The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.
Fast-Food Chains With the Most Closures in 2018 – Fast food chain restaurants are a part of the American landscape, both literally and figuratively. Be it a fast food burger joint, a burrito takeout place, or mass-market sandwich shop, chain restaurants have become essential to the way we eat.
In recent years, however, sales at some chains have slowed as palates change and new competitors arise to steal hungry customers. These chains deal with sales downturns by rethinking menus, refocusing expansion strategies, and in some cases closing down units completely.
One major factor contributing to restaurant chains’ sales decline is the evolution of consumer tastes and a growing interest — especially among millennials — in healthier food options than chains typically provide. Food safety scares (like the E. Coli outbreaks that have plagued Chipotle) and supply chain issues undermine customer confidence, too.
Sit-down restaurants seem to have been particularly hard-hit. Having closed 99 locations in 2017, for instance, Applebee’s announced early this year that it planned to shutter another 60 or 80 before Dec. 31. Its sister brand, IHOP, will have closed 30 to 40 restaurants by the end of the year.
Other restaurant categories are affected too. Sonic, which styles itself “America’s favorite drive-in,” has recorded eight straight quarters of sales declines, which its CEO blamed in a second quarter press release on “unfavorable weather” and “continued aggressive discounting by the competition.” Chipotle, which is undergoing a major restructuring, has closed 55 locations this year. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St
American Entrepreneurs Who Flocked to China Are Heading Home, Disillusioned – For years, American entrepreneurs saw a place in which they would start tech businesses, build restaurant chains and manage factories, making potentially vast sums in an exciting, newly dynamic economy. Many mastered Mandarin, hired and trained thousands in China, bought houses, met their spouses and raised bilingual children.
Now disillusion has set in, fed by soaring costs, creeping taxation, tightening political control and capricious regulation that makes it ever tougher to maneuver the market and fend off new domestic competitors. All these signal to expat business owners their best days were in the past.
The Trump administration is making a hard-nosed challenge to China using trade tariffs, investment controls and prosecution of technology thieves, and many in American business are cheering, if silently, having soured on the market after years of trying.
…Many mark a turn in the climate for foreign businesses at around 2012. China was reckoning with how boom times had weighed it down with debt and overcapacity plus widespread corruption and appalling pollution. When Xi Jinping became Communist Party leader, he used the power of the state to shore up employment and living standards. Government-owned companies shielded from daily business hassles were in favor.
Authorities stepped up scrutiny of visas and actively enforced pollution controls. A new social security law lifted local wages and made it tough to fire workers, so much that some employers called the policy a modern “iron rice bowl.” Mr. Xi reinforced China’s Great Firewall of internet controls; big domestic tech firms thrived while laws excluded foreign rivals or pressured them to share technology. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
Nation mourns as Kevin Hart steps down from Oscars gig (not really) – Did you hear that comedian Kevin Hart was picked to host the Oscars? To be totally honest, I probably wouldn’t have known it myself if I didn’t follow Christian Toto on Twitter. But as it turns out, Hart was the selected host for all of about fifteen minutes before the uproar began. It seems that he (*gasp*) told some bad jokes about gay people back in the day, making him Unfit For Duty. And after some back and forth with the angry mob, Hart wound up stepping down.
Man, it’s a good thing they didn’t pick Ron White to host. Rather than having to dig back ten years or more, you’d likely find him saying or tweeting something offensive in the last ten minutes. Of course, Hollywood will never pick Ron White to host anything because he’s a conservative.
How upset am I over Hart being chased out of this gig? Not very, particularly since I haven’t watched the Oscars in at least a decade. But this really isn’t a story about Hart or the Oscars specifically. This is about the growing trend of groups pushing for a purity purge, but only when it’s convenient for them.
By this point, anyone who envisions themselves as having any sort of future in the public eye should probably just delete their social media accounts. (Or better yet, not start one in the first place.) Pretty much everyone has said something at some point in their lives that somebody will find offensive. This is quadruply true if you’re a comedian. Most of them actually get paid to say offensive things. Read More > at HotAir
Netflix Is Vulnerable To A Subscriber Action That Could Sink The Company’s Stock. – Netflix Is a Direct-to-Consumer subscription-based entertainment business that uses its subscribers’ viewing data to inform its content creation and acquisition decisions.
Netflix is vulnerable to a subscriber action over viewer data abuse that would make its 2011 loss of 800,000+ subscribers and resulting 77% stock drop look paltry by comparison.
