The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.
California gas prices are rising again. Here’s why, and how high experts say they could go – Gas prices are rising yet again in California — one of several regions in the U.S. where refinery problems have squeezed supplies and caused local spikes severe enough to reverse an extended decline in the U.S. average gas price, according to experts.
The average price of a gallon of regular gas in California on Tuesday was $5.88 — up 9 cents overnight and 43 cents from a week ago, and more than $2 higher than the national average price, according to data from the American Automobile Association.
And prices in the state could continue to rise for several weeks — by as much as 75 cents per gallon in some areas, analysts said.
But the cause of California’s recent spike in prices is different from when drivers were paying record-high costs earlier this year, said Severin Borenstein, an economist and faculty director of the Energy Institute at Haas at UC Berkeley.
But for California this time around, local refinery problems are the culprit behind higher prices at the pump. Similar disruptions at refineries in the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes and Plains have caused prices to surge there as well, GasBuddy analyst Patrick De Haan said Monday in a blog post .
In the Bay Area and Northern California, drivers are paying some of the highest prices for gas in the state, the AAA data shows. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
As gas prices soar, state on brink of sending rebates – Remember when Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers struck a deal a couple of months ago to send millions of California taxpayers between $200 and $1,050 to help cover the rising cost of living?
Well, a week from today, the state is set to begin depositing the first round of payments in Californians’ bank accounts. And, although some taxpayers likely won’t see their refunds until January 2023 — and some of the state’s most vulnerable residents won’t get checks at all — for many people the timing will be opportune.
That’s because gas prices are rising again after nearly 100 days of decline nationwide. The uptick is particularly pronounced in California, where the average price of a gallon of regular shot to $6.18 on Thursday, up from $6.04 just the day before and $5.52 a week ago, according to AAA.
The state Assembly in June formed a select committee to investigate why California’s gas prices are so much higher than the rest of the country’s. The committee has met just twice since then, according to its website.
- Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, the Camarillo Democrat who leads the panel, told me in a statement: “The Select Committee on Gasoline Supply and Pricing has been investigating long term solutions to address California’s high gas prices. The Committee will be releasing a report in the next few weeks with recommendations, based on testimony from numerous stakeholders and industry experts, for the Legislature to consider in the upcoming session.”
Meanwhile, the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog on Tuesday asked Newsom to declare a special legislative session to investigate why Californians are paying nearly $2 more per gallon at the pump than other American drivers. Consumer Watchdog also suggested the state should enact a windfall profits tax on the oil and gas industry, which it said has “declared war on the state of California and is raising prices unreasonably to punish the public and lawmakers for enacting tough new (environmental) laws.” Read More > at CalMatters
Are California’s public pension funds headed for another crisis? – Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was shock enough for pension funds holding Russian assets, suddenly worth little.
Then, the prolonged conflict and lingering pandemic drove inflation to heights not seen in 40 years — raising interest rates and putting an end to a decade-long bull run in stocks, the biggest driver of pension fund gains.
The collateral damage wrought by the disruption as well as fears of a protracted recession are now raising questions about the finances of the multibillion-dollar systems relied upon by more than 4 million California public workers to carry them through their retirement.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or CalPERS, the nation’s largest state pension fund, experienced a 6.1% investment loss in the fiscal year that ended June 30. It was the first annual loss since the Great Recession for the fund that provides pension benefits to employees of the state and nearly 2,900 counties, cities, special districts and other public employers. Assets fell to $440 billion after topping $500 billion last year.
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS, the nation’s largest teachers’ pension plan, lost 1.3% last fiscal year, its first decline too in more than a decade.
And things may not get better anytime soon.
Growth in advanced economies is expected to drop sharply from 5.1% in 2021 to 2.6% this year, according to a forecast released this summer by the World Bank that is 1.2 percentage points lower than its January projection — leading to worries that lackluster market returns may extend indefinitely.
