Sunday Reading – 09/13/2020


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.

We’re numb to the coronavirus – Six months into the pandemic, online engagement around coronavirus stories has dropped off markedly and continues to reach new lows even as the pandemic continues, according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios.

Interactions (likes, comments, shares) on stories about the coronavirus have fallen 88% since March, 62% since July and 36% even from the August average.

Google searches for the coronavirus have descended from a peak in mid-March and are now roughly where they were on Feb. 25 — well before the virus upended life the the U.S, — according to Google Trends data.

Even as the virus itself began to spread largely unchecked across almost the entire country in late June, the uptick in engagement was modest — another sign that Americans had gotten used to the virus. Read More > at Axios

How Caffeine and Alcohol Can Make Your Mental Health Worse – Sleep has a big impact on how people manage their mental health and feel about themselves generally, says Blount. Loss of sleep contributes to the development of some psychiatric conditions, like depression and bipolar disorder. People struggling with their mental health are more likely to struggle with sleep, too. In fact, 50 to 80 percent of patients in treatment for mental health issues also report sleep problems, says Blount.

Caffeine in moderation acts as a mood brightener, says Blount. There’s a difference between drinking a cup of coffee or two in the morning to get started and feel a little sharper and drinking eight cups or more over the course of the day, he says. Even if you’re able to fall asleep after drinking that much caffeine, your sleep quality is probably poor. Poor sleep quality can cause problems for people struggling with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder in particular, says Blouth.

Too much caffeine can also increase existing feelings of stress and anxiety. Most people are familiar with the energy boost and jitters that can accompany getting a sudden shot of espresso or an energy drink. The substance increases your body’s alertness and in doing so can make someone already struggling even more anxious.

Going heavy on the caffeine can also increase alcohol use, says Blount. Many people will have a drink or two to dull the effects of caffeine to help them go to sleep, he says. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it often reduces the quality of your sleep, so you aren’t getting the deep rest your brain needs.

There is a reciprocal relationship between alcohol and depression, he says. Alcohol also tends to increase depressive symptoms. And symptoms of depression can make people more vulnerable to alcohol abuse. It’s a vicious cycle: feelings of low self-worth and confidence can cause someone to drink more, which then can make them feel even worse about themselves. Read More > from Discover Magazine 

What’s Ailing California’s Electric System? – California made headlines for all the wrong reasons recently with widespread rolling power outages in the middle of a heat wave and a pandemic. These blackouts were not an accident—they were intentionally scheduled by the grid operator, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), due to a shortage of resources available to keep the lights on.

The California blackouts led to a frenzy of hot takes and finger-pointing based on instant diagnoses of the problems. The situation is like a Rorschach test on which people superimpose their preconceptions about energy. Opponents of renewable energy, including President Donald Trump, blame the outages on California’s use of solar and wind to decarbonize their power supply. Others have jumped to the conclusion that this must be a recurrence of Enron-type market manipulation as in the 2001 energy crisis. Still others have offered silver bullets based on whatever they are selling.

It is important to diagnose the problem correctly so that we don’t administer the wrong medicine. While a full examination should be done, some causes can preliminarily be ruled out…

1. Lack of clear accountability for having the resources to keep the lights on.

In some regions of the country, electric distribution companies directly invest in power plants under the supervision of state regulators. In others, regional markets use an auction system to buy enough resources to keep the lights on. I personally prefer market structures, but either system can work if it is clear who has the responsibility.

In California, the roles of the CAISO and the state regulators to keep the lights on are quite tangled. CAISO has the job of dispatching power plants but has little authority to ensure they get built. Lining up enough resources is largely under the supervision of state regulators. In other words, the buck stops nowhere. This should be remedied through the actions of the California legislature and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates CAISO.

2. Lack of resources to balance solar and wind power.

California leads the nation in solar generation, and also uses a lot of wind generation. These carbon-free resources help reduce the climate impacts of burning fossil fuels. But unlike conventional power plants, they cannot be turned on and off as needed….They can work well in conjunction with resources that can be turned on as needed, especially in the evening when the sun goes down. These “balancing” resources can be gas-fired plants, pumped water or battery storage, hydroelectric power, or the collective actions of homes and businesses to move their consumption to different times of the day. California does not have enough of these resources. See problem #1—someone needs to be in charge.

