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    How soon could China send more giant pandas 🐼 to the San Diego Zoo?
    • February 23, 2024


    SAN DIEGO — China plans to send a new pair of giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo, renewing its longstanding gesture of friendship toward the United States after recalling nearly all the iconic bears on loan to U.S. zoos as relations soured between the two nations.

    The China Wildlife Conservation Association has signed cooperation agreements with zoos in San Diego and Madrid, the Spanish capital, and is in talks with zoos in Washington, D.C. and Vienna, the Chinese organization said, describing the deals as a new round of collaboration on panda conservation.

    San Diego Zoo officials told The Associated Press that if all permits and other requirements are approved, two bears, a male and a female, are expected to arrive as early as the end of summer, about five years after the zoo sent its last pandas back to China.

    “We’re very excited and hopeful,” said Megan Owen of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and vice president of Wildlife Conservation Science. “They’ve expressed a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to re-initiate panda cooperation starting with the San Diego Zoo.”

    Zoos typically pay a fee of $1 million a year for two pandas, with the money earmarked for China’s conservation efforts, according to a 2022 report by America’s Congressional Research Service.

    Bai Yun, one of two giant pandas on exhibit at the San Diego Zoo, looks toward the crowd on Nov. 1, 1996. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy,File)

    The giant panda Mei Xiang licks up water while resting in its enclosure at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, on Nov. 7, 2023.
    (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

    Hua Mei, the baby panda at the San Diego Zoo, peeks over a branch while enjoying a bamboo breakfast at the Zoo, on Aug. 15, 2000. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi, file)

    Bai Yun, the mother of newly named panda cub, Mei Sheng, gets a mouthful of bamboo during the cub’s first day on display at the San Diego Zoo on Dec. 17, 2003. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi,File)



    In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping raised hopes his country would start sending pandas to the U.S. again after he and President Joe Biden convened in the Bay Area for their first face-to-face meeting in a year and pledged to try to reduce tensions.

    China is considering a pair that includes a female descendent of Bai Yun and Gao Gao, two of the zoo’s former residents, said Owen, an expert in panda behavior who has worked in San Diego and China.

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    Bai Yun, who was born in captivity in China, lived at the zoo for more than 20 years and gave birth to six cubs there. She and her son were the zoo’s last pandas and returned to China in 2019.

    Gao Gao was born in the wild in China and lived at the San Diego Zoo from 2003 to 2018 before being sent back.

    Decades of conservation efforts in the wild and study in captivity saved the giant panda species from extinction, increasing its population from fewer than 1,000 at one time to more than 1,800 in the wild and captivity.

    The black-and-white bears have long been the symbol of the U.S.-China friendship since Beijing gifted a pair of pandas to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., in 1972, ahead of the normalization of bilateral relations. China later loaned pandas to zoos to help breed cubs and boost the population.

    The U.S., Spain and Austria were among the first countries to work with China on panda conservation, and 28 pandas have been born in those countries, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said. The latest collaboration will include research on disease prevention and habitat protection, and contribute to China’s national panda park construction, it said.

    “We look forward to further expanding the research outcomes on the conservation of endangered species such as giant pandas, and promoting mutual understanding and friendship among peoples through the new round of international cooperation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in Beijing.

    Demands for the return of giant pandas, known as China’s “national treasure,” grew among the Chinese public as unproven allegations that U.S. zoos mistreated the pandas flooded Chinese social media.

    Fears over the future of so-called panda diplomacy escalated last year when zoos in Memphis, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., returned their pandas to China, leaving only four pandas in the United States, all at the zoo in Atlanta. That loan agreement expires later this year.

    Many loan agreements were for 10 years and often were extended well beyond. But negotiations last year to extend the agreements with U.S. zoos or send more pandas did not produce results. China watchers speculated that Beijing was gradually pulling its pandas from Western nations due to deteriorating diplomatic relations with the U.S. and other countries.

    Then on Nov. 15, 2023, a week after the National Zoo’s pandas departed for China, Xi spoke at a dinner in downtown San Francisco with American business executives and signaled that more pandas might be sent. He said he learned the San Diego Zoo and people in California “very much look forward to welcoming pandas back.”

    “I was told that many American people, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas and went to the zoo to see them off,” Xi said.

    The San Diego Zoo continued to work with their Chinese counterparts even after it no longer had any pandas.

    Owen said China is particularly interested in exchanging information on the zoo’s successful breeding of pandas in captivity. Giant pandas are difficult to breed in part because the female’s reproductive window is extremely narrow, lasting only 48 to 72 hours each year.

    Bai Yun’s first cub, Hua Mei, was also the first panda born through artificial insemination to survive into adulthood outside of China, and would go on to produce 12 cubs on her own after she was sent to China.

