Alert: Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) – Discovery Bay & Big Break Regional Shoreline

There are currently “Danger” level advisories for harmful algal blooms in parts of Discovery Bay and at the Big Break Regional Shoreline kayak launch in Contra Costa County. It is recommended to stay out of the water in these areas and to keep pets from coming into contact.

Learn more about these alerts and stay updated on Delta HABs with the HAB Incident Reports Map.

A harmful algal bloom (HAB) is a buildup of blue-green algae that creates a green, blue-green, white or brown coloring on the surface of ponds, lakes and other slow-moving waterways, sometimes occurring as mats or scum.

Blooms are most common between June and September. They grow in warm, stagnant and nutrient-rich water, and are becoming increasingly common both in California and nationwide.

Human exposure to water containing toxic harmful algal blooms, for example by direct body contact or ingestion, can result in a number of symptoms including the following:

  • Rashes
  • Eye, nose, mouth or throat irritation
  • Allergic reactions
  • Headache
  • Gastrointestinal upset, such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea

How do I keep my dog safe?

If you spot the algae, leave the area and don’t let your dog drink or swim in the water. If your dog has already gotten into a harmful bloom, rinse your pet off immediately in fresh, clean water. Remember to wear gloves to protect yourself. And, if you know you’ve been in contact with the bloom, immediately wash with soap and water.

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California Is 2020’s 10th Least Federally Dependent State – WalletHub Study

With Tax Day postponed to July 15 and states having received hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid during the COVID-19 pandemic, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released updated rankings for 2020’s Most & Least Federally Dependent States (along with accompanying videos).

This report illustrates the extent to which states are independent economically. However, the oxymoron in this situation is that states with a higher level of federal dependence are likely better positioned to handle the coronavirus pandemic, given that most relief has come from the federal government. In order to identify which states most and least depend on federal support, WalletHub compared the 50 states across three key metrics: return on taxes paid to the federal government; federal funding as a share of state revenue; and share of federal jobs.

Federal Dependency of California (1=Most Dependent, 25=Avg.):

  • 43rd – Return on Taxes Paid to the Federal Government
  • 36th – Federal Funding as a Share of State Revenue
  • 37th – Share of Federal Jobs

For the full report, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/states-most-least-dependent-on-the-federal-government/2700/

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EcoRestore: 5 Years, Thousands of Acres of Restored Habitat

Aerial view looking south-west of the Dutch Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Project the construction site, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Oakley, California. Mt. Diablo can be seen in the background. DWR/2018

This spring marked the fifth anniversary of the California EcoRestore initiative, a coordinated effort across state agencies to deliver 30,000 acres of restored fish and wildlife habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, an immensely important landscape that five years ago only had 5 percent of its native habitat remaining.

The EcoRestore initiative was built on the assertion that cutting-edge science, strong partnerships, and a healthy impatience could drive more restoration than had ever been pursued in the Delta. After five years of work on 30 projects totaling over $500 million, the Department of Water Resources and its state agency partners are within reach of doubling the Delta’s restored and protected habitat lands. EcoRestore projects are funded by multiple state sources, with a majority of financial support provided by the State Water Contractors.

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Sunday Reading – 06/14/2020

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.

Lack of Transparency in Our State Government – …Legislators are pushing a flurry of wrongheaded housing bills that are targeting established single-family neighborhoods throughout every city and county in California as the new frontier for high density development. The state legislature has authored a series of housing bills that essentially amount to a declaration of war against local government.

With this legislative session foreshortened by the state’s response to the coronavirus, the hearings on these bills are coming on fast and furious while offering minimal opportunity for the public to weigh in on them, understand what they really mean, and who the winners and losers would be if they become law.

..Nonetheless, with restrictions being enforced on public participation during these legislative hearings, the public is prevented from attending the sessions while being limited to making 30 second phone calls during committee hearings on these bills. In the case of the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on June 9, 2020, the staff reports analyzing the potential costs to the state of its new housing legislation weren’t available until two days before the hearing. How can the public, let alone the legislators themselves, begin to read and comprehend the purpose and cost consequences–both intended and unintended–of this legislation? So much for transparency!

Sacramento journalist Dan Walters recently wrote in Cal Matters magazine about the attempts of the state legislature to undo Proposition 54, an initiative written in part by former State Sen. Sam Blakeslee that was enacted by voters in 2016, that required more transparency in how the Legislature goes about its business. Democratic legislators hated Proposition 54, but the voters enacted it over their objection. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Three Covid-19 vaccines are ready for final stage of testing – Over the course of the summer, the federal government plans to fund three phase III clinical trials for experimental coronavirus vaccines.

Each of the three vaccines will undergo this final phase of testing on about 30,000 human participants, The Wall Street Journal reports, half of whom will receive a vaccine injection and the other half an inert placebo.

The vaccine developed by Moderna Inc will begin its phase III trial in July, followed soon after by those developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Normally, reaching this point can take years, but coronavirus vaccines have been developed and tested on a vastly-accelerated timeline.

“There’s a lot of optimism in our community that a vaccine should be possible, but we are very focused on the fact that that has to be proven in clinical trials,” John Mascola, vaccine research director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a recent conference attended by the WSJ.

There are multiple phases of clinical research necessary before a medication or vaccine is granted regulatory approval. Phase 0 studies how the human body processes a drug. Phase I identifies dangerous side effects and other safety concerns, and phase II trials measure whether the drug actually treats the condition it’s supposed to.

Finally, there’s phase III: large-scale tests that compare the drug or vaccine against a placebo. Many drugs don’t ever reach this final stage of the process, so the fact that three COVID-19 vaccines are already there is a promising sign for the fight to end this pandemic. Read More > at Futurism 

Talented immigrants are the new oil or gold: Essential for our national wealth – America must be strong, powerful, rich — and lead the world in technology and science.

But just what makes a nation powerful, strong, and rich? Centuries ago, the answer might have been mines of gold or silver. Later, coal to fire the engines of warships and factories. Then oil for the same reasons. In a word: resources.

Today, resources are still the source of a nation’s wealth, but our greatest resource is talent and human capital. Trained minds and competence are the new gold and silver, coal and oil.

Today, we need not sacrifice blood and treasure on conquests of resources abroad. Instead, we can mine the best minds of the world by importing them, and simultaneously, cultivating and enriching the best minds here at home. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

I love The New York Times, but what they did was wrong – The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan has been famously quoted asserting that people are entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

At first glance it seems that at The New York Times, they may not be entitled to their own opinion either.

At least that’s how the Times comes off with its ham-fisted handling of a controversial op-ed written by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark). Cotton’s essay called for US troops to be sent into cities to quell rioting that had erupted in the wake of the horrendous killing by police of George Floyd.

At first the paper defended publishing the piece. Then it said it shouldn’t have seen the light of day and editorial page editor James Bennet resigned. Yet the paper’s post-hoc rationale was weak and not supported by evidence.

As a result, one is left with the impression that the Times merely capitulated to internal and external pressure over an opinion piece — a dangerous position for a newspaper that has declared itself a champion of free speech. Read More > at CNN

The Rebellion of America’s New Underclass – Like so many before them, our recent disorders have been rooted in issues of race. But in the longer run, the underlying causes of our growing civic breakdown go beyond the brutal police killing of George Floyd. Particularly in our core cities, our dysfunction is a result of our increasingly large, and increasingly multi-racial, class of neo-serfs.

Like its Medieval counterpart, today’s serf class consists of the permanently marginalized—like the peasants of feudal times, these people are unlikely to move to a higher station. This does not only apply to the residents of our ghettos and barrios. Many of our young people, white and otherwise, appear to have little or no hope of attaining the usual milestones of entry into the middle class—gaining a useful and marketable skill, starting a small business, or buying a home or other property.

Throughout much of the 20th century, this aspiration was very much alive as more and more people, including racial minorities and immigrants, entered the middle ranks. Now, in contrast, the doors are slamming shut for millions of Americans.

This trend has been made worse by the lockdowns surrounding the pandemic. Almost 40% of those Americans making under $40,000 a year have lost their jobs. The unemployment rate of those with less than a high-school diploma jumped from 6.8% on the month to 21.2%. For college graduates, it rose from 2.5% to 8.4%. Salaried workers have been laid off at roughly half the rate of hourly workers.

The biggest drops in hiring have been concentrated in recreation and travel, largely “personal contact” jobs that employ many low-wage workers. Employment in this sector has dropped 70% while remaining remarkably stable throughout the public sector and in such fields as computer networking.

Many young people, including college graduates, are now often employed in these low-wage industries. They are suffering the largest share of our job losses for any age group. In a new report, Data for Progress found that a staggering 52% of people under the age of 45 have lost a job, been put on leave, or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic. Read More > at the American Mind

Last Person to Receive a Civil War Pension Dies – Irene Triplett died last week at the age of 90. She was the last person in America to collect a pension from the Civil War, $73.13 each month from the Department of Veterans Affairs right up until she passed away. Her father Mose Triplett was both a Confederate and US soldier (a North Carolinian, he defected from the Confederacy halfway through the war) and Irene was eligible to receive his pension after he died because of disability.

After Mary died in the 1920s, Mose married Elida Hall. He was 78. She was 27. Their 1924 marriage, according to the Journal, was rough. They lost three babies. Then Irene was born on Jan. 9, 1930, but had mental disabilities, according to the newspaper. She was 8 when her father died on July 18, 1938, at the age of 92. His headstone reads: “He was a Civil War soldier.”

This is a great example of the Great Span, the link across large periods of history by individual humans. But it’s also a reminder that, as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Until this week, US taxpayers were literally and directly paying for the Civil War…Read More > at Kottke

Wealthy buyers reportedly in ‘mad rush’ to leave San Francisco – Amid the depths of a global pandemic and financial downturn, the demand for real estate is unexpectedly rocketing in wealthy regions outside San Francisco, reports Bloomberg. Agents say that demand is soaring in affluent areas around the Bay Area such as Napa, Marin and further afield in Carmel, as people who have the means look to get away from the city. Meanwhile, the market in San Francisco and Alameda County is still well below where it was last year.

Elsewhere, Lake Tahoe has also seen a surge in real estate interest. The prospect of living out of the city on an alpine lake while maintaining a career is appealing for a new generation of young buyers, as many tech companies have signaled that remote work may be the new norm for a long time.

Meanwhile, the rental market in San Francisco has dropped significantly, with rates for one-bedroom apartments in the city dropping by 9.2% since June 2019, and hitting a three-year low. Read More > at SFgate

Home Prices Are Rising, Along With Post-Lockdown Demand – Mortgage rates may be appealingly low, but people shopping for a new home this spring face a challenging market.

Demand, which was pent up during coronavirus stay-at-home orders, and a dearth of homes for sale are keeping prices high and setting off bidding wars in some areas as states continue to reopen for business. Some buyers may also find it tougher to qualify for mortgages, as lenders require higher credit scores and bigger down payments in response to higher unemployment and economic uncertainty in the pandemic.

The situation is different from the economic downturn in 2008, when home prices fell sharply as a housing bubble popped.

“We’re still seeing a huge sellers’ market,” said Colsie Searcy, an agent in Colorado Springs.

Nationally, the median price for a home, excluding new construction, was about $287,000 in April, up more than 7 percent from a year earlier, the National Association of Realtors reported. Read More > in The New York Times

This Is One Genre of Music That Isn’t Hurting Right Now – For the last few years, the music industry has only known one direction: up. Global sales have climbed 5 years in a row, buoyed by the rise of streaming services Spotify and Apple Music, while concert ticket sales eclipsed $10 billion, a new high.

The pandemic changed all that. Concerts have been canceled for most of 2020, and music listening has fallen by about 550 million streams a week (3.4%) for the last 10 weeks, according to Billboard/MRC Data. The decline has impacted almost every kind of music, with dance, latin and hip-hop/R&B suffering the most.

