Public Transit & the Virus

What had been getting worse—use of public transit—has now gotten catastrophically bad, as this article from New Geography reports.

An excerpt.

“The Coronavirus public health emergency is an existentialist crisis for many sectors of the U.S. economy and government services. The transit industry is one of the most impacted of all.

“Transit began losing relevance decades prior to this event. Transit ridership and transportation market share have decreased even as operating costs and taxpayer subsidies increased. Expenditures for major capital projects have reached a billion dollars per mile and more while essential services for transportation-disadvantaged residents have withered away.

“Transit riders’ response to the Coronavirus was to vote with their seats away from transit. At the outset of the shutdown, New York subway ridership and San Francisco BART both dropped 94%. Nationally, ridership was down well over three-quarters. Shelter-in-place orders in every major city were the main cause, but residents remain well aware that subway and bus rides are the very model of the behavior they are strongly cautioned to avoid. Before the crisis, nationally, transit carried about 5% of commute trips and under 2% of total trips. The New York City metropolitan area, the world epicenter for Coronavirus, accounts for 6% of the nation’s population but over 40% of the nation’s pre-Corona transit use. During this emergency, transit has become something to be avoided if at all possible. It is hardly a “vital service.”

“When the crisis is over – whenever that will be and whatever it will mean – transit ridership will likely return slowly. The gradual restart of economic activity means that traffic congestion will take months to return to previous levels. Gasoline prices are at levels never seen by younger drivers, and auto prices will drop. Last year, the number of people working at home surpassed those taking transit to work. What expanded as an emergency tactic likely will become a major aspect of the new normal. The densification of cities urged by planners and developers, with promotion of transit’s role as a major rationale, will face new opposition over concerns about the next pandemic, or the next wave of this pandemic.

“The transit industry is financially devastated. In 2018, transit’s total U.S. operating expenses were $52.3 billion and total taxpayer operating subsidies were $33.4 billion, including $8.9 billion in federal funds available for operations. Before the crisis, transit fare revenue was under 25% of total transit operating and capital expenditures nationally, but far more for New York City’s and most other major urban transit systems. This revenue stream has all but disappeared, with many transit operators eliminating fares entirely. Revenues from taxes dedicated to transit, such as sales taxes, are reduced as a result of the national lockdown and incremental economic restart. State and local governments will not be able to shift their own greatly diminished funds to little-used transit systems while simultaneously scrambling to deliver public safety services and to provide general assistance for the many residents who have lost their incomes.

“The lobbying arm of the U.S. transit industry, the American Public Transportation Association, asked Congress for $16 billion in additional Federal aid. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act awarded $25 billion, which is nearly half of the industry’s total annual operating costs, to be used as each metro or rural area chooses for operations or capital expenditures. Local funding match requirements were eliminated.

“As transit ridership cratered, transit operators were slow to reduce service and operating costs even as riders disappeared. Over 60% of transit operating costs are labor. Still, the CARES Act specifically allows for payment of salaries, wages, and benefits to government transit employees who have been sent home because there is no work for them, and to those that fear, quite reasonably, for their safety and that of their families if they work. No such provisions extend to transit workers employed by private-sector contractors.

“The dedicated transit industry workers who continued to serve the medical workers, first responders, and vital service workers who have no other means of getting to their work sites deserve our greatest respect. Over 100 transit workers died from Coronavirus, presumably contracted while doing their jobs in the service of others.”

Retrieved June 15, 2020 from http://www.newgeography.com/content/006684-cares-funding-and-transit

Be well everyone!

Posted in Government, History, Politics, Transportation

Good News about Nuclear Power

The head of the spear in America’s nuclear energy industry has just been sharpened, according to this article from the Washington Examiner.

An excerpt.

“A new Trump administration policy enabling U.S. government financing for nuclear energy projects abroad could help accelerate the use of smaller reactors, a budding technology that supporters see as a lifeline for the struggling industry.

“The U.S. will have a whole suite of technologies in different sizes available in the next couple of years, and that really changes the game in terms of this modernization of policy,” said Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath, a conservative clean energy group.

“The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation proposed this week to reverse an Obama-era ban that prevents it from funding civil nuclear projects overseas, a development first reported by the Washington Examiner.

“The corporation’s press release announcing the policy change specifically touts how it can help promote advanced nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors and microreactors that “will have significantly lower costs than traditional nuclear power plants, and may be well-suited for developing countries.”

“The United States has not built a traditional large nuclear reactor since the 1970s, with recent projects canceled or delayed because of mounting expenses. Existing plants are closing at a rapid rate due to competition from cheaper natural gas and renewables.

“But the industry is banking on developing smaller, cheaper reactors. Policymakers in both parties support the technology as a zero-carbon alternative that can supplement intermittent wind and solar in the power grid of the future.

“The U.S. is developing more of these new reactors than any country in the world, but analysts say they are still a decade or so away from being widely operational.

“The future of the nuclear industry, especially in the U.S., is going to be in next-generation reactors,” said Jackie Kempfer, a nuclear energy policy adviser at Third Way, a center-left think tank. “With the DFC policy change, we finally have momentum on all the moving pieces that we need to commercialize these technologies.”

“Other nuclear powers such as China and Russia are investing in smaller reactors, too, with the advantage of being backed by state governments.

“Developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have less sophisticated grids that are largely unable to accommodate large nuclear plants, but could make use of smaller reactors that are easier and cheaper to build, safer to run, and more flexible to use.

“Smaller reactors can be used not just for electricity, the main use of nuclear today, but also in manufacturing and for process heating, so they can also serve an economic development function for poor countries looking to do more than just keep the lights on.

“Todd Moss, the executive director of the Energy for Growth Hub, said the U.S. is at least two years behind Russia in its commercial nuclear diplomacy efforts, with the Kremlin already engaging in agreements with developing countries that see nuclear as a clean energy alternative.

“We are some ways out until we are breaking ground on SMRs, but right now, the Russians are aggressively selling their SMR models in a whole range of countries,” Moss said.

“NuScale, the company racing to be the first to operate a small modular nuclear reactor, has agreements (memos of understanding) with companies in many countries, says its CEO John Hopkins. But deals take a long time to finalize. Hopkins said the new DFC policy would help his company overcome financing challenges in developing countries.”

Retrieved June 123, 2020 from https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/energy/trump-policy-change-could-be-game-changer-for-small-nuclear-reactors

Be well everyone.

Posted in Technology

Space Mining, Wow!

That is certainly in the future, as this article from the Federalist notes.

An excerpt.

“We’re going to the moon. We’re going to Mars. And, before you know it, we’ll be going to the asteroid belt.

“Space is back, baby. It’s back in the news, back in our thoughts, and back in the culture. America, and the world, are better for it.

“Over the past few years, space exploration has returned to public consciousness in ways not since the first shuttle mission in 1981, or even since Americans landed men on the moon then brought them safely back to earth in the summer of 1969.

The launch of the joint SpaceX–NASA rocket on May 30 is only the latest proof of our renewed interest, and it revealed much about the future of humans in space. Te key is private industry: What used to cost the government $54,500 per kilogram of payload lifted to orbit now costs SpaceX $2,720, saving 95 percent.

“Reducing cost, of course, is one of the things private industry is supposed to be good at. The most recent launch of the SpaceX Dragon module atop a Falcon rocket cost an estimated $55 million, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk claims the future cost of his reusable rockets could fall to a shockingly low $2 million per launch.

“As Jonah Gottschalk noted in his reporting for The Federalist, “it’s fair to question why the government should continue dedicating tens of billions” to space when the private industry can achieve so much at astoundingly low costs.

“The other thing about private industry, however, is that it eventually has to make money. Prior to colonization—which we are still likely decades away from achieving—the options are limited. Satellite launching and repair might provide some income. Carrying out paid experiments for scientists? Perhaps. Tourism? Highly likely. But the most probable long-term source of income from space is asteroid mining.

“The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits nations from claiming territory beyond Earth. “The moon and other celestial bodies,” it notes, are “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” But it’s easy for lawyers to argue about what these terms mean. “National appropriation” isn’t necessarily the same as private property rights.

“Space law used to be entirely academic, but now it’s a rising field. NASA is funding asteroid-mining research. The Colorado School of Mines now has an asteroid-mining program of study. Sen. Ted Cruz has predicted that Earth’s first trillionaire will be made in space.

“The growing commercial space-sector helped guide the 2015 SPACE Act through Congress, which included a “finders, keepers” rule that allows American companies to claim the bounty they extract from celestial bodies. As a result, private equity funding for space-related start-ups massively increased. The first quarter of 2019 alone saw $1.7 billion in equity capital for space companies.

“People used to “see asteroid mining as a bit of a joke,” says Peter Ward, author of The Consequential Frontier, a new book about space privatization. But now, Ward believes “the commercial space industry is maturing to the point where it’s more serious.”

“Private industry seeks two things in asteroid mining: water and metals. The water isn’t exactly a money-maker; it’s needed to make hydrogen fuel for return to Earth at a cost lower than lifting fuel into space. The metals, however, will prove to be the real sources of profit.

“Asteroids are defined as rocky, airless remnants left over from the early formation of the solar system, and already 958,628 are identified and plotted. By far the largest collection is found in the asteroid belt, the ring of space rubble between Mars and Jupiter. The belt may contain as many as 1.9 million asteroids larger than a kilometer in diameter and many millions of smaller ones.

“Still, although fewer in number, the near-Earth asteroids are the likeliest first targets for mining. More than 10,000 near-Earth asteroids are known, with 861 measuring more than a kilometer in diameter (and 1,409 classified as potentially hazardous, posing a threat to Earth).

“The material potential is astounding. Asteroid 1986 DA, for example, is a metallic near-Earth asteroid of iron, nickel, gold, and platinum, and estimates of its value range from 6 to 7 trillion dollars—the gross national product of a nation. Of course, at three kilometers in diameter, Asteroid 1986 DA is too large to be retrieved anytime soon. But the potential figures give some idea of just how much wealth is out there in the black of space.”

Retrieved June 13, 2020 from https://thefederalist.com/2020/06/13/space-exploration-back-asteroid-mining-next-gold-rush/

Be well everyone.

Posted in Technology

Water Cooperation

It can be done, as this great story from Current shows.

An excerpt.

“The saying rang true when Mark Twain coined it, “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting.”  150 years later it still resonates and throughout the arid West, it is often repeated as gospel.  But in California’s Central Valley an unlikely group of partners are coming together to write a new chapter in the saga of California water. Farmers, water districts, government regulators, and conservation scientists are all putting acrimony aside and getting down to business, working alongside one another to integrate a 21st century scientific understanding of how rivers work and how fish use them into farm and water management. In so doing, they are creating multiple benefits for birds, fish, farms, and people.

“The Fish Food on Flooded Farm Fields program aims to help dwindling salmon populations by recreating floodplain-like wetland habitats on winter-flooded farm fields. The program works with rice farmers and water districts to intentionally inundate rice fields in the non-growing season to create the near-ideal conditions to grow the water bugs on which juvenile salmon and other fish depend on as a food source. Tons and tons of water bugs can be grown in these floodplain fields and sent into the nearby river channels where the fish are, to replenish the fish food supplies that have been dramatically reduced over the decades due to the river being disconnected from the natural floodplain.

“The Need for a Solution

“California’s native salmon populations are struggling for survival. In its 2017 report, State of the Salmon II, CalTrout and UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences estimates that ten of the twelve California distinct salmon populations are at high or critical risk of becoming extinct in the next 50 years if current trends continue.  The reasons behind the decline of salmon are complex, but we know that changes to landscapes and rivers that have reduced both flow and habitat availability are common problems for all salmon runs.

“The rivers of the Central Valley of California, especially, have been dramatically modified to create the rich agricultural area it is today. Before European settlement, every rainy season rivers would swell with rain and snowmelt, overflow their banks and flood over 4 million acres of floodplain wetlands.  In an attempt to control flooding and convert wetland to farmland, more than 1,600 miles of riverside levees have been built in the Valley since the goldrush. As a result, 95% of the floodplain now is cut off from rivers and is no longer inundated each winter. In addition, 20 major dams have been built to store water from the wet winters for use in the dry summers to irrigate fields but they also block salmon from migrating upstream to the majority of their native spawning grounds.

“Controversies over the use of water for agriculture or for wildlife usually ended up in court and are often positioned in the press as a fight of fish vs. farms.  Many such conflicts persist. But CalTrout is also cultivating a spirit of cooperation in farm country where government regulators, farmers, and conservation organizations have identified new on-farm water use practices that are good for birds, fish, and farms.

“Several years ago, the Nigiri Project studies began to show that juvenile salmon given access to shallowly flooded rice fields in winter grow at a much faster rate than do fish stuck in adjacent leveed river channels,” said lead researcher Jacob Katz, Ph.D., CalTrout’s senior scientist.

“The Nigiri studies also clearly demonstrated that flooded rice fields can be an ideal place for small aquatic insects called zooplankton to grow. When juvenile salmon are given access to the zooplankton in the field, they feast on these abundant, fattening bugs and grow at dramatic rates. But, of course, wild salmon fry hatch in the rivers not in the rice fields. As mentioned earlier, the Central Valley’s rivers are now mostly separated from the rice fields that now occupy much of the historic floodplain by levees specifically designed to prevent rivers from overflowing their banks. So how do we reunite the salmon, stuck in the food-starved river channels on the “wet side” of the levee with the abundant water bug fish food that grows in floodplain farm fields on the “dry side” of the levee?  Fortunately, a recently completed CalTrout study addressed this exact question.

 “Fish Food on Floodplain Farm Fields

“What started out as a muddy puddle in the corner of a five-acre flooded rice field in 2011 has now grown into a series of landscape-scale experiments utilizing the flood and farm water infrastructure that allows the Central Valley to be among the most intensively farmed and most productive ag landscapes on Earth.  “The Fish Food study expands the Nigiri Concept and shows even where fish can’t leave the river to swim to managed wetlands on floodplain farms, they can still benefit from the nearly 500,000 acres of valley rice fields,” said Katz.

“Dubbed the “Fish Food on Floodplain Farm Fields” experiment, this latest study explored the ecological impact and operational feasibility of increasing fish food supplies (i.e., increasing the abundance of zooplankton) in the Sacramento River itself. The experiment relied on existing irrigation and flood protection infrastructure to intentionally flood winter farm fields to encourage the growth of invertebrate food resources for fish. Shallowly flooded fields mimic the natural floodplain wetland conditions where algae and plant matter are consumed by microbes which in turn feed and promote the growth of small insects and crustaceans that are the main source of food for juvenile salmon.

“As part of the 2018 experiment, more than 5,000 acres of farmland, owned by California Reclamation District 108 in the Calusa Basin near Knight’s Landing, was flooded to a depth of about a foot in mid-November.  The field was left flooded for one month to allow the food web to mature and produce the abundant zooplankton the salmon prefer.  Then, over the next month, one-quarter of the fields were drained per week.  The water, now dense with zooplankton, was delivered through drainage canals to the Rough and Ready Pumping Facility where it was lifted by large pumps into the Sacramento River.”

Retrieved June 11, 2020 from https://caltrout.org/article/the-fish-food-story

Be well everyone.

Posted in Environmentalism, Hatcheries, Water

Anarchy in Seattle

This is a story prompting us to either cynically laugh, applaud, or tragically cry, from City Journal.

An excerpt.

“Seattle’s hard-Left secessionist movement has claimed its first territory: six blocks in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

“For the past week, Black Lives Matter and Antifa-affiliated activists have engaged in a pitched battle with Seattle police officers and National Guard soldiers in the neighborhood, with the heaviest conflict occurring at the intersection of 11th and Pike, where law enforcement had constructed a barricade to defend the Seattle Police East Precinct building. Hoping to break through the barricade, protesters attacked officers with bricks, bottles, rocks, and improvised explosive devices, sending some officers to the hospital. At the same time, activists circulated videos of the conflict and accused the police of brutality, demanding that the city cease using teargas and other anti-riot techniques.

“Then, in a stunning turn of events, the City of Seattle made the decision to abandon the East Precinct and surrender the neighborhood to the protesters. “This is an exercise in trust and de-escalation,” explained Chief Carmen Best. Officers and National Guardsmen emptied out the facility, boarded it up, and retreated. Immediately afterward, Black Lives Matter protesters, Antifa black shirts, and armed members of the hard-Left John Brown Gun Club seized control of the neighborhood, moved the barricades into a defensive position, and declared it the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone—even putting up a cardboard sign at the barricades declaring “you are now leaving the USA.”

“On the new rebel state’s first night, the atmosphere was festive and triumphant. Hooded men spray-painted the police station with slogans and anarchist symbols, renaming it the “Seattle People’s Department East Precinct.” Raz Simone, a local rapper with an AK-47 slung from his shoulder and a pistol attached to his hip, screamed, “This is war!” into a white-and-red megaphone and instructed armed paramilitaries to guard the barricades in shifts. Later in the night, Simone was filmed allegedly assaulting multiple protestors who disobeyed his orders, informing them that he was the “police” now, sparking fears that he was becoming the de facto warlord of the autonomous zone. A homeless man with a baseball bat wandered along the borderline and two unofficial medics in medieval-style chain mail stood ready for action.

“Nikkita Oliver, a radical activist and former mayoral candidate, emerged as a critical voice of the protest movement and assumed a leadership role in the newly declared autonomous zone. After night fell and a light rain began falling, she spoke to the crowd and outlined the ideological commitments behind the occupation. “[We need to] align ourselves with the global struggle that acknowledges [that] the United States plays a role in racialized capitalism,” she told protestors. “Racialized capitalism is built upon patriarchy, white supremacy, and classism.”

“The following day, a coalition of black activists associated with the autonomous zone released a more specific list of demands, including the total abolition of the Seattle Police Department, the retrial of all racial minorities serving prison time for violent crimes, and the replacement of the police with autonomous “restorative/transformative accountability programs.” Activists pledged to maintain control of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone until their demands are met—setting the stage for a long-term occupation and the establishment of a parallel political authority.

“The city government has not developed a strategic response to the takeover of Capitol Hill. According to one Seattle police officer with knowledge of internal deliberations, the city’s “leadership is in chaos” and “the mayor has made the decision to let a mob of 1,000 people dictate public safety policy for a city of 750,000.” The officer said that Chief Best had dispatched high-ranking police officials to the autonomous zone to establish a line of communication, but the officials were immediately sent away by armed paramilitaries at the barricades. “The tide of public opinion is on the side of the activists and they’re pushing the envelope as far as they can,” said the officer. “It’s not hyperbolic to say the endgame is anarchy.”

“Politically, the Seattle City Council has already begun to champion the protesters’ demands. Socialist Alternative councilwoman Kshama Sawant declared the takeover a “victory” against “the militarized police force of the political establishment and the capitalist state.” Three councilmembers have signaled support for a 50 percent reduction in the police budget, with additional councilmembers likely to support a similar policy in the coming weeks. Sawant also opened Seattle’s City Hall—which had been closed by the mayor—to protesters, who immediately occupied the building.”

Retrieved June 11, 2020 from https://www.city-journal.org/antifa-seattle-capitol-hill-autonomous-zone

Be well everyone.

Posted in History, Politics

Salmon, Going Home

These are truly amazing creatures; read this article from Eos.

An excerpt.

“After spending their adult lives at sea, salmon famously swim upriver until they reach the exact location where they were hatched. Salmon complete this incredible journey only once—after they spawn, they die. A new study has found evidence that salmon’s homing instinct may be driven in part by tiny particles of magnetite that serve as an internal compass, a mechanism previously identified in sea turtles, bats, and birds but not yet in fish.

“Long-distance animal navigation is thought to be partly guided by Earth’s magnetic field via a phenomenon known as magnetoreception. “Magnetoreception seems to be fairly universal,” having been identified in all major taxonomic animal groups, said Richard Holland, a zoologist at Bangor University in the United Kingdom who was not involved in the new study.

“Magnetoreception is thought to operate in three possible ways. (1) Crystals of the naturally magnetic mineral magnetite embedded in the animal’s tissues may enable them to orient relative to Earth’s magnetic field. (2) The magnetic field could influence biochemical reactions within the animal, in an interaction known as chemical magnetoreception. (3) The mechanism could involve electromagnetic induction. Or the process could be a combination of all three.

“Magnetite Compass

“In 1985, a team identified bits of magnetite in the olfactory region of chinook salmon. Recent studies have found the mineral in the brains of other animals, including humans. “But nobody had taken the next critical step to link the possession of magnetite in fish to a change in behavior following a magnetic pulse,” said Lewis Naisbett-Jones, a graduate student in biology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and lead author of the new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

“For their study, Naisbett-Jones and colleagues subjected hatchery-raised juvenile chinook salmon to a brief magnetic pulse strong enough to reset the polarity of a compass. They then compared the behavior of the pulsed fish to that of unpulsed fish using a magnetic coil system to create various magnetic field scenarios. They found that the test and control fish behaved differently, with the pulsed fish all facing the same direction and the control fish more randomly oriented, indicating that the pulse had “reset” the fishes’ ability to sense direction.

“The effects of the pulse are thought to be short-lived and should not permanently affect the fish, said coauthor David Noakes, a professor of fisheries at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

“However, without knowing the exact mechanisms by which magnetite influences fish behavior and navigation, “it’s difficult to know whether such experiments are really affecting what we think they are affecting,” Holland said. “A strong electromagnetic pulse could, in principle, disrupt neuronal activity” and cause a change in behavior unrelated to navigational senses, he said.

“The biggest challenge that has not been resolved is the location and structure of the [magneto]receptors,” Holland said, a step beyond identifying magnetite particles in tissues. “Without this knowledge, [designing] behavioral experiments to clearly demonstrate its function is difficult.”

“Smelling Home

“Fish are also thought to use olfactory signals to home in on their birthplace, Noakes said. “Just like how certain smells might remind you of your grandmother’s kitchen.”

“It’s likely that magnetite-based navigation is used over longer migratory distances and then the olfactory signals take over as the fish swims upriver, but it’s hard to know whether one method prevails over the other in certain conditions or if both work in conjunction, he said.

“Pinpointing the mechanisms that salmon use to navigate may help scientists create more homing-friendly hatchery environments, Noakes says. Each year, hatcheries release about 5 billion fish into the oceans to help compensate for reductions in wild populations due to dams, habitat loss, and water management issues. Less than 5% of juveniles survive to adulthood and attempt the return trip.”

Retrieved June 10, 2020 from https://eos.org/articles/internal-compass-guides-salmons-incredible-journey

 

Be well everyone.

Posted in Environmentalism, Hatcheries

Leaving California

Our home state is a great state in many ways, but many people are leaving it, which is examined in this story from California Globe.

An excerpt.

“With Antifa and Black Lives Matter riots breaking out across California, some city dwellers are longing for safer neighborhoods, and safer towns. Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer, radicals in BLM and Antifa – which ironically stands for “anti-Fascist” – used Floyd’s death as an opportunity and excuse to wreak havoc.

“For many Californians, the final straw came sooner, as more than 691,145 Californians left the state in 2018. Texas nabbed 86,164 former Californians that year, according to an Orange County Register report. “Census Bureau migration data for 2018 shows in raw terms of people moving, the top spot for Californians is Texas, which got 86,164 Californians in 2018. Next came Arizona (68,516), Washington (55,467), Nevada (50,707), and Oregon (43,058). All told, California had the most exits among the state and that wave grew by 4% in a year.”

“The California Legislative Analyst also reported that for many years, more Californians have left for other states than move here. According to data from the American Community Survey, from 2007 to 2016, about 5 million people moved to California from other states, while about 6 million left California. On net, the state lost 1 million residents to domestic migration—about 2.5 percent of its total population.

Now we are starting to see outbound migration from California’s big cities to smaller cities and towns, and to the state’s rural counties – if they even choose to stay in California.

“Real Estate agents regularly report trends, and Carol Butler, who owns 50Cabins.com and is a Resort & Second Home Specialist, says that now that people realize that they can work from home, many are choosing to make their primary home in a beautiful place outside of a big city. “I’m selling more primary homes in Tahoe and El Dorado County, and I’m a Resort & Second Home Specialist!” Butler said. “It’s as busy as ever; I just wish we had more inventory! The economy here is surprisingly strong for the Tahoe and surrounding area market.”

Butler said the other benefit is the “perceived safety” outside of big cities. The riots did not make it to El Dorado County, although she said there were a few BLM protesters in South Lake Tahoe – but no violence or destruction.

“Butler noted that the cabins and mountain homes she usually sells to second home buyers, are being purchased by primary home buyers now. “And those sellers are leaving California!”

“We know why California companies leave for other states: Chief Executive Magazine reports year after year that when CEOs across the country are surveyed, they name California as the worst state in the country in which to have to do business. California has the highest-in-the-nation taxes, one of the highest business tax climates, with the Tax Foundation ranking California at No. 49 – the second worst in the nation, ahead only of New Jersey.

“California’s 13.3% income tax rate is the highest marginal tax rate in the nation. And when you add in up to 37% federal taxes, living in California is expensive right off the top, and especially now that we cannot deduct state taxes against the federal.

“Sacramento real estate agent Stephen G. reports he is seeing more and more home sellers leaving for other states. Initially the reasons were primarily due to the high cost of living in California. After the statewide lockdown, with schools and businesses closed for months, and then the riots the last two weeks, he said he expects to see more people reaching a tipping point, making the decision to move out of state.

“Relocation specialist Joe Vranich, who used to live in California, for years has documented the outbound migration of businesses. “Business-flight appears to have gotten worse since I issued my recent report, ‘Why Companies Leave California’, which found that at least 13,000 companies moved out of state during the 2008-2016 period (the latest available figures),” Vranich wrote for Fox and Hounds last year. “The cost: $76.7 billion in capital was diverted out of California along with 275,000 Jobs – and companies acquired at least 133 million square feet of space elsewhere. All of those findings are greatly understated because relevant information often went unreported in source materials.”

Retrieved June 9, 2020 from https://californiaglobe.com/section-2/californias-outbound-migration-continues-with-some-in-state-diversions/

Be well everyone.

Posted in demographics, History

California Debt

It’s substantial and one cause is very generous government employee retirement benefits, explained in this article from City Journal.

An excerpt.

“California has asked Washington for $14 billion in Covid-related support, in addition to the $8 billion already provided by the CARES Act. But because the state, with an annual General Fund of $150 billion, incurs more than $24 billion of annual expenses for pensions and other post-employment benefits (OPEB)—including post-employment subsidies for health insurance—a big chunk of the federal disbursement won’t go to schools, hospitals, or roads.

“California’s pension problems are well known, but the OPEB crisis is almost as bad. California pays 100 percent of the health-insurance premiums for retired state employees and 90 percent of the premiums for retirees’ family members. As a result, the state incurs annual OPEB expenses of more than $7 billion. Because the state covers that cost with a combination of cash ($2.7 billion this year) and debt, California’s OPEB deficit is $85 billion, exceeding the amount of the state’s outstanding General Obligation Bonds, which—unlike OPEB debt—were approved by voters. OPEB subsidies for retired employees are not only gold-plated but also largely unnecessary, because California—alone among the states—offers its middle-class residents health-insurance subsidies on top of what they get from Washington. Under that program, individuals earning up to $75,000 per year, and families of four earning up to $150,000 per year, are entitled to support from Sacramento.

“Retired state employees whom I know are embarrassed by their OPEB benefits. As early as age 50, they and their dependents get premium-free insurance and prescription-drug coverage; to pay for the largesse, the state diverts money from other programs. No other state offers such a rich OPEB program. Per resident, California incurs 60 times and 24 times the OPEB expense of Oregon and Colorado, respectively. Oregon caps its OPEB subsidies at $60 per month and eliminated the program for employees entering employment after 2003. Colorado caps its subsidies at $115 per month for retirees age 65 or older and $230 per month for retirees younger than age 65. California, again, pays for everything.

“State government is not the only profligate OPEB spender in California. San Francisco incurs an annual OPEB expense of more than $400 million; the University of California, more than $1 billion. Eliminating OPEB at the Los Angeles Unified School District could provide teachers with $10,000 raises in annual compensation. Even during flush times, as recently as last year, OPEB payments forced layoffs at Sacramento’s public schools. These localities, and others throughout the Golden State, should follow the examples of the Ventura Unified School District, Stockton, and Glendale, which eliminated their OPEB programs to help preserve services for students and residents—and jobs for active employees.”

Retrieved June 4, 2020 from https://www.city-journal.org/california-retiree-health-care-spending

Be well everyone.

Posted in Economy, Government

Working Remotely

As it has become well-used during the virus, what does it future look like?

This article from City Journal examines that.

An excerpt.

“Amid the Covid-19 global pandemic, remote work (or telework) has gone from an optional perk to an essential capability. While remote work’s short-term benefits are obvious, there is also a long-term case to be made for it that does not depend merely on its role in reducing the spread of disease. Remote work should not necessarily be set aside once the pandemic subsides.

“Last May, the payments-processing firm Stripe announced that it would staff its fifth engineering hub entirely with remote workers. The company justified the decision by noting that “the substrate of collaboration has gotten shockingly good over the last decade” and that “while we did not initially plan to make hiring remotes a huge part of our engineering efforts, our remote employees have outperformed all expectations.” Stripe isn’t the only company impressed by off-site workers. In a two-year internal study, Google concluded that the performance of remote and co-located teams showed no significant differences. In February 2020, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey declared: “Our concentration in San Francisco is not serving us any longer, and we will strive to be a far more distributed workforce, which we will use to improve our execution.” A 2019 study at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found remote patent examiners more productive than co-located ones. And a study of Portuguese research-and-development firms from 2011 to 2016 found that enabling remote work increased labor productivity.

“Change is clearly under way. Between 1960 and 2000, the share of non-farmworkers working full-time from home never topped 3.5 percent. Since 2000, their share has risen steadily, to 5 percent in 2017—and the gain is almost entirely explained by remote employees, not self-employed entrepreneurs working out of their homes. Strikingly, the share of remotes is even greater for higher income brackets: 7.9 percent of those earning more than $75,000 yearly work off-site. As economist Adam Ozimek argues, moreover, this is a lower estimate on the number of remotes, since it excludes workers in satellite offices, co-working spaces, coffee shops, and other alternatives. A 2019 survey commissioned by Upwork and the Freelancers Union found that including such alternative work sites raises the share of remotes to roughly one in ten; including those who work remotely some of the time increases the percentage to about one in three.

“These trends suggest that it may be time to take another look at the “death of distance”—the notion, influential during the 1990s, that the Internet renders geographical location increasingly irrelevant. This idea lost traction during the 2000s, as it became obvious that the productivity benefits of cities were growing instead of declining. Innovation and other “knowledge” work are collaborative phenomena, drawing on social dynamics that have benefited from physical proximity. As the value of knowledge work rose, so, too, did the importance of being near one’s current and potential collaborators; hence, we see the flourishing of big American cities like New York. But that development now seems to be flagging. While the share of Americans living in cities of more than 50,000 people has continued to rise—from 68 percent in 2000 to 71 percent in 2016—America’s largest cities (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) have started to lose population over the last few years.

“What’s driving the long-delayed emergence of remote work? Most obviously, the technology supporting it has improved. Perhaps equally important: we’re getting better at using the Internet, inventing new social and cultural methods of interacting on it. Comfort with working online is, unsurprisingly, strongest among the young. An Upwork survey found that 40 percent of 18- to 34-year-old small-business principals planned to hire full-time remote workers, compared with just 10 percent of principals aged 50 and older. Younger workers are also more likely to express interest in remote work. As Ozimek observes, even without further technological advances, remote work seems set to expand, simply for demographic reasons.

“Co-locating employees for “intangible” or knowledge work has traditionally made sense for firms. Such work requires extensive internal communication, and face-to-face exchanges have made that easier. Face-to-face meetings enable one employee to transmit information (by speaking), while the other party provides simultaneous nonverbal cues on how the information is being received. The message recipient can nod to indicate comprehension, for example, wrinkle his forehead to signal confusion, frown to show displeasure, or interrupt with a question. In-person communication is unparalleled in adjusting messages on the fly, based on audience reaction, and this becomes especially important when complex ideas are under discussion.

“Yet is face-to-face communication so superior to high-quality video calls? For a long time, video calls were low-resolution, laggy, and unreliable, making nonverbal cues hard to pick up and verbal interruptions awkward. Nowadays, cameras and microphones are getting better, broadband Internet is widely available, and screens are larger and high-definition. High-quality video streaming is accessible across multiple platforms. What does direct interaction offer that can’t also be had with video calls?

“Well, for one, less friction to communicate. The challenge with video communication is the many minor interactions that go on in a typical workday. When everyone is situated in the same office, lots of low-cost opportunities exist for the exchange of low-value information—you can ask someone in the hallway a quick question, or bounce an idea off a person, or pop your head into a colleague’s office to get advice. Initiating a video call for similar discussions seems awkward. While video communication largely solves the problem of communicating complex high-value information, the absence of low-stakes interactions can lead to gaps in information—and those can add up. Moreover, low-stakes conversations, which may not even relate directly to work, are probably very important in building trust among employees.”

Retrieved June 3, 2020 from https://www.city-journal.org/remote-works-time-has-come

Be well everyone.

Posted in Economy, Technology

E Coli in American River

An ongoing problem, as reported by KCRA Channel 3.

Article claims no one knows where the e coli comes from but most folks who have kept track of news from the area in mention, surely understand it is probably connected to the hundreds of homeless camps in the area.

An excerpt.

“On Memorial Day Weekend, when people packed beaches, water samples from the American River show it matched the highest level of E. coli recorded in the last two years.

“According to data from the Central Valley Water Board, samples collected on May 21 reveal E. coli levels at Tiscornia Beach and Discovery Park were seven times higher than EPA standards.

“Since January 2018, that same level of E. coli has been found in the American River in at least 24 different weekly samples.

“Samples collected on May 21 reveal E. coli levels at North 10th street were five times higher than federal standards.

“Scientists hadn’t taken samples since March because of COVID-19, but they resumed earlier this month.

“They’ll continue taking weekly samples through the summer.

“Officials say all natural waterways have some E. coli in them, but the higher levels can potentially lead to an increased number of gastrointestinal sickness for people in the water.

“As of now, it’s not clear what’s causing the high levels of E. coli, so that’s something the Central Valley Water Board is working to find out.

“Is it birds, is it dogs, is it human? Right now we don’t know the answer to that but we’re concerned enough that we want to spend the effort and the time and collect and do the right science to try and figure this out because what that’s going to do is allow us to go the next steps and ask the question of is this a source that we can mitigate,” Central Valley Water Board Assistant Executive Officer Adam Laputz told KCRA 3.”

Retrieved May 28, 2020 from https://www.kcra.com/article/swim-at-your-own-risk-high-levels-of-e-coli-found-along-american-river/32705254

Be well everyone.

Posted in Homelessness