Now that Disney and WarnerMedia are both preparing to roll out their own competing streaming services in 2019, the clock is running on Netflix — a company that has convinced its board that it can run on debt with only one source of revenue (subscriptions), and then only if it meets its quarterly forecasts for subscriber growth.
Netflix has no meaningful IP other than its original content programming which takes approximately eighteen months to create from script to screen per project and for which it has invested over $8 billion in debt financing in 2018 alone. This is out of necessity as it will lose its most popular licensed content to competitive streamers like Disney, Hulu, Fox, WarnerMedia, etc. as their leases run out and as other studios enter the DTC market with their own competing streaming platforms so that they can collect their own viewer data and gain Netflix’s production and marketing efficiencies for themselves.
However, Netflix has an even more powerful edge — the viewing data that it collects from its 130m+ subscribers, and what it can do with it. Unfortunately, this data doesn’t belong to the company and as it loses customers it must also, by law, erase the customers viewing data (immediately if specifically demanded by the customer at termination or ten months from the date of termination if the customer says nothing). It just acts as if it does, and that could bring about its downfall faster than Disney should its subscribers come to realize that fact and take action. The October revelation of Netflix targeting black viewers by manipulating images in its thumbnail movie posters may ignite such an action or, at the very least, level further scrutiny against Netflix’s data privacy policies in the age of GDPR; something that no technology company is ready for. Or perhaps it’ll be increased scrutiny into the continuous A/B testing done on its subscribers without their knowledge or consent in order to keep them watching longer and therefore more likely to pay a higher monthly fee. Read More > at Medium
Rebuilding After California Wildfires A Long Road As The State Grapples With Housing, Construction Worker Shortage – Now that the Camp Fire that hit Paradise, California, and Woolsey Fire that charred parts of Malibu and Ventura County in November are completely contained, the hard discussions about rebuilding in California begin — again.
But it won’t be an easy task.
The total losses from the Camp Fire are estimated to be between $11B and $13B. The Woolsey Fire in Southern California is estimated to be an additional $4B to $6B, according to CoreLogic.
Combine those figures with last year’s wildfires that destroyed as many as 32,000 homes, 4,300 businesses and 8,200 vehicles or equipment throughout the state, and the total losses from wildfires in California reach more than $30B.
“This is going to put a tremendous amount of demand on labor,” California Building Industry Association President and CEO Dan Dunmoyer said. “It’s just going to push the price point up to build. That is going to make it more costly and challenging.”
CoreLogic Senior Director Tom Larsen told Bisnow there is going to be an inflation of costs to rebuild.
“In the strictly economic sense, you have to bring in outside labor, provide per diem, hotel and other costs,” Larsen said. “Rebuilding [in Paradise] is going to generally cost more than a normal settlement. It’ll cost more to replace that same house.”
…California is facing a housing crisis and the wildfires that have charred, damaged or destroyed homes in recent years are deepening the state’s housing crunch.
Despite more people moving out than in, housing the influx of people that do migrate here and currently live here has become a political flashpoint.
In the past 10 years, the state has produced fewer than 80,000 new homes annually, far below the projected need of 180,000 additional homes per year that need to be built to keep up with demand, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Read More > at Bisnow
United States Postal Service: A Sustainable Path Forward – The USPS is a $71 billion enterprise that collects, processes, transports, and delivers 146 billion pieces of mail and packages to nearly 159 million households and businesses annually. The mission of the USPS is broadly defined via the “universal service obligation” (USO), which is intended to ensure that all citizens and businesses in the United States receive a minimum level of postal services at a reasonable price. The USPS has been losing money for more than a decade and is on an unsustainable financial path.
The USPS is forecast to lose tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. Further, as of the end of FY 2018, the USPS balance sheet reflects $89 billion in liabilities against $27 billion in assets – a net deficiency of $62 billion.
The shift toward digital correspondence and the corresponding decline in USPS mail volumes have been compounded by caps on mail pricing, leading to mail revenue declines of around 4 percent per year. Additionally, the USPS has not been able to sufficiently reduce costs to offset declines in revenue, resulting in net losses totaling $69 billion between FY 2007 and FY 2018.
Although package volumes are increasing due to the rise of e-commerce, package revenues alone cannot offset the decline in mail revenues. Additionally, as the USPS delivers more packages, it is competing with private delivery companies and distorting overall pricing in the package delivery market. Read More > at Treasury.gov
California Gives Final OK To Requiring Solar Panels On New Houses – Solar panels will be a required feature on new houses in California, after the state’s Building Standards Commission gave final approval to a housing rule that’s the first of its kind in the United States. California officials are calling the rule a historic milestone.
