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.
Could Gavin Newsom Really Get Kicked Out of Office? – Last spring, at the beginning of the pandemic, California, and its Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, received a lot of praise for its handling of the coronavirus. While New York and other areas were struggling, California, which was the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, seemed to have figured something out. But at some point, things changed. Angela Hart, who covers health policy for California Healthline, says the turning point was the state’s summer reopening. “California opened too fast, and since then, we’ve seen a series of really big missteps on the part of this governor,” she says.
Newsom in particular is drawing fire from Californians who feel misled by the rosy picture he’s been painting of the state’s coronavirus response, all while the situation on the ground gets worse and worse. On Monday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with Hart about Newsom’s pandemic response and the increasingly serious effort to recall him from office. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
…But then when you start talking to people, you start to understand: These aren’t only Republicans. These are disaffected Democrats. These are “no party preference” voters. So you really can’t ignore the voice of all the different sides of the political spectrum.
…I spoke to this woman Joyce Hanson for a story. She specifically said, I understand the governor doesn’t control the supply of vaccines coming to California, and I can handle waiting until March or April if that’s how long it’s going to take for me to get vaccinated. She’s 69. But the governor made it sound like she’s going to be able to get signed up and get vaccinated tomorrow. So she said, I can take it, I can take the truth, but just be honest with us. And she feels wholeheartedly misled by the governor.
…He was dining with a group of friends that were not from his household. He defended himself at first, and then a little while later he apologized. Voters are extremely upset about this. I’ve heard it everywhere. I’ve heard it from Republicans. I’ve heard it from independents. I’ve heard it from Democrats.
It’s optics, but it’s even deeper than that. Everybody has sacrificed so much. We’ve been, by and large, locked in our houses for the better part of a year. And to see the governor flippantly ignoring his own rules hit a nerve. Read More > at Slate
CDC: Schools Can Reopen Safely Without Vaccinating Teachers Against COVID-19 – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reiterated on Wednesday that schools can safely reopen even if teachers are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Last week the CDC weighed into the ongoing debate over whether to reopen schools for in-person instruction, noting that schools that are currently welcoming students into classrooms with certain safety precautions in place have had only “scant transmission” of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“The CDC team reviewed data from studies in the United States and abroad and found the experience in schools different from nursing homes and high-density work sites where rapid spread has occurred,” The Washington Post reported last Tuesday. “The review, which echoes the conclusions of other researchers, comes as many school districts continue to wrestle with whether and how to reopen schools and as President Biden makes a return to in-person learning one of his top pandemic-related priorities.”
…On Wednesday, the CDC weighed in again, this time suggesting that a common teachers union demand — that all teachers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before being forced to return to classrooms — is not a necessary requirement for in-person learning to be done safely and with minimum risk of coronavirus transmission.
“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated,” President Joe Biden’s CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, told reporters during a COVID-19 response team press conference Wednesday morning.
“Vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools,” she reiterated. Read More > at The Daily Wire
Powerful storm eased drought in parts of California – The powerful storm that drenched much of California last week eased drought conditions in some parts of the state, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday.
The central coast from Monterey Bay south to Ventura County was reduced from moderate drought to abnormal dryness and a swath northeastward across the Central Valley and into the Sierra Nevada was reduced from severe to moderate drought.
A strip of the far north coast also dropped out of moderate drought into abnormal dryness, according to monitor data.
Overall, 85.9% of the state remained in moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional drought, down from more than 95% in the week-earlier report.
The season’s second Sierra snowpack survey, which is used to forecast water supply, found Wednesday that the water content was 70% of average to date and 45% of the April 1 average, when the snowpack is usually deepest and has the highest water content. Read More > from the Associated Press
The Left’s Vaccine Problem – Why aren’t progressive leaders doing a better job at mass vaccination?
Early in the pandemic, countries with populist, right-wing governments were suffering some of the worst outbreaks. These countries had big differences from one another — the list included Brazil, Britain, Russia and the U.S. — but their problems all stemmed partly from leaders who rejected scientific expertise.
More progressive and technocratic countries — with both center-left and center-right leaders, like Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea — were doing a better job containing the pandemic. The pattern seemed to make sense: Politicians who believed in the ability of bureaucracies to accomplish complex jobs were succeeding at precisely that.