In California, current and retired employees covered by CalPERS, CalSTRS and other public-sector pension plans have some of the nation’s best protection against such downturns.
A set of related court decisions called “the California rule” guarantees, with only rare exceptions, that the benefits promised to a public employee the day they begin work are the same ones they will get the day they retire. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
Amid ambitious climate moves, concerns remain – There’s never a shortage of environmental news in California, so let’s dive right into the latest:
- California air regulators on Thursday approved a sweeping plan outlining rules they plan to enact in coming years to meet federal air quality standards for smog. Among them: a proposal to phase out the sale of new gas-powered furnaces and water heaters by 2030 and require homes and businesses to install zero-emissions alternatives such as electric heaters. Many environmental groups applauded the move: “These proposed regulations, in concert with new funding for heat pumps from the state’s budget, can ensure not only emissions reductions but also access to electric appliances for all Californians,” Brandon Dawson, director of Sierra Club California, said in a statement. But Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City slammed the proposed regulations, which he said “will drive the cost of energy and building a home in California even higher.” And the Wall Street Journal editorial board mocked the decision: “Californians were told during a heat wave a couple of weeks ago not to run large appliances or charge electric cars in peak hours. Soon blackout warnings could happen during the winter. Will Californians have to avoid running hot water and heating their homes too?”
- Speaking of charging electric cars, a study published Thursday in the scientific journal Nature Energy found that more California drivers will need to charge their vehicles during the day — when more solar energy is available — to avoid overtaxing the power grid. (And charging demand is only going to go up: Not only has California banned the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, but air regulators last week also moved to phase out diesel medium- and heavy-duty trucks by 2040.)
- Meanwhile, concerns continue to grow about the long-term reliability of California’s electric grid, which narrowly avoided rolling blackouts after a prolonged extreme heat wave earlier this month. Case in point: Although state regulators want offshore wind to produce 25% of California’s power by 2045, Politico reported Friday that “even the most optimistic people acknowledge that those wind turbines won’t start producing power for the grid until at least 2029” — just one year before Diablo Canyon, the state’s last nuclear power plant, is slated to go offline after receiving a five-year extension from Newsom and lawmakers. Read More > at CalMatters
Why the next big Bay Area earthquake could happen on a fault many don’t even know exists – A lesser-studied fault system along the western side of Silicon Valley could generate a magnitude 6.9 earthquake — the same size as 1989’s infamous Loma Prieta — every 250 to 300 years, a new Stanford study found.
The study adds to the understanding of how much risk the densely populated Silicon Valley region may face from the faults running underneath, which are particularly difficult to study using traditional geologic methods.
“The important message here is that we talk a lot about the San Andreas Fault and the Hayward Fault as being potentially hazardous, but we do know that there are many other faults underneath the San Francisco Bay Area that are capable of generating earthquakes,” said Stephen DeLong, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist who specializes in understanding earthquake hazards in Northern California. DeLong peer-reviewed the Stanford study.
“The possibility of these moderate earthquakes every few hundred years is consistent with what we’ve previously thought about these faults,” DeLong said.
The faults are the Shannon-Monte Vista Fault and Berrocal-Sargent Fault; they are collectively known as the Foothill Thrust Belt faults . They lie east of the San Andreas Fault and span the inner edge of the Sierra Azul mountain range, extending from south of Gilroy through Silicon Valley past Palo Alto. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
The terrifying flesh-eating drug meant for horses that is now hitting the streets of America: ‘Tranq dope’ Xylazine accounts for a third of OD deaths in Philadelphia – and causes festering wounds when injected – Health officials are warning of a terrifying flesh-eating drug which is being increasingly found laced into heroin, cocaine and other narcotics – leading to a soaring number of drug overdoses across the country.
Doctors say xylazine – a muscle relaxant intended for large animals like horses – has been appearing in the illicit drug scene in cities across the US, joining fentanyl as one of the primary narcotics used to cut opioids.
