactive steps to reduce the risk of dog heartworm by preventing mosquitoes now. Reduce the number of places where the Western tree hole mosquito can develop from egg to biting adult and consult your dog’s veterinarian.

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Weekly unemployment claims in California increased by 301.27% compared to the same week in 2019 – WalletHub

California is struggling to recover from new unemployment claims, with last week’s claims higher than at the start of 2020, according to WalletHub’s updated rankings for the States Whose Unemployment Claims Are Recovering the Quickest, along with accompanying videos and audio files

Key Stats:

  • Weekly unemployment claims in California increased by 301.27% compared to the same week in 2019. This was the 20th biggest increase in the U.S.
     
  • Weekly unemployment claims in California increased by 295.88% compared to the start of 2020. This was the 13th biggest increase in the U.S.
     
  • Weekly unemployment claims in California decreased by 84.18% compared to the same week last year. This was the 15th smallest decrease in the U.S.

To view the full report and your state’s rank, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/states-unemployment-claims/72730/

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Election calendar crunch – Census data is late

From CalMatters

California election officials are running out of time.

Let’s work backwards through the process: 

  • Before the state holds its primary election in 2022, it has to give candidates the opportunity to file to run;
  • Before that, it has to create district maps so that those candidates know who and what they’ll actually be running to represent;
  • And beforethose maps can be finalized, the public has to be given an opportunity to weigh in;
  • But first the state has to get population data from the most recent Census count.

And there’s the rub: California’s next primary election is set for June 7, 2022 and the 2020 Census data — that first step — is reallyreally late, partly due to the pandemic.

California can expect some preliminary information to trickle in later this month. That will let us know, for example, whether we as a state are due to lose at least one of 53 congressional seats, as is widely expected

But the more granular data needed to start mapmaking won’t arrive until around August. The data wizards hired by the state will need another month to clean it up and, among other details, figure out where to place the prison inmates

That means the state’s independent commission tasked with drawing California’s congressional and legislative maps won’t get the information they need until September — at the earliest. Nor will local elections officials, who carve up the turf for city council and water district races.

  • Matt Rexroad, a political consultant: Based on the current schedule “there’s no way they can do a June primary.”
  • Fredy Ceja, California Citizens Redistricting Commission: “If we’re still looking at a December deadline for candidate filing, that’s not going to happen.”

So what will happen? No one knows yet. Delaying the primary would require an act by the Legislature and no one has announced plans to do that. But there’s widespread agreement among redistricting experts that something has to give. 

And lest we forget, Gov. Gavin Newsom will likely facea recall election later this year. Meanwhile, nine county registrars have announced that they’re retiring since November.

  • Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation: “It is a perfect storm…Just about every election official in the state is freaking out about this.“
  • Cathy Darling-Allen, Shasta County registrar: “I think I need an election fairy.”
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Sunday Reading – 04/11/2021

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.

Forbes’ 35th Annual World’s Billionaires List: Facts And Figures 2021 – It’s been a year like no other, and we aren’t talking about the pandemic. There were rapid-fire public offerings, surging cryptocurrencies and skyrocketing stock prices. The number of billionaires on Forbes’ 35th annual list of the world’s wealthiest exploded to an unprecedented 2,755—660 more than a year ago. Altogether they are worth $13.1 trillion, up from $8 trillion on the 2020 list. 

There are a record high 493 newcomers to the list—roughly one new billionaire every 17 hours, including 210 from China and Hong Kong and 98 from the U.S. The richest newcomer, at $38.2 billion, is Miriam Adelson of Nevada, who inherited her husband Sheldon Adelson’s casino empire following his death in January. Other notable new entrants include movie and TV producer Tyler Perry, Bumble dating app cofounder Whitney Wolfe Herd—the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire, and Europe’s Guillaume Pousaz, founder of payments firm Checkout.com. Another 250 people who’d fallen off the billionaires’ list in the past came roaring back. Altogether, a staggering 86% of all billionaires are richer than a year ago.

Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person for the fourth year running, worth $177 billion, up $64 billion from a year ago as a result of surging Amazon shares. Elon Musk—the biggest gainer in dollar terms—rocketed into the No. 2 spot with a $151 billion fortune, a whopping $126.4 billion more than a year ago, when he ranked No. 31 and was worth $24.6 billion. The main reason: a 705% climb in Tesla shares. French luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault holds onto his spot at No. 3 but his fortune nearly doubled to $150 billion, from $76 billion, due to an 86% rise in the shares of LVMH, owner of brands including Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior and cosmetics retailer Sephora. The top ten richest are worth $1.15 trillion, up by two-thirds from $686 billion last year. Altogether, Europe’s billionaires are $1 trillion richer than a year ago. Read More > at Forbes

75% Say Voter ID Necessary, Majority Oppose Georgia Boycott – Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star Game from Atlanta to punish Georgia for enacting a new election integrity law, but most voters support the law and oppose calls for business boycotts against Georgia.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 75% of Likely U.S. Voters say requiring voters to show photo identification such as a driver’s license before being allowed to vote is necessary to “a fair and secure election process.” Nineteen percent (19%) disagree. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

The survey of 1,000 U.S. Likely Voters was conducted on April 1 and 4, 2021 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology. Read More > at Rasmussen

Gov. Caitlyn Jenner? Another athlete-turned-celebrity reportedly interested in California’s top office – It’s suddenly feeling a bit like 2003 all over again. If Arnold Schwarzenegger could win a recall election to become governor of California then, could Caitlyn Jenner follow the same path nearly two decades later?

The Olympic decathlete-turned-reality TV star who announced in 2015 that she was transgender is considering a run, Axios reported Tuesday. The outlet cited “three sources with direct knowledge” of the situation.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom likely facing a recall election this fall, a pop culture figure seeking the state’s top job has echoes of what happened 18 years ago, when Democrat Gray Davis became the first governor to be recalled in state history, and the actor who played the Terminator took the state’s reins.

…“When political campaigns start being executed in the People magazine realm,” he said, “it can create unpredictable dynamics.”

Stutzman said the 71-year-old Jenner is not as serious a candidate as Schwarzenegger.“Arnold was the most famous person in the world aside from the pope. She’s famous but not that famous,” he said. “And Arnold already had some credibility in the public-policy space — he had sponsored a statewide ballot measure, had campaigned for candidates, been involved with the presidential physical fitness council.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

History proves that Americans can unite even when torn in two – Between the first shots fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861 and Lee’s surrender here, more than 800,000 soldiers died from fighting, starvation and disease. Five days after the war’s end, President Abraham Lincoln was dead, having paid the ultimate sacrifice for his steadfastness to preserve the union.

Afterwards the country was thrown into both mourning and uncertainty about its future as it faced reconstruction.

All of which should prove to folks who often moan that we live in the worst time possible for this country that, indeed, we do not.

As the two generals waited for their treaty to be prepared in McLean’s parlor, Grant introduced Lee to his staff, including Lt. Col. Ely Parker, a Seneca Indian, who later recalled their exchange.

“It’s good to see one real American here today,” Lee told him.

“General, we are all Americans today,” Parker replied.

Grant and Lee understood that a divided nation is a toxic nation — and that moment 153 years ago should serve as a reminder for all of us, to not just look to the bad and condemn, but to look to the good and apply it to our lives today. Read More > in the New York Post

Nuclear should be considered part of clean energy standard, White House says – More details have emerged about the climate and energy priorities of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, and they include support for nuclear power and carbon capture with sequestration (CCS).

In a press conference yesterday with reporters, White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy said the administration would seek to implement a clean energy standard that would encourage utilities to use greener power sources. She added that both nuclear and CCS would be included in the administration’s desired portfolio. The clean energy standard adds a climate dimension to the Biden administration’s recently announced infrastructure plan, seeking to put the US on a path to eliminating carbon pollution.

Biden has called for 100 percent of America’s electricity to be generated by carbon-free sources by 2035. Nuclear power does not produce any carbon pollution, and many experts say it should be included in any net-zero plans because of its large existing generating capacity and its ability to provide large amounts of power consistently. But nuclear has been criticized by some environmentalists over its radioactive waste and concerns about meltdowns. Read More > at ars TECHNICA

California’s Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Supply Plummets Just As Millions More Residents Become Eligible – “I encourage everybody to avail themselves [of the vaccine] next week, everybody over 16,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday. State residents may find it hard to follow through on the governor’s advice, however, because California is set to see a 15% drop in overall vaccine supply and an 88% drop in Johnson & Johnson shots just as millions more residents become eligible for vaccination.

When Newsom announced the expansion of vaccine eligibility to all residents over the age of 16 on April 15, there were concerns about vaccine supply. The governor himself has said the state’s vaccination program is only constrained by manufactured supply.