But two genres have been spared the covid crunch: children’s music and country. Country in particular has thrived. U.S. residents have listened to an average of 11.1% more country since mid-March—an increase of 127 million streams a week. And while growth in kids’ music has subsided as more people return to work, country has only accelerated. Country music streaming climbed 22.4% in the final full week of May.

Music executives and fans have cooked up all sorts of hypotheses for country’s durability during the coronavirus. Some have argued it is comfort food at a time when people are craving any form of succor. An executive at Pandora, the online radio service, noted country music is a perfect complement to drinking. (Alcohol sales have also soared during the pandemic.)

The simplest explanation may be the most boring: country fans are learning to stream. The first groups to use Spotify and YouTube as their primary listening services were young people in big cities. These young people have flocked to rappers from Puerto Rico and boy bands from Korea, along with Drake and Dua Lipa.

Country music had remained stuck in an analog world. While country is the third-most-popular genre in the U.S., according to MusicWatch, it is second-most-popular among CD buyers. Read More > at Bloomberg

Constitutionally, Religious Gatherings Must Enjoy the Same Rights As Protest Gatherings – Ten days can be a long time in constitutional law. On May 29 a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four more liberal Justices, refused to order California to lift its restrictions, meant to curb transmission of the novel coronavirus, on church services that have more than 100 attendees or fill more than 25 percent of building capacity. I wrote about that ruling last Tuesday, noting that the question for both Roberts and dissenting Justice Brett Kavanaugh was whether California had discriminated against worship services with respect to comparable secular gatherings. Roberts declined to find such discrimination, observing that California’s rules had cracked down across the board on activities in which “large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.”

Today, that case very possibly—probably?—would come out differently, because, over the past week, California, like other states, has allowed public assembly in crowds of far more than 100 persons to protest the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Whether or not making an exception for the protests was the right thing to do, it has crucial legal implications, as attorney Anthony Sanders points out in a new piece for the Institute for Justice. Under the Court’s free‐​speech jurisprudence, to allow assembly for the purpose of expressing one kind of message but not another is a content‐​based restriction on speech of the sort that nearly always fails constitutional review. It triggers strict scrutiny as to whether the restriction is the least intrusive possible and has been narrowly tailored to advance a compelling government interest. Read More > from the Cato Institute 

Language to Recall Michigan Gov Approved, Needs Signatures – The language in a petition to recall Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for the signing of nine of her executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic has been approved by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers.

Albion resident Chad Baase, 39, was successful in his third attempt at coming up with “clear and factual” language to move forward with the recall petition process. He and his group — the Committee to Recall Governor Gretchen Whitmer — must come up with more than 1 million signatures from registered voters in 60 days or less to trigger a recall election.

The Board of State Canvassers unanimously approved the recall language Monday, June 8, during a virtual meeting. The four-member bipartisan group unanimously approved the language, but rejected two other attempts to begin recall petitions, including a second petition to recall Gov. Whitmer and one to recall Attorney General Dana Nessel. Read More > at Governing

These counties reopened a month ago. They have no regrets. – Yuba and Sutter counties defied the state’s shelter-in-place order and reopened high-risk businesses like restaurants, hair salons, malls, and gyms just over a month ago. So far, they say they feel good about their decisions.

“The two rural Northern California counties have a combined population of close to 175,000 and recorded 50 coronavirus cases and three deaths on May 1. As of June 4, the case total has increased to 79, but the death toll remains three,” SF Gate reports. “There are currently two individuals hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the two counties at this time.”

Yuba County Spokesman Russ Brown believes increased testing accounts for the discovery of many of the new cases. The county welcomed a new testing facility at the same time as its reopening. Most of the cases have been clustered within families or members of the same household, he said.

Yuba and Sutter did not reopen without restrictions. Businesses were still mandated to require six feet of physical distance between customers. Bars, nightclubs, churches, and other large events were still prohibited.

“They’re making a big mistake,” Gavin Newsom said at the time. For now, Sutter and Yuba have no regrets. Read More > at California County News 

Social distancing is over – In a few weeks, one of two things will have happened. Either covid-19 cases will abruptly reverse their decline in some of America’s largest cities, and we will know that they were seeded by the days of rage we are living through . . . or they won’t. Either way, social distancing is over.

In the happy scenario, the protests will have performed an enormous public service, even beyond agitating for justice. They are basically running a natural experiment that scientists could never have ethically undertaken: Do massive outside gatherings — including singing, chanting, screaming and coughing — spread covid-19, or not? Along with evidence from the Memorial Day weekend parties at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, they may well demonstrate, once and for all, that the risk of spreading covid-19 outdoors is negligible. At which point, throw open the bar patios and backyard barbecues! Bring on the beach-blanket bingo! Move church pews into the parking lot and sing away!

Unfortunately, it’s also grimly plausible that in a few weeks we’ll see new outbreaks that will soon surge out of control, taking many American lives. Because we’ll never be able to lock down our cities again; once you’ve let the cat out of the bag, kitty won’t allow himself to be stuffed back in. Read More > at The Washington Post

We Need to Reopen Schools—but How? – Planning for the reopening of schools ought to be one of the top priorities at every level of government in the United States. The news from the more than 20 European nations that have reopened schools has been extremely encouraging, and the urgency of duplicating that achievement here is indisputable. We cannot have a functioning economy, or any hope of reducing economic inequalities, without a functioning educational system. But key questions need to be answered to get schools back in session in the fall, and this country has not yet taken the necessary steps to resolve those issues.

…Meanwhile, the reopening of schools in Europe and elsewhere should raise confidence that there is a practical path forward here in this country too, especially for younger children. Denmark has had schools open since April 15, Norway since April 20, and 20 other European countries since at least mid-May. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Researchers and European authorities said the absence of any notable clusters of infection in reopened elementary schools so far suggested that children aren’t significant spreaders of the new coronavirus in society.

They acknowledged that their findings might change with the onset of winter and cold weather, and a recent outbreak at a Jerusalem high school affecting students and staff was a reminder of the higher risk to teenagers and adults.

But Denmark, Austria, Norway, Finland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and most other countries that have reopened classrooms haven’t had outbreaks in schools or day-care centers. …

In some countries, sporadic infections have happened among schoolchildren and staff, but none have been reported to have resulted in bigger infection clusters. In France, after schools reopened on May 11, several closed after around 70 reported infections in schools and preschools nationwide. Almost all were adults, local authorities reported.

COVID-19 is a scourge, but the one blessing in the pandemic is that it rarely strikes school-age children. According to the most recent CDC data, children 5 to 14 years of age account for less than 0.15 percent of all COVID cases in the United States. An international review of 78 studies found that “deaths remain extremely rare in children from COVID-19.” Read More > at The American Prospect

“Mutually repugnant:” Gov. Newsom and lawmakers pursue budget compromise – Even with the process controlled entirely by Democrats, a certain degree of tension is wired into the annual ritual of crafting a state budget in Sacramento. The spending plan, after all, is a powerful opportunity for the governor and each house of the Legislature to demonstrate their priorities in caring for 40 million Californians.

So despite lots of common ground on the upcoming budget, some key disagreements have surfaced as legislative leaders and Gov. Gavin Newsom hammer out a final deal in advance of a June 15 deadline.

What is different this time: The two sides are negotiating amid a bleak economic scenario, with surging unemployment, greater demand for government services and a deficit that could be as large as $54 billion. And that, undoubtedly, amps up the stress in their private debates.

The fault lines this year show the Legislature and governor at odds over how to manage spending on the coronavirus pandemic, how far the state should go to help undocumented immigrants, and how much to cut schools and safety net programs if the federal government does not come through with additional aid.

While Newsom proposed slashing $14 billion from schools, health care and safety net programs unless the federal government sends funds by July 1, the Legislature’s proposal assumes federal funding will arrive — and if it doesn’t come by Oct. 1, limits cuts to $7 billion by drawing on reserves.

These negotiations in pursuit of a California budget compromise mark a shift in the relationship between Newsom and the Legislature. As a freshman governor last year, he filled his budget with items lawmakers had tried unsuccessfully to pass for years under Gov. Jerry Brown. Together, Newsom and the Legislature last year expanded child care and health care, made a second year of community college free for some students, repealed taxes on diapers and menstrual products, gave workers more paid time off to bond with a new baby, and committed $2 billion to housing and homelessness.

Now, Newsom will likely be in the role of saying “no” to a bunch of legislators who are unaccustomed to governing during a recession.

“You’re dealing with a generation of elected leaders in Sacramento that probably have not been in a position where they have to make cuts to programs they care about,” said Núñez, the former assembly speaker and a Democrat from Los Angeles. Read More > at CALmatters

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Happy Birthday U.S. Army – 2020

Today is the 245nd birthday of the United States Army

When the American Revolution broke out, the rebellious colonies did not possess an army in the modern sense. Rather, the revolutionaries fielded an amateur force of colonial troops, cobbled together from various New England militia companies. They had no unified chain of command, and although Artemas Ward of Massachusetts exercised authority by informal agreement, officers from other colonies were not obligated to obey his orders. The American volunteers were led, equipped, armed, paid for, and supported by the colonies from which they were raised.

In the spring of 1775, this “army” was about to confront British troops near Boston, Massachusetts. The revolutionaries had to re-organize their forces quickly if they were to stand a chance against Britain’s seasoned professionals. Recognizing the need to enlist the support of all of the American seaboard colonies, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress appealed to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia to assume authority for the New England army. Reportedly, at John Adams’ request, Congress voted to “adopt” the Boston troops on June 14, although there is no written record of this decision. Also on this day, Congress resolved to form a committee “to bring in a draft of rules and regulations for the government of the Army,” and voted $2,000,000 to support the forces around Boston, and those at New York City. Moreover, Congress authorized the formation of ten companies of expert riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, which were directed to march to Boston to support the New England militia.

George Washington received his appointment as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army the next day, and formally took command at Boston on July 3, 1775.

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June is Great Outdoors Month – Get outside and enjoy the great outdoors in the Delta

Get outside and enjoy the great outdoors in the Delta — the heart of California! There is something for every bird lover, fishing enthusiast, and avid cyclist. Moreover, the Delta is a boater’s paradise, offering more than 1,100 miles of waterways and an abundance of marinas with a variety of services. Make sure to brush up on your boating safety awareness to support a fun and safe time for all.

Start your journey of exploration on VisitCADelta.com!

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Exercise, Diet, Alcohol: New Guidelines Detail Best Ways to Reduce Cancer Risk

From Healthline

The American Cancer Society released new guidelines today for reducing the risk of cancer.

The recommendations include the latest research on diet and physical activity, as well as policy and systems changes that reduce barriers to healthy living.

The update focuses on increasing physical activity and developing healthy eating patterns at every age.

Here are some of the recommendations:

  • Adults should engage in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.
    • Achieving or exceeding the upper limit of 300 minutes is optimal.
  • It is best not to drink alcohol.
    • People who choose to drink alcohol should limit their consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern at all ages.
    • A healthy eating pattern includes foods that are high in nutrients in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, a variety of colorful vegetables and fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), whole fruits with a variety of colors, and whole grains.
    • A healthy eating pattern limits or does not include red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined grain products.

The American Cancer Society advises public, private, and community organizations to work collaboratively at national, state, and local levels to develop, advocate for, and implement policy and environmental changes.

They say those changes should include increased access to affordable, nutritious foods, as well as providing safe, enjoyable, and accessible opportunities for physical activity, and limiting alcohol for all individuals.

Previously, the recommendations read that 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly were sufficient, and alcohol consumption should be limited.

The prior recommendations also suggested a diet with more plant foods, and foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and eating at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits each day while choosing whole grains.

