Sunday Reading – 06/14/2020


The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

Lack of Transparency in Our State Government – …Legislators are pushing a flurry of wrongheaded housing bills that are targeting established single-family neighborhoods throughout every city and county in California as the new frontier for high density development. The state legislature has authored a series of housing bills that essentially amount to a declaration of war against local government.

With this legislative session foreshortened by the state’s response to the coronavirus, the hearings on these bills are coming on fast and furious while offering minimal opportunity for the public to weigh in on them, understand what they really mean, and who the winners and losers would be if they become law.

..Nonetheless, with restrictions being enforced on public participation during these legislative hearings, the public is prevented from attending the sessions while being limited to making 30 second phone calls during committee hearings on these bills. In the case of the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on June 9, 2020, the staff reports analyzing the potential costs to the state of its new housing legislation weren’t available until two days before the hearing. How can the public, let alone the legislators themselves, begin to read and comprehend the purpose and cost consequences–both intended and unintended–of this legislation? So much for transparency!

Sacramento journalist Dan Walters recently wrote in Cal Matters magazine about the attempts of the state legislature to undo Proposition 54, an initiative written in part by former State Sen. Sam Blakeslee that was enacted by voters in 2016, that required more transparency in how the Legislature goes about its business. Democratic legislators hated Proposition 54, but the voters enacted it over their objection. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Three Covid-19 vaccines are ready for final stage of testing – Over the course of the summer, the federal government plans to fund three phase III clinical trials for experimental coronavirus vaccines.

Each of the three vaccines will undergo this final phase of testing on about 30,000 human participants, The Wall Street Journal reports, half of whom will receive a vaccine injection and the other half an inert placebo.

The vaccine developed by Moderna Inc will begin its phase III trial in July, followed soon after by those developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Normally, reaching this point can take years, but coronavirus vaccines have been developed and tested on a vastly-accelerated timeline.

“There’s a lot of optimism in our community that a vaccine should be possible, but we are very focused on the fact that that has to be proven in clinical trials,” John Mascola, vaccine research director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a recent conference attended by the WSJ.

There are multiple phases of clinical research necessary before a medication or vaccine is granted regulatory approval. Phase 0 studies how the human body processes a drug. Phase I identifies dangerous side effects and other safety concerns, and phase II trials measure whether the drug actually treats the condition it’s supposed to.

Finally, there’s phase III: large-scale tests that compare the drug or vaccine against a placebo. Many drugs don’t ever reach this final stage of the process, so the fact that three COVID-19 vaccines are already there is a promising sign for the fight to end this pandemic. Read More > at Futurism 

Talented immigrants are the new oil or gold: Essential for our national wealth – America must be strong, powerful, rich — and lead the world in technology and science.

But just what makes a nation powerful, strong, and rich? Centuries ago, the answer might have been mines of gold or silver. Later, coal to fire the engines of warships and factories. Then oil for the same reasons. In a word: resources.

Today, resources are still the source of a nation’s wealth, but our greatest resource is talent and human capital. Trained minds and competence are the new gold and silver, coal and oil.

Today, we need not sacrifice blood and treasure on conquests of resources abroad. Instead, we can mine the best minds of the world by importing them, and simultaneously, cultivating and enriching the best minds here at home. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

I love The New York Times, but what they did was wrong – The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan has been famously quoted asserting that people are entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

At first glance it seems that at The New York Times, they may not be entitled to their own opinion either.

At least that’s how the Times comes off with its ham-fisted handling of a controversial op-ed written by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark). Cotton’s essay called for US troops to be sent into cities to quell rioting that had erupted in the wake of the horrendous killing by police of George Floyd.

At first the paper defended publishing the piece. Then it said it shouldn’t have seen the light of day and editorial page editor James Bennet resigned. Yet the paper’s post-hoc rationale was weak and not supported by evidence.

As a result, one is left with the impression that the Times merely capitulated to internal and external pressure over an opinion piece — a dangerous position for a newspaper that has declared itself a champion of free speech. Read More > at CNN

The Rebellion of America’s New Underclass – Like so many before them, our recent disorders have been rooted in issues of race. But in the longer run, the underlying causes of our growing civic breakdown go beyond the brutal police killing of George Floyd. Particularly in our core cities, our dysfunction is a result of our increasingly large, and increasingly multi-racial, class of neo-serfs.

