Sunday Reading – 03/21/2021

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

What School Shutdowns Have Wrought – In the early days of the lockdowns, medical experts were mixed on reopening schools, but a solid consensus now exists in favor of doing so. Last month, the CDC urged the nation’s elementary and secondary schools to admit students for in-person instruction as soon as possible. Around the same time, the New York Times “asked 175 pediatric disease experts if it was safe enough to open school.” The experts, mostly pediatricians focusing on public health, “largely agreed that it was safe enough for schools to be open to elementary students for full-time and in-person instruction now. Some said that this was true even in communities where Covid-19 infections were widespread, as long as basic safety measures were taken.” Reopening doesn’t lead to increased cases in a community, and closing classrooms “should be a last resort,” according to a March 11 analysis of more than 130 studies by AEI’s John Bailey.

The science is also clear that remote learning has been a disaster for children. A study by FAIR Health, a company that “possesses the nation’s largest collection of private healthcare claims data,” reveals that young people are suffering profoundly. Comparing August 2019 with August 2020 reveals an almost 334 percent increase in intentional self-harm claims in the Northeast for 13- to 18-year-olds. Drug overdoses more than doubled from April 2019 to April 2020 for the same age cohort. From spring 2020 to November 2020, obsessive-compulsive disorder and tic disorders increased for six- to 12-year-olds.

Additionally, mental-health problems account for a growing proportion of children’s visits to hospital emergency rooms. In November, the CDC noted that from March 2020 to October 2020 such visits increased 31 percent for 12- to 17-year-olds and 24 percent for children ages five to 11, compared with the same period in 2019.

Moreover, not all health problems are temporary. Keeping kids away from school will shorten their lifespans, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Read More > at City Journal

New school battle: What counts as ‘reopening’? – One of the biggest fronts in California’s school reopening battle comes down, quite literally, to a few feet.

But the fight over how far apart students’ desks should be spaced is really a fight over what constitutes school “reopening.” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that 9,000 of the state’s 11,000 schools have already reopened or will soon — but the Alameda County elementary school at which he spoke will only have kids on campus for two days a week, 2.5 hours at a time. The hybrid model most districts are using doesn’t count as “reopening” for many parents — who secured a big win Monday, when a San Diego County judge issued a restraining order temporarily blocking California from enforcing reopening rules that require schools to keep at least 4 feet of space between desks and make a “good-faith effort” to maintain 6 feet of distance.

  • San Diego Superior Court Judge Cynthia FreelandThe state framework “has had and will continue to have a real and appreciable impact on the affected students’ fundamental California right to basic educational equality.”
  • Rodger Butler, spokesman for the California Health and Human Services Agency: “We will continue to lead with science and health as we review this order and assess our legal options with a focus on the health and safety of California’s children and schools.”

Because the state’s spacing requirements limit the number of students in a classroom at one time, they could effectively prevent schools from returning to full-time in-person instruction this spring and fall, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports. Newsom said Tuesday the state will revisit its spacing rules if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates its own guidance, which currently recommends desks sit 6 feet apart. Recent studies have suggested schools can safely operate with 3 feet of distancing.

Voters demand photo ID and reject weak Democratic substitute – An overwhelming majority of people, including Democrats, back a photo identification requirement to vote, a repudiation of Democratic legislation that would let people simply swear they are whom they say they are.

As the Senate version, S.B. 1, of the House-approved For the People Act, H.R. 1, was introduced today, a new Rasmussen Reports survey found that 75% of people support photo ID laws, such as those requiring voters to present a valid driver’s license or other government-issued ID to receive a ballot.

It has strong support among all partisans, the poll analysis reported.

“Eighty-nine percent (89%) of Republicans support voter ID requirements, as do 60% of Democrats and 77% of voters not affiliated with either major party,” it said. Read More > in the Washington Examiner 

Forecast for spring: Nasty drought worsens for much of US – With nearly two-thirds of the United States abnormally dry or worse, the government’s spring forecast offers little hope for relief, especially in the West where a devastating megadrought has taken root and worsened.