“The guideline continues to reflect the current science that dietary patterns, not specific foods, are important to reduce the risk of cancer and improve overall health,” said Laura Makaroff, DO, the American Cancer Society’s senior vice president of prevention and early detection.

“There is no one food or even food group that is adequate to achieve a significant reduction in cancer risk,” she said in a press release. “Current and evolving scientific evidence supports a shift away from a nutrient-centric approach to a more holistic concept of dietary patterns.”

“People eat whole foods — not nutrients — and evidence continues to suggest that it is healthy dietary patterns that are associated with reduced risk for cancer, especially colorectal and breast cancer,” said Makaroff.

Nutrition-expert-offers-advice

“Some of my clients have expressed concern when new guidelines come out, saying things like, ‘Now what do I need to give up?’” said Caroline West Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN, a registered dietician nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“I encourage everyone to think about what the guidelines really mean, what small shifts they can make to work toward them, and what they can add, not take away,” she told Healthline.

“Also, many times the guidelines remain very similar, but they are just presented in a different, more relevant way,” she added.

For example, she said, “The recommendation to limit red and processed meats is not new or specific to a diet pattern for cancer prevention.”

“What is important to remember is that limiting red and processed meats and following a plant-based diet does not mean you need to be a vegetarian to see benefits,” Passerrello said.

“Reducing meat is the message we often hear, but don’t forget that means you will need to replace the meat in your diet with nutrient-rich plant-based foods, which we know come with their own health benefits,” she said.

Tips-on-reducing-alcohol-intake

Experts agree that the proper course of action to reduce the consumption of alcohol depends on the individual.

“People drink alcohol for a variety of reasons, and tips for reducing the consumption will depend on individual circumstances,” Passerrello said.

Passerrello gives three common situations where people consume alcohol and how she advises clients in each case:

  • Drinking socially with friends. She recommends having one drink and then switching to club soda with lime and maybe a splash of juice.
  • Drinking to relax in the evening. She will brainstorm with clients alternative ways to relax.
  • Drinking to complement a meal. She will discuss quantity and frequency goals.

“If I am working with a client who is interested in reducing their alcohol consumption, we will talk about the situations and brainstorm ways to reframe their thinking,” Passerrello told Healthline.

“They may be adding more time for self-care, sleep, and exercise if they are reducing the time spent in environments that have them drinking alcohol,” she said. “We also talk about fun ‘mocktails’ they can experiment with.”

Taking baby steps or going cold turkey are both viable options, depending on personal factors.

“Let’s assume we are not referring to an alcoholic where professional treatment would be warranted,” said Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, author of “Skinny Liver.” “If it’s someone who is going over the recommended amounts suggested in the guidelines, a baby steps approach can be the key, or cold turkey is another option. It just depends on the person and variables.”

“I often will recommend if my patients are drinking daily to start with every other day and then limit further, perhaps by limiting drinking to weekends or just two times per week,” she told Healthline. “The amount each time counts, too. Sometimes, measuring can help if you still feel the need to drink daily. You can at least stick to just one serving.”

One standard serving of alcohol is equal to 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5 percent alcohol; 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12 percent alcohol; or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40 percent alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Kirkpatrick mentioned that the studies on excess drinking and breast cancer are quite strong, and for some of her clients, especially those with a family history of breast cancer, knowing the risk can be motivation to stop.

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Updated: California Is the State with the 2nd Most Coronavirus Restrictions – WalletHub Study

With all states having at least partially reopened as new COVID-19 cases have seen a slow decline, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released updated rankings for the States with the Fewest Coronavirus Restrictions, as well as accompanying videos.

To identify which states have the fewest coronavirus restrictions, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 14 key metrics. Our data set ranges from whether child-care programs and restaurants have reopened to the presence or absence of a “shelter-in-place” order. Below, you can see highlights from the report, along with a WalletHub Q&A.

Coronavirus Restrictions in California (1=Fewest, 25=Avg.):

  • 17th – Requirement to Wear a Face Mask in Public
  • 31st – Reopening of Child-Care Programs
  • 50th – Large Gatherings Restrictions
  • 42nd – Strictness of “Shelter in Place” Order
  • 22nd – Reopening of Non-Essential Businesses
  • 46th – Reopening of Restaurants and Bars

Note: Rankings are based on data available as of 12:30 p.m. ET on Monday, June 8, 2020.

For the full report, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-the-fewest-coronavirus-restrictions/73818/

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States That Need the Most Financial Help Due to COVID-19 – WalletHub Study

The coronavirus pandemic has consumed states’ resources at an unprecedented rate as they struggle to provide both medical and financial support to their residents, despite taking in far less tax revenue than usual. For example, New York, the state hit hardest by COVID-19, has a staggering $13.3 billion budget shortfall. While many states are beginning to reopen business in stages in an effort to restart their economies, they have months of economic damage and millions of job losses to reckon with. All states are struggling during this crisis, but some are more prepared financially to survive it than others.

To identify which states may need the most financial help due to the coronavirus crisis, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 18 key metrics. Our data set ranges from the state’s rainy-day funds and debt per capita to the share of the workforce in highly-affected industries. Below, you can see highlights from the report, along with a WalletHub Q&A.

Financial Need in California (1=Most, 25=Avg.):

  • 45th – State Rainy-Day Funds per Capita
  • 12th – Unfunded Pension Liabilities as Share of GSP
  • 11th – State and Local Debt per Capita
  • 47th – Unemployment Claims Increase Since the Beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • 19th – GDP Generated by Highly Affected Industries as Share of Total State GDP
  • 16th – State Preparedness for Severe Recession

For the full report, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/states-that-need-most-financial-help-due-to-covid-19/74485/ 

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Sunday Reading – 06/07/2020

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.

May sees biggest jobs increase ever of 2.5 million as economy starts to recover from coronavirus – Employment stunningly rose by 2.5 million in May and the jobless rate declined to 13.3%, according to data Friday from the Labor Department that was far better than economists had been expecting and indicated that an economic turnaround could be close at hand.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting payrolls to drop by 8.33 million and the unemployment rate to rise to 19.5% from April’s 14.7%. If Wall Street expectations had been accurate, it would have been the worst figure since the Great Depression.

As it turned out, May’s numbers showed the U.S. may well be on the road to recovery after its fastest plunge in history. Read More > at CNBC

This is the greatest 50-day rally in the history of the S&P 500 – The S&P 500 has returned 37.7% over the last 50 trading days, making it the benchmark index’s largest 50-day rally in history, according to LPL Financial.

And if history is any indication, there could be more gains ahead.

Looking at the other largest 50-day rallies, the firm found that stocks were higher 100% of the time six and 12 months later. The average 6-month return was 10.2%, while the average 1-year return was 17.3%. Read More > at CNBC

Covid vs. Climate Modeling: Cloudy With a Chance of Politics – COVID-19 has proved to be a crisis not only for public health but for public policy. As credentialed experts, media commentators, and elected officials have insisted that ordinary men and women heed “the science,” the statistical models cited by scientists to predict the spread of contagion and justify the lockdown of the national economy have proven to be far off-base.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York complained this week about the “guessing business” experts had presented to him dressed up as scientific fact: “All the early national experts [said]: Here’s my projection model. Here’s my projection model,” Cuomo said. “They were all wrong. They were all wrong.”

A computer model produced by statisticians at Imperial College London had an outsized effect on government policy, predicting up to 2.2 million American deaths from the new coronavirus and as many as 9.6 million people requiring hospitalization. Instead, emergency rooms and hospital beds in all but the few hardest hit cities remained empty; rather than being overwhelmed by cases, many doctors and nurses found themselves out of work.

As the staggering social and economic costs of shutdown have become painfully clear, the failure of the models to accurately anticipate what would happen is raising questions about their use to justify life-altering public policies.

If computer models projecting the near-term future of an epidemic were so wrong, what does that mean for the far more complicated computer models predicting the far-off future of the entire planet?

Building complex models is both a science and an art. It requires vast amounts of data representing a range of factors that might influence a particular question. To predict the spread of COVID-19, for example, researchers need reliable data on a wide range of factors including how infectious the virus is, how it is transmitted, how much of the population is susceptible to the worst outcomes. They have to assign a weight to each factor in the model, and then crunch the numbers with powerful computers to produce probabilities of possible outcomes.

Models may be helpful in thinking about the results of various policies. But they are easily oversold as providing answers with mathematical certainty. Writing in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), Devi Sridhar, a professor of public health at Edinburgh University, and Maimuna Majumder, a computational epidemiologist affiliated with Harvard Medical School, chide the “modeling community” for failing to make the limitations of models clear. Sridhar and Majumder call for transparency about the assumptions modelers make and clarity about how much the predictions shift when even small changes are made to the assumptions. Most of all, they urge humility about just how uncertain such models are. Read More > at Real Clear Investigations

Advanced Opportunities: How Idaho is Reshaping High Schools by Empowering Students – More than half of Idaho’s high school seniors are already enrolled in college. Dual enrollment programs, in which high school students enroll in college courses, have gained traction nationally in the past two decades, but Idaho’s “Advanced Opportunities” initiative has been particularly successful. When students reach seventh grade, Idaho provides them with $4,125 that can be used to pay for dual enrollment courses, Advanced Placement exams, professional certification examinations, “overload” high school courses (above a full schedule), and, as of this school year, workforce development and apprenticeship courses. This student-centered investment has encouraged high school teachers to partner with community colleges and four-year universities to provide college-level instruction—an arrangement that also provides teachers with a financial stipend and postsecondary institutions with an enrollment boost. State policymakers seeking ways to improve the quality of high school instruction and expand postsecondary access and attainment can benefit from Idaho’s example. Read More > from the Manhattan Institute

The Lancet’s Hydroxychloroquine Study Is Retracted by Its Authors – The Lancet published a high profile study on May 22 purporting to show that treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients actually increased their risk of death. Three authors of the study are now retracting it.

The study was based an observational database assembled by medical data aggregation firm Surgisphere which claimed to have access to the medical records of nearly 100,000 COVID-19 patients treated in hundreds of hospitals across the globe. Outside researchers almost immediately began questioning the accuracy and plausibility of the Surgisphere data.

In response Surgisphere promised to pursue an immediate independent audit of its dataset. Yesterday, the editors of The Lancet issued an Expression of Concern about the article and noted that they were awaiting the results of the promised audit.

The Lancet noted that the article will be updated shortly to reflect the retraction. Read More > at Reason

How The ‘Lost Art’ Of Breathing Can Impact Sleep And Resilience – Humans typically take about 25,000 breaths per day — often without a second thought.

The nose filters, heats and treats raw air. Most of us know that. But so many of us don’t realize — at least I didn’t realize — how [inhaling through the nose] can trigger different hormones to flood into our bodies, how it can lower our blood pressure … how it monitors heart rate … even helps store memories. So it’s this incredible organ that … orchestrates innumerable functions in our body to keep us balanced.

…You can think about breathing as being in a boat, right? So you can take a bunch of very short, stilted strokes and you’re going to get to where you want to go. It’s going to take a while, but you’ll get there. Or you can take a few very fluid and long strokes and get there so much more efficiently. … You want to make it very easy for your body to get air, especially if this is an act that we’re doing 25,000 times a day. So, by just extending those inhales and exhales, by moving that diaphragm up and down a little more, you can have a profound effect on your blood pressure, on your mental state. Read More > at NPR

What Happens If 1,000 Movie Theaters Disappear? – AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. has 630 movie theaters with 8,048 screens in America. The company stated that it may not be able to operate as a “going concern” because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. What happens if all these screens go dark?

AMC has taken a brutal beating and had a net loss of about $2.2 billion in the first quarter. This number is bound to get much worse in the current quarter.