Set to take effect in 2020, the historic new standard includes an exemption for houses that are often shaded from the sun. It also includes incentives for people to add a high-capacity battery to their home’s electrical system, to store the sun’s energy.
The rule marks a new phase in California’s environmental policies, which have often set trends and established standards nationwide. The state has set the goal of drawing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources and sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Single-family homes and multi-family buildings that are up to three stories high must conform to the new solar power standard.
The state predicts that mandatory solar panel installations and other new improvements will add nearly $10,000 in the upfront cost of a home — a cost that officials say will balance out over time, due to lower electricity bills.
A homeowner will save $19,000 over the course of a 30-year mortgage, Bohan said at Wednesday’s meeting of the building commission. Read More > at NPR
How Would NYC’s Anti-AirDrop Dick Pic Law Even Work? – A bill introduced last week by two members of the New York City Council would punish people who send harassing, sexually explicit photos and videos with up to a year of jail time or a $1,000 fine. One unfortunately growing trend the bill hopes to thwart? “Cyber flashing,” a type of digital harassment where creeps use Apple’s AirDrop feature to send dick pics and other lewd images straight to the home screens of unsuspecting strangers via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
The bill’s co-sponsors, council members Joseph Borelli and Donovan Richards, say it’s about time cyber flashers faced the same consequences as their offline counterparts. “Just like if you get on the train and flash someone, you’ll be arrested,” Richards says. “You should be held to the same standard, and the law should be applied to you equally.”
That’s logical enough. But how would it work in practice? From both a technical and a legal perspective, it turns out, the answer is far more complicated, reflecting just how hard it is to regulate against all kinds of online harassment.
Let’s start with the technical. Say you’re sitting on the subway and a stranger sends you a naked photo (ugh) via AirDrop. You might glance around for the culprit, but suppose you can’t pick him out on the crowded car? Your options for identifying the perp using digital fingerprints are now severely limited. Even if the victim shares the contents of their phone, the AirDrop logs wouldn’t be stored on the device, says Sarah Edwards, a digital forensics analyst who wrote a blog post on this very topic. Law enforcement could use third-party software to view those logs, but even so, the digital trail is weak.
For starters, iPhone users can name and rename their devices anything they want, meaning the name in the log wouldn’t necessarily match the name in the perpetrator’s device… Read More > at Wired
Photography Tricks That Advertisers Use to Make Food Look Delicious – To make food look appetizing in advertisements, food stylists use a bunch of tricks that may not even involve edible objects. For example, syrup on pancakes is motor oil (because it doesn’t absorb), Elmer’s glue is cereal milk (it prevent the cereal from sinking), shaving cream is whipped cream (doesn’t melt), and dish soap helps the head on a beer appear foamier and last longer. Check it out:
Read More > at Kottke
What is ‘ballot harvesting’ and how was it used in California elections? – “Ballot harvesting” is political jargon for a practice in which organized workers or volunteers collect absentee ballots from certain voters and drop them off at a polling place or election office.
In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a change to Section 3017 of the Election Code that allows any person to collect a mail-in ballot from voters and turn in the mail ballot to a polling place or the registrar’s office. Prior law restricted the practice to just relatives of or those living in the same household as the voter.
While critics decry it as the practice of a “banana republic,” proponents of the change say it allows more eligible citizens to participate in elections across California…
There have been no credible reports of “ballot harvesting” being employed illegally or systematically to amount to election fraud. The Associated Press reported that Democrats have scoffed at theories of election fraud, and Secretary of State Alex Padilla was quoted saying that the laws don’t benefit one party over another. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune
XFL announces eight teams, cities and stadiums for its return in 2020 – Nearly two decades after its short-lived debut, the XFL has returned.
NFL alternative lasted just one season on its first run back in 2001.in January, the controversial professional league, which originated as a joint venture between WWE and NBC, is set for a 2020 reboot, complete with eight league-owned franchises. Touting everything from (seriously), Vince McMahon’s
But the new XFL, which still has two years to prepare for competition with the NFL and the newly formed Alliance of American Football among other leagues, took a step toward reality on Wednesday with the reveal of its eight teams and stadiums. Read More > at CBS Sports
Librarians of Babel: Intelligence’s Three Big Problems in the Information Age – The U.S. Intelligence Community faces major challenges resulting from the information revolution. First, an exponential increase in the volume of data being generated threatens to overwhelm an already over-tasked collection and analytic structure. Secondly, the vast majority of useful information today is publicly-available, a fact the IC has struggled to come to terms with and that could obviate its classified collection model. Lastly, both of these problems contribute to a growing disengagement by the end-users of finished intelligence, American policymakers.