Like its Medieval counterpart, today’s serf class consists of the permanently marginalized—like the peasants of feudal times, these people are unlikely to move to a higher station. This does not only apply to the residents of our ghettos and barrios. Many of our young people, white and otherwise, appear to have little or no hope of attaining the usual milestones of entry into the middle class—gaining a useful and marketable skill, starting a small business, or buying a home or other property.

Throughout much of the 20th century, this aspiration was very much alive as more and more people, including racial minorities and immigrants, entered the middle ranks. Now, in contrast, the doors are slamming shut for millions of Americans.

This trend has been made worse by the lockdowns surrounding the pandemic. Almost 40% of those Americans making under $40,000 a year have lost their jobs. The unemployment rate of those with less than a high-school diploma jumped from 6.8% on the month to 21.2%. For college graduates, it rose from 2.5% to 8.4%. Salaried workers have been laid off at roughly half the rate of hourly workers.

The biggest drops in hiring have been concentrated in recreation and travel, largely “personal contact” jobs that employ many low-wage workers. Employment in this sector has dropped 70% while remaining remarkably stable throughout the public sector and in such fields as computer networking.

Many young people, including college graduates, are now often employed in these low-wage industries. They are suffering the largest share of our job losses for any age group. In a new report, Data for Progress found that a staggering 52% of people under the age of 45 have lost a job, been put on leave, or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic. Read More > at the American Mind

Last Person to Receive a Civil War Pension Dies – Irene Triplett died last week at the age of 90. She was the last person in America to collect a pension from the Civil War, $73.13 each month from the Department of Veterans Affairs right up until she passed away. Her father Mose Triplett was both a Confederate and US soldier (a North Carolinian, he defected from the Confederacy halfway through the war) and Irene was eligible to receive his pension after he died because of disability.

After Mary died in the 1920s, Mose married Elida Hall. He was 78. She was 27. Their 1924 marriage, according to the Journal, was rough. They lost three babies. Then Irene was born on Jan. 9, 1930, but had mental disabilities, according to the newspaper. She was 8 when her father died on July 18, 1938, at the age of 92. His headstone reads: “He was a Civil War soldier.”

This is a great example of the Great Span, the link across large periods of history by individual humans. But it’s also a reminder that, as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Until this week, US taxpayers were literally and directly paying for the Civil War…Read More > at Kottke

Wealthy buyers reportedly in ‘mad rush’ to leave San Francisco – Amid the depths of a global pandemic and financial downturn, the demand for real estate is unexpectedly rocketing in wealthy regions outside San Francisco, reports Bloomberg. Agents say that demand is soaring in affluent areas around the Bay Area such as Napa, Marin and further afield in Carmel, as people who have the means look to get away from the city. Meanwhile, the market in San Francisco and Alameda County is still well below where it was last year.

Elsewhere, Lake Tahoe has also seen a surge in real estate interest. The prospect of living out of the city on an alpine lake while maintaining a career is appealing for a new generation of young buyers, as many tech companies have signaled that remote work may be the new norm for a long time.

Meanwhile, the rental market in San Francisco has dropped significantly, with rates for one-bedroom apartments in the city dropping by 9.2% since June 2019, and hitting a three-year low. Read More > at SFgate

Home Prices Are Rising, Along With Post-Lockdown Demand – Mortgage rates may be appealingly low, but people shopping for a new home this spring face a challenging market.

Demand, which was pent up during coronavirus stay-at-home orders, and a dearth of homes for sale are keeping prices high and setting off bidding wars in some areas as states continue to reopen for business. Some buyers may also find it tougher to qualify for mortgages, as lenders require higher credit scores and bigger down payments in response to higher unemployment and economic uncertainty in the pandemic.

The situation is different from the economic downturn in 2008, when home prices fell sharply as a housing bubble popped.

“We’re still seeing a huge sellers’ market,” said Colsie Searcy, an agent in Colorado Springs.

Nationally, the median price for a home, excluding new construction, was about $287,000 in April, up more than 7 percent from a year earlier, the National Association of Realtors reported. Read More > in The New York Times

This Is One Genre of Music That Isn’t Hurting Right Now – For the last few years, the music industry has only known one direction: up. Global sales have climbed 5 years in a row, buoyed by the rise of streaming services Spotify and Apple Music, while concert ticket sales eclipsed $10 billion, a new high.

The pandemic changed all that. Concerts have been canceled for most of 2020, and music listening has fallen by about 550 million streams a week (3.4%) for the last 10 weeks, according to Billboard/MRC Data. The decline has impacted almost every kind of music, with dance, latin and hip-hop/R&B suffering the most.