The first victim of a shutdown of AMC theaters is the movie studios. Last year, the total box office revenue was $11.3 billion domestically. Most movies are released into 4,000 theaters. A sharp drop puts some of that revenue at risk.

Where do people who watch just-released movies go? One theory is that theaters will force a sort of social distancing. This will involve removing a large number of seats so people can sit far apart. Additionally, people will need to wear masks. Seats will need to be wiped down completely between movies. That, in and of itself, will cut the hours movies actually show films. Also, people may shun theaters altogether because of health concerns. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Zoom has partially fixed two new flaws, with other security hurdles ahead – Cisco Talos researchers recently uncovered two new flaws in Zoom that could allow attackers to execute arbitrary code on users’ computers, according to research published Wednesday.

Zoom has partially fixed the vulnerabilities, according to Cisco Talos. The cybersecurity company said it worked with Zoom on addressing the flaws.

It’s the latest set of security bugs discovered in Zoom, a teleconferencing company whose software has come under heightened scrutiny in recent months as the coronavirus pandemic forced people around the world to telework and rely on videoconference platforms. Competitors include Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Teams, and GoToMeeting.

Zoom fixed one of the issues, dubbed TALOS-2020-1056, in May. And while Zoom addressed the other flaw, dubbed TALOS-2020-1055, in a server-side update, Cisco Talos’ Jon Munshaw said in a blog he believes that a client-side update will be necessary to fully mitigate any risk. Read More > at Cyber Scoop

Bricks, fires, frozen bottle projectiles: the organized tactics of America’s violent rioters –  Law enforcement officials across the country say the anarchists who are inflaming peaceful demonstrations honoring George Floyd and transforming them into violent riots are more organized, better coordinated and supplied than any militants seen in civil discord in years.

Police intelligence units have uncovered encrypted and walkie-talkie communications as well as social media postings that coordinate the delivery and hiding of weapons and projectiles and the direction of anarchists to specific locations at specific times.

In essence, these professional rioters have created command-and-control apparatus as well as supply chains unseen in prior riots that followed the deaths of Michael Brown (Ferguson, Mo.) and Freddie Grey (Baltimore) and the verdict in the case of those officers who beat Rodney King (Los Angeles).

One federal law enforcement official told Just the News, “The anarchists have upped their game.”

U.S. Park Police Acting Chief Gregory T. Monahan said Tuesday one of the most troubling tactics seen near the White House is anarchists trying to grab police weapons during clashes. Other weaponry, he said, was being hidden in areas for perpetrators to pick up to use against officers. Read More > at Just the News

Can a Powerful Psychedelic Fight the Opioid Crisis? – 46,802 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2018, the latest year for which CDC data is available. This painful cost has been exacted regularly in recent years, the price of rampant opioid overprescription and profit-hungry pharmaceutical companies.

Preventing these deaths means finding an effective way to treat opioid addiction. Somewhere around two million Americans suffer from opioid-related substance use disorder. Treatments like buprenorphine and methadone calm the brain circuits affected by opioids, reducing cravings and withdrawal. In conjunction with counseling, these medications can gradually ferry addicted individuals back to normalcy. Unfortunately, medications are underutilized and states generally lack the resources to provide them to all afflicted individuals.

It is into this quagmire that some have suggested inserting a new, surprising treatment: a powerful psychedelic drug called ibogaine.

Derived from the root or bark of a West African shrub called Tabernanthe iboga, ibogaine has been used in the Bwiti spiritual discipline of the forest-dwelling Punu and Mitsogo peoples of Gabon for generations. Unforgettable to those who have taken it, a high dose of ibogaine induces an “oneirogenic” waking dream-like state for as long as 36 hours, with introspective effects that can last for months afterwards, supposedly permitting takers to conquer their fears and negative emotions.

A curious side effect, anecdotally recognized in the 1960s, is that ibogaine significantly reduces cravings for alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, opiates, and nicotine, so much in fact that some people claimed to be completely rid of their drug addictions after a single, mind-altering dose. Read More > at Real Clear Science 

Fossil Fuels for Decades and Beyond – The hard data tell the tale, and these data are readily available in the latest World Energy Outlook (WEO) by the International Energy Agency (IEA). And by “hard data,” I mean absolute numbers, not the growth percentages frequently used to exaggerate the relevance of non-fossil sources like wind and solar. Here is the reality:

  • Over 81% of global energy demand is met by fossil fuels, which provide the equivalent of 11,595 million tons of oil (Mtoe)
  • 64% of electricity generation comes from fossil fuels, including 38% from coal and 23% from natural gas
  • Liquid fuels from oil provide some 95% of global transportation—moving people, raw materials, finished products and agricultural goods.

More than one writer has hyperbolically averred that the Covid 19 crisis has “forever” changed energy demand and the recent trajectory of onward and upward will never return. But the coronavirus notwithstanding, energy demand will resurge and continue to increase for decades to come. China’s gasoline and diesel consumption are already back to pre-virus levels and daily coal burn at power plants is on the rise as factories reopen. India’s fuel demand “is set to reach pre-coronavirus levels in June” stated Indian Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. Meanwhile, the IEA recently affirmed its projection that peak oil demand is “nowhere in sight.”

Finally, Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA, put the situation in perspective: “American business consultants using Zoom will not compensate for 150 million new urban residents in India and Africa traveling, working in factories and buying products transported by trucks.” This is the shape of things to come. Read More > at Real Clear Energy

Pediatricians say kids should be in school despite coronavirus risk – The damage done by keeping children out of school might outweigh the risks of COVID-19 transmission, a regional organization of pediatricians said Tuesday, pushing back against educators who have cautioned against reopening campuses too soon.

The Southern California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents about 1,500 doctors, issued a statement pointing to research suggesting that the risks of COVID-19 transmission among children are lower than for adults, but that keeping children away from in-person instruction for longer will have negative consequences.

“Prolonging a meaningful return to in-person education would result in hundreds of thousands of children in Los Angeles County being at risk for worsening academic, developmental and health outcomes,” the statement said. “Children rely on schools for multiple needs, including but not limited to education, nutrition, physical activity, socialization, and mental health. Special populations of students receive services for disabilities and other conditions that are virtually impossible to deliver online.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

What States Can Learn from Tuesday’s Election Mishaps for November – The primary elections held Tuesday in several states were seen as a critical test ahead of the presidential election of election officials’ ability to expand absentee and early voting in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

But problems that emerged Tuesday, including hours-long waits at polling places, requested mail-in ballots that were never delivered and botched ballots, underscore the difficulties that officials still face as they prepare for much larger turnout in November.

States shouldn’t expect that efforts to expand absentee voting will be a magic bullet, particularly in regions that have not historically seen much reliance on voting by mail, said John Fortier, the director of governmental studies at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“Each state has to think a little more realistically in what it’s been doing before and how much it is going to change,” he said. “As well as states try to plan for it, we still have to think about early voting and polling place voting during the election.” Read More > at Route Fifty

Amazon’s Market-Share Decline Is Nothing to Worry About – Online commerce is surging amid the coronavirus pandemic. With shoppers avoiding stores, ordering items for delivery or curbside pickup has become many consumers’ preferred way of buying everything they need.

Online sales at Walmart, Target, and Best Buy exploded higher in the first quarter. Digital sales more than doubled for both Target and Best Buy; Walmart’s online sales grew 74%, led by its efforts in grocery.

But Amazon.com reported just 24% growth in its online stores. And while its quarter ends in March (versus April for the other retailers mentioned), management expects a similar growth rate for the second quarter.

That slower growth means it’s losing market share to big-box competitors. Before COVID-19, Amazon’s share of online spending was 42%, according to Rakuten Intelligence. That fell to 34% in mid-April.

Consumers are trying out same-day fulfillment options at Amazon’s competitors while the e-commerce giant experiences shipping delays. With indications it could still be a while before Amazon’s one-day shipping for Prime members gets back to normal, investors may be worried big-box retailers are cutting into Amazon’s sales growth with the promise of faster fulfillment. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Survival of the littlest: the long-term impacts of being born extremely early – Babies born before 28 weeks of gestation are surviving into adulthood at higher rates than ever, and scientists are checking in on their health.

Babies born so early are fragile and underdeveloped. Their lungs are particularly delicate: the organs lack the slippery substance, called surfactant, that prevents the airways from collapsing upon exhalation….

The late twentieth century brought huge changes to neonatal medicine. Lex Doyle, a paediatrician and previous director of VICS, recalls that when he started caring for preterm infants in 1975, very few survived if they were born at under 1,000 grams — a birthweight that corresponds to about 28 weeks’ gestation. The introduction of ventilators, in the 1970s in Australia, helped, but also caused lung injuries, says Doyle, now associate director of research at the Royal Women’s Hospital. In the following decades, doctors began to give corticosteroids to mothers due to deliver early, to help mature the baby’s lungs just before birth. But the biggest difference to survival came in the early 1990s, with surfactant treatment.

Today, many hospitals regularly treat, and often save, babies born as early as 22–24 weeks. Survival rates vary depending on location and the kinds of interventions a hospital is able to provide. In the United Kingdom, for example, among babies who are alive at birth and receiving care, 35% born at 22 weeks survive, 38% at 23 weeks, and 60% at 24 weeks3.

For babies who survive, the earlier they are born, the higher the risk of complications or ongoing disability (see ‘The effects of being early’). There is a long list of potential problems — including asthma, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and cognitive impairment — and about one-third of children born extremely prematurely have one condition on the list, says Mike O’Shea, a neonatologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, who co-runs a study tracking children born between 2002 and 2004. In this cohort, another one-third have multiple disabilities, he says, and the rest have none. Read More > at Nature

Most California districts would get more in federal aid than they’d lose in budget cuts – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and coalitions of labor and school district groups are asserting that California schools won’t be able to open safely if Congress doesn’t provide more aid to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet by one measure, school districts collectively would get nearly as much in already promised federal aid as their proposed state funding would be cut in 2020-21. And many districts may get more than they’ll lose in state aid.

Through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March, California’s K-12 schools would receive enough to cover more than 90% of the $6.4 billion that Newsom is proposing to cut from school districts’ and charter schools’ funding in the next state budget to make up for a massive projected decline in tax revenue. Read More > at EdSource

Clothes. Electronics. Sports cars. Looters wreak havoc on Bay Area as police struggle to keep pace – The difference this time is what was once traditionally a metropolitan problem has gone mobile and gone bigger. Roving thieves are hitting outlying cities like Walnut Creek, Fairfield and Vallejo.

Many of the hits were sophisticated, said San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor. On Sunday night, officers reported traffic clustered with coordinated vehicles, some loaded up four-to-five deep in vans.

The vehicles would hit an area in tandem, with a getaway driver dropping off their passengers and others, in various locations, acting as lookouts.

On Friday night in Oakland, dozens stormed an uptown Target as alarms blared. The groups formed an assembly line of sorts, one member running a supermarket sweep down the aisles while others waited outside for the handoffs.

In more extreme incidents, officers have been fired upon and members of the public have been shot.

On Monday in Alameda County, 122 people were booked into jail on suspicion of felonies that include robbery, burglary, looting, stolen vehicles, weapons and drugs, according to sheriff’s officials. San Francisco police recorded 66 incidents of looting during a state of emergency by Monday, resulting in 46 arrests. Only 15 of the suspects were residents of San Francisco. read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

The psychology behind why people think 5G makes them sick – Phantom vibrations. Trouble breathing. An unexplainable itch. These are often types of things that we all experience at some point, even if there is no obvious physiological cause. But just because you can’t pinpoint what is causing it, doesn’t make it any less real.

The idea of an unexplainable symptom is at the heart of something known as “Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance,” also often called multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) or environmental illness. It refers to a group of recurrent symptoms experienced by some people that cannot be attributed to a diagnosed medical issue. “There seems to be a base rate in the population of symptom reporting that cannot be attributed to physical dysfunction,” said Professor Omer van den Bergh, a tenured professor of Health Psychology at the University of Leuven in Belgium.

