Sunday Reading – 05/01/2022

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.

Meet Alejandro Cervantes. He is a blind Bay Area high school hurdler – None of the coaches knew about Alejandro Cervantes’ challenges that first week of track and field practice.

None of them knew the Heritage High School sophomore could only see shadows, that he is legally blind, that he probably should not have been trying to hurdle on his own.

When Alejandro had trouble following instructions, the hurdles coach at the school in East Contra Costa County thought the teen was merely playing around, not taking the sport seriously.

Soon, they all knew about Alejandro.

He has written an inspirational story this spring about not taking no for an answer, fitting in with teammates and not letting his condition hold him back.

Alejandro maneuvers around campus without any assistance — no cane, no seeing-eye dog — and brightens the track with his light-hearted, can-do personality.

“Vision never really stopped me,” Alejandro said this week at practice. “If I want to do it, I’ll do it — even if it’s hard.”

Alejandro, 16, could have chosen only safer events such as the 100-meter dash and long jump. He does those, too. But he also wanted a more challenging event. He wanted to leap over the 10 hurdles that he can barely make out until his approach. Read More > in The Mercury News

Police seek man caught on video the night an Oakley woman disappeared – East Bay police released video Thursday of a person they said may be “related” to the disappearance of Alexis Gabe, an Oakley woman who was last seen in January under suspicious circumstances.

The 8-second video shows a man wearing a jacket, cap and face mask walking down a sidewalk at night. Oakley police could not be reached on Thursday evening, but city officials said on social media that police believe the unidentified man “dropped off Alexis’ car on the night she was last seen.”

Gabe, 24, was last seen at 6:30 p.m. on Benttree Way in Antioch on Jan. 26. Oakley police said at the time that they received a call the day after she vanished about a missing person “under suspicious circumstances.” Police officers found Gabe’s vehicle abandoned, its keys still in the ignition, on Trenton Street in Oakley, police said at the time.

Authorities are asking the public’s help in identifying the man. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

What if California’s ‘housing crunch’ doesn’t really exist? – In some parts of California, there is definitely a housing crunch: small supplies of homes for sale, prices that escalate even when population has apparently stabilized and high prices that exclude most Californians as buyers.

But a massive, multi-million-unit shortage? Maybe not. At least, so suggests a scathing springtime report from the non-partisan acting state auditor.

“The (state) Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has made errors when completing its needs assessments because it does not sufficiently review and verify data it uses,” the report deadpanned.

Maybe that’s why as he campaigned in 2018, Gov. Gavin Newsom insisted California would need 3.5 million new housing units within eight years just to keep up. That would have been more than 400,000 homes, condos and apartments every year, all supposedly getting snapped up as increased supply caused prices to fall.

None of this has happened. Housing construction never has topped 110,000 units per year during Newsom’s tenure, and a good share of those stand vacant. Newsom’s administration now says California needs 1.8 million new homes by 2030, a huge drop in his needs assessment after less than four years. What happened to the other half of what Newsom said was needed? Maybe the need never existed.

Those earlier numbers stemmed in part from expert estimates that California’s high growth would continue indefinitely. We now see that is not automatic. Fewer newcomers mean less need for new homes. Read More > in the Desert Sun

California’s New Food Waste Law Is Backfiring – A California law that took effect this year and that was supposed to help the environment while combating hunger is instead causing chaos for food banks, businesses, and small cities and towns throughout the state.

The law, S.B. 1383, which took effect in January, “requires supermarkets and other big food providers to divert as much as a quarter of edible food now destined for dumps to food banks to feed the needy,” the Los Angeles Times reported in December. “It tasks cities and counties with formulating local plans, with a statewide goal of recovering 20% of edible food by 2025,” Reuters reported earlier this month. S.B. 1383 is the nation’s first statewide law to require businesses to donate excess food to be eaten by hungry people. Compliance requirements, which will ultimately include fines, are being phased in. “First, large grocery stores and food wholesalers; later, restaurants and cafeterias will have to comply or face fines,” ABC7 reported last week.

