Sunday Reading – 08/14/2022

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.

The dangers of monkeypox hysteria – They’ve been repeating it ever since the start of the Covid pandemic: “We are entering an ‘age of pandemics’ — this is just the beginning”. And they’ve been true to their word: no sooner had the threat of Covid started to wane, and most people had started to put the nightmare of the past two years behind them, than we were told that another dangerous virus had begun to rapidly spread across continents: monkeypox, a rare disease normally limited to West and Central Africa, where it is endemic.

Since May 2022 there have been a spate of outbreaks reported in the US, UK, Australia, mainland Europe and Canada. On July 23, with more than 16,000 reported cases (and five deaths, all in Africa) in 75 countries and territories, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, its highest alert for a disease, raising the status of the outbreak to a global health emergency — even though the WHO’s advisory panel opposed the declaration nine-to-six. The last time the WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern was in February 2020 for Covid, so people naturally drew parallels.

Such comparisons are completely unfounded. And yet, as the outbreak continues to make headlines around the globe, panic is once again setting in. A recent poll revealed that one in five Americans fears they’ll get monkeypox. This is especially true for young people, many of whom now claim they are more scared of monkeypox than Covid

Meanwhile, three US states, including California, have declared states of emergency over the monkeypox outbreak, just as they did for Covid-19, potentially allowing them to enact mask mandates, lockdown orders, and other restrictions. And two weeks ago, a south London school sent reception classes home until the end of term after a child came into contact with a monkeypox case, sparking fears of an outbreak. The school said it was acting on advice of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and were “obliged to follow these precautionary guidelines”. Authorities also advised parents to avoid hugging their child.

It is simply baffling that anyone would willing to go down this road again — shutting down schools; denying children physical contact — with everything that we now know about the devastating effects of such measures on children’s mental and physical well-being throughout the Covid pandemic. But that doesn’t seem to register. Today, we are seeing the first stirrings of yet another bout of mass hysteria, with politicians, the media and public health officials (including the WHO) all repeating the same mistakes they made with Covid-19: spreading misinformation about the nature of the disease, and sowing unnecessary panic and fear among those who risk little or nothing from it, while denying those who actually are at risk the kind of targeted messaging and protection they deserve.

…As the WHO writes: “the ongoing outbreak of monkeypox continues to primarily affect men who have sex with men (MSM) who have reported recent sex with one or multiple partners. At present there is no signal suggesting sustained transmission beyond these networks.” So far, there has been a relatively small number of cases outside of this group: health officials have reported around 100 monkeypox cases among women worldwide — about 1% of the global total — while cases among children are even rarer. Read More > at Unherd

Will 4 a.m. be the new 2 a.m.? – Should bars and nightclubs be allowed to sell alcohol until 4 a.m. instead of the current 2 a.m. cutoff? That’s the question California lawmakers are set to answer this week as part of the suspense file, an opaque, twice-annual procedure in which they rattle through a list of hundreds of bills at breakneck speed, passing or killing them without a word of explanation. One of the proposals on Thursday’s suspense file — authored by San Francisco Democratic Assemblymember Matt Haney and state Sen. Scott Wiener — would launch a pilot program allowing qualifying bars, taverns, nightclubs and restaurants in Cathedral City, Coachella, Fresno, Oakland, Palm Springs, West Hollywood and the city and county of San Francisco to sell liquor until 4 a.m.

The measure is supported by West Hollywood and the city and county of San Francisco, among others. “Many bars and venues are still facing mountains of debt as a result of the last few years,” Wiener said in a late June statement. “We need to give them every possible tool to help them survive — including allowing them to stay open until 4 a.m. Nightlife is a core part of who we are as a state, and our world-class bars and nightclubs deserve a fighting chance.”

