Florida led the world in shark attacks again in 2020

By Sydney N. Walton | CNN

The US is once again the shark attack capital of the world in 2020. Thanks, Florida!

Last year, the US reported 33 unprovoked shark attacks, accounting for about 58% of the total number of unprovoked shark attacks that occurred worldwide, according to the Yearly World Shark Attack Summary from the International Shark Attack File (ISAF).

This is a decrease from 2019, when 64% of the global unprovoked bites occurred in the US.

ISAF categorizes shark attacks by first deciding if they were provoked or unprovoked.

“Unprovoked attacks are defined as incidents in which an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark,” ISAF said.

“Provoked attacks occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, bites on spearfishers, bites on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net and so forth.”

ISAF said it investigated 129 alleged shark-human interactions worldwide in 2020 — 57 were unprovoked shark bites on humans, and 39 were provoked bites.

Of the 33 unprovoked shark attacks in the US, 16 of them were in Florida. The state’s 16 cases represent 28% of unprovoked bites worldwide.

“For decades, Florida has topped global charts in the number of shark bites, and this trend continued in 2020,” ISAF said in its summary. “However, the state saw a significant drop from its most recent five-year annual average of 30 incidents.”

Eight of the shark bites in Florida, or 50% of the state’s total in 2020, occurred in Volusia County, according to the ISAF.

How the pandemic impacted shark attack reporting process

ISAF said that while the incidence of bites both in the US and globally have been declining over time, “2020’s numbers represent a more drastic drop than would be expected.”

Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program, said that Covid-19’s impact was something he and his colleagues speculated about back in March.

According to Naylor, the pandemic hasn’t necessarily caused a drop in cases — but it has impacted researchers’ ability to follow-up and confirm cases when they are reported.

“We typically talk to emergency room doctors and nurses to create our reports,” Naylor said. “However, they’ve been so overwhelmed with the Covid-19 response that they haven’t always had time to talk to a bunch of scientists that are asking detailed questions about a shark attack.”

Based on its research in the last year, ISAF said the “observed drop in shark bite incidents may have been caused by the widespread quarantines, closed beaches and minimized vacation travel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Spike in shark-related fatalities reported worldwide

There were 13 shark-related fatalities this year, 10 of which were confirmed to be unprovoked, ISAF said in its Yearly Worldwide Shark Attack Summary.

“This number is above the annual global average of four unprovoked fatalities per year,” ISAF wrote.

But, “despite 2020’s spike in fatalities, long-term trends show a decreasing number of annual fatalities. Year-to-year variability in oceanographic, socioeconomic and meteorological conditions significantly influences the local abundance of sharks and humans in the water.”

Of the global fatalities, Australia saw “a higher incidence of fatal bites than normal in 2020,” ISAF said. The country had six confirmed fatal shark attacks.

“Australians are not naive when it comes to the inherent dangers of surfing and swimming,” Naylor said. “So I was surprised that the number was as high as it was this year.”

Meanwhile, in the US, there were three confirmed fatal shark attacks last year. This is an increase from 2019, when there weren’t any confirmed cases in the US.

The three fatal attacks happened in Hawaii, California and Maine. Although Florida is usually home to most of the unprovoked attacks, the state didn’t have any confirmed fatalities last year.

How to avoid a shark attack

Most bites — 61% of the total cases in 2020 — were related to surfing and board sports, ISAF said.

But don’t worry: “Short-term trends still show both fatal and non-fatal bites to be decreasing,” ISAF said.

“The total number of unprovoked shark bites worldwide is extremely low, given the number of people participating in aquatic recreation each year.”

Should you find yourself in the sea, ISAF said there are many ways to avoid a shark attack.

ISAF encourages people “avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.”

The organization also urges people to not enter the water if they are bleeding, because “a shark’s olfactory ability is acute.”

Shiny jewelry can also attract sharks, as “the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.”

ISAF also encouraged people to avoid wearing bright swimwear or dive gear, because “any high contrast color apparel or gear used by a human in the water is especially visible to sharks.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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A new year after a tumultuous one: What’s your net wealth now?

Many of us are relieved that 2020 is over and we are beginning a new year.

Last year was not a year that any of us would have wished for. The firestorm arrived in March when the whispers of COVID-19 became a reality. Our rug was pulled out from under us, and life quickly changed. The stock market fell, unemployment levels climbed and anxiety became an emotion we felt daily. In the end, the year was full of highs and lows. The markets recovered, some businesses failed while others thrived, all while we quarantined. In some manner or another, life was different.