In addition to fighting hunger, the law was also intended to combat food waste—which has an outsized contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, as food sent to landfills belches methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The massive scale of food waste is an enormous problem. As I detail in my book Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, nearly 40 percent of all our food—roughly 40 million tons of it—goes to waste in the field, during processing, in transit, at the store, and/or on the plate. The value of that lost food totals more than $165 billion every year. Ten percent of the money Americans spend on food goes to waste. The environmental costs of that waste are colossal. Food waste is the third-leading contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gasses. And food that’s wasted still uses the same inputs to grow—water, fertilizer, pesticides, fuel, wages—as food that’s eaten. “Those resources are all used up whether a food is eaten or is left to rot in a field or landfill,” I note in the book.

Yet multiple reports now highlight the fact that complying with the law is “proving easier said than done,” ABC7 in Los Angeles reports. That’s because grocers, restaurants, food banks, local governments, and others haven’t “figure[d] out who is responsible for reclaiming [food] leftovers [under the law], and how to pay the costs of doing so.” Those costs have only skyrocketed due to record gas prices. Given these challenges, it’s “been hard for local food banks and small towns to implement [the law] due to climbing fuel costs and uncertainty over who pays for food recovery,” Reuters notes.

While record fuel costs may have been difficult to predict, other cost increases had been expected under the law. “A survey by the League of California Cities found that most local governments expect refuse collection rates to increase less than 20%, with 1 in 5 cities saying they expect charges to go up more,” the L.A. Times explained last year in a piece on the new law, which also contains requirements for setting aside compostable food waste at home. “Costa Mesa, an early adopter of curbside green recycling, estimates that over nine years, monthly rates will have risen a total of $6.10, to $24.10 a month, by 2023-24.” Read More > at Reason

Gilroy Garlic Festival canceled for the ‘foreseeable future’ after decades-long run – After a decades-long run, the Gilroy Garlic Festival — an event known around the world — has been canceled for this year and “perhaps the foreseeable future,” organizers say.

The nonprofit association that runs the iconic Bay Area event announced the decision Friday, citing “lingering uncertainties” from the pandemic and “prohibitive insurance requirements by the city of Gilroy” related to the deadly shooting rampage on the last day of the 2019 festival.

While the Garlic Festival Association has maintained the $1 million level of insurance mandated for holding events on Gilroy property, the city is now requiring the group to have multimillion-dollar liability coverage, according to Tom Cline, past president of the group. No company will insure the event at that level, he said.

Neither Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley’s office nor the city manager’s office replied to requests for comments or details about the city’s liability issues and the status of pending lawsuits from the 2019 festival. On July 28 of that year, a gunman cut through a festival fence, killed three people and wounded 17 others before killing himself during a shootout with responding police officers. Read More > in The Mercury News

Gilroy Garlic Fest got canceled. But a bigger garlic festival is coming soon to Fresno – On the day that the longstanding Gilroy Garlic Fest announced it was shutting down for the “foreseeable future,” a different garlic festival had coincidentally started its big advertising push for its upcoming event.

The National Garlic Festival and Food Expo is set for May 13-15 at the Fresno Fairgrounds, and is in prime position to take over as California’s primary garlic fest.

Offering more food and drink selections that feature garlic, along with music entertainment and other carnival-like attractions, the National Garlic Festival is looking to become an annual event that celebrates not only garlic but also the Fresno area.

Because according to the National Garlic Festival organizers, Fresno County is actually “the real garlic capital of the United States.”

“About 80% of all garlic in the United States was grown in Fresno County,” said Fresno native Pete DeYoung, CEO of National Food Festivals, Inc., which includes the National Garlic Festival. “There’s 24,000 acres in Fresno County that’s dedicated for growing garlic. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

U.S. GDP fell at a 1.4% pace to start the year as pandemic recovery takes a hit – Gross domestic product unexpectedly declined at a 1.4% annualized pace in the first quarter, marking an abrupt reversal for an economy coming off its best performance since 1984, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

The negative growth rate missed even the subdued Dow Jones estimate of a 1% gain for the quarter. GDP measures the output of goods and services in the U.S. for the three-month period.

A plethora of factors conspired to weigh against growth during the first three months of 2022, which fell off a cliff following the 6.9% gain to close out last year.

The decline in growth came due to a deceleration in private inventory investment, which helped propel growth in the back half of 2021. Other restraints came from exports and government spending across state, federal and local governments, as well as rising imports.

An 8.5% pullback in defense spending was a particular drag, knocking one-third of a percentage point off the final GDP reading.