But opposition to the bill has steadily been mounting. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party in late June voted to oppose the measure. Last week, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer withdrew his city from the pilot program, citing “recent anxiety on a local level” about increased drunk driving and deaths. And on Friday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to oppose the bill, arguing it wasn’t an improvement over a 2018 version vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown that would have included Los Angeles among its pilot cities. Read More > at CalMatters

Men have a higher risk of cancer because of ‘intrinsic biological differences’ NOT because they eat, drink and smoke more, major study claims – Men drink and smoke more than women — but that is not the reason they have a higher cancer risk.

A major study suggests biological differences are the real reason behind the disparity between sexes. 

Understanding these differences could help to improve prevention and treatment, researchers say. 

The study looked at 300,000 middle-aged and older Americans who did not have cancer over 15 years.

Men were more than twice as likely to develop the disease compared to women — even when lifestyle factors were ruled out.

Researchers suggested differences in genes, hormones and the immune system all play a role. Read More > at Daily Mail

Amazon’s Roomba Deal Is Really About Mapping Your Inc. hasn’t just bought a maker of robot vacuum cleaners. It’s acquired a mapping company. To be more precise: a company that can make maps of your home.

The company announced a $1.7 billion deal on Friday for iRobot Corp., the maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner. And yes, Amazon will make money from selling those gadgets. But the real value resides in those robots’ ability to map your house. As ever with Amazon, it’s all about the data.

A smart home, you see, isn’t actually terribly smart. It only knows that your Philips Hue lightbulbs and connected television are in your sitting room because you’ve told it as much. It certainly doesn’t know where exactly the devices are within that room. The more it knows about a given space, the more tightly it can choreograph the way they interact with you.

\Slightly more terrifying, the maps also represent a wealth of data for marketers. The size of your house is a pretty good proxy for your wealth. A floor covered in toys means you likely have kids. A household without much furniture is a household to which you can try to sell more furniture. This is all useful intel for a company such as Amazon which, you may have noticed, is in the business of selling stuff. Read More > at Bloomberg

Scientists Join Lawsuit Against Biden Admin Over Censoring COVID-19 Information On Social Media – Several well-known doctors and scientists joined a lawsuit against the Biden administration Tuesday over social media censorship of COVID-19 information.

Drs. Jayanta (Jay) Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorff and Aaron Kheriaty joined the lawsuit filed by the states of Missouri and Louisiana, alleging that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) worked with Big Tech companies to censor Americans discussing the pandemic. The doctors alleged they were censored on social media platforms for expressing views in opposition to the positions of the federal government, their representation, the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), said in a Tuesday press release.

Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, and Kulldorff, a former professor of medicine at Harvard University and member of the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Subgroup, were co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration. The declaration advocated for a targeted approach to protect society’s most vulnerable from COVID-19 and against widespread lockdowns and mandates aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. Both men have faced intense pushback from pro-lockdown figures, including some government officials, for their public opposition to policies like stay-at-home orders and vaccine mandates.

Recently unearthed government records show that health officials at the CDC coordinated with Big Tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, to advise them on what kind of content to flag as misinformation on their sites. Those platforms either removed, suppressed or added warning labels to thousands of pieces of content that contradicted CDC guidance throughout the pandemic, a study found. Read More > at the Daily Caller

Food crisis: Inflation forcing change in eating habits – Most people, especially families with children, are being forced to change their eating habits because of the rampant inflation sucking up every spare penny and driving prices to historically high levels.

By a 2-1 margin, inflation is changing eating habits, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports survey. It found that 63% are changing, while 31% are not.

Hit hardest are families with children — with 72% changing their habits to accommodate higher prices for basics such as eggs, milk, butter, and bacon — and women under 40 at 73%.

Rasmussen found that nearly all Americans, 89%, have been paying more since President Joe Biden took office, and 61% believe they will still be paying more in a year.

Notably, there was virtually no difference between Republican and Democratic reactions to the question of paying more. The survey analysis found that 88% of Democrats are paying more for food than they were a year ago, and 90% of Republicans said they are too. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Inflation: Grocery prices increased 13.1% in July – Americans can still expect sticker shock when they head to their local grocery stories due to inflation.