This year, we may have the same resolutions as in the past — such as losing weight, exercising or eating healthier. Or our normal resolutions may feel frivolous because our needs have significantly changed. Our goals may be much direr this year, such as finding a job or putting food on the table for our family.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum, as we enter the new year, take a bit of time to review your finances.

Do you know your net worth?

Whether your net worth is high or low, you should understand what it is. Without understanding where you are now financially, how do you plan for your future? Calculating your net worth sounds complicated, but for most people, it’s not. Make a list of your assets (what you own). Then, subtract the liabilities from the assets (what you owe) to determine your net worth. If you have never done this, use this year’s net worth statement as a benchmark going forward. Every January, compare your statement of net worth to those of prior years.

Is your net worth growing or decreasing? Understand why it has changed. Are you saving more, has your debt increased or was the stock market up or down?

Create a budget

Do you know where you’re spending money? Most people know their mortgage and car payments, but fewer pay attention to the amounts they spend on food, Instacart or online purchases, especially if they are using a credit card.

Budgeting will help you understand how you’re spending. Track all expenses for a minimum of 30 days or, better yet, the entire year. Write out monthly expenses first, then add up any additional spending. After you’ve tracked expenses for a month, think about the following:

— Where can you reduce spending? If your income has decreased and there’s a monthly shortfall, examine which expenses can be eliminated or minimized.

— Are you using credit cards monthly because you’re short on cash? If so, does the card come with a low interest rate? Do not avoid looking at the statement to understand the rate and your options.

— How can you eliminate outstanding debt?

— Are you maximizing your annual contribution and employer match in your retirement plan?

— How much will you need to save to maintain the same standard of living in retirement?

— Are you saving enough to meet goals?

Plan for big-ticket items

Are you planning on moving, buying a car, replacing your roof or paying for college tuition in the future? Do you know how much this expense will cost, and have you thought about how to pay for it? If the money is not readily available in the savings account, pencil out a timeline, break the expense down to a monthly cost and plug the expense into your budget.

To avoid accumulating unwanted debt, what changes in your spending can you make now to save for this goal?

Prepare for the unexpected

As we were reminded in 2020, life can change unexpectedly and fast. Are you prepared for a job loss, illness, disability, natural disaster or lawsuit? Insurance and savings can protect you against unforeseen events.

— Do you have an emergency fund with at least six months (or more) of expenses in a savings or money market account?

— Are you adequately insured to meet your risk?

— Do you have a disaster plan in place and supplies readily available if an unexpected natural disaster occurs?

If you are tech-savvy, consider storing inventories and important documents on a portable hard drive. It’s also a good idea to retain copies of birth certificates, passports, wills, trust documents, records of home improvements, and insurance policies in a small, secure evacuation box (the fireproof, waterproof kind you can lock is best) that can be grabbed in a hurry in the event of an evacuation.

Protect your estate

Without proper beneficiary designations, a trust, a will, and other basic documents, the fate of your assets or minor children may be decided by attorneys and tax agencies. Probate fees, taxes and attorneys’ fees can erode your estate and delay the distribution of the assets when heirs may need them the most. If estate planning documents are not in place, schedule a meeting this year with an attorney who specializes in estate planning.

As we enter a new year and ponder the outcome of 2021, the unknowns are many. While our future may be uncertain, understanding where we stand financially provides the opportunity to make sound financial decisions, not emotional ones. While we cannot control our future, we can control our actions, understand where we stand financially, and make sound financial decisions based on that knowledge.

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California sees suspicious surge in coronavirus unemployment claims for gig workers

By ADAM BEAM | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO  — California is reporting a surge in coronavirus unemployment claims last week for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed — the category of benefits blamed for much of the state’s fraudulent payments.

The state last week received more than 110,800 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims, an increase of more than 77,00 from the week before. It was so large it accounted for more than a quarter of all such claims nationally, according to numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The claims fall under a program Congress approved last year to give unemployment benefits to people during the pandemic who are usually ineligible to receive them. The program has helped a lot of people who are self-employed weather economic shutdowns from the virus. But its broad eligibility requirements have made it a target of criminals seeking easy paydays.

State officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have repeatedly blamed the unemployment benefits program for the self employed as the source of much of the state’s fraud. Last year, the state acknowledged it paid $400 million in fraudulent benefits in the names of 20,000 prison inmates. An analysis of 345,000 frozen accounts last year by Bank of America estimated the state paid at least $2 billion in fraudulent claims.

And Blake Hall, founder and CEO of ID.me, told the Los Angeles Times last week that at least 10% of all claims submitted before the state put in new safeguards in October may have been fraudulent — which could result in nearly $10 billion in fraudulent payments.

The number of unemployment claims for contractors and gig workers fell significantly after the state imposed new safeguards, until Thursday when a massive increase was reported.

Loree Levy, deputy director of public affairs for the Employment Development Department, said state officials expected that increase after Congress approved an extension of benefits as part of a coronavirus relief package in December.

Levy said it took a few weeks for the state to implement the additional 11 weeks of benefits that Congress approved, causing a delay for some new claims during that period. Plus, she said another round of business restrictions in December because of a surge of coronavirus hospitalizations likely increased the number of people filing for new claims.

But Michael Bernick, a former EDD director who is now an attorney with the Duane Morris law firm, said the numbers “make no sense” because the increase the state reported was all for new claims, not existing claims.

Most independent contractors in California that have been impacted by the pandemic should already have filed their claims in the previous nine months, he said. Their benefits would be extended under the new congressional aid package, but those benefits should not have shown up as new claims.

“These numbers suggest that the identify-theft rings from throughout the world have not halted efforts, and fraud remains a main issue,” Bernick said.

The state has been overwhelmed with unemployment claims since March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order that shuttered many businesses. The state has processed more than 19 million claims and paid out more than $113 billion in benefits.

About 4 million of those claims claims and $43 billion of those payments payments fall under the program for independent contractors.

California was flooded with claims in the early days of the pandemic after Newsom imposed stay-at-home orders in mid-March that closed most businesses. The department managed to resolve most of a backlog that peaked last year at 1.6 million claims. But the pile has grown again and now stands at more than 800,000 people.

Newsom imposed a new stay-at-home order on much of the state in December after a surge in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Newsom extended those orders in many regions this month. But he lifted the order for the counties in and around the state capital.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a frequent critic of Newsom’s handling of the state’s unemployment claims, said he his office has been inundated with calls from constituents in recent weeks seeking help obtaining unemployment benefits, an indication that many have again lost their jobs because of the lingering restrictions on businesses.

Patterson said he suspects the increase in claims is likely a mix of fraudulent and legitimate claims, noting state officials have not been able to tell the difference. Last month, the state froze an additional 1.4 million claims because of fraud suspicions, prompting an outcry from people who say their legitimate benefits were halted.

“Legitimate people are being denied and we can’t really get a handle by how much fraud is still out there,” he said. “The fraudsters are still attacking the system and getting paid and those who should be getting paid are finding it more and more difficult.”

The safeguards the department has put in place have made it much harder for people to file fraudulent claims, said El Dorado District Attorney Vern Pierson, president of the California District Attorneys Association and one of many prosecutors investigating fraudulent unemployment claims statewide.

Pierson said he believes the spike in claims is likely related to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and accompanying business restrictions that have hurt the economy.

But no system is foolproof, he said.

“Criminals are still trying to defeat the system,” Pierson said. “It can be defeated.”

The state has not said how many fraudulent claims it has paid. State Auditor Elaine Howle is scheduled to release two audits of the department next week.

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‘A lot of us are going to have PTSD.’ Fatigue, burnout, exhaustion plague hospital staffs during COVID surge

When Ruth Godde hooks up her patients to a ventilator at Antelope Valley Hospital, sometimes they grab her arm and ask if they are going to make it.

“You can’t with assurance say ‘yes’ to them, but you don’t want them to be more stressed than they already are, so we say, ‘We’re doing this to save you,’ ” she said. “But you realize as you’re incubating them the chances are they might not make it. In several instances, they don’t.”

As the COVID case count surges across Southern California, medical workers report burnout, fatigue and exhaustion as they scramble to save their patients’ lives.

“It’s exhausting mentally,” Godde said, adding that during her 12-hour shifts she has only one opportunity to eat or drink. She often cries in her car on the way home.

Every minute 10 people test positive for coronavirus in Los Angeles County. Every six minutes someone dies from the virus, officials say. Some ambulances circle for hours until a bed is free at hospitals. And some mortuaries are so full, they refuse to take on more bodies.

Los Angeles County, in the meantime, has approached the grim milestone of 1 million coronavirus cases, with more than 13,930 fatalities.

Death takes heavy toll

That has taken a merciless toll on medical workers.

On some days, nurse Michele Younkin from St. Jude Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit in Fullerton sees multiple deaths, she said, and rarely makes it through a shift without crying or comforting other nurses.

“I hold every patient that I lost … I hold them in my heart,” she said, as her voice cracked. “I can picture every single one, and I will probably never forget them.

“It’s emotionally taxing on our floor,” she added, “because we have so many deaths.”


In this July 31, 2020, file photo, Romelia Navarro, 64, holds the hand of her dying husband, Antonio, as nurse Michele Younkin injects the patient with a solution in his final moments in a COVID-19 unit at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

For Dr. Thomas Yadegar, a pulmonologist and medical director of the intensive care unit at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center, it’s been a long 10 months since the pandemic began raging. When he walks into the hospital, he knows the first few minutes there will be “one emergency after another” until the end of his 20-hour shift.

“No matter how many hours I put in, no matter how hard I work, it just seems like at the end of the day, there are another 10, 15, 20 patients that need my attention,” he said, “and it’s heartbreaking because I know that I’m not able to give them everything that they deserve.”

Every single day, depending on the caseload, Yadegar typically cares for about 35 patients, but there are days when he is responsible for up to 80. He can’t remember the last time he slept more than three hours at a time. These days, Yadegar said, he sees more deaths in a day than he did in a month before the post-Thanksgiving surge.

Within mere weeks in early December, he said, the hospital was functioning smoothly with a small number of coronavirus patients, and then the COVID patient volume kept doubling, overwhelming the staff.

“I had to expand our ICU and, even with increased capacity, 90% of patients in our ICUs were COVID-19 patients,” Yadegar said. “Every single floor is now filled with COVID-19 patients and over 80% of our acute care are devoted to COVID-19 patients.” The hospital had to cancel any kind of elective and semi-elective surgeries so it could focus on treating patients infected with the virus.

Keeping families connected

At the nursing station at UC Irvine in Orange County, meanwhile, the phone is ringing nonstop as family members seek updates on the conditions of their loved ones, said Angela Mayfield, a registered nurse in a medical-surgical unit during a recent virtual protest hosted by California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.


Registered nurses Robin Gooding, left, and Johanna Ortiz treat a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

“Nurses have worked short-staffed for many months while the work at the bedside remains physically and emotionally exhausting. The patients’ conditions are declining and the pressure on the bedside nurse can be overwhelming,” she said.

Registered nurse Robin Gooding at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills said nurses are “working really hard” providing emotional support to patients who often are not allowed to see family members.

“It’s kind of puts a burden on the stuff because you have to become a family member to patients,” she said, adding that the staff often feels “responsible for making sure those patients are passing comfortably.”

Patients in the hallways

Another nurse from UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center said during the same protest her emergency department is so crowded that patients are moved to the hallway, putting both patients and staff at risk for exposure.

Nurses describe similar experiences at other hospitals, citing exhaustion and burnout amid dealing with the overload of patients, the shortage of gowns and broken equipment.

Valerie Ewald, a registered nurse at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, said she was offered “decontaminated masks,” that not only smelled bad but also had broken straps, making her wonder whether they offer sufficient protection.

In a statement, UCLA Health spokesman said that the hospital has “sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment and follows CDC guidelines regarding quality.”

“The safety and well-being of UCLA Health nurses, our other health care workers and our patients is our overriding priority at all times,” Enrique Rivero said. “We understand the anxiety created by the high volume of COVID-19 patients and associated workload, and we value our staff’s dedication to safe, high-quality, compassionate patient care.”

Higher nurse-patient ratios

It doesn’t help that the state recently allowed hospitals to adjust their nurse-to-patient ratios. New rules adopted during the pandemic allow hospitals to ask ICU nurses to care for three patients instead of two while emergency room and telemetry nurses might be required to take care of six instead of four patients.

Hospitals say they are so overloaded with high numbers of coronavirus patients, they simply don’t have enough medical personnel to respond to the crisis.

But asking nurses to take care of more patients will overwhelm already exhausted medical staff and weaken their ability to provide quality care, workers say.

“We are working to exhaustion, sweating and dehydrated from the long hours of wearing the personal protective equipment that we need to keep safe,” Mayfield said. “Our patients are struggling to breathe and stay alive.”

On a recent afternoon, Godde stopped another nurse at Antelope Valley Hospital, a mother of a newborn, who’s still breastfeeding, to remind her to go pump.

“She’s been leaking for a couple of hours and … you can tell she isn’t even aware of it because we’re all running around,” she said. “It breaks your heart.”

Quality care suffering

One Godde colleague at Antelope Valley, intensive care unit nurse Cindy Gillison, said she deals with “the sickest of the sick” on a daily basis. Medical staffing, meanwhile, is stretched so thin, she added, they can’t provide the quality care their patients need.

“These patients are dying alone,” she said, adding that there’s nowhere for the staff to put the bodies. Two refrigerated semi-trucks parked in the hospital’s parking lot are holding bodies. “There’s a tremendous amount of crying. It’s devastating.”


Before her 12-hour shift, nurse Cindy Gillison poses on Jan. 13 outside Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, where she is caring for more patients since the state allowed hospitals to relax nurse-to-patient ratios amid the coronavirus pandemic. In the last few months, she has seen “a mass exodus” of nurses to bigger hospitals that offer bonuses and higher pay. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Once the pandemic is over, “a lot of us are going to have PTSD,” said the single mother of three. “It’s like a war zone. … We’re in the wrong place at the wrong time all the time.”

Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris said FEMA and Samaritan’s Purse, the faith-based disaster relief organization, have provided about 60 medical personnel to Antelope Valley Hospital to relieve the workload.

Still, like many other medical workers, Gillison braces herself for another surge following New Year’s Eve. “It’s scary to think what’s going to happen after four weeks, when the New Year’s surge comes,” she said.

The most frustrating part of the latest surge? It was preventable, medical workers say.

In the beginning of the pandemic, said Yadegar from Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center, health care workers sensed support from the general public, but in recent weeks that support has “dissipated.” That, he said, has been “truly demoralizing and has taken everything away from us.”

As he drives home after his 20-hour shift, he watches how people are “living their lives as if nothing is happening.”

“If the general public … could see the misery, the pain and the anguish that we deal with on a daily basis,” he said, “they would not want to go to the grocery store, let alone get together or go to parties or travel.”

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Indian village cheers for Kamal Harris before swearing-in as US Vice President

By RISHI LEKHI and AIJAZ RAHI | The Associated Press

THULASENDRAPURAM, India — People in a tiny Indian village surrounded by rice paddies flocked to a Hindu temple, burst crackers and uttered prayers Wednesday hours before its descendant, Kamala Harris, takes her oath of office to become the U.S. vice president.

Groups of women in bright saris and men wearing white dhotis thronged the temple with sweets and flowers, offering special prayers for Harris’ success.

“We are feeling very proud that an Indian is being elected as the vice president of America,” said Anukampa Madhavasimhan, a teacher.

The ceremony in Thulasendrapuram, where Harris’ maternal grandfather was born about 350 kilometers (215 miles) from the southern coastal city of Chennai, saw the idol of Hindu deity Ayyanar, a form of Lord Shiva, washed with milk and decked with flowers by the priest. Shortly after, the village reverberated with a boom of firecrackers as people held up posters of Harris and clapped their hands.

Harris is set to make history as the first woman, first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent to hold the vice presidency. What makes her achievement special in this village is her Indian heritage.

Harris’ grandfather was born in Thulasendrapuram more than 100 years ago. Many decades later, he moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state. Harris’ late mother was also born in India, before moving to the U.S. to study at the University of California. She married a Jamaican man, and they named their daughter Kamala, a Sanskrit word for “lotus flower.”

In several speeches, Harris has often spoken about her roots and how she was guided by the values of her Indian-born grandfather and mother.

So when Joe Biden and Harris triumphed in the U.S. election last November, Thulasendrapuram became the center of attention in entire India. Local politicians flocked to the village and young children carrying placards with photos of Harris ran along the dusty roads.

Then and now, villagers set off firecrackers and distributed sweets and flowers as a religious offering.

Posters and banners of Harris from November still adorn walls in the village and many hope she ascends to the presidency in 2024. Biden has skirted questions about whether he will seek reelection or retire.

“For the next four years, if she supports India, she will be the president,” said G Manikandan, who has followed Harris politically and whose shop proudly displays a wall calendar with pictures of Biden and Harris.

On Tuesday, an organization that promotes vegetarianism sent food packets for the village children as gifts to celebrate Harris’ success.

In the capital New Delhi, there has been both excitement — and some concern — over Harris’ ascend to the vice presidency.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invested in President Donald Trump, who visited India in February last year. Modi’s many Hindu nationalist supporters also were upset with Harris when she expressed concern about Kashmir, the disputed Muslim-majority region whose statehood India’s government revoked last year.

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Joe Biden’s COVID team is nervous about what the Trump team hasn’t told them

By Sara Murray, MJ Lee and Kristen Holmes | CNN

With the hours dwindling until Joe Biden is sworn in — officially taking the helm of the US government during its worst health crisis in 100 years — a sense of nervousness has set in among those advising the incoming President on the pandemic.

The overarching, nagging concern: “They don’t know what they don’t know,” said a source close to the Biden Covid-19 team.

Biden is set to inherit a nation grieving hundreds of thousands of Americans who have perished from the virus, a health care system buckling under the strain of the pandemic, new variants of the disease popping up around the world and a public that is both stressed about the prospect of when they can get vaccinated, as well as dubious about whether to trust the vaccine when it’s their turn in line.

Multiple officials familiar with the transition said the lack of full cooperation and transparency from the outgoing Trump administration has contributed to Biden’s Covid team feeling frustrated and concerned about having a full understanding of the scope of the problems they will confront on Day One.

But the President-elect’s team feels ready for the fight.

[vemba-video id=”politics/2021/01/19/joe-biden-on-covid-19-mh-orig.cnn”]

“We’re not going to hide from the fact that is going to be a tremendous effort that is going to require the hard work of millions of Americans,” said Rep. Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat on the House coronavirus subcommittee who has participated in briefings with Biden’s transition team and was describing their posture coming into office. “It’s not going to be some magical solution.”

The President-elect understands just how much the success of his presidency will depend on his ability to get the virus under control, the source close to Biden’s Covid operation said. The President-elect is anxious and focused on the pandemic right now, which looms large over Wednesday’s inauguration.

Chief among the Biden team’s concerns right now is vaccine supply and turning around the lackluster distribution effort, though new strains of the virus are another persistent worry for the incoming team.

One source familiar with the Biden effort acknowledged a major gap the incoming team will have to confront is that there is currently no effective and trustworthy line of communication between states and the federal government.

Ramping up federal involvement in coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution starts with building up communications with each state to better understand their infrastructure and supply challenges, something that’s expected to be a focus in the early days of Biden’s presidency.

States are clamoring for the federal government to release larger batches of vaccine. But it’s still not clear if there will be enough vaccine available to drastically speed up the pace at which they can be distributed and administered.

While there is optimism that additional vaccines will be soon approved for use in the United States, including the potential of a single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, there are questions about whether it can be produced fast enough to significantly address any potential supply problems.

Foster, the Illinois congressman, said getting information from the Trump administration on delivery schedules and production progress for vaccines “has been like pulling teeth.”

“And I understand the frustration of the Biden (team), if they were seeing the same sort of resistance we saw, on not what was contracted and promised but what the actual milestones in the vaccine production are along the way,” he added.

Outgoing health officials in the Trump administration, meanwhile, insist they have been cooperative with the Biden team and have had hundreds of meetings with Biden’s transition team.

Still, the Biden team likely won’t get a full scope of the vaccine production landscape until he takes office Wednesday.

The President-elect’s team has expressed concerns about trying to get a grasp on exactly how the vaccine distribution is playing out — and what’s slowing it down — across all 50 states.

Even though Biden’s team is fully aware they can’t federalize the vaccine distribution process with the snap of a finger, the President-elect has vowed that the federal government will play a much more aggressive role in streamlining the vaccine distribution and Covid containment efforts.

But even when it comes to some signature promises — like deploying the National Guard to run vaccination sites — it will most likely fall to each state to determine what works best for them.

New variants of the coronavirus could prove to be another vexing problem for the incoming administration.

The worst-case scenario for Biden’s team would a variant that cannot be treated by currently approved vaccines. But America’s inferior screening systems for monitoring new strains of the virus, combined with the fraught relationship with the outgoing Trump administration, adds emerging variants to the thorny list of problems a Biden administration won’t be able to fully tackle until he takes office.

Containing any new variant of the disease played into the Biden team’s decision to immediately throw cold water on President Donald Trump’s order lifting some travel restrictions on incoming travelers from much of Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil. While the outgoing President ordered those restrictions to be lifted on January 26 — nearly a week after Biden takes office — Biden’s team said the President-elect would block the order once he’s in office.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Monday. “In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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Is the office really necessary anymore?

As I craft this column in my re-modeled garage office — don’t pity me, it’s an awesome space ! — my thoughts are pondering the lasting impact of the year of the Pandemic 2020 for commercial real estate.

One of the questions I ponder is “how necessary is a physical office location?” And I’m referring to everything from a single-story, freestanding building – like the one my company owns and occupies in Orange – to a suite in a shiny high rise – and all destinations between – mid-rise campus, two-story garden variety and shared collaborative spaces such as executive suites and WeWork.

Full disclosure: I specialize in industrial commercial real estate, which is vastly different from the office classes mentioned. Therefore, my opinions are gleaned from my own experience working remotely and those of my colleagues – not from market occupants. So with that disclaimer, let’s dive in.

Certainly, in the past, when we’ve witnessed migration from a home-based office to a brick and mortar location certain triggers emerge. I wrote an entire missive on location advice and how to relocate a home-based business to commercial real estate. Simply, hiring employees, and/or receiving customers generally portends a move.

However, in the former – with a virtual workplace now firmly rooted – moving from home due to hiring employees isn’t a driver. As an example, my business coach’s organization is corporately located in Cary, North Carolina – in his pool house, no less! Spanning the globe are the group’s coaches. Mine lives in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. We convene bi-monthly via Zoom and it works great!

As to the customer issue, I’m considering hiring a landscape designer based in Portland, Oregon. Yep. He never has to physically visit my property. We had our initial consult virtually.

Once he’s given the green light, his team will use a combination of Google maps, my measurements and drawings I have from another project to virtually design our yard. Pretty slick! We will collaborate electronically to phase the project, and with our feedback, the final product will appear like magic. An aside. What a brilliant business model! He can still design and build in the Pacific Northwest but create concepts for homeowners globally – without ever having to leave the comfort of his basement.

So, in those two examples, one has built an entire business from a folding table in his carport and the other has expanded his offerings well past the physical bounds of Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Commercial real estate is a blend. We can see clients at their locations or via FaceTime, Zoom or Skype. (Wow! What happened there?) Our tours of available buildings can be conducted in person or using the same tools, plus drone footage, Matterport walks, virtual reality  and the like.

For sure, nothing beats sitting face to face with a client or prospect, perusing her operation, and witnessing shortcomings of the address. Fortunately, our team was better prepared than some. We’ve spent the past few years evolving so that we could serve our clients from anywhere – office, home, project’s lobby, or the front seat of our car.

Networking has become a challenge. Our chapter of SIOR – dependent upon semi-annual conferences and monthly dinners – has morphed into something akin to a birthday celebration with a 90-year-old aunt. Yeah, they aren’t happening in person. It is very difficult to mimic the excitement of a Chamber of Commerce lunch, Pro-Visors, or a BNI one-to-one with a potential referral partner.

One echoing drumbeat is culture. If everyone is not together in the same location – how on earth do you create an atmosphere of – “well, we do it this way?” That, dear readers, is a topic for another day!

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104.

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‘I’m all for it’: Governor Newsom, state Assembly support removing Trump

By KATHLEEN RONAYNE | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO  — California Gov. Gavin Newsom added his support Monday for removing President Donald Trump from office through impeachment or the 25th Amendment.

“I’m all for it,” the Democratic governor said in response to a question about his stance on both options, before quickly changing the subject.

“That’s not my focus right now. My focus, candidly, is on you and your family, as it relates to issues associated with getting us through this very challenging wave in this pandemic,” he said, referencing the effort to vaccinate California’s nearly 40 million residents against the coronavirus.

Newsom’s approval of removing Trump put him in line with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. The House will begin debate Wednesday on an impeachment resolution charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection.”

While California has been at odds with the Trump administration since the Republican took office in 2017, Newsom has carefully chosen his words during the pandemic to avoid Trump’s ire, often praising his administration for providing resources. He originally declined to answer a question about removing Trump when asked last week.

Meanwhile, the California Assembly passed a resolution calling for Trump’s resignation or removal. Assemblyman Chad Mayes, a former Republican leader who left the party in 2019 to become an independent, introduced the resolution.

“This American carnage lays at the feet of only one person,” he said. Mayes said reconciliation and healing must come after “accountability and repentance.”

The Democratic-led chamber approved the measure by a vote of 51-6. All six people voting against it were Republicans. But the majority of Republicans, including Republican Leader Marie Waldron, did not vote.

Assemblyman Devon Mathis, a Republican who voted against the measure, said “the 25th Amendment timeline simply is not there.” He criticized his colleagues for focusing on Trump and said their attention should be on the pandemic and other state issues.

“The first thing we do on the floor in California is throw a political punch at a lame duck. I think that’s lame,” he said.

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Citing suicide risk, UK judge refuses extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to U.S.

By JILL LAWLESS | The Associated Press

LONDON  — A British judge on Monday rejected the United States’ request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges, saying he was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected allegations that Assange is being prosecuted for political reasons or would not receive a fair trial in the United States. But she said his precarious mental health would likely deteriorate further under the conditions of “near total isolation” he would face in U.S. prison.

“I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” the judge said.

She said Assange was “a depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent any suicide prevention measures taken by American prison authorities.

The U.S. government said it would appeal the decision. Assange’s lawyers said they would ask for his release from a London prison where he has been held for more than a year-and-a-half at a bail hearing on Wednesday.

Assange, who sat in the dock at London’s Central Criminal Court for the ruling, wiped his brow as the decision was announced. His partner Stella Moris, with whom he has two young sons, wept.

Assange’s American lawyer, Barry Pollack, said the legal team was “enormously gratified by the U.K. court’s decision denying extradition.”

“The effort by the United States to prosecute Julian Assange and seek his extradition was ill-advised from the start,” he said. “We hope that after consideration of the U.K. court’s ruling, the United States will decide not to pursue the case further.”