Consumer spending held up fairly well for the quarter, rising 2.7% as inflation kept pressure on prices. However, a burgeoning trade deficit helped shave 3.2 percentage points off growth as imports outweighed exports. Read More > at CNBC

Broken Homes – San Francisco spends millions of dollars to shelter its most vulnerable residents in dilapidated hotels. With little oversight or support, the results are disastrous.

For two years, this has been Pauline Levinson’s home:

A run-down, century-old hotel in the Tenderloin, where a rodent infestation became so severe that she pitched a tent inside her room to keep the mice away.

Where residents have threatened each other with knives, crowbars and guns, sometimes drawing police to the building several times a day.

Where, since 2020, at least nine people have died of drug overdoses. One man was discovered only after a foul stench seeped from his room into the hall.

Levinson is one of thousands of poor, sick or highly vulnerable people left to languish and at times die in unstable, underfunded and understaffed residential hotel rooms overseen by a city department that reports directly to Mayor London Breed, a yearlong investigation by The San Francisco Chronicle found.

In a complex arrangement, the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, or HSH, pays nonprofit groups to provide rooms and aid to formerly homeless people in about 70 single-room-occupancy hotels, known as SROs, which the nonprofits generally lease from private landlords. The buildings are the cornerstone of a $160 million program called permanent supportive housing, which is supposed to help people rebuild their lives after time on the streets.

But because San Francisco leaders have for years neglected the hotels and failed to meaningfully regulate the nonprofits that operate them, many of the buildings — which house roughly 6,000 people — have descended into a pattern of chaos, crime and death, the investigation found. Critically, the homelessness crisis in San Francisco has worsened. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

California mayors seek $3 billion over 3 years to tackle homelessness – The mayors of California’s 11 largest cities asked Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature on Monday to approve $3 billion over three years in the state budget for flexible homeless funding to go directly to cities.

The mayors said flexible homeless funding is approved annually and they are asking for a three-year commitment from lawmakers and the governor.

They said Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention program funds have allowed them to come up with innovative ways to combat homelessness in their cities, including building tiny cabins and setting up lots for people living in RVs and other vehicles. The funds allowed mayors to add 9,000 new shelter beds and help 25,000 homeless people, they said at a joint news conference.

California approved $7.4 billion last year for about 30 housing and homelessness programs, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. That money will be spent over three years. This year, Newsom has proposed $2 billion in new spending to address homelessness over the next two years, in addition to the money that has already been approved.

In San Jose and Oakland, the mayors used the funds to build tiny cabins to shelter homeless people who were not open to going to a congregate setting. In Fresno and Stockton, the mayors used some of the flexible funds to hire outreach and intervention workers. Oakland also built an RV safe parking site — the first city in the state to do so. Read More > in the VC Star

Drugs Drive a 56% Rise in LA Homeless Deaths – Los Angeles saw a 56% increase in deaths among the homeless between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, according to a Friday report from the county’s Department of Public Health. The jump was driven primarily by drug overdoses — and fentanyl in particular. The deadly drug is responsible for a similar rise in overdoses in San Francisco and other states and has been behind a handful of high-profile celebrity deaths.

First District Supervisor Hilda L. Solis called the situation “a true state of emergency.”

To combat the rise in homeless deaths, the county will push to expand distribution of naloxone. That’s a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

President Joe Biden has submitted a federal drug harm reduction plan to Congress. It also calls for expanding access to naloxone and targeting the finances of drug traffickers.

There were several other factors that contributed to the increase in fatalities among LA’s unhoused. Of the 1,988 homeless deaths that occurred over the studied time period, 179 — or about a quarter of the increase from the prior year — were caused by COVID-19. Homicides among the homeless climbed by nearly 50% and traffic-related fatalities rose by more than 30%. Read More > at California County News

Americans are eating more beef than ever — despite vegan ‘trend’ – Americans have renounced beef! Everyone’s eating plants! The vegan trend is supposedly so huge these days, we are in the midst of an identity crisis, The New York Times claimed recently. “When it comes to America’s legacy of Manifest Destiny, there’s perhaps no meal more symbolic than a bleeding steak. So who are we now that we’re consuming less red meat?” the paper of record blathered.

The only problem is that such claims are 100% baloney. Although US consumption of beef fell from about 80 pounds annually per capita in the 1970s and early ’80s to a low of 54 pounds in 2017, it’s steadily rebounded since then to 58.6 pounds in 2021.

