Sunday Reading – 01/08/2023

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.

Borenstein: Seeno v. Seeno becoming building empire’s ‘War of the Roses’ – As Albert D. Seeno III seeks to strike a deal with Concord officials to lead the Bay Area’s largest development project, his father is trying to fire him as CEO of five companies in the family’s building empire.

In a stunning public airing of the internal fight for control of the businesses, Albert D. Seeno Jr., 78, has sued his son alleging that Seeno III, after his appointment in July 2020 as chief executive officer, improperly spent money and tried to shut out his father and uncle from their own companies.

While this court battle may seem like an internal business and family dispute, the allegations about Seeno III’s behavior and finances should concern members of the Concord City Council as they consider whether to partner with him for 40 years to develop the Concord Naval Weapons Station site.

Seeno Jr. says his son previously had taken hundreds of millions of dollars without permission from his father and his father’s companies, has debt of over $100 million, bullied his father to hire him as CEO under threat that he would otherwise never see his grandchildren, and has been abusive and misogynistic toward employees.

Seeno III, 48, in his legal filings, denies that his father was bullied into signing the employment contract and disputes that Seeno Jr. was inadequately represented by an attorney. The son says claims that he is diverting money, mismanaging workers and construction jobs, concealing documents and otherwise breaching obligations to his father’s companies are untrue.

Seeno III asserts that his father can’t fire him because his 20-year employment agreement is so airtight that he can only be terminated if he is convicted of a felony that exposes his father’s companies to “material criminal liability.”

Three related lawsuits are pending in Contra Costa Superior Court. In the main one, Seeno Jr. tries to regain control of his companies. In another, Seeno III accuses his father of trying to disrupt the operations of the son’s separately owned business, the firm seeking the development deal for the weapons station.

And in the third legal case, Seeno III has sued the trustee of the trust his parents set up for him in 2000, claiming that millions of dollars he was supposed to receive last year have been improperly diverted without his permission to paying down his debts to his father.

The City Council, in a special meeting Saturday, is set to decide whether to continue to the next phase of negotiations with a consortium that includes Seeno III for development of the weapons station.

The consortium previously had only 3-2 support on the five-member council. The upcoming meeting is the first on the topic since the Nov. 8 elections in which one of those supporters lost his reelection bid. Read More > in The Mercury News

Can aging California levees cope with extreme weather? – The pounding rains of New Year’s Eve had ceased, but the pastures, freeways and neighborhoods surrounding the tiny community of Wilton continued to disappear beneath a vast, growing ocean of muddy water that left only the roofs of sunken vehicles visible to rescue helicopters.

It was a chilling vision of just how vulnerable California’s network of rural levees has become in an age of climate extremes. By Wednesday, nearly a dozen earthen embankments along the Cosumnes River near Sacramento had been breached, and three people had been found dead inside or next to submerged vehicles.

Experts say such failures are all but inevitable as California’s aging levee system whipsaws between desiccating drought and intense downpours. Storm water has a nasty way of finding errors in infrastructure planning and design, said Jeffrey Mount, a geomorphologist and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

“There are two kinds of levees: Those that have failed, and those that will fail,” said Mount.

As California was hit by yet another “brutal” storm system Wednesday, Mount and others warned that lack of maintenance and changing hydrology would increase flood risk in the coming years. At the same time, Department of Water Resources director Karla Nemeth warned that rural levees would be the “most vulnerable places in California,” largely because they are not required to meet the same standards as levees that protect more urban communities.

For those tasked with maintaining levees, upkeep is an exercise in frustration.

Many reclamation districts in the state are charged with meeting requirements for 100-year or 200-year levels of flood protection, referring to a 1% or 0.5% probability of flooding in a given year. But some small rural districts with limited budgets can maintain the levees to only a 10-year flood standard.

“That is practically nothing, but at a budget of $500,000 a year, and 34 miles of levee, that’s about all we can do,” said Mark Hite, a board member of Reclamation District 800, which oversees a stretch of Cosumnes River levees between Wilton and Rancho Murieta.

“I’d like to think we’ve done a pretty damn good job, but we get some of these extraordinary events, like a 100-year or a 200-year event, and we’ve got problems,” he added. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Fixing Congress’ Broken Appropriations Process Is Worth This Mess – This week’s Republican revolt against Kevin McCarthy is actually a rank-and-file revolt against the top-down process that both parties have used to control the House in recent years.