3. Closing disfavored resources before opening the new ones.

California has been decisive about what resources it doesn’t want anymore, including many of its gas-fired power plants and its last nuclear power plant. It has been much slower to actually construct resources to take their place. In the past three years, California has closed 5,000 megawatts (MW) of gas generation in anticipation of building 3,000 MW of battery storage that is still on the drawing board. In a heat wave, when every resource is needed, this gap in resources came home to roost. Read More > at State of the Planet

Drinking to the point of passing out increases dementia risk – Men who lose consciousness after drinking alcohol are up to three times as likely to develop dementia within the next 10 years, according to an analysis published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open.

Women who “passed out” after consuming alcohol were more than twice as likely to develop dementia over the next decade, the data showed.

Overall, the risk for early-onset dementia — which develops in people age 65 and younger — was twice as high among drinkers who “passed out,” the researchers said.

“Our analysis … suggests that binge drinking is a long-term dementia risk factor even if a person usually drinks moderately,” study co-author Mika Kivimaki, a professor of epidemiology at University College London, told UPI. Read More > at UPI

‘Follow the Science’ Isn’t a Covid-19 Strategy – Science can give insights into the nature of the pandemic, but there is no scientific formula pointing to a solution. Any plan of action will force us to balance the need to protect people from the virus with educational, psychological and economic needs, as well as other health needs. The disease is dangerous, and yet there are some things, such as protesting racism or reopening elementary schools, that some people would deem worth the risk. How we weigh those priorities is a matter for public policy.

Climate change poses a similar problem. Science can provide evidence that human activity is changing the composition of the atmosphere, and that added carbon dioxide is leading to global warming. It takes more than just science to set policies restricting carbon emissions. That requires value judgments: Who should sacrifice, and how much?

Consider the protest marches this summer. Many in the public health community have deemed the protests worth the risks; that’s a value judgment. At the same time, other outdoor gatherings — like crowded beaches — have generated outrage. That’s a value judgment, too.

A real strategy would start by admitting that Americans, for the most part, want safeguards against the disease but don’t want to sacrifice everything in life for the sake of public health. Some value the right to protest racial injustice, others the right to keep their jobs or businesses open.

Different countries can “follow the science” to different strategies. New Zealand tried a hard lockdown to drive the incidence to zero, but has been unable to keep the disease out. Iceland kept most businesses and elementary schools open and banked on extensive testing and contact tracing to break chains of transmission. China mixed elements of both, and never completely closed down business in some major cities, such as Shanghai.

Sweden’s so-called “herd immunity strategy” has been equated with a callous nonstrategy, but that isn’t accurate — Swedish authorities looked at the facts and made a different judgment call. The Washington Post had to run a correction taking back an assertion that Sweden hadn’t encouraged social distancing or mask-wearing. They have. Their policy is to discourage spread of the disease without resorting to a national lockdown. Read More > at Bloomberg Opinion 

An Unexpected Last Minute Legislative Boost for Small Business – Talk to business leaders who dealt with the legislature over the past few months and they often expressed frustration that the legislature, while understandably focusing on employee concerns, were giving businesses short shrift. But at the last minute, a gut-and-amend bill did move ahead to give small businesses a boost to help them rebound from the disastrous business collapse.

SB 1447, authored by Senator Steve Bradford, created a $100 million tax credit for small businesses to rehire and hire workers through November 30 at a $1,000 credit per worker.

There are qualifying parameters for small businesses to claim the credit including documenting a loss of 50% of its revenue over the last year. The maximum a small business can claim is $100,000 and it can use the credits over the next five years. Gov. Newsom signed the bill.

California’s small businesses were devasted by the business lockdown. Unemployment in the state shot up to over 16%. SB 1447 is intended as an incentive to bring workers back on the jobs at a time that is uncertain how robustly the economy will come back. In a sense, the incentive is based on a supply side concept of a tax cut in the form of a tax credit to expand small businesses by adding employees to improve services and generate increased business. Read More > at Fox and Hounds 

Dozens of Austrians received US coronavirus stimulus checks – Dozens of Austrian citizens have received $1,200 coronavirus stimulus checks from the US government, according to a report.

At least 100 of the checks were recently deposited at two different banks in the country, Austria’s public broadcaster ORF reported Monday.

One of the recipients, 73-year-old retiree Manfred Barnreiter, of Linz, was puzzled when he opened his mailbox to find a check from the US Treasury signed by President Trump — and initially believed it was a scam.