Yes, we are eating more beef today than we did five years ago, despite plant-based “Impossible” meat and Beyond Burgers taking over American menus and even McDonald’s. Read More > in the New York Post

The Rise of Super Gonorrhea – In February, public health officials in the UK reported that three people there had recently contracted gonorrhea, the well-known sexually transmitted infection. What made the cases noteworthy is that they were caused by a highly resistant strain of the bacteria. This “super gonorrhea” threatens to be one of the first omnipresent dangers of a post-antibiotic era that’s already well on its way here.

Gonorrhea, caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, is just the latest of previously tamed illnesses that have evolved to become more dangerous. Drug-resistant infections, commonly known as superbugs, directly killed 1.27 million people worldwide in 2019—a sum higher than deaths individually caused by tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria, the big three infectious killers that year—and they may have contributed to 5 million deaths in total, according to a recent report published in the Lancet. A 2018 study estimated that superbugs killed up to 160,000 Americans in 2010.

Gonorrhea often goes unnoticed; data suggests that about half of cases never experience symptoms at all. But it can occasionally be a gruesome experience, complete with puke-colored discharge from your genitals, painful or burning urination, and added bleeding between periods for women. It can also reach the throat or anus via oral and anal sex. The most dangerous aspect of gonorrhea, however, is what happens when it goes untreated.

In men and especially women, it can cause inflammation and permanent damage to the reproductive system, which can then lead to infertility. More rarely, it can reach the bloodstream and spread to other places in the body, causing serious or fatal complications like arthritis, endocarditis, and meningitis. If it’s passed from mother to child during delivery, the infection can reach a newborn’s eyes and cause blindness, or it can outright kill them. It also increases the risk of contracting other STIs, particularly HIV.

All of those risks will be compounded as gonorrhea becomes less treatable, and life will become more frustrating for anyone who catches it. Two decades ago, a simple pill would have cleared up an infection. Today, people have to get a shot. A decade from now, it could take antibiotics with harsher side-effects that may still not work, especially for infections found in the throat or rectum (a worry with the few possible alternatives we have). And some day beyond that, we may simply stop being able to treat it reliably at all. Read More > at Gizmodo

Why does swearing make us stronger? – Swearing: Though almost all of our parents probably told us not to use profane language, the simple fact is that most of us do (and so do our parents).

Taboo words lace the English language like little mischievous bombs — best avoided. But a growing collection of research shows that foul language can offer some surprising benefits. Socially, swearing has been shown to increase a speaker’s effectiveness and persuasiveness. Profanity can also make people seem more genuine and trustworthy.

Even more intriguing, foul language can also impart physical benefits. Over numerous studies, Richard Stephens, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Keele University, demonstrated that swearing dulls the perception of physical pain and boosts strength.

In his experiments, which have been replicated numerous times, Keele asked subjects to immerse their hands in ice-cold water for as long as possible while repeating either a choice swear word, a neutral word, or a made-up curse word. In instances where participants used real swear words, they were able to keep their hands immersed for roughly 33% longer and reported that it took longer for them to feel any pain at all. Interestingly, made-up swear words failed to produce an analgesic effect.

Keele has also had subjects cycle as hard as they can, hold a push-up position to exhaustion, or squeeze a hand dynamometer as forcefully as possible to measure grip strength, again while repeating a swear word or a neutral word in a calm voice. Cursing consistently boosted physical performance in all of these challenges by between 5% and 10%. Read More > at Big Think

Amid increasing abuse, officials flee youth sports – America is facing a crisis in prep and youth sports, where fewer and fewer people are willing to take on the thankless job of officiating games.

“The veterans are quitting by the droves. They’re sick of it,” said Moore, who oversees fast-pitch softball umpires for the state of Mississippi as well as the city of Laurel. “When we work to recruit new people, get ’em trained, get ’em out there on the field, they’re three or four games in when someone gives them a good cussing out or an invitation to get their tail beat. They’re like: ‘You know what? I’ll go cut grass on the weekend.’”

…Barrett theorized that the rise of travel teams in baseball — not to mention AAU teams in basketball and specialized camps for young football players — has caused parents to feel much more invested in their kids’ athletic careers, both financially and emotionally.

“Parents have this sense of entitlement,” Barrett said. “They’re paying so much money, they think they should have better umpires.”

Mano’s organization is pushing for laws that would make the assault of an official a felony. Already, 23 states have passed those statutes, but Mississippi isn’t one of them.