Midway through the third day of the ongoing battle to pick a new speaker of the House, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R–Mont.) made an innocuous but telling point about the state of Congress.

“We have had more discussion and debate over the last three days than I have participated in, on this floor, for the past two years,” Rosendale, one of the group of breakaway Republicans who have refused to back Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R–Calif.) bid to become speaker, pointed out.

The stakes of this week’s congressional drama, he argued, are not merely about which House member will hold the ceremonial gavel but about a deeper problem with how Congress functions.

“The process that we use has been dramatically broken,” Rosendale explained, lamenting “the consolidation of power into the hands of the speaker and the fortunate few who happen to serve on the Rules Committee, which control every aspect of legislation that travels through this body.”

This is not a new complaint, but it remains an underappreciated one. For the past few decades, Congress has shifted away from its traditional process for passing legislation—the one that’s more or less reflected in the famous Schoolhouse Rock! song: A bill gets proposed, marked up in committee, amended, and finally put to a debate and voted on by the full chamber. Instead, as Rosendale explained Thursday, major bills are drafted by a handful of high-ranking leaders on both sides, then presented to the full House (usually with scant time to read or process what’s in them) for a simple up-or-down vote with few or no amendments allowed.

One way to understand this week’s Republican revolt against McCarthy, then, is that it’s not really about McCarthy at all. It’s actually a rank-and-file revolt against the top-down process that both parties have used to control the House in recent years. But the margins are thin enough right now that a few handfuls of lawmakers who are fed up with the process can use the speaker election as a pressure point to force a change. Read More > at Reason

Americans Largely Pessimistic About U.S. Prospects in 2023 – Coming off several challenging years, Americans enter 2023 with a mostly gloomy outlook for the U.S. as majorities predict negative conditions in 12 of 13 economic, political, societal and international arenas.

When offered opposing outcomes on each issue, about eight in 10 U.S. adults think 2023 will be a year of economic difficulty with higher rather than lower taxes and a growing rather than shrinking budget deficit. More than six in 10 think prices will rise at a high rate and the stock market will fall in the year ahead, both of which happened in 2022. In addition, just over half of Americans predict that unemployment will increase in 2023, an economic problem the U.S. was spared in 2022.

On the domestic front, 90% of Americans expect 2023 will be a year of political conflict in the U.S., 72% think the crime rate will rise, and 56% predict there will be many strikes by labor unions.

Regarding world affairs, 85% of U.S. adults predict the year ahead will be fraught with international discord rather than peaceful. And while 64% think the United States’ power in the world will decline, 73% think China’s power will increase. However, 64% of Americans expect Russia’s power in the world will decrease in 2023, likely a reflection of that country’s recent setbacks in its war against Ukraine. Read More > at Gallup

$24 billion projected budget deficit may test California’s resolve to grow safety net amid recession – California faces a projected deficit next year even if the U.S. avoids a recession. Despite the expected shortfall, policymakers say they’ll maintain spending on social programs though advocates are calling for more.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office recently said in its annual forecast that Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Democratic Party-controlled Legislature are facing a $24 billion projected budget deficit for the next fiscal year.

If the state enters a recession the outlook is even worse, with revenues predicted to fall short by $30 billion to $50 billion. The governor signed a record-breaking $308 billion budget in June.

The legislative analyst attributes the projected shortfall to California’s reliance on those whose incomes often ebb and flow with the price of stocks, real estate and other investments. Read More > at CalMatters

U.S. adds robust 223,000 jobs in December. Wage growth slows in sign of ebbing inflation pressures – The U.S. generated 223,000 new jobs in December to mark the smallest increase in two years, but the labor market still showed surprising vigor even as the economy faced rising headwinds.

The unemployment rate, meanwhile, slipped to 3.5% from 3.6%, the government said Friday.

The jobless rate has touched 3.5% several times since 2019, matching the lowest level since 1969.

One good sign for Wall Street and the Federal Reserve: Hourly pay rose a modest 0.3% last month, suggesting wages are coming off a boil.

The increase in wages over the past year also slowed to 4.6% from 4.8%, marking the smallest gain since the summer of 2021.

The resilient labor market is a double-edged sword for the Federal Reserve.