At the time of that announcement, a statement from the governor’s office said, “California expects to be allocated approximately 2.5 million first and second doses per week in the first half of April, and more than 3 million doses in the second half of April.”

Late Wednesday, the governor’s office revealed that the projected allocations had dropped precipitously. This week, the allocation was 2.4 million doses. Next week, however, it will drop to 2 million doses, a 15% decline. The week after, just 1.9 million doses, down another 5%. That’s over a million doses short of the previously expected “3 million doses in the second half of April.” Read More > at Deadline

Hackers scraped data from 500 million LinkedIn users — about two-thirds of the platform’s userbase — and have posted it for sale online – Data from 500 million LinkedIn users has been scraped and is for sale online, according to a report from Cyber News. A LinkedIn spokesperson confirmed to Insider that there is a dataset of public information that was scraped from the platform.

“While we’re still investigating this issue, the posted dataset appears to include publicly viewable information that was scraped from LinkedIn combined with data aggregated from other websites or companies,” a LinkedIn spokesperson told Insider in a statement. “Scraping our members’ data from LinkedIn violates our terms of service and we are constantly working to protect our members and their data.”

LinkedIn has 740 million users, according to its website, so the reported data scraping of 500 million users means about two-thirds of the platform’s user base could be affected.

The data includes account IDs, full names, email addresses, phone numbers, workplace information, genders, and links to other social media accounts. Read More > at Business Insider

Yet another battle brewing over local control – Tuesday, San Francisco Democratic Assemblymember David Chiu rolled out a proposal to crack the whip on cities that lag on approving new housing. 

A little context: 

  • Every eight years, the state sets a housing production goal for each region. 
  • Those regional assignments are divvied up and assigned to each city.
  • If a city fails to meet its quota…not much happens.

In extreme cases, the state can take a building-averse municipality to court. See: Huntington Beach.

Chiu’s law would require cities to check in with the state halfway through each eight-year cycle. Any that are 10% below their region’s production level would be required to adopt more “pro-housing” policy. Details are still TBD, but that might include zoning changes or the elimination of parking requirements.

Pandemic or not, this is still California, which means some of the fiercest legislative battles this year are sure to be about the state’s housing shortage. Earlier this year, the Senate’s Democratic leader Toni Atkins got behind a package of pro-production bills. The coming fight over Chiu’s latest is likely to be especially fierce.  

California’s legislative graveyard is full of bills trying to force local governments to do what they don’t wanna. I asked Chiu about the bill’s prospects. He didn’t exactly answer, but said the need for change is self-evident.

  • Chiu: “Everyone acknowledges that we’re still in the most intense housing and homelessness crisis in our state’s history…We want to make sure that every city is doing what they say they are going to do.” Read More > at CalMatters

The Great Housing Debate: A Profusion of Panaceas – According to one reliable survey, a quarter of all renters in America, most of them working poor, are paying more than half their monthly income on rent. It’s very hard to live decently that way. Even among those generally described as middle class, a majority are paying more than 30 percent. To use the technical term, they are “rent-burdened.” Freddie Mac, the quasi-private housing finance agency, says we have a supply shortage of 2.5 million units. We simply need to build more places to live.

This is a national problem. Here’s one local snapshot: In Salt Lake City, rents have increased by 78 percent in the past two decades. Two-thirds of that increase has come in the last five years. Salt Lake City is a reasonably prosperous corner of America, but those numbers are making life quite difficult even for those with stable jobs and incomes.

In the past couple of years, we have seen the rapid expansion of one particular effort to do something about this: to revise zoning laws that require single-family homes in three-quarters of the country’s residential neighborhoods. Minneapolis started this ball rolling two years ago by voting to make single-family zoning illegal. It didn’t mean you couldn’t build a single-family house on your property — just that local governments couldn’t require you to build that way.

Since then, the drive to abolish single-family zoning has succeeded at the state level in Oregon. It is being written into the long-range plan currently being drafted in Charlotte, N.C., where 84 percent of the residential land is currently zoned single-family. It is popping up widely in northern California: Sacramento’s city council passed a bill early this year that will allow dwellings of four units on every residential lot in the city. Berkeley, Calif., which is now zoned 83 percent single-family, has voted to ban that type of zoning by 2022.

Upzoning isn’t a bad idea. It just isn’t much of a panacea. Why doesn’t it produce the results it was designed to produce? There are a couple of reasons. The most frequently touted feature of these new zoning rules is that they allow for the construction of “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs), or to use the common description, “granny flats.” It isn’t difficult for a newspaper feature writer to pile up examples of homeowners who added onto their property to house a family member, but the truth is not many people are going to do this. A high-quality ADU in a moderately affluent city can cost $400,000. We will never have enough granny flats to make a significant dent in our housing shortage. We don’t even have enough grannies. This is a feel-good change destined to have relatively little effect. Read More > at Governing

Clarence Thomas argues it’s time to rein in Facebook, Twitter, and Google censorship – Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas argued that tech platforms such as TwitterFacebook, and Google should be regulated like utilities.

“As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms,” Thomas wrote Monday. “The extent to which that power matters for purposes of the First Amendment and the extent to which that power could lawfully be modified raise interesting and important questions.”

Thomas argued some tech platforms are “sufficiently akin” to carriers such as telephone companies. If tech platforms were regulated like utilities, they could be forced to do away with moderation standards they currently use.

“A traditional telephone company laid physical wires to create a network connecting people,” Thomas wrote. “Digital platforms lay information infrastructure that can be controlled in much the same way.”

“It changes nothing that these platforms are not the sole means for distributing speech or information. A person always could choose to avoid the toll bridge or train and instead swim the Charles River or hike the Oregon Trail,” Thomas wrote. “But in assessing whether a company exercises substantial market power, what matters is whether the alternatives are comparable. For many of today’s digital platforms, nothing is.” Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Public trust in CDC drops across all demographics during pandemic – While Americans may be divided on many issues, they seem to be in agreement on this: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could be doing a better job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rand Corp. released a survey Monday reporting a decline in public trust for the CDC across all demographics.

While low trust in CDC was previously held only by Black Americans, trust during the pandemic has fallen throughout the entire U.S. population.

In comparison, confidence in the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have grown over that same period, according to the survey. Read More > from UPI

Ditch the Clorox: CDC tells businesses to ‘end hygiene theater’ because risk of being infected with COVID through surfaces is ‘low’ – It’s time to stop obsessively Clorox-ing every surface and object, U.S. health officials announced Monday.  

An army of sanitizing robots, round-the-clock cleaning staffs and UV lamp-wielding workers is being called off by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has deemed the risk of contracting COVID-19 by touching surfaces ‘low.’ 

Schools, businesses, and households have spent millions collectively over the past year in an effort to step up cleaning practices and make their spaces safer – or at least to make them feel safer. 

It has given rise to the term ‘hygiene theater,’ referring to the suspicion that most of these high-tech sanitization practices are a waste of time and money, as reported by The Atlantic. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest guidance update confirms that the benefits of constant scrubbing and disinfectant-dousing robots do not outweigh the risks of contracting coronavirus from a contaminated surface.  Read More > in the Daily Mail

Facebook did not hire Black employees because they were not a ‘culture fit,’ report says – After initial reports of Facebook turning down Black applicants for positions because they weren’t a “culture fit,” more people have filed complaints alleging similar experiences.

Washington Post article published Tuesday said three Black applicants were rejected from jobs at Facebook despite having met all the qualifications.

The three applicants filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that investigates workplace discrimination.

“There’s no doubt you can do the job, but we’re really looking for a culture fit,” one hiring manager told one of the three candidates, according to The Post. Read More > at Business Insider

Real Clear Opinion Research Poll: School Choice Support Soars – Parents and families have been on a rollercoaster when it comes to K-12 education in the time of COVID-19. A new poll from Real Clear Opinion Research finds overall support for school choice is increasing as parents need more options than ever.

Major findings:

– 71% of voters back school choice. This is the highest level of support ever recorded from major AFC national polling with a sample size above 800 voters.

– 65% support parents having access to a portion of per-pupil funding to use for home, virtual, or private education if public schools don’t reopen full-time for in-person classes. – Read More > at the American Federation for Children

Women more prone to long-term harm from concussion, study says – After a concussion, women may be at heightened risk of lasting physical and mental symptoms, a new study finds.

The study of 2,000 concussion sufferers found that women were more likely than men to still have some symptoms one year later. The problems included fuzzy memory and difficulty concentrating, as well as headaches, dizziness or fatigue.

In contrast, women and men showed similar recovery times after traumatic injuries to other areas of the body.