Even more importantly, there needs to be a change in attitude. Coaches should make it clear they won’t tolerate such behavior from parents or their kids are off the team. And in the stands, fellow parents can’t sit by idly when one of their own is hurling insults at the officials. Read More > at the Associated Press

Bill Prohibiting Local Govts From Banning Medical Weed Sales Clears Legislative Hurdle – A bill that would prohibit municipalities from banning medical cannabis sales within their jurisdictions has passed the Senate Governance and Finance Committee and now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 1186 would require cities and counties to allow either licensed medical cannabis dispensaries, licensed medical cannabis deliveries, or both. The bill also prohibits “unreasonable restrictions on the safe and affordable sale of, medicinal cannabis to medicinal cannabis patients or their primary caregivers by medicinal cannabis businesses, as defined.”

“Medical cannabis is life-saving for so many people, and it’s not acceptable for 62% of California cities to ban people from actually purchasing it,” said the bill’s author Senator Anthony Wiener (D-San Francisco). “Everyone needs and deserves access – as guaranteed by California voters who passed Prop 215 almost 30 years ago. When cities ban purchasing medical cannabis, it denies access and fuels the illegal market. SB 1186 restores medical cannabis access for those who need it.”

SB 1186 stays mum on the issue of adult-use cannabis. Proposition 64, passed by voters in 2016, explicitly gives cities and counties the power to limit or altogether prohibit recreational cannabis retail in their jurisdictions. Adult-use cannabis sales remain banned in most California cities. 62% prohibit sales of both adult use and medicinal weed.

Wiener’s bill is opposed by the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties and Rural County Representatives of California. In a letter to Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee Chair Richard Roth, these organizations said the bill would “would severely undermine local decision-making under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA)” and “impede the gradual, but consistent, progress that local jurisdictions have made toward expanding cannabis retail permitting throughout the state.” Read More > at California County News

Report urges denial of desalination plant – Speaking of long-awaited reports, staff for an influential coastal panel recommended Monday that the California Coastal Commission reject at its May 12 meeting Poseidon Water’s proposal to build a $1.4 billion desalination plant in Huntington Beach. That could prime the commission for conflict with Newsom, who supports the project to draw water from the Pacific Ocean and convert it into 50 million gallons of drinking water per day. While supporters say the desalination plant would help insulate California from devastating droughtopponents argue it would quintuple water rates, harm marine life and cause environmental damage to nearby neighborhoods, which are predominantly working-class and Latino.

  • Coastal commission staff wrote in the report: “This project raises significant and complex coastal protection policy issues, including conformity with policies that require protection of marine life, water quality, environmentally sensitive habitat areas, and policies meant to avoid or minimize hazards associated with sea level rise, floods, tsunamis, and geologic hazards.”
  • Poseidon Water said in a statement: “No water infrastructure project in the state of California has ever undergone this level of study and scrutiny. If this recommendation stands, it will effectively be the death knell for desalination in California.” Read More > at CalMatters

California, Arizona and Nevada face major water cutbacks from the Colorado River – Because of the megadrought that’s gripping the southwestern United States, the federal government is cutting back how much water it delivers to California, Arizona and Nevada by a lot, about as much as Las Vegas uses in a year. It’s something water managers never thought they’d have to do. Alex Hager reports on the Colorado River from member station KUNC in Greeley, Colo., and joins us now to explain what’s going on. So decades ago, the U.S. built huge dams on the Colorado River specifically to store water as insurance against droughts. Why isn’t that system working now?

ALEX HAGER, BYLINE: Well, right now, we are in a truly massive drought unlike anything we’ve seen in more than a thousand years. One of those giant dams, which holds back Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona, it is now lower than it’s ever been, thanks to more than 20 very dry years. And water levels are still dropping. It is the nation’s second-largest reservoir, and now it’s reaching a crisis point. If levels drop just a little further, they will get too low to generate hydropower at the Grand Canyon Dam. That is something that’s never happened before. So this move from the federal government is a scramble to avoid that. It’ll add an emergency boost of water and keep the turbines running. So water managers are going to release a lot less water from Lake Powell to keep those turbines running and to keep supplying electricity to about 5 million people. Read More > at NPR

Food Price Inflation Continues to Worsen. Here’s What Should Be Done About It. – Food prices are continuing to rise at an alarming rate. The 8.8% year-over-year increase (March 2022 compared with March 2021) is the largest in more than 40 years.