For one thing, a scarcity of workers has driven up wages and threatens to prolong a bout of high inflation. The Fed wants the labor market to cool off further to ease the upward pressure on prices.

The strong labor market also offers the best hope for the Fed to avert a recession as it jacks up interest rates to the highest level in years. Higher rates reduce inflation by slowing the economy, but if most people are working, they are likely to spend enough to keep the economy afloat. Read More > at Market Watch

Lawmakers Voted To Send Billions To Ukraine While Making A Killing On Defense Contractor Stocks – Members of Congress raked in profits from defense contractor stocks after voting to send billions in military aid to Ukraine, according to financial disclosures and voting records reviewed by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The U.S. has delivered more than $20 billion worth of military aid to Ukraine between Jan. 24, a month before Russia invaded, and Nov. 20, according to data compiled by the Council on Foreign Relations, and Congress has approved billions more in spending on Ukraine. To make up for that aid, top defense companies have boosted production, and lawmakers trading on company stocks saw a financial windfall as a result, according to publicly available stock trading data.

Overall, Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon netted the highest average returns on defense company stocks since 2021 at 40%, according to a chart published Tuesday by Unusual Whales, a site known for exposing how members of Congress profit from trading related to legislative issues. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has voted against Ukraine aid, was the top Republican at 35.5%. 

While unforeseen demand has left top weapons makers, like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman, scrambling to meet production targets, defense stocks are performing well overall, according to Investopedia.

Republican Florida Rep. John Rutherford and Blumenauer each bought up to $15,000 in Raytheon stock the day of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24. Rutherford claimed in his disclosure that his advisers erroneously purchased the stock, and it was sold on March 14 for a 3% gain, according to Unusual Whales.

Rutherford, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and Blumenauer voted for a $40 billion supplemental military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine passed in May, the Congressional Record shows. Read More > at the Daily Caller

What are the most interesting new laws for California in 2023? – In 2022, the California Legislature passed nearly 1,200 bills — and nearly 1,000 became law with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature

Many of the new laws are minor fixes to laws that legislators and the governor previously enacted. Others are rather narrow or specific to a certain industry. Still others will be phased in over time. 

Newsom has highlighted several, including a law limiting prosecutors from using rap lyrics and music videos in court and another requiring oil companies to publicly post their profits (the governor has also called a special session on his plan to impose a penalty on oil refiners for excess profits.) 

And then there’s a select group of new laws that took effect on Jan. 1, 2023 — and that could have a noticeable impact on the daily lives of Californians, or on the policy direction of the state. 

Here are nine of them, including audio segments for a few:

Will this law stop gender bias in prices?

Shoppers may have noticed that shampoos and other personal care products marketed to women sometimes cost more than very similar versions for men.   

No longer. With this law, stores will be banned from charging a different price based on gender — and could be in the crosshairs of the attorney general’s office for any violations. Advocacy groups say that ending the “pink tax” is another step in the cause of gender equity.

How much does that job pay?

It’s hit and miss how much applicants can find out about how much a job pays. And advocates say that allows for unfair disparities in salaries.  

This new law will bring a little more transparency to California workplaces by requiring companies with at least 15 employees to put salary ranges into job postings. But intense business opposition blocked provisions that would have meant publication of pay data broken down by position, gender and race. And some specialists question how much difference the law will make.      

Is this a return to Wild West bounties?

Back in the 1800s, the U.S. government offered bounties to stop the Union Army from getting cheated. In 2021, Texas passed a law restricting abortions and dangled $10,000 per violation to anyone who sued to help enforce it.

Not to be outdone, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature passed this new law that allows private citizens to collect $10,000 by suing those who make or sell illegal “ghost guns” or assault-style weapons. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, could throw out the Texas law and ones like it, including California’s. But that would be just fine with the governor and lawmakers.  Read More > at CalMatters   

Half think COVID vaccine is deadly – Nearly a third of the nation believes the COVID-19 vaccine has killed somebody they know, highlighting the safety concerns the public still has about the shot.

As the first family renewed their call for the country to get vaccinated, 28% of likely voters told Rasmussen Reports that they “personally know” somebody they think died from the side effects of the shot.

What’s more, 49% said that vaccine side effects have caused “unexplained deaths,” one of the factors in the trending new hashtag, “#DiedSuddenly,” based on the just-released documentary.