The drug prolongs the highs felt from heroin, but results in users passing out for hours at a time, while injection points ulcerate and lead to grisly wounds that spread across the body.
Some users even report severe soars erupting across their body where they never injected the drug, and many are left disfigured as fingers, arms, feet, legs and toes are forced to be amputated.
In Philadelphia – considered to be ground zero for the xylazine crisis – about one-third of all fatal opioid overdoses in 2019 were related to the drug.
But because xylazine itself isn’t an opioid, doctors warn that many hospitals don’t know what they are seeing when an overdose victim comes in and cannot detect it in tests, and are unable to treat patients the way they would normal opioid overdoses. Read More > at Daily Mail
Resistance-breathing training found to lower blood pressure – A team of researchers with members from the University of Colorado, the University of Arizona and Alma College, all in the U.S., has found that resistance-breathing training can lower blood pressure as much as some medicines and/or exercises. The study is published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Hypertension, also known as chronic high blood pressure, can lead to a wide variety of health problems, from loss of vision to strokes and heart attacks. For that reason, doctors take it seriously. Typically, patients are directed to modify their diet and to exercise more. If that does not fix the problem, medications are prescribed. In this new effort, the researchers looked into a new type of therapy to reduce blood pressure levels—resistance-breathing training.
Resistance-breathing training involves breathing in and out of a small device, called, quite naturally, a POWERbreathe, every day for several minutes. The device forces the patient to use their breathing muscles to push and pull air through it, making them stronger. And that, the researchers found, also reduces blood pressure. The device has been in use for several years as a means to assist athletes, singers and people with weak lung muscles. Read More > at Medical Xpress
Two Bombings in One Night? That’s Normal Now in Sweden. – Since 2018, there have been almost 500 bombings—yes, bombings—in what is known as one of the most stable societies in the world.
There’s not just a bombing problem. There are shootings, too.
Sweden, which has a population of around 10 million, has the highest per-capita number of deadly shootings of 22 European countries. Forty-seven people have been shot dead so far this year, which, while far from American levels of gun homicide, is extreme for Europe. Other European countries have come to look at Sweden with horror.
It may be shocking for Americans to learn that in Sweden—the land of IKEA, Spotify and Greta Thunberg—all of this is going on. Perhaps the reason you don’t know about it is because of the uncomfortable reality of how we got here.
Among shooting suspects, 85 percent are first- or second-generation immigrants, according to the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, as immigrant neighborhoods have become hotbeds for gang crime. National Police Commissioner Anders Thornberg has described the violence as “an entirely different kind of brutality than we’ve seen before” and his deputy, Mats Löfving, says that 40 criminal clans now operate throughout the country. Spreading fear are “humiliation robberies,” targeting children and youth, in which victims are subjected to degrading treatment by assailants, such as being urinated upon. Just this week, four men were sentenced for robbing, beating and urinating on an 18-year-old, who was also filmed by his tormentors.
All of which is why, for the first time ever, crime emerged as a top priority among voters ahead of this past weekend’s general election. Swedes made their concerns plain on Sunday, when they awarded the country’s most strident anti-immigration party more than 20 percent of the vote. Read More > at Common Sense
‘Total Chaos’: Russian Mobilization Exodus Accelerates Amid Border Closure Rumors – …Tens of thousands of conscription-age Russian men like Logvin have fled to neighboring countries in recent days amid growing fears that the Kremlin is likely to impose an exit ban in an attempt to retain manpower reserves.
Russia could close its borders to those eligible for mobilization as early as Wednesday, independent media outlet Meduza reported Sunday, citing sources.
The sense of a closing window has led to unruly scenes on Russia’s land borders with Georgia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia — countries that do not require a visa for visiting Russians. In particular, there has been a crush at Russia’s sole border crossing with Georgia in the foothills of the greater Caucasus mountains.