Barnreiter said he didn’t know why he qualified for the payment meant to help Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But he believes it’s because he worked as a waiter in New Jersey for a few years in the 1960s, and as a result receives a small pension from the US.

However, he said his wife also got the stimulus check, despite her never having even traveled to the US.

Neither are US citizens or live here, which is required to be eligible for the payments. Read More > in the New York Post

How the Phillips Screwdriver Took Over America – The history of the screw, and by inevitable implication, the screwdriver, is complicated. In One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw, Witold Rybczynski, professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, traces the metal fasteners to the 15th century, though it wasn’t until the early 18th century that the screw became common…

According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, toolmaker Joseph Whitworth devised Britain’s first standardized screw in 1841. American engineer William Sellers did the same for his country in 1864. Standardized screw heads and screwdrivers emerged later. Early screws used either a slotted head or some sort of square or octagonal drive. As screw production increased, slotted drives became standard. But if you’ve ever cammed (slipped) a screw-head slot, you know why it’s not the only design. Enter Peter Lymburner Robertson. The official history from the Robertson Screw Company says that Robertson, a Canadian inventor and industrialist, cut himself when the blade slipped during a demonstration of a new spring-loaded screwdriver, forcing an epiphany that the world needed a new type of screw. Robertson designed a fastener that featured a square socket tapering towards a truncated pyramidal bottom, winning a Canadian patent for his work in 1907. It’s a brilliant design—Robertson screws won’t easily cam out, and the socket shape helps center the screwdriver, making one-handed operation easy.

The Robertson was perfect for the burgeoning auto industry. Ford began using it to assemble Model Ts at its Windsor, Ontario, plant, where the screw’s time-saving qualities reduced costs by a significant $2.60 per car. But unless you’re Canadian, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Robertson screws. That’s because Henry Ford wanted to use Robertsons in all of his plants, and he wanted more control over how they were made. Robertson, by most accounts a stubborn man, wouldn’t agree. No deal was struck, and the Canadian lost an important part of his business. Meanwhile, other engineers worked on their own types of screw heads.

According to Rybczynski, the one that stuck came from inventor John P. Thompson and businessman Henry F. Phillips. A Phillips screw offers many of the benefits of a Robertson and can be driven by a traditional slotted screwdriver in a pinch. Phillips licensed his design to the giant American Screw Company, which got General Motors to use the screw in the 1936 Cadillac. Within the decade, almost all automakers were using Phillips screws. Read More > at Road and Track

JC Penney Lives to Die Another Day – The deal to rescue decimated J.C. Penney, one of America’s oldest retailers, seems fairly simple. Mall owners Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Group buy most of the company’s assets for $1.75 billion in cash and debt. Lenders H/2 Capital Partners, Sculptor Capital Management, Brigade Capital Management and Sixth Street Partners write off about $5 billion in debt. The mall owners get 490 locations. The lenders get 160 stores and distribution centers. Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Group lease those. The mall owners get to keep a tenant. The lenders get some of their money back. It makes sense, but it does not solve J.C. Penney’s primary problem. Fewer and fewer people want to shop at its locations. A smaller store footprint worsens the trouble.

J.C. Penney cannot emerge from its status as a zombie retailer. It not only faces similarly-sized operations like Kohl’s, which has over 1,100 locations, or Macy’s, which has over 550. Target, America’s second-largest retailer, dwarfs J.C. Penney. And Walmart, the nation’s largest retail, has 4,700 stores and owns what is said to be the second-largest e-commerce site in the United States based on traffic. This helps drive in-store pickup and the curbside pickup so essential to revenue when COVID-19 shutters other retailers’ locations. Walmart also has started a customer loyalty program to help it compete with Amazon.com, which has robbed brick-and-mortar retailers of customers for over a decade. J.C. Penney sits on Amazon’s list of victims.

J.C. Penney has not had the capital to overhaul most of its aged stores. That harms its ability to draw customers back to its aisles. SimilarWeb puts JCPenney.com’s online traffic at 26 million visits in August. By contrast, the Walmart.com figure stood at 424 million. Amazon’s number clocked in at almost 2.6 billion. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Forests in the U.S. West Are Out of Ecological Balance. Blame Wildfire Suppression – As I type, the American West is ablaze with more than 100 devastating wildfires. Many of these are record-setting in both size and intensity. Several, including one in my home state of Colorado, have been so intense they’ve created their own thunderstorms.