The reasons are unclear, but the study is not the first to find sex differences in concussion recovery. Many have found that on average, women improve more slowly post-concussion, regardless of what caused the injury. Read More > from UPI

The US saw significant crime rise across major cities in 2020. And it’s not letting up – Major American cities saw a 33% increase in homicides last year as a pandemic swept across the country, millions of people joined protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and the economy collapsed under the weight of the pandemic — a crime surge that has continued into the first quarter of this year.

Sixty-three of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw increases in at least one category of violent crimes in 2020, which include homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, according to a report produced by the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Raleigh, North Carolina, did not report increases in any of the violent crime categories.

Experts point to a “perfect storm” of factors — economic collapse, social anxiety because of a pandemic, de-policing in major cities after protests that called for abolition of police departments, shifts in police resources from neighborhoods to downtown areas because of those protests, and the release of criminal defendants pretrial or before sentences were completed to reduce risk of Covid-19 spread in jails — all may have contributed to the spike in homicides.

Covid-19 seemed to exacerbate everything — officers sometimes had to quarantine because of exposure or cases in their ranks, reducing the number of officers available for patrol, investigations or protest coverage. It was difficult-to-impossible to keep physical distance during protests.

Through the first three months of 2021, a number of major cities have indicated they are still experiencing high rates of violent crime, according to Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “Some cities are set to outpace last year’s numbers,” she said. Read More > at CNN

Are Electric Vehicles the Right Choice for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Consumers? Much Depends on Battery Life – A recent Wall Street Journal story compares an electric vehicle (EV) with a similarly sized internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle over their useful lives, and finds that “EVs produce fewer emissions overall than their gas-powered counterparts, but there are caveats.” It concedes that EVs start out in the hole, since manufacturing the battery requires more energy than for a conventional engine and thus emits nearly five more tons of related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, once out on the road, the average EV uses (presumably) lower-GHG electricity instead of gasoline, and pays off its carbon debt by about 20,600 miles. After that, the EV pulls ahead and by 200,000 miles (“the typical lifespan for a car,” according to the article) and has saved 42 tons of carbon dioxide emissions as compared to its ICE counterpart, not to mention an estimated $1,200 in overall ownership costs.

However, if EV batteries don’t last nearly that long, then the environmental and consumer calculations are very different. And there are reasons to believe they won’t.

An excellent article on EV battery life in the Telegraph answers the thorny question of battery life with a definite “it depends.” Theoretically, an EV battery can last for 200,000 miles, but only if it is well taken care of by an owner willing to make certain sacrifices.

For example, it is bad for battery life to regularly charge it all the way to capacity or to drain it below 20 percent before recharging. But keeping to this vigil cuts into vehicle range and requires more frequent charging, which are already issues for many EV owners.

It is also wise for the sake of battery longevity to not make a habit of using fast chargers—public charging stations that can provide a 30 minute or so jolt rather than a battery-friendlier but hours-long recharge at home. However, avoiding fast charging both adds to charging times and makes longer trips unfeasible, again exacerbating the shortcomings with EVs. Read More > at the Competitive Enterprise Institute

“Some conspiracy theories turn out to be true…” Did the US government finally vindicate the UFO hunters? – …And then, on 27th April this year, the US military made an announcement that was every bit as strange as some of the sightings Pope had investigated.

“The Department of Defense [DOD] has authorized the release of three unclassified Navy videos, one taken in November 2004 and the other two in January 2015, which have been circulating in the public domain after unauthorized releases in 2007 and 2017… The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified’.”

In the world of ufology, a vast counter-cultural movement that is often derided as pseudoscience but attracts the interest of millions of people across the world, the statement was a bombshell, even if the reason for the release was hard to see…

The “three unclassified Navy videos” – called FLIR, GOFAST and GIMBAL – had been shared in UFO circles for years. But this was official confirmation that they were real. Each was taken using state-of-the-art infrared cameras. The first, FLIR, was filmed in November 2004 by navy pilot Chad Underwood after his commanding officer David Fravor had spotted strange Tic Tac-shaped objects in the sky above the USS Nimitz, then stationed off the US west coast. The video shows the tracking system of Underwood’s F/A-18F Super Hornet struggling to lock on to a strange, ghostly, elongated target that eventually shoots off the screen to the left. Read More > at Slow Journalism  

Amazon Is Buying Dead Malls – and the Reason Why Is Fascinating – Amazon, which has done as much as any company to bring about the demise of shopping malls in the United States, has now come full circle by buying up struggling malls and turning them into distribution centers for its rapidly growing e-commerce empire.

NBC News on Tuesday reported that over the last several months, Amazon has gone on a shopping spree with a number of new mall purchases. Last month the Seattle-based retail giant won approval to convert a mall in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, into a 3.4 million-square-foot distribution center. That same month, Amazon won similar approval to turn a mall in Knoxville, Tennessee, into a 220,000-square-foot distribution center.

Those deals followed a December decision by the local planning board in Worcester, Massachusetts, to let Amazon convert the city’s Greendale Mall into a 121,000-square-foot distribution center. Read More > ay Yahoo! Finance

64 percent view ‘cancel culture’ as threat to freedom: poll – A majority of Americans say they view “cancel culture” as a threat to their freedom, according to a new Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey released exclusively to The Hill on Monday. 

Sixty-four percent of respondents said that there is “a growing cancel culture” that is a threat to their freedom, while 36 percent said they did not view it as a threat to their freedom. 

The poll found that 54 percent of respondents said they were “concerned” that if they expressed their opinions online that they would be banned or fired, while 46 percent said they were not concerned. 

“It is a chilling finding that most people in the country now are afraid they would be fired if they expressed their real views on social media,” said Mark Penn, the director of the Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey. Read More > in The Hill

Audit: California’s Contact Tracing Was a Total Bust – In April 2020, California unveiled what was supposed to be an extraordinary COVID-19 contact tracing effort. UCSF infectious disease specialist Mike Reid, who led the program, described it as “our Dunkirk moment.” As it turns out, it was more like our Waterloo.

A new report from State Auditor Elaine Howle says California never assembled the “army” of contact tracers it had promised. We ended up with less than half of the expected volunteers — 12,100 instead of 31,400; 2,262 trained by the state instead of 10,000.

It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Per the audit, 10,000 state-trained volunteers would have been able to handle about 5,000 infections a day. At the height of the winter surge, the state was averaging 25,000.

“The sheer number of cases has overwhelmed local health jurisdictions’ contact tracing efforts,” Howle wrote.

The California Department of Public Health received $467 million for the contact tracing plan.

Health officials were always at a disadvantage. As County News noted at the time, the public was hesitant to cooperate with contact tracers from the start. That complicated the process. Read More > at California City News

Golf is facing an existential crisis – n September 20th, 2020, Bryson DeChambeau strode up to the 16th tee at the US Open at the Winged Foot course in New York state. With three holes to play in the fourth and final round, he was four shots clear of the field. All he needed for his first major tournament win was three straightforward pars. On the tee, he settled into his unusual, stiff stance. He held his driver at full stretch and paused for a beat. Then he pulled the club back so the head was parallel with his left ear, and, with a bend of his left knee and a swivel of his right hip, pushed the club through an almighty arc. As the club hit the ball at more than 120 miles an hour, it made a shrieking metallic whistle. The ball shot out of sight.

The 16th hole, christened Hells Bells, is just under 500 yards long. It is designed to be played in four shots. The first 250 yards of fairway are straight, fringed with trees. An average male professional golfer ought to be able to hit this far from the tee…

…He hit his tee shot an enormous 365 yards and ensured it was high enough to clear the trees, some more than 100ft tall, on the bend. It landed on the right-hand side of the fairway, giving him a clear path to the flag and a chance for a birdie. By taking on the course, DeChambeau disarmed one of Winged Foot’s trickiest holes….

…For decades, golfers have been learning to hit the ball further. Advances in equipment technology, diet and fitness and data analysis have added a hundred yards to the average driving distance of elite male players over the last hundred years. Golf course designers have responded by making holes longer, fairways narrower and rough thicker. But, as DeChambeau’s buccaneering at the US Open showed, they are running out of options. Are golf’s most famous courses at risk of being overpowered? And if so, what can be done about it? Read More > at Wired

Left-wing prosecutors hit fierce resistance – Larry Krasner’s election in 2017 was a triumph for progressives nationwide: The man who had sued cops 75 times, represented Black Lives Matter, promised to end cash bail — and was widely seen as the most liberal district attorney candidate in the country — won.

Four years later, Philadelphia’s top prosecutor — and one of the leading figures of the country’s criminal justice reform movement — is under siege.

Homicides are skyrocketing in the city, and local officials are grumbling. A former assistant district attorney backed by the local police union is challenging Krasner in the May primary. And in recent weeks, the Philadelphia Democratic Party broke with years of tradition and declined to endorse the incumbent.