Died Suddenly has been criticized as promoting “debunked” anti-vaccine conspiracy theories but has been seen by some 15 million people.

More Democrats, by a 33%-26% margin, believe the shot has been lethal. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

These are the fastest growing languages in the Bay Area – The Bay Area is home to speakers of more than 160 languages, and the number of people speaking languages other than English is expanding as immigration to the region continues to grow.

New survey data collected from 2017 to 2021 shows that the number of people speaking languages other than English at home in the Bay Area’s nine counties grew by 5% from the previous five years. The estimates also show that more than 3 million people in the nine-county region now primarily speak a language other than English at home.

Arabic, Chinese, and Korean were among the fastest growing languages in the nine-county region. This particular survey data by the U.S. Census Bureau does not provide details on the numerous dialects associated with each of those languages.

The Bay Area is home to several growing Arabic-speaking communities, including in Marin County where the biggest growth was observed.

In terms of the sheer number of people, the fastest growth was among Chinese speakers. There were over 60,000 more people speaking Chinese in the Bay Area from 2017 to 2021 than there were from 2012 to 2016, according to the American Community Survey estimates. The estimated population of Russian, Korean, Vietnamese, Vietnamese and French (including Haitian and Cajun) speakers also grew across the nine counties. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

First-ever robotic pill makes insulin injections obsolete – One reason that it’s so difficult to deliver large protein drugs orally is that these drugs can’t pass through the mucus barrier that lines the digestive tract. This means that insulin and most other “biologic drugs” — drugs consisting of proteins or nucleic acids — have to be injected or administered in a hospital.

A new drug capsule developed at MIT may one day be able to replace those injections. The capsule has a robotic cap that spins and tunnels through the mucus barrier when it reaches the small intestine, allowing drugs carried by the capsule to pass into cells lining the intestine.

In a study appearing today in Science Robotics, the researchers demonstrated that they could use this approach to deliver insulin as well as vancomycin, an antibiotic peptide that currently has to be injected. Read More > at the Brighter Side of News

How Did EVs Handle America’s Arctic Blast? – More Americans are also learning that frigid temperatures affect EVs differently than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, chiefly by cutting into their driving range to a greater extent. While a typical ICE vehicle might have its range reduced by 15% to 25% in below-freezing temperatures, an EV’s range will be slashed 20% to 50% depending upon driving speed, temperature, and interior climate preferences. Combustion reactions occur more inefficiently at colder temperatures, accounting for the range decline in ICE vehicles. But cold slows the physical and chemical reactions in EV batteries to a larger degree, limiting the energy and power the battery can deliver to the motors. Moreover, while ICE vehicles utilize otherwise wasted heat from the engine to warm car interiors in winter, EVs use electric heaters to perform much of the climate control, further draining the already hamstrung battery.

The Arctic blast that chilled much of the “Lower 48” last week showcased the EV range hit to more Americans than ever, and also yielded a few more lessons. EV owners sounded off about their experiences on social media and subreddits. Here are a few of the takeaways:

1. EVs are not ready for frigid road trips. I warned about this in August: Driving an EV on the highway in extreme cold will produce a range loss of 40% or more. EV owners of various brands traveling for the holidays shared numerous stories verifying this annoying (and potentially dangerous) reality. Drivers traveling in temperatures at or around zero with a headwind could go only 100 to 150 miles before needing to stop and recharge, depending upon the car, significantly increasing travel time. When they did charge, they had to deal with another disconcerting problem with EVs and winter…

2. EV fast-chargers operate much more slowly in extreme cold, if they work at all. The colder the EV battery, the slower the rate of charge that it will accept, making “fast-charging” in subzero temperatures a potentially miserable and plodding experience. Think a 45 to 60 minute charge instead of a 25 to 35 minute one. To top it off, users reported that fast-charging equipment, particularly from Electrify America, often just didn’t work in temperatures below -10 °F. Tesla’s proprietary Superchargers didn’t seem to have the same reliability issues. The generally sorry state of charging infrastructure shed light on another takeaway… Read More > at Real Clear Science

Drink up: Large study finds that not consuming enough water increases risk of death by 20% – Drink less, age more.