    Bai Yun, meanwhile, remained at the zoo where she gave birth to two more females and three males. With cameras in her den, researchers monitored her, contributing to the understanding of maternal care behavior, Owen said.

    “We have a lot of institutional knowledge and capacity from our last cooperative agreement, which we will be able to parlay into this next chapter, as well as training the next generation of panda conservationists,” she said.

    Chinese experts would travel with the bears and spend months in San Diego, Owen said.

    She said the return of the bears is not only good for San Diego but the giant panda’s recovery as a species.

    “We do talk about panda diplomacy all the time,” Owen said. “Diplomacy is a critical part of conservation in any number of contexts. …. If we can’t learn to work together, you know, in sometimes difficult situations or situations that are completely out of the control of conservationists, then we’re not going to succeed.”

    Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this report.

    ​ Orange County Register 

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    2024 candidates Haley and Trump never debated each other. Do voters care?
    • February 23, 2024

    Anna Wilder | (TNS) The State (Columbia, S.C.)

    COLUMBIA, S.C. — Donald Trump and Nikki Haley have thrown insults at each other over the last few weeks as the South Carolina Republican primary inches closer.

    “Birdbrain,” “incompetent,” “unhinged,” and many more terms were used. Yet, they never got on stage together to debate policy, or strengths and weaknesses as candidates. Do South Carolina voters care?

    Those who attended the Haley town hall this week said there should have been a debate. But those at the Trump town hall in Greenville on Tuesday were indifferent.

    Leah Veldhoven attended the Fox News town hall Sunday in downtown Columbia where Nikki Haley answered questions, Veldhoven wished she had gotten a chance to see the two debate because it would have pulled Haley into the light more than she has been, she said.

    “Even though she’s all over the news quite a bit, I still feel like there’s lots of people that don’t know what she’s all about, and what she truly wants to do for the country,” Veldhoven said.

    Amery Davis, who also attended the Haley town hall, said Trump needed to debate Haley, and he needed to do it “now.”

    “He could say what he wants to say, he’s not able, he can’t keep up with her. He couldn’t keep up with her when she was an ambassador. She would always try and clean up his mess.”

    In late January at a rally in South Carolina, Haley referenced Trump saying he would score higher than her on a mental competency test. “Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. But what I said was ‘OK, if that’s the case, then get on a debate stage and let’s go. Bring it Donald, show me what you got,” she told the crowd.

    Jackson Gosnell, a University of South Carolina student studying broadcast journalism, said he thought a debate allows voters a “better opportunity of who to choose.”

    “A lot of people could argue that it’s not going to change anyone’s mind. But maybe it would. I mean, we haven’t seen it yet. We see a town hall with each of them, but not going head-to-head, and I think that’d be pretty important.”

    In 2020, the incumbent Trump stated he would not debate any primary challenger. His competitors debated each other without him.

    In 2016, 12 debates and nine forums were held for candidates of the Republican party. At a March 3 debate, Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio went in on each other, but mostly on Trump. From his stance on immigration to Trump university, the debate became heated at times when candidates went after Trump on what they felt were changing opinions.

    The first GOP debate of 2016 on Aug. 6, 2015. CNN reported that while the nine other contenders made “noticeable blunders,” Trump stole the show. Trump was called out for his language towards women, his flipping stance on abortion and even immigration policies. But he continued to answer with ease, CNN stated. When asked specifically about his flip on his abortion stance, he said “I’ve evolved.”

    Gosnell said more people may be more likely to watch debates compared to town halls, and that a debate could reach a wider audience.

    “There’s the argument that he’s so ahead, why would he even debate? But I do think a debate might be important. Maybe there is some missed opportunity with both of them not on a debate stage together.”

    Noah Lindler, a second year University of South Carolina student and VP of College Republicans, also attended the Sunday Haley town hall, and said the College Republicans campus group discussed whether Trump should have joined a debate with Haley.

    Lindler said he understood why Trump didn’t debate Haley.

    “There was really no need just based on polling numbers and where he stands, however, from a kind of a moral point of view he should have in order to allow voters to have the chance to hear what he says and how he’s able to argue his positions compared to other other candidates,” he said.

    Cammie Teems, from Manning, attended the Trump town hall, and said she felt it was helpful for voters, but she did like how debates offered different aspects than a town hall would.

    “I think the things that I do like about debate is how the people respond and interact in person.”

    Yvonne Julian, county chair for the Greenville Republican party, said personally no, but she did wish it had happened for people who are undecided.

    “Some of the answers to questions she’s given, you know, for me would not have had any benefit for him to debate her because my mind was already made up,” Julian said.