Weather service and agriculture officials warned of possible water use cutbacks in California and the Southwest, increased wildfires, low levels in key reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell and damage to wheat crops.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s official spring outlook Thursday sees an expanding drought with a drier than normal April, May and June for a large swath of the country from Louisiana to Oregon. including some areas hardest hit by the most severe drought. And nearly all of the continental United States is looking at warmer than normal spring, except for tiny parts of the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska, which makes drought worse. Read More > from the Associated Press

Toyota Warns (Again) About Electrifying All Autos. Is Anyone Listening? – Toyota’s head of energy and environmental research Robert Wimmer testified before the Senate this week, and said: “If we are to make dramatic progress in electrification, it will require overcoming tremendous challenges, including refueling infrastructure, battery availability, consumer acceptance, and affordability.”

…According to FinancesOnline, there are 289.5 million cars just on U.S. roads as of 2021. About 98 percent of them are gas-powered…

Toyota warns that the grid and infrastructure simply aren’t there to support the electrification of the private car fleet. A 2017 U.S. government study found that we would need about 8,500 strategically-placed charge stations to support a fleet of just 7 million electric cars. That’s about six times the current number of electric cars but no one is talking about supporting just 7 million cars. We should be talking about powering about 300 million within the next 20 years…

….The power outages in California and Texas — the largest U.S. states by population and by car ownership — exposed issues with powering needs even at current usage levels. Increasing usage of wind and solar, neither of which can be throttled to meet demand, and both of which prove unreliable in crisis, has driven some coal and natural gas generators offline. Wind simply runs counter to needs — it generates too much power when we tend not to need it, and generates too little when we need more. The storage capacity to account for this doesn’t exist yet.

We will need much more generation capacity to power about 300 million cars if we’re all going to be forced to drive electric cars. Whether we’re charging them at home or charging them on the road, we will be charging them frequently. Every gas station you see on the roadside today will have to be wired to charge electric cars, and charge speeds will have to be greatly increased. Current technology enables charges in “as little as 30 minutes,” according to Kelly Blue Book. That best-case-scenario fast charging cannot be done on home power. It uses direct current and specialized systems. Charging at home on alternative current can take a few hours to overnight to fill the battery, and will increase the home power bill…

Toyota isn’t saying none of this can be done, by the way. It’s just saying that so far, the conversation isn’t anywhere near serious enough to get things done. Read More > at PJ Media

Americans Are Spending Their Stimulus Checks On Guns – Americans are looking forward to another round of stimulus checks and gun shops are looking forward to another round of stimulus stockpiling.

As the House takes its final vote Wednesday on the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, many Americans are looking forward to spending their $1,400 stimulus checks at the gun store.

Retailers have learned from the previous two rounds of stimulus payments that they can provide a temporary windfall for gun stores.

Al Tawilowner of Towers Armory, a gun store and range in Oregon, Ohio, said that his weekly sales jumped by about 20% right after mid-April 2020, when many Americans received the first $1,200 stimulus payments from the federal government. He has every reason to believe it will happen again.

If last year was any indication, many Americans will be splurging on firearms again. There’s been a yearlong boom in sales as Americans have armed themselves due to worries about the rise of violent crime and outbreaks of civil unrest… Read More > at Forbes

How the WHO’s Hunt for Covid’s Origins Stumbled in China – More than a dozen foreign scientists led by the World Health Organization gathered with Chinese counterparts last month to vote on the question: How did the Covid-19 pandemic start?

The show of hands came after a four-week joint study in the city where the first cases were identified, a mission many hoped would provide some clarity to a world craving answers.

For a while, it appeared to. The vote’s results captured headlines: The virus probably jumped to humans from an animal; further research was needed on whether it spread on frozen food; a lab leak was “extremely unlikely.”

A month on, however, as the WHO-led team finalizes its full report on the Wuhan mission, a Wall Street Journal investigation has uncovered fresh details about the team’s formation and constraints that reveal how little power it had to conduct a thorough, impartial examination—and call into question the clarity its findings appeared to provide.

China resisted international pressure for an investigation it saw as an attempt to assign blame, delayed the probe for months, secured veto rights over participants and insisted its scope encompass other countries as well, the Journal found. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Did the Coronavirus Leak From a Lab? The Scientific Debate Is Still Unresolved – …After Chinese scientists posted a draft genome of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the disease culprit in Wuhan, Petrovksy — who by this time had put skiing on the backburner to work from his Colorado home office — directed his colleagues down under to run computer modeling studies of the viral sequence, a first step towards designing a vaccine.

This generated a startling result: The spike proteins studding SARS-CoV-2 bound more tightly to their human cell receptor, a protein called ACE2, than target receptors on any other species evaluated. In other words, SARS-CoV-2 was surprisingly well adapted to its human prey, which is unusual for a newly emerging pathogen. “Holy shit, that’s really weird,'” Petrovsky recalls thinking.

As Petrovsky considered whether SARS-CoV-2 may have emerged in lab cultures with human cells, or cells engineered to express the human ACE2 protein, a letter penned by 27 scientists appeared suddenly on Feb. 19 in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. The authors insisted that SARS-CoV-2 had a natural origin, and they condemned any alternate hypotheses as conspiracy theories that create only “fear, rumors, and prejudice.”

Petrovksy says he found the letter infuriating. Conspiracy theorists is “the last thing we were, and it looked to be pointing at people like us,” he says.

Last month, a team of international scientists completed a month-long visit to Wuhan to investigate SARS-CoV-2’s origins. Convened by the WHO, and closely monitored by Chinese authorities, the team concluded initially that a lab leak was so unlikely that further investigations of it were unnecessary. The WHO’s director general later walked that statement back, claiming that “all hypotheses remain open and require further analysis and studies.” A group of 26 scientists, social scientists, and science communicators — Petrovksy among them — have now signed their own letter arguing that WHO investigators lacked “the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses” to determine whether or not SARS-CoV-2 could have been the result of a laboratory incident. Read More > at Real Clear Science 

Virus tolls similar despite governors’ contrasting actions – Nearly a year after California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the nation’s first statewide shutdown because of the coronavirus, masks remain mandated, indoor dining and other activities are significantly limited, and Disneyland remains closed.

By contrast, Florida has no statewide restrictions. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has prohibited municipalities from fining people who refuse to wear masks. And Disney World has been open since July.

Despite their differing approaches, California and Florida have experienced almost identical outcomes in COVID-19 case rates.

How have two states that took such divergent tacks arrived at similar points?

“This is going to be an important question that we have to ask ourselves: What public health measures actually were the most impactful, and which ones had negligible effect or backfired by driving behavior underground?” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Though research has found that mask mandates and limits on group activities such as indoor dining can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, states with greater government-imposed restrictions have not always fared better than those without them. Read More < from the Associated Press

The Gradual Return of Good Sense – President Biden made a statement last week that Americans might be able to gather in small groups by July 4, to celebrate Independence Day. One wonders who is protecting him from the reality: most of the country is almost entirely back to normal. 

Outside of California and some Northeast states, the lockdowns have largely ended, with ever more states repealing restrictions and mandates. Reimposing them for any reason seems almost unthinkable at this point. Anthony Fauci’s constant prattle about the dangers of opening up are falling on deaf ears. 

The few states that are still locked down are rapidly losing residents and businesses. States that are entirely open are gaining them. As for the travel against which the CDC warns, the nation’s airports and highways are back to pre-lockdown levels of normal. The slogan “land of the free” is starting to mean something again. 

Even the New York Times, which has led the lockdown effort for longer than a year, is starting to back peddle, finally. An article called “I Would Much Rather Be in Florida” points out:

[M]uch of the state has a boomtown feel, a sense of making up for months of lost time.

Realtors cold-knock on doors looking to recruit sellers to the sizzling housing market, in part because New Yorkers and Californians keep moving in. The unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, compared to 9.3 percent in California, 8.7 percent in New York and 6.9 percent in Texas. That debate about opening schools? It came and went months ago. Children have been in classrooms since the fall….

Florida’s death rate is no worse than the national average, and better than that of some other states that imposed more restrictions, despite its large numbers of retirees, young partyers and tourists. Caseloads and hospitalizations across most of the state are down….

Try to buy a home and the experience is frustrating for a different reason: an open house will have 30 cars parked outside. Though Florida’s population growth has slowed during the pandemic, documentary stamps, an excise tax on real estate sales, were 15 percent higher in January than they were a year ago. Filing fees for new corporations were 14 percent higher.

Also notable is that the heavily curated comment section of the article is packed with people saying that we never should have locked down – a point of view practically banned for the better part of a year.  Read More > at American Institute for Economic Learning 

Biden administration limits what Border Patrol can share with media about migrant surge at border – The Biden administration is restricting the information Border Patrol agents and sector chiefs can share with the media as a surge of migrants tests the agency’s capacity at the southern border, according to four current and two former Customs and Border Protection officials.

The officials say the restrictions are seen as an unofficial “gag order” and are often referred to that way among colleagues. The officials requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media about the topic.

Border Patrol officials have been told to deny all media requests for “ride-alongs” with agents along the southern land border; local press officers are instructed to send all information queries, even from local media, to the press office in Washington for approval; and those responsible for cultivating data about the number of migrants in custody have been reminded not to share the information with anyone to prevent leaks, the officials said.

Multiple news organizations, including NBC News, have requested access to or photos from inside overcrowded border processing facilities holding unaccompanied migrant children; they have been denied. The DHS press office released one photo late Tuesday of a mother and child undergoing a health screening inside a border facility, but no wider shots to show conditions or sleeping arrangements. Read More > at NBC News

California gas prices in 13-week surge rise to $3.73 average – The cost of an average gallon of gasoline in California rose to $3.73 in the past week, the highest its been in 67 weeks.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s yardstick for regular gas as of March 15 was up 9 cents in a week and is up $1.09 since the pandemic era low of $2.64 per gallon last May. That’s a 41% increase. The last time it was higher? Nov. 25, 2019.

Pump prices statewide have increased for 13 consecutive weeks as fuel’s key ingredient, crude oil, soars in price. West Texas Intermediate, a U.S. benchmark for crude oil, is up 35% this year to $66 per barrel as of last week. Read More > in The Orange County Register

A mouse embryo has been grown in an artificial womb—humans could be next – The photographs alone tell a fantastic story—a mouse embryo, complete with beating heart cells, a head, and the beginning of limbs, alive and growing in a glass jar.

According to a scientific group in Israel, which took the picture, the researchers have grown mice in an artificial womb for as long as 11 or 12 days, about half the animal’s natural gestation period.

It’s record for development of a mammal outside the womb, and according to the research team, human embryos could be next—raising huge new ethical questions.

“This sets the stage for other species,” says Jacob Hanna, a developmental biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, who led the research team. “I hope that it will allow scientists to grow human embryos until week five.”

Growing human embryos in the lab for that long, deep into the first trimester, would put science on a collision course with the abortion debate. Hanna believes lab-grown embryos could be a research substitute for tissue derived from abortions, and possibly a source of tissue for medical treatments as well. Read More > at MIT Technology Review 

Utah Eases Up on the Bureaucracy with Nation’s First General Regulatory Sandbox – It’s no secret that regulations can make or break a new business. Government rules on economic activities can be expensive or time-consuming to established firms. For new startups, they can be a non-starter. An entrepreneur can have an innovative idea to provide new goods and services at a higher quality or lower cost than the big boys that dominate the market. But if pioneering new firms can’t handle high regulatory costs, those ideas might never come to be.

Regulatory sandboxes” create a stripped-down regulatory environment where startups and entrepreneurs can experiment with new business concepts under the watch and light guidelines of regulators. It’s a way to carve a space for innovation without wholesale regulatory reform, which can often be daunting.