Science shows that wildfires have been getting more destructive over the last several decades. The question is: Why? Are they getting worse due to climate change? Or is it due to human encroachment on once remote forests?

Or, counterintuitive as it may seem, are federal wildfire suppression policies to blame?

In the U.S., forest fire management policies date back to the 1880s, shortly after Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872. After a roughly 50-year period in which some wildfires were allowed to burn, in 1935, the U.S. Forest Service formally adopted the “10 a.m. policy.” All forest fires were supposed to be put out by the morning after they were first spotted. To enlist Americans in these efforts to suppress forest fires, in 1944, the U.S. Forest Service introduced Smokey Bear, who would go on to become one of the most iconic cartoon animals of all time.

For over 75 years, Smokey has taught generations of Americans to be responsible environmental stewards with his admonishment, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” But Smokey’s message is predicated on a faulty assumption—that forest fires are inherently bad for people and the environment.

…Forests across the American West are desperately out of ecological balance, and federal fire suppression policies are partly to blame…  Read More > at Real Clear Science

Nuclear power’s big new idea is really … small – Nuclear power, as a rule, is big. Big structures. Big budgets. Producing a big stream of electrons. In the past, it required big government to pull it off. Nuclear has been most successful when it’s had a patron like the U.S. Navy, France’s strong centralized government, or China to clear away any resistance, reach into deep pockets for those big budgets, and find a big market for all those electrons.

But small nuclear power might be better. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently gave NuScale Power the go-ahead for its small modular nuclear reactor — the first of its kind. Unlike giant power plants, NuScale’s reactors will be small enough to move down the highway on a big rig. Instead of requiring piles of money for a bespoke mega-project, NuScale thinks it can churn out reactors in a factory cheaply enough to compete with plants fired by natural gas. And rather than working with a massive government customer, NuScale’s first client is a bunch of small Western cities, organized by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems.

NuScale says the reactors could ramp up and down as needed (which plays well with wind and solar) and produce carbon-free electricity at something like $55 per megawatt hour. That’s less than half the cost of energy from big new nuclear plants.

Oh, and the plants are supposed to be meltdown-proof. So is small beautiful when it comes to nuclear energy? Or is this all too good to be true?

While it’s true that renewable energy is cheap now, most energy wonks think it will get expensive when renewables are powering the entire grid, which will require building lots of batteries to deal with fluctuations in the sun and wind. Sure, there are studies suggesting it wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to power the country purely on renewables, but the most accurate ones — which model the nitty-gritty details of how electrical systems work — tend to show that the best way to keep renewable power cheap is by having a source of clean energy that can be turned up when wind dies and the sun is hiding behind the clouds, said Matt Bowen, a research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy, at Columbia University. Read More > at Grist

AT&T’s current 5G is slower than 4G in nearly every city tested by PCMag – AT&T smartphone users who see their network indicators switch from “4G” to “5G” shouldn’t necessarily expect that they’re about to get faster speeds. In PCMag’s annual mobile-network testing, released today, 5G phones connected to AT&T got slower speeds than 4G phones in 21 out of 22 cities.

PCMag concluded that “AT&T 5G right now appears to be essentially worthless,” though AT&T’s average download speed of 103.1Mbps was nearly as good as Verizon’s thanks to a strong 4G performance. Of course, AT&T 5G should be faster than 4G in the long run—this isn’t another case of AT&T misleadingly labeling its 4G network as a type of 5G. Instead, the disappointing result on PCMag’s test has to do with how today’s 5G phones work and with how AT&T allocates spectrum.

The counterintuitive result doesn’t reveal much about the actual differences between 4G and 5G technology. Instead, it’s reflective of how AT&T has used its spectrum to deploy 5G so far. As PCMag explained, “AT&T’s 5G slices off a narrow bit of the old 850MHz cellular band and assigns it to 5G, to give phones a valid 5G icon without increasing performance. And because of the way current 5G phones work, it often reduces performance.”

AT&T’s 4G network benefits from the aggregation of channels from different frequencies. “The most recent phones are able to assemble up to seven of them—that’s called seven-carrier aggregation, and it’s why AT&T won [the PCMag tests] last year,” the article said. Read More > at ars TECHNICA

Disney Under Fire For Filming ‘Mulan’ in China’s Xinjiang Province – Disney’s big-budget remake of Mulan, already the subject of a pro-democracy boycott, has come under additional fire for filming scenes in China’s Xinjiang Province, where Beijing is accused of perpetrating human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims on a massive scale.