But two genres have been spared the covid crunch: children’s music and country. Country in particular has thrived. U.S. residents have listened to an average of 11.1% more country since mid-March—an increase of 127 million streams a week. And while growth in kids’ music has subsided as more people return to work, country has only accelerated. Country music streaming climbed 22.4% in the final full week of May.

Music executives and fans have cooked up all sorts of hypotheses for country’s durability during the coronavirus. Some have argued it is comfort food at a time when people are craving any form of succor. An executive at Pandora, the online radio service, noted country music is a perfect complement to drinking. (Alcohol sales have also soared during the pandemic.)

The simplest explanation may be the most boring: country fans are learning to stream. The first groups to use Spotify and YouTube as their primary listening services were young people in big cities. These young people have flocked to rappers from Puerto Rico and boy bands from Korea, along with Drake and Dua Lipa.

Country music had remained stuck in an analog world. While country is the third-most-popular genre in the U.S., according to MusicWatch, it is second-most-popular among CD buyers. Read More > at Bloomberg

Constitutionally, Religious Gatherings Must Enjoy the Same Rights As Protest Gatherings – Ten days can be a long time in constitutional law. On May 29 a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four more liberal Justices, refused to order California to lift its restrictions, meant to curb transmission of the novel coronavirus, on church services that have more than 100 attendees or fill more than 25 percent of building capacity. I wrote about that ruling last Tuesday, noting that the question for both Roberts and dissenting Justice Brett Kavanaugh was whether California had discriminated against worship services with respect to comparable secular gatherings. Roberts declined to find such discrimination, observing that California’s rules had cracked down across the board on activities in which “large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.”

Today, that case very possibly—probably?—would come out differently, because, over the past week, California, like other states, has allowed public assembly in crowds of far more than 100 persons to protest the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Whether or not making an exception for the protests was the right thing to do, it has crucial legal implications, as attorney Anthony Sanders points out in a new piece for the Institute for Justice. Under the Court’s free‐​speech jurisprudence, to allow assembly for the purpose of expressing one kind of message but not another is a content‐​based restriction on speech of the sort that nearly always fails constitutional review. It triggers strict scrutiny as to whether the restriction is the least intrusive possible and has been narrowly tailored to advance a compelling government interest. Read More > from the Cato Institute 

Language to Recall Michigan Gov Approved, Needs Signatures – The language in a petition to recall Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for the signing of nine of her executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic has been approved by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers.

Albion resident Chad Baase, 39, was successful in his third attempt at coming up with “clear and factual” language to move forward with the recall petition process. He and his group — the Committee to Recall Governor Gretchen Whitmer — must come up with more than 1 million signatures from registered voters in 60 days or less to trigger a recall election.

The Board of State Canvassers unanimously approved the recall language Monday, June 8, during a virtual meeting. The four-member bipartisan group unanimously approved the language, but rejected two other attempts to begin recall petitions, including a second petition to recall Gov. Whitmer and one to recall Attorney General Dana Nessel. Read More > at Governing

These counties reopened a month ago. They have no regrets. – Yuba and Sutter counties defied the state’s shelter-in-place order and reopened high-risk businesses like restaurants, hair salons, malls, and gyms just over a month ago. So far, they say they feel good about their decisions.

“The two rural Northern California counties have a combined population of close to 175,000 and recorded 50 coronavirus cases and three deaths on May 1. As of June 4, the case total has increased to 79, but the death toll remains three,” SF Gate reports. “There are currently two individuals hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the two counties at this time.”

Yuba County Spokesman Russ Brown believes increased testing accounts for the discovery of many of the new cases. The county welcomed a new testing facility at the same time as its reopening. Most of the cases have been clustered within families or members of the same household, he said.

Yuba and Sutter did not reopen without restrictions. Businesses were still mandated to require six feet of physical distance between customers. Bars, nightclubs, churches, and other large events were still prohibited.

“They’re making a big mistake,” Gavin Newsom said at the time. For now, Sutter and Yuba have no regrets. Read More > at California County News 

Social distancing is over – In a few weeks, one of two things will have happened. Either covid-19 cases will abruptly reverse their decline in some of America’s largest cities, and we will know that they were seeded by the days of rage we are living through . . . or they won’t. Either way, social distancing is over.