In the four days since the announcement of Russia’s first mobilization since World War II, about 260,000 men of military age have left the country, independent media outlet Novaya Gazeta Europe reported Sunday, citing a Kremlin source.
With tightened entry requirements for European Union countries bordering Russia, most of those leaving the country have been heading for the South Caucasus nations of Georgia and Armenia as well as Belarus, Turkey and Central Asian countries. Read More > in The Moscow Times
EV Tax Credits Fund Income Inequality, Environmental Harm – The federal government is a perpetual gravy train for the well-off. It uses taxpayer money to forgive the Paycheck Protection loans of the connected and the student debt of college and graduate students. It gives $52 billion in subsidies to the $528 billion semiconductor industry. Recently, it extended its $7,500 tax credits for upper-income individuals who purchase electric vehicles (EVs”).
These gifts to private entities cost the American taxpayer trillions without considering the societal impact. Proving that subsidies go to those needing handouts the least is easily established. The King of Subsidies seems to be Elon Musk, the world’s richest man. Musk proudly denounces subsidies to the rich and that he personally does not take government subsidies. His denials follow the Bill Clinton response “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”
The investigative online magazine, Business Insider, reveals his companies (Tesla, Solar City, SpaceX) received a total of $2,32 billion in subsidies and pandemic payments and $517 million in environmental tax credits. Subsidy Tracker calculates his companies received $3.3 billion in government subsidies and loan forgiveness despite the fact that his ventures appear to have significant problems, including exploding rockets, solar panel fires and crashing self-driving cars.
As enacted, the Inflation Reduction Act (“IRA”) subsidies are limited to EVs made in North America. Foreign countries like South Korea want a scoop of U.S. gravy. Seoul does not qualify under the law for the handouts; however, it brazenly asks the Biden administration to postpone or amend its rules until Hyundai, with the number 2 spot in the EV market, completes its EV factory in Georgia in 2025. Of course, the U.S. is considering the request; it’s our money it gives away.
The progressive elites in Washington sold the IRA as a mechanism to foster middle-class EV ownership. But, like many promises, this is another federal bait and switch operation. Read More > at Real Clear Energy
‘Historic moment’ in race to beat Alzheimer’s: Experimental brain plaque-busting drug ‘significantly slows decline of patients battling early stages of the disease’ – An experimental Alzheimer’s drug slows the mental deterioration of patients battling the earliest stages of the cruel disease by more than a quarter, promising trial results revealed today.
Lecanemab, given as an injection, combats the build-up of toxic plaques in the brain — which is thought to cause the memory-robbing disease.
The firms behind the medicine claim their results prove the longstanding theory that destroying this substance (amyloid) can effectively halt the disease in its tracks.
Leading experts today hailed the results of the 1,800-person trial, calling it a ‘historic moment’ and the first breakthrough ‘in a generation’.
But they noted that lecanemab has only been tested on patients gripped by the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and that it won’t be a ‘silver bullet’ for all causes of dementia or cure the disease. Read More > at Daily Mail
Chevron sells San Ramon HQ property as it shifts more workers to Texas – Chevron sold its San Ramon headquarters complex on Wednesday, moving to downsize its California presence as the company shifts more workers to Texas.
The oil giant sold the 92-acre site at 6001 Bollinger Canyon Rd. to Sunset Development, which owns the massive, adjacent Bishop Ranch property. The price wasn’t immediately available. Sunset previously sold the same property to Chevron in the 1980s.
Chevron also leased 400,000 square feet of office space in Bishop Ranch, which will serve as its new headquarters. It’s less than a third of the size of the 1.3 million-square-foot property that it just sold and can accommodate around 2,000 employees, according to Sunset. It’s slated to open next year.
Chevron is one of numerous California-headquartered companies that have grown in Texas, though it’s keeping its headquarters in the Bay Area unlike recent departures like Charles Schwab, HPE and Tesla . Chevron already has nearly 8,000 workers in Houston, the nation’s energy hub. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle