Sunday Reading – 04/18/2021

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.

Booze and corruption: A brief history of the Bay Area’s infamous Secret Sidewalk – The Secret Sidewalk — as it’s best known locally — technically isn’t a sidewalk at all. What appears to be an accidental walkway off Highway 84 in Dresser, Calif., about 40 miles southeast of San Francisco, is actually the former Sunol Aqueduct. Walking along the former aqueduct has been illegal for decades, but the site may one day soon be a legitimate Bay Area park.

Because some sections of the aqueduct rise above ground and are encased by solid concrete, the appearance gives the impression of a sidewalk, and thus, the nickname stuck. In the 1970s, it was the preferred spot for teenage debauchery.

Long before teenagers sneaked to the Secret Sidewalk, the Sunol Aqueduct delivered millions of gallons from Alameda Creek in Niles Canyon throughout the San Francisco Bay Area nearly 100 years ago. When the Sunol Aqueduct was completed in 1924, Spring Valley Water delivered water through its aqueduct and by underground pipelines underneath the Dumbarton Bridge.

And while Spring Valley Water was an integral part of San Francisco life, it was also a company allegedly rooted in corruption. According to an article by FoundSF, which took a deep dive into the company’s history, Spring Valley Water monopolized water rights in San Francisco between 1860 to 1930.

…Nearly 26 years out of commission, the Sunol Aqueduct remains intact despite Ramirez stating it’s a liability. That was one of the reasons Mission Clay Products demolished a portion of the aqueduct that crossed its property in 2018, according to KNTV.

The S.F. Public Utilities Commission has also debated demolishing some parts of the Sunol Aqueduct, but Ramirez admits that it would be a huge undertaking. In 2009, there were talks between the S.F. Public Utilities Commission and the East Bay Regional Park District, which owns most of the land around the aqueduct, to create a public trail. Some portions of the Secret Sidewalk would be preserved and used as part of the trail, and it’s a project the Public Utilities Commission is still interested in realizing, Ramirez said. Read More > at SFGate

There Will Be Less Bay Area Commuters Post-Pandemic – Around 34 percent of California’s Bay Area residents plan to commute to the office less in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a major shift that could reshape the region’s work and transit systems, according to a new poll.

The percentage of fully remote workers is expected to increase to 16 percent — a total of 640,000 people — up from 10 percent before the pandemic, according to the poll last month of 1,000 registered voters in the nine Bay Area counties. The Bay Area Council, a business group, sponsored the poll, which was conducted by EMC Research.

The impact on transit has been uneven, with public transit, carpooling, walking and biking all falling significantly during the pandemic, according to the poll. Only a partial rebound is expected: 15 percent of respondents are taking public transit at least twice a week during the pandemic, down from 29 percent. Only 20 percent expect to take it after the pandemic, and 64 percent of respondents believe public transit is currently unsafe. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Meanwhile, car ridership has stayed high during the pandemic, with 77 percent of poll respondents using a car at least two to three times per week, up from 76 percent before the pandemic. That percentage is expected to dip only slightly, to 74 percent, after the pandemic. Five of the Bay Area’s eight toll bridges, including the Bay Bridge, now have over 90 percent of their pre-pandemic traffic levels, according to a Chronicle analysis. Meanwhile, BART daily ridership was as much as 88 percent below projections last month. Read More > at Governing

Complex water politics – A controversial bill that would have banned fracking and other oil extraction methods and prevented gas wells from operating near homes, schools and health care facilities died in the state Legislature on Tuesday — freeing the governor from having to take a stance on the lightning-rod issue ahead of an almost-certain recall election. Although lawmakers had introduced the bill at Newsom’s behest, their proposal was much more ambitious than what he’d asked for. Newsom refused to disclose his position on the bill, likely to avoid alienating labor unions representing oil and gas workers on one side and environmental groups on the other.

Though the bill could still be amended and revived, its failure in a nine-member Democratic-majority committee suggests it won’t be heading to the governor’s desk anytime soon. But Newsom is already tangled in another politically thorny environmental battle as drought looms on the horizon: Who should be prioritized for the state’s scarce water?