Regulatory sandboxes are a fairly new phenomenon, with the first major effort dating back to the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), a “financial technology” (fintech) sandbox, some half a decade ago. Most regulatory sandboxes are for fintech, but there are other experiments for things like insuranceenergy, and legal services. The World Bank tallies up 73 regulatory sandboxes across the world, with the majority of them being launched in the past two years.

Because regulatory sandboxes are so new, we have limited data on how effective they are to actually kickstart growth and innovation. The FCA is the oldest, so it has some lessons to offer. The results so far have been promising: Sandbox participants got to market 40 percent faster than non-participants; 80 percent of the participants graduated into the normal market; and participants attracted around £135 million ($187 million U.S.) in funding (around half of the participants ended up partnering with an incumbent firm).

…Enter Utah’s new general purpose regulatory sandbox, which was just passed by the state legislature and awaits the Governor’s signature. It’s a really innovative proposal, and it gets around some of the limitations of previous sandbox experiments.

Rather than granting punctuated regulatory relief on an industry-by-industry basis, Utah’s general sandbox creates a new body, called the Office of Regulatory Relief (ORR), that any innovative new company can work with to seek sandbox participation. The company must submit an application to the ORR which explains their business model, which regulations are getting in the way, and how the state would benefit if they are able to participate in a sandbox program. The ORR reviews the application in consultation with the relevant regulatory agency. Successful applicants will receive regulatory exemptions for a one-year period and can apply for an annual extension after that. Read More > at Reason

Feinstein says she plans to serve out full term after Newsom vows to appoint a Black woman to replace her – Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the 87-year-old veteran Democrat, insisted on Tuesday that she is committed to serving out her full term in office even after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he had a list of “multiple” potential replacements and would appoint a Black woman to replace her should she retire.

“There’s nothing to it,” Feinstein told CNN on Tuesday about Democratic governor’s remarks. “No,” she said when asked if she would retire before the end of her six-year term, which is set to expire at the end of 2024. “I have not discussed that with anybody, nobody has asked me any questions about it.”

“We’re very good friends. I don’t think he meant it the way some people thought,” Feinstein said when asked about the governor’s comments. The senator added, “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”

As she walked into the Senate chamber on Tuesday, Feinstein said “you’ll have to ask him” why Newsom said he already has names in mind to replace her. Read More > at CNN

Alaric Bridgeman was beaming with excitement and pride as he hoofed it down a makeshift runway created for him by the staff at Akron Children’s Hospital and into the loving arms of a family member.

The boy suffered from a rare inflammatory disease called transverse myelitis which by December had pressed against his spinal cord, paralyzing the boy completely.

Alaric worked relentlessly twice a day for several months to regain his movement, aided by his loving father, David Bridgeman, who regularly took long “walks” with him around the hospital. After weeks of therapy, the boy was ready to try out his walker in front of a crowd.

Millionaire Members of Congress and Their Taxpayer-Funded Pensions – In 2018, the latest year available, 617 retired members of Congress received federal pensions: 318 at an average of $75,528, under the older (CSRS) retirement program, and 299 at an average of $41,208 under the current (FERS) system.

That is an annual payout of $36.2 million per year.

Open The Books’ honorary chairman, the late Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) refused his pension, though Congress changed the law so those starting service after 2003 cannot decline pension coverage.

What do Congressional felons and Congressional millionaires have in common? They both get taxpayer-subsidized pensions.

No members have ever been stripped of their federal pension because of a public corruption conviction – our auditors confirmed this recently.  

All members of Congress who serve for five years are pension eligible at 62-years old, or at 50-years old if they serve for 20 years.

Last year, at Forbes, we calculated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earned $5.7 million in salary during her 35-year congressional career (from $77,400 to today’s $223,500 as Speaker). We estimated the Speaker, qualifies for a $106,363 annual taxpayer-funded pension, and an additional $47,604 a year in Social Security upon retirement, though she carries an estimated net worth between $43 and $202 million. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (with an estimated net worth of $35 million) earned $5.5 million in salary over 37 years (from $75,100 to today’s $193,400, as minority leader in the Senate). Upon retirement, we estimate  McConnell (age 79) qualifies for a $96,738 pension, and he’s also eligible for Social security amounting to an additional $46,164 each year. Read More > at Real Clear Policy

Audio shows the media got the Trump-Georgia story all wrong – It’s one thing if a single news outlet publishes a fraudulent anonymously sourced “scoop.”