The ruling marks a dramatic moment in Assange’s years-long legal battles in Britain — though likely not its final chapter.

U.S. prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents a decade ago. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

Lawyers for the 49-year-old Australian argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing leaked documents that exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The judge, however, said Assange’s actions, if proven, would “amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.”

The defense also argued during a three-week hearing in the fall that extradition threatens Assange’s human rights because he risks “a grossly disproportionate sentence” and detention in “draconian and inhumane conditions” that would exacerbate his severe depression and other mental health problems.

The judge agreed that U.S. prison conditions would be oppressive. She accepted evidence from expert witnesses that Assange had a depressive disorder and an autism spectrum disorder.

“I accept that oppression as a bar to extradition requires a high threshold. … However, I am satisfied that, in these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange’s mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide with the ‘single minded determination’ of his autism spectrum disorder,” the judge said in her ruling.

Lawyers for the U.S. government deny that Assange is being prosecuted merely for publishing the leaked documents, saying the case “is in large part based upon his unlawful involvement” in the theft of the diplomatic cables and military files by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

The prosecution of Assange has been condemned by journalists and human rights groups, who say it undermines free speech around the world.

They welcomed the judge’s decision, even though it was not made on free-speech grounds.

“This is a huge relief to anyone who cares about the rights of journalists,” The Freedom of the Press Foundation tweeted:

“The extradition request was not decided on press freedom grounds; rather, the judge essentially ruled the U.S. prison system was too repressive to extradite. However, the result will protect journalists everywhere.”

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, to avoid being sent to Sweden, Assange sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he was beyond the reach of U.K. and Swedish authorities — but also effectively a prisoner, unable to leave the tiny diplomatic mission in London’s tony Knightsbridge area.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested him for jumping bail in 2012.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed, but Assange remains in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, brought to court in a prison van throughout his extradition hearing.

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Will your 2021 be a smart year for real estate deals?

Happy New Year, dear readers! With 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror and my “prediction column” completed a few weeks ago, today my thoughts are random. Why limit the topics? So here are a few of the tidbits echoing in my dome.

The pandemic brought into focus a reality for me. As commercial real estate practitioners, we have two things to share – our time and our information! Make them count. Working remotely – and without a commute – allowed me to find a couple of hours each day for productive activities.

Our time

Each of us has the same amount of time – 24 hours a day, 365 days per year for a total of 8,544 hours – to ply our trade. Don’t forget, we must eat, sleep, hang out with our families and enjoy some leisure activities. If you’re like most of us, your labor is compressed into 8-12 hours every day. Tenure in the business is not a predictor. Many veteran CRE pros spend over half their days brokering commercial real estate. But, certainly, if you’re new to the business – plan on starting early and staying late.

I personally start my day with a 4:30 a.m. wake up! The key is HOW your time is spent because once it’s gone – you don’t get more. So, I would suggest computing your hourly worth. Simply set a revenue goal for next year, compute how many hours you plan to work and do some math. You’ll arrive at a figure. Surprising, huh?

Only spend time on tasks that will return that hourly wage. If your hourly is $200 and filing brochures consumes your day, hmmm. Conversely, calling owners of 100,000-square-foot buildings and getting to know them pays the wage. Learn to be quite stingy with your hours and invest them wisely.

Information

CoStar, LoopNet, Reonomy, ProspectNow, Catylist and other data aggregators have commoditized CRE data. Doubt what I say? I can open my CoStarGo app and pull a list of availabilities anywhere in the U.S.

A quick review of comps, and I am familiar with values. Is ownership mostly institutional? Reonomy and ProspectNow detail the answer.

You may be wondering, where does the broker fit in? Exactly! What differentiates is the analysis of the data and the “story” of local deals. Only an agent entrenched in the market can recite this detail and add real value to owners and occupants.

So, master your command of the data! Learn the trends, become conversant with prices, know every building, understand the drivers, meet the influencers. Dominate your geography and become the resident expert.

Through specialization – product type, geographical area, square footage or business genre – you can achieve this level of competence. If you learn to master your data and manage your time, you can enjoy a long successful career!

Goal setting

I invested in professional coaching in 2018 and have continued. The results have been transformational! As I write this column, I’m also completing a comprehensive look at 2020. What worked, what didn’t and why. This reflection will morph into three to five SMART goals for 2021. If you’re unfamiliar with these goals – as you know, I love acronyms – the letters stand for: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timetable. Thank you Michael Hyatt! I generally mix in a benchmark as well. After all, you must understand where you are today.

Let’s make 2021 our best year yet! Shall we?

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104.

 

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