“There is a group of people that tends to attribute these symptoms then to environmental causes, and these are typically people who have what we call modern health worries,” he said. Instead of the historically more-common sensitivities to things like perfumes and household cleaners, this group of people with “modern health worries” are increasingly attributing symptoms to electromagnetic radiation in the environment. This is where a natural alignment with 5G conspiracy theorists starts to arise.

The effects of 5G radiation has been described as “damaging” by some less reputable outlets, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Some conspiracies even go as far as to claim that the networking tech caused the coronavirus pandemic, which is definitively untrue. But that didn’t stop angry protesters from burning down cell towers and spraying anti-5G graffiti all over the world. The media coverage of these acts hit the global audience just as coronavirus concerns began to take over the world, and soon the idea that 5G causes disease went viral. Read More > at Engadget

9 More Bizarre Consequences Of The Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic – The pandemic has also created new jobs that didn’t exist before. Reporter Megan Moltini explains the training she received at a coronavirus contact tracing academy.

Wired magazine also notes, “Researchers have spent years teaching robots to shake hands — an effort possibly doomed by a global turn against human contact.”

A clever app developed by Japanese firm Yamaha allows fans to remotely cheer (or boo) players from home, played through the stadium speakers so that players can feel the energy of the online crowd.

The article wryly notes, “The app does not, as yet, allow fans to question the referee’s eyesight, or the eating habits of players who struggled to stay match-fit during the league’s virus-enforced break.” Read More > at Forbes

To stimulate the economy, help America’s Dreamers – Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Manuel Bernal—a resident physician assigned to one of Chicago’s busiest hospitals—has been working day and night to deliver lifesaving care to patients suffering from COVID-19. Manuel is just one among thousands of health care workers who has put the safety of others before his own in the fight against the coronavirus. And he is just one among thousands who could soon be deported because of his immigration status.

Any day now, the Supreme Court will decide the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), and with it, the future of America’s Dreamers. Dreamers are undocumented immigrants who, like Manuel Bernal, were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own. For the sake of our health care system and the recovering economy, it’s critical that Congress act now to provide these individuals with permanent legal status.

…Consider the invaluable contributions of Dreamers to the nation’s coronavirus response. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 29,000 DACA recipients working in health care. These include not only physicians like Manuel Bernal but intensive-care nurses like Ana Cueva, who is working 12-hour night shifts at a hospital in a California community hit hard by COVID-19, and medical assistants like Francisco Matias, who is risking infection both to himself and his family by seeing up to 14 patients a day. These are men and women who are placing themselves in harm’s way to conduct coronavirus tests, administer emergency relief to our grandparents, intubate critically ill patients, and ultimately save lives. Read More > in The Hill

The Mysterious Anomaly Weakening Earth’s Magnetic Field Seems to Be Splitting – New satellite data from the European Space Agency (ESA) reveal that the mysterious anomaly weakening Earth’s magnetic field continues to evolve, with the most recent observations showing we could soon be dealing with more than one of these strange phenomena.

The South Atlantic Anomaly is a vast expanse of reduced magnetic intensity in Earth’s magnetic field, extending all the way from South America to southwest Africa.

Since our planet’s magnetic field acts as a kind of shield – protecting Earth from solar winds and cosmic radiation, in addition to determining the location of the magnetic poles – any reduction in its strength is an important event we need to monitor closely, as these changes could ultimately have significant implications for our planet.

At present, there’s nothing to be alarmed about…

Exactly why this is happening remains a mystery. Earth’s magnetic field is generated by electrical currents produced by a swirling mass of liquid iron within the outer core of our planet, but while this phenomenon appears stable at any given moment, over vast timescales, it’s never really still.

Research has shown that Earth’s magnetic field is constantly in a state of flux, and every few hundred thousand years (give or take), Earth’s magnetic field flips, with the north and south magnetic poles swapping places. Read More > at Science Alert

Reforming Occupational Licensing In Reopening Plans Would Benefit Everyone – More than 40 million Americans — 24 percent of the U.S. labor force — are unemployed and wondering when they can return to work. As states permit businesses to safely reopen and hospitals to resume elective surgeries, furloughed and laid-off workers can hopefully return to their jobs. However, some workers were locked out of opportunities before COVID-19 hit and will struggle to secure work after mandated closures are lifted.

…Many other workers who obtain occupational licenses in one state are prohibited from operating or setting up shop if they have to move. The issue is particularly acute for people who move frequently, such as military spouses.

Not recognizing out-of-state licenses is just one harmful aspect of occupational licensing. Often, the requirements themselves for education, training, and fees can be so costly and time-consuming, they create unnecessary burdens and insurmountable obstacles. In addition, some states impose blanket exclusions for people with criminal convictions, regardless of how long ago the offense occurred or whether it is related to the job for which a person seeks a license.

Certainly, some licenses are necessary to protect the health and safety of both workers and consumers. Doctors hold someone else’s health and life in their hands, so it’s reasonable they are licensed, but do florists need certification to arrange flowers?

The number of jobs requiring licenses has ballooned from just 5 percent of the workforce in the 1950s to nearly 30 percent today. Often, license requirements are arbitrary and unconnected to any health or safety rationale. Instead, they serve to protect licensed businesses and block new competition from entering the market. Read More > in The Federalist

The Free Market Of Space – They didn’t carry the gravitas of the 1960s NASA missions, but Saturday’s SpaceX launch and Sunday’s dock with the International Space Station are more than historical footnotes in human space travel. They’re another step in the commercialization of space.

Few would argue that America’s moonshot should not have been a government project. A raging Cold War with the Soviet Union made it necessary to develop a space program and put men on the moon before the communists did. In a number of ways, NASA was an extension of our national defense.

Today, though, we have a Space Force. Let it take care of defense duties. The private sector can handle travel and exploration.

The privatization or commercialization of space shouldn’t be an alien idea in a country built on enterprise, where the innovative and the industrious are always looking for that next market. What we once considered “the final frontier” is now a grand business opportunity. The private sector is far ahead of the federal space administration, which hasn’t launched astronauts into space in nearly a decade. Read More > at Issues & Insight

Neurobiologist finds potent pain-suppression center in the brain – A Duke University research team has found a small area of the brain in mice that can profoundly control the animals’ sense of pain.

Somewhat unexpectedly, this brain center turns pain off, not on. It’s also located in an area where few people would have thought to look for an anti-pain center, the amygdala, which is often considered the home of negative emotions and responses, like the fight or flight response and general anxiety.

“People do believe there is a central place to relieve pain, that’s why placebos work,” said senior author Fan Wang, the Morris N. Broad Distinguished Professor of neurobiology in the School of Medicine. “The question is where in the brain is the center that can turn off pain.”

“Most of the previous studies have focused on which regions are turned ON by pain,” Wang said. “But there are so many regions processing pain, you’d have to turn them all off to stop pain. Whereas this one center can turn off the pain by itself.” Read More > at Duke TODAY

PG&E could become a nonprofit someday under California bill – California lawmakers may still create a path to overhaul PG&E Corp.’s structure even though the company is poised to remain an investor-owned business after its expected emergence from bankruptcy this year.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is carrying legislation that could make the utility subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co. owned by a new nonprofit public benefit corporation called Golden State Energy. But it would only happen if the PG&E’s bankruptcy implodes or state regulators take the drastic step of revoking the company’s operating license.

While the bar for such a revocation is high, it is an option that the California Public Utilities Commission enshrined in a new enforcement process when it approved PG&E’s bankruptcy reorganization plan Thursday. Regulators at the commission could reconsider the license if the company causes more disasters and other enforcement measures prove insufficient. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

It’s Past Time to Examine How Police Unions Protect Bad Cops – Police brutality has been seared into the consciousness of many Americans — especially blacks — since the 1960s, when TV showed civil-rights protestors being clubbed and hosed by Jim Crow police departments.

After every nationally publicized incident — the latest being the horrific death of George Floyd — there are calls for change. Experts demand better police training, more civilian oversight, and the hiring of a more diverse force. Many police departments have taken those steps.

But New York mayor Bill de Blasio had to admit on Sunday, “We need faster, speedier discipline when it comes to policing.” Yet it never seems to happen.

Maybe it’s finally time to consider the role that police unions play in perpetuating police brutality. Mayor de Blasio has frequently tangled with his city’s powerful unions, but he’s never challenged their vast political power. And make no mistake, that power is often used to cover up and deflect charges of police misconduct.

“The unions, at least in New York City, outright just protect, protect, protect the cops,” retired NYPD commander Corey Pegues wrote in his memoir, Once a Cop. “It’s a blanket system of covering up police officers.”

Writing in the Stanford Law Review, scholar Katherine Biel notes that ever since “the rise of police unions to political power in the 1970s,” they have succeeded in shielding their members from public accountability. “Police unions have established highly developed political machinery that exerts significant political and financial pressure on all three branches of government,” Biel writes. “The power of police unions over policymakers in the criminal justice context distorts the political process and generates political outcomes that undermine the democratic values of transparency and accountability.”

Take the issue of cellphone cameras, which proved of such value in establishing the horrific nature of George Floyd’s death. Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police, told Fox News’s Chris Wallace earlier today: “I believe cellphone videos are game changers. . . . They weed out the bad apples. Video is definitely the key in this case as it is in so many other cases in this day and age.” Read More > in the National Review

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California’s agricultural statistics

In 2018 California’s farms and ranches received almost $50 billion for their output. This represents a slight increase compared to 2017. California remains the leading US state in cash farm receipts.

California’s agricultural abundance includes more than 400 commodities. Over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California. California’s top-10 valued commodities for 2018 are:

  • Dairy Products, Milk — $6.37 billion
  • Grapes — $6.25 billion
  • Almonds — $5.47 billion
  • Cattle and Calves — $3.19 billion
  • Pistachios — $2.62 billion
  • Strawberries — $2.34 billion
  • Lettuce — $1.81 billion
  • Floriculture — $1.22 billion
  • Tomatoes — $1.20 billion
  • Oranges — $1.12 billion

We would like to note that, for the first time, the Agricultural Statistics Review includes summary data about organic production, a significant segment of California agriculture.

California agricultural statistics derive primarily from the United States Department of Agriculture/National Agricultural Statistics Services (USDA/NASS) reports. CDFA collaborates with the University of California at Davis to produce statistics for California agricultural exports. For county-level reporting please see the CDFA County Liaison site.

Initial crop statistics for 2019 are expected later this year.

Link to full 2018 crop report

From CDFA’s Planting Seeds Blog

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California Invasive Species Week – Participate from home – Saturday, June 6 through Sunday, June 14

California Invasive Species Action Week is sponsored by California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Visit their invasive species action week webpage to learn how you can get involved and participate in protecting the Delta and beyond!

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2020’s Safest States in America – WalletHub Study

June is National Safety Month. With the U.S. devastated by the coronavirus pandemic this year, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2020’s Safest States in America, as well as accompanying videos.

In order to determine the most secure states, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 53 key metrics. The data set ranges from the state’s coronavirus support to assaults per capita and the unemployment rate.

Safety in California (1=Safest; 25=Avg.)

  • 24th – WalletHub “States Offering the Most Coronavirus Support” Score
  • 25th – Murders & Non-Negligent Manslaughters per Capita
  • 33rd – Assaults per Capita
  • 20th – Loss Amounts from Climate Disasters per Capita
  • 28th – Job Security
  • 4th – Fatal Occupational Injuries per 100,000 Full-Time Workers
  • 18th – Fatalities per 100 Million Vehicle Miles of Travel
  • 10th – Law-Enforcement Employees per Capita
  • 6th – Bullying Incidence Rate
  • 25th – Sex Offenders per Capita
  • 25th – Share of Uninsured Population

For the full report, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/safest-states-to-live-in/4566/

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Meals on Wheels Diablo Region needs your support

We are so close!