Despite inflation cooling down a bit in July, up 8.5%, Americans are still paying significantly more for food.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ July Consumer Price Index (CPI), the cost of food rose 10.9% , with food in the at-home category rising 13.1%, higher than the year-over-year rise in recent months. For the overall food category, that’s the highest increase since May of 1979, but for the food-at-home category, which is household groceries, it’s the highest since March of 1979, according to Steve Reed, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Compared to June of 2022, the grocery category increased 1.4%

On a 12-month basis, cereal and bakery products led the spike with an increase of 15% — with flour and prepared flour mixes up 22.7%. This leap was followed by the other food at-home categories including dairy and related products, up 14.9%, with milk specifically up 15.6%, which is only up 0.1 on monthly basis.

Meanwhile, the meats, poultry fish and eggs category, up 10.9%, saw a bit of relief where the cost of beef and veal decreased 0.1% and hot dogs dropped 6.0% compared to last month, but it was largely offset by eggs, up 38% compared to a year ago and 4.3% compared to June of 2022. Read More > at Yahoo! Finance

U.S. Postal Service to temporarily hike prices for holiday season – The U.S. Postal Service filed a notice Wednesday of a temporary price hike for this year’s peak holiday season, which it said would help cover extra handling costs.

The agency said the adjustment was approved by its board of governors and is now pending review by the Postal Regulatory Commission. The price increase would go into effect on Oct. 2 and remain in place until Jan. 22, 2023.

The agency said the adjustment is similar to past years and will allow it to remain competitive during the peak shipping season.

The price increases depend on the weight of the package and the distance of the delivery. Commercial priority mail packages will see a 75 cent hike, and heavy, long-distance deliveries could see increases of up to $6.50. Read More > at CNBC

With 87,000 new agents, here’s who the IRS may target for audits – As the Democrats’ spending plan moves closer to a House vote, one of the more controversial provisions — nearly $80 billion in IRS funding, with $45.6 billion for “enforcement” — has raised questions about who the agency may target for audits.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said these resources are “absolutely not about increasing audit scrutiny on small businesses or middle-income Americans,” in a recent letter to the Senate.

However, with the investment projected to bring in $203.7 billion in revenue from 2022 to 2031, according to the Congressional Budget Office, opponents say IRS enforcement may affect everyday Americans.

Overall, IRS audits plunged by 44% between fiscal years 2015 and 2019, according to a 2021 Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report.

While audits dropped by 75% for Americans making $1 million or more, the percentage fell by 33% for low-to-moderate income filers claiming the earned income tax credit, known as EITC, the report found.

Ken Corbin, chief taxpayer experience officer for the IRS, said returns claiming the EITC have “historically had high rates of improper payments and therefore require greater enforcement,” during a May House Oversight Subcommittee hearing.

Since many lower-income Americans are wage earners, these audits are generally less complex and many may be automated. Read More > at CNBC

$4,104,725,000,000: Federal Tax Collections Set Record Through July – The federal government collected a record $4,104,725,000,000 in total taxes in the first ten months of fiscal 2022 (October through July), according to the Monthly Treasury Statement.

That was up $503,787,000,000—or 13.9 percent—from the then-record $3,600,938,000,000 (in constant July 2022 dollars) that the Treasury collected in taxes in the first ten months of fiscal 2021.

The record $4,104,725,000,000 in total taxes that the federal government collect in the first ten months of this fiscal year included $2,263,483,000,000 in individual income taxes; $1,233,770,000 in social insurance and retirement taxes; $82,711,000,000 in customs duties; $67,496,000,000 in excise taxes; $26,662,000,000 in estate and gift taxes; and $116,315,000,000 in what the Treasury calls “miscellaneous receipts.” Read More > at CNSNEWS

Chesa Boudin, Contra Costa D.A. join group urging California Supreme Court to overturn three-strikes ruling – A state appeals court says district attorneys who oppose California’s “three strikes” law, like George Gascón of Los Angeles, must still charge sentence-lengthening strikes when a defendant has serious prior convictions. But a group of current and former prosecutors, including Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton and former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, says the ruling would allow judges to usurp the will of voters and is asking the state Supreme Court to overturn it.