The governor evaded questions as to whether he would declare a drought emergency — which would allow him to mandate conservation and relax environmental restrictions on some water sources to divert more to farmers — at a Tuesday press conference at which he signed a $536 million wildfire prevention bill. Last week, a bipartisan group of Central Valley lawmakers called on Newsom to declare an emergency to ensure the agricultural industry receives adequate water. Environmental advocates and tribal members are urging Newsom not to prioritize ag at the expense of endangered species and wetlands. 

  • Newsom on Tuesday: “We are mindful of the urgency as it relates to anxiety now entering the second year of drought conditions. And we will be very, very forthright if we make a determination of drought emergency. But again, that has to come with certain benefits that otherwise couldn’t be accrued without it.” 

Tensions could heighten later this week, when the federal government is expected to announce allocations from the federally owned Klamath Project along the California-Oregon border, where farmers and Indigenous tribes are competing for scarce water resources. 

Drought disaster vs. drought emergency – To assist California, which is the nation’s largest food supplier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently declared a drought disaster for 50 counties. That makes growers throughout the state who have been struggling with parched conditions eligible to seek federal loans.

A drought disaster sounds alarming, but officials say the reality is more mundane: It simply opens up emergency federal loans to California farmers who are struggling with back-to-back dry years. Growers in the 50 counties but also in all the counties next door (including 16 in Oregon, Arizona and Nevada) are eligible for loans. 

This federal designation is very different from declaring a drought emergency under California’s Emergency Services Act, which would allow the governor to take more sweeping actions affecting all Californians, such as mandating conservation, waiving some state regulations and reallocating funds. Under state law, declaring a drought emergency would require “conditions of disaster or of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within the state” that local governments can’t cope with on their own. 

Rain and snow in much of the state are roughly half of average. The state deemed the snowpack on California’s mountains “well below normal.” The two major reservoirs are at about half of their capacity. And streamflow rivals levels during the peak of the last drought, which started in 2012 and continued through 2016.  Read More > at CalMatters

California raised fuel taxes 4 years ago, and it’s still short on money for road repairs – California’s ambitious road repair program faces financial trouble—a projected $6.1 billion annual shortfall— four years after the state adopted the highest fuel tax in the nation in a plan to fix its battered highways

The new estimates reflect an unexpected decline in fuel tax revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic and a mix of new assumptions about how California roadways might deteriorate as climate change accelerates.

The shortfall figure was included in a 287-page draft report, “The State Highway System Management Plan,” prepared by the state transportation department for the California Transportation Commission, which got a briefing on it last month.

California’s transportation revenues, like most other states, has been hurt by a reduction in traffic volume during the COVID pandemic.

The Federal Highway Administration reported that vehicle miles traveled on California roads in January was down 15.2% from a year earlier. The December volume dropped 12.9%. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Should Government Track the Miles You Drive? – CNBC’s Kayla Tausche asked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a March 26 interview what sort of taxes he perceived as possible ways to pay for infrastructure projects.

“First, a gas tax,” she asked. “You called it old-fashioned to raise the gas tax. Do you still believe that? Could that go up?”

“Well,” said Buttigieg, “the gas tax has traditionally been part of how we fund the Highway Trust Fund, but we know that it can’t be the answer forever because we’re going to be using less and less gas.

“We’re trying to electrify the vehicle fleet,” he explained.

Indeed, President Joe Biden last week called for spending $174 billion in tax dollars to promote electric vehicles, or EVs.

But, as even Buttigieg conceded, this would create at least one problem: If an ever-increasing number of Americans start driving electric cars, what will happen to the federal revenue derived from the tax on gasoline, which is now used to fund transportation infrastructure through the Highway Trust Fund?

“What about a mileage-based tax?” Tausche asked Buttigieg.

This is a tax the government would charge a person for every mile they drive.

“I think that shows a lot of promise,” said Buttigieg.

