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 high school 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 illicit drugs 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.
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.
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