Meals on Wheels Diablo Region has a little over a week left to meet a generous $5,500 match offered by Republic Services and an anonymous donor!

Not only does your donation help MOW Diablo Region continue to deliver meals and services to vulnerable seniors – but if made before June 15 – it will be doubled! Our senior neighbors need us now more than ever. That’s why we need your support!

We’re so close to meeting the match. We hope you can help.

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Oakley Rainfall Totals through May, 2020

From the unofficial Romick rain gauge

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Summer 2020 – All Fireworks Are Illegal in the City of Oakley!

Summer is nearly here, Saturday, June 20, and Fourth of July celebrations are just around the corner. Please be reminded that the use, possession, manufacture, and sale of fireworks is illegal in the both the City of Oakley and the County of Contra Costa. The dry conditions make unlawful fireworks activity an extreme fire hazard. Our local firefighters are stretched thin enough without the added burden of an unnecessary fire resulting from irresponsible behavior. In an effort to curb the use of illegal fireworks, the Oakley Police Department will have extra staff members on duty. Fireworks will be seized and citations will be issued to those found in possession of fireworks. Please help us avoid tragedy this year by setting an example to your friends, children, and family by not participating in illegal firework activity. Report Illegal Fireworks

Oakley Municipal Code 4.1.102

“No person shall possess, manufacture, sell, use or discharge, or offer to do so, any fireworks (including “dangerous,” “safe and sane,” and other fireworks) as defined in or pursuant to Health and Safety Code Sections 12502 through 12534, other than emergency signaling devices, as defined therein, properly used by railroads, peace officers, firefighters, and motorists.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 240 people on average go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the month around the 4th of July holiday. The most common places to be burned are hands and fingers — with sparklers being the biggest offender.

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Sunday Reading – 05/31/2020

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

California mortgage applications soar 77% off coronavirus bottom – California house hunters looking to finance a purchase have returned to almost their old buying pace, according to one industry metric.

Real estate watchers often track the Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly reports on mortgage applications as a gauge of housing demand. Since the battle against coronavirus became widespread, the association has published a California slice among its national data.

Here’s what my trusty spreadsheet tells me about the state’s “purchase mortgage” application trends during a spring homebuying season derailed by COVID-19.

• In a three-week period ended April 3, California’s application pace fell by 46%. So in early April, loan applications ran 47.5% below the previous year’s pace.• Applications have increased for seven consecutive weeks, including an 11.6% jump for the week ended May 22. That put loan applications off just 1.7% below the year-ago pace.• It adds up to an eye-catching 77% surge in applications off of the pandemic’s bottom in early April.

While this metric shows April’s dour homebuying market was revived in May, it’s unclear if this upswing is simply delayed activity back on pace or some bigger purchasing push.

Mortgage rates are at historic lows, enticing many house hunters. But reports suggest lenders have become pickier at who gets approved during the pandemic battle. Read More > at The OCR

Salons and barbershops can open in 47 counties. Placer hopes to open gyms and theatres next. – Counties that have their COVID-19 infection rates under control can begin opening hair salons and barbershops. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new restrictions on salons Tuesday, one day after giving the greenlight to church services, provided certain guidelines are followed.

Eleven counties have been unable to attest that they have the virus under control, which means they can’t put hairdressers back to work just yet. They are Alameda, Contra Costa, Imperial, Los Angeles, Marin, Monterey, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Tulare.

Los Angeles will still see some changes, however. Tuesday evening, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the reopening of churches and retail. They must operate at 25% capacity.

Placer County, meanwhile, wants to be the first to open movie theatres and gyms. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to petition the state to move into the next phase. Read More > at California City News 

Coronavirus: Why the Bay Area isn’t relaxing its lockdown orders yet – The Bay Area is growing increasingly isolated in its commitment to enforcing strict lockdown orders meant to stop the spread of coronavirus, as the United States on Wednesday recorded its 100,000th death from COVID-19 and California passed 100,000 confirmed cases of the illness.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s blessing, several counties are ramping up their efforts to reopen stores, churches, barbershops and salons — steps that move the state into the third phase of its four-phase reopening plan. Newsom met with gym owners Wednesday and pledged that guidance for reopening fitness centers would be coming soon.

Even hard-hit Los Angeles County, after enforcing its own strict measures for several weeks, announced Tuesday that it would instead follow new state guidelines that allow religious services and in-store retail shopping to resume, albeit with certain restrictions meant to limit the spread of the virus.

But public health officials in the Bay Area have so far resisted pressure to follow suit, instead staying the course with a “slow and safe” approach that keeps those businesses waiting and watching — even as some restless residents push to resume normal life.

Local public health leaders who had been lauded for the shelter orders they instituted over two months ago are now facing mounting criticism that the Bay Area’s restrictions amount to economy-strangling overkill and are testing the limits of what the public is willing to endure. Read More > in The Mercury News

Roberto Escobar, former Medellín Cartel accountant, sues Apple for $2.6 billion: report – Roberto Escobar claims hackers exploited a vulnerability in an iPhone X to uncover his address in FaceTime, then sent him a threatening letter, forcing Escobar to relocate for his own safety and spend money on a security detail. The suit, first reported by TMZ, coincides with Escobar’s efforts to sell a limited-edition gold-plated iPhone 11 for $499, less than Apple’s price, and his launch of “RIP Apple,” a site that he said will include “proof showing how the people of the world were scammed by Apple Inc., buying crap for crazy prices.”

Roberto Escobar, 73, worked as the accountant for the Medellín Cartel, the Colombian organized crime syndicate that flooded the U.S. with cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s under the leadership of Pablo Escobar.

Since his brother’s death in 1993, and his own release from prison in 2004, Roberto Escobar has written a memoir about his time in the drug world, and accused Elon Musk of stealing his intellectual property in the form of a propane torch made to look like a flamethrower. Read More > at CyberScoop

Rethinking COVID-19 Mortality Statistics – The science of collecting and analyzing numerical data is fundamental to understanding social phenomena. In the Coronavirus Era, researchers, physicians, administrators, and funding agencies aim to seek a consensus about the origins, pathogenic effects, effective treatments, and containment measures regarding a novel coronavirus – all of which require data predicated on morbidity and mortality statistics. Careful attention to the data is critical for understanding mortality figures while remaining mindful of the flaws and limitations attendant with any statistics.

Epidemics have complex causes from interacting with environmental factors. In our data-saturated world, now more than ever, we need to maintain a realistic sense of risks to our safety and health. Over the past six months, the CDC statistics and Johns Hopkins University tables have been used to convert complex health issues surrounding COVID-19 into better-understood numbers about death estimates and cases. Understanding may become distorted when numbers replace clear definitions. Numbers are not facts and should not be considered indisputable. The conscious choice of what figures to count or weigh does and should not convey precision or infallibility.

Descriptive statistics based on clear definitions must be accurate enough to arouse and mitigate concerns in a new epidemic. Statistical analysis warrants skepticism, diverse perspectives, and common sense. Vigorous debates over the accuracy or meaning of COVID-19 numbers should ultimately help to better explain medical and scientific truths.

COVID-19 Statistics

There are two fundamental points often ignored when referring to “the death toll from COVID-19.”

  • There is no evidence or proof offered by any scientist, pathologist, or virologist that confirms COVID-19 as the “cause” of death in the certification process.
  • An expanded definition of a “COVID-19 death” was enacted by the CDC on March 24th, to include probable cases. This conflates and clusters test results creating a source of both under and overestimation. “COVID-19 deaths are identified using a new ICD-10 code. When COVID-19 is reported as a cause of death or when it is listed as a ‘probable’ or ‘presumed’ cause, it is coded as UO7.1 This can include cases with or without laboratory confirmation.” [emphasis added]

All deaths of patients with a linkage to COVID-19 are now classified as “COVID-19 deaths regardless of cause or underlying health issues that could have contributed to loss of life.” – Dr. Deborah Birx

Today, deaths from coronary disease, diabetes, morbid obesity, or pneumonia may be linked or connected to a COVID-19 positive test result. The operative words “linked” or “connected” provide little explanation of how they’re related or indicate what the presumed link entails. As the Wall Street Journal noted, “tabulating deaths is tricky. Some states count probable deaths for cases where there weren’t test results available, but where the deceased had symptoms of the disease.”  Read More > from The American Council on Science and Health 

Thanks to Asia, Coal Is Still King Worldwide – Despite the U.S. and Europe shuttering coal-fired power plants, coal remains a major fuel in global energy systems.

In 2018, global coal demand rebounded and grew by 1.4% due to increased consumption in Asia, where coal consumption increased by 2.5%. This increased consumption was mainly from power generation, which reached an all-time high, increasing 3% in 2018 and accounting for almost 40% of global electricity generation.

China remains the world’s largest coal consumer, using more than 50% of all the coal consumed in the world. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, China relies on coal for 57.7% of its primary energy, and for 67% of its electricity.

And China isn’t the only major coal user in Asia. India led all countries in coal consumption growth, increasing its consumption in 2018 by 36 million metric tons oil equivalent—8.7% higher than in 2017. India generated 75% of its electricity from coal in 2018.

Both countries have sizable coal reserves of more than 100 billion metric tons. But, both countries also import coal, together accounting for more than one-third of the world’s coal imports in 2018. Read More > at Power

Oakland loses appeal on coal ban – A judge’s ruling striking down Oakland’s ban on transporting coal through the city was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, two of three judges on the panel upheld a lower court’s finding that the city breached its contract with a developer by attempting to block shipments of coal through a bulk terminal under construction at the former Oakland Army Base.

The coal controversy dates back to 2015, when Oakland officials first learned about a deal with Utah coal companies to haul their product by rail to Oakland to be shipped overseas. After months of community outrage, the City Council in July 2016 voted to prohibit the storing and handling of coal within city limits. The unanimous vote was directly aimed at developer Phil Tagami’s $250 million bulk terminal, located on the outer harbor near the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza.

The case was brought before the Ninth Circuit after Oakland appealed the 2018 ruling by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria. Chhabria ruled that the city’s justification for the ban was “riddled with inaccuracies, major evidentiary gaps, erroneous assumptions, and faulty analyses.”

City Attorney Barbara Parker did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Sierra Club, which intervened in the suit, said there are plans to file another appeal. Environmental activists and city leaders have argued transporting coal through Oakland is harmful to the health of the environment and to West Oakland residents who live near the rail lines. Read More > at the East Bay Times

The Green God That Failed — Almost – …Which brings us to the new Michael Moore–produced documentary Planet of the Humans. It could almost (but not quite) have been called The Green God That Failed.

The film has caused an uproar among environmentalists because it casts a deeply critical eye on environmentalism’s favorite remedies for climate change, such as solar and wind power and biomass. Serious energy analysts have long known that wind, solar, and biomass are costly, cannot scale to our current power needs, and accomplish only modest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Wind and solar, in particular, have intensive resource supply chains (including a lot of toxic chemical waste), require huge amounts of land area, have a working life span that is less than half that of conventional power plants, and are not amenable to recycling. Even electric cars are not very “green” when the full resource supply chain and product life cycle are calculated competently. None of these energy totems can accurately be described as “clean.”