…“The Commission cast a wide net, reviewed many funding alternatives, and concluded that indeed the most viable approach to efficiently fund federal investment in surface transportation in the medium to long run will be a user charge system based more directly on miles driven (and potentially on factors such as time of day, type of road, and vehicle weight and fuel economy) rather than indirectly on fuel consumed,” said its report.

“However much revenue Congress decides to raise at the federal level, the Commission believes it is critical to move forward with a [vehicle miles traveled] fee system,” its report concluded.

Ultimately, this would require tracking the miles driven by every car. The commission conceded this would raise what it called “privacy concerns.”

“There is a very real concern among policy makers and the general public that a road pricing system that charges based on when and where individuals travel inherently threatens privacy,” said its report… Read More > at The Daily Signal

Two Reasons Why Gasoline Prices Are Soaring – Gasoline prices in the U.S. are primarily driven by four components: crude oil prices, refining costs, retail distribution and marketing costs, and taxes. Since taxes and retail distribution costs are generally stable, the biggest factors in gasoline price trends are changes in oil prices and refining costs, the EIA says.

At the end of March, U.S. gasoline prices had increased for 17 consecutive weeks—the longest streak of rising national average gasoline prices since 1994, according to EIA’s surveys. 

On March 29, the U.S. regular retail gasoline prices averaged $2.85 per gallon, when it dropped two cents compared to the previous week for the first weekly decline since November 2020. It was in November that crude oil prices started to rise following the first good news about vaccine candidates.

…The switch from winter to summer-grade gasoline drives gasoline prices higher. Summer gasoline is more expensive to produce than winter-grade fuel because of a longer production process and more costly blending components than the fuel sold in the winter. 

This summer, U.S. gasoline prices are expected to be the highest since the summer of 2018, according to the latest estimates of the Energy Information Administration. Read More > from Oil Price

Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading – More than a decade ago, climate scientists and energy modellers made a choice about how to describe the effects of emissions on Earth’s future climate. That choice has had unintended consequences which today are hotly debated. With the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) moving into its final stages in 2020, there is now a rare opportunity to reboot.

In the lead-up to the 2014 IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), researchers developed four scenarios for what might happen to greenhouse-gas emissions and climate warming by 2100. They gave these scenarios a catchy title: Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). One describes a world in which global warming is kept well below 2 °C relative to pre-industrial temperatures (as nations later pledged to do under the Paris climate agreement in 2015); it is called RCP2.6. Another paints a dystopian future that is fossil-fuel intensive and excludes any climate mitigation policies, leading to nearly 5 °C of warming by the end of the century. That one is named RCP8.5.

RCP8.5 was intended to explore an unlikely high-risk future. But it has been widely used by some experts, policymakers and the media as something else entirely: as a likely ‘business as usual’ outcome. A sizeable portion of the literature on climate impacts refers to RCP8.5 as business as usual, implying that it is probable in the absence of stringent climate mitigation… 

Happily — and that’s a word we climatologists rarely get to use — the world imagined in RCP8.5 is one that, in our view, becomes increasingly implausible with every passing year. Emission pathways to get to RCP8.5 generally require an unprecedented fivefold increase in coal use by the end of the century, an amount larger than some estimates of recoverable coal reserves. It is thought that global coal use peaked in 2013, and although increases are still possible, many energy forecasts expect it to flatline over the next few decades. Furthermore, the falling cost of clean energy sources is a trend that is unlikely to reverse, even in the absence of new climate policies.

Assessment of current policies suggests that the world is on course for around 3 °C of warming above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century — still a catastrophic outcome, but a long way from 5 °C. We cannot settle for 3 °C; nor should we dismiss progress. Read More > at Nature

Homelessness up — again – A staggering 161,548 Californians were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2020 — a nearly 7% increase from the year before and the largest uptick in the country, according to new federal data. The point-in-time count — which advocates say is a significant underestimate — underscores the massive scope of California’s homelessness crisis even before the pandemic pushed millions of people closer to losing their homes. In 2020, the Golden State accounted for 28% of the country’s homeless population and 51% of its unsheltered population.