Not only did Disney shoot in the region, but the studio appears to have offered its gratitude to Chinese government agencies involved in alleged abuses.

Following Mulan’s release on Disney+ on Friday, some viewers began noticing a “special thanks” in the film’s end credits to eight government entities in Xinjiang, including the public security bureau in the city of Turpan, where China is believed to operate over a dozen “re-education camps” that hold Uighurs in extra-judicial detention.

Mulan’s credit sequence also extends a thank you to the “publicity department of CPC Xinjiang Uighur Autonomy Region Committee,” the Chinese Communist Party agency responsible for producing and managing state propaganda efforts in the region.

The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Disney for comment. Read More > at The Hollywood Reporter

Another Sweeping Search for Aliens Comes Up Short – A groundbreaking survey of over 10 million star systems has failed to detect signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Astronomers working with the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope in Western Australia were unable to detect alien technosignatures while surveying millions of star systems in the Vela constellation, according to new research published in Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia. The authors of the new study, Chenoa Tremblay from CSIRO and Steven Tingay from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), were hunting for low radio frequencies similar to those produced by our own civilization.

Located in a radio-quiet zone of the Australian outback, the MWA, with its 256 array tiles, has a frequency range between 80 and 300 MHz.

“The MWA is a unique telescope, with an extraordinarily wide field-of-view that allows us to observe millions of stars simultaneously,” explained Trembley in a Curtin University press release. “We observed the sky around the constellation of Vela for 17 hours, looking more than 100 times broader and deeper than ever before. With this dataset we found no technosignatures—no sign of intelligent life.” Read More > at Gizmodo 

California fires: Five reasons why this year is… – For months, California’s attention has been rightfully fixed on coronavirus, the worst pandemic in a century. But 2020 is becoming an epic year for wildfires in California, as the state continues to burn and the records continue to fall.

Three of the four largest fires in California history are all burning at the same time now. On Tuesday, 2.3 million acres already had burned this year statewide — an area more than 20 times larger than the city of San Jose — and the most in any year since modern records began, with two months still remaining in fire season.

What’s driving our record fire year? A combination of heat, freak lighting, drought and overgrown forests, experts say.

A record heat wave tested the state’s electricity grid with near blackouts in recent days. Dry, dangerously windy conditions led PG&E Tuesday to preemptively shut off 172,000 customers in 22 counties in the North Bay and Sierra Nevada until Wednesday to reduce the risk of downed power lines sparking more fires.

Fire experts say it’s not one thing causing the shocking series of infernos. “It’s a perfect storm of factors that have all come together,” said Jon Keeley, a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey at Sequoia National Park.

Since Oct. 1, San Francisco has received just 50% of its historic average rainfall, San Jose 49%, Oakland 42% and Sacramento 53%. Los Angeles and San Diego, by contrast, have had a normal rainfall year.

When California has dry winters, moisture levels dry up earlier in the summer in grasses, shrubs and trees. Fires start more easily and spread faster.

California’s historic drought stretched from 2012 to 2017. In the Sierra, it left 147 million dead trees, according to aerial surveys. Now fires are exploding through those Ponderosa pine forests, roaring across the tree tops, creating their own weather.

“When you have severe drought that causes die back of woody vegetation, it leaves a legacy on the landscape that persists for many years after the drought is over,” Keeley said.

Add to that, firefighters put out fires for 100 years in many areas across California and the West. Before the Gold Rush, those forests, particularly in the Sierra, burned every decade or two from lightning strikes, thinning out dead wood and brush. Read More > in The Mercury News

Another Facebook worker quits in disgust, saying the company ‘is on the wrong side of history’ – Facebook software engineer Ashok Chandwaney has watched with growing unease as the platform has become a haven for hate. Tuesday morning, it came time to take a stand.

“I’m quitting because I can no longer stomach contributing to an organization that is profiting off hate in the US and globally,” wrote Chandwaney in a letter posted on Facebook’s internal employee network shortly after 8 a.m. Pacific. The nearly 1,300-word document was detailed, bristling with links to bolster its claims and scathing in its conclusions.

Tuesday’s resignation made Chandwaney the latest Facebook employee to quit amid rising discontent within a company that, just a few years ago, was seen as an ideal employer – exciting, deep-pocketed and, as Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg frequently said, animated by the seemingly benevolent mission of connecting the world together. Worker frustration with Facebook’s policies on hate and racist speech has risen as protests against racial injustice have swept the country, with thousands of employees demanding that Zuckerberg, who controls a majority of Facebook’s voting shares, change his stances.

