98 Million Americans Expect their Partner to Spend Less on V-Day + Best Places for Valentine’s Day 2021 – WalletHub Reports

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner and America’s sweethearts planning to spend $21.8 billion on the holiday even with COVID-19 limiting celebrations, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2021’s Best Places for Valentine’s Day, as well as accompanying videos, along with its nationally representative 2021 Valentine’s Day Spending Survey

To determine the most romantic yet affordable cities for celebrating the Day of Hearts, WalletHub compared 100 of the largest U.S. cities across 14 key metrics, ranging from florists per capita to COVID-19 cases to high-quality takeout food.

Top 20 Places for Valentine’s Day 2021
1. San Francisco, CA11. Fremont, CA
2. Honolulu, HI12. Raleigh, NC
3. Portland, OR13. Virginia Beach, VA
4. Seattle, WA14. Kansas City, MO
5. San Jose, CA15. Atlanta, GA
6. San Diego, CA16. Houston, TX
7. Austin, TX17. Durham, NC
8. Oakland, CA18. Plano, TX
9. Orlando, FL19. Cincinnati, OH
10. Sacramento, CA20. Denver, CO

Valentine’s Day Spending Survey – Key Stats

  • Some People Want Love More Than Health. 50% of people would rather get shot by Cupid’s arrow than the COVID-19 vaccine.
     
  • More Men Say V-Day Debt is Worth it: Men are nearly two times more likely than women to think a Valentine’s Day gift is worth going into credit card debt.
     
  • Bad Credit Might Keep You Single. 47% of people wouldn’t marry someone with bad credit.
     
  • Reckless Spending Ends Relationships: 47% of people would break up with their significant other if he or she spent irresponsibly.
     
  • Financial Irresponsibility Isn’t Attractive: 44% of people say irresponsible spending is a bigger turnoff than bad breath.
     
  • Love is Blooming for Some People. 48% of people say they got richer in love since last Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day Facts

  • $21.8 Billion: Total Valentine’s Day spending projected for 2021 ($164.76 per person celebrating).
     
  • $231 vs. $101: Men will spend more than twice as much as women, on average, for Valentine’s Day 2021.
     
  • $8.1 Billion: Amount Americans will spend on jewelry ($4.1B), flowers ($2B) and candy ($2B).
     
  • 1 in 6: Marriages begins online.
     
  • 33%: Overall online dating activity increase across the US between February 1 and February 14.
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Sunday Reading – 02/07/2021

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

Could Gavin Newsom Really Get Kicked Out of Office? – Last spring, at the beginning of the pandemic, California, and its Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, received a lot of praise for its handling of the coronavirus. While New York and other areas were struggling, California, which was the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, seemed to have figured something out. But at some point, things changed. Angela Hart, who covers health policy for California Healthline, says the turning point was the state’s summer reopening. “California opened too fast, and since then, we’ve seen a series of really big missteps on the part of this governor,” she says.

Newsom in particular is drawing fire from Californians who feel misled by the rosy picture he’s been painting of the state’s coronavirus response, all while the situation on the ground gets worse and worse. On Monday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with Hart about Newsom’s pandemic response and the increasingly serious effort to recall him from office. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

…But then when you start talking to people, you start to understand: These aren’t only Republicans. These are disaffected Democrats. These are “no party preference” voters. So you really can’t ignore the voice of all the different sides of the political spectrum.

…I spoke to this woman Joyce Hanson for a story. She specifically said, I understand the governor doesn’t control the supply of vaccines coming to California, and I can handle waiting until March or April if that’s how long it’s going to take for me to get vaccinated. She’s 69. But the governor made it sound like she’s going to be able to get signed up and get vaccinated tomorrow. So she said, I can take it, I can take the truth, but just be honest with us. And she feels wholeheartedly misled by the governor.

…He was dining with a group of friends that were not from his household. He defended himself at first, and then a little while later he apologized. Voters are extremely upset about this. I’ve heard it everywhere. I’ve heard it from Republicans. I’ve heard it from independents. I’ve heard it from Democrats.

It’s optics, but it’s even deeper than that. Everybody has sacrificed so much. We’ve been, by and large, locked in our houses for the better part of a year. And to see the governor flippantly ignoring his own rules hit a nerve. Read More > at Slate

CDC: Schools Can Reopen Safely Without Vaccinating Teachers Against COVID-19 – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reiterated on Wednesday that schools can safely reopen even if teachers are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Last week the CDC weighed into the ongoing debate over whether to reopen schools for in-person instruction, noting that schools that are currently welcoming students into classrooms with certain safety precautions in place have had only “scant transmission” of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“The CDC team reviewed data from studies in the United States and abroad and found the experience in schools different from nursing homes and high-density work sites where rapid spread has occurred,” The Washington Post reported last Tuesday. “The review, which echoes the conclusions of other researchers, comes as many school districts continue to wrestle with whether and how to reopen schools and as President Biden makes a return to in-person learning one of his top pandemic-related priorities.”

…On Wednesday, the CDC weighed in again, this time suggesting that a common teachers union demand — that all teachers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before being forced to return to classrooms — is not a necessary requirement for in-person learning to be done safely and with minimum risk of coronavirus transmission.

“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated,” President Joe Biden’s CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, told reporters during a COVID-19 response team press conference Wednesday morning.

“Vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools,” she reiterated. Read More > at The Daily Wire 

Powerful storm eased drought in parts of California – The powerful storm that drenched much of California last week eased drought conditions in some parts of the state, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday.

The central coast from Monterey Bay south to Ventura County was reduced from moderate drought to abnormal dryness and a swath northeastward across the Central Valley and into the Sierra Nevada was reduced from severe to moderate drought.

A strip of the far north coast also dropped out of moderate drought into abnormal dryness, according to monitor data.

Overall, 85.9% of the state remained in moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional drought, down from more than 95% in the week-earlier report.

The season’s second Sierra snowpack survey, which is used to forecast water supply, found Wednesday that the water content was 70% of average to date and 45% of the April 1 average, when the snowpack is usually deepest and has the highest water content. Read More > from the Associated Press

The Left’s Vaccine Problem – Why aren’t progressive leaders doing a better job at mass vaccination?

Early in the pandemic, countries with populist, right-wing governments were suffering some of the worst outbreaks. These countries had big differences from one another — the list included Brazil, Britain, Russia and the U.S. — but their problems all stemmed partly from leaders who rejected scientific expertise.

More progressive and technocratic countries — with both center-left and center-right leaders, like Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea — were doing a better job containing the pandemic. The pattern seemed to make sense: Politicians who believed in the ability of bureaucracies to accomplish complex jobs were succeeding at precisely that.

But over the last few weeks, as vaccination has become a top priority, the pattern has changed. Progressive leaders in much of the world are now struggling to distribute coronavirus vaccines quickly and efficiently:

  • Europe’s vaccination rollout “has descended into chaos,” as Sylvie Kauffmann of Le Monde, the French newspaper, has written. One of the worst performers is the Netherlands, which has given a shot to less than 2 percent of residents.

  • Canada (at less than 3 percent) is far behind the U.S. (about 8.4 percent).

  • Within the U.S., many Democratic states — like California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and tiny Rhode Island — are below the national average. “The parts of the country that pride themselves on taking Covid seriously and believing in government are not covering themselves in glory,” The Times’s Ezra Klein has written.

At the same time, there are clear success stories in places that few people would describe as progressive.

Alaska and West Virginia have the two highest vaccination rates among U.S. states, with Oklahoma and the Dakotas also above average. Globally, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have the highest rates. Britain — run by Boris Johnson, a populist Conservative — has vaccinated more than 15 percent of residents. Read More > in The New York Times

‘New chance at life’: Man gets face, hands in rare surgery – Almost six months after a rare face and hands transplant, Joe DiMeo is relearning how to smile, blink, pinch and squeeze.

The 22-year-old New Jersey resident had the operation last August, two years after being badly burned in a car crash.

“I knew it would be baby steps all the way,” DiMeo told The Associated Press. “You’ve got to have a lot of motivation, a lot of patience. And you’ve got to stay strong through everything.”

Experts say it appears the surgery at NYU Langone Health was a success, but warn it’ll take some time to say for sure.

U.S. surgeons have completed at least 18 face transplants and 35 hand transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, which oversees the nation’s transplant system.

In 2018, DiMeo fell asleep at the wheel, he said, after working a night shift as a product tester for a drug company. The car hit a curb and utility pole, flipped over, and burst into flames. Another driver who saw the accident pulled over to rescue DiMeo.

Afterward, he spent months in a medically induced coma and underwent 20 reconstructive surgeries and multiple skin grafts to treat his extensive third-degree burns.

Once it became clear conventional surgeries could not help him regain full vision or use of his hands, DiMeo’s medical team began preparing for the risky transplant in early 2019. Read More  from the Associated Press 

U.S. oil prices post highest finish in over a year – Oil futures rose Tuesday, with expectations that efforts by major oil producers to reduce production will lead to tighter global supplies lifting U.S. prices to their highest settlement in more than a year.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other major producers, a group known as OPEC+, expect output cuts to keep the oil market in a supply deficit through the year, even as the producers lowered this year’s outlook on demand growth, a document seen by Reuters showed Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia’s 1 million barrels per day February through March unilateral output cut provided a tailwind for oil prices on Monday, said analysts at Sevens Report Research, in their latest newsletter.

“Additionally, easing coronavirus infections, continued rollout of vaccines, and stimulus hopes are propping up the demand outlook for the months and quarters ahead,” they said. “Bottom line, oil prices are in a well-defined uptrend and barring any fundamental surprises, should continue to move up toward $60 [a] barrel near term.” Read More > at MarketWatch

California court rejects lawsuit challenging ride-share vote – The California Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to overturn a ballot measure that makes app-based ride-hailing and delivery drivers independent contractors instead of employees eligible for benefits and job protections.

Justices declined to hear the case brought by drivers and unions opposed to the measure. The case can be filed in a lower court.

The lawsuit claimed the measure was unconstitutional because it limits the power of the Legislature and excludes drivers from being eligible for workers’ compensation.

Proposition 22 passed in November with 58% support and shielded companies like Uber and Lyft from a new state labor law that would have required app-based services to treat drivers as employees and not independent contractors. Read More > from the Associated Press

Tesla’s dirty little secret: Its net profit doesn’t come from selling cars – Tesla posted its first full year of net income in 2020 — but not because of sales to its customers.

Eleven states require automakers sell a certain percentage of zero-emissions vehicles by 2025. If they can’t, the automakers have to buy regulatory credits from another automaker that meets those requirements — such as Tesla, which exclusively sells electric cars.

It’s a lucrative business for Tesla — bringing in $3.3 billion over the course of the last five years, nearly half of that in 2020 alone. The $1.6 billion in regulatory credits it received last year far outweighed Tesla’s net income of $721 million — meaning Tesla would have otherwise posted a net loss in 2020.

“These guys are losing money selling cars. They’re making money selling credits. And the credits are going away,” said Gordon Johnson of GLJ Research and one of the biggest bears on Tesla (TSLA) shares. Read More > at CNN

Amazon reports first $100 billion quarter following holiday and pandemic shopping surge – Amazon announced in its earnings report for the fourth quarter of 2020 that Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy will replace Jeff Bezos as Amazon CEO during the third quarter of this year. Bezos will become executive chairman.

The company also delivered its largest quarter by revenue of all time at $125.56 billion, pushing it past the symbolic $100 billion mark for the first time. Read More > at CNBC

A Nasal Spray for the Common Cold Is Closer to Reality – A bonafide treatment for the common cold has eluded scientists for decades. But recent animal research from a team in Australia suggests that their experimental drug—delivered via nasal spray—could help the immune system fend off all sorts of respiratory infections. The treatment is now set to be tested out in a clinical trial of people in a matter of weeks.

The treatment is called INNA-X and is being developed by Ena Respiratory, a biotech company in Australia. The therapy is intended to buff up the immune system through activating a class of proteins called Toll-like receptors (TLRs). TLRs play a key role in the innate immune system, which is the first line of defense against foreign pathogens. This innate immune response not only attacks germs but also rallies the rest of the immune system into action.

Though the development of INNA-X began before the pandemic, the treatment should ideally offer broad protection against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes covid-19, as well as the many viruses that cause the common cold, such as rhinoviruses. In two recent animal studies published last month, that seems to be the case. Read More > at Gizmodo 

Elon Musk now controls over a quarter of all active satellites – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk now controls a quarter of all active satellites orbiting Earth after launching more than a dozen Starlink missions over the last two years. 

A Falcon 9 rocket will deliver the latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week, weather permitting, taking the total number of Starlinks in orbit to over 1,000.

The mission, designated Starlink 17, is the latest in SpaceX’s plan to create a constellation of up to 40,000 satellites in order to beam high-speed internet down to Earth.

The current Starlink network is already capable of serving northerly latitudes and is currently providing an initial beta service to customers in Canada, the US and UK.

Customers of Starlink’s broadband service, which boasts speeds of up to 150 Mbps, need to buy a $499 custom satellite dish and sign up for a $99 monthly subscription in order to connect, though costs are expected to decrease as the network grows. Read More > in the Independent 

Net Neutrality and Big Tech’s Speech Hypocrisy – Social-media giants are under attack for censorship, but a few years ago they positioned themselves as champions of free speech. At issue was “net neutrality,” the Obama-era policy that treated internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T as common carriers—akin to the old Ma Bell monopoly—by prohibiting them from discriminating among content providers, including the social-media sites.

“Net neutrality is the idea that the internet should be free and open for everyone,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerbergdeclared in July 2017 after the Federal Communications Commission’s then-chairman, Ajit Pai, moved to repeal the regulation, which the FCC had adopted two years earlier. Twitter ’s public-policy manager, Laura Culbertson, wrote: “Free expression is part of our company DNA. We are the platform that lets users see what’s happening and to see all sides. . . . Without Net Neutrality in force, ISPs would even be able to block content they don’t like, reject apps and content that compete with their own offerings, and arbitrarily discriminate against particular content providers by prioritizing certain Internet traffic over theirs.”

Facebook and Twitter turned out to be more threatening than under threat. Broadband providers haven’t attempted to block content or competitors since the FCC repealed net neutrality. But social media, app stores and cloud providers, which were never subject to the rules, all have engaged in censorship repeatedly in recent weeks. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal 

US Gun Sales Surged 60% in January – U.S. gun sales in January surged 60% to 4,137,480. This makes it the largest single month since figures started to be recorded in 1998.

The rise is part of a trend. The sales total in the United States rose 40% last year to 39,695,315. The figure also represents the high water mark in gun sales since the current record-keeping system went into effect. Increases by state in January varied substantially, as has been the case for years.