It’s another thing entirely if multiple newsrooms claim they independently “confirmed” the fraudulent “scoop” with anonymous sources of their own.

In January, the Washington Post scored a humdinger of a “scoop.” Then-President Donald Trump, still reeling from the results of the 2020 election, “urged Georgia’s lead elections investigator to ‘find the fraud’ in a lengthy December phone call, saying the official would be a ‘national hero,’” the Washington Post reported, citing a single anonymous source who supposedly “confirmed” the details of the private conversation.

But recently released audio of the phone call shows that Trump never said these things. He never urged the investigations chief to “find the fraud” in Georgia’s presidential election results. He never promised the investigator would be a “national hero.”

The newspaper’s supposedly eye-opening “scoop” has since been updated to include a 130-word editor’s note, which reads:

Two months after publication of this story, the Georgia secretary of state released an audio recording of President Donald Trump’s December phone call with the state’s top elections investigator. The recording revealed that The Post misquoted Trump’s comments on the call, based on information provided by a source. Trump did not tell the investigator to “find the fraud” or say she would be “a national hero” if she did so. Instead, Trump urged the investigator to scrutinize ballots in Fulton County, Ga., asserting she would find “dishonesty” there. He also told her that she had “the most important job in the country right now.” A story about the recording can be found here. The headline and text of this story have been corrected to remove quotes misattributed to Trump.

If you can believe it, the Washington Post bungling its “bombshell” report isn’t the most scandalous thing about this episode in media malfeasance. No, the most scandalous thing is: Several newsrooms claimed they independently “confirmed” the most damning details of the Washington Post’s since-corrected “scoop.” Read More > at the Washington Examiner 

The wealth tax is back – A group of progressive Democrats on Monday introduced a plan to “tax extreme wealth” in California by levying a 1% tax on those worth more than $50 million and a 1.5% tax on those worth more than $1 billion. The proposal — which would have to be approved by a majority of voters — comes despite Newsom’s stated opposition to not only creating a wealth tax, but also raising corporate or personal income taxes. It also follows two failed attempts last legislative session to create a millionaire tax and to hike income taxes for the state’s top earners. Assemblymember Alex Lee, a San Jose Democrat and the proposal’s principal author, said it would generate $22.3 billion annually to “continually invest in our communities” and help close California’s staggering wealth gap.

Also backing the bill is progressive tech investor Joe Sanberg, whose apparent political ambitions raise the question of whether he’d consider running for California governor in a recall election. Sanberg said Monday he opposes the recall, though he didn’t explicitly rule out running. He also dismissed the notion that a wealth tax could drive businesses out of California.

  • Sanberg: “The number one thing you need as a businessperson is customers who have money. … For decades now, people who need to buy things don’t have any money, and the people who have all the money have run out of things to buy. That’s not a recipe for great economic growth in California or anywhere.” Read More > at CalMatters

Newsom launches anti-recall campaign – In a tacit acknowledgment that he will likely face a recall election this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday officially launched a campaign against the effort to remove him from office.

The move came two days before the deadline for organizers to submit the final batch of signatures needed to trigger a recall election. It also breaks the governor’s lengthy silence on the issue: For months, Newsom refused to acknowledge the recall, and although he referred to it obliquely in his State of the State speech last week, he appeared to utter the word for the first time in a Monday tweet denouncing “this partisan, Republican recall.” He also granted two exclusive interviews on the subject to friendly national TV shows: MSNBC on Monday and “The View” Tuesday.

The governor’s comments underscore the California Democratic Party’s game plan for combating the recall: Portray it as a Trump-inspired movement full of conspiracy theorists, political extremists and anti-vaxxers, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. But a poll released Monday by Emerson College and Nexstar Media Group complicates that narrative, with 39% of independent voters in favor of recalling Newsom. With 86% of Republicans supporting the recall and 66% of Democrats opposing it, Newsom’s fate could very well lie in the hands of independent voters. 