It may take years to measure the pandemic’s full effects on California’s homelessness situation, since this year’s January count was postponed due to COVID-19. And there are a lot of moving parts: Thousands of unhoused Californians have found shelter via Newsom’s Project Homekey program, but others are struggling to stay afloat amid skyrocketing home prices, rising rents and inadequate housing production. In this comprehensive explainer, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias explores why California’s housing costs are so high — high enough, in fact, that nearly one in three residents are considering leaving the state. Read More > at CalMatters

Our Garages Aren’t Ready For the EV RevolutionFord Motor Co.’s slick, new electric sleigh, the Mustang Mach-E, can be plugged into a standard electrical outlet like a 4,500-pound toaster. It’s a pragmatic trick, but not much more than that. It takes the machine 10 hours to draw enough juice to travel 30 miles. Anyone riding the silent pony further than the local coffee shop will probably need an upgraded outlet.

Americans will need 26 million new charging outlets installed at their homes and apartment buildings over the next decade, requiring some $39 billion in investments, if the country’s auto industry is going to go entirely electric by 2035, according to a new study by Atlas Public Policy, a Washington D.C.-based research firm. The findings highlight a reality we’re already too familiar with: range anxiety has given way to charge anxiety, as electric-curious drivers no longer wonder how far they can go, but if there will be working, relatively quick options to “fill up” once they arrive. While much has been made about the lack of charge points in rural states, the problem begins and ends at home.

Ironically, the home-charging hurdle is almost as high as that of public charging, according to the Atlas analysts. To fully flip the switch to electric vehicles, the country will need another $39 billion in infrastructure investments by 2031, enough for 495,000 outlets in public stations and workplaces,  Atlas reckons. Read More > from Bloomberg

US housing market is nearly 4M homes short of buyer demand – The U.S. housing market is 3.8 million single-family homes short of what is needed to meet the country’s demand, according to a new analysis by mortgage-finance company Freddie Mac.

The estimate represents a 52% rise in the nation’s home shortage compared with 2018, the first time Freddie Mac quantified the shortfall.

The figures underscore the severity of the housing deficit, which is a major factor fueling the current red-hot housing market. The shortage is especially acute for entry-level homes, which makes it more expensive for first-time home buyers to enter the market, said Sam Khater, chief economist at Freddie Mac. Read More > at Fox News

The price of lumber is up 193%—and about to spike even higher – From the onset, the pandemic was a perfect storm for surging lumber prices. At the same time that sawmills were limiting production during the early months of the crisis, the pandemic was spurring a do-it-yourself boom among Americans stuck at home. That supply and demand mismatch was made worse by record low interest rates and a historically tight existing housing inventory which caused buyers to rush to new construction. The backlog is so big that prices aren’t falling despite wood production hitting a 13-year high in February.

Don’t expect demand to drop anytime soon.

“The pipeline for lumber and other wood products demand remains quite deep in 2021…Builders have plenty of ongoing projects to keep working through, which is keeping lumber and panel demand high, and making it very difficult for mills to ramp production up fast enough to rebalance the market,” says Dustin Jalbert, senior economist at Fastmarkets RISI, where he specializes in wood prices.

Jalbert foresees an eventual lumber correction, but there’s no guarantee it will return to the April 2020 price of $358 per thousand board feet. If a correction does occur, it will likely be the result of the cost of lumber overwhelming builders at the same time as rising interest rates tamp down homebuying. That hasn’t happened yet, despite current lumber prices adding at least $24,000 to the price tag of a typical new single-family home, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Read More > at Fortune

U.S consumer prices surge in March, CPI finds, pushing inflation to 2 1/2-year high – Consumer prices rose in March for the fourth month in a row and the pace of inflation hit the highest level in two and a half years, underscoring new pressures emerging on the economy as the U.S. recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

The consumer price index jumped 0.6% last month, the government said Tuesday, spearheaded by the rising cost of oil. Economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.5% increase in the CPI.

The rate of inflation over the past year shot up to 2.6% from 1.7% in the prior month, marking the highest level since the fall of 2018.

The yearly rate of inflation is widely expected to surge in the next few months.