Who bought these guns? CBS News pointed out that over 5 million people were first-time gun buyers last year. CNN reported a sharp rise in sales to Black Americans and women. “Sales to women are also up 40% through September when compared with the same period last year,” the news network pointed out.

The January increase should not be taken as unusual, nor should the rise in gun sales from 2019 to 2020 be viewed as an anomaly. The number of gun sales has increased most years since 1999. Sales first topped 25 million in 2016, 20 million in 2013, 15 million in 2011 and 10 million in 2006. The first full year the FBI kept data was 1999, when total sales were 9,138,123. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Could the immune system be key to Alzheimer’s disease? – For nearly 30 years, the hunt for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease has focused on a protein called beta-amyloid. Amyloid, the hypothesis goes, builds up inside the brain to bring about this memory-robbing disorder, which afflicts some 47 million people worldwide.

Billions of dollars have poured into developing therapies aimed at reducing amyloid — thus far, to no avail. Trials of anti-amyloid treatments have repeatedly failed to help patients, sparking a reckoning among the field’s leaders.

All along, some researchers have toiled in the relative shadows, developing potential strategies that target other aspects of cells that go awry in Alzheimer’s: molecular pathways that regulate energy production, or clean up cellular debris, or regulate the flow of calcium, an ion critical to nerve cell function. And increasingly, some of these scientists have focused on what they suspect may be another, more central factor in Alzheimer’s and other dementias: dysfunction of the immune system.

…But over the past decade, the immune system connection to Alzheimer’s has become clearer. In several massive studies that analyzed the genomes of tens of thousands of people, many DNA variants that were linked to heightened Alzheimer’s risk turned out to be in genes involved in immunity — specifically, a branch of the body’s defenses known as the innate immune system. This branch attacks viruses, bacteria and other invaders quickly and indiscriminately. It works, in part, by triggering inflammation.

A further connection between inflammation and Alzheimer’s turned up in March 2020, in an analysis of electronic health records from 56 million patients, including about 1.6 million with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and other inflammatory diseases. When researchers searched those records for Alzheimer’s diagnoses, they found that patients taking drugs that block a key molecular trigger of inflammation, called tumor necrosis factor (TNF), have about 50 to 70 percent lower odds of having an Alzheimer’s diagnosis than patients who were prescribed those drugs but did not take them. Read More > at Knowable Magazine  

Pair of wolves move to California, adding to the state’s low wolf population – A lone male wolf from Oregon known as OR-85 made its trek to Siskiyou County, the northernmost part of California, last November, according to reports.

However, he is no longer alone.

Another wolf, whom biologists believe most likely to be a female, has since paired up with OR-85 and the pair have made Siskiyou their new home, as reported by the Mount Shasta Herald.

Kent Laudon, a wolf specialist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, is in charge of determining the sex of the second wolf by any means necessary. This process includes collecting samples of the wolf’s feces, urine and fur to be genetically tested and examined, the Mount Shasta Herald reported.

Such seemingly extreme tactics are necessary in order to keep track of the potential growth of a new wolf pack and of the state’s wolf population, which could create issues with ranchers and endanger their livestock. Read More > at SFGate

Why Did the Pandemic Drive People to Purchase Tons of Toilet Paper? – According to a subsequent survey, 17.2% of North Americans and 13.7% of Europeans admitted to hoarding toilet paper during the mayhem.

Exactly why so many people chose to prodigiously stock up on toilet paper has been a focus of scientific study over the past months. Last Friday, a team of Spanish researchers published a systematic review in the journal PeerJ synthesizing the available research. They turned up a few potential reasons, some more likely than others.

The first explanation for the buying spree is simple and practical: people were having more gastrointestinal symptoms and diarrhea, perhaps induced by stress, or possibly caused by the coronavirus, itself. Studies suggest that roughly 12-13% of those afflicted with COVID-19 report significant diarrhea. However, the researchers consider this explanation unlikely, writing, “The relatively low proportion of diarrhea found in people with COVID-19 infection does not seem to justify the global trends in shopping for toilet paper.”

A second, more likely explanation for the run on toilet paper is that it was a bit of a mirage. Shoppers stocked up on all sorts of necessities as COVID-19 triggered lockdowns around the globe, but while items like canned goods and cleaning supplies were more readily restocked on store shelves, toilet paper was not. Supply chains simply weren’t prepared for millions of people to be stuck at home, clamoring for residential-quality toilet paper. But then thousands of people noticed those empty toilet paper shelves and shared the phenomenon on social media, transforming toilet paper buying patterns that were in line with those seen for other sought-after goods into a frenzy, thus initiating hoarding behavior and driving a real, albeit temporary, shortage of toilet paper. Read More > at Real Clear Science 

Is ‘Latinx’ here to stay?: Why the term is growing in popularity, but not among all Latinos -Last summer, Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, posed a question on Twitter: “Does it seem like non-Latinos use Latinx far more than actual Latinos?”

A debate on Gonzalez’s Twitter thread followed.

Spanish-language loyalists criticized the gender inclusive label for its attempt to change a language that consists of masculine and feminine nouns. Defenders called it a non-binary and inclusive label that acknowledges Latinas and LGBTQ Latinos.

What’s clear is that the label has risen in popularity on the internet in the last five years, reaching its peak on Google Trends in September 2020, a month before the presidential election.

But a 2020 Pew Research Center study, finds that only a quarter of Latinos in the U.S. have heard the term — and only 3% use it. Instead, the study shows, Latino communities would rather be referred to by their country of origin, such as Mexican, Honduran or Cuban.

The term is embraced by younger Latinos, liberal Democrats and the LGBTQ community and its allies, including Gov. Gavin Newsom. It tends to be shunned by many native Spanish speakers and older, working-class Latinos. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Housing crisis hasn’t gone away – A year ago, California’s most pressing political issue was, by common consent, a housing crisis.

Despite declining population growth, California had for years been falling short of building enough housing to meet demand, especially from low- and moderate-income families.

The state had set ambitious housing goals approaching 200,000 new units a year, but actual construction had been just half of that at best, with net increases even lower. In 2018, for instance, there were 117,000 units of construction, but the net gain was just 78,000 because of losses to old age, fires and other causes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom devoted most of his entire State of the State address last February to the housing crisis, particularly homelessness, and legislative leaders pledged to make housing their highest priority.

…The new “regional housing needs assessments” were a shock to local governments, particularly those in major metropolitan areas, because they were much higher, sometimes twice as high, as previous goals. They also contained, for the first time, some enforcement mechanisms.

Their underlying aim is to jolt local officials into resisting their consituents’ opposition to new housing, especially in upscale communities where the not-in-my-backyard syndrome is fierce. That also was the thrust of last year’s failed legislation allowing multi-family projects in single-family neighborhoods.

The new housing goals, not surprisingly, have met opposition in affluent suburban bedroom communities with Marin County an obvious example. Read More > at CalMatters

Remotely Competitive – After decades of expert predictions that technological change would reshape the nature of employment, in just ten months the Covid-19 economic shutdowns have made full-time corporate employment from home a reality for tens of millions of American workers. Just how many of these workers will remain employed at home after the pandemic ends remains an open question, but it’s clear that many workers have become convinced that there’s little reason to go back to the old model of everyone in the office all the time. In a Gallup poll in the initial stages of the shutdown last April, 46 percent of workers said that they were working full-time out of their homes. Millions have since gone back to the office, but 33 percent of respondents told Gallup that they were still working from home last fall. More to the point, about a third of all those who worked remotely told Gallup that they would like to do so permanently, even after the pandemic. In another poll, taken by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, 29 percent of workers said that they wanted to work permanently from home.

Many of their bosses agree. Fewer than one in five executives recently told PricewaterhouseCoopers that they want to return to pre-pandemic office arrangements. Others said that they expect to have employees working from home at least several days a week. But 13 percent of executives went further: they are ready to ditch the office completely. Behind their attitude is the growing success of remote work. Some 83 percent of executives surveyed said that the shift to at-home work had been successful. More than half claimed productivity had improved. And seven in ten said that their companies would be investing more in tools to support remote work.

The implications for office space in major cities are enormous. In markets like San Francisco and New York, as few as 15 percent of workers have returned to offices. While return rates are higher in markets like Dallas, among big cities nationally the average occupancy rate for offices remains only about 30 percent. The pandemic has begun crushing real estate markets, as firms delay or cancel plans for new space. The official vacancy rate for Manhattan’s office market, for instance, rose to about 15 percent at the end of 2020, up from 10 percent a year ago, though much of the officially “occupied” space is actually empty. Places as different from one another as Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Boston have all seen vacancy rates rise as office leases expire and tenants decide not to renew, or to reduce their space. Read More > at City Journal

Mark Zuckerberg Is Worried Apple’s Privacy Changes Could Be the End of Facebook – During Facebook’s earnings call, the company’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, made a point of talking about the risk Apple’s upcoming iOS 14 changes pose to Facebook’s business. Those changes will require apps to ask permission before they are able to track users across apps and the internet. 

For Facebook, a company whose entire business model is built on the ability to track users, collect their data, and then sell targeted ads based on all of that information, losing the ability to track users could be a real problem. The thing is, Apple isn’t stopping any app from tracking any user. It’s only requiring that apps ask permission first. The only way an app won’t be able to track a user is if that user says “please don’t track me.” 

That seems pretty reasonable. If people don’t want to be tracked online, it seems reasonable that apps shouldn’t track them. Apple is just adding transparency to that interaction and allowing users the choice. 

Clearly, Facebook doesn’t see it that way. Read More > at Inc.

What’s Driving California’s Mass Exodus? – As Oracle, Palantir and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise move their headquarters out of California and Elon Musk moves to Texas, California is considering raising taxes on the wealthy to unprecedented levels. Experts say California needs to find more ways to reverse the trend. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

Defunding the police: Oakland, Berkeley could be test cases for Bay Area, nation – Oakland and Berkeley have set themselves on a path to fundamentally rethink the police. The question now is whether they can deliver.

Cities that vow to quickly chop law enforcement budgets will come under scrutiny. In wanting to be leaders, they will confront powerful police unions that tend to land the best municipal labor contracts. They will weigh the public’s appetite for a different version of public safety and test politicians’ willingness to start a process that may take years.

But as the cities look to slash police funding in half — cuts that would amount to $150 million in Oakland and about $36 million in Berkeley — they face obstacles that range from collective bargaining agreements and peculiar tax issues to tense debates among various camps.

Oakland City Council is set to discuss several proposals Tuesday, including removing police from special event security. Voters approved a parcel tax in 2014 that the city can collect only if it maintains a force of 678 officers. Under the terms, Oakland has to reach a threshold of 800 officers before it can lay anyone off. The city currently has 732 officers.

…Oakland Police respond to more than 2,000 calls for service each day, all from “individual people who need help.”

And in Berkeley, advocates against drunk driving initially pushed back against a measure to steer police away from traffic enforcement. The opponents said it would undo years of progress to discourage people from driving under the influence.

Even as cities just peek over the cliff’s edge, it’s already clear that policing as an institution is deeply embedded in our society and our psyche. Unraveling it could be an extraordinarily complex endeavor. Skeptics wonder, for example, whether a motorist with a broken tail light would obey commands from an unarmed person in an orange vest.

…However, it’s still unclear whether defunding police will appeal to a much larger audience, especially in Oakland, which as of 2018 had the nation’s highest rate of violent crimes per officer. Mayor Libby Schaaf ran her 2014 campaign on a promise to boost the force to 800 officers, an issue that won votes in the affluent hills and seemed to resonate with some residents of the lower-income flatlands.

“Everyone is saying, ‘Let’s defund, defund, defund,’ and I’m saying, ‘No, let’s reform,’” said Preston Turner, a longtime resident of the Melrose neighborhood in East Oakland and member of the neighborhood crime prevention council. He empathizes with victims of police violence but also relies on police — auto burglaries are pervasive in the Melrose and reckless drivers speed down its main arteries, High Street and Foothill Boulevard. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

California’s Unemployment System Still Unfit a Year Later – Nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, California’s beleaguered unemployment benefits system remains mired in dysfunction, leaving many jobless workers in dire straits after their efforts to receive financial assistance have been stymied by jammed phone lines, overwhelmed staff and failed technology.

Millions of out-of-work Californians are still waiting for money they desperately need to feed and clothe their families and avoid ending up on the streets. Payments have instead gone to fulfill fraudulent claims filed in the names of prison inmates, infants, retirees and people living in other states, with a deluge of applications for benefits coming from criminal gangs operating in Russia, China and Nigeria.

Adding insult to injury, state officials acknowledged this week that more than $11 billion in benefits were paid on fraudulent claims during the last year — some 10 percent of all money paid — and another $19 billion is under investigation for potential fraud.

Now, two new state audits have confirmed what many lawmakers feared was true: The state Employment Development Department failed to prepare for the unprecedented flood of unemployment claims during the pandemic, neglected to fix problems officials identified more than a decade ago during the Great Recession and all but ignored warnings of widespread fraud for months. Read More > at Governing

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Updated: Safest States During COVID-19 – WalletHub Study

With only 2% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of February 3, and vaccination being an essential component for full reopening of the economy, WalletHub today released its report on the Safest States During COVID-19, along with accompanying videos and audio files

In order to find out the safest states during the COVID-19 pandemic, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across five key metrics. Our data set includes the rates of COVID-19 transmission, positive testing, hospitalizations and death, as well as the share of the eligible population getting vaccinated. Below, you can see highlights from the report, along with a WalletHub Q&A.

California’s Safety During Coronavirus (1=Best; 25=Avg.):

  • 34th – Vaccination Rate
  • 32nd – Positive Testing Rate
  • 46th – Hospitalization Rate
  • 46th – Death Rate
  • 2nd – Transmission Rate

Note: Rankings are based on data available as of 12:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, February 3, 2021.

To view the full report and your state’s rank, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/safest-states-during-covid/86567

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Connecting Underserved Communities to the Outdoors

California State Parks is seeking public feedback on draft guidelines for $19 million in outdoor program grants to create new or expand access to outdoor programs in underserved communities. Input from the public will help State Parks establish a new grant program – the Outdoor Equity Grant Program – in support of providing equitable access to all Californians. 

This competitive grant program, made possible through Assembly Bill 209 (Limón), will increase the ability of residents in underserved communities – with an emphasis on students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, foster youth, and students of limited English proficiency – to participate in outdoor experiences at state parks and other public lands. The program’s focus is on funding transportation, logistics, program operations, and capacity costs associated with reaching historically underserved urban and rural communities throughout California. 