In the happy scenario, the protests will have performed an enormous public service, even beyond agitating for justice. They are basically running a natural experiment that scientists could never have ethically undertaken: Do massive outside gatherings — including singing, chanting, screaming and coughing — spread covid-19, or not? Along with evidence from the Memorial Day weekend parties at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, they may well demonstrate, once and for all, that the risk of spreading covid-19 outdoors is negligible. At which point, throw open the bar patios and backyard barbecues! Bring on the beach-blanket bingo! Move church pews into the parking lot and sing away!

Unfortunately, it’s also grimly plausible that in a few weeks we’ll see new outbreaks that will soon surge out of control, taking many American lives. Because we’ll never be able to lock down our cities again; once you’ve let the cat out of the bag, kitty won’t allow himself to be stuffed back in. Read More > at The Washington Post

We Need to Reopen Schools—but How? – Planning for the reopening of schools ought to be one of the top priorities at every level of government in the United States. The news from the more than 20 European nations that have reopened schools has been extremely encouraging, and the urgency of duplicating that achievement here is indisputable. We cannot have a functioning economy, or any hope of reducing economic inequalities, without a functioning educational system. But key questions need to be answered to get schools back in session in the fall, and this country has not yet taken the necessary steps to resolve those issues.

…Meanwhile, the reopening of schools in Europe and elsewhere should raise confidence that there is a practical path forward here in this country too, especially for younger children. Denmark has had schools open since April 15, Norway since April 20, and 20 other European countries since at least mid-May. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Researchers and European authorities said the absence of any notable clusters of infection in reopened elementary schools so far suggested that children aren’t significant spreaders of the new coronavirus in society.

They acknowledged that their findings might change with the onset of winter and cold weather, and a recent outbreak at a Jerusalem high school affecting students and staff was a reminder of the higher risk to teenagers and adults.

But Denmark, Austria, Norway, Finland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and most other countries that have reopened classrooms haven’t had outbreaks in schools or day-care centers. …

In some countries, sporadic infections have happened among schoolchildren and staff, but none have been reported to have resulted in bigger infection clusters. In France, after schools reopened on May 11, several closed after around 70 reported infections in schools and preschools nationwide. Almost all were adults, local authorities reported.

COVID-19 is a scourge, but the one blessing in the pandemic is that it rarely strikes school-age children. According to the most recent CDC data, children 5 to 14 years of age account for less than 0.15 percent of all COVID cases in the United States. An international review of 78 studies found that “deaths remain extremely rare in children from COVID-19.” Read More > at The American Prospect

“Mutually repugnant:” Gov. Newsom and lawmakers pursue budget compromise – Even with the process controlled entirely by Democrats, a certain degree of tension is wired into the annual ritual of crafting a state budget in Sacramento. The spending plan, after all, is a powerful opportunity for the governor and each house of the Legislature to demonstrate their priorities in caring for 40 million Californians.

So despite lots of common ground on the upcoming budget, some key disagreements have surfaced as legislative leaders and Gov. Gavin Newsom hammer out a final deal in advance of a June 15 deadline.

What is different this time: The two sides are negotiating amid a bleak economic scenario, with surging unemployment, greater demand for government services and a deficit that could be as large as $54 billion. And that, undoubtedly, amps up the stress in their private debates.

The fault lines this year show the Legislature and governor at odds over how to manage spending on the coronavirus pandemic, how far the state should go to help undocumented immigrants, and how much to cut schools and safety net programs if the federal government does not come through with additional aid.

While Newsom proposed slashing $14 billion from schools, health care and safety net programs unless the federal government sends funds by July 1, the Legislature’s proposal assumes federal funding will arrive — and if it doesn’t come by Oct. 1, limits cuts to $7 billion by drawing on reserves.

These negotiations in pursuit of a California budget compromise mark a shift in the relationship between Newsom and the Legislature. As a freshman governor last year, he filled his budget with items lawmakers had tried unsuccessfully to pass for years under Gov. Jerry Brown. Together, Newsom and the Legislature last year expanded child care and health care, made a second year of community college free for some students, repealed taxes on diapers and menstrual products, gave workers more paid time off to bond with a new baby, and committed $2 billion to housing and homelessness.

Now, Newsom will likely be in the role of saying “no” to a bunch of legislators who are unaccustomed to governing during a recession.

“You’re dealing with a generation of elected leaders in Sacramento that probably have not been in a position where they have to make cuts to programs they care about,” said Núñez, the former assembly speaker and a Democrat from Los Angeles. Read More > at CALmatters

About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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