    During his town hall, Trump mentioned debating other Republican candidates. Host Laura Ingraham asked if he would wish to challenge Joe Biden in a debate. Trump said he would “right now,” because there was an obligation in that case. He said he would do as “many debates as necessary,” against Biden. However, he felt differently on debating Republicans.

    “When it came to the Republicans and I was up by 40, 50, 60 points, like being up with her [Haley]. I think a poll just came out I’m at 91 and shes at 7 … you want to be smart, you don’t have to waste your time,” Trump said.

    James Edward, a lift operator from Virginia, who drove down for the Trump event, said he did wished he saw Trump debate Haley.

    “I feel like if you’re gonna compete against somebody then you should debate,” Edwards said. “There should be a swapping of the minds, so to speak.”

    Lelis Welch, from Oklahoma, but was visiting Greenville on vacation and attended the event, said she didn’t necessarily care for Haley to debate Trump. At one point, she wasn’t anti-Nikki, but now she is, she added.

    “I’ve heard her say so many negative things. One thing she said ‘he wants me to drop out, I do not do what Donald Trump says, I didn’t even do that when I worked for him,’ I thought ‘what?’ You worked for the President and you didn’t follow his instructions? So no, no. I don’t even like to hear her speak to tell you the truth.”


    ©2024 The State. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

    ​ Orange County Register 

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    Biden stakes reputation on blue-collar workers. Turns out many are Trump donors
    • February 23, 2024

    Jennah Haque, Madeline Campbell and Bill Allison | Bloomberg News (TNS)

    WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has attempted to brand himself as the most pro-labor president in U.S. history. Workers who donate to the leading presidential candidates beg to differ.

    Republican front-runner Donald Trump is winning financial support from grassroots campaign contributors who work for highly unionized workplaces, including American Airlines Group Inc. and United Parcel Service Inc., according to Federal Election Commission data from the second half of 2023 analyzed by Bloomberg News.

    He also has far more donors than Biden from people who report working for largely blue-collar workplaces, such as Walmart Inc. and Federal Express Corp.

    That’s a symbolic blow to Biden, who has staked his political identity as an advocate for blue-collar workers and the organized labor movement. It also could be a warning sign for his 2024 reelection bid that relies on winning heavily unionized states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

    Biden has notched labor wins in recent weeks, including an endorsement from the United Auto Workers, but his campaign lags Trump in contributions from donors with oft-unionized job titles including mechanics and truckers, according to campaign finance records. Biden does better among workers who self-identify as professionals — including professors, scientists and psychologists — who prefer him at rates of three-to-one or more over Trump.

    Political donors represent a small fraction of voters, but those who give are some of the most motivated supporters. The Federal Election Commission doesn’t ask contributors whether they are in a union, but collects data on employers and job titles, which provides a proxy for political support among union members. In an election that will likely feature two unpopular candidates, enthusiasm and turnout in key swing states will help make the difference.

    Trump, who has yet to earn the endorsement of a major union, alluded to the divide between union leadership and membership after a meeting with the Teamsters in Washington last month, saying he wasn’t sure if the “top people” in the union will back him, but said he has “tremendous support” among the group members.

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    Biden has spent much of his time recently courting the union vote: going to a UAW picket line in Michigan, visiting union halls and embedding pro-union requirements in incentives for clean energy policies. It’s possible Biden is starting to see that pay off. Donors who report being employed by General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. — two companies that have been the subject of much of the president’s attention following last fall’s auto strike — are nearly evenly split between the two likely nominees.

    Biden did beat Trump on donations from workers at some unionized businesses, including Kaiser Permanente and Boeing Co.

    Not every donor lists their employer or occupation, so contributions where these values weren’t reported were excluded from this analysis of companies and professions.

    Biden and Trump tout their legions of working class donors who give small amounts, but over the second half of 2023, both relied heavily on billionaires and other wealthy donors who can write much bigger checks.

    Two-thirds of Biden’s fundraising haul over the last six months of 2023 — some $119 million — came from wealthy donors who gave to Biden Victory Fund, the Democratic National Committee and Future Forward PAC, his allied super political action committee. Billionaires Haim Saban and hedge fund manager George Soros, and entertainment mogul Casey Wasserman are among the major donors to Biden’s reelection effort.

    Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley got a slightly bigger chunk (68%) of her money from large donations, including Citadel’s Ken Griffin, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum and Paul Singer of Elliot Investment Management.

    Even Trump drew 46% from mega-donors, including construction billionaire Diane Hendricks and Crownquest’s Timothy Dunn, who each gave $5 million. Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus gave $1 million. Trump drew 42% of his donations over the same period from contributors who gave $200 or less.