Environmentalists have long dismissed these substantive criticisms with fraudulent claims on behalf of the potential for “renewable” energy, along with a near-religious fervor in the sanctity of “green” technology. The effectiveness of Planet of the Humans is that the critique of “green” energy is made entirely by left-leaning academics and analysts rather than supposed “fossil fuel stooges.” Of course, for people like Michael Moore, “corporation” is a four-letter word, and the film makes clear that most renewable energy is owned by private partnerships and corporations, though the film could have said more about how renewable “profits” are largely dependent on generous subsidies and favorable tax treatment. Adding insult to injury, the film commits lèse-majesté in on-camera shaming of several leading icons of environmentalism for their ignorance, including Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

The environmental activist community and their media sycophants have erupted with outrage over Planet of the Humans, demanding its suppression. The Nation called the film “dangerous,” stating that “you could be forgiven for thinking it was created by Breitbart News or Steve Bannon,” and a petition demanding that Moore apologize and retract the film drew the signatures of environmental activists such as Naomi Klein and Michael Mann. (And it appears the suppression campaign might succeed: YouTube has taken down the film on the flimsy pretext that one scene violates a photographer’s copyright). Read More > at Real Clear Energy

Give Small Businesses Liability Protection – As America opens up, businesses need Washington’s help. Those that survived the pandemic now face a new outbreak: lawsuits. Without legal protections passed by Congress, businesses large and small will face a tidal wave of crippling litigation that will extinguish any hope of a successful recovery.

McDonald’s, Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods are already battling overzealous attacks by trial lawyers. Companies like these are big enough to weather the storm. But small businesses could be washed away if lawmakers fail to protect them.

…If patrons catch the virus, for example, they can accuse business owners of inadequately shielding them. The result could be lawsuits — which, let’s say it flatly, are greedy — can close struggling businesses because they are unable to pay the lawyers’ costs alone. Many owners of small businesses say the mere threat of such legal complaints is preventing them from reopening at all.

Trial lawyers argue that most Americans oppose giving businesses “guaranteed immunity.” But nobody is asking Congress to provide such blanket protection. Rather, businesses want Congress to limit liability to instances in which COVID-19 exposure results from provable neglect. No one, least of all America’s small- and mid-sized businesses, expects to be shielded from responsibility in cases where COVID-19 exposure resulted from reckless indifference to health concerns. At the same time, businesses must be protected from opportunistic and marauding lawyers. Read More > at Real Clear Politics

California bullet train could end up needing subsidies, despite promises to voters – When California voters approved bonds in 2008 to build a bullet train across much of the state, a ballot measure promised them that future passenger service would not require operating subsidies.

State officials asserted over the next decade that their system would attract so many millions of riders that it would actually turn a profit.

Now it is debatable whether those promises will be met.

The state rail authority is moving ahead with a plan to issue a massive contract for tracks and an electrical system that would enable bullet train service in the Central Valley. But when the service starts in 2028, it would lose money that the state would absorb, according to consultants for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Consumer Confidence No Longer Sliding Into Oblivion – Apparently, throwing trillions of dollars at a population that was locked down at home has some influence on how good the economy can be again. The Conference Board has reported that its Consumer Confidence Index managed to hold steady in May after a major decline in April.

The Consumer Confidence Index rose to 86.6 in May from 85.7 last month. Dow Jones (Wall Street Journal) had expected a reading of just 82.3.

Despite an improvement, and despite the numbers being less cautious in general, the report is still historically weak compared to recent years. March’s reading above 100 had been indicative of a trend of very strong reports going back to just before 2017.

The monthly survey’s cutoff date for the preliminary results was May 14. Readings above 100 generally are deemed positive and numbers under 100 are negative.

Inside the May report, the Present Situation Index fell to 71.1 from 73.0 a month earlier. This indicates that consumer assessment of current business and labor market conditions remains weak. The Expectations Index measures the coming months’ outlook for income, business and labor market conditions, and this portion of the report rose to 96.9 in May from 94.3 in April. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

The IRS isn’t taking your calls now. But it’s happy to take your money. – This time last year, the IRS was processing federal returns with few problems — nearly 138 million by the third week in May. This year, with staff sent home because of the novel coronavirus, the agency has only processed 117 million returns, down 14 percent from last year, according to the latest statistics for the 2020 filing season.

This year’s tax deadline has been pushed back to July 15. That’s a good thing, because the agency has been preoccupied with getting out tens of millions of stimulus payments — up to $1,200 per qualified individual — through the Cares Act.

With just about a month and half to go, a challenging tax season will only get more stressful for taxpayers with problems that can’t be solved by going to irs.gov.

It probably won’t end your frustration, but the following list may explain why you aren’t getting the help you need right now. Here’s what the IRS can’t do because of the pandemic:

— Process paper returns. The IRS is not processing individual paper tax returns. The agency says if you’ve already filed a paper return, don’t file a second one for fear the first one got misplaced. Returns received through the mail will be processed once processing centers have reopened. The IRS hasn’t told the public when this might occur. And even when the centers open, the pace of work is likely to remain super slow. Like so many other employers, the IRS must comply with social distancing guidelines, which means the processing centers may not be fully functioning for months.

— Mail tax forms. The National Distribution Center, the IRS office that would normally send out forms or publications, is closed. You can, however, download most forms at irs.gov/forms.

— Respond to mail or email correspondence. The IRS says don’t bother writing to inquire about your return, refund or stimulus payment. The agency doesn’t have the staff to respond to taxpayer questions.

— Answer your call. The IRS has for years struggled to handle the high volume of calls from taxpayers. If you have a question about your stimulus payment, the IRS is providing live assistance. Callers must first navigate past the recorded messages. Even then, the help is very limited, often referring people back to irs.gov for answers. “It doesn’t provide direct access to someone who can check a taxpayer’s account,” said IRS spokesman Eric Smith. Read More > in The Washington Post

Forget The Murder Hornets. Here Come The Cannibal Rats – Let’s see. First, we got hit with the pandemic. Then there was a literal plague of locusts swarming across Africa. Then came the volcano lighting. We were next warned of an incoming wave of murder hornets. Well, the hornets have turned out to be something of a bust, at least thus far. But the next curse to fall upon your houses will probably sound even more messed up. Get ready for hordes of cannibal rats who are becoming increasingly aggressive according to some rodentologists at the CDC. (The Guardian)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of “unusual or aggressive” behavior in American rats as a consequence of more than two months of human lockdown for city-dwelling rodents who now find themselves unable to dine out on restaurant waste, street garbage and other food sources.

Last month, according to the national health body, dumpster-diving rats were observed resorting to open warfare, cannibalism and eating their young in the wake of urban shutdowns.

“Community-wide closures have led to a decrease in food available to rodents, especially in dense commercial areas,” the CDC said in recently updated rodent-control guidelines.

They could have just said “rats” in this case, don’t you think? But the rats in some of our larger cities apparently are resorting to killing and eating their young in some places. And besides… “cannibal rats” makes for a much more catchy headline I suppose. Read More > at Hot Air

Media botched the virus crisis and made it ‘worse’: Poll – Just when the public needed the media to play it straight, the growing bias in the press let them down and made the coronavirus crisis “worse than it needed to be,” according to a new analysis.

Already facing a substantial trust gap, the latest Gallup/Knight Foundation survey found that people in the United States were concerned about the media exaggerating the illness or downplaying how the crisis caused substantial harm.

As with many things in the Trump political environment, partisanship played a role. Democrats saw a bigger problem with stories that downplayed the virus, while Republicans said reports that hyped the crisis were more harmful.

But in both cases, the majority of partisans in each political party agreed that the media’s coverage of the pandemic fell far short of what they wanted.

Asked if media exaggerating the coronavirus caused “unnecessary harm,” 87% of Republicans agreed. Among Democrats, it was 25 points lower, at 62%. Read More > in the Washington Examiner 

In Danger At Home – Since schools across the United States closed in March, reports of child abuse and neglect have plummeted. Pennsylvania and Ohio, for instance, have seen at least a 50 percent drop in calls made to state hotlines, while some hospitals have reported an increase in cases of severe child abuse showing up in emergency rooms. This is not surprising, because teachers are leading reporters of abuse—their calls represent more than a fifth of the 2018 total—and it’s hard to keep an eye on kids through occasional Zoom meetings.

Beyond trying to publicize hotlines and other resources for help, though, most state and local officials seem to have no strategy other than waiting until the lockdown is over to assess the damage. Last month, Los Angeles County sheriff Alex Villanueva proposed to let his deputies become more proactive, releasing a plan to “do welfare checks on our most at-risk kids with patrol personnel.” Following the death of Gabriel Fernandez in 2013—deputies were found to have ignored clear signs that he was being tortured to death—the department may have learned an important lesson.

The proposal hit a roadblock when Bobby Cagle, head of the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services, explained that “sending a uniformed law enforcement officer to a family’s home without any articulable suspicion of child abuse or neglect would not necessarily improve safety for children.” He said that “such an action might increase stress on families and children, especially those in already marginalized communities, during one of the most stressful times most have ever experienced.” A little extra stress may be the price we have to pay, though, for protecting children who have been trapped for months in homes with adults (not just their parents, but abusive boyfriends, for instance), who may have addiction or other mental-health problems. Read More > at City Journal 

Facebook’s own research warned its algorithms exploit ‘divisiveness’ – Facebook’s executives resisted internal efforts to make its platform less divisive, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The company’s internal research found that its algorithms “exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” and could make the social network a more polarized place. In another piece of research reported by the WSJ, Facebook found in 2016 that 64 percent of users joining extremist groups on the platform did so as a result of the company’s recommendation algorithms.

The following year Facebook launched “Common Ground,” a wide-ranging effort to make the social network less polarizing and “increase empathy” among users.

Yet the company ultimately decided not to act on many of the group’s recommendations, fearing it could fuel claims the company was biased against conservative viewpoints. Other proposed changes were watered down, according to the report. Read More > at Engadget 

I’m Still Gonna Spit’: MLB Players Are Facing a New Reality – Consider a typical play: The hitter, who has spent the afternoon sharing tubs and showers with his teammates, approaches the plate. He may spit on his hands or rub dirt on them to improve his grip on the bat he has already coated with pine tar. He spits tobacco juice onto the ground, inches from the catcher and umpire. Sixty feet, six inches away, the pitcher dabs at the pine tar subtly applied to his cap, then mixes it with the sunscreen and sweat on his forearm and a little rosin from the bag every other pitcher on both teams will touch. Finding the ball still too dry, he licks his hands, then massages it. The hitter singles. The ball rolls around in the grass until an outfielder throws it in. The runner on third has scored. Every member of his team congratulates him with a high five. This is an epidemiologist’s worst nightmare.

Still, give MLB credit for trying. The league’s proposal includes such provisions as the ban on shared tubs. It calls for players to shower at home or at the hotel. (“Hats off to the teams playing in Atlanta in August,” tweeted Brewers lefty Brett Anderson.) It encourages teams to use every other locker and to set up extra clubhouses to encourage social distancing. It limits the number of trainers to two and suggests that teams limit the number of players in the training and weight rooms. It mandates the washing of hands between innings. (Of the legendarily grimy dugout bathrooms, Braves righty Josh Tomlin says with a laugh, “I think you’re putting yourself more at risk touching the doorknob.”) It outlaws sunflower seeds and chewing tobacco, and the resulting spitting. It bans high fives. (Nationals reliever Daniel Hudson preemptively mourns the first time he saves a game and he and the catcher begin to run toward one another before remembering.) Read More > in Sports Illustrated

What does a second U.S. aircraft carrier visit mean for U.S.-Vietnam relations? – The second visit in two years of a U.S. aircraft carrier to Vietnam turns a page in the relationship between the former Cold War nemeses. Aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill along with their over 5,000 officers and crew concluded a five-day visit to Da Nang early this month, marking the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations in grand fashion. The move sent important messages to the region and is yet another indicator of a growing U.S.-Vietnam security relationship.