In 1941, Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges wrote “The Library of Babel,” a short story about an enormous library, its numerous rooms full of randomly- assorted books. The library, its inhabitants believed, contained every book that had ever been written, and every book that could ever be written—that is, every possible combination of the thirty-six alphanumeric characters theoretically existed somewhere in its vast network of honeycombed rooms. On the downside, this meant that the vast majority of the library’s books were gibberish. But there were also, theoretically, books of unimagined brilliance.
Over time, the librarians divided into factions. Most of them contentedly lived their lives tending the books around them, grew old and died, not far from the same room where they were born. Others, however, degenerated into savagery. “I know of districts in which the young men prostrate themselves before books and kiss their pages in a barbarous manner, but they do not know how to decipher a single letter,” Borges wrote. Some, calling themselves ‘purifiers,’ burned books they deemed harmful. Others, called ‘inquisitors,’ traveled from room to room searching for meaning among the millions of volumes. “Obviously,” Borges concluded sadly, “no one expects to discover
If you’ve been online recently, Borges’ Library may seem like an eerily prescient portrayal of modern digital life. Our library is a vastly expanding datasphere that contains a wealth of information—both exquisite and banal. In 2009, this datasphere began doubling every two years, a rate of growth that shows no signs of slowing. The volume of data generated in just two recent years alone is estimated to be equivalent to nine times all the data generated over the span of human history. By 2025, that number will increase by a factor of ten. Read More > at Real Clear Defense
Sugar Taxes Haven’t Proved Effective in Tackling Obesity – Malaysia recently became the latest nation to call for a tax on sugary foods or drinks to tackle obesity. Four thousand miles away, at a recent Senate inquiry into public health policy in Melbourne, Australia, Green Party Sen. Richard Di Natale quizzed me about the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance’s research, which revealed that sugar taxes have failed to make any significant dent in obesity rates in the countries that have pursued them.
Instead of engaging with the claims and evidence, the questioning took a different line — Di Natale asked me: Public health lobby groups like the Australian Medical Association disagree with you. Are they wrong? Plainly put, yes. And now we have fresh evidence from the United Kingdom that indicates exactly that.
Back in April, 11 percent of British shoppers claimed that they would cease consuming sugary drinks if a sugar tax took effect. Since then, that figure has fallen to a paltry 1 percent. Surprisingly, the number of people who said they will continue to buy sugary soft drinks also rose post-tax, from 31 percent in February to 44 percent in June. Nielsen sales figures also show that big brands like Coca-Cola and Red Bull grew substantially over the 12 months preceding August 2018, by 7.6 percent and 9 percent respectively.
The UK figures should come as no surprise. Multiple American states and five major countries — Denmark, France, Hungary, Mexico, and Chile — have experimented with taxes on soft drinks or sugar. Not one of them has seen a material impact on their rate of obesity, which continues to climb across the Western world. Soft drink consumption in France was 4.2 percent higher in 2015 than it was right before its tax was introduced, a significant increase even when adjusted for changes in France’s population. Read More > at Real Clear Policy
World still depends on coal, cheap, plentiful — and dirty – The battle over the future of coal is being waged in Asia.
Asia, home to half the world’s population, accounts for three-fourths of global coal consumption today. More importantly, it accounts for more than three-fourths of coal plants that are either under construction or in the planning stages — a whopping 1,200 of them, according to Urgewald, a German advocacy group that tracks coal development. Heffa Schücking, who heads Urgewald, called those plants “an assault on the Paris goals.”
Indonesia is digging more coal. Vietnam is clearing ground for new coal-fired power plants. Japan, reeling from 2011 nuclear-plant disaster, has resurrected coal.
The world’s juggernaut, though, is China. The country consumes half the world’s coal. More than 4.3 million Chinese are employed in the country’s coal mines. China has added 40 percent of the world’s coal capacity since 2002, a huge increase for 16 years. “I had to do the calculation three times,” said Carlos Fernández Alvarez, a senior energy analyst at the International Energy Agency. “I thought it was wrong. It’s crazy.”
Spurred by public outcry over air pollution, China is also the world leader in solar- and wind-power installation, and its central government has tried to slow down coal-plant construction. But an analysis by Coal Swarm, a U.S.-based team of researchers that advocates for coal alternatives, concluded that new plants continue to be built, and other proposed projects have simply been delayed rather than stopped. Chinese coal consumption grew in 2017, though at a far slower pace than before, and is on track to grow again in 2018, after declining in previous years.