Krasner isn’t the only big-city progressive prosecutor meeting fierce resistance. In California, both San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón are facing recall efforts. Opponents of the left-wing DAs have accused them of letting criminals loose on the streets and turning a blind eye to victims — all criticisms lobbed at Krasner, too. Read More > at Politico

It’s A No: Amazon Warehouse Workers Vote Against Unionizing In Historic Election – Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama will not be forming a union.

The majority of Amazon’s workers in Bessemer, Ala., voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The final tally was 1,798 votes against unionizing versus 738 votes in favor of union.

That means Amazon has withstood the largest union push yet among its U.S. workers and avoided the prospect of its first unionized warehouse in America. Some 5,800 people work at Amazon’s Bessemer facility and 3,215 cast ballots in the election.

The union is now filing a legal challenge to the election and charges of unfair labor practices against Amazon. It’s requesting a hearing by the National Labor Relations Board, “to determine if the results of the election should be set aside because conduct by the employer created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees’ freedom of choice.” Read More > from NPR

California plans $536M for forests before wildfire season – California will authorize $536 million toward forest management projects and efforts to reduce wildfires before the worst of the fire season strikes later this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders said Thursday.

That more than doubles $200 million in recent annual spending, advocates said, and wildfire preparedness grants were dropped entirely last year when the state prematurely anticipated a pandemic-driven budget shortfall.

Armed now with an unexpected multi-billion-dollar surplus, lawmakers plan to add the money to this fiscal year’s budget before considering even more in the new spending plan that takes effect July 1.

Officials are rushing to thin forests, build fuel breaks around vulnerable communities and allow for planned burns before a dry winter turns into a tinder-dry summer. Last year’s record-setting wildfire season charred more than 4% of the state while destroying nearly 10,500 buildings and killing 33 people.

Earlier this month, the governor used his emergency powers to authorize nearly $81 million to hire nearly 1,400 additional firefighters. He said the firefighting and mitigation efforts are in addition to the state’s many long-term efforts to fight climate change that is worsening fires and droughts. Read More > from the AP

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Public Input Requested for the Update to Vision 2030 – Delta Protection Commission’s Strategic Plan

Comment period open through Friday, April 30

Vision 2030 is the Delta Protection Commission’s strategic plan. Adopted by a vote of the Commission in 2015, Commission staff and the Delta Protection Advisory Committee have been reviewing Vision 2030 strategic theme objectives over the past several months. Strategic theme objectives provide high-level direction to Delta Protection Commission staff about its work and form the basis of Commission work plans. 

Commission staff have proposed a series of revisions to the Vision 2030 strategic theme objectives are intended to address the following:

  • Remove items that have been accomplished (examples include the Delta National Heritage Area designation and achieving permanent status for the Delta Levees Subventions Program)
  • Adding new objectives to address challenges now deemed strategic (promoting agricultural uses that reduce or eliminate peat soil subsidence; Delta-region broadband deficiencies; Delta waterway channel dredging; Commission collaboration on social science research)
  • Revising or removing objectives that are no longer seen as strategic
  • Editing changes to improve readability and comprehension

Commission staff seek input from interested Delta stakeholders about these proposed changes. Those wishing to provide comments are asked to review the proposed redline changes (Word Doc) to the existing Vision 2030 strategic theme objectives. Margin comments in the document provide the rationale for substantive changes.

Please submit comments no later than 5:00 PM on Friday, April 30 by emailing submit@delta.ca.gov. Questions about Vision 2030 and proposed changes may be sent to erik.vink@delta.ca.gov.

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Youth Art Contest for Invasive Species Week

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife has announced the opening of the 2021 Youth Art Contest for California Invasive Species Action Week. The contest is open to grades 2-12 and entries are due May 5. The theme is “Be an Invasive Species Detective,” and encourages youth to think about how paying attention to their surroundings can protect against the spread of invasive species. The Department’s Invasive Species Action Week will be June 5-13.

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The Drought is Back. Some Parts of California Will Have it Far Worse Than Others.

From California City News

Drought conditions are returning to California, but the impacts will be highly variable across the state.

Dairy farms in Sonoma County and the Central Valley are already struggling. More than half of Sonoma is in a severe drought, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System. The rest of the county is under moderate drought. Residents could face mandatory conservation measures, the Argus-Courier reports.

Growers in the San Joaquin Valley are bracing for water delivery cuts. Shasta Lake is only 53% full, so the Bureau of Reclamation is cutting supplies to many farmers.

It’s a very different story in the Southland. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California “reports record amounts of reserves,” according to the LA Times.

“We’re not in any shortage,” Delon Kwan, assistant director of water resources for LA’s Department of Water and Power, told the paper.

Water use levels never quite rebounded after the 2012-2016 drought. That’s true everywhere. Statewide urban water use is down 16% from 2013.

Rural areas have also seen many improvements since the last dry spell, particularly in infrastructure. Experts are hopeful that, no matter how bad things get, they won’t be as bad they were several years ago. Let’s hope that holds true.

See also:

California reports third-driest year on record

Senate Leader Toni Atkins Tackles Drought Crisis

Before-and-After Photos of California Reservoirs Show Looming Drought

LAKE OROVILLE: An aerial view of the Bidwell Bar Bridge at Lake Oroville (left) at 83 percent of capacity or 104 percent of historical average in 2017, and in 2021 (right) at 53% of historical average and 41% of capacity.CA Dept. of Water Resources
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California to Lift Most Coronavirus Restrictions on June 15 and Move Beyond Its Tier System

California will move away from its four-tier system for reopening June 15 and fully reopen its economy if certain conditions are met, marking a major pandemic milestone for the nation’s most populous state, the governor’s office announced Tuesday.

The state’s color-coded Blueprint for a Safer Economy has guided the state’s reopening process in each of its 58 counties during the pandemic. On Tuesday, a statement from the governor’s office said California will move away from the system and fully reopen if two conditions are met.

  • If vaccine supply is sufficient for Californians 16 years and older who wish to be inoculated. 
  • If hospitalization rates are stable and low .

We can now begin planning for our lives post-pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom

“We’ll be getting rid of the blueprint as you know it today,” Gov. Newsom said.

Most capacity limits will be lifted, although large-scale indoor events, such as conventions, will be allowed only with testing or vaccination verification requirements, state health officials said. The two-month advance notice should give people enough time to schedule their first vaccination dose, wait the recommended three to four weeks for a second shot and get through the two-week period for the vaccines to fully kick in, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said.

Read More > at NBC Los Angeles

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Isleton Bridge temporarily closed through April 23

Caltrans is alerting motorists that the Isleton bridge on State Route 160 near the town of Isleton will be temporarily closed through April 23. Additional construction is needed to maintain and keep the bridge operational. Adverse weather conditions could delay the reopening date. Caltrans is asking motorists to use the River Road and the Walnut Grove Bridge for an alternate route. Interstate 5 can also be used as an additional alternate route.

Please visit the Caltrans District 3 News webpage for additional information and further updates.

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Contra Costa Moving into the Orange Tier

Starting Wednesday, April 7, several business sectors and community services can reopen or expand capacity: 

  • Amusement parks: Overall park capacity and indoor capacity will be limited to 25%, including indoor dining. 
  • Bars: Outdoors with modifications; no meals required to be served
  • Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries: Indoors at 25% maximum capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer; no meals required to be served 
  • Family entertainment centers: Indoors for naturally distanced activities like bowling, escape rooms, and billiards; 25% maximum capacity 
  • Gyms, fitness centers and studios (including at hotels): 25% maximum capacity and indoor pools are permitted; Indoor hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms continue to be closed
  • Movie Theaters: 50% maximum capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer encouraged 
  • Outdoor sports and live performances with fans/attendees: Up to 33% and with advanced reservations only. Concession sales will be primarily in-seat (no concourse sales). Designated indoor seated dining area capacity will be limited to 25%. Attendance will be limited to in-state spectators and guests must attest their reserved seats are only for one household. 
  • Places of worship: 50% maximum capacity
  • Restaurants: 50% maximum capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer
  • Retail: Open indoors with modifications and food courts permitted with indoor dining restrictions 

 Contra Costa County must remain in the Orange Tier for at least three weeks before moving into the next, less restrictive yellow tier.

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Sunday Reading – 04/04/2021

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.

One dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines was 80% effective in preventing Covid in CDC study of health workers – A single dose of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine was 80% effective in preventing coronavirus infections, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of vaccinated health-care workers.

The effectiveness of partial immunization was seen two weeks after the first dose, according to the CDC, which looked at nearly 4,000 health-care personnel, first responders and front-line workers between Dec. 14 and March 13. The health-care personnel and other essential workers in the study, which was published Monday, had no previous laboratory documentation of Covid-19 infection.