While Facebook does not disclose the number of engineers it employs, engineers are some of the most sought-after employees and command some of the highest salaries at the company, according to people familiar with Facebook. Read More > at SFGate

If We’re Going To Have Voting By Mail, Here’s How To Prevent A Disaster – …Yet there are some important management and systems changes that USPS and local postal authorities can and should undertake immediately to ensure all mailed ballots are processed and delivered in a timely fashion…

1. Coordinate Ballot Design, Plans, and Timetables For Election Mail
The postmaster general should direct all local postmasters to confer and coordinate with local and state election officials to develop a joint calendar and timetable for sending and receiving election mail. This should be planned with an eye for addressing peak periods within each state’s particular election deadlines…

2. Apply the National Change of Address Registry to All Voter Rolls
One of the major problems in the mail voting system involves the deluge of undeliverable ballot applications or, even worse, ballots sent to individuals who no longer reside at the address on the voter rolls…

3. Implement The USPS IG’s 2019 Recommendations
The inspector general identified several best practices followed by the highest performing postal services centers as well as problems in the low-performing locations. USPS officials should be implementing those changes now, despite the Pelosi demands that “no changes” be allowed.

4. Ensure 100 Percent On-time Delivery and Processing Of Election Mail
Accepting a 4 percent failure rate for election mail is unacceptable, and the USPS must make the changes necessary to ensure 100 percent on-time delivery and processing of such pivotal things as election ballots.

Finally, one piece of advice to voters: If you want to be sure your ballot is received and counted by your local election office, hand-deliver your mailed ballot to the election office. Or, vote the old fashioned way: Go to the polls and vote in person for the candidate of your choice on Nov. 3, 2020. Read More > in The Federalist

How California’s most pressing problems fell victim to Legislature’s infighting – After a night in which major proposals on housing, policing procedures and other top issues simply stalled for lack of time, fingers pointed to a legislative session shortened by the coronavirus pandemic and a quarantine that forced most Senate Republicans to vote remotely in the final week, a ponderous exercise that slowed the chamber down.

But the failures were exacerbated by a longstanding friction between the two houses, which ratcheted up to new levels this year. Some lawmakers said the distrust was the worst they could remember. A fresh group of legislators will take office in December to sift through the fallout, but the leaders of the Senate and Assembly likely will still be there.

Legislative leaders are promising to address the procedural snafus before the next session begins. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood (Los Angeles County), apologized this week for making a new mother return to the Capitol, holding her baby, to vote in person and said he would revisit proxy voting rules for members at higher risk for the coronavirus. Secretary of the Senate Erika Contreras said she will look at technology and training improvements for remote voting “to help it work even better if it once again becomes necessary to use it.”Fixing the interpersonal drama will be harder — a rivalry between the Senate and Assembly is essentially built into how the Capitol operates. It can flare up when members seek revenge for slights, real or perceived, and is always at its peak during the end of the session, when important bills are held as leverage to ensure the rest of the docket moves. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Homeless Encampments Spread to Beaches, Golf Courses As City Takes Hands-Off Approach – LAPD sources, who asked not to be named for fear of losing their jobs, told the I-Team there are several key reasons for the exponential growth of homeless encampments during the pandemic.

Since the pandemic began, hundreds of new homeless encampments have been popping up — on the sands of Venice Beach, on medians along LA’s boulevards, and on the edges of golf courses.

This is all happening despite promises from LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and from county officials back in April to get a lot of people off the streets and into housing to curb the spread of COVID-19.

First, starting in April, to stem the spread of COVID behind bars, California’s jails and prisons began to release 3,500 non-violent inmates out onto the streets.

…”Skid Row has been a destination for people recently released from County jail when they don’t have a home or friends or family to go to,” Lopez told the I-Team.

Also, the city of LA stopped enforcing several laws during the pandemic. The city attorney confirms to NBC LA that officials are not enforcing the municipal ordinance that forbids the homeless from having “bulky items” at their tents that could prevent people from passing on the sidewalks. Across LA, it’s a common site now to see sofas, refrigerators, and other large furniture outside tents. Read More > at NBC Los Angeles

California approves extending the lives of four aging gas plants – California, which imposed rolling blackouts during an oppressive heat wave on two days last month, on Tuesday extended the lives of four aging natural gas plants it has been seeking to retire for a decade.