Over the past seven months, each month’s year-over-year food price increase has been above 4% and each successive month has been higher than the previous month (starting at 4.6% in September and reaching 8.8% in March). 

This upswing in food prices is being reflected across multiple food categories, from fresh fruit (10.1%) to fish and seafood (10.9%).

Skyrocketing food prices are regressive and particularly damaging to low-income Americans, as they spend a greater share of their after-tax income on food compared with higher-income Americans.

So, what needs to be done?

Beyond significantly reining in government spending, policymakers need to remove the harmful government interventions that are contributing to higher food prices, and energy is a great place to start. The Biden administration’s war on energy is having a devastating effect on Americans.

The latest year-over-year data shows that energy prices rose 32%. This isn’t an anomaly, as the year-over-year increases for each of the past six months have been greater than 25%.

Energy is an input that affects sectors across the economy, including the food sector. For example, high energy prices drive up the costs to farmers for a key agricultural input; namely, fertilizer. More than 57% of fertilizer used in the United States are nitrogenous fertilizers, and a critical input for nitrogenous fertilizers is natural gas, which can account for 70% to 90% of its manufacturing cost. Read More > at The Daily Signal

The Inflation Draining Your Wallet, Grocery Cart, And Gas Tank Is Far Steeper Than 8 Percent – So when you hear “8 percent inflation” bandied about but feel certain your costs are rising at a far higher rate, you’re not crazy — you’re just feeling the very real consequences of inflationary policies that Washington types are happy to brush off.

Don’t listen to CNN journo-splaining to you “Why inflation can actually be good for everyday Americans and bad for rich people.” As Axios reported from Labor Department statistics, “Shoppers with incomes of less than $40,000 aren’t buying as much fresh meat and seafood. … They’re turning to frozen meat or canned stuff instead — and buying more store brands. It’s these lower-income shoppers who are most at-risk as food prices rise.”

It’s also not just gas and groceries that are rising higher and faster than the nationally reported inflation numbers. According to a Redfin analysis, February saw a 15 percent year-over-year increase in asking rent, and a 31 percent jump in the national homebuyers’ median monthly mortgage rate. Americans in the market to buy used vehicles have also seen a far higher price spike than the overall inflation rate in the past year, at a whopping 41.2 percent as reported in March.

At the same time, wages can’t keep pace with rising expenses, meaning “Bidenflation” is skimming off the top of Americans’ paychecks — to the tune of around $4,200 in annual depreciation of the average salary’s worth. Read More > in The Federalist

Facebook Doesn’t Know What It Does With Your Data, Or Where It Goes: Leaked Document – Facebook is facing what it describes internally as a “tsunami” of privacy regulations all over the world, which will force the company to dramatically change how it deals with users’ personal data. And the “fundamental” problem, the company admits, is that Facebook has no idea where all of its user data goes, or what it’s doing with it, according to a leaked internal document obtained by Motherboard.

“We’ve built systems with open borders. The result of these open systems and open culture is well described with an analogy: Imagine you hold a bottle of ink in your hand. This bottle of ink is a mixture of all kinds of user data (3PD, 1PD, SCD, Europe, etc.) You pour that ink into a lake of water (our open data systems; our open culture) … and it flows … everywhere,” the document read. “How do you put that ink back in the bottle? How do you organize it again, such that it only flows to the allowed places in the lake?”

(3PD means third-party data; 1PD means first-party data; SCD means sensitive categories data.)

The document was written last year by Facebook privacy engineers on the Ad and Business Product team, whose mission is “to make meaningful connections between people and businesses,” and which “sits at the center of our monetization strategy and is the engine that powers Facebook’s growth,” according to a recent job listing that describes the team. 

This is the team that is tasked with building and maintaining Facebook’s sprawling ads system, the core of the company’s business. And in this document, the team is both sounding an alarm, and making a call to change how Facebook deals with users’ data to prevent the company from running into trouble with regulators in Europe, the US, India, and other countries that are pushing for more stringent privacy constraints on social media companies. Read More > at Vice

U.S. tax revenues set another record of $2.1 trillion under Biden in last six months -The U.S. Treasury announced Thursday that it collected more than $2.1 trillion in taxes between October 2021 and March of this year. The figure is the first time in history that tax collection has exceeded more than $2 trillion over six months.

