Sunday Reading – 05/30/2021


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.

California nightmare: How high taxes, rampant crime, suffocating wokery, streets littered with homeless addicts, and years of liberal policies are blamed for ruining the Golden State… as thousands of families flee to Republican Texas and Florida – For the first time in a glorious 171-year history that attracted thousands seeking fortunes during the 19th Century Gold Rush, gave birth to the global movie industry and unleashed the digital revolution, California has seen its population – currently just under 40 million – decline.

It shrank by 182,083 last year – equivalent to all the citizens living in the coastal idylls of Santa Monica and Santa Barbara combined.

Families and firms are being driven away by the high cost of living, crime fears, hefty taxes, inadequate housing, interfering officials, persistent political failures, red tape, raging wildfires and the squalor of streets littered with homeless drug addicts.

California – long proclaimed as a liberal nirvana and run by Democrats – is even losing one of its seats in Congress for the first time owing to the population fall. Inevitably, Republicans say people are voting with their feet to flee to conservative states such as Florida, Idaho and Texas.

Delian Asparouhov is typical of those who turned California into such a powerhouse: a computer geek who attended the top-ranking Massachusetts Institute of Technology, launched a space start-up, was backed by a billionaire and became a venture capitalist in the state. Yet this month the Bulgarian-born entrepreneur, still ony 27, bought a house in Miami, Florida.

He said: ‘Silicon Valley has a stifling intellectual climate with its mono-culture that only allows one viewpoint to be expressed. It seems to espouse the same socialist values as the Soviet Union.

Yet perhaps the most profound problem confronting California is the pessimism that plagues so many families in the state. ‘People can’t live a middle-class lifestyle on a middle-class income, so they feel frustrated and many move,’ said Dowell Myers, an expert at the University of Southern California on demographic change. One Berkeley University survey last year found more than half of registered voters had thought about moving out of the state, blaming housing costs, high taxes and concerns over the dominant political culture. Read More > in the Daily Mail

California’s highest-in-the-nation gas taxes are rising and promised repairs are lagging – Four years after the Legislature boosted the gas tax in order to fix California’s crumbling roads and bridges, the state has spent billions and made some progress in repairs, but officials now say the funding is sufficient only to complete less than half of the work needed.

The gas tax has been a political hot potato since it was passed in 2017, resulting in the recall of a Democratic state senator who voted for the legislation and an unsuccessful attempt by Republicans in 2018 to ask voters to repeal the higher charges.

Now, with the gas tax set to increase again July 1, the campaign to fix roads and bridges is again stirring contention, drawing criticism from some lawmakers who say repairs have been too slow and the effort has lagged behind other states in maintaining and improving transportation systems.

The program to fix roads has been hampered by California’s high cost of repairs compared with other states and by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in less driving and therefore hundreds of millions fewer gas-tax dollars than expected. In addition, with people driving more electric and fuel- efficient cars, state officials are studying ways to make up for the loss of gas tax revenue, possibly with fees tied to miles driven. Rea More > in the LATimes.com.

Follow the money – Monday was a big day for money in California. Some highlights:

Here’s Why San Francisco is Experiencing a Shoplifting Surge That’s Putting Some Stores Out of Business – “I’m new to San Francisco,” New York Times journalist Thomas Fuller told a grocery store clerk shortly after moving to the city. “Is it optional to pay for things here?”

It sounds like an absurd thing to ask, but Fuller explains in a new article that he was genuinely forced to wonder what was going on after he witnessed people walk into Walgreens and Safeway, grab stuff, and walk out. He says that the problem has only gotten worse in recent years—and is now literally forcing businesses to close their doors.

“Representatives from Walgreens said that thefts at its stores in San Francisco were four times the chain’s national average, and that it had closed 17 stores, largely because the scale of thefts had made business untenable,” Fuller reports. Meanwhile, CVS told him that San Francisco had become “one of the epicenters of organized retail crime” and that the chain has scaled back its security guards’ shoplifting enforcement because it’s become so dangerous.

You might understandably be wondering: What the heck is going on?

In 2014, a ballot referendum passed that downgraded the theft of property less than $950 in value from a felony charge to a misdemeanor. In the years since, enforcement of shoplifting charges has waned significantly.

“It has become part of the landscape,” local politician Ahsha Safaí remarked of the shoplifting. “People say, ‘Oh, well, that just happens. [Thieves] are obviously choosing locales based on what the consequences are. there are no consequences for their actions, then you invite the behavior. Over and over.”

It’s not just based on anecdotes and it’s not just happening in San Francisco. 