The draft guidelines and public meeting information are available on the Outdoor Equity Grant Program webpage. Comments must be emailed to Richard Rendon via email at Richard.Rendon@parks.ca.gov by 5 p.m. (PST) on Feb. 22, 2021.

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When Can I Get Vaccinated?

For Contra Costa residents

COVID-19 vaccine is in short supply. The government has guidelines to make sure these people get the vaccine first:

  • People at high risk because of their work
  • People at high risk of serious complications from a COVID-19 infection

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Phases

Click here to learn more about the vaccine distribution phases. Please note that the timing is estimated and subject to change. 

Vaccine Appointments for Residents 65-74: click to request an appointment 

Vacunación para los Residentes de 65 a 74 Años de Edad: formulario en línea

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Court of Appeal Affirms Two-Thirds Majority Not Required for Voter-Led Special Tax Initiatives

The California First District Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court ruling that special taxes do not require a two-thirds majority to pass when they’ve been placed on the ballot through a voter’s initiative.

The original decision was handed down last year by the Court of Appeal in San Francisco. In City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C, the court held that a two-thirds voting majority is only necessary for special tax initiatives put forth by governments. In the case of a special tax measure proposed by voters, a simple majority will suffice.

This is the third time an appellate court has held that special taxes brought by a voter’s initiative require a simple majority. Cities, counties, and other jurisdictions are likely to see an increase in voter-led special tax initiatives as a result.

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Report card: How we graded every city, county in California on meeting RHNA housing permit goals – Orange County Register

Every city and county in California is required to plan for adequate housing across income levels. But how many actually issue enough permits to meet their state-mandated construction goals?

For the second year, the Southern California News Group has created a report card to show how every jurisdiction in the state is doing.

Through a process called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA (pronounced “reena”), cities and counties are given goals every five or eight years for how much housing they need to add that would be affordable to residents in four categories:

  • Very low income (0-50% of area median income)
  • Low income (51-80% of area median income)
  • Moderate income (81-120% of area median income)
  • Above moderate income (120+% of area median income)

They’re supposed to file progress reports annually to California’s housing department — though not all do. Data from 2019’s progress reports, which the state released in October 2020, is the basis for SCNG’s latest report card.

Read More > in The OCR

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Attorney General Becerra Establishes Worker Rights and Fair Labor Section

The California Department of Justice has announced the establishment of a new bureau, new section and expansion of the Bureau of Medicaid Fraud and Elder Abuse.

Initially operating as a bureau within the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, the establishment of the unit as a new section will expand DOJ’s capacity to protect the health, safety, and rights of workers.

Bureau of Disability Rights

This newly created bureau within the Civil Rights Section, will focus on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities through specific investigations and litigation. Additionally, broadening the scope of this section to work in other areas impacting person with disabilities; such as discrimination in education, healthcare, employment and access to public services. 

To learn more about the Bureau of Disability Rights; click here

Bureau of Medicaid Fraud and Elder Abuse

The Bureau of Medicaid Fraud and Elder Abuse has been expanded and will now be called the Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (DMFEA) to address the growing need in this area due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With increased enrollment and the impact of the pandemic on nursing homes, the new division will add needed resources to fight against fraud and abuse. 

To learn more about the Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse; click here.

 

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Rainfall Totals, in Oakley, for January 2021

Rainfall totals in Oakley for January 2021, from the unofficial Romick rain gauge, was 3.17″. A little over the average of 2.68″ putting us at just less than 65% of normal for the year.

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Sunday Reading – 01/31/2021

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

Making America California – As the Biden administration settles in and begins to formulate its agenda, progressive pundits, politicians, and activists point to California as a role model for national policy. If the administration listens to them, it would prove a disaster for America’s already-beleaguered middle and working classes.

Biden, suggests an ecstatic account in the Los Angeles Times, seeks to “make America California again,” and he will have plenty of help. Californians will run Health and Human Services, the Treasury, Homeland Security, and Energy. Former California senator Kamala Harris is vice president, and San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi rules the House of Representatives. Progressives like Laura Tyson and Lenny Mendonca see the shift as embracing “California’s distinctive approach to market capitalism.” The Golden State, they insist, can “show the way forward” toward a more socially just future.

As a California resident for nearly half a century, I wonder if these worthies see the same state I do. California has its wonderful spots, great neighborhoods, beautiful vistas, amazing entrepreneurs, and great amenities, but it makes a poor advertisement for social democracy. It suffers the nation’s highest poverty rate and presents the widest gap between middle- and upper-middle income earners of any state. Minorities—notably African-Americans and Latinos—do worse in California’s metros than elsewhere in the country, according to a recent study that we conducted at the Urban Reform Institute. In Atlanta, African-American median incomes, adjusted for costs, are almost double those in San Francisco and Los Angeles; Latinos earn $20,000 more in midwestern and southern cities than in the enlightened metros along the California coast.

…The embrace of California as a model, particularly of social justice, seems badly timed. The current “boom,” centered on a handful of social media and consumer service firms, is creating nothing like the middle- and working-class prosperity of the past. More important may be the demographic evidence: for the first time in its modern history, California is losing population, not just from out-migration but from a stunning reduction of in-migration of young families and immigrants, even before the pandemic. Once the land of youth, California is now aging 50 percent faster than the rest of country, notes demographer Wendell Cox, according to the American Community Survey. Read More > at City Journal

Some Silicon Valley donors’ next political fight? Trying to oust California’s governor. -Some major Silicon Valley donors are mobilizing behind a plan to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom, using their money to turn what was a quixotic attempt into a looming political threat to Newsom’s career.

In recent weeks, leading tech figures have started flexing their political muscle by funding Rescue California, a group financing the effort to collect enough signatures to force a recall vote later this year. The stature of Newsom, once a mayor of San Francisco and a favorite of the tech industry, has fallen in the eyes of some as California’s vaccine rollout has lagged the rest of the nation. And the recall appears increasingly likely to at least qualify for the ballot, though Newsom’s opponents aren’t yet known.

To be sure, Newsom remains liked by many tech industry leaders. But now, some people from that same industry are proving to be a political thorn — with some supporters even turning on him. Read More > at Recode

Recalling a California governor, explained – “Recall Gavin Newsom” signs are popping up around California. At shopping centers and street protests, people fed up with the Democratic governor are asking voters to sign petitions. What began as a far-fetched effort by Republican activists has turned into a credible campaign attempting to throw Newsom out of office.

It’s hard to fathom in this deep blue state where Newsom clobbered his 2018 GOP opponent and, according to polls, remains popular with a strong majority of voters. But the coronavirus pandemic shifted California’s political landscape in two significant ways: It prompted a judge to give recall supporters more time to collect signatures — keeping their campaign alive long enough to gain momentum — and it led Newsom to enact a slew of new restrictions to curb the spread of the virus that have frustrated some Californians and energized recall backers. 

The recall petition doesn’t say a word about the pandemic — it was written before the virus upended normal life. But it gained a surge of signatures after news broke in November that a maskless Newsom joined lobbyists for a dinner party at the posh French Laundry restaurant, even though he was telling Californians to mask up and avoid socializing. The count has grown as the state’s unemployment system paid out billions to fraudsters, and its chaotic COVID vaccine distribution has left people scrambling for shots. With many schools, churches and businesses closed by Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, the recall that began as a conservative rebuke of his progressive policies has morphed into a referendum on his pandemic response.  

So is it election year again in California? Will you be asked to toss a governor just a year shy of the end of his term? It’s certainly possible. Recall supporters say they’ve collected most of the signatures necessary to get it on the ballot. Here’s everything you need to know about recall elections in the Golden State. Read More > at CalMatters

Billionaire VC Chamath Palihapitiya Announces Gubernatorial Run – Social Capital CEO, Golden State Warriors board member Chamath Palihapitiya is banking on a successful recall of Governor Newsom. With a possible or even probable recall of Gavin Newsom happening this year, there are rumored replacement candidates, and a few confirmed.

On Tuesday, venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya announced his run for Governor.

Palihapitiya, who is also the CEO of the VC firm Social Capital, announced the run following more high profile entrants such as former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and 2018 Republican candidate for Governor John Cox announcing exploratory committees in the last few months.

Palihapitiya is running for office both due to the growing effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom and because of many major Californian issues falling in-line with Palihapitiya’s political beliefs. His platform, released earlier this week, is a mix of fiscally conservative and socially liberal stances. He wants state tax to be reduced from 16% to 0%, but also favors student loan removal, $70,000 base salary for public school teachers, $2,000 given for each child born in California, and a focus on tech and environmental jobs.

However, despite his announcement, many political experts say that he has a long road ahead of him. Read More > at California Globe 

Two audits tell story – The extent to which California’s unemployment department has failed to address rampant fraud came into clearer focus on Thursday, when the state auditor released her second report of the week on the Employment Development Department.

Despite repeated warnings from federal authorities that fraudsters would target California, EDD waited six months and processed 7.4 million claims before it began flagging addresses with unusually high numbers of claims, the audit found. In “the most egregious example,” more than 1,700 claims came from a single address. EDD also paid $10.4 billion to claimants with unverified identities and $810 million to prison inmates. State labor officials confirmed this week the total fraud could reach $31 billion.

Among State Auditor Elaine Howle’s other findings:

  • EDD ordered Bank of America to freeze 334,000 debit cards due to fraud concerns — but EDD doesn’t know which accounts were frozen or which need to be unfrozen.
  • EDD doesn’t monitor or assess its fraud prevention tools to determine whether they’re successful.
  • EDD in September implemented ID.me, a new identity-verification tool, to speed up processing times — but the department requires claimants to verify their identities again after going through ID.me, delaying processing times.
  • EDD had 77,000 unresolved identity-fraud complaints as of November.

Citing EDD’s “uninformed and disjointed techniques” for preventing fraud, Howle recommended the department set up by March a central fraud unit and develop a plan by May to assess its fraud prevention tools. EDD said it would implement the recommendations — but the department hasn’t always made good on its promises. The audit Howle released Tuesday found EDD has failed to address key operational issues it’s known about for more than a decade.

EDD said Thursday it has cleared 99.9% of the backlog of 1.6 million claims first identified in September. But a new backlog has been growing in the meantime — and it reached 974,693 claims on Thursday, the highest total in months. When added to the 1.4 million claims EDD is re-verifying due to potential fraud, that makes for a functional backlog of around 2.4 million claims. Read More > at CalMatters

Chemists are reimagining recycling to keep plastics out of landfills – With plastic collecting everywhere from the top of Mount Everest to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, there’s an urgent need to reduce the amount of plastic that gets thrown away (SN: 1/16/21, p. 5). Some people propose replacing plastics with biodegradable materials, but those replacements are generally not as strong or cheap to make as plastics (SN: 6/22/19, p. 18). Since, realistically, plastic is not going away any time soon, chemists who understand the ins and outs of all this pesky plastic are working to make it easier to recycle and turn into higher-quality material that’s useful for more things.

“There’s not going to be a single technology that’s going to be the answer,” says Ed Daniels, senior project manager at the REMADE Institute in West Henrietta, N.Y., which funds research into new recycling techniques. Some projects are on the brink of breaking into industry; others are still just promising lab experiments. But all are focused on designing a future where any plastic that ends up in the recycling bin can have a second and third life in a new product.

One of the biggest bottlenecks in plastic recycling is that every material has to get processed separately. “Most plastics are like oil and water,” says chemist Geoffrey Coates of Cornell University. They just don’t mix. Take, for example, a polyethylene detergent jug and its polypropylene cap. “If you melt those down, and I make a bottle out of that, and I squeeze it, it would basically crack down the side,” Coates says. “It’s crazy brittle. Totally worthless.”

…There are a couple major issues with how recycling currently works that severely limit the usability of recycled materials.

For one thing, recycled plastics inherit all the dyes, flame retardants and other additives that gave each original plastic piece its distinctive look and feel. “The plastic that you actually recover at the end of all this is really a very complex mixture,” says chemist Susannah Scott of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Few manufacturers can use plastic with a random mishmash of properties to make something new.

Plus, recycling breaks some of the chemical bonds in plastic molecules, affecting the strength and consistency of the material. Melting down and remolding plastic is sort of like reheating pizza in the microwave — you get out basically what you put in, just not as good. That limits the number of times plastic can be recycled before it has to be landfilled.

The solution to both problems could lie in a new kind of recycling process, called chemical recycling, which promises to make pure new plastic an infinite number of times. Chemical recycling involves taking plastics apart on the molecular level. Read More > at ScienceNews

GameStop rally is warning that market bubbles have gone mad – GameStop is a video game retailer that has been priced at about $3 to $10 a share for much of the year. But in the past few days, individual investors have driven the share price above $300.

Many of these buyers are using Robinhood, an app that lets anyone trade stocks without a commission. Because of the pandemic, people have plenty of time on their hands, and are looking to make cash, and it’s fueled a spectacular rise in individual day trading.

Why are they buying ­GameStop? Well, some of the commentators on ­“WallStreetBets,” the Reddit ­message board driving the frenzy, believe it’s a good company.

But mostly they’re out to hurt the big guys.

Hedge funds love shorting stocks, a trading technique where you make money when stock prices go down. Companies often go belly up amid short selling “bear raids.” That’s why small investors hate hedge funds so much.

When word spread among Robinhood traders that GameStop was heavily shorted by the big guys, the tables were turned into a bull raid. They drove up the price, and all those bets that GameStop would decline in value failed. A “short squeeze” was on at a level sophisticated market players hadn’t seen in years.

At least one big hedge fund, Melvin Capital, needed a bailout as prices of GameStop spiked a gazillion percent in a matter of days. My trading sources say there will likely be other big players seeking money to stay alive.

Delicious, right? For those who think — not unwarrantedly — that the market is rigged against them, the Robinhood revolt is a wonderful bit of schadenfreude.

But nothing has changed about GameStop’s business. It’s still primarily a brick-and-mortar retailer in an electronic world. It’s certainly not worth $300 a share. So while Robinhood buyers who got in early made a good bit of money — at least on paper — the bubble will eventually burst, and the shares will likely fall back to earth again.

The problem is that GameStop isn’t the only stock this is happening to. Blackberry, makers of the handheld device you no longer use, and AMC, owners of movie theaters you no longer go to, are also looking like Apple on steroids. Read More > in the New York Post

Breaking down Reddit’s battle over GameStop’s stock – I get it, the story of how Redditors banded together to increase the value of GameStop’s stock is confusing. So we tapped business journalist Mike Futter, author of the GameDev Business Handbook and co-host of the Virtual Economy Podcast, to help us break everything down on the Engadget Podcast. He explains exactly how a bunch of day traders were able to influence GameStop’s market value, and force hedge funds to take a major loss. Also, we chat with a member of R/Wallstreetbets, the forum where this fiasco kicked off, for some useful on the ground context. Read More > at Engadget

Long-term study reveals harm in regular cannabis use – Regular cannabis use has harmful effects regardless of the age a person starts using, a University of Queensland-led study has found.

The study examined people who began regular cannabis use in  or in their early 20s, and compared both with non-users.

Lead author Dr. Gary Chan from UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research said the results linked regular cannabis use with negative life outcomes by age 35.

“Compared to non-users, regular cannabis users were more likely to engage in high-risk alcohol consumption, smoke tobacco, use other  and not be in a relationship at age 35,” Dr. Chan said.

“These outcomes were more common among those who started using cannabis regularly in adolescence.

“They were also at higher risk of depression and less likely to have a paid job.

“Overall, regular use of cannabis—more than weekly and especially daily use—was found to have harmful consequences, regardless of the age people began using it.”

The research project followed 1792 Australian high school students aged 15 in 1992, investigating patterns of cannabis use across 20 years. Read More > at Medical Xpress 

Gemologist cracks open rock and finds a familiar face – It may be the most intriguing geology discovery in centuries – at least to the general public. Gemologist Lucas Fassari found an agate stone in the Rio Grande do Sul region of Brazil that, once cracked open, had an unmistakable appearance:

Geologist Mike Bowers originally posted a video of cracking open the rock to the tune of Cookie Monster’s Sesame Street classic song, “C is for Cookie.” The video was shared thousands of times before it was muted to comply with licensing requirements. Read More > at Disrn

Done with Facebook? How to transfer your photos and videos before you ditch your account – Are you thinking about breaking up with Facebook? You’re not alone. Many people are fed up with Facebook’s policies along with the site’s pervasive data collection and tracking that doesn’t seem to stop.

You can take control back even if you want to stay with the site. Tap or click here for 10 critical Facebook privacy and security settings you need to change right now.

Facebook makes its money by selling your data to third-party companies. They make a ton of money in targeted advertising. Tap or click here to adjust the ad tracking that happens to you on and off Facebook.

Make sure you have your Facebook password on hand before you start – you’ll be asked to input it during the process. Then, follow the instructions below:

• Log in to Facebook.com or open the Facebook mobile app.

• Click the downward arrow in the top-right corner (web) or the three-line menu at the bottom of the screen (mobile).

• Select Settings & Privacy.

• Click Settings.

• Scroll down to the Your Facebook Information section.

• Click Transfer a Copy of Your Photos or Videos. You may need to reenter your password.

• Click the arrow next to Choose Destination and select Dropbox from the dropdown menu.

• Choose whether you want to export your photos or your videos and click Next.

• Sign in to your Dropbox account and allow Facebook Data Transfer to access your Dropbox account.

• Click Confirm Transfer.

All the photos or videos you’ve uploaded to Facebook will be transferred to Dropbox. You can monitor progress on the “Transfer a Copy of Your Photos and Videos” page of your Facebook settings, and Facebook will send you a notification when the transfer is complete. Read More > at USA Today

MLB Steroid-Era Players Like Barry Bonds Face Reckoning in Next Year’s Hall-of-Fame Vote – When the late Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run to break Babe Ruth’s record, he weighed no more than 190 pounds soaking wet.

When Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s record decades later in 2007 to become baseball’s new home run king, he outweighed him by more than 50 pounds.

But the biggest difference between the two sluggers wasn’t their weight … it was what they did to put it on.

Aaron, who is still MLB’s all-time leader in RBI and total bases, didn’t take steroids. Bonds, who admitted as such in court testimony, did.

Next year, we’ll find out if that is enough to keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame, at least as far as the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) is concerned.

Bonds (61.8 percent), along with fellow assumed steroid users Roger Clemens (61.6 percent) and Sammy Sosa (17 percent), is entering his 10th and final year on the BBWAA’s ballot after failing to get 75 percent of the vote on the 2021 ballot. And if he isn’t voted into the Hall in 2022, the only way he’ll end up in Cooperstown is if the Eras Committee — formerly known as the Veterans Committee —  puts him in. Read More > at Inside Hook

Where Now Grizzly Bear? – …The population of grizzlies in southern British Columbia has been going up over the past few decades, he says, after we spent the previous two centuries trying to annihilate them.

“We’re getting more and more bears on the coast and more and more generally throughout the southern part of the province,” McLellan says. Five of the six populations he’s been monitoring are stable or increasing with annual rates up to seven percent, although one is in slow decline. This represents a remarkable turnaround.

To understand what’s happening today, it’s important to know that by the end of the 20th century we had eradicated grizzlies from over half of their historical range. In western North America, early European settlers identified grizzlies as threats to their livestock and agricultural crops. They also feared them as threats to human safety. For these reasons, settlers vigorously pursued and destroyed grizzlies. In British Columbia, the government paid bounties for their hides. When, as a society, we finally stopped shooting them on sight, McLellan says, the populations got a chance to recover. A recovering grizzly population means more young males—and they are programmed to disperse. In British Columbia, some head north along the coast, some go east into the interior, and a few head west, swimming to Vancouver Island and smaller coastal islands. Coastal grizzlies can range for hundreds of square kilometers, depending on the habitat. The fact that they’re reclaiming habitat—and showing up in places we’ve never seen them before—should come as no surprise.

Grizzlies are a subspecies of brown bears (U. arctos), a species that once roamed across much of the northern hemisphere. In North America, the historical range of brown bears stretched from the north coast of Alaska, where they still roam, to the northern half of Mexico, where they’ve long been extinct. Brown bears have thrived in a wide variety of environments, from alpine and tundra to grasslands, forests, and deserts. Although classed in the order Carnivora, brown bears are omnivores that take advantage of whatever food is available. In fact, they mostly eat plants. Like us, their adaptability to landscape and diet helps them succeed.

North America has almost 60,000 brown bears, or grizzlies; approximately 54 percent live in Alaska and 25 percent live in British Columbia. South of the Canada-US border, they are also expanding their numbers and range. Montana and Wyoming are seeing an increase in grizzly densities of around three percent per year. Today, there are somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 grizzlies in the contiguous United States. There is growing support for (as well as opposition to) reintroducing them in several western states, including California, which still prominently features a brown bear on its flag despite the fact that they were hunted to extinction in that state. The last reported sighting of a California brown bear was in 1924.  Read More > at Hakai Magazine 

Why ‘Just Follow the Science’ Won’t Solve All Our Problems – First, statistics don’t interpret themselves. There are often multiple, competing explanations for the same result, and we are left to choose among them. Sometimes, in fact, the same data can even be used to support opposing positions—especially when there is a dispute about cause and effect (or about whether there is no cause or effect at all, but rather just correlation). A 2019 study showed that about 38 million Americans were living below the poverty line, an alarmingly high number. But a different study, produced at around the same time, indicated that if the poorest fifth of America’s population made up their own nation, it would be one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Is America an unconscionably cruel bastion of feudal inequality—or a beacon of prosperity where even the least fortunate live relatively comfortable lives? Both claims are supported by data.

Second, motivated reasoning and confirmation bias are powerful psychological forces, and they are difficult to overcome. To consider one especially controversial question by way of example: Is gender entirely a social construct? Both sides of this heated debate have assembled what amount to entire libraries of peer-reviewed sources and footnotes to support their position, and regard the other side as cultish peddlers of ideologically-driven pseudo-science. We may eventually come to a consensus on the gender question—as we did on how water becomes ice and how the Earth moves through space—but we’re not there now.

Third, efforts to address complex social problems will always come with tradeoffs. And people will disagree on how certain factors should be weighted, and on the moral basis for their consideration. A prime example here is the debate about whether anti-racism protests should have been permitted (let alone encouraged) during the summer or 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On one side were those who emphasized the plain fact that any large gathering of people offered an opportunity for the virus to spread. Others, including some public-health specialists, insisted that one must impute the (unmeasurable) benefit that a protest could achieve in regard to racial equality. The two sides may have agreed about the science, but they saw the tradeoffs very differently.

The upshot is this: When a topic has moral or ideological implications, people typically have an a priori point of view that they then use as an end point, at least on a subconscious level. They then go about gathering scientific evidence—eagerly including that which supports their view, while ignoring the rest. The aversion to hearing opposing viewpoints is strong. In fact, one recent study found that people will actually give up money to avoid exposing themselves to the other side of a debate—a response we might expect to see among strict religious followers seeking to avoid being required to attend another sect’s services. Perhaps, in certain ostensibly secular debates, science and faith aren’t nearly so distinct as we often like to think.

I’m not arguing that there’s no truth out there. For many issues, there is—although we could certainly do a better job of recognizing when we simply don’t know what that truth is yet… Read More > at Quillette 

Polar Bears Are Thriving: Go and See Them for Yourself! – It was in the early 1970s, while I was helping to found Greenpeace in Vancouver, Canada, that it became clear to wildlife biologists that polar bears were severely over-hunted in the Arctic. It had become easy to get there by aircraft, find an Inuit guide, and go home with a big rug to put in front of the fireplace. As a result of this knowledge, all the polar countries, including the U.S. and Canada, came together in 1973 and signed a treaty to end the unrestricted hunting of polar bears. At that time their numbers were estimated to be 6-10,000 animals. Today they are estimated to number between 26-58,000 with a median estimate of 39,000. The polar bear’s recovery is one of the most successful conservation efforts during the past century, yet the negative bemoaning continues, usually with a fundraising component.

They have been saying for decades the Arctic ice may be gone soon, making it impossible for polar bears to hunt seals in the winter and spring. True, the extent of summer ice has diminished somewhat, but polar bears don’t hunt seals in summer. And more open ocean in the Arctic summer means more productivity in the sea, from the plankton at the bottom of the food chain to the krill, fish, and seals that the bears depend on for their survival. The reduction in summer ice may indeed be part of the reason why the polar bear population has grown so large and why they are generally fat and happy today. The winter and spring ice show no sign of diminishing, so the bears my well be in for an abundant coming century.

Canada has close to one-third of the polar bears in the Arctic, mainly around the Arctic Islands and other treeless regions in the northeastern territory of Nunavut. The capital of Nunavut is Iqaluit on the southern tip of Baffin Island, where sits the Nunavut territorial government of the Inuit population of about 65,000. Most of the Inuit live year-round in small remote coastal villages. Due to the growing polar bear population, there have recently been more encounters between Inuit and bears, some of which have been fatal for the humans. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

California public schools suffer record enrollment drop – California’s K-12 public-school enrollment has precipitously declined during the pandemic, dropping by a record 155,000 students, according to new state projections. 

That drop-off is about five times greater than California’s annual rate of enrollment decline in recent years. The state, which boasts the largest student enrollment in the country, has seen a steady decline of between 20,000 and 30,000 students in its public schools in the two years prior partly due to declining birth rates, and the state had predicted a similar rate of decline to continue. 

Absent more granular data, it is difficult to determine which grade levels, student groups and school districts have been most affected by the enrollment declines, and what the potential long-term impacts would be. The California Department of Education plans to publish more detailed enrollment data later this spring.

But the large drop in students nonetheless illustrates how the pandemic has upended California’s public school system of more than 1,000 school districts and its 6 million students. Read More > at CalMatters

Initial data for California confirm early grades, low-income children hit hardest by ‘learning loss’ – The first California study measuring declines in learning during the first months of the pandemic parallels findings nationally: There has been a significant drop in test results in the early grades, with low-income students and English learners showing the least progress in learning.

The university-based research organization PACE released the results Monday. While finding “substantial learning loss” overall in both English language arts and math, it said average numbers “mask the reality that some students in California are suffering much more during this time than are others.”

Over the course of a school year students are expected to learn new content and skills. Learning loss measures how much students fell short of the typical annual growth. The PACE study compares the fall 2020 scores with scores from fall 2019 of 50,000 students in grades 4 to 10 from 18 unnamed school districts in California. It measures what a typical year-to-year gain in tests aligned to the state’s academic standards would be compared with the results in the pandemic. Read More > at EdSource

Beer battle brewing over distribution – An under-the-radar tussle is shaping up in California over how beer is being brought to drinkers across the state.

The emerging beer battle pits small craft brewers against big distributors.

On one side are the small, family-owned brewers, who charge that the big distributors don’t want to bother with the relatively small volumes of craft brewers and would be delighted if the beer world was limited to the major brands distributed exclusively  by them, never mind small brewers distribution. The small brewers say they have resource and logistical problems in attempting to distribute their product as widely as large distributors can.

Small breweries can sell their product directly in California via “brew pubs,” owned and operated on-site,  but that is not the same as wide distribution to supermarkets and liquor stores.

Through 2019, there were 1,039 craft brewers in California, more than any other state. Individually, some may be modest in output, but collectively they have clout. According to pre-pandemic numbers, the craft brewers generated more than 61,300 jobs across California and contributed more than $9 billion to the state’s economy. 

“Large, out-of-state distributor corporations are forcing local, family-owned distributors out of business using unfair business practices, says Leesa Danzek, a spokeswoman for the newly formed California Family Beer Distributors. “Specifically, some of these companies are unfairly terminating contracts and forcing the sale of certain brands, threatening independent distributors and customers who rely on their experience for choice of product.” Read More > at Capitol Weekly 

San Francisco: Save the river you drink from – San Francisco rightly prides itself on being an environmental leader. Given this deep commitment to protecting the environment, the city’s water agency — the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission — should be a leader in smart, sustainable water policy. Unfortunately, that has not been the case…

San Francisco’s Bay-Delta ecosystem and the Central Valley rivers that feed it are in steep decline, suffering from unsustainable freshwater diversions and habitat destruction. The city gets its water from one of these rivers, the Tuolumne, which flows from Yosemite National Park to the bay.

Of all of the major rivers in the Bay-Delta watershed, San Francisco’s Tuolumne is among the worst off. Eighty percent of the Tuolumne’s flow is routinely diverted, and more than 90% in the worst years, leaving only a trickle in the river for fish and other wildlife in most years. Unsurprisingly, native fish on the Tuolumne have all but disappeared, including the salmon runs that sustain fishing industry jobs from Morro Bay to Fisherman’s Wharf and into Oregon. For San Franciscans, it is not acceptable that our river is among the most damaged in the state, undermining our credibility as an environmental leader.

The science is clear that the Tuolumne and its native fish and wildlife will never recover without leaving more water in the river. Other water agencies around the state have shown how San Francisco can thrive while taking less water from the Tuolumne by investing in smart, 21st century water tools like water recycling — tools that also improve our adaptation to climate change and resilience to drought, while protecting wildlife. But here again, the SFPUC lags far behind. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle 

Housing Prices Notch Record Gains on Continued Strong Demand – The red-hot housing market continues to chug along thanks to strong demand and a low supply of homes for sale, helping to fuel growth at some of the nation’s largest homebuilders.

According to figures released today, house prices rose 9.5% year over year in November, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index, and were up 8.4% from the previous month. Phoenix, Seattle, and San Diego were the strongest of the 20-city composite the index tracks, with each location recording price growth of more than 12%.

The year-over-year gain was one of the highest ever recorded in the 30-year history of the index.

Record-low mortgage prices are helping fuel demand for new houses. The price increases are being driven by strong demand for suburban homes, which S&P officials say could be the start of a trend or just a reaction to the pandemic. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Which Sounds Are the Most Annoying to Humans? – This is all to say that, when we are speaking about sounds, “annoying” is a subjective criteria. But there must be, one figures, some consensus on the subject. For this week’s Giz Asks we reached out to a number of sound-experts to find out what that might be.

Trevor Cox

Professor, Acoustic Engineering, University of Salford

People’s responses to sounds are learned; what’s most annoying to any given person can be highly individualized, and is intimately connected to circumstance. In general, though, the most annoying sounds are those that get in the way of whatever you’re trying to do. With everyone working at home right now, a neighbor’s DIY drilling might be the most annoying sound.

What can heighten annoyance is a lack of control. When your neighbors are throwing a party, the noise is annoying not only because it prevents you from sleeping but because you have no idea when it’s going to end. If you knew in advance when the party might end, the sound would likely be less disruptive.

Florian Hollerweger

Assistant Professor, Audio Arts and Acoustics, Columbia College Chicago

The most annoying sound for a human, as we all know, is the sound of chalkboard scraping. It’s terrible! Precisely why that is so remains a bit of a mystery and—I kid you not—the subject of ongoing psychoacoustic research. Even thinking about it (the sound, not the research) makes me cringe. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought back to the forefront many traditional contenders for the title of “most annoying sound.” Depending on your living circumstances, the sounds of your otherwise respected neighbors or housemates, for example, may well be much more annoying to you now than they were nine months ago. Read More > at Gizmodo 

Data remains murky – Monday was a day of coronavirus whiplash for many Californians as state health officials abruptly lifted the regional stay-at-home order and Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a major shift in the state’s vaccine plan.

All but four counties are now in the purple tier of California’s color-coded system, permitting restaurants and gyms to reopen outdoors and hair and nail salons to reopen indoors with modifications, CalMatters’ Lauren Hepler reports. Meanwhile, California will transition to an age-based vaccine priority system after it completes its current phase — raising questions about when people with underlying health conditions will be able to access the vaccine, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports. Officials will released more information about the new “single statewide standard” Tuesday.

Although Newsom emphasized Monday that the decision to lift the stay-at-home order was “data driven, scientifically based, not arbitrary,” confusion around the data remains. On Sunday, the state Department of Public Health said the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California regions would remain under the order because their projected ICU capacity in four weeks remained below 15%. But at 8 a.m. Monday, the department reversed course, predicting the three regions would by Feb. 21 have ICU capacities of 25%, 22.3% and 33.3%, respectively. How exactly these figures are calculated remains murky.

Adding to the back-and-forth, Newsom’s messaging was at times contradictory.

  • Newsom: “We’re seeing a flattening of the curve — everything that should be up is up and everything that should be down is down.”

But when citing California’s 7-day average of 504 deaths, Newsom said, “This is a sober reminder of how deadly this pandemic remains, more so now than ever.”

Though there are signs the winter surge is beginning to plateau, conditions in California are significantly worse than they were on Dec. 3, when Newsom first implemented the stay-at-home order. The state also predicts that Northern California’s 47.9% ICU capacity will fall dramatically to 18.9% by Feb. 21.

  • The California Nurses Association in a Monday statement: “There is a human cost to lifting stay-at-home orders too soon. Let’s be clear that even if numbers are ‘trending downward,’ we are still in the midst of the most deadly surge of COVID-19 yet.” Read More > at CalMatters

Did shutting down outdoor dining contribute to California’s COVID-19 surge? – Despite the ban, California has had one of the worst winter COVID-19 surges in the country, which begs the following question: Is it possible that shutting down outdoor dining made the state’s surge even worse?

Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at UCSF, believes it’s highly likely.

“We won’t be able to know the exact percentage it drove, but I would say closing outdoor dining certainly did not help and likely hindered efforts to avoid a surge,” she said. “It shut down in early December, and things did not get better from there; things actually got worse. Restrictions should be about understanding the human condition and keeping places that are safe open. Those of us who argue for a harm reduction approach have the same goal as the lockdownists: We want to reduce transmission, but we understand the human condition and the need to be with people.”

When announcing the new stay-at-home order, Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly were repeatedly asked to show evidence that outdoor dining contributes to the surge of COVID-19. They provided no such evidence and said that the new business closures were about sending a message to minimize mixing.

Gandhi’s “harm reduction” approach calls for recognizing that people are going to gather regardless of any decrees the state and counties might issue. In her view, officials should work to provide guidance on how to make activities as safe as possible.

“At this point in the pandemic, people will gather because they’re lonely,” she said. “We should have instead figured out how to mitigate risk instead of giving people an absolute no.” Read More > at SFGate 

AMC Bankruptcy ‘Off the Table’ for the Foreseeable Future – Movie theaters were once thought dead due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.

The company announced that since December 14, 2020, it has successfully raised or signed commitment letters to receive $917 million of new equity and debt capital. Management believes that this increased liquidity should allow the company to make it through this dark coronavirus-impacted winter.

As it stands now, management estimates that its financial runway has been extended deep into 2021. AMC also is presuming that it will continue to make progress in its ongoing dialogue with theater landlords about the amounts and timing of owed theater lease payments.

Again management indicated that, considering the push to vaccinate the general population, an increase in cinema attendance seems likely. However, the firm does note that there is still much uncertainty regarding COVID-19. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

How many early human species existed on Earth? – We Homo sapiens didn’t used to be alone. Long ago, there was a lot more human diversity; Homo sapiens lived alongside an estimated eight now-extinct species of human about 300,000 years ago. As recently as 15,000 years ago, we were sharing caves with another human species known as the Denisovans. And fossilized remains indicate an even higher number of early human species once populated Earth before our species came along.

“We have one human species right now, and historically, that’s really weird,” said Nick Longrich, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. “Not that far back, we weren’t that special, but now we’re the only ones left.”

So, how many early human species were there? 

“The number is mounting, and it’ll vary depending on whom you talk to,” said John Stewart, an evolutionary paleoecologist at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom. Some researchers argue that the species known as Homo erectus is in fact made up of several different species, including Homo georgicus and Homo ergaster. Read More > at Live Science

The Paris Agreement Won’t Help Our Country, or Planet – Actions speak louder than words. But my, how politicians love words. Especially when it comes to climate change.

For four years, the left has bemoaned the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. They’ve claimed it endanger[s] the future of our planet.” Supposedly, we were falling behind the rest of the world while the climate clock of doom ticked toward midnight.

The U.S. had the world’s largest energy-related emissions reductions in the year 2019, after the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Private companies, including big oil producers, have set their own net-zero emissions reduction goals and are making significant investments in clean energy, all without the U.S. being a part of the Paris Agreement. The country doesn’t need to sign a treaty, but it does need to keep making progress to reduce emissions.

Meanwhile, the developed nations that have stayed in the Paris Agreement are failing to meet their emissions goals. They are all talk, and no action on emissions.

Take China, for example. China emits more carbon dioxide than the U.S. and the European Union combined. But the rules of the Paris Agreement give it something even better than a free pass, allowing Beijing to increase its carbon emissions until the year 2030. And it faces no penalty if it fails to meet even that lowly commitment. No wonder China is building dirty energy plants at home while helping other countries do the same.

As for developing nations that signed Paris, some now admit that their greenhouse gases will continue to rise past their peak emissions target date of 2030. Read More > at Real Clear Energy 

‘On the cusp of great things’: Dozens of other COVID vaccines working their way to public – Move over, Pfizer and Moderna. You won’t be the only games in town too much longer.

COVID-19 has existed for barely more than a year, but 64 vaccines are in clinical development and another 173 in preclinical development worldwide nonetheless, according to the World Health Organization. Dozens of hopefuls are in clinical trials in the U.S., including several by California researchers.

But the two inching closest to the finish line here — by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — could win emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as soon as this spring, which would instantly increase supply and deliver a much-needed jolt to the nation’s maddeningly sluggish mass vaccination campaign.

The breakneck pace of scientific advancement over the past year — fueled by extraordinary cooperation between researchers worldwide, unprecedented financial investment from governments, and technology that harnesses the body’s own cellular factories to produce viral proteins, rather than manufacturing them in brick-and-mortar factories — promises an end to a deadly pandemic that has infected nearly 100 million people, killed more than 2 million and paralyzed much of the world.

On the near horizon: a COVID vaccine that can protect after just one shot, rather than two. Vaccines that can be stored in regular refrigerators rather than in expensive, ultra-cold freezers. Vaccines that employ a sci-fi smorgasbord of advanced technologies to do their work. Read More > in The Orange County Register

Special Report: How U.S. CDC missed chances to spot COVID’s silent spread – In early February, 57 people arrived at a Nebraska military base, among the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak. U.S. health officials knew very little then about the mysterious new virus, and the quarantined group offered an early opportunity to size up the threat.

The federal government sought help from a team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, including Dr. James Lawler, an experienced infectious disease specialist. Lawler told Reuters he immediately asked the world-renowned U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for permission to test the quarantined group, deeming it crucial to know whether people without symptoms were infected and could spread the deadly pathogen.

Agency officials worried that detained people couldn’t give proper consent because they might feel coerced into testing. “CDC does not approve this study,” an official at the quarantine site wrote to Lawler in a Feb. 8 email obtained by Reuters. “Please discontinue all contact with the travelers for research purposes.”

More than two months passed before the CDC expanded its testing guidelines to include all asymptomatic people, saying soon afterward that this silent spread “may meaningfully contribute to the propagation of the COVID-19 pandemic.” By November, the agency estimated that more than half of cases were spread by people not currently experiencing symptoms.

Critics have widely asserted that the CDC fumbled key decisions during the coronavirus scourge because then-President Donald Trump and his administration meddled in the agency’s operations and muzzled internal experts. The matter is now the subject of a congressional inquiry. Yet Reuters has found new evidence that the CDC’s response to the pandemic also was marred by actions – or inaction – by the agency’s career scientists and frontline staff. Read More > in Reuters                           

Will reducing criminal penalties reduce crime? – California is conducting an immense sociological experiment, testing whether reducing prison time for criminal acts will, in the long run, mean less crime.

Over the last decade, politicians and voters have lowered penalties for dozens of serious and minor crimes, reduced state prison populations by about 40% and adopted multiple programs to treat underlying conditions, such as drug use and lack of education, to deter offenders from committing new crimes.

It’s been a dramatic turnaround from previous decades, when the public demanded ever-tougher sentences and the state couldn’t build prisons fast enough to handle a tidal wave of new inmates, resulting in overcrowding so severe that federal judges intervened.

…Brown sponsored a 2016 ballot measure, Proposition 57, that swept away much of what he and other governors had wrought decades earlier, with political cover from federal judges who had ordered reductions in prison populations due to overcrowding.

Brown’s successor, Gavin Newsom, is continuing the experiment. Even though the death penalty is still law, Newsom has declared an execution moratorium. He also accelerated reductions in prison populations because of severe COVID-19 outbreaks and promised to close prisons.

Newsom’s proposed 2021-22 budget projects that the prison population, once as high as 170,000, will drop to 97,950 this year and continue declining thereafter.

Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, violent crime has been spiking upwards during the nearly year-long COVID-19 pandemic. This month, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore cited a sharp surge in homicides in his city to more than 300 in 2020 and 24 in the first two weeks of 2021.

If, however, it continues, will crime once again become a burning political issue? Read More > at CalMatters

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Winter Walk Challenge

Walking is a healthy, fun, and eco-friendly way to get around town. 511 Contra Costa’s new Winter Walk Challenge is designed to get county residents outside and on the move. Participants will receive weekly Challenges and can enter photos for chances to win Amazon gift cards and an iPad Grand Prize. The program is free, fun for all ages, and runs January-March. 

Sign up today to start 2021 on the right foot. 

Contact: walk@511cc.org

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BART and Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority unveil transformative rail improvement program

Link21: Connect Northern California—New Transbay Crossing

The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) and Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) are proud to unveil Link21, a transformational rail improvement program, and a new website that outlines the program’s objectives. Link21 will connect BART and Regional Rail (including intercity, commuter and high-speed passenger rail) while also connecting people sustainably to employment opportunities and affordable housing throughout the 21-county Northern California Megaregion.

Link21 (formerly known as the New Transbay Rail Crossing) is a program of various projects that will provide more services, faster connections, and better access to jobs for the Megaregion’s travelers.  

One major project within the Link21 Program is a new transbay rail crossing between Oakland and San Francisco. The new crossing will increase capacity for the overcrowded corridor and will bring new passenger rail connections and services to the Megaregion, including potential for a direct, one-seat ride between Sacramento and San Francisco. It is included in the regional Plan Bay Area 2050 Final Blueprint as a key strategy for building a next-generation transit system.

“As we continue to offer vital services to our passengers during these challenging times, we are also looking ahead to the future” said BART General Manager, Bob Powers. “Link21 will connect passengers to the places they want to go throughout the Megaregion.”

Economic Benefits Report

In addition to the new website, a new report prepared by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute (BACEI) has been released today, January 27, 2021.  The report highlights the benefits of a new transbay rail crossing to the entire Megaregion.

Major findings from the report, “The Megaregional Case for a New Transbay Rail Crossing,” will be presented during an hour-long webinar sponsored by the Bay Area Council on Thursday, February 4, 2021, 11:00 am. To register to the webinar, please visit here. For more information about the webinar, please visit the Bay Area Council’s website.

Program Overview

Link21 is a transformative program of national significance in Northern California. When completed, a modern, fully connected rail network will:

  • ENABLE fast, frequent, reliable, safe, and accessible rail service
  • INCREASE connections between affordable housing and high-quality jobs
  • IMPROVE air quality by creating viable alternatives to driving
  • ENHANCE Northern California’s livability, economic competitiveness, and environment
  • MEET the future travel demands of Northern California’s growing, diverse population

The Northern California Megaregion is a 21-county area covering the Sacramento, San Francisco Bay, Northern San Joaquin Valley, and the Monterey Bay areas. These 21 counties increasingly face shared transportation, housing, environmental, and economic challenges, as well as opportunities. 

“Link21 will help shape Northern California’s rail system for future generations,” said Rob Padgette, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor. “For example, our most popular travel itinerary is between Sacramento and San Francisco, but that trip currently requires a transfer to either BART at the Richmond Station or to one of our connecting buses at the Emeryville Station. By providing a direct rail connection across the Bay that avoids the need for a transfer and traffic on I-80, this program will dramatically improve how our riders get to and from the San Francisco Bay Area.”

Link21 is backed by voters who approved BART’s Measure RR bond and Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Regional Measure 3. These funds and others will help support the development of the new transbay crossing.

The Link21 Program will host a series of public meetings in 2021 to inform the public and gather feedback about possible program alternatives.  An online survey about the Program’s goals and objectives is now open for comment.  For more information about Link21 or to take the online survey, please visit the new Link21 website.

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Best Skills to List on Your Resume (and Some to Exclude)

By Robin Reshwan, Contributor Jan. 22, 2021, at 2:25 p.m.

U.S. News & World Report Homepage

THE WORLD OF WORK HAS changed dramatically over the past year due to the need to be socially distant and the resulting employment downturn. These hurdles magnify the importance of showcasing desired skills and capabilities during your professional career – especially during the job hunt. The first step of almost every job application process is to submit a resume. With so much riding on that first impression, reflecting targeted skills in your resume is key. Here are some in-demand skills and abilities to include on your resume.

Time Management

Many employees and employers are experiencing remote work for the first time. Managers, who can no longer walk around and see that you are busy, need other ways to gauge productivity. Be sure to capture how you manage time, efficiency and results when writing your resume.

Virtual Communication Skills

An additional challenge brought on in a virtual work environment is how to build effective relationships without in-person connections. Show evidence of how you have expanded or strengthened relationships in and outside of your company using virtual communication tools. This can be as simple as listing the digital tools you use – such as Teams, Slack and Zoom. You can also write more descriptive impact statements. For example, explain how you created an online presentation template implemented by the sales team which resulted in 10 new deals. You can also explain how you increased engagement in virtual all-hands meetings by creating polls and encouraging the use of Q&A features.

Succinct Writing

With the rise in video meetings and enterprise messaging tools came the rise in Q&A and chat responses. Success with these platforms requires mastery of the art of getting to the point – succinct and well-written questions and responses are key. How you write your resume (and cover letter) are evidence of this competency. Don’t overlook the importance of concise and relevant content in your resume.

Impact

An effective resume shows – not tells – how you add value. Yes, you need to list your responsibilities, but you also need to show what happened because you were there. In other words, call out your impact. For example, if you are responsible for recruiting and hiring and you would say it is one of your key strengths, include how many people you hired, how quickly you made those hires and how many of your hires have outlasted the average tenure of your firm or your industry.

Collaboration

Every job description asks for “cross-functional collaboration.” This means you need to know how to play well in the sandbox with other people who aren’t your immediate co-workers. To illustrate your collegial approach, describe any “enterprise-wide taskforces” you were invited to join. For example, communicate how your team was able to move through financial planning and analysis approval process two times faster than other managers because of your track record of quality work. In short, show what was accomplished when you partnered across the company.

Deadline-Driven

In a competitive, technology-infused environment, even results with a 24-hour turnaround can seem 25 hours past due. The most productive employees get stuff done fast and have tactics for setting and exceeding deadline-driven expectations. Give evidence of your ability to work under pressure.

Ability to Thrive in Chaotic Environments

When speed is king, many organizations act before all options are assessed. Employees who can survive and even thrive in cultures where priorities shift, variables change and goals are sometimes moving targets are in greater demand than those looking for stable and fixed roles. Most growing companies are in flux and they want employees who can function even without a fully developed structure.

Analysis and Insights

No role or industry is untouched by data and analysis. If you are a doctor, you likely keep tabs on satisfaction ratings or statistics and information about the patients you treat. Delivery driver? You have tracking regarding your route time, deliveries made and lost or damaged packages. Know the quantifiable metrics for your profession and address what those indicators show about you.

Things to Not Include on Your Resume

Your home address. It is not needed at the time of application and it can have some privacy or discrimination risks.

Titles to contact information. For example, instead of “Phone: 555-123-4567” you can just list the number “555-123-4567.” It will be recognized for what it is.

Years of experience. First, job posts never ask for “two decades of managerial experience” – so writing that as the lead in your summary earns you no points for applicant tracking systems or with the recruiter. And second, a reader can add up your years of experience (or make a pretty good guess) with your work history listed on your resume – so why give up your most valuable resume real estate to words that add no value to your candidacy?

Subjective or adjective-heavy soft skills. For example: Don’t use phrases such as “people person,” “meticulous attention to detail” or “team player.” Recruiters and hiring authorities see hundreds of resumes. Subjective descriptions do not add any value. Hiring professionals have seen or met enough detail-oriented people who leave periods off sentences and forget to check spelling. If you cannot demonstrate or validate that you have a soft skill, it doesn’t help your candidacy.

With remote work environments and general economic uncertainty for many companies, discerning hiring managers are looking for candidates who can walk in with the skills to do the job immediately. Make sure your resume reflects the qualifications and skills most in-demand for the role you are targeting. A customized, well-written resume is a critical component of a successful modern job search.

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Improving Rural Access to COVID-19 Vaccines- Information from State & County health department

State and county health officials are reaching out in an effort to improve vaccination access in rural communities. While the state is prioritizing vaccines for distribution, officials expect to have enough supplies to vaccinate most Californians by Summer 2021. Food and agricultural workers, for example, are in Phase 1B, Tier 1.

For more information about the state’s efforts, the vaccines available, and the distribution schedule, visit the California Department of Health’s COVID-19 Information Website. Information about vaccination efforts and schedules for each county in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is available through local county departments of health.

  1. Contra Costa County
  2. Sacramento County
  3. San Joaquin County
  4. Solano County
  5. Yolo County
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Regional Stay-at-Home Order Lifted, Contra Costa Returns to Purple Tier

Contra Costa County is urging residents and businesses to continue practicing health safety measures and avoiding risky activities after California lifted its regional stay-at-home order today in the Bay Area. 

The state order helped the region meet the deadly surge in COVID-19 infections following the winter holiday season. But per capita, the adjusted average number of new infections reported every day in Contra Costa was 46.2 in the last week – nearly seven times the threshold for a county to enter the purple tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy

“Under no circumstances should anyone view the state action today as a reason to let down their guard. We have made progress, but we need to continue what we are doing to keep our families and communities safe,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County health officer. “It is just common sense.” 

The state lifted the order Monday morning, effective immediately. 

Health guidelines regarding physical distancing and use of face coverings outside the home remain in effect, as do occupancy caps for indoor businesses and requirements limiting close-contact gatherings of people from different households. Check the state’s web page for industry-specific guidance. 

Some significant changes resulting from Contra Costa’s return to the purple tier include:

  • Restaurants may offer outdoor dining, following the state health guidelines.
  • Hair salons, barber shops and personal services that do not involve close contact with the face, such as nail salons, may reopen following state health guidelines.
  • Outdoor social gatherings involving 25 or fewer people, from three or fewer different households, are now permitted.
  • More information available at cchealth.org/coronavirus

 The purpose of the state’s regional stay-at-home order was to slow COVID-19 transmission to protect the intensive care unit (ICU) bed capacity of hospitals and healthcare systems from overwhelming medical surge. 

Staffed ICU beds in Contra Costa hospitals continue to see heavy use, with 137 of 163 beds occupied on Saturday, including both COVID-19 patients and patients with other major health problems. All hospitals in the county remain on contingency care status, and most elective surgeries continue to be postponed. 

“Our county continues to experience a winter surge in COVID-19 transmission,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County health officer. “While we are making progress in vaccinating our most vulnerable residents, we are still weeks or months away from seeing the effects of immunization in our community.” 

Contra Costa has kicked off a countywide drive to provide 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by July 4. County residents who are older than 75 can now get a vaccination appointment by calling 1-833-829-2626 or using Contra Costa Heath Services (CCHS) online request form at cchealth.org/coronavirus. The county expects to extend vaccine eligibility to more people in coming weeks.

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California is the 7th Least Safe State During COVID-19 – WalletHub Study

With only 0.62% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of January 20, and vaccination being an essential component for full reopening of the economy, WalletHub today released its report on the Safest States During COVID-19, along with accompanying videos and audio files

In order to find out the safest states during the COVID-19 pandemic, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across five key metrics. Our data set includes the rates of COVID-19 transmission, positive testing, hospitalizations and death, as well as the share of the eligible population getting vaccinated. Below, you can see highlights from the report, along with a WalletHub Q&A.

California’s Safety During Coronavirus (1= Best; 25=Avg.):

  • 48th – Vaccination Rate
  • 49th – Positive Testing Rate
  • 47th – Hospitalization Rate
  • 40th – Death Rate

Note: Rankings are based on data available as of 12:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, January 20, 2021.

To view the full report and your state’s rank, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/safest-states-during-covid/86567

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Sunday Reading – 01/24/2021

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

The Case for Optimism About America – The good news is that America is still the engine of global wealth creation: nothing fosters political pragmatism like prosperity. But there is also tremendous wealth inequality in America. To a degree, wealth creation and inequality are inseparable, so, rather than bemoan wealth inequality, we must do more to ensure that everyone has a fairer shot at wealth accumulation.

It is difficult these days to escape the narrative of America as an unwieldly empire about to collapse on itself in a violent clash of values. American political discourse has been deteriorating for about three decades now, but the last month has been near-apocalyptic. There are, however, also glimmers of good reason to be optimistic about America.

A week into 2021, the Dow Jones index reached an all-time high of over 31,000 points. Even holding aside some irrational exuberance in the markets, that America is still producing so much of the private wealth in the world today is a very good thing: it suggests that those who are creating productive technologies for the future are choosing to do so from within the country.

We should want this to continue. Wealth is the moderating influence to our extremist tendencies. Nothing fosters pragmatism like prosperity.

Nevertheless, many today are troubled by the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few. To a degree, American-style free-market capitalism has failed us because of this uneven accumulation. Last year, Goldman Sachs estimated that America’s top wealth-percentile owned half of US equity valuation. And according to a recent Gallup poll, only 55 percent of Americans owned any stock in 2020, down from 67 percent in 2002. Read More > at PROMARKET

Why America remains exceptional – America remains exceptional, despite the horrific events of last week. It has been a federal republic in its current form for more than 230 years. During that time, we have faced at least two insurgencies, namely the Whiskey Rebellion and the Civil War, which were put down. We have had coup attempts, going back to the Newburgh Conspiracy, that have all failed. We have had presidents assassinated and contested elections.

But we have never had a president, vice president, Congress, or any ruler brought in other than in accord with the provisions of the Constitution and the law of the land. We have never had a dictatorship, military or otherwise. We have never had to change our Constitution or our laws other than by the normal and peaceful processes outlined therein.

No great power can match that record save for Britain, where the last successful revolution was in the 17th century. Some smaller states have been similarly stable for a long time, but even Switzerland was politically reshuffled by Napoleon Bonaparte at the start of the 19th century. France, Germany, Russia, Spain, and, for that matter, Japan, China, and Iran, have suffered coups, revolutions, dictatorships, and collapses of government orders within the last 100 years, with some more recently than that.

That matters. It means there is something about our system and perhaps our people that has given it an unusual, and I feel comfortable saying exceptional, degree of stability in the face of massive global upheavals and great domestic turmoil. We should absolutely reject any likeness between what has gone on in America and what goes on in Venezuela, Russia, China, Iran, and any of the other dictatorships with which our citizens and others are now invidiously comparing our country. Read More > in The Hill

Persistent tech problems – California is struggling to provide residents with two items central to surviving the pandemic — the vaccine and unemployment benefits.

California as of Wednesday had administered 38% of its 4.2 million doses of vaccine, ranking 45th nationwide in the number of doses administered per capita. And on Thursday, the beleaguered Employment Development Department revealed that nearly 943,000 claims remain backlogged — the highest total in months, and an increase of more than 130,000 from last week.

The shortcomings appear to be due in part to technical problems. For example, nearly two weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a goal of vaccinating 1 million Californians in 10 days, the state is unable to determine if he met the goal due to a series of coding errors and data collection problems. (Officials estimate it likely took 12 days.) And EDD, after suspending 1.4 million unemployment claims in an attempt to root out fraud, is now extending the time claimants have to verify their identity from 10 to 30 days due to a severely overloaded system that has left some Californians spending more than three days trying to get through.

In an attempt to streamline California’s chaotic vaccine rollout, Newsom, Friday, unveiled a pilot program to help counties, cities and other entities schedule appointments, as first reported in this newsletter. But challenges remain. Even as additional mass vaccination sites open, providers say they are running out of doses. And 10 lawmakers alleged in a Thursday letter that the state has not shared how it determines the number of doses each county, hospital and mass vaccination site should receive.

  • The lawmakers (9 Republicans and 1 Democrat): “A lack of communication and transparency from the administration has resulted in mass confusion by both the general public and our local public health officers.”

Meanwhile, EDD maintains it is on track to meet its Jan. 27 deadline of clearing the original backlog of 1.6 million claims. (Newsom in June had pledged to clear the backlog by September, a deadline later pushed to January.) But combining the 943,000 unresolved claims and 1.4 million suspended ones gives EDD a current functional backlog of 2.3 million claims — its largest yet. Read More > at CalMatters

Recent California Wildfires Were Likely Fueled by Embers Smoldering Underground For Months – Several small wildfires that erupted around California’s Santa Cruz Mountains on Tuesday were likely started by wind that fanned embers smoldering underground for months after a huge fire outbreak in the same region last year.

There is a “strong possibility” the wind helped rekindle hot spots within the boundaries of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, which burned in August and September, according to Cecile Juliette, a spokesperson for Cal Fire CZU, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection unit that covers Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.

A thick layer of soil called “duff,” made up of decaying plant material, covers much of the area, Juliette told weather.com in a phone call Wednesday.

“Duff is essentially soil that’s filled with material, organic material, that has fallen from the thick trees,” she explained. “So this material falls on the ground and then it decays and becomes part of the soil. So the soil is filled with organic material. In some cases in these mountains, it’s 3, 4 feet deep. This soil can actually catch fire.” Read More > at The Weather Channel

Inside the Whale: An Interview with an Anonymous Amazonian – Amazon is on a mission to own the infrastructure of our lives. The second-largest private employer in the United States after Walmart, the company captures $4 out of every $10 spent online. They have a vast network of fulfillment centers, and they are rapidly buying more real estate; in September 2020, they announced plans to open 1,500 more distribution hubs in suburbs across the country. Retail is only one of their many businesses, however: for many Americans, it would be impossible to commute from home to school or the office without passing into view of a Ring, Amazon’s “smart” home surveillance camera. Moreover, Amazon Web Services (AWS) controls nearly half of the public cloud market, and the company is pouring money into a number of other ventures, from entertainment to advertising. We talked with an AWS cybersecurity engineer about how to think about the behemoth and how it feels to work inside it.

Amazon is a huge and complex organization. How should we think about it as a whole?

Amazon is an opportunistic corporation. It invests in businesses where we think we have a competitive advantage. In general, Amazon thinks of itself as a technology company. So we put the technology first, whatever the product is that we’re selling. And we believe that because we have so much talent and so much capital, we should be able to use our technology advantage to dominate any market that we decide to enter. 

From the beginning, Amazon sold physical things. That meant its business evolved very differently than that of Google or Facebook, which make their money by tracking people around the internet and using that information to sell ads.

Right, Amazon is not primarily an ad-driven platform. Although it does have a subsidiary, A9, that’s in the online advertising business. But A9 is not a top moneymaker. The top money makers for Amazon by revenue are the retail side, and AWS.

And there’s been so much e-commerce growth in general during the pandemic.

The question on everybody’s minds in retail is: can Walmart and Target use their local distribution infrastructure to get packages to people’s doors faster than Amazon can? Walmart and Target’s only advantage is their physical stores. When the stores are closed, they can be used as distribution hubs. You can pick things up close to where people’s homes are and deliver them. Buying Whole Foods gave Amazon the opportunity to reach, you know, 80 percent of the 1 percent. But vast swaths of America aren’t reachable by Whole Foods. 

The rumors that I hear, both internal and external, are that we’re very seriously interested in acquiring post office real estate. The reason why the post office is valuable to privatize is because of their real estate holdings. They have great real estate in every downtown of every city in the United States. Amazon may be interested in buying all of the post office locations, and we have the cash to do it. So why not? 

The other week we announced we’re hiring one hundred thousand more workers again. We’re expanding dramatically across the board, in part-time and full-time, at corporate and retail and fulfillment and logistics and devices and distribution and all the various pies we have our fingers in. Read More > at Logic magazine

California state senator trying to legalize hard drugs – Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has made good on his promise to begin his effort to “decriminalize all drug use” step by step with the introduction of several bills at the start of the new legislative session.

Senate Bill 57 creates “safe injection sites” where drug addicts can use illicit drugs under medical supervision. Senate Bill 73 lowers the criminal penalties on users and dealers of heroin, opiates or opium derivatives, salts, cannabis, phencyclidine (PCP), and other dangerous drugs.

Still promised, but not yet introduced, is a bill Wiener says will legalize all psychedelic drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms.

Wiener insists America’s war on drugs has not only failed to eliminate illegal drug use and addiction, but drug criminalization is racist because drug laws disproportionately harm “black and brown communities” by increasing their incarceration rates.

“The War on Drugs and mass incarceration are policy and public health failures,” Wiener said in a recent press release. Read More > at Press California 

The childhood obesity crisis started before Covid-19. The pandemic has made it much worse. – Earlier this year, Anisha Patel, a Stanford University pediatrics professor, started to notice a troubling trend: Child patients at the Atherton California clinic where she works have gained a distressing amount of weight. 

Since the spring, she says, her patients’ growth curves, which track body mass index, have climbed their clinical charts steeply. In a matter of months, many kids’ chartlines raced past the 85th percentile, which means a patient is overweight. Today, most have broken into the 95th percentile, which is when a child becomes clinically obese. The pattern is so common, Patel says, “that when we do see patients that aren’t on that trajectory, we’re actually kind of surprised.”

As the pandemic rages on, the nation’s attention has focused on the immediate dangers of the coronavirus: the ongoing infection, hospitalization, and deaths of adults. But more than a dozen pediatricians and public health experts interviewed by The Counter say that a more subtle, insidious outcome should not be overlooked: a predicted surge in childhood weight gain, caused by the closure of schools.

Before the pandemic, the childhood obesity rate was already at an all-time high of 19 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But Joseph Workman, a University of Missouri sociologist who focuses on educational inequality, thinks that number is likely higher now. This summer, in a letter to the medical journal Obesity, he projected the rate would rise more than 4 percent if students remained out of school for five months. If so, that would mean an additional 2.4 million school-aged children became obese between March and August, bringing the total to nearly a quarter of all American children, according to an analysis by The Counter. Read More > at The Counter

Sacramento moves forward with change to single-family zoning yesterday – Sacramento is a step closer to becoming one of the first cities in the country to eliminate traditional single-family zoning.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 8-0 to proceed with a draft zoning plan that would allow houses across the California city to contain up to four dwelling units, the Sacramento Bee reported.

City officials said the proposal would help the city alleviate its housing crisis and achieve equity goals.

The cities of Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis have passed similar ordinances in recent years. The state of Oregon passed a law eliminating traditional single-family zoning statewide. A similar bill was introduced in the California Legislature but died. Sacramento could be the only city in the state formally considering the change. Read More . from the Associated Press

Media trust hits new low – Trust in traditional media has declined to an all-time low, and many news professionals are determined to do something about it.

Why it matters: Faith in society’s central institutions, especially in government and the media, is the glue that holds society together. That glue was visibly dissolving a decade ago, and has now, for many millions of Americans, disappeared entirely.

By the numbers: For the first time ever, fewer than half of all Americans have trust in traditional media, according to data from Edelman’s annual trust barometer shared exclusively with Axios. Trust in social media has hit an all-time low of 27%.

  • 56% of Americans agree with the statement that “Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”
  • 58% think that “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.”
  • When Edelman re-polled Americans after the election, the figures had deteriorated even further, with 57% of Democrats trusting the media and only 18% of Republicans. Read More > at Axios

Documentary takes air out of NFL’s Deflategate case against Tom Brady, who continues to prove it wasn’t about the balls – The documentary “Four Games in Fall” annihilates the NFL for the Deflategate scandal, showing it is highly unlikely, and certainly never proven, that the footballs Tom Brady used in the 2015 AFC championship game were even deflated beyond what Ideal Gas Law would dictate.

Rather than back down when confronted with the realities of science, the league used biased investigators, manipulated evidence and an effective, if pathetic, misinformation campaign to railroad Brady, who wound up suspended for four games.

The film is nearly two hours of scientists, lawyers and professors systematically debunking a story that is more about abuse of power than what did, or more accurately, didn’t occur.

Deflategate is often called the dumbest scandal in sports history. And when viewed from one direction, it is. Yet “Four Games in Fall” argues it’s actually about shady science, propaganda and what it takes to keep doubling down on an initial lie.

That’s how Marron got interested. The filmmaker rarely pays attention to football, but the blanket coverage of Deflategate touched on a topic she is passionate about – science for hire.

It’s the ability of corporations to pay research firms to deliver whatever answer it wants to any question it wants. That usually involves more serious subjects, such as minimizing the links between cancer and pesticides or asbestos. The NFL hired one of the firms she considers dubious: Exponent. Read More > at Yahoo! Sports

‘We don’t want Biden. We want revenge for police murders, imperialist wars, and fascist massacres’: Antifa mob smash up Portland’s Democratic Party HQ, burn US flags in Denver and run riot in Seattle in protest at Biden presidency – Protests in Portland erupted on Wednesday just hours after Biden’s inauguration.

Earlier on Wednesday, antifa demonstrators smashed the windows of the Democratic Party headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

A group of protesters carrying anti-Biden and anti-police signs were marching Wednesday in Portland streets and damaged the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Oregon, police said. 

Elsewhere across the country, some 100 far-left demonstrators and Black Lives Matter supporters took to the streets of Denver and demonstrated near the Colorado State Capitol to protest the incoming president.

Others carrying communist and anti-fascist banners denounced Biden and the now-former President Donald Trump. 

Later on Wednesday, supporters of Black Lives Matter took part in an ‘Inauguration March’. The event was promoted as a peaceful event to promote black, indigenous, and Latino communities.  

Antifa demonstrators also marched and set fire to American flags in Seattle on Wednesday.

The group did not appear to be a large one. Several people were arrested for property damage and assault, according to KIRO-TV

Seattle police said they were monitoring the group as it continues to march through the city streets. Read More > in the Daily Mail

Animals interrupting wildlife photographers“. 

Behind a Secret Deal Between Google and Facebook – In 2017, Facebook said it was testing a new way of selling online advertising that would threaten Google’s control of the digital ad market. But less than two years later, Facebook did an about-face and said it was joining an alliance of companies backing a similar effort by Google.

Facebook never said why it pulled back from its project, but evidence presented in an antitrust lawsuit filed by 10 state attorneys general last month indicates that Google had extended to Facebook, its closest rival for digital advertising dollars, a sweetheart deal to be a partner.

Details of the agreement, based on documents the Texas attorney general’s office said it had uncovered as part of the multistate suit, were redacted in the complaint filed in federal court in Texas last month. But they were not hidden in a draft version of the complaint reviewed by The New York Times.

Executives at six of the more than 20 partners in the alliance told The Times that their agreements with Google did not include many of the same generous terms that Facebook received and that the search giant had handed Facebook a significant advantage over the rest of them.

The executives, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their business relationships with Google, also said they had not known that Google had afforded such advantages to Facebook. The clear disparity in how their companies were treated by Google when compared to Facebook has not been previously reported. Read More > in The New York Times

‘Anti-Facebook’ MeWe social network adds 2.5 million new members in one week – There has been a growing movement away from social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter recently.

Users are getting fed up with relentless privacy violations, surveillance capitalism, political bias, targeting, and newsfeed manipulation by these companies.

And other social media platforms are benefitting from this tidal wave. Los Angeles-based social media network MeWe, touted to be the ad-free future of social networking, is currently the No. 1 downloaded social app in the Google Play Store, and the No. 3 downloaded app out of all apps in the store.

The privacy-first “anti-Facebook” platform added 2.5 million new members in the last week.

Since launching in 2016, it surged to nine million users in October 2020, doubling its membership during each of the last three years.

The platform is currently sitting at 15.5 million members — 50% of whom are outside of North America.

MeWe is now translated into 20 languages and is currently the No. 1 social app in Hong Kong. Read More > at ZDNet 

State ‘shortchanged’ small counties, auditor says – Speaking of federal aid, State Auditor Elaine Howle slammed Newsom’s administration Tuesday for failing to distribute coronavirus relief funds equally among counties. According to Howle’s report, California’s 16 biggest counties received $190 or $197 per person while the 42 smaller counties got $102 per person — even though the smaller counties’ needs “were at least the same if not greater.” The report also found that Newsom’s administration “treated some cities inconsistently.” In July, the administration withheld federal funds from two small Central Valley cities for failing to comply with state health orders, but was “unable to demonstrate that it reviewed all 476 cities” with the same scrutiny, Howle wrote.

The news comes amid a slowly improving coronavirus picture in California. Hospitalizations have fallen by 8.5% over the past two weeks, though more than 20,000 people remain hospitalized or in intensive care. But challenges remain. After the state issued a warning about a specific batch of Moderna vaccines, Stanislaus County shuttered its community vaccine clinics. High winds forced a mass vaccination site in Orange County to close Tuesday. And San Francisco Mayor London Breed warned that the city’s public health department could run out of doses by Thursday. Read More > at CalMatters

United States Becomes First Country in World to Declare China’s Uighur Treatment Genocide – The United States became the first country to officially declare Chinese government of Uighur Muslims an act of “genocide,” announcing findings Tuesday which found China’s policies toward the minority group are “crimes against humanity.”

Outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said U.S. investigation into the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of ethnic and religious minorities found overwhelming evidence China has committed genocide against the Xinjiang region Uighurs. Pompeo said “we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state” in his Tuesday statement…

“Reports indicate that the Chinese government is sponsoring forced labor camps for its Uyghur people in support of nearly 100 global brands, including Nike, Apple, Samsung, Volkswagen, and Huawei. This is absolutely horrifying. Protecting human rights is far more important than protecting profit. The world—including business leaders—cannot turn a blind eye toward the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of Uyghurs,” Romney posted to Facebook in March. Read More > from Newsweek 

Synthetic cornea helped a legally blind man regain his sight – A legally blind 78-year old man has regained his sight after being the inaugural patient to receive a promising new type of corneal implant, Israel Hayom has reported. Developed by a company called CorNeat, the KPro is the first implant that can be integrated directly into the eye wall to replace scarred or deformed corneas with no donor tissue. Immediately after the surgery, the patient was able to recognize family members and read numbers on an eye chart.

The corona is the clear layer that covers and protects the front portion of the eye. It can degenerate or scar for various reasons, including diseases like pseudophakic bullous keratopathy, kerotoconus and trauma.

Artificial cornea implants already exist for patients with corneal degeneration, but because the surgeries are complex, they’re usually a last resort when transplants or cornea ring implants don’t work. By contrast, inserting the CorNeat transplant is a relatively simple procedure that requires minimal stitches and cutting. On top of that, it uses a biomimetic material that “stimulates cellular proliferation, leading to progressive tissue integration,” according to CorNeat. Read More > at Engadget

Ransomware Is Headed Down a Dire Path – Ransomware has been around for decades, and it’s a fairly straightforward attack: Hackers distribute malware that mass-encrypts data or otherwise blocks access to a target’s systems, and then demand payment to release the digital hostages. It’s a well-known threat, but one that’s difficult to eradicate—something as simple as clicking a link or downloading a malicious attachment could give attackers the foothold they need. And even without that type of human error, large corporations and other institutions like municipal governments still struggle to devote the resources and expertise necessary to lay down basic defenses. After watching these attacks in 2020, though, incident responders say that the problem has escalated and that the ransomware forecast for next year looks pretty dire.

Though some researchers say that the scale and severity of ransomware attacks crossed a bright line in 2020, others describe this year as simply the next step in a gradual and, unfortunately, predictable devolution. After years spent honing their techniques, attackers are growing bolder. They’ve begun to incorporate other types of extortion like blackmail into their arsenals, by exfiltrating an organization’s data and then threatening to release it if the victim doesn’t pay an additional fee. Most significantly, ransomware attackers have transitioned from a model in which they hit lots of individuals and accumulated many small ransom payments to one where they carefully plan attacks against a smaller group of large targets from which they can demand massive ransoms. The antivirus firm Emsisoft found that the average requested fee has increased from about $5,000 in 2018 to about $200,000 this year.