    Biden slightly edges out his Republican rival in the number of unique donors who contributed to him in the final six months of last year, but Trump donors give to his campaign more frequently and in smaller amounts. Donors to the former president who contributed less than $200 at a time gave on four different occasions on average. Biden’s small-dollar donors contributed almost two-and-a-half times on average.


    Data includes donations received from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2023 and reported to the Federal Election Commission by the following committees: ActBlue, Biden For President, Biden Victory Fund, Biden Action Fund, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Grassroots Victory Committee and Future Forward PAC for donations to or supporting President Joe Biden; Donald J. Trump for President 2024, Make America Great Again PAC, Make America Great Again Inc., Save America, Trump Save America Joint Fundraising Committee for former President Donald Trump; Nikki Haley for President, Stand for America PAC, Team Stand for America and the SFA Fund Inc. for former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

    Unique donors were identified by distinct combinations of first and last names, state and zip code. Company names and job titles were standardized where possible. For example, donors who list their employer as UPS and United Parcel Service were combined, as were lawyers and attorneys. Although employer and job title information is solicited from all donors, approximately 40% list these details.

    Contribution size categories are based on donation values rather than the total amount contributed by a unique donor. Because campaigns divide contributions greater than $3,300 into separate primary and general-election transactions, Bloomberg News’ analysis also counts those donations made directly to campaigns in the $200-$3,300 category. Some contributions are not reported to the FEC.

    Donations under $200 made by mail or through online services other than ActBlue or WinRed don’t have to be disclosed. Totals in this analysis are based on contribution microdata published by the FEC and not the topline numbers reported to the FEC by each committee.

    ©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

    ​ Orange County Register 

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    UCLA men’s basketball vs. USC: What you need to know
    • February 23, 2024

    LOS ANGELES — The UCLA men’s basketball team is going for a sweep against crosstown rival USC on Saturday, following a 15-point win at Galen Center on Jan. 27.

    That victory began a six-game winning streak for the Bruins that unceremoniously ended against Utah on a buzzer-beating tip-in Sunday.

    UCLA has had the entire week to prepare for the Trojans, which has provided them with a coveted opportunity for a reset and not spend a portion of every practice watching film.

    “This time of year, it’s good to only have one game in one week so you can get some rest,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “The guys are constantly getting hit with game plans … we spend two or three days of an unbelievable amount of preparation, put into scouting our opponents and game plans. I’m not saying (just) us, I’m talking college basketball … the mental grind of that with players is something I try and stay in tune with.”

    Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews finished with a game-high 20 points in the 65-50 victory over USC last month.

    “My main thing is turning defense into offense,” Andrews said. “Letting defense be the thing that leads into your offense, not just focusing on offense, because sometimes the ball is not going to go into the basket and you need to figure out what else you can do to affect the game.”

    Sophomore forward Adem Bona added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds and two blocked shots against the Trojans. Bona’s ability to affect the game with timely shot blocking could also spur the team’s fast-break offense.

    “Blocking and having possession of the ball just opens the fast break for you because the whole team is on attack while there is no one back on defense,” Bona said. “I think it helps a lot for me to be able to make plays like that. That’s big-time plays, stopping them from getting a point, getting us a point on the other end. I think that’s big-time plays and I need to make more of those.”


    When: 7 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Pauley Pavilion

    TV/Radio: ESPN / 570 AM

    Records: UCLA 14-12, 9-6 Pac-12; USC 10-16, 4-11

    UCLA’s latest result: The Bruins are coming off a disappointing 70-69 loss at home Utah on Sunday. Sebastian Mack was ejected in the first half for a flagrant 2 foul after appearing to strike Utah’s Branden Carlson in the face with his arm, but the freshman guard is expected to play against USC, Cronin said.

    “It’s over. He made a mistake. He’s a young kid, you move on,” Cronin said. “You can’t put your arm up because once you put your arm up it, then it gets to a point of flagrant.”

    Junior guard Lazar Stefanovic finished with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds, but UCLA gave up the winning tip-in with 0.2 seconds left after not securing a rebound.

    USC’s latest result: The Trojans are coming off a 92-89 loss at home to Colorado on Feb. 17. Guards Boogie Ellis (30) and Isaiah Collier (25) combined for 55 points in the double-overtime loss. However, USC blew a 16-point lead in the second half. Freshman guard Bronny James finished with just two points and two assists in 14 minutes and did not play in overtime.

    Matchups to watch: Andrews and Sebastian Mack, who are averaging a combined 24.5 points per game, against USC’s backcourt of Ellis and Collier, who are averaging a combined 32.9 points per game.

    Andrews held Ellis to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting on Jan. 27. Collier, a highly touted freshman, did not play but has since recovered from a hand injury and is averaging 19.5 points per game since returning Feb. 7.

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    UCLA trends to watch: UCLA has won eight of its past 10 games, improving to 14-12 overall, after falling to 6-10 with a 90-44 loss at Utah on Jan. 11.

    “I think we were on a start-over this year,” Cronin said. “Early on, the guys didn’t understand our culture of, ‘It’s just not OK to lose, regardless of your situation.’”

    In the last 10 games, Stefanovic is shooting 40.9% from 3-point range and 90.9% from the free-throw line. During that span, the 6-foot-7 junior guard has averaged a team-high 14.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

    UCLA is 12-3 when it hold its opponents to 65 or fewer points.


    ​ Orange County Register 

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    How to rent a car with points and miles — and get the best deal
    • February 23, 2024

    Stephanie Zito | (TNS)

    Although many analysts predicted that post-COVID “revenge travel” would peak in 2022, ongoing research suggests consumers are still prioritizing spending money on travel. According to a 2023 Bankrate survey, planned leisure travel was up from 2022 — even as many Americans still had less than three months of emergency savings in the bank.

    This demand has led to record-breaking revenue for the U.S. car rental industry, according to Auto Rental News data. Although rental car companies were hit hard in 2020, total revenue soared to $36.1 billion in 2022 and $38.3 billion in 2023. But while this is great news for the rental car industry, it often means higher car rental prices and lower availability for travelers.

    Usually, I almost never recommend using rewards for rental car bookings since you can almost always find a rental car deal through AutoSlash, Hotwire, Kayak or Priceline if you don’t care what company you’re renting from. When these kinds of deals don’t exist, however, here’s what you need to know about booking a car rental with miles or points.

    Here’s how to book a car rental with miles or points.

    Airline miles and points

    Nearly every airline has a frequent flyer program that has the option to redeem your points or miles for rental car bookings. The exchange value of airline miles for rental cars typically isn’t as good as using miles for booking flights, but it is an option. It might also be worthwhile if you’re earning more miles than you can spend on flights through a co-branded airline credit card.

    Flexible credit card rewards

    If you have a card that is part of a flexible credit card rewards program, like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can book a rental car through the travel portal just like you would for booking a flight or hotel. Redemptions are still tied to the cost of the rental but will vary based on the rewards redemption value of your particular card.

    Car rental loyalty programs

    If you frequently rent cars through any of the major car rental companies like Hertz, Avis or National, you should be earning rewards in the rental company’s own loyalty program. Just like airline or hotel loyalty programs, these programs are free to join.

    For example, if you join the Avis Preferred program, you’ll earn 1X points per dollar spent on rentals and 2X points per dollar spent on accessories (with a minimum of 100 points per booking), and you can redeem your points for free rental days starting at 700 points. Accessories can be redeemed for 250 points each, and additional points may be available through promotions — such as those that earn you an extra 100 points for booking within the first three months of joining — or through the company’s higher-tier Preferred Plus and President’s Club programs.

    If you happen to have a stash of car rental rewards, what better time to use them than the present? Likewise, if you don’t have a car rental loyalty account, it’s a good time to join since you’ll be earning lots of rewards if you wind up paying for a car rental.

    When should you rent a car with points or miles?

    If you’re the kind of rewards collector who likes to maximize the cents per mile you get when redeeming rewards, car rental redemptions might not be for you. Rental redemptions are almost always linked to rental prices, so if prices are high, you’ll have to pay a lot of rewards.

    Value, however, isn’t always only about the numbers. If you really need a car rental and can’t afford to pay a higher rental rate, using points or miles for a car rental may still be a good value to you.

    Tips for booking a car rental with points and miles

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    Alternatives like Turo or locally owned rental companies may offer more favorable rates, but if you’re looking to book a car for upcoming travel, my top tip is to make your plans sooner rather than later. If you decide to pay for a car rental, most companies don’t require a deposit and have very liberal cancellation rules.

    It doesn’t hurt to book a paid reservation as far in advance as possible, then cancel or change the booking as you get your flights and accommodation sorted. If you’re booking with points or miles, you’ll still want to book as far in advance as possible, but make sure you know the company’s rules, as some rewards programs won’t reinstate your rewards if you have to cancel your rental.

    You’ll also want to double-check the rules of your credit card rental insurance if you’re planning on using the primary or secondary rental car coverage that’s offered with many credit cards. Most credit cards only provide this insurance benefit when you use the corresponding credit card to pay for the rental. Do some research in advance to see what your credit card offers.