One study found that in Santa Monica, California, crimes unaffected by the ballot referendum fell by 9 percent but those that were downgraded increased 15 percent. Another analysis found that statewide, larceny thefts increased 9 percent after the 2014 change.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on here. Many different factors impact crime rates, but when the government fails to protect property rights and enforce the law, theft becomes more common and innocent business owners are victimized. The resulting economic uncertainty discourages growth and, in extreme cases like San Francisco, literally leads stores to close.  Read More > at FEE

Delta smelt extinct? Congressional candidate says yes – The delta smelt has been listed as an endangered species by the California Endangered Species Act since 2009.

Protections for the small, minnow-like fish, have kept water from flowing to farms.

The restrictions especially sting when farmers have already been told they will not receive any water allotments.

Some, like Jay Kroeker of Shafter, are now destroying their crops.

“We’re having to dry up almond trees,” says Jay Kroeker, a farmer who is with the group “California Water for Food and People Movement.”

Mathys says he served the notice to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skip in Washington DC and California State Director, Charlton H. Bonham in Sacramento.

The state carries out quarterly surveys; it found no delta smelt in 2020.

Trawls in 2017 found two delta smelt.

No smelt were found in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

“You don’t control and restrict an entire economy, the number one economy in the state of California, over four fish. You have to prioritize what’s most important,” Mathys said. “Something needs to be done.”

Those who support the protections say the smelt serve a big purpose: they are an “indicator species” for the health of the Delta. Read More > at Fox 26 News

Rejected by Voters, Zero $0 Bail Bill Passes California State Senate – A bill that would reduce bail statewide to $0 for all but the most serious crimes was passed in the Senate on Wednesday by a 30-9 vote.

Senate Bill 262, authored by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) would set bail at $0 for all offenses except serious or violent felonies, violations of specified protective orders, battery against a spouse, sex offenses, and driving under the influence. A statewide bail schedule would also be put into place under SB 262, requiring bail to be set for any defendant who commits another offense while out on $0 bail. If bail is et, the court would take into consideration the arrestee’s ability to pay bail.

In addition, SB 262 would require the court to order a return of money or property paid to a bail bond licensee by or on behalf of the arrestee to obtain bail if the action or proceeding against the arrestee who has been admitted to bail is dismissed, no charges are filed against the arrestee within 60 days of arrest, or the arrestee has made all court appearances during the pendency of the action or proceeding against the arrestee.

Senator Hertzberg and other supporters such as Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) are in favor of the bill due to the current cash bail system costing the state millions each year to keep arrestee’s who cannot afford bail in jails and prisons while they wait to see a judge. Some estimates put the figure nationwide at costing taxpayers $38 million a day, not counting lost economic production from arrestee’s missing work and other factors. Supporters say that the process is also obsolete, punishes poorer arrestee’s with jail for not being able to pay, and taints the legal principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

However, despite 30 votes in favor of passage, a strong opposition movement mounted by Republicans kept bill supporters on their toes. Those against SB 262 have argued that safety risks of having arrestee’s out with out bail could lead to higher crimes and less people having incentive to show up to their respective hearings. Many also noted that California voters had recently voted for keeping the cash bail system in November. Many allege that the bill will go against the majority of Californians wishes, as Proposition 25 had passed with over 56% of the vote. Read More > at California Globe

California and US agree to allow big offshore wind farms – California and the U.S. government announced an agreement Tuesday to open up areas off the state’s central and northern coasts to the first commercial wind energy farms on the Pacific Coast.

The pact that would float hundreds of turbines off the coast of Morro Bay and Humboldt Bay was touted as a breakthrough to eventually power 1.6 million homes and help the state and federal government reach ambitious climate change goals through clean energy production.

The plan includes floating 380 windmills across a nearly 400-square-mile (1,035-square-kilometer) expanse of sea 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Morro Bay. The site could be finalized next month and could be put up for lease next year.

The new projects — if approved and built — would provide a major expansion of offshore wind power in the U.S. Currently, there are just two working offshore wind farms — off Block Island in Rhode Island and off Virginia — but more than two dozen others are in development.

The projects will require several stages of approval — from an early review by the Coastal Commission to federal and state environmental reviews after a lease sale, said Sandy Louey of the California Energy Commission. Read More > from the Associated Press

Why it’s not easy to build affordable housing in California – While running for governor three years ago, Gavin Newsom foolishly promised that if elected California would solve its housing crisis by building 3.5 million units by 2025.

Newsom later downgraded the pledge by calling it an “aspirational goal.” Nevertheless, he continued to flog the issue, devoting virtually all of his 2020 State of the State to the housing shortage and homelessness and pledging anew to attack them forthrightly and effectively.