That’s the key takeaway from a study published Monday in the medical journal the Lancet. It found that adults who aren’t hydrated enough may age faster and even have a higher risk for chronic diseases that could result in early death.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health conducted the study over a 25-year period, analyzing the medical visits of more than 11,000 adults in the US from ages 45 to 66 and then their follow-up visits at ages 70 through 90. 

“Emerging evidence from our and other studies indicate[s] that adding consistent good hydration to [other] healthy lifestyle choices may slow down the aging process,” the study’s lead author, Natalia Dmitrieva, said in an email to NBC news.

During the study, researchers tracked hydration in subjects by monitoring how much sodium was found in their blood – the higher the sodium levels, the less hydrated participants are.

The analysis showed that all 11,000 participants’ hydration was within a normal range, with blood-sodium concentrations between 135 to 146 millimoles per liter. However, those individuals with levels on the higher end of that range — greater than 144 millimoles per liter — were 50% more likely to show signs of physiological aging. Those includes high cholesterol, blood pressure and surging sugar levels along with physical signs such as sunken eyes, cheeks and dry skin. Read More > in the New York Post

TV’s awful year – Congratulations to NBC. It passed CBS last year as the most-watched network on television — because NBC’s viewership fell by only 7%, while CBS lost 8% of its viewers.

That’s according to Variety.45 of the top 50 TV channels and networks lost viewers. Only 3 gained (ESPN, ESPN 2 and the Paramount Network). TV Land and Bounce TV neither gained nor lost viewers.

The drop in viewers came despite an Olympics, a popular  war and a federal election.

It is pretty spectacular that people tuned out coverage of a very close election. Fox News viewership dropped 1%, MSNBC dropped 22% and CNN dropped 34%.

You cannot blame the drop in viewers on cable cutting.

Variety said, “There may come a time when it just doesn’t make sense to rank the broadcast and cable networks anymore. Actually, that time is probably already here, with most viewing now taking place via streaming and other means. And yet, Nielsen’s numbers — which include time shifting and other ways people watch, not just live — are still the best barometer of who’s watching what in the linear world.” Read More > at Don Surber

Amazon says it will cut over 18,000 jobs, more than initially plannedAmazon said Wednesday it will cut over 18,000 jobs, a bigger number than the e-retailer initially said it would be eliminating last year.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the cuts earlier, which Amazon said pre-empted its planned announcement.

“We typically wait to communicate about these outcomes until we can speak with the people who are directly impacted,” CEO Andy Jassy wrote in a memo to employees that the company published on its blog. “However, because one of our teammates leaked this information externally, we decided it was better to share this news earlier so you can hear the details directly from me.”

Tech companies are picking up in 2023 where they left off last year, preparing for an extended economic downturn. Salesforce said on Wednesday it would reduce headcount by 10%, impacting over 7,000 employees. Both Amazon and Salesforce admitted that they hired too rapidly during the pandemic. Read More > at NBC News

Boys Are Graded More Harshly Than Girls. Why? – Across all ages and nearly all areas of education, boys are under-performing girls.

“Girls are about a year ahead of boys in terms of reading ability in OECD nations, in contrast to a wafer-thin and shrinking advantage for boys in maths. Boys are 50 percent more likely than girls to fail at all three key school subjects: maths, reading, and science,” Richard Reeves, a senior fellow in Economic Studies and the Director of the Future of the Middle Class Initiative, wrote in his recent book Why the Modern Male is Struggling.

According to a 2018 Brookings Institution report, about 88% of American girls graduated high school on time, compared with 82% of boys. In 2020, six out of ten college students were women. Once on campus, they graduate at higher rates, receiving more associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in the process. As evidenced by declining college enrollment in the U.S., a drop for which men account for 71%, the gender disparity is continuing to worsen.

The reasons for this expanding educational divide have been vociferously debated and discussed. A startling shortage of male K-12 teachers (just 24%), the hands-off, tedious structure of school, and poor parenting are a few of the explanations offered. Another, less frequently discussed, is starting to emerge from the scientific literature: Boys appear to be graded more harshly than girls.

When researchers across the world — from Israel and Sweden to France and Czechia — explored teachers’ grading behaviors, either by having educators grade hypothetical students’ identical works while only changing the students’ gender, or comparing grades achieved by “similarly competent” male and female students, they found that girls consistently receive higher grades than boys. Read More > at Real Clear Science

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
This entry was posted in Sunday Reading. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s