Overall, more than $1.1 trillion was collected from individual income taxes, while nearly $697 billion came from social insurance and retirement taxes. For the last quarter of 2021, U.S. GDP grew by nearly 7%, reflecting the recovery from the COVID-19-induced economic shutdown, while the major stock market indexes also posted strong gains during the period.

An additional $127 billion came from taxes or record corporate earnings, while customs duties raised more than $48 billion. Excise taxes levied on manufactured goods at the time of production, brought in more than $38 billion. Furthermore, more than $14 billion of the overall revenue collected was from taxes on estate and gifts. Read More > in The Washington Times

Another gas rebate plan — but little action – A group of California lawmakers on Thursday churned out the latest idea for putting money back in the pockets of residents struggling with sky-high gas prices — but despite the growing pile of proposals, a consensus seems as elusive as ever.

The bipartisan California Problem Solvers Caucus‘ plan: suspend the state’s gas excise tax for one year, ensure 100% of the savings are passed on to consumers, and use part of the state’s massive budget surplus to replace the lost tax revenue for vital infrastructure projects.

  • Assemblymember Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat: “The most important takeaway from this announcement … is that there is now a proposal in California to suspend the gas tax with bipartisan support.”
  • But, as Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita was quick to point outhis caucus had proposed the very same idea last year. “While bipartisan support is welcome, it only matters if the Democrats can help us get the proposal across the finish line,” he said.
  • And it’s unclear if they can. Alex Stack, a spokesperson for Gov. Gavin Newsom, told me in a statement “there’s no guarantee under this proposal that the benefits will be passed on to Californians who’ve been paying more at the pump, and not just go back to oil companies and corporations.”

Furthermore, the Democratic leaders of the state Assembly and Senate have made it abundantly clear that suspending gas taxes isn’t their preferred form of relief.

  • To implement Newsom’s proposal to suspend July’s scheduled increase to the gas and diesel excise tax, lawmakers would need to pass it by Sunday. But the Legislature has yet to introduce any bills on the matter.
  • Stack: “It is clear now that the Legislature will not act in time to provide that immediate, limited relief.”
  • Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told me earlier this week: “We stand ready to act as soon as the governor joins us in supporting a plan that provides stronger relief for California families.”

Top Senate Democrats unveiled their own relief plan as part of a larger budget blueprint Thursday, about two weeks before Newsom is slated to present a revised version of his January budget proposal. Lawmakers and the governor must agree on a budget framework by June 15 for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

  • Senate Democrats’ pitch: $8 billion in cash rebates, in the form of $200 checks to individuals earning less than $125,000 and each taxpayer and child in families earning less than $250,000.
  • Their budget blueprint also projects California will have a whopping $68 billion surplus — significantly more than the record $45.7 billion surplus Newsom’s administration predicted in January. The Associated Press has more details on their spending proposals.
  • AtkinsThis budget means “we’re able to help even more people, bolster their ability to achieve their dreams, and ensure there will be both resources and a more equitable system in place now, and for future generations of Californians.” Read More > at CalMatters

The World Is Back on a War Footing and We’ll All Pay the Price – Traditionally neutral nations prepare to join the again-relevant NATO military alliance, governments boost defense spending, and tensions soar between generally liberal-democratic countries on the one hand, and authoritarian regimes on the other. It’s like waking from a pleasant decades-long dream of relative peace and growing prosperity to a world that’s again on the brink of conflict. Whether or not hostilities spread, a new focus on war means greater risk and hard choices.

The immediate culprit is, of course, Russia and its regime led by Vladimir Putin. Russia invaded Ukraine in an old-fashioned land-grab and sees threats in efforts to support its victims.

Not that international tension is confined to Europe. China is expanding its presence in the Pacific with artificial islands that serve as military bases and territorial outposts. They are “unsinkable aircraft carriers” that “help to cement Beijing’s claims on waters rich with fish and minerals,” in the words of The National Interest‘s David Axe. China’s rivals are troubled by the project, and by its expanding alliances.

So, the battle lines—real in Eastern Europe and potential in the Pacific—are drawn between two large blocs facing off across a divide of ideology and interest.