…It sounds like a timely assault, but there’s flip-side: the state itself is a major impediment to acting effectively and pending legislation could make construction of affordable housing even more difficult and expensive.

Last November, state Auditor Elaine Howle issued a blistering report on the state’s uncoordinated housing programs.

“California is failing to build enough affordable homes for lower income residents in part because the state lacks an effective approach to planning and financing development of affordable housing at both the state and local levels,” Howle told legislators.

“In fact,” Howle continued, “the absence of a comprehensive and coordinated plan allowed the Debt Limit Committee to mismanage and ultimately to lose $2.7 billion in bond resources with little scrutiny, a loss that the committee failed to publicly disclose and struggled to explain. These bond resources could have helped support the construction of more affordable housing.”

When the Legislature reconvened in January, a group of legislators, led by Assemblyman Tim Grayson, a Concord Democrat, introduced legislation that would bring some order to the state’s jumble of housing agencies. It would require them to “jointly establish and operate a single, centralized housing funding allocation committee,” thereby giving developers of low- and moderate-income housing a one-stop shop and speeding up construction.

Assembly Bill 1135, however, was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week. There was no public explanation for the stall, but it was obvious to those involved that it was because Grayson had rebuffed demands from construction unions that all projects affected by its provisions be required to use union labor. Read More > at CalMatters

State Foster Care Agencies Take Millions Of Dollars Owed To Children In Their Care – Tristen Hunter was 16 and preparing to leave foster care in Juneau, Alaska, when a social worker mentioned that the state agency responsible for protecting him had been taking his money for years.

Hunter’s mother died when he was little, and his father later went to prison, court records show, leaving him in a foster home. In the years that followed, he was owed nearly $700 a month in federal survivor benefits, an amount based on Social Security contributions from his mother’s paychecks. He doesn’t remember Alaska’s Office of Children’s Services ever informing him that it was routing this money — his safety net — into state coffers.

Roughly 10% of foster youth in the U.S. are entitled to Social Security benefits, either because their parents have died or because they have a physical or mental disability that would leave them in poverty without financial help. This money — typically more than $700 per month, though survivor benefits vary — is considered their property under federal law.

The Marshall Project and NPR have found that in at least 36 states and Washington, D.C., state foster care agencies comb through their case files to find kids entitled to these benefits, then apply to Social Security to become each child’s financial representative, a process permitted by federal regulations. Once approved, the agencies take the money, almost always without notifying the children, their loved ones or lawyers.

At least 10 state foster care agencies hire for-profit companies to obtain millions of dollars in Social Security benefits intended for the most vulnerable children in state care each year, according to a review of hundreds of pages of contract documents. A private firm that Alaska used while Hunter was in state care referred to acquiring benefits from people with disabilities as “a major line of business” in company records.

Some states also take veterans’ benefits from children with a parent who died in the military, though this has become less common as casualties have declined since the Iraq War. Read More > at NPR

Climate Change and the Energy Transition Demand a U.S. Mining Revolution“Today, the data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realizing those ambitions,” says Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Yet the U.S. and the world are in the midst of a great “energy transition” to fight climate change – one intended as a complete transformation of our energy sector, from production to transportation to utilization. We are told that this journey will help us move away from oil, coal, and natural gas to a world dominated by windmills, solar panels, and electric cars.

This will surely be a herculean challenge: oil, coal, and gas meet over 80% of America’s current energy needs, while wind and solar supply just 4%. The U.S. has over 270 million cars that run on oil; it has just 2 million that use electricity.

The hard truth: an energy system powered by these “green” technologies differs enormously from one fueled by traditional hydrocarbon resources. It goes routinely unmentioned, for instance, that the energy transition will require an immense mining revolution for the raw materials needed to manufacture green-energy technologies.

The IEA’s new report, “The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions,” explains all this quite clearly. The IEA notes that a typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a natural gas-fired power plant. Demand for a long list of minerals is already starting to surge as clean-energy transitions gain momentum. Read More > at Real Clear Energy

Had COVID? You’ll probably make antibodies for a lifetime – Many people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 will probably make antibodies against the virus for most of their lives. So suggest researchers who have identified long-lived antibody-producing cells in the bone marrow of people who have recovered from COVID-191.

The study provides evidence that immunity triggered by SARS-CoV-2 infection will be extraordinarily long-lasting. Adding to the good news, “the implications are that vaccines will have the same durable effect,” says Menno van Zelm, an immunologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Read More > at Nature

Great white shark population increasing off California coast, researchers say it’s a good thing – The number of great white sharks is increasing off the California coast, according to researchers, and they say this is a good thing.