Two doses are better than one, federal health officials said, adding that the vaccines’ effectiveness jumped to 90% two weeks after the second dose. Read More > at CNBC

Study: Children show strongest immune response to COVID-19 – Children age 10 and younger develop a more robust immune response to the coronavirus than other age groups, a study published Monday by JAMA Network Open found.

Blood of younger children tested for antibodies to the virus had evidence of more than twice as many cells created by the immune system to fight off infections than adolescents and young adults, the data showed.

Similarly, adolescents displayed higher antibody levels than young adults, the researchers said.

Antibody levels declined with age, with study participants age 80 and older having the lowest, according to the researchers. Read More > at UPI

‘Homer Simpson Move’ by PG&E Was ‘Final Tipping Point’ Into California’s Second Evening of Rolling Blackouts Last Summer – At 6:13 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, a gas-fired power plant in the Central Valley city of Firebaugh suddenly ramped down production. The move was the exact opposite of what California’s Independent System Operator wanted the Panoche Energy Center power plant to do at that moment.

CAISO, which manages most of the state’s electric grid, was already struggling to find enough power to meet demand during a regional heat wave. It hoped to avoid a repeat of the previous day, when it had called for rolling blackouts — California’s first in nearly two decades. But the loss of about 250 megawatts at Panoche would ultimately prompt the agency to call for more rolling blackouts that evening.

CAISO later reported that it understood the ramp down “to be due to an erroneous dispatch” from the plant’s scheduling coordinator. Every power plant has a scheduling coordinator, acting as the point of contact between CAISO and the plant, relaying and confirming the grid operator’s instructions on whether the plant should ramp production up or down.

Since last year’s rolling blackouts, which left hundreds of thousands of Californians without power for parts of two consecutive evenings, CAISO has produced two root-cause analysis reports issued jointly with California’s Public Utilities Commission and Energy Commission — one in October and another in January. Both reports run more than a 100 pages, and conclude that the Aug. 15 rolling blackouts “were not caused by any single generator or resource type.”

While the reports mostly place blame on climate change and poor planning, the context regarding the incident at Panoche, which is operated by a private investment firm, remains murky.

“It is not at all clear why a modest 248-megawatt reduction in output from Panoche would have precipitated rolling blackouts 15 minutes later,” said Bill Powers, a San Diego-based energy consultant.

“It was such a Homer Simpson move to back off on power at a time when the grid needed that power,” he added. He said it speaks to larger issues about CAISO’s clarity on other major factors, including the fact that California was exporting power during the rolling blackouts. Read More > at KQED

No Shortage of Would-Be Governors as Newsom Feels the California Heat – Around 1.3 million signatures of the 2.1 million turned in by organizers have already been verified. To trigger a recall, 1,495,709 (12 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial race) votes are needed. At that point, petitioners would have 30 days to remove their signatures, then the legislature would have 30 days to estimate the cost of the election. Finally, the lieutenant governor would need to schedule an election within 60–80 days. The ballot would include two questions, one over whether to remove Newsom from office and then another over who should replace him. For the second to matter, a majority must favor recall on the first. If Newsom is defeated, whoever wins a plurality on the second moves into the governor’s mansion.

It seems doubtful that Newsom will see his political career ended by this effort. However, the fact that organizers succeeded in even bringing it into question suggests that there is a chance. California is a much different, more progressive place than it was back in 2003 when Democrat Gray Davis was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. But if someone other than Newsom is running the state by the end of 2021, it will probably be one of these people:

Republican Kevin Faulconer

If the GOP is to not only take down Newsom, but replace him with one of their own, it would seem that Faulconer is its best bet. The winner of two mayoral elections in San Diego, Faulconer is the furthest thing from a base-pleaser. 

Republican John Cox

John Cox is running for governor professing to be a “problem solver, not a politician,” but it’s certainly not for lack of trying. He launched bids for the House and then the Senate in Illinois in the early 2000s, then for president of the United States in 2008. In 2018, he lost to Newsom in the largest Californian gubernatorial landslide since 1950. 

Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa

A former mayor of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa ran for governor in 2018 but lost decisively in the jungle primary and endorsed Newsom. Asked by the Los Angeles Times about throwing his hat in the recall race, he demurred, saying “politics is the last thing we should be talking about,” but he’s also echoed Newsom’s detractors on Twitter…

Democrats Kevin de León or Ro Khanna, or a Progressive to Be Named Later

The progressive wing of the California Democratic Party has so far remained loyal to Newsom. Congressman Ro Khanna got Bernie Sanders to condemn the recall….

Democrat Tom Steyer

He’s back. Not by popular demand, but he is back. Democratic donor and 2020 presidential candidate Tom Steyer is reportedly polling the recall race and including his name among the potential replacements for Newsom… Read More > at National Review

It’s Not Just QAnon. Democrats and Independents Also Want to Recall California’s Governor. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom is framing the burgeoning effort to remove him from office as a fringe Republican movement backed by right-wing extremists, Trump supporters and QAnon conspiracy theorists.

But Newsom isn’t telling the whole story about who supports his recall.

Democrats and independent voters — who together dominate the state’s electorate — have also signed the recall petition, motivated by frustration with Newsom’s response to the covid-19 pandemic. Even Californians who helped elect Newsom to his first term in 2018 are angry over prolonged school closures, the whipsaw of business closings and openings and closings, vaccination chaos and turmoil at the state’s unemployment agency — which has been plagued with fraud, website failures and devastating backlogs that have left legions of residents without benefits.

A recent Emerson College poll found that 58% of Democrats and 55% of independent voters — those registered under no-party preference — would be open to dumping Newsom in favor of another Democratic candidate. And back-to-back polls this year by the University of California-Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and the Public Policy Institute of California showed Newsom’s poll numbers dropping, although they are higher than those of former Gov. Gray Davis before his recall in 2003. read More > at Kaiser Health News

Troubling development’ for Newsom: California Latinos inclined to support recall, poll finds – In the wake of a pandemic that has devastated Latino communities in California, a new statewide poll finds that Latino voters are more likely to vote to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom than white, Asian and Black voters.

The Probolsky Research poll released this week found that 44.5% of Latino voters said they would vote for Newsom to be recalled from office, while 41% said they would vote no. About 14% were undecided.

The poll results offer a glimpse of Latino voters’ attitudes toward the Democratic governor amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, the poll showed about 49% of white voters, 49% of Asian voters and 72% of Black voters said they would vote no on the recall. Overall, about 52.5% of California voters surveyed said they would vote no on the recall, compared with 34.6% who would vote yes. Read More > in at Bakersfield.com

California suffered the nation’s 4th-worst pandemic job loss – California suffered the nation’s fourth-smallest job recovery and fourth-highest unemployment rate over the past 12 months of the pandemic.

My trusty spreadsheet, filled with February employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, details the impact of the pandemic’s economic wallop and California’s strict business limitations designed to slow the spread of coronavirus. Those restrictions have fueled a heated political debate about the balance between public health and economic opportunities.

On a national scale, California is down the most jobs — off 1.66 million workers since February 2020, just as the pandemic hit the nation. After California, job losses were greatest in New York, down 1.06 million; and Texas, with a 593,000 drop. Two states have more jobs than a year ago — Idaho, up 7,900 and Utah, up 5,800. Montana had the smallest job loss at 10,300.

Remember that California is the nation’s largest job market with 16 million workers followed by Texas, at 12.4 million, and New York, at 8.8 million. But even when you account for the Golden State’s huge employment, the state economy has returned to only 90.6% of the job count enjoyed before we all knew what coronavirus was. Read More > in The Press-Enterprise

Is California driving business away? – Is California killing the golden goose with taxes and regulations that drive businesses and their jobs to more hospitable states?

That question has been debated for years without a definitive answer, flaring up whenever there’s a high-profile move out of the state.

With the recent relocation of several well-known firms to Texas, along with one famous billionaire, Tesla’s Elon Musk, the question once again reverberates in political circles.

Last week, the Center for Jobs and the Economy, an arm of the California Business Roundtable, offered new grist for the debate by launching “CaliFormers,” a running list of companies that have relocated from California or expanded operations elsewhere.

“California policies have created the highest in the nation cost-of-living and strictest in the nation regulatory costs which have caused jobs in key sectors such as manufacturing to start-up, scale or relocate in other lower-cost states, sometimes just across the border from California,” the CaliFormers announcement declared.

CaliFormers arrives on the scene not only as the perpetual debate heats up again but as the Legislature considers a new spate of bills that would impose additional costs on business and/or levy new taxes on business or wealthy individuals such as Musk. Read More > at CalMatters

 Nearly Half of Americans Changed Sports Viewing Habits Because Woke Social Justice. – According to a new YouGov / Yahoo News poll, nearly half of America changed its sports viewing habits once political and social messaging spread across the leagues.