“World military spending continued to grow in 2021, reaching an all-time high of $2.1 trillion,” the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI) reported this week. “Russia increased its military expenditure by 2.9 per cent in 2021, to $65.9 billion, at a time when it was building up its forces along the Ukrainian border,” the group added. “China, the world’s second largest spender, allocated an estimated $293 billion to its military in 2021, an increase of 4.7 per cent compared with 2020.

…Growing prosperity occurred in an environment of trade and free markets after the fall of the Communist bloc. It occurred while military budgets slimmed as the threats they addressed disappeared. That’s important, because military spending on bombs, guns, and armor you hope to never use displaces other uses of wealth. It even discourages economic growth, by diverting resources to less-productive uses. It also, perversely, tends to encourage the overall growth of government, even as authorities draw from economies hampered by military expenses.

“The evidence is irrefutable: throughout human history, government has grown during wartime or during periods of great anxiety when war is in the offing, and it rarely surrenders these powers when the guns fall silent or when the crisis abates,” Preble observed.

The world is back on a war footing, and there may be no alternative so long as autocrats threaten their neighbors. But we’ll all pay a high price in lives, liberty, wealth, and lost opportunities as we are dragged away from an all-too-brief interlude of relative peace and prosperity. Read More > at Reason

Sand crisis looms as world population surges, U.N. warns –  A U.N. report on Tuesday called for urgent action to avert a “sand crisis,” including a ban on beach extraction as demand surges to 50 billion tonnes a year amid population growth and urbanisation.

Sand is the most exploited natural resource in the world after water, but its use is largely ungoverned, meaning we are consuming it faster than it can be replaced by geological processes that take hundreds of thousands of years, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) report says. read more

Global consumption for use in glass, concrete and construction materials has tripled over two decades to reach 50 billion tonnes a year, or about 17 kilogrammes per person each day, it said, harming rivers and coastlines and even wiping out small islands. Read More > at Reuters

Parkinson’s patient first-ever to receive brain implant that reverses symptoms – A British hospital is the first in the world to implant a brain device that reverses the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Now, its test patient is gushing over the results and says he’s gotten his life back.

Surgeons at Southmead Hospital in Bristol are implementing a tiny deep brain stimulation (DBS) device into the skull. It overrides the abnormal brain-cell firing patterns caused by Parkinson’s.

Twenty-five Parkinson’s disease patients have been selected for the trial at North Bristol NHS Trust that will finish next year. If the trial is successful, it will be possible to treat more Parkinson’s patients more easily.

Parkinson’s disease leads to parts of the brain becoming progressively damaged over years and currently has no cure. Symptoms include involuntary tremoring, slow movement, loss of automatic movement and stiff and inflexible muscles.

Most people develop symptoms when they are over 50, but around 5% of sufferers first experience symptoms when they are under 40. Traditional operations for Parkinson’s involve implanting a fairly large battery into the chest with wires that run under the skin through to the top of the head.

The new DBS system, the smallest that has ever been created, involves a tiny battery system for the device that is implanted into the skull. The device delivers electrical impulses directly to targeted areas deep within the brain. To do this, electric probes are put through the skull into the subthalamic nuclei (an area deep in the centre of the brain that is critical in regulating movement). Read More > at Brain Tomorrow

Dog behaviour has little to do with breed, study finds – From sociable labradors to aggressive pitbulls, when it comes to canine behaviour there are no end of stereotypes. But research suggests such traits may have less to do with breed than previously thought.

Modern dog breeds began to emerge in the Victorian era and are often physically distinct – for example, great danes are huge and chihuahuas tiny. But it has often been thought breed can predict behaviour, too.

Now researchers say there’s little sign that’s the case.

Writing in the journal Science, the US researchers report how they analysed survey responses relating to the physical traits and behaviour of 18,385 pet dogs, almost half of which were purebred, with genetic data analysed for 2,155 of them.

Analysis of the survey results for purebred dogs suggested about 9% of behavioural variation was explained by breed.

“For the most part, we didn’t see strong differences in breeds, but there are some [behaviours] that are connected to breed more than others,” said Karlsson.

While no behaviour was exclusive to one breed, howling was more common among beagles, while pitbulls and retrievers were more “human sociable”, or comfortable with strangers.

There were also some differences based on dogs’ ancestral functions. For example, herding breeds were, among other traits, more biddable.

But there was a high degree of variability between individuals, meaning it is difficult to predict a dog’s behaviour based on its breed. Read More > at The Guardian

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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