The unanimous vote by four members of the State Water Resources Control Board follows an analysis last year that identified a potential electricity capacity shortfall beginning in the summer of 2021, according to agency documents. One board member was absent from the meeting.

During hours of testimony via a video feed, the board heard from public officials, power plant owners and state residents. Many were concerned about electric reliability following last month’s blackouts, while others were eager to put an end to the polluting power plants near their coastal homes.

In the end, the board adopted the recommendation of a multi-agency committee convened to advise it on a 2010 state policy to phase out the use of ocean water for cooling power plants. The policy applies to all four plants. Read More > at Reuters

Scientists can’t explain puzzling lack of coronavirus outbreaks in Africa – The novel coronavirus has infected more than 26.35 million people, with just four countries accounting for over 15 million cases. They are the United States, Brazil, India and Russia — the same four that have been at the top for months. The US surprised the world when it rose to the top spot in multiple COVID-19 statistics, both for the total number of confirmed cases and the number of deaths. Since then, no other country has surpassed America.

But scientists who are studying the pandemic have also identified another surprise of the pandemic. Some expected the African continent to be affected most heavily by the virus, but that wasn’t the case. South Africa stands out when it comes to the number of total cases, with nearly 631,000 infections. But fewer than 15,000 people have died of COVID-19. These figures are puzzling scientists looking to understand how the virus behaves and how it can be beaten.

The hypothesis that poverty should have a significant impact on the spread of the virus doesn’t stand when it comes to the entire African continent. Developing countries like Brazil and India showed that the virus couldn’t be contained once it reached densely populated, but poor, neighborhoods.

Experts expected the same thing to happen in Africa, but it didn’t. If anything, Africa is doing better than any other continent, both when it comes to cases and casualties. As BBC News explains, even if those numbers are significantly underreported, Africa still has it much better than other continents right now. Read More > in the New York Post

California’s Likely Voters

Eight in ten are registered to vote; independent registration continues to increase.
As of July 2020, 20.9 million of California’s 25.1 million eligible adults were registered to vote. At 83% of eligible adults, this is an increase from the registration rate in July 2016 (73%), the year of the last presidential election. The share of registered voters who are Democrats (46.3%) has increased from 2016 (45.1%), while the share of Republicans (24%) has declined (27.1% in 2016). At the same time, the share of voters who say they are independent (also known as “decline to state” or “no party preference”) has been increasing and is now 24%, up from 23.3% in 2016.

Likely voters and unregistered adults lean Democratic and are ideologically mixed.
Among likely voters in our surveys over the past year, 47% are Democrats, 26% are Republicans, 22% are independents, and 4% are registered with other parties. Of those we consider infrequent voters, 40% are independents, 36% are Democrats, 19% are Republicans, and 4% are registered with other parties…

Likely voters are disproportionately white.
Whites make up only 41% of California’s adult population but 55% of the state’s likely voters. In contrast, Latinos comprise 35% of the adult population but just 21% of likely voters. Asian Americans make up 15% of adults and 14% of likely voters, while 6% of both adults and likely voters are African American…

Likely voters tend to be older, more educated and affluent, homeowners, and US born.
Californians ages 55 and older make up 33% of the state’s adult population but constitute 46% of likely voters. Young adults (ages 18 to 34) make up 32% of adults but only 22% of likely voters, while adults ages 35 to 54 are proportionally represented. Eight in ten likely voters either have some college education (38%) or are college graduates (43%); 19% have no college education. Almost half of likely voters (46%) have annual household incomes of $80,000 or more, while 27% earn between $40,000 and $80,000 and 27% earn $40,000 or less. A strong majority of likely voters (66%) are homeowners, while one-third (34%) are renters…

The regional distribution of likely voters matches the state’s adult population.
The share of likely voters in each region mirrors the region’s share of the state’s overall adult population: Los Angeles County (26% of adults, 26% of likely voters), the San Francisco Bay Area (20% of adults, 21% of likely voters), Orange/San Diego Counties (17% of adults, 18% of likely voters), the Central Valley (17% of adults, 16% of likely voters), and the Inland Empire (11% of adults, 9% of likely voters). The largest shares of infrequent voters (28%) and unregistered adults (25%) live in Los Angeles County. Read More > from PPIC

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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