Because of aggressive woke messaging, three times as many Americans watched sports less often than those who watched them more often, 34.5 percent to 11 percent. 56.3 percent say they watched about the same amount. Though not quite 50-50, the number of those who changed habits was undoubtedly represented in total viewership declines.

Ratings across all major sports were down in 2020. The NBA, the most political among them, lost over half of its audience in the NBA Finals, a Finals that featured its top individual and team draw, LeBron James and the Lakers. That’s not viewers watching less often, that’s viewers not watching at all. Read More > at OutKick

The Invisible Asylum – The story of American deinstitutionalization has become familiar. In a long arc—from President Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act of 1963 to the present—federal and state governments dismantled mental asylums and released the psychiatrically disturbed into the world. Though there were sometimes brutal abuses in the state mental hospitals of the early twentieth century, the closure of the asylums did not put an end to mental illness. If anything, with the proliferation on the streets of psychosis-inducing drugs such as methamphetamine, the United States has more cases of serious mental illness than ever before—and less capacity to treat and manage them.

The question now is not, “What happened to the asylums?” but “What replaced them?” Following the mass closure of state hospitals and the establishment of a legal regime that dramatically restricted involuntary commitments, we have created an “invisible asylum” composed of three primary institutions: the street, the jail, and the emergency room. In slaying the old monster of the state asylums, we created a new monster in its shadow: one that maintains the appearance of freedom but condemns a large population of the mentally ill to a life of misery.

I’ve spent the better part of two years looking at this invisible asylum in West Coast cities. In major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, the scale of mass psychosis is overwhelming, and the inadequacy of the public response is self-evident. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine how public officials could “solve” the problem of mental illness in these places, which are home to tens of thousands of individuals suffering from the “perilous trifecta” of mental illness, addiction, and homelessness. By contrast, the contours of the problem are much more intelligible, even manageable, in smaller cities and towns.

Olympia, Washington—a city of 52,000 tucked between a joint military base and a state forest—is one such place. In Olympia, approximately 250 individuals have become entangled within this broken system of care, cycling through the streets, the local jails, and the emergency ward at Providence St. Peter Hospital. A half-century ago, many, if not most, of these wayward souls would have been institutionalized. In 1962, Washington State had 7,641 state hospital beds for a total population of 2.9 million; today, it has 1,123 state hospital beds for a population of 7.6 million—a 94 percent per-capita reduction.

In the absence of the old asylums, Olympia’s mentally ill are now crowded into a city-sanctioned tent encampment, then shuffled through the institutions of the modern social-scientific state: the jail cell, the short-term psychiatric bed, the case-management appointment, the feeding line, and the needle dispensary. In the name of compassion, we have built a system that may be even crueler than what came before.

…And this is precisely the insanity of our current system: in fear of “criminalizing mental illness,” we have simply delayed care until the mentally ill engage in explicit criminality. We thus condemn legions of vulnerable people like Harrison to street, jail, or emergency room. Until we rebuild the physical capacity and moral strength to help them, nothing will change. Read More > at City Journal

64 percent view ‘cancel culture’ as threat to freedom: poll – A majority of Americans say they view “cancel culture” as a threat to their freedom, according to a new Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey released exclusively to The Hill on Monday. 

Sixty-four percent of respondents said that there is “a growing cancel culture” that is a threat to their freedom, while 36 percent said they did not view it as a threat to their freedom. 

Additionally, the poll found that 36 percent of Americans said cancel culture is a “big problem,” while 32 percent called it a “moderate problem.” Another 20 percent said it was a “small problem” and 13 percent said it is “not a problem.” 

“It is a chilling finding that most people in the country now are afraid they would be fired if they expressed their real views on social media,” said Mark Penn, the director of the Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey.

“The public generally gives negative ratings to social media companies and sees the movement as more about censorship rather than trying to correct wrongs. It is growing as a national issue,” he added.  Read More > in The Hill

Claiming 3 million masks used globally every minute, researchers warn of environmental catastrophe – Researchers are warning that heavy mask usage over the course of the coronavirus pandemic could be contributing to a looming environmental disaster, with millions of masks being used every minute and many of them polluting local ecosystems in the process. 

Researchers in the U.S. and Denmark estimated in a study in Frontiers in Environmental Science that “an astounding 129 billion face masks [are] being used globally every month,” a number that works out to three million every minute. “Most are disposable face masks made from plastic microfibers,” the researchers note.

With mask usage skyrocketing to unprecedented highs over the past year due to beliefs that masks can help stop the spread of COVID-19, the scientists note that “there is no official guidance on mask recycle, making it more likely to be disposed of as solid waste.” Read More > at Just the News

How mRNA Technology Could Change the World – Synthetic mRNA, the ingenious technology behind the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, might seem like a sudden breakthrough, or a new discovery. One year ago, almost nobody in the world knew what an mRNA vaccine was, for the good reason that no country in the world had ever approved one. Months later, the same technology powered the two fastest vaccine trials in the history of science.

Like so many breakthroughs, this apparent overnight success was many decades in the making. More than 40 years had passed between the 1970s, when a Hungarian scientist pioneered early mRNA research, and the day the first authorized mRNA vaccine was administered in the United States, on December 14, 2020. In the interim, the idea’s long road to viability nearly destroyed several careers and almost bankrupted several companies.

The dream of mRNA persevered in part because its core principle was tantalizingly simple, even beautiful: The world’s most powerful drug factory might be inside all of us.

…But mRNA’s story likely will not end with COVID-19: Its potential stretches far beyond this pandemic. This year, a team at Yale patented a similar RNA-based technology to vaccinate against malaria, perhaps the world’s most devastating disease. Because mRNA is so easy to edit, Pfizer says that it is planning to use it against seasonal flu, which mutates constantly and kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year. The company that partnered with Pfizer last year, BioNTech, is developing individualized therapies that would create on-demand proteins associated with specific tumors to teach the body to fight off advanced cancer. In mouse trials, synthetic-mRNA therapies have been shown to slow and reverse the effects of multiple sclerosis. “I’m fully convinced now even more than before that mRNA can be broadly transformational,” Özlem Türeci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, told me. “In principle, everything you can do with protein can be substituted by mRNA.”

In principle is the billion-dollar asterisk. mRNA’s promise ranges from the expensive-yet-experimental to the glorious-yet-speculative. But the past year was a reminder that scientific progress may happen suddenly, after long periods of gestation. “This has been a coming-out party for mRNA, for sure,” says John Mascola, the director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “In the world of science, RNA technology could be the biggest story of the year. We didn’t know if it worked. And now we do.” Read More > in The Atlantic

Making A Case For Trailer Parks as the Housing Answer – Few kinds of housing are more stigmatized than the mobile home. Just the name invokes squalor and destitution — one knows from the title alone that the show Trailer Park Boys is going to involve lower-class people living in grim conditions.

But there is nothing inherently bad about the humble trailer park. With some policy changes, they could be an important tool to increase efficiency and density in American cities, and provide millions of affordable homes to people who need them.

Now, it is definitely true that many trailer parks today are not ideal places to live. They have been heavily stigmatized in the media as the private version of public housing projects — supposedly full of disgusting poor people and criminals, and run by slumlords who skimp on maintenance. Most people with means therefore avoid them where possible, and most cities zone only small chunks of land for them, or ban them entirely. Often people buy the homes outright but rent the land in the park itself, leaving them exposed to rent increases because it costs thousands of dollars to move the home to a new location. This is a particular problem in parks that have been bought up by ruthless Wall Street bloodsuckers. The private equity firm Blackstone is notorious for buying up hundreds of parks and jacking the rent through the roof.

That said, mobile homes are still the largest source of affordable private housing in the country — home to about 20 million people. There are two main reasons: First, they are cheap to buy — because they are built in a factory with efficiencies of scale, prices run something like a third to half of what it would cost to build a similar house on-site… Read More > at The Week

These bears are acting way too friendly due to deadly brain disease – Following a number of recent incidents with bears in California’s Tahoe Basin being reported for acting strangely, seemingly unafraid of humans and eager to do distinctly un-bear-like things, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has published a blog on the sad reason for the behavior: encephalitis. 

“Necropsies on the afflicted bears have confirmed encephalitis but the root cause of the disease remains a mystery,” the post states, attributing various bears’ bizarre behavior to the brain-inflating condition, which is manifesting from an unknown origin — although, in the process of looking into it, scientists have discovered five novel viruses which may be to blame. 