But over the last few weeks, as vaccination has become a top priority, the pattern has changed. Progressive leaders in much of the world are now struggling to distribute coronavirus vaccines quickly and efficiently:
Europe’s vaccination rollout “has descended into chaos,” as Sylvie Kauffmann of Le Monde, the French newspaper, has written. One of the worst performers is the Netherlands, which has given a shot to less than 2 percent of residents.
Canada (at less than 3 percent) is far behind the U.S. (about 8.4 percent).
Within the U.S., many Democratic states — like California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and tiny Rhode Island — are below the national average. “The parts of the country that pride themselves on taking Covid seriously and believing in government are not covering themselves in glory,” The Times’s Ezra Klein has written.
At the same time, there are clear success stories in places that few people would describe as progressive.
Alaska and West Virginia have the two highest vaccination rates among U.S. states, with Oklahoma and the Dakotas also above average. Globally, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have the highest rates. Britain — run by Boris Johnson, a populist Conservative — has vaccinated more than 15 percent of residents. Read More > in The New York Times
‘New chance at life’: Man gets face, hands in rare surgery – Almost six months after a rare face and hands transplant, Joe DiMeo is relearning how to smile, blink, pinch and squeeze.
The 22-year-old New Jersey resident had the operation last August, two years after being badly burned in a car crash.
“I knew it would be baby steps all the way,” DiMeo told The Associated Press. “You’ve got to have a lot of motivation, a lot of patience. And you’ve got to stay strong through everything.”
Experts say it appears the surgery at NYU Langone Health was a success, but warn it’ll take some time to say for sure.
U.S. surgeons have completed at least 18 face transplants and 35 hand transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, which oversees the nation’s transplant system.
In 2018, DiMeo fell asleep at the wheel, he said, after working a night shift as a product tester for a drug company. The car hit a curb and utility pole, flipped over, and burst into flames. Another driver who saw the accident pulled over to rescue DiMeo.
Afterward, he spent months in a medically induced coma and underwent 20 reconstructive surgeries and multiple skin grafts to treat his extensive third-degree burns.
Once it became clear conventional surgeries could not help him regain full vision or use of his hands, DiMeo’s medical team began preparing for the risky transplant in early 2019. Read More from the Associated Press
U.S. oil prices post highest finish in over a year – Oil futures rose Tuesday, with expectations that efforts by major oil producers to reduce production will lead to tighter global supplies lifting U.S. prices to their highest settlement in more than a year.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other major producers, a group known as OPEC+, expect output cuts to keep the oil market in a supply deficit through the year, even as the producers lowered this year’s outlook on demand growth, a document seen by Reuters showed Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia’s 1 million barrels per day February through March unilateral output cut provided a tailwind for oil prices on Monday, said analysts at Sevens Report Research, in their latest newsletter.
“Additionally, easing coronavirus infections, continued rollout of vaccines, and stimulus hopes are propping up the demand outlook for the months and quarters ahead,” they said. “Bottom line, oil prices are in a well-defined uptrend and barring any fundamental surprises, should continue to move up toward $60 [a] barrel near term.” Read More > at MarketWatch
California court rejects lawsuit challenging ride-share vote – The California Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to overturn a ballot measure that makes app-based ride-hailing and delivery drivers independent contractors instead of employees eligible for benefits and job protections.
Justices declined to hear the case brought by drivers and unions opposed to the measure. The case can be filed in a lower court.
The lawsuit claimed the measure was unconstitutional because it limits the power of the Legislature and excludes drivers from being eligible for workers’ compensation.
Proposition 22 passed in November with 58% support and shielded companies like Uber and Lyft from a new state labor law that would have required app-based services to treat drivers as employees and not independent contractors. Read More > from the Associated Press
Eleven states require automakers sell a certain percentage of zero-emissions vehicles by 2025. If they can’t, the automakers have to buy regulatory credits from another automaker that meets those requirements — such as Tesla, which exclusively sells electric cars.
It’s a lucrative business for Tesla — bringing in $3.3 billion over the course of the last five years, nearly half of that in 2020 alone. The $1.6 billion in regulatory credits it received last year far outweighed Tesla’s net income of $721 million — meaning Tesla would have otherwise posted a net loss in 2020.