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is shoring up its flanks. Prominent BlackLGBTQ and Asian-American Democrats have coalesced behind Newsom, who also gained endorsements from U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in an apparent attempt to stave off potential challengers from the left. 

Mauna Loa, The World’s Biggest Volcano, Is Waking Up And It’s Time To Prep For An Eruption – Scientists monitoring the unsettled geological activity on Hawaii’s biggest island say that while an eruption of the volcano that dominates the landscape isn’t yet imminent, Mauna Loa’s long nap may be coming to an end.

The Big Island of Hawaii is really a collection of five volcanoes poking out of the Pacific Ocean, including one of the world’s most active – Kilauea – and the world’s largest: Mauna Loa, making up about half the island’s land mass.

Kilauea has been in the throes of a fiery, dramatic and sometimes destructive eruptive period for decades now. And while the smaller shield volcano on Mauna Loa’s eastern slope garners international attention for its tantrums, its big sibling has been slumbering since it last erupted in 1984.

But over the past week, the Hawaii Volcano Observatory recorded over 200 small magnitude earthquakes below Mauna Loa. These and other observations of increased activity in recent weeks all point to an increased flow of magma into the volcano’s shallow storage system, according to the HVO.

In other words, Mauna Loa is slowly waking up. Read More  > at Forbes

Abuse and Power Andrew Cuomo’s governorship has been defined by cruelty that disguised chronic mismanagement. Why was that celebrated for so long? – Joel Wertheimer took a job in Andrew Cuomo’s administration in February 2017, straight from his position in Barack Obama’s White House. He came on alongside almost 30 other new hires, many of whom had also worked for the outgoing president or on Hillary Clinton’s campaign and were seeking a progressive professional path through the Trump years. Some saw New York State government as a bulwark against what they feared Trumpism would bring. Others hoped it could be a laboratory for ideas that might become a model for federal policy.

Early in their employment, a few of these staffers were invited to a party at the governor’s mansion in Albany. Partway through the bash, there was a roast of Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, then the chief of staff but soon to be promoted to secretary to the governor. The roast, said Wertheimer, entailed projecting photos of prominent state officials, “then asking Melissa if she knew their names, and her not knowing.” The newcomers whispered and huddled together while everyone else laughed. “We were saying to each other, ‘This is fucking weird,’ ” said one former staffer. “This was not ha-ha funny,” Wertheimer explained. “This was, ‘You guys are bad at your job!’ And, ‘You’re mean!’ ”

Four years later, and one year after he began his star turn as “America’s Governor,” steering his state through COVID via daily, reassuringly matter-of-fact press briefings, Andrew Cuomo’s third term as governor of New York is suddenly deeply imperiled. In January, State Attorney General Letitia James released a report showing that his administration had underreported COVID deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent. In February, liberal State Assembly member Ron Kim, who had criticized the governor in the wake of that report, spoke publicly about how Cuomo called him at home and threatened his career. Then the floodgates opened: His adversary Mayor Bill de Blasio called the bullying “classic Andrew Cuomo”; state legislators Alessandra Biaggi and Yuh-Line Niou began openly suggesting that the governor’s hard-knuckled approach to politics is simply abusive. And since last month, when Cuomo’s former aide and candidate for Manhattan borough president, Lindsey Boylan, published an article on Medium accusing him of sexually harassing and kissing her against her will, five more women have come forward with tales of harassment, objectification, and inappropriate touching. As of publication, dozens of Democratic members of the State Assembly and Senate, and 11 Democratic members of Congress, have called for his resignation.

That Andrew Cuomo is being characterized by fellow Democratic politicians as a lecherous tyrant who empowers his staff to threaten and intimidate should not, in some ways, come as a surprise. During his decade as governor, he has often strutted his thuggish paternalism while his top aides disparaged those who challenged him. Two years ago, a Cuomo spokesman called three female state lawmakers in his party “fucking idiots.” In 2013, Cuomo created the Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption, only to shut it down abruptly less than a year later amid allegations that he had obstructed its work; one of Cuomo’s closest associates, Joe Percoco, is serving a six-year term in federal prison on bribery charges.