The visit put China on notice that its neighbors, especially those targeted by its assertive South China Sea policies, still see the United States as the security partner of choice. Coming on the heels of the latest U.S.-led Cobra Cold multilateral exercises in Thailand, the visit served as a counter to Beijing’s growing but still much more nascent security engagement with its neighbors. This competition was highlighted just days after the Theodore Roosevelt’s departure when neighboring Cambodia commenced its fourth annual Golden Dragon joint military exercises with China, which will run until the end of the month.

…It can only be expected that Washington will double down on courting Hanoi as ties with longtime treaty ally the Philippines remain under stress. Should U.S. access to forward facilities in the Philippines be constrained, Vietnam’s long maritime frontage could provide alternative hubs to support U.S. freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. With a defense budget consistently hovering at about 2 percent of the country’s GDP, Vietnam may be seen as a more capable regional security partner, and one without the encumbrances and fear of entrapment associated with formal treaty alliances. This said, interoperability may eventually require more institutionalized cooperation. Read More > at The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

The Price of a Virus Lockdown: Economic ‘Free Fall’ in California – California was the first state to shut down to counter the coronavirus and has avoided the staggeringly high infection and death rates suffered in the Northeast. But the debilitating financial costs are mounting every day. California has an estimated unemployment rate above 20 percent, according to Mr. Newsom — far higher than the 14.7 percent national rate and similar to the estimated rate for New York State, where the virus has hit the hardest.

In Los Angeles, with movie productions shut down, theme parks padlocked and hotels empty, things are even worse: The jobless rate has reached 24 percent, roughly equal to the peak unemployment of the Great Depression, in 1933.

California faces a daunting budget deficit of $54 billion, which could force painful cuts to schools, social programs, health care and road building. And the state was the first to borrow from the federal government to finance its $13 billion in unemployment claims.

California has a hugely diversified economy, and many of the industries that have made it so strong are also the ones getting hit the hardest. By many measures California, which has the nation’s largest tourism industry, public university system, entertainment industry and port system and produces far more food than any other state, stands to lose more in the coronavirus-induced recession than anywhere else. Read More > in The New York Times

California State University: ‘no plans to reduce’ fall tuition despite keeping classes online – The nearly 500,000 students enrolled in the California State University system’s 23 campuses should expect to pay full price for tuition this fall.

A spokeswoman for the system told The College Fix via email that tuition is expected to remain at the regular price despite the system’s decision to remain virtual for the fall 2020 semester.

“There are no plans to reduce tuition and campus-based mandatory fees at this time,” said CSU spokeswoman Toni Molle. “One of the benefits of announcing our planning now is to allow for additional professional development opportunities for faculty and staff over the summer which lead to the best possible learning experience that we can provide for students.”

The system will allow a handful of exceptions, such as for science and medical classes for which students need lab space, or some arts and theater courses. Courses for athletes are also still under consideration as some campus leaders try to salvage their fall sports programs. Read More > at The College Fix

Weeding Out Fraudulent Unemployment Claims Just Became More Difficult – Scammers defrauded the state of Washington out of “hundreds of millions” of dollars by using residents’ stolen information to file claims for unemployment, the state employment office said this week.

The disclosure underscores the difficulty states face in rooting out fraudulent claims as an unprecedented number of out-of-work Americans file for unemployment because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Washington’s Employment Security Department has paid out $3.8 billion in benefits to more than 768,000 people since March, when businesses began closing down as the state tried to contain the coronavirus.

An international crime ring is believed to be involved in a large scale fraud operation targeting state unemployment systems, according to a memo the Secret Service issued last week, which was reported on by the New York Times and Krebs on Security. Washington has been the primary target thus far, but authorities also uncovered evidence of fraudulent activity in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Florida and warned that every state was vulnerable to the scheme. Read More > at Route Fifty

Why Would Amazon Scope Out JCPenney? It’s The Real Estate, Baby! – Rumor has it struggling JCPenney Co. is a possible acquisition target for Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.

JCPenney filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Friday and said it would close about 240 of its 846 stores permanently over the next two years. If Amazon stepped in and bought the company, it could be a quick, relatively cheap way to get a large brick-and-mortar footprint, similar to its acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017.

The e-commerce giant hasn’t confirmed or denied reports of a possible Penney’s acquisition probe, with a spokesperson for Amazon telling Bisnow Tuesday the retailer doesn’t respond to rumors. But this is a big rumor, considering the e-commerce giant is often considered the final stake through the heart of department stores like Plano, Texas-based JCPenney.

Retail experts believe Amazon is either expanding its apparel vertical or shopping for prime space in key suburban markets where it desires additional last-mile delivery locations or package pickup and drop-off hubs. Read More > at Bisnow

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Delta Cross Channel gates open weekends

The Bureau of Reclamation will be opening the Delta Cross Channel on weekends. The gates will be closed on weekdays to help prevent juvenile salmon from being diverted from their migratory route along the Sacramento River into the interior Delta until June 12. The gates are expected to stay open after June 12. For more information, click here.

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Franks Tract Futures – public meeting webinar on June 9 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m

The Franks Tract Futures project is exploring options for achieving ecosystem, recreation, water quality, and other benefits at Franks Tract. There will be a public meeting webinar on June 9 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Register for the meeting

To contact the meeting hosts, click here ucdfrankstract@gmail.com

Franks Tract Futures is a collaborative planning process initiated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The process will entail working with the local community, local agencies, and interested stakeholders in developing a detailed habitat enhancement plan for Franks Tract using a transparent and collaborative process.

The planning process will develop and evaluate alternative approaches to restoration and enhancement that balance multiple interests identified in the Franks Tract Futures Report.

The plan will serve as a basis for updating the California State Park’s Franks Tract State Recreation Area Management Plan and will incorporate other ongoing planning efforts.

A final plan is expected to be completed by June 2020.

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BART’s 15 step plan to welcome back riders as the region opens

BART is working hard to reimagine transit service as the region begins to reopen and riders return.  We understand the public is looking to us to provide reassurance that service is as safe as possible and social distancing is followed.  To welcome riders back and regain confidence in public transit, BART is taking the following 15 steps while continuing to explore new measures and technologies that could assist in a safe recovery.

Step 1 – Cleaning

BART is using hospital-grade disinfectant in stations and on-board trains. Train poles are wiped down with disinfectant at the end of the line during service hours. Crews use electrostatic foggers on train cars that spray disinfecting mist that coats and clings to surfaces. Station touchpoints are wiped down multiple times each day.

Watch video of trains being disinfected with foggers

Step 2 – Run Long Trains

BART is committed to running service that allows for social distancing. We will continue to run long trains all day to allow riders to spread out. BART has determined riders can maintain social distancing of 6 feet on-board train cars with no more than 30 people per car. Social distancing of 3 feet can be achieved with no more than 60 people per car.

Step 3 – Increase Train Frequency

BART is currently running service every 30 minutes on weekdays, but we are monitoring ridership daily and will add additional trains during commute hours in the 15-minute slots once data shows that train cars consistently have more than 30 people on board. As businesses allow for staggered shifts, BART will extend the hours of 15-minute frequencies.

Riders should expect a 9 pm closure for the time being. We are planning our budget in a way that will allow us to scale up when the recovery creates demand. If demand and revenue are low, we will need to continue 30-minute frequencies. Riders are encouraged to check BART’s real time departures feature online and on the official BART app before heading to the station as the Trip Planner will show a 30-minute base schedule and may not always reflect 15-minute service the day it becomes available. Added trains will show on real time departures.

Step 4 – Pilot New Seat Configuration

BART’s Fleet of the Future provides for modular seating. BART will pilot a new configuration of seats that could potentially help create space between riders. Updated CDC guidelines indicate coronavirus does not spread easily from contact with contaminated surfaces and that person to person contact is the main source of coronavirus spread.

BART is looking at ways to create as much space to spread out as possible. BART does not plan to block off seats for use because it is difficult to enforce and is subject to vandalism.

Step 5 – Require Face Coverings

BART will continue to require face coverings at all times for all riders ages 13 and older. Consistent with county health orders, children aged 12 or younger are not required to wear a face covering and children aged 2 or younger should not wear one because of the risk of suffocation.

Even if the local counties ease the face covering mandate, BART plans to keep it. Currently Downtown San Francisco station agent booths have extra masks for those who need one. We’re also supplying officers with extra masks to hand out if necessary. BART Procurement is exploring having face mask vending machines inside stations.

BART is asking everyone to do their part to help protect their fellow riders by wearing face coverings at all times while in the system.

Step 6 – Police Enforcement

BART Police will enforce the face covering requirement and be positioned at fixed posts near the faregates at many of our stations. Police personnel will conduct more frequent fare checks to increase staff presence on-board trains and inside stations. Crime at BART is down 34% January-April compared with the same four months in 2019. Increased attention will be paid to keeping station entryways clear and safe.

Step 7 – Visual Indicators

Large decals, posters and banners are being printed and will soon be displayed throughout the system and on-board trains to reinforce social distancing expectations and the face covering requirement. While BART does not plan to use standing markers on the platforms and on trains, there will be plenty of signage on platforms and on-board trains and overhead announcements reminding riders to social distance and spread out.

Step 8 – Hand Sanitizer

BART will continue to offer hand sanitizer at every station. We are making large signs, so the dispensers are easy to find.

Step 9 – Contactless Payment

Clipper allows for contactless payment at BART. Riders are encouraged to get Clipper and load funds online in advance or get auto-load. This will reduce lines at the ticket vending machines and reduce customer touchpoints. BART will speed up efforts to eliminate the sale of paper tickets and to go Clipper-only at stations systemwide in the coming months. BART is also speeding up efforts to expand the official BART app parking payment feature to all stations (currently available at five stations).

Step 10 – Personal Hand Straps

BART will offer personal hand straps for riders to use and take home for cleaning after each trip. A limited supply will be handed out inside stations to welcome riders back and then will be offered for sale for $5 plus tax by phone order by calling 510-464-7136, in person at the Customer Service window at Lake Merritt Station (Monday-Friday 7:30 am–4:45pm) and through a soon-to-be-launched online store.

Step 11 – Data Transparency

BART will continue to post daily ridership numbers at http://www.bart.gov/covid showing what percentage ridership is at compared to Pre-COVID-19 ridership. During the first part of recovery, this will help reassure riders there is no crowding. BART will also share train car loading data based on the number of riders on a specific train and how on average those riders can spread out among the cars. This information is not available in real time, but we plan to communicate it in some form of frequency on our website and through social media. We will offer this information in an easy to read format to help riders make informed decisions about what time of the day they want to ride.

Step 12 – New Technologies and Industry Best Practices

BART will continue to explore new technologies used by transit systems across the world in response to COVID-19. For example, BART is evaluating a variety of new cleaning procedures such as ultraviolet disinfecting to determine if new methods are safe, won’t cause damage, and are more effective and efficient than current practice. As best practice trends related to safety and customer experience emerge, BART will examine how practical implementation would be for our system.

Step 13 – Business Community Outreach

BART will encourage employers to allow for staggered shifts to help spread out the commute and avoid crowding during peak travel times. BART staff will also participate in virtual town halls with companies to answer questions about BART service and new safety measures.

Step 14 – Healthy Workforce

BART’s greatest asset is our employees and they must remain healthy to continue to provide service. BART is supplying workers with PPE and supplies and offering COVID-19 testing to employees. Station Agents have been advised to stay inside their booth as much as possible to limit exposure. Work areas are being disinfected frequently.

Step 15 – Rebuild Infrastructure

BART is using this time of record low ridership to accelerate infrastructure rebuilding projects facilitated by the extra work hours made available due to an earlier closing time. The increased level of work will shave off time on some of these projects that can be disruptive to passengers.

For example, every six weeks BART single tracks beginning at 7 pm in San Francisco for cable replacement, six months of Sunday single tracking are eliminated. This accelerated work ensures that when riders return to the system, it will be in better shape than when they last used it.

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