A chief reason is a faster U.S. economic recovery fueled by massive fiscal stimulus and a sharp drop this year in new coronavirus cases. That’s boosting demand for a wide array of goods and services at a time when when many key materials are in short supply. Read More > at MarketWatch

There are now more jobs available than before the pandemic. So why aren’t people signing up? – The number of job vacancies soared to nearly 15 million by mid-March, but discouraged, hesitant and fearful job seekers means many positions are still unfilled, according to new data from online job site ZipRecruiter.

Online job postings plunged from 10 million before the start of the pandemic last year to just below 6 million last May, as lockdowns and shutdown orders forced businesses to close their doors and reduce or lay off workers.

Now, as vaccinations increase and companies are again able to make projections, they’re staffing up to capture booming demand, with the number of open positions across all online listings soaring 5 million above the pandemic’s start.

…There are also plenty of good reasons for workers to still hang back, from ongoing concerns about the coronavirus, to childcare and managing remote learning, to family obligations, to holding out for better opportunities.

Economic impact payments, or stimulus checks, have also played a factor for some who are sitting out the labor market, some employers say.

Factory owners and employers lament that the generosity of unemployment benefits and stimulus payments have some workers avoiding returning to work because they make more money not working. Read More > at NBC News

America’s Largest Fast-Food Chain Is on a Downward Spiral, Reports SaySubway is America’s largest fast-food chain by the number of locations, so it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever see a world without it. But the chain closed more locations than any other rival last year and rumors of a troubled operation and an impending sale are swirling.

Subway has shuttered nearly 1,800 domestic locations since the beginning of 2020, with its total number of restaurants decreasing from 23,800 in 2019 to slightly more than 22,000. During that same time period, sales plummeted from $10.2 billion to $8.3 billion.

The chain has also reduced its staff, with some estimating that about 500 employees at the company’s headquarters have lost their jobs since early last year. CEO John Chidsey’s cost-cutting measures reportedly included moving HQ from Connecticut to Florida, a rumor which Subway has denied. However, the company did relocate a number of its C suite executives, as well as its culinary and marketing teams to Miami last month, according to Business Insider. Read More > at Eat This, Not That!

Former Disney Channel star Alyson Stoner speaks out about her ‘harrowing’ experience as a child actor: ‘My childhood is officially gone’ – In the early 2000s, Alyson Stoner became known as an actor, singer, and dancer. She landed roles in movies like “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Step Up,” as well as Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and “Camp Rock.” She also performed as a background dancer for artists such as Missy Elliott, Will Smith, and Eminem.

In a new video essay and op-ed for People magazine, she’s sharing her side of the story for the first time – one that includes facing sexual harassment, severe eating disorders, child labor law violations, and other “harrowing” experiences.

Stoner details auditioning for scenes depicting sexual violence one minute and princess toy commercials the next, and the emotional toll it took on her six-year-old self. At 12, she says she became malnourished and chronically stressed due to “inappropriate and hazardous” set conditions that violated child labor laws. At 17, she says she checked herself into rehab against the advice of her team, who told her she would risk “losing momentum” and continued to send her to auditions while she was on bedrest. Read More > at Insider

Unseen: The Boy Victims Of The Sex Trade, Part I – Boys and young men lured into the sex trade and victimized in ways the public generally assumes applies mostly to women and girls. But there is growing evidence that in New England and across the United States there are likely thousands of male victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, far more than previously understood.

In Massachusetts alone, more than 411 boys have been referred to the state Department of Children and Families since 2018 for concerns they were victims of commercial sexual exploitation — about 15 percent of the total number of referrals, according to state data. An additional 109 youth were identified as trans or non-binary, state data shows.

The state just started collecting this data in 2016, and it is widely considered to be an undercount. Definitive data is still lackingbut recent studies show boys and young men are being exploited at much higher rates. A 2016 national study found more than a third of young people involved in the U.S. sex trade were boys and young men. That same year, a federal study found a third of male youths experiencing homelessnes said they traded sex for something of value — putting their numbers in the thousands on any given night nationwide.