“These guys are losing money selling cars. They’re making money selling credits. And the credits are going away,” said Gordon Johnson of GLJ Research and one of the biggest bears on Tesla (CNN) shares. Read More > at
Amazon reports first $100 billion quarter following holiday and pandemic shopping surge – Amazon announced in its earnings report for the fourth quarter of 2020 that Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy will replace Jeff Bezos as Amazon CEO during the third quarter of this year. Bezos will become executive chairman.
The company also delivered its largest quarter by revenue of all time at $125.56 billion, pushing it past the symbolic $100 billion mark for the first time. Read More > at CNBC
A Nasal Spray for the Common Cold Is Closer to Reality – A bonafide treatment for the common cold has eluded scientists for decades. But recent animal research from a team in Australia suggests that their experimental drug—delivered via nasal spray—could help the immune system fend off all sorts of respiratory infections. The treatment is now set to be tested out in a clinical trial of people in a matter of weeks.
The treatment is called INNA-X and is being developed by Ena Respiratory, a biotech company in Australia. The therapy is intended to buff up the immune system through activating a class of proteins called Toll-like receptors (TLRs). TLRs play a key role in the innate immune system, which is the first line of defense against foreign pathogens. This innate immune response not only attacks germs but also rallies the rest of the immune system into action.
Though the development of INNA-X began before the pandemic, the treatment should ideally offer broad protection against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes covid-19, as well as the many viruses that cause the common cold, such as rhinoviruses. In two recent animal studies published last month, that seems to be the case. Read More > at Gizmodo
Elon Musk now controls over a quarter of all active satellites – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk now controls a quarter of all active satellites orbiting Earth after launching more than a dozen Starlink missions over the last two years.
A Falcon 9 rocket will deliver the latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week, weather permitting, taking the total number of Starlinks in orbit to over 1,000.
The mission, designated Starlink 17, is the latest in SpaceX’s plan to create a constellation of up to 40,000 satellites in order to beam high-speed internet down to Earth.
The current Starlink network is already capable of serving northerly latitudes and is currently providing an initial beta service to customers in Canada, the US and UK.
Customers of Starlink’s broadband service, which boasts speeds of up to 150 Mbps, need to buy a $499 custom satellite dish and sign up for a $99 monthly subscription in order to connect, though costs are expected to decrease as the network grows. Read More > in the Independent
Net Neutrality and Big Tech’s Speech Hypocrisy – Social-media giants are under attack for censorship, but a few years ago they positioned themselves as champions of free speech. At issue was “net neutrality,” the Obama-era policy that treated internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T as common carriers—akin to the old Ma Bell monopoly—by prohibiting them from discriminating among content providers, including the social-media sites.
“Net neutrality is the idea that the internet should be free and open for everyone,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerbergdeclared in July 2017 after the Federal Communications Commission’s then-chairman, Ajit Pai, moved to repeal the regulation, which the FCC had adopted two years earlier. Twitter ’s public-policy manager, Laura Culbertson, wrote: “Free expression is part of our company DNA. We are the platform that lets users see what’s happening and to see all sides. . . . Without Net Neutrality in force, ISPs would even be able to block content they don’t like, reject apps and content that compete with their own offerings, and arbitrarily discriminate against particular content providers by prioritizing certain Internet traffic over theirs.”
Facebook and Twitter turned out to be more threatening than under threat. Broadband providers haven’t attempted to block content or competitors since the FCC repealed net neutrality. But social media, app stores and cloud providers, which were never subject to the rules, all have engaged in censorship repeatedly in recent weeks. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
US Gun Sales Surged 60% in January – U.S. gun sales in January surged 60% to 4,137,480. This makes it the largest single month since figures started to be recorded in 1998.
The rise is part of a trend. The sales total in the United States rose 40% last year to 39,695,315. The figure also represents the high water mark in gun sales since the current record-keeping system went into effect. Increases by state in January varied substantially, as has been the case for years.
Who bought these guns? CBS News pointed out that over 5 million people were first-time gun buyers last year. CNN reported a sharp rise in sales to Black Americans and women. “Sales to women are also up 40% through September when compared with the same period last year,” the news network pointed out.