To make all of this happen, ransomware gangs have professionalized. A whole underground economy has developed to provide support services like stolen credentials or even consulting time with network access specialists. As a result, Emsisoft threat analyst Brett Callow says, it’s not so much that the quantity or pattern of attacks has changed, it’s that those attacks have become even more effective and intrusive. Read More > at Wired

Are Your Netflix Binges Killing The Planet? – The use of streaming video has grown exponentially around the world, with pandemic-driven shelter-in-place mandates helping to supersize the industry. The live streaming industry recorded nearly 100% growth at the height of the pandemic, with viewers consuming 3.93 billion hours of content in April 2020 compared to 1.97 billion hours in April 2019.  The rapid growth of these services has frequently been linked to increased energy use and carbon emissions from data centers, network infrastructure and user devices, with the lion’s share of the blame falling on video streaming king, Netflix Inc.

You’ve probably heard rather outrageous claims such as watching 30 minutes of Netflix generates as much carbon emissions [1.6 kg of CO2] as driving almost 4 miles thrown around as facts by reputable sites such as the New York Post, CBCDWYahooGizmodo,BigThink and Phys.org. That means your Tiger King binge created as much carbon emissions as if you were to have driven over 1200 miles. 

Yet, contrary to a slew of misleading media coverage, the climate impact of bingeing on Netflix and other video streaming platforms is actually relatively modest, though the internet overall is playing a significant role in killing our planet. So, it really depends who you want to blame, the chicken or the egg. 

…Yet, it’s responsible for a huge chunk of our global greenhouse gas emissions. 

In fact, by 2025, it could be responsible for a staggering 20% of global electricity consumption and up to 5.5 percent of all carbon emissions. 

And you’re doing it right now. 

That bogeyman is the Internet of Things (IoT) and the tsunami of data it must power.

Academics are challenging the notion that we can considerably reduce carbon emissions by increasing efficiency and cutting down on waste. 

In fact, they warn that the internet explosion and increasing connectivity via the IoT and smart devices could increase global emissions by 3.5 percent by 2020 and up to 14 percent by 2040. Read More > at Oil Price

Electric Vehicles Will Increase Energy Poverty, Weaken Industry – …Increasing electric rates to support such programming, which inevitably happens when subsidies are involved, hurts poor and lower-income families the most. These families are often minority men and women who are then faced with tough budget choices. How is that environmental justice? Increasing electricity costs increases energy poverty.  

Higher energy costs also make our industries less competitive, shifting jobs and production to lower-cost energy countries like China—a country that relies on cheap coal for nearly 60 percent of all its energy, not just electricity. 

…In the rush to install more, we should consider whether it’s wise for the government and utilities to use taxpayers’ and electric user’s money for an expensive build-out funding electric vehicles for the privileged few.  

After all, the average electric-vehicle owner is better off than 85 percent of the regular people being tapped to subsidize electric-vehicle users. Even with all the generous subsidies for manufacturers and enhanced charging-station infrastructure, low-income people won’t be able to afford an electric vehicle for decades. 

Even still, twenty million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 is the goal apparently talked about the most. This will increase electric demand by as much as 95 TWh, which will require costly investments in our electric grid.  Read More > at Real Clear Markets 

China’s 2020 coal output rises to highest since 2015, undermining climate pledges – China’s coal output rose last year to its highest since 2015, despite Beijing’s climate change pledge to reduce consumption of the dirty fossil fuel and months of disruption at major coal mining hubs.

The world’s biggest coal miner and consumer produced 3.84 billion tonnes of coal in 2020, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Monday.

China’s coal output dropped after reaching a peak of 3.97 billion tonnes in 2013, as Beijing axed excessive mining capacity and promoted clean energy consumption. But production is rising amid surging industrial demand and an unofficial restriction on coal imports aimed at shoring up the domestic mining industry.

China’s coal mining sector was one of the first industries to resume operations when COVID travel restrictions were gradually relaxed, as Beijing wanted to ensure adequate fuel supplies once the country emerged from the lockdown enforced to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Read More > at Nasdaq

Projected EDD fraud hits $10 billion – New projections suggest that California’s beleaguered unemployment department may have paid nearly $10 billion worth of fraudulent claims — double the amount prosecutors estimated two weeks ago, which was itself double the amount estimated in December. Yet the true scope of fraud at the Employment Development Department remains unknown.

  • EDD Director Rita Saenz“We are still ferreting through the amount of fraud that has been committed, so I can’t give you a firm number.”

California’s attempts to crack down on fraud — including suspending 1.4 million claims and freezing hundreds of thousands of Bank of America debit cards — have left many legitimate claimants unable to access badly needed funds. One such claimant sued Bank of America on Thursday in a federal class-action lawsuit that will likely escalate an ongoing battle between the state and the bank over who should be held responsible for the fraud. Meanwhile, EDD’s claim backlog is growing as more Californians apply for unemployment. Around 811,000 claims were backlogged as of Friday — the most since early November. The state last year pledged to clear the backlog by Jan. 27. Read More > at CalMatters

Millions Flock to Telegram and Signal as Fears Grow Over Big Tech – Over the past week, tens of millions of people have downloaded Signal and Telegram, making them the two hottest apps in the world. Signal allows messages to be sent with “end-to-end encryption,” meaning no one but the sender and receiver can read its contents. Telegram offers some encrypted messaging options, but is largely popular for its group-based chat rooms where people can discuss a variety of subjects.

Their sudden jump in popularity was spurred by a series of events last week that stoked growing anxiety over some of the big tech companies and their communication apps, like WhatsApp, which Facebook owns…

At the same time, privacy worries rose over WhatsApp, which last week reminded users in a pop-up notification that it shares some of their data with its parent company. The notification set off a wave of anxiety, fueled by viral chain messages that falsely claimed that Facebook could read WhatsApp messages.

The result was a mass migration that, if it lasts, could weaken the power of Facebook and other big tech companies. On Tuesday, Telegram said it added more than 25 million users over the previous three days, pushing it to over 500 million users. Signal added nearly 1.3 million users on Monday alone, after averaging just 50,000 downloads a day last year, according to estimates from Apptopia, an app-data firm. Read More > in The New York Times

My Doctor the Car? Future Cars Might Monitor Drivers’ Health and Wellbeing – Smile, you’re on candid camera when you’re in a modern car with sophisticated driver-assist systems. And in the near future, those cameras will be joined by lidar VCSEL and radar sensors, as well. Yes, the same gadgets that vehicles must use to perceive the environment sufficiently to drive themselves will soon be keeping tabs on you and your passengers inside, too. Ah, progress …  

Menlo Park-based SRI aims to take driver monitoring to the next level, by endeavoring to look beyond gaze to infer the driver’s holistic state of wellbeing. The system, which has been developed in Toyota’s LQ concept car (first introduced in 2019), incorporates a suite of infrared and 3D cameras to track driver’s eye movements, facial expressions, and skeletal positioning from which it gauges body language. It then strives to identify drowsiness or even potentially dangerous emotional states, like anxiety or boredom, which could affect driving. To counteract these states, the vehicle might blast the air conditioning to help a driver stay alert or maybe suggest an alternate less traffic-choked or boring route if it perceives irritability or boredom. The more miles each driver spends in the car, the more accurately the artificial intelligence recognizes and responds to the driver’s needs. Production (you may be relieved to learn) is not imminent.  Read More > in Motor Trend

Why Was Parler Censored by Its Competitors? – I’ve been a big fan of Medium, although I’ve learned quickly that there are certain “publications” — essentially sub-blogs — that it’s best to avoid. Today I saw a piece published two days ago, The Moderation War Is Coming to Spotify, Substack, and Clubhouse, that addressed how Parler was censored and destroyed by Apple, Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon, and then warned that Parler won’t be the last.

It might be different if the double standard weren’t so glaring. As Amazon was canceling Parler’s hosting — in apparent violation of their contract — they were selling “Kill All Republicans” tee-shirts, and it turns out that while Twitter and Facebook were canceling Parler, the actual mob was coordinating on Twitter and Facebook.

Parler, Twitter’s free-speech competitor, was pulled by both the Apple and Google app stores, removed from Twitter and Facebook, and had their hosting pulled by Amazon within 48 hours. It’s now clear that the LARPers in the mob actually planned their attack on Twitter and Facebook, but the damage is done and it’s unlikely that Parler will survive this action. The CEO of Parler has had to go into hiding to make sure that he himself survives this action.

It’s worth noting that Amazon deplatformed Parler after members of Congress demanded it. That makes it a real First Amendment violation as well as a violation of the right to free speech, which the First Amendment exists to protect.

So, somehow, competitors are being shut down in a coordinated fashion by effective monopolies with governmental support. Read More > at PJ Media

The Impoverished Idea of a Wealth Tax – Soaking the rich has become a rallying cry for their progressive base, and a wealth tax is at the top of those activists’ agenda.

There are taxes on the wealthy, and then there are “wealth taxes.” The former usually means hiking taxes we’re familiar with, such as those on incomes, home purchases or the sale of pricey assets. A wealth tax, on the other hand, takes a regular cut of the fluctuating market value of every asset you own: homes, art, company shares — it’s all up for grabs.

The typical arguments for wealth taxes — like curbing capitalism or fighting inequality — may make for great messaging on the left, but what should really worry proponents is whether they actually will bring in more revenue. Wealth taxes are known for driving the wealthy out, discouraging new wealth from moving in, and generally crushing entrepreneurial ambitions. Combined with the cost of implementing such a tax, it could even be a net negative revenue generator for states. And that’s assuming a wealth tax is even constitutional.

Billionaires may have the ability to pay a wealth tax, but they also have the ability to leave — just witness their moves during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alain Trannoy, a French economist, found that the “wealth tax in some countries seems more efficient to repel [the] rich than to effectively redistribute wealth.” Roughly 10,000 people left France with 35 billion euros in assets after the country imposed a wealth tax. And assets are even easier to move than people. Read More > at Governing 

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Delta Protection Commission seeks Public Comment – Recreation and Tourism Update to the ESP

Tuesday, January 264:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Remote meeting

Commission staff seeks your input on the recommendations and implementation ideas in the draft Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) Recreation and Tourism chapter update. The ESP is a document the Commission and other Delta agencies use to guide efforts to support and enhance the Delta economy. Recreation and tourism-related economic and visitation data has been updated from the 2012 plan. Information gathered from focus groups and from reports and studies completed since 2012 are included in this update.   

The six-page Executive Summary (PDF) is available. We are especially interested in your input on the Constraints to Recreation, Focus Group Findings, and Recommendations on pages 3 and 4.  

The full ESP Recreation and Tourism update chapter (PDF) is also available. You can find more detailed information about the Constraints to Recreation, Focus Group Findings, and Recommendations in Sections 8.3, 8.4, and 8.5 of the report. 

We invite you to participate in a virtual workshop on Tuesday, January 26 from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PMRegistration is required. Upon registration, you will receive a link and information to attend the meeting. Please share this information to anyone you think may be interested in the update and proposed recommendations.

For questions or more information, email Virginia Gardiner at virginia.gardiner@delta.ca.gov.
If you are unable to attend the meeting, you may send your comments to submit@delta.ca.gov

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Community advisory regarding missing persons from Oakley P.D.

Early this morning the Oakley Police Department became involved in an investigation regarding a developmentally delayed adult female who walked away from her home style care facility at some point during the night. The female was discovered missing as the rest of the facility began to wake up, it was unknown how long the female had actually been missing. 

The temperatures were very cold last night and it appeared as if the missing female only brought a light sweatshirt with her. The Oakley Police Department became very concerned for her welfare and we started to ramp up social media notifications and the Contra Costa County Search and Rescue unit. Just as our investigation was in process the missing female walked up to another house in the neighborhood. She was lost, cold and confused. The Oakley Police Officers were able to facilitate a happy reunion between her and her care staff.

Instead of just putting a wrap on this investigation and moving on to our next one the Oakley Police Department wanted to remind all of our residents who care for disabled, young or compromised persons to take a few minutes to make sure they have a list of pertinent information on hand. This information would include: name, physical description, medical conditions, medicines, places the missing person like to go etc… Every so often this information should be refreshed, the first of the year is a good time to take care of this mainentance. 

We have created a form that we believe would be helpful in these types of investigations. It would be best utilized if caregivers would pre-fill the form under calm conditions. That way, in the event a person should go missing, the form could simply be given to the police officer and he/she would be able to get a head start on this type of investigation. Under stress it is difficult for caregivers to remain focused on what information our officers need. A form like this can save time and saving time can literally save a life in this type of investigation. Please see our attached form.

The Oakley Police Department is very happy this mornings situation worked out the way it did and we urge everybody to remain safe.    

 

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Annual Wild Mushroom Warning

Death Cap

Western Destroying Angel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each year, mushrooms come out after the first fall rains. Mushrooms are ecologically important and can look beautiful – but some of them contain dangerous toxins. The Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) and Western Destroying Angel (Amanita ocreata) are two of the world’s most toxic mushrooms, and both can be found in East Bay Regional Parks during the rainy season.

The Death Cap and Western Destroying Angel mushrooms contain amatoxins, a group of molecules that inhibit cellular metabolism in many animals. In mammals, the liver and kidneys are typically the first organs affected after ingestion. Symptoms don’t usually appear until up to 12 hours after consumption, beginning as severe gastrointestinal distress and progressing to the liver and renal failure if treatment is not sought immediately.

“Both the Death Cap and Western Destroying Angel grow near oak trees,” said East Bay Regional Park District Naturalist Trent Pearce, who is based in Tilden Regional Park and documents the fungi in East Bay Regional Parks. “They can be lethal to both humans and pets if consumed.”

The Death Cap is a medium-to-large mushroom that typically has a greenish-gray cap, white gills, a white ring around the stem, and a large white sac at the base of the stem. Though the death cap is mainly associated with oak trees, it has been found growing with other hardwoods. It was accidentally introduced to North America on the roots of European cork oaks and is now slowly colonizing the West Coast. The Death Cap is not native to California.

The Western Destroying Angel is a medium-to-large mushroom that usually has a creamy white cap, white gills, a white ring around the stem that disappears with age, and a thin white sac at the base. It fruits from late winter into spring. It is associated exclusively with oaks. Unlike the death cap, it is a native California mushroom.

“Collecting mushrooms in East Bay Regional Parks is not allowed,” said East Bay Regional Park District Public Information Supervisor Dave Mason. “The Park District urges the public to be safe and be knowledgeable about toxic mushrooms.”
The Death Cap and Western Destroying Angel can also be dangerous for pets.

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