Yet too often male victims of sexual exploitation go unseen and unhelped, specialists say, their stories stifled by personal shame, stigma and a world that has trouble seeing boys and young men as victims at all, especially gay and trans youth and boys of color. Read More > at GBH

Survey: Relying on TV, social media for COVID-19 news leaves people less informed – People who obtain their news about COVID-19 from television and social media are less knowledgeable about the virus than those looking for other sources, according to the results of a survey published Monday by Current Medical Research & Opinion.

Compared to those who trust other sources, such as government websites, to provide them with accurate news about the pandemic, respondents who relied on TV were up to 15% less likely to correctly answer questions on the virus and related risks, the data showed.

Respondents who cited Facebook as a trusted news source on COVID-19 early in the pandemic were roughly 10% less likely to have correct information. Read More > from UPI

Texas and Florida Continue to Beat Lockdown States: Fauci ‘Not Sure’ Why Open States are Winning – Dr. Anthony Fauci is unsure why Texas and Florida continues to defy the settled “science” on COVID-19. Since the states did away with the mask mandates and authorized all businesses to re-open, there has not been a disproportionate surge in COVID cases, hospitalizations, or deaths.

Dr. Fauci was asked why Texas hasn’t seen the often predicted surge on MSNBC this week. “I’m not really quite sure,” he said. “It could be they’re doing things outdoors.”

Fauci added in his MSNBC interview that it may take weeks to see any effects from re-opening the state on the number of COVID cases.

Texas has become one of the biggest targets for lockdown and mask advocates. The state has even hosted a baseball game with 100% attendance. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have also taken stands against COVID passports.

The Lone Star State has continued to beat many lockdown states in terms of daily cases and daily deaths with a COVID infection based on government data provided by the NY Times. The COVID cases in Texas continue to decline steadily despite the state’s reopening and elimination of the mask mandate. Read More > at Trending Politics

Team Of Lawyers Suing WHO And Related Orgs. For Misleading World About COVID – The WHO made pronouncements that protected China and blocked the world from the truth, leading to catastrophic consequences. Now they are being called on to pay the piper. A group of lawyers has gotten together and is taking a run at the World Health Organization’s leadership for the various ways they helped screw the world over.   Along with WHO Director Tedros Adhanom, included as defendants in the suit are Dr. Christan Drosten, the head of virology at Berlin’s Charité Hospital, and Dr. Lothar Wieler, the head of the RKI, the German counterpart of the U.S. Center for Disease Control. la

The attorneys putting together the suit are even accusing the defendants of ‘crimes against humanity.’

Their class-action suit is being filed in the US, based on three issues:

1) The nature of the pandemic. Is it a pandemic in the authentic sense of infection rates? Or because of the prevalence of testing? Or is there a tie-in to corporate greed?

2) Are the restrictions offered because they genuinely make us safer? Or because they ramp up fear and make otherwise unpalatable options not only more palatable but demanded by the public — like all kinds of medical tests and treatments.

3) Was Germany specifically lobbied by ‘experts’ so that they would be a national role model whose example was trusted and followed by the rest of the world? Read More > at The Lid

Unwelcome and tough to evict: California’s costly, uphill battle against invasive species – California spends $3 million a year attempting to eradicate nutria, a large, homely, orange-toothed rodent that destroys wetlands and bores holes into levees. Another $3 million a year goes to educating boaters about quagga mussels, which hitch rides on hulls and cling to equipment in the state’s vast water transport system.  And, for the last 20 years, authorities have spent more than $34 million to manage Atlantic cordgrass in the San Francisco Bay-Delta.

These costs represent only a fraction of the costs “because eradication is rarely successful and control is an unending process,” according to a report that state officials presented to the Legislature in January.

The environmental damage in the United States is estimated at $120 billion to $137 billion per year. One of California’s most destructive foreign pests was the Mediterranean fruit fly, which infested fruit orchards around the state beginning in the 1970s and cost hundreds of millions to combat.