The January increase should not be taken as unusual, nor should the rise in gun sales from 2019 to 2020 be viewed as an anomaly. The number of gun sales has increased most years since 1999. Sales first topped 25 million in 2016, 20 million in 2013, 15 million in 2011 and 10 million in 2006. The first full year the FBI kept data was 1999, when total sales were 9,138,123. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St
Could the immune system be key to Alzheimer’s disease? – For nearly 30 years, the hunt for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease has focused on a protein called beta-amyloid. Amyloid, the hypothesis goes, builds up inside the brain to bring about this memory-robbing disorder, which afflicts some 47 million people worldwide.
Billions of dollars have poured into developing therapies aimed at reducing amyloid — thus far, to no avail. Trials of anti-amyloid treatments have repeatedly failed to help patients, sparking a reckoning among the field’s leaders.
All along, some researchers have toiled in the relative shadows, developing potential strategies that target other aspects of cells that go awry in Alzheimer’s: molecular pathways that regulate energy production, or clean up cellular debris, or regulate the flow of calcium, an ion critical to nerve cell function. And increasingly, some of these scientists have focused on what they suspect may be another, more central factor in Alzheimer’s and other dementias: dysfunction of the immune system.
…But over the past decade, the immune system connection to Alzheimer’s has become clearer. In several massive studies that analyzed the genomes of tens of thousands of people, many DNA variants that were linked to heightened Alzheimer’s risk turned out to be in genes involved in immunity — specifically, a branch of the body’s defenses known as the innate immune system. This branch attacks viruses, bacteria and other invaders quickly and indiscriminately. It works, in part, by triggering inflammation.
A further connection between inflammation and Alzheimer’s turned up in March 2020, in an analysis of electronic health records from 56 million patients, including about 1.6 million with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and other inflammatory diseases. When researchers searched those records for Alzheimer’s diagnoses, they found that patients taking drugs that block a key molecular trigger of inflammation, called tumor necrosis factor (TNF), have about 50 to 70 percent lower odds of having an Alzheimer’s diagnosis than patients who were prescribed those drugs but did not take them. Read More > at Knowable Magazine
Pair of wolves move to California, adding to the state’s low wolf population – A lone male wolf from Oregon known as OR-85 made its trek to Siskiyou County, the northernmost part of California, last November, according to reports.
However, he is no longer alone.
Another wolf, whom biologists believe most likely to be a female, has since paired up with OR-85 and the pair have made Siskiyou their new home, as reported by the Mount Shasta Herald.
Kent Laudon, a wolf specialist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, is in charge of determining the sex of the second wolf by any means necessary. This process includes collecting samples of the wolf’s feces, urine and fur to be genetically tested and examined, the Mount Shasta Herald reported.
Such seemingly extreme tactics are necessary in order to keep track of the potential growth of a new wolf pack and of the state’s wolf population, which could create issues with ranchers and endanger their livestock. Read More > at SFGate
Why Did the Pandemic Drive People to Purchase Tons of Toilet Paper? – According to a subsequent survey, 17.2% of North Americans and 13.7% of Europeans admitted to hoarding toilet paper during the mayhem.
Exactly why so many people chose to prodigiously stock up on toilet paper has been a focus of scientific study over the past months. Last Friday, a team of Spanish researchers published a systematic review in the journal PeerJ synthesizing the available research. They turned up a few potential reasons, some more likely than others.
The first explanation for the buying spree is simple and practical: people were having more gastrointestinal symptoms and diarrhea, perhaps induced by stress, or possibly caused by the coronavirus, itself. Studies suggest that roughly 12-13% of those afflicted with COVID-19 report significant diarrhea. However, the researchers consider this explanation unlikely, writing, “The relatively low proportion of diarrhea found in people with COVID-19 infection does not seem to justify the global trends in shopping for toilet paper.”
A second, more likely explanation for the run on toilet paper is that it was a bit of a mirage. Shoppers stocked up on all sorts of necessities as COVID-19 triggered lockdowns around the globe, but while items like canned goods and cleaning supplies were more readily restocked on store shelves, toilet paper was not. Supply chains simply weren’t prepared for millions of people to be stuck at home, clamoring for residential-quality toilet paper. But then thousands of people noticed those empty toilet paper shelves and shared the phenomenon on social media, transforming toilet paper buying patterns that were in line with those seen for other sought-after goods into a frenzy, thus initiating hoarding behavior and driving a real, albeit temporary, shortage of toilet paper. Read More > at Real Clear Science
Is ‘Latinx’ here to stay?: Why the term is growing in popularity, but not among all Latinos -Last summer, Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, posed a question on Twitter: “Does it seem like non-Latinos use Latinx far more than actual Latinos?”