But until now, none of this left a lasting mark on the governor. If anything, it burnished his reputation: Cuomo was a bully, but he was our bully. Over the course of the past year, however, as he took his show national as Governor Covid, the political dynamics in Cuomo’s own state were shifting. Now, the venal toxicity that has buttressed his career has, at least temporarily, been exposed for what it is. Read More > from the New York

How Californians Are Weaponizing Environmental Law – By any reasonable metric, the empty lot on the corner of First and Lorena Street in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles is a natural place to build housing. With a bus stop next door and an Expo Line light-rail station less than a quarter mile away, residents would enjoy an easy 30-minute commute to one of the densest business districts in North America. They could walk to daily necessities such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants, making car ownership mostly optional. And thanks to the energy efficiencies of multifamily living, folks moving in from the sprawl that otherwise defines L.A. would see their environmental impact plummet.

Yet when a local nonprofit developer proposed several years ago to build a 49-unit apartment building on the lot—with 24 homes set aside for disabled veterans experiencing homelessness—it was slammed with an environmental lawsuit. A single angry neighbor was able to delay the project, thanks to a piece of legislation known as the California Environmental Quality Act. Although a 189-page assessment found that all possible environmental effects could be mitigated, the suit demanded that planners spend years conducting additional environmental research. The site—covered in cracked concrete and lined with a barbed-wire-topped chain-link fence—remains empty to this day.

As incidents like the one at First and Lorena multiply, CEQA has emerged as an unexpected impediment to California’s going green. Across the Golden State, CEQA lawsuits have imperiled infill housing in Sacramento, solar farms in San Diego, and transit in San Francisco. The mere threat of a lawsuit is enough to stop small projects—especially housing—from starting in the first place. Indeed, one of the main effects of CEQA has been to exacerbate the state’s crippling housing-affordability crisis.

The acts work like so: For any public project, the state must conduct an initial environmental study, considering a range of possible effects relating to issues such as air quality, noise, and protected natural areas. If a project crosses certain thresholds—say, by encroaching too much on wetlands or generating too much stormwater runoff—the agency must conduct an environmental-impact report (EIR), extensively documenting all possible harms, setting out potential alternatives, and organizing public hearings for feedback. In this sense, CEQA’s purpose is strictly informational: Legislatures and agencies are always free to go forward with a project, as long as they acknowledge, disclose, and mitigate its impacts.

In the early days, initial studies and EIRs were generally quite short, and covered only truly public projects. But in 1972, the California courts interpreted a “public project” to include any private development that required governmental approvals. In cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, where almost nothing can be built without some form of discretionary permit, this effectively meant that every apartment building and office tower in the state now had to conduct an environmental assessment. Notably, no other state applies its environmental-policy act in this way. Read More > in The Atlantic

The Rise of Women in State Legislatures: A State-by-State Map – In 2021, more women than ever — over 2,200 — are serving in state legislatures, with increasing control over the levers of power and change. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that 90 women now serve in leadership positions in these bodies, another record.

As NCSL tracking shows, women held about a quarter of all seats between 2009 and 2018, but that began to shift upward in 2019. Women now account for about 30 percent of all state legislators. Though women represent nearly 51 percent of the U.S. population, they hold less than half of the legislative seats in every state but one, Nevada, where they have 60 percent.

Percentages don’t tell the whole story. More than 150 women serve in state legislative bodies in New Hampshire, about 36 percent of 424 possible seats. Women have a similar share of the 120 seats in California, but in the Golden State, a few dozen voices speak for nearly 20 million females. This is 30 times the number residing in New Hampshire, and more American citizens than the entire population of every state but three. Twice as many Democratic women are in state legislatures as Republican, but in red states such as Georgia, Florida and Michigan, women hold seats in the same proportion as in California. Read More > at Governing 


About Kevin

Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-UPI, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Trustee RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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