The appellate ruling, issued June 2, “threatens the very core of the prosecutor’s well-settled discretion and role as an elected official,” the 73 prosecutors said in a brief to be filed Friday with the state’s high court.

In addition to Boudin, who was recalled from office by San Francisco voters June 7, and Becton, who was re-elected to a four-year term the same day, the signers included District Attorneys Alvin Bragg of New York, Wesley Bell of St. Louis, Kimberly Foxx of Chicago and Lawrence Krasner of Philadelphia, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. Two former Los Angeles County district attorneys, Gil Garcetti and Ira Reiner, also signed the court filing.

The state’s high court has not decided yet whether to grant review of the ruling. Gascón has asked the court to take up the case and overrule the appellate court. Prosecutors in his office, represented by the 800-member Association of Deputy District Attorneys, filed the suit challenging his policies. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

How higher education lost its shine – There has been a significant and steady drop nationwide in the proportion of high school graduates enrolling in college in the fall after they finish high school — from a high of 70 percent in 2016 to 63 percent in 2020, the most recent year for which the figure is available, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Many observers have suggested three principal explanations for the falloff: the Covid-19 pandemic, a dip in the number of Americans under 18 and a strong labor market sucking young people straight into the workforce.

But while the pandemic made things worse, the enrollment downturn took hold well before it started; there were already two and a half million fewer students at colleges and universities by the time that Covid set in than there were in 2012. Another million and a half have disappeared since then.

Demographics alone cannot explain the scale of this drop. And statistics belie the claim that recent high school graduates are getting jobs instead of going to college; workforce participation for 16- to 24-year-olds is actually lower than it was before Covid hit, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, reports.

Myriad focus groups and public opinion surveys point to other reasons for the dramatic downward trend. These include widespread and fast-growing skepticism about the value of a degree, impatience with the time it takes to get one and costs that have finally exceeded many people’s ability or willingness to pay. Read More > at The Hechinger Report   

Are San Francisco’s NIMBYs Finally Getting Their Comeuppance? – San Francisco’s homegrown hostility to new development has made it the epicenter of California’s housing crisis. It will now become a testing ground for a newly empowered state government’s ability to force liberalizing reforms on a city that repeatedly refuses to build.

On Tuesday, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) announced that it would be launching an unprecedented review of San Francisco’s housing policies and practices “aimed at identifying and removing barriers to approval and construction of new housing there.”

Over nine months, the HCD’s Housing Accountability Unit will examine how exactly the city ended up with the state’s longest approval times for new construction and its highest housing and construction costs.

State law requires cities to submit housing elements once every eight years showing how they’ll update their zoning regulations to meet their projected housing demand.

For a long time, the preparation of housing elements was a perfunctory and meaningless exercise. Some cities didn’t do them at all. Others produced unrealistic plans that couldn’t conceivably result in the predicted amount of housing actually being built.

In recent years, a series of legislative fixes require cities to produce more realistic housing elements. State officials at the HCD have proven increasingly willing to reject housing elements that don’t meet these new standards….

The city could be hit with escalating fines or lose access to state infrastructure and affordable housing dollars. Courts are also empowered to appoint a planning expert to write San Francisco’s housing element for it.

There’s reason to think that neither of these remedies would actually be applied. The state might not find it politically practical to cut off one of its largest cities from infrastructure and housing funds….

One state remedy that might be more impactful, Elmendorf said, is an as-of-yet untested “builder’s remedy.”

State law says that cities without a compliant housing element can’t use their zoning code to reject projects that include some affordable units. Theoretically, this would allow developers to build projects at unlimited densities anywhere in a city. Someone could propose a skyscraper in a single-family neighborhood, and city officials couldn’t stop it. Read More > at Reason

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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