They have spent close to 20 years studying the elusive ocean predators from Santa Cruz, up to Tomales Point in Marin County, all the way to the Farallon Islands.

The number of great white sharks is increasing off the California coast, according to researchers, and they say this is a good thing.

They have spent close to 20 years studying the elusive ocean predators from Santa Cruz, up to Tomales Point in Marin County, all the way to the Farallon Islands. Read More > at ABC 7

Boys Don’t Read Enough – Girls read more than boys in just about every developed country, and it’s a big reason they have better educational outcomes.

Developed countries like the United States have seen a remarkable transformation in education over the last century: Girls and young women—once subjected to discrimination in, and even exclusion from, schools and colleges—have “conquered” those very institutions, as a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) put it. For example, in 2018, women comprise a growing majority of students on college campuses in the U.S., up from around 40 percent in the 1970s.

One understated contributor to this development has been that girls routinely outstrip boys at reading. In two of the largest studies ever conducted into the reading habits of children in the United Kingdom, Keith Topping—a professor of educational and social research at Scotland’s University of Dundee—found that boys dedicate less time than girls to processing words, that they’re more prone to skipping passages or entire sections, and that they frequently choose books that are beneath their reading levels. Read More > at getpocket

“Fact-Checking” Takes Another Beating – However, the public is regularly misinformed about what fact-checkers do. In most settings — especially at daily newspapers — fact-checking, if used at all, is the equivalent of the bare-minimum collision insurance your average penny-pinching car renter buys. There’s usually just enough time to flag a few potential dangers for litigation and/or major, obvious mistakes about things like dates, spellings of names, wording of quotes, whether a certain event a reporter describes even happened, etc.

For anything more involved than that, which is most things, fact-checkers have to scramble to make tough judgment calls. The best ones tend to vote for killing anything that might blow up in the face of the organization later on. Good checkers are there to help perpetuate the illusion of competence. They’re professional ass-coverers, whose job is to keep it from being obvious that Wolf Blitzer or Matt Taibbi or whoever else you’re following on the critical story of the day only just learned the term hanging chad or spike protein or herd immunity. In my experience they’re usually pretty great at it, but their jobs are less about determining fact than about preventing the vast seas of ignorance underlying most professional news operations from seeping into public view.

Unfortunately, over the course of the last five years in particular, as the commercial media has experienced a precipitous drop in the public trust levels, many organizations have chosen to trumpet fact-checking programs as a way of advertising a dedication to “truth.” Fact-checking has furthermore become part of the “moral clarity” argument, which claims a phony objectivity standard once forced news companies to always include gestures to a perpetually wrong other side, making “truth” a casualty to false “fairness.”

…From the start, the press mostly mishandled Covid-19 reporting. Part of this was because nearly all of the critical issues — mask use, lockdowns, viability of vaccine programs, and so on — were marketed by news companies as culture-war narratives. A related problem had to do with news companies using the misguided notion that the news is an exact science to promote the worse misconception that science is an exact science. This led to absurd spectacles like news agencies trying to cover up or denounce as falsehood the natural reality that officials had evolving views on things like the efficacy of ventilators or mask use.

When CNN did a fact-check on the question, “Did Fauci change his mind on the effectiveness of masks?” they seemed worried about the glee Trump followers would feel if they simply wrote yes, so the answer instead became, “Yes, but Trump is also an asshole” (because he implied the need to wear masks is still up for debate). By labeling whatever the current scientific consensus happened to be an immutable “fact,” media outlets made the normal evolution of scientific debates look dishonest, and pointlessly heightened mistrust of both scientists and media. Read More > at Substack

San Francisco’s Flavored Vape Ban Linked to More Teen Smoking, Study Finds – A 2018 ban on flavored tobacco products in San Francisco may have had some unintended consequences, new research this week suggests. The study found that high school teens were more likely to take up smoking after the ban than those living elsewhere.

In 2018, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to enact a wholesale ban on flavored tobacco products, following a voter-passed measure. This ban included products like menthol cigarettes, as well as all flavored e-cigarette or vaping devices, and extended to all retailers, including dedicated vape shops. At the time, many public health organizations such as the American Heart Association supported the ban, while tobacco companies funded a $12 million ad campaign against it.

Proponents have argued that these flavor bans will make tobacco products less appealing to children and young adults, thus preventing them from ever picking up any nicotine habit. Yet in recent years, some drug policy and harm reduction experts have started to wonder if these sorts of bans could be counterproductive, especially when it comes to vaping devices. The argument is that these bans will drive some people who would have only ever vaped to instead keep using or switch to cigarettes entirely. And while e-cigarettes aren’t entirely risk-free, their harms do appear to be significantly smaller than other tobacco products.