A debate on Gonzalez’s Twitter thread followed.
Spanish-language loyalists criticized the gender inclusive label for its attempt to change a language that consists of masculine and feminine nouns. Defenders called it a non-binary and inclusive label that acknowledges Latinas and LGBTQ Latinos.
What’s clear is that the label has risen in popularity on the internet in the last five years, reaching its peak on Google Trends in September 2020, a month before the presidential election.
But a 2020 Pew Research Center study, finds that only a quarter of Latinos in the U.S. have heard the term — and only 3% use it. Instead, the study shows, Latino communities would rather be referred to by their country of origin, such as Mexican, Honduran or Cuban.
The term is embraced by younger Latinos, liberal Democrats and the LGBTQ community and its allies, including Gov. Gavin Newsom. It tends to be shunned by many native Spanish speakers and older, working-class Latinos. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
Housing crisis hasn’t gone away – A year ago, California’s most pressing political issue was, by common consent, a housing crisis.
Despite declining population growth, California had for years been falling short of building enough housing to meet demand, especially from low- and moderate-income families.
The state had set ambitious housing goals approaching 200,000 new units a year, but actual construction had been just half of that at best, with net increases even lower. In 2018, for instance, there were 117,000 units of construction, but the net gain was just 78,000 because of losses to old age, fires and other causes.
Gov. Gavin Newsom devoted most of his entire State of the State address last February to the housing crisis, particularly homelessness, and legislative leaders pledged to make housing their highest priority.
…The new “regional housing needs assessments” were a shock to local governments, particularly those in major metropolitan areas, because they were much higher, sometimes twice as high, as previous goals. They also contained, for the first time, some enforcement mechanisms.
Their underlying aim is to jolt local officials into resisting their consituents’ opposition to new housing, especially in upscale communities where the not-in-my-backyard syndrome is fierce. That also was the thrust of last year’s failed legislation allowing multi-family projects in single-family neighborhoods.
The new housing goals, not surprisingly, have met opposition in affluent suburban bedroom communities with Marin County an obvious example. Read More > at CalMatters
Remotely Competitive – After decades of expert predictions that technological change would reshape the nature of employment, in just ten months the Covid-19 economic shutdowns have made full-time corporate employment from home a reality for tens of millions of American workers. Just how many of these workers will remain employed at home after the pandemic ends remains an open question, but it’s clear that many workers have become convinced that there’s little reason to go back to the old model of everyone in the office all the time. In a Gallup poll in the initial stages of the shutdown last April, 46 percent of workers said that they were working full-time out of their homes. Millions have since gone back to the office, but 33 percent of respondents told Gallup that they were still working from home last fall. More to the point, about a third of all those who worked remotely told Gallup that they would like to do so permanently, even after the pandemic. In another poll, taken by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, 29 percent of workers said that they wanted to work permanently from home.
Many of their bosses agree. Fewer than one in five executives recently told PricewaterhouseCoopers that they want to return to pre-pandemic office arrangements. Others said that they expect to have employees working from home at least several days a week. But 13 percent of executives went further: they are ready to ditch the office completely. Behind their attitude is the growing success of remote work. Some 83 percent of executives surveyed said that the shift to at-home work had been successful. More than half claimed productivity had improved. And seven in ten said that their companies would be investing more in tools to support remote work.
The implications for office space in major cities are enormous. In markets like San Francisco and New York, as few as 15 percent of workers have returned to offices. While return rates are higher in markets like Dallas, among big cities nationally the average occupancy rate for offices remains only about 30 percent. The pandemic has begun crushing real estate markets, as firms delay or cancel plans for new space. The official vacancy rate for Manhattan’s office market, for instance, rose to about 15 percent at the end of 2020, up from 10 percent a year ago, though much of the officially “occupied” space is actually empty. Places as different from one another as Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Boston have all seen vacancy rates rise as office leases expire and tenants decide not to renew, or to reduce their space. Read More > at City Journal