The economic and environmental impacts are getting worse, abetted by a changing climate and a smaller world where exotic creatures can hitch a ride across the globe. Read More > at CalMatters

Once On The Brink Of Eradication, Syphilis Is Raging Again – In 2000, syphilis rates were so low that public health officials believed eradication was on the horizon. But the rates started creeping up in 2001, grew steadily for the next two decades, then spiked 74% since 2015. There were nearly 130,000 cases nationwide in 2019, according to data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In California and the U.S., about half of syphilis cases are in men who have sex with men. More than a third of women in the western United States who have syphilis also use meth, a drug that has seen its own surge in recent years.

These are just some of the trends causing overall national cases of sexually transmitted diseases to hit an all-time high for the past six years in a row, reaching 2.5 million. And the consequences are now trickling down to babies who are contracting syphilis from their mothers; these congenital syphilis rates nearly quadrupled between 2012 and 2019.

This was all before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., and with contact tracers and testing supplies diverted from STDs to COVID, the CDC is predicting 2020 numbers will be no better.

While syphilis is not benign — it can cause blindness, deafness, or brain damage — it is easy to treat. Typically, a shot of penicillin in the buttock will cure it.

But diagnosing syphilis can be tricky, says Park, who treats patients with STDs at the San Francisco City Clinic… Read More > at NPR

Drug overdose deaths surged during coronavirus pandemicWhy it matters: The stubborn increase of such “deaths of despair” shows that the opioid epidemic still has room to grow and that some of the social distancing steps we took to rein in the pandemic may have brought deadly side effects.

By the numbers: More than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the 12 months leading to September 2020, according to preliminary federal data released this week.

  • That represents a 29% increase in overdose deaths for the months between October 2019 and September 2020 compared to the prior year.
  • While overdose deaths from drugs had begun rising in the months leading to the pandemic — after dipping slightly in 2018 for the first time in years — the biggest spike in deaths occurred in April and May 2020, when shutdowns were strictest.

Of note: While the earliest years of the opioid epidemic were worst among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, Black Americans are now suffering disproportionately.

Details: Experts connect some of the increase in overdose deaths to the social isolation and temporary closure of many treatment programs during the pandemic. Read More > at Axios

CA bullet train hopeful over Biden’s infrastructure plan – State rail officials are taking the glass-half-full view. Rather than lamenting the fact that high speed rail is absent from the president’s infrastructure plan, they’re pointing to supportive statements from Biden and his team, and insisting there’s time before Congress irons out a final deal to claim a share for California’s fast train.

“It’s a lot of money,” Brian Annis, the High Speed Rail Authority’s chief financial officer, said of rail’s piece of the $2.3 trillion plan. “We’re talking $80 billion with a ‘b,’ and I can’t say we know how big our slice is going to be.”

Unfortunately, when the president’s team laid out the pieces, California HSR’s sections appear to have been left of the box. Instead, Biden and his team are proposing $80 billion “to address Amtrak’s repair backlog; modernize the high traffic Northeast Corridor; improve existing corridors and connect new city pairs; and enhance the grant loan programs that support passenger and freight rail safety, efficiency and electrification.”

In the same summary, the White House notes “there are currently projects just waiting to be funded that will give millions more Americans reliable and fast inter-city train service.” It’s just high-speed rail isn’t mentioned among them. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

Study: 2.5 billion T. rex roamed Earth, but not all at once – One Tyrannosaurus rex seems scary enough. Now picture 2.5 billion of them. That’s how many of the fierce dinosaur king probably roamed Earth over the course of a couple million years, a new study finds.

Using calculations based on body size, sexual maturity and the creatures’ energy needs, a team at the University of California, Berkeley figured out just how many T. rex lived over 127,000 generations, according to a study in Thursday’s journal Science. It’s a first-of-its-kind number, but just an estimate with a margin of error that is the size of a T. rex.

“That’s a lot of jaws,” said study lead author Charles Marshall, director of the University of California Museum of Paleontology. “That’s a lot of teeth. That’s a lot of claws.”

The species roamed North America for about 1.2 million to 3.6 million years, meaning the T. rex population density was small at any one moment. There would be about two in a place the size of the Washington, D.C., or 3,800 in California, the study said. Read More > from the Associated Press


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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