    The bottom line

    Booking car rentals with your points or miles may be worth considering when rental rates are high. Though using credit card rewards for car rental bookings isn’t always the best way to maximize redemption value for your points and miles, redeeming rewards for a rental may still be of great value to you if covering the cost of a car makes your trip possible.

    (Visit Bankrate online at

    ©2024 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

    ​ Orange County Register 

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    San Clemente will invest in getting permits so it will be ready when opportunities for sand arise
    • February 23, 2024

    San Clemente officials are hoping to expand their chances of bringing sand to the coastal town’s shore, renewing a program that will allow the city to seek out “opportunistic sand.”

    But first, it needs to weave through a maze of permitting and approvals that could take up to two years, and likely spend hundreds of thousands dollars, just to get the go-ahead to find available sand to bring to its beaches.

    San Clemente city leaders this week approved renewing its SCOUPS permit – short for Sand Compatibility and Opportunistic Use Program – a state program it had participated in about a decade ago, but its five-year permit expired.

    The step is the latest in the town’s attempt to manage and maintain its eroding coastline, where at times during high tide several of its beaches become a sliver or are non existent.

    Maintaining sand is important not just for recreational space, but because the beach is a major tourism draw and sand serves as a buffer between the ocean and infrastructure, such as the railroad that passes along its shoreline.

    The program would allow the city to explore opportunities outside of the pending U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project – which will add about 251,000 cubic yards of sand between T-Street and Linda Lane once it resumes after delays – to add supply to other areas of the city’s beach in need, city coastal administrator Leslea Meyerhoff recently explained to the City Council.

    “We’re looking for opportunistically-available sources – sediment that comes out of Santa Ana River, excavation from construction sites where there’s export material compatible with the beach, landslide material that has fallen onto the slope,” said  Meyerhoff. “The program is opportunistic in nature, but it is an important tool to have in the toolbox and quite a few cities and counties have them in California.”

    OC Parks is also currently in the SCOUPS application process, but San Clemente wants to be able to do its own projects, if necessary, to be a little more aggressive and nimble to get sand on its beaches, City Manager Andy Hall said.

    The city used its SCOUPS permit twice for projects in North Beach, first in 2005 to bring-in 5,000 cubic yards of sand and again in 2016 when it brought 12,000 cubic yards from the Santa Ana River, much like a project done at Capistrano Beach last summer.

    The sand was free, however the city had to pay about $625,000 to haul the supply to its shoreline.

    About 1,000 truckloads of sand from the Santa Ana River were placed on North Beach in 2016. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Now with the City Council’s unanimous approval to move forward, city staffers can start preparing the regulatory permit applications required from a lengthy list of agencies –  the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the California Coastal Commission, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, California State Lands Commission and the Southern California Regional Rail Authority – a process that could take up to two years.

    The permitting process could cost anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000, including consultants fees and environmental reviews, Meyerhoff said.

    Once permitted, the city would look at various sources for sand.  The Santa Ana River is one that has been used several times by many municipalities, including most recently at Capistrano Beach and Doheny State Beach when 3,000 truckload were hauled in, but the city might also be able to access sources such as the Prado Dam, inland riverbeds or even the desert.

    Meyerhoff said she received an email from someone in Palm Springs who said they had “millions and millions” of cubic yards of sand, the cost to the city would mostly be the trucking cost.

    “There’s a lot of sand sources out there,” she said, noting the material has to be considered “beach compatible.”

    Councilman Steve Knoblock was also contacted recently by the Orange County Water District saying the Prado Dam had an “unlimited amount” of beach-quality sand they could ship to San Clemente on railcars.

    “I’d like to be able to take advantage of that,” he said.

    Knoblock also asked if the city’s staff had been in talks with the Orange County Transportation Authority, which in the past has dumped boulders along the railway to protect its infrastructure, to help with bringing in sand instead. There are concerns the boulder can contribute to erosion in the future.

    “We would certainly work with them as a partner agency, we do have ongoing discussions with them as part of their resiliency plan and the needs of the city,” Meyerhoff said.

    The city last year released a study identifying “critical hot spots,” as part of its Nature Based Resiliency Project Feasibility Study. 

    A train makes its way north along the coast at North Beach in San Clemente as waves crash against the rocks just below the railroad tracks on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The city is hopes more sand will help its disappearing beaches. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The city also last year held a town hall to discuss ideas to retain sand, such as building offshore reefs or groin jetties, similar to what Newport Beach put in decades ago to combat severe erosion that threatened homes.

    Suzie Whitelaw, a member of Save Our Beaches San Clemente, showed photos of threatened areas along the coast, starting with the Shorecliffs clubhouse that has an eroded beach with sand bags set out for protection; the concession stand in North Beach that has little sand under it; and the city’s south end where 3,500 feet of rock boulders have overtaken the beach.

    She said the city should explore bringing sand from the Prado Dam by rail, which has less environmental impact than trucking it in.

    “We can dump it right on the beach,” she said. “Just some dozers on the beach or let Mother Nature spread it around once it’s on the beach.”

    The city is holding a second community meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 29 at City Hall to present a draft of the nature-based sand retention solutions being considered. Following an open house that shows various designs for various sections of the coast, there will be a presentation by city officials and consultants.

    Several ideas, such as creating reefs to mimic Lower Trestles and T-Street, were showcased last year for addressing short-term and long-term coastal erosion. The city will use the new feedback to refine the designs, officials said, which are expected to be published in a draft feasibility study later this year.

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    Researchers find association between air pollution and Alzheimer’s
    • February 23, 2024

    Shelia Poole | (TNS) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    ATLANTA — A new study from Emory University researchers has found an association between traffic-related air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

    Using brain tissue donated by metro Atlanta residents, researchers evaluated their home addresses for air pollution generated by nearby traffic. The study, released Wednesday, does not prove air pollution causes Alzheimer’s, but found an association between exposure to air pollution caused by traffic and signs of Alzheimer’s in brain tissue.

    Medical and environmental officials have long warned about the consequences of air pollution on respiratory and cardiac health.

    The study contributes to already existing evidence that breathing pollution may lead to “plaques” or deposits in the brain — a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

    “It’s concerning because the reason most of the air pollution is high in Atlanta is due to traffic,” said Anke Huels, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. “It’s also why we focused specifically on traffic-related air pollution exposure.“

    The study is one of the first to look at the association between air pollution and signs of Alzheimer’s disease in human brain samples, she said. The findings are published in “Neurology,” the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

    Brain tissue used in the study was taken from 224 donors in the brain bank at Emory’s Goizeuta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center who died before 2020. The patients had lived in urban or suburban areas in the 20-county metro area. Most of the patients were white, 59% were male, and the patients’ mean age of death was 76.

    Most of the brains studied were from people who had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia before they died.

    While the study population isn’t comparable with the general population, Huels said the study findings are still valuable because it shows pollution is associated with plaques in the brain.

    More than 6.7 million U.S. residents have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, including at least 150,000 Georgians.

    Alzheimer’s, one of the dementias, is a progressive disease that affects memory and other brain functions, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers do not know the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but it likely is due to a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Air pollution has been suspected previously as a potential factor.

    “In our study we used air pollution models, which can give us an estimate of the residential traffic-related air pollution concentration with a very fine resolution up to 200 to 250 meters,” Huels said. “Of course you would see the highest levels of these pollutants around major highways, so people who lived very close to major highways had the highest exposure to traffic-related pollutants.”

    The study looked at “fine particulate matter” from traffic exhaust and whether there was an association between breathing polluted air and signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, particulate pollution is made up of tiny particles of solids or liquids so small they can be inhaled deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, potentially causing health problems. They are the cause of haze in some parts of the U.S.

    Huels said the findings are in line with previous studies, which have shown associations between particulate pollution and cognitive decline, memory loss or a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

    Researchers also looked at patients who carried the “APOE gene” a major genetic risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. But the strongest association between pollution and Alzheimer’s was seen in those without that risk factor. This suggests that environmental factors like air pollution could be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease in patients in which the disease cannot be explained by genetics.

    “We know that air pollution is bad for our health, including our brains,” according to a statement from Jill Disney, program director for the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter. “Multiple studies presented during AAIC 2021 were the first to suggest that reducing pollution is associated with lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

    Disney called for more research in areas of the United States with high levels of pollution that tend to be populated by low income individuals and people of color.

    The Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association last year said it invested $100 million into dementia research, the largest single-year investment since 1980 when the nonprofit was founded. In Georgia alone, $600,000 was awarded to advance research efforts in 2023.

    Overall, the state of Georgia has 19 ongoing projects totaling nearly $3.5 million and includes research being conducted including looking at risk factors, care and early detection.

    The Emory study was funded by an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center pilot grant through the National Institute of Aging. Huels and other researchers had no relevant financial interest in the outcome.

    What is “fine particulate matter”?

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these are tiny particles that are so small they can be inhaled deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, potentially causing health problems. They are the cause of haze in some parts of the U.S.

    These particles are made up of solids or liquid droplets with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller.

    How small is 2.5 micrometers? Think about a single hair from your head. The average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter – making it 30 times larger than the largest fine particle.