“Complicating matters for wildlife officials, the neurologically dull bears appear friendly to the public. Not fearing people, they may come into contact – and conflict – with humans more often,” the post continues. 

In the past 12 months, California officials have captured three bears with encephalitis, most recently a severely underweight female in Pollock Pines. That bear, which should have weighed approximately 80 pounds but only clocked in at 21, was found covered in ticks, acting confused, hopping into car trunks and accepting human attention, the Sacramento Bee reported. 

“Someone opened the trunk and it climbed in the trunk and that is not normal behavior. And that’s got to be a red flag right? That’s got to be a red flag that something is not right,” Dr. Brandon Munk commented to CBS Sacramento. Read More > in the New York Post

Inside Clean Energy: Well That Was Fast: Volkswagen Quickly Catching Up to Tesla – This is a big month for Volkswagen’s aspiration to become the leading maker of electric vehicles.

The all-electric ID.4, a compact SUV that is a crucial part of the company’s planned transition, began arriving at U.S. dealerships this month.

And Volkswagen held a “Power Day” event last week, in which executives mapped out how they intend to transform the company to focus on EVs, a process that will include opening giant new battery factories and working with others to set up charging infrastructure.

But the thing that got my attention was a research note from a Deutsche Bank analyst saying that Volkswagen was quickly catching up with Tesla as the global leader in EVs. (Deutsche Bank is an iconic German company that does business with Volkswagen, another iconic German company, but the bank’s stock analysts are independent of other parts of the company.)

Volkwagen “should come very close to Tesla’s” sales in 2021, and “We see a good chance that VW could surpass Tesla’s (all-electric vehicle) sales as soon as next year,” said a report issued on Monday by analyst Tim Rokossa. Read More > at Inside Climate News

Opinion: Los Angeles is Dragging California Down – “California has a big problem: It’s called Los Angeles.” That’s the brutal lede in the latest column by Zocalo Public Square commentator Joe Mathews.

Matthews says that the city and county of Los Angeles have been holding the state back for decades. With lagging job numbers, wages, education, and health, the state’s largest metropolis has been a drag on the economy and the primary driver of economic inequality.

LA’s troubles became most apparent during the coronavirus pandemic. The region saw one-third of the state’s deaths.

Possible solutions, Matthew says, lie in a 2020 report from the Committee for Greater LA, USC’s Equity Research Institute, and UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs. That report, entitled “No Going Back to LA,” recommends a series of policy changes… Read More > at California County News

Say goodbye to dentures! Scientists develop new drug that can regenerate lost TEETH in mice and ferrets – A genetic treatment has been discovered which can regrow teeth, offering hope for the millions of people living with dentures.  

Suppression of the gene USAG-1 with an antibody treatment was found to allow teeth to grow back. 

The antibody treatment targets the sole gene and therefore stimulates tooth growth. In mice and ferret studies, missing teeth were seen to regrow fully. 

After successful trials in mice, the researchers branched out to ferrets, a more complex animal with similar dental patterns to humans. 

‘Our next plan is to test the antibodies on other animals such as pigs and dogs,’ says Dr Takahashi.  Read More > at the Daily Mail

California Sent $8 Billion to Counties to Improve Jails and Services But Failed to Track the Money, Says Auditor – A decade after California embarked on a sweeping prison overhaul that diverted thousands of inmates to county jails, state and local governing bodies have failed to adequately track billions of dollars intended for improving county lockups and rehabilitating offenders, a state audit has found.

The lack of oversight has created enormous budget surpluses, opaque spending practices and progress reports to lawmakers that are “inconsistent and incomplete,” California Auditor Elaine M. Howle’s office said in a wide-ranging report issued Thursday.

The 2011 law signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, which called the changes “realignment,” was designed to drastically reduce the population of California’s prisons, which were so overcrowded that the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in. The law sent billions of dollars to counties to bolster county jails and services throughout the state in exchange for housing more inmates.

But the audit, which was requested more than a year ago by a state senator following a surge of jail deaths reported on by The Sacramento Bee and ProPublica, found that county commissions that monitor the money and the California Board of State and Community Corrections have failed to adequately account for the spending. Read More > at ProPublica

Los Angeles agency votes for $36M police funding boost as crime surges – Officials in Los Angeles voted this week to re-fund their police amid an upswing in crime.

Less than a year after “defund the police” fervor swept across major cities from coast to coast, Los Angeles County Metro, the region’s public transportation agency, voted Thursday to boost police funding by $36 million.

The vote passed 12-0, including a “yea” from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a major advocate of defund the police measures, who chairs the board.

The money will go toward the agency’s law-enforcement contracts with the Los Angeles Police Department, Long Beach Police Department and Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department. Read More > in the New York Post

‘Zombie genes’ spur some brain cells to grow after death – When people die some cells in their brains go on for hours, even getting more active and growing to gargantuan proportions, new research shows.

Awareness of this activity, spurred on by “zombie genes,” could affect research into diseases that affect the brain.

For the study, researchers analyzed gene expression using fresh brain tissue collected during routine surgery and found that, in some cells, gene expression increased after death.

The investigators observed that inflammatory glial cells grew and sprouted long arm-like appendages for many hours after death. Read More > at UPI

Public Participation and Why Zoom Alone Isn’t Good Enough – Videoconferencing has served us well during the pandemic, but it shouldn’t become the standalone “new normal” for public hearings after the crisis has passed. There’s a different dynamic when people are physically present.

That public hearing might be messy and sometimes loud, though usually peaceful. That’s the heart of healthy democracy. Public participation and engagement help balance the decision-making process. It adds more information for elected policymakers and agency officials to consider, whether the subject is zoning changes, next year’s city budget, state tax policy, or where to build a new school or highway…

Let’s face it: Video-only hearings are just not as good as in-person, face-to-face public hearings and engagement. When people are physically present in the room with public officials and directly connecting with them, it’s a different dynamic than when people are muted on Zoom — and sometimes not even on camera — and have to type in a question. Read More > at Governing

Column: Woke California pays homage this week to another American hero with a complex legacy – Let me tell you about an American hero whom the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education might find, um, troublesome.

He opposed undocumented immigrants to the point of urging his followers to report them to la migra. He accepted an all-expenses-paid trip from a repressive government and gladly received an award from its ruthless dictator despite pleas from activists not to do so.

He paid his staff next to nothing. Undercut his organization with an authoritarian style that pushed away dozens of talented staffers and contrasted sharply with the people-power principles he publicly espoused. And left behind a conflicted legacy nowhere near pure enough for today’s woke warriors.

A long-dead white man? A titan of the business world? Perhaps a local politician?

Try Cesar Chavez. The United Farm Workers founder is the first person I always think about whenever there’s talk about canceling people from the past. He’s on my mind again, and not just because this Wednesday is his birthday, an official California holiday.

He remains by far the most famous Latino activist in this nation’s history, a modern-day secular saint of whom former President Obama said when he dedicated the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Kern County in 2012 “refused to scale back his dreams. He just kept fasting and marching and speaking out, confident that his day would come.”

Chavez’s main cause — bringing dignity to farmworkers — remains so radical and righteous that to criticize his personal failures is still largely verboten.

History — life — is not an easy-peasy snap-judgment call. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: Every saint had a past, and every sinner has a future. And Chavez is perhaps as great an example of this in California history. It’s a thought that took me my adult life to realize and appreciate — and accept.

…When I asked Pawel recently if problematic people like Chavez should have their names stricken from schools and other monuments, her answer was quick: “Of course not. The fact that heroes have flaws don’t make them any less heroic. We’ve gone from hagiography to tearing people down.”

During her book tour, Pawel feared that audience members might take issue with all the Chavez warts her book exposed. “But the responses was, ‘Yeah, we get it, we get he was human,’” she said. “They were not surprised to hear that he was more complicated than a two-dimensional postage stamp.”

And so on Cesar Chavez Day, let’s remember that the hero was a man. And that Man, invariably, is no saint. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

China burned over half the world’s coal last year, despite Xi Jinping’s net-zero pledge -Despite its pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2060, China continues to burn more coal than any other developed nation, relying on the fossil fuel to satisfy the nation’s surging demand for electricity.

According to a report released Monday by U.K.-based energy and climate research group Ember, China accounted for 53% of the world’s coal-powered electricity in 2020—nine percentage points higher than its share in 2015, when China joined the Paris Agreement.

China’s electricity usage has surged 33% since 2015. According to the International Energy Agency, demand from China’s steel and cement industry—propped up by the state’s heavy infrastructure investment—is one of the primary drivers of electricity consumption, alongside increasing automation of the manufacturing industry. Read More > at Fortune

Why Is Church Membership in America on the Decline? – For the first time in 80 years of surveys, Americans’ membership in houses of worship dropped below 50 percent. A survey by Gallup finds that in 2020, 47 percent of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque, down from 50 percent in 2018 and 70 percent in 1999.