The new study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, seems to suggest that this exact scenario has played out as feared among high school students in San Francisco. Read More > at Gizmodo

Too much TV may dull the aging brain – Middle-aged folks who regularly turn to TV for entertainment appear to have a greater risk of decline in their reasoning and memory later in life, three new studies suggest.

Researchers found that even moderate amounts of TV viewing were associated with worse performance on cognitive tests as people aged. Regular TV viewers also experienced greater brain atrophy.

The investigators couldn’t say whether TV itself is directly behind this brain decline, or if it’s the amount of sedentary couch time folks accumulate while watching television. Read More > at Medical Xpress

The red meat issue Biden won’t touch – But by the numbers, agriculture is a significant part of the climate problem: it accounts for 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gases. Livestock production — everything from raising pigs for bacon to dairy herds — is the largest source of potent methane emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That means addressing how we produce and consume meat is critical to Biden’s pledge to put the U.S. on track to reach net-zero agricultural emissions before any other nation.

The powerful farm lobby in Washington and state capitals opposes regulation of large-scale livestock operations and the promotion of alternatives to meat and dairy. Instead, Biden administration officials are talking up unproven technologies and feel-good sustainability goals when they discuss methods of how to tackle climate change with the agriculture industry.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is largely focused on offering new financial incentives for farmers and ranchers to adopt more climate-friendly practices. In terms of livestock emissions, Vilsack touts innovations like feed additives that reduce the potency of an animal’s gas and feces, or digester systems that capture methane fumes from manure pits and convert them into a source of energy.

…It’s not just Biden’s farm chief who is treading carefully on livestock emissions: John Kerry, the president’s special climate envoy, rejected the idea that the government will eventually have to tell Americans to eat less meat.

“Not necessarily, because there’s a lot of research being done now that will change both the way meat is produced, cattle are herded and fed,” Kerry said in a recent BBC interview. But he also acknowledged that Biden’s aggressive goals for slashing greenhouse gas emissions rely heavily on technology that hasn’t been developed yet. Read More > at Politico

How Advertisers Track You – I’m back from a week at my mom’s house and now I’m getting ads for her toothpaste brand, the brand I’ve been putting in my mouth for a week. We never talked about this brand or googled it or anything like that.

As a privacy tech worker, let me explain why this is happening. 

First of all, your social media apps are not listening to you. This is a conspiracy theory. It’s been debunked over and over again.

But frankly they don’t need to because everything else you give them unthinkingly is way cheaper and way more powerful. Your apps collect a ton of data from your phone. Your unique device ID. Your location. Your demographics. Weknowdis.

Data aggregators pay to pull in data from EVERYWHERE. When I use my discount card at the grocery store? Every purchase? That’s a dataset for sale.

They can match my Harris Teeter purchases to my Twitter account because I gave both those companies my email address and phone number and I agreed to all that data-sharing when I accepted those terms of service and the privacy policy. Here’s where it gets truly nuts, though.

If my phone is regularly in the same GPS location as another phone, they take note of that. They start reconstructing the web of people I’m in regular contact with. The advertisers can cross-reference my interests and browsing history and purchase history to those around me. It starts showing ME different ads based on the people AROUND me.

Family. Friends. Coworkers. It will serve me ads for things I DON’T WANT, but it knows someone I’m in regular contact with might want. Read More > at Thread

The sinking Central Valley town – In California’s San Joaquin Valley, the farming town of Corcoran has a multimillion-dollar problem. It is almost impossible to see, yet so vast it takes NASA scientists using satellite technology to fully grasp.

Corcoran is sinking.

Over the past 14 years, the town has sunk as much as 11.5 feet in some places — enough to swallow the entire first floor of a two-story house and to at times make Corcoran one of the fastest-sinking areas in the country, according to experts with the United States Geological Survey.

Subsidence is the technical term for the phenomenon — the slow-motion deflation of land that occurs when large amounts of water are withdrawn from deep underground, causing underlying sediments to fall in on themselves.

The main reason Corcoran has been subsiding is not nature. It’s agriculture.

In Corcoran and other parts of the San Joaquin Valley, the land has gradually but steadily dropped primarily because agricultural companies have for decades pumped underground water to irrigate their crops, according to the U.S.G.S. California Water Science Center.

When farmers fail to get enough surface water from local rivers or from canals that bring Northern California river water into the San Joaquin Valley, they turn to what is known as groundwater — the water beneath the Earth’s surface that must be pumped out. They have done so for generations. Read More > at SJV Water

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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