    ©2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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    ‘Fourth wave’ of opioid epidemic crashes ashore, propelled by fentanyl and meth
    • February 23, 2024

    Colleen DeGuzman | (TNS) KFF Health News

    The United States is knee-deep in what some experts call the opioid epidemic’s “fourth wave,” which is not only placing drug users at greater risk but is also complicating efforts to address the nation’s drug problem.

    These waves, according to a report out this week from Millennium Health, began with the crisis in prescription opioid use, followed by a significant jump in heroin use, then an increase in the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

    The latest wave involves using multiple substances at the same time, combining fentanyl mainly with either methamphetamine or cocaine, the report found. “And I’ve yet to see a peak,” said one of the co-authors, Eric Dawson, vice president of clinical affairs at Millennium Health, a specialty laboratory that provides drug testing services to monitor use of prescription medications and illicit drugs.

    The report, which takes a deep dive into the nation’s drug trends and breaks usage patterns down by region, is based on 4.1 million urine samples collected from January 2013 to December 2023 from people receiving some kind of drug addiction care.

    Its findings offer staggering statistics and insights. Its major finding: how common polysubstance use has become. According to the report, an overwhelming majority of fentanyl-positive urine samples — nearly 93% — contained additional substances. “And that is huge,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.

    The most concerning, she and other addiction experts said, is the dramatic increase in the combination of meth and fentanyl use. Methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug often in powder form that poses several serious cardiovascular and psychiatric risks, was found in 60% of fentanyl-positive tests last year. That is an 875% increase since 2015.

    “I never, ever would have thought this,” Volkow said.

    Among the report’s other key findings:

    The nationwide spike in methamphetamine use alongside fentanyl marks a change in drug use patterns.
    Polydrug use trends complicate overdose treatments. For instance, though naloxone, an opioid-overdose reversal medication, is widely available, there isn’t an FDA-approved medication for stimulant overdose.
    Both heroin and prescribed opioid use alongside fentanyl have dipped. Heroin detected in fentanyl-positive tests dropped by 75% since peaking in 2016. Prescription opioids were found at historic low rates in fentanyl-positive tests in 2023, down 89% since 2013.

    But Jarratt Pytell, an addiction medicine specialist and assistant professor at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine, warned these declines shouldn’t be interpreted as a silver lining.

    A lower level of heroin use “just says that fentanyl is everywhere,” Pytell said, “and that we have officially been pushed by our drug supply to the most dangerous opioids that we have available right now.”

    “Whenever a drug network is destabilizing and the product changes, it puts the people who use the drugs at the greatest risk,” he said. “That same bag or pill that they have been buying for the last several months now is coming from a different place, a different supplier, and is possibly a different potency.”

    In the illicit drug industry, suppliers are the controllers. It may not be that people are seeking out methamphetamine and fentanyl but rather that they’re what drug suppliers have found to be the easiest and most lucrative product to sell.

    “I think drug cartels are kind of realizing that it’s a lot easier to have a 500-square-foot lab than it is to have 500 acres of whatever it takes to grow cocaine,” Pytell said.

    Dawson said the report’s drug use data, unlike that of some other studies, is based on sample analysis with a quick turnaround — a day or two.

    Sometimes researchers face a months-long wait to receive death reports from coroners. Under those circumstances, you are often “staring at today but relying on data sources that are a year or more in the past,” said Dawson.

    Self-reported surveys of drug users, another method often used to track drug use, also have long lag times and “often miss people who are active for substance use disorders,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Urine tests “are based on a biology standard” and are good at detecting when someone has been using two or more drugs, he said.

    But using data from urine samples also comes with limitations.

    For starters, the tests don’t reveal users’ intent.

    “You don’t know whether or not there was one bag of powder that had both fentanyl and meth in it, or whether there were two bags of powder, one with fentanyl in it and one with meth and they took both,” Caulkins said. It can also be unclear, he said, if people intentionally combined the two drugs for an extra high or if they thought they were using only one, not knowing it contained the other.

    Volkow said she is interested in learning more about the demographics of polysubstance drug users. “Is this pattern the same for men and women, and is this pattern the same for middle-age or younger people? Because again, having a better understanding of the characteristics allows you to tailor and personalize interventions.”

    All the while, the nation’s crisis continues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 107,000 people died in the U.S. in 2021 from drug overdoses, most because of fentanyl.

    Caulkins said he’s hesitant to view drug use patterns as waves because that would imply people are transitioning from one to the next.

    “Are we looking at people whose first substance use disorder was an opioid use disorder, who have now gotten to the point where they’re polydrug users?” he said. Or, are people now starting substance use disorders with methamphetamine and fentanyl, he asked.

    One point was clear, Dawson said: “We’re just losing too many lives.”


    (KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs of KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.)

    ©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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