When Gallup first measured church membership in 1937, it was 73 percent. It remained near 70 percent for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the millennium.

Gallup also asks Americans numerous questions each year about their religious attitudes and practices. Some trends emerged in an analysis of declining church membership across three-year aggregates: 1998–2000 (when church membership averaged 69 percent), 2008–10 (62 percent), and 2018–20 (49 percent).

The decline in church membership appears to be primarily a result of more Americans expressing no religious preference. For the past 20 years, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8 percent in 1998–2000 to 13 percent in 2008–10, and 21 percent in the past three years. This trend appears to account for more than half of the 20-point decline in church membership during the same time. Read More > at TGC

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Why Easter Is Called Easter, and Other Little-Known Facts About the Holiday

By Brent Landau
April 13, 2017

Today Christians are celebrating Easter, the day on which the resurrection of Jesus is said to have taken place. The date of celebration changes from year to year.

The reason for this variation is that Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. So, in 2018, Easter will be celebrated on April 1, and on April 21 in 2019.

I am a religious studies scholar specializing in early Christianity, and my research shows that this dating of Easter goes back to the complicated origins of this holiday and how it has evolved over the centuries.

Easter is quite similar to other major holidays like Christmas, which have evolved over the last 200 years or so. In all of these holidays, Christian and non-Christian (pagan) elements have continued to blend together.

Easter as a rite of spring

Most major holidays have some connection to the changing of seasons. This is especially obvious in the case of Christmas. The New Testament gives no information about what time of year Jesus was born. Many scholars believe, however, that the main reason Jesus’ birth came to be celebrated on December 25 is because that was the date of the winter solstice according to the Roman calendar.

Since the days following the winter solstice gradually become longer and less dark, it was ideal symbolism for the birth of “the light of the world” as stated in the New Testament’s Gospel of John.

Similar was the case with Easter, which falls in close proximity to another key point in the solar year: the vernal equinox (around March 20), when there are equal periods of light and darkness. For those in northern latitudes, the coming of spring is often met with excitement, as it means an end to the cold days of winter.

Spring also means the coming back to life of plants and trees that have been dormant for winter, as well as the birth of new life in the animal world. Given the symbolism of new life and rebirth, it was only natural to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at this time of the year.

The naming of the celebration as “Easter” seems to go back to the name of a pre-Christian goddess in England, Eostre, who was celebrated at beginning of spring. The only reference to this goddess comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede, a British monk who lived in the late seventh and early eighth century. As religious studies scholar Bruce Forbes summarizes:

“Bede wrote that the month in which English Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus had been called Eosturmonath in Old English, referring to a goddess named Eostre. And even though Christians had begun affirming the Christian meaning of the celebration, they continued to use the name of the goddess to designate the season.”

Bede was so influential for later Christians that the name stuck, and hence Easter remains the name by which the English, Germans and Americans refer to the festival of Jesus’ resurrection.

The connection with Jewish Passover

It is important to point out that while the name “Easter” is used in the English-speaking world, many more cultures refer to it by terms best translated as “Passover” (for instance, “Pascha” in Greek) – a reference, indeed, to the Jewish festival of Passover.

In the Hebrew Bible, Passover is a festival that commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, as narrated in the Book of Exodus. It was and continues to be the most important Jewish seasonal festival, celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

At the time of Jesus, Passover had special significance, as the Jewish people were again under the dominance of foreign powers (namely, the Romans). Jewish pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem every year in the hope that God’s chosen people (as they believed themselves to be) would soon be liberated once more.

On one Passover, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the festival. He entered Jerusalem in a triumphal procession and created a disturbance in the Jerusalem Temple. It seems that both of these actions attracted the attention of the Romans, and that as a result Jesus was executed around the year A.D. 30.

Some of Jesus’ followers, however, believed that they saw him alive after his death, experiences that gave birth to the Christian religion. As Jesus died during the Passover festival and his followers believed he was resurrected from the dead three days later, it was logical to commemorate these events in close proximity.

Some early Christians chose to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on the same date as the Jewish Passover, which fell around day 14 of the month of Nisan, in March or April. These Christians were known as Quartodecimans (the name means “Fourteeners”).

By choosing this date, they put the focus on when Jesus died and also emphasized continuity with the Judaism out of which Christianity emerged. Some others instead preferred to hold the festival on a Sunday, since that was when Jesus’ tomb was believed to have been found.

In A.D. 325, the Emperor Constantine, who favored Christianity, convened a meeting of Christian leaders to resolve important disputes at the Council of Nicaea. The most fateful of its decisions was about the status of Christ, whom the council recognized as “fully human and fully divine.” This council also resolved that Easter should be fixed on a Sunday, not on day 14 of Nisan. As a result, Easter is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox.

The Easter bunny and Easter eggs

In early America, the Easter festival was far more popular among Catholics than Protestants. For instance, the New England Puritans regarded both Easter and Christmas as too tainted by non-Christian influences to be appropriate to celebrate. Such festivals also tended to be opportunities for heavy drinking and merrymaking.

The fortunes of both holidays changed in the 19th century, when they became occasions to be spent with one’s family. This was done partly out of a desire to make the celebration of these holidays less rowdy.

But Easter and Christmas also became reshaped as domestic holidays because understandings of children were changing. Prior to the 17th century, children were rarely the center of attention. As historian Stephen Nissenbaum writes,

“…children were lumped together with other members of the lower orders in general, especially servants and apprentices – who, not coincidentally, were generally young people themselves.”

From the 17th century onward, there was an increasing recognition of childhood as as time of life that should be joyous, not simply as preparatory for adulthood. This “discovery of childhood” and the doting upon children had profound effects on how Easter was celebrated.

It is at this point in the holiday’s development that Easter eggs and the Easter bunny become especially important. Decorated eggs had been part of the Easter festival at least since medieval times, given the obvious symbolism of new life. A vast amount of folklore surrounds Easter eggs, and in a number of Eastern European countries, the process of decorating them is extremely elaborate. Several Eastern European legends describe eggs turning red (a favorite color for Easter eggs) in connection with the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Yet it was only in the 17th century that a German tradition of an “Easter hare” bringing eggs to good children came to be known. Hares and rabbits had a long association with spring seasonal rituals because of their amazing powers of fertility.

When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought this tradition with them. The wild hare also became supplanted by the more docile and domestic rabbit, in another indication of how the focus moved toward children.

As Christians celebrate the festival this spring in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection, the familiar sights of the Easter bunny and Easter eggs serve as a reminder of the holiday’s very ancient origins outside of the Christian tradition.

Brent Landau, Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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More wild recall rules

From CalMatters

CalMatters

Candidates seeking to run against Newsom in a likely recall election later this year could have as little as 24 hours to enter the race — just another quirk of California’s unique recall rules, which could also cause Newsom to lose his job even if he garners more support than the top candidate to replace him. Under California law, replacement candidates would likely have to file their paperwork no later than 59 days before the election — which must itself be scheduled 60 to 80 days after the secretary of state certifies the recall measure, the Los Angeles Times reports. Should Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis decide to schedule the election 60 days after certification, that would give candidates just one day to file — potentially limiting the number of challengers Newsom will face.

Another wild card: whether high-dollar initiatives expected to go before voters in November 2022 end up on the recall ballot instead. It appears likely a referendum to overturn a flavored tobacco ban Newsom signed into law last year will go on the recall ballot, while the timing of three other initiatives — including one to legalize sports betting in tribal casinos — is more uncertain. The implications are massive for interest groups supporting and opposing the initiatives: Not only do special elections typically see different voters turn out than regular elections, but the campaigns will also take place much earlier than expected.

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Fighting Invasive Aquatic Species in the Delta

California State Parks’ Division of Boating & Waterways recently started herbicide treatments to help control several invasive aquatic plants species found in the Delta. These plants are known to form dense mats of vegetation, creating safety hazards for boaters, obstructing navigation channels, marinas, and irrigation systems.


Invasive species include water hyacinth, South American spongeplant, Uruguay water primrose, Alligator weed, Brazilian waterweed, curlyleaf pondweed, Eurasian watermilfoil, hornwort (aka coontail), and fanwort. Aquatic invasive plants have no known natural controls. All herbicides used in the program are registered for aquatic use with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

To report sightings of invasive species, subscribe for program updates, or for more information regarding the control program, connect with DBW online, via email, or by phone by calling (888) 326-2822.

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Rainfall Totals, in Oakley, for March 2021

Rainfall totals in Oakley for March 2021, from the unofficial Romick rain gauge, was 0.51″. The average for March 2.09″ putting us at 48% of normal for the year.

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