China’s coal industry is scrambling to find new markets, from Kenya to Pakistan. Chinese companies are building coal plants in 17 countries, according to Urgewald. Its regional rival, Japan, is in the game, too: Nearly 60 percent of planned coal projects developed by Japanese companies are outside the country, mostly financed by Japanese banks. Read More > in the Seattle Times
Houses Built To Resist Wildfires Are Burning In Wildfires — And Being Rebuilt In The Same Way – California’s building codes are not keeping up with the severe, wind-driven wildfires that are becoming the norm.
Ten years ago, the state passed strict new standards for homes built in high fire-risk areas.
But even homes built to those standards were destroyed in last year’s massive Thomas Fire. Now, those burned out homes are being rebuilt in the same places, under the same codes.
In the Ventura foothills, four of the nine homes on Andorra Lane burned down in the Thomas Fire. Almost no one expected it. After all, the homes were brand new. They were surrounded by dozens of other homes. And most importantly, they met the state’s building codes for areas at heightened risk of wildfires.
Andorra Lane is tucked into a fold of the foothills above Ventura, and the entire nine-home subdivision is in a “very high fire hazard severity zone.”
That’s a technical term created by CalFire, and it applies to neighborhoods on the edge of undeveloped land, “the wildland urban interface” where severe wildfires are likely.
The term is important because, since 2008, all homes built in these zones have had to meet strict building codes designed to prevent them from catching on fire. They must have fire resistant roofs and siding; fine mesh screen on attic vents to keep embers out; decks and patios made of non-flammable material, and heat-resistant windows.
Built in 2016, the houses on Andorra Lane had all of those things. They were supposed to have a better chance of surviving a wildfire than older homes that didn’t have those protective features. Read More > at laist
Fast Train to Failure – In 2008, California voters approved a bond for a high-speed rail line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles with the fast-growing cities in the state’s Central Valley. With trains running at 220 miles per hour on dedicated tracks, California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) would be the first true high-speed rail line in the U.S. The project’s backers, including Governor Jerry Brown, promised that CAHSR would cost just $33 billion and be finished by 2022, including extensions to Sacramento and San Diego. It would whisk passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes—fast enough, if European experience is a guide, to convince most air travelers on that route to take the train instead.
Ten years later, supporters have ample cause to reconsider. CAHSR’s costs have severely escalated: the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) now estimates that the train’s core segment alone, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, will cost from $77 billion to $98 billion. Promises that private investors would cover most of the costs have fallen through. Forecasts for the project’s completion date and travel times have also slipped. The fastest trains in the CHSRA’s current business plan have a running time of over three hours, and the first segment of the line—San Jose to Bakersfield, almost 200 miles short of completion—won’t open until 2029.
The project’s troubles have been largely self-inflicted, starting with poor route choices. At the south end of the line, from the Central Valley to Los Angeles, rather than proceeding in a direct route from Los Angeles to the northwest through Tejon Pass, roughly along Interstate 5, the planned line takes a detour to the northeast through Palmdale, a rapidly growing exurb, and enters the Central Valley through Tehachapi Pass. The CHSRA justified this choice by arguing that the Tejon route would require more tunnels and slow curves and be more vulnerable to earthquakes.
But in a convincing independent analysis, aerospace engineer and transportation activist Clem Tillier has called the CHSRA’s study of the Tejon alternative “a finely crafted web of distortions.” The study, Tillier wrote, used skewed assumptions guaranteed to produce a poor Tejon route. Most notably, the CHSRA supposed that no route could cross a planned residential development in a key portion of Tejon Pass… Read More > at City Journal
Since its launch with Windows 10, Edge has failed to gain much market share. The first iterations of Edge were extremely barebones, offering little more than a basic tabbed browser—no extensions, little control over behavior. Early releases of Edge were also not as stable as one might have liked, making the browser hard to recommend. Three years later on and Edge is greatly—but unevenly—improved. The browser engine’s stability seems to be much better than it was, and performance and compatibility remain solid (though with the exception of a few corner cases, these were never a real concern). Read More > at Ars technica
Airport Wi-Fi can be a security nightmare. Here’s what you can do to stop cyber criminals – …That’s where the evil twin comes in. Let’s say you’re sitting in an airport lounge or maybe right outside the lounge. You see a Wi-Fi network that says, “FreeAirportWiFi.” Great, you think. Most airports do have free Wi-Fi. They may make you watch a couple of commercials (or you may pay a bit to skip those), but otherwise, the connectivity is there for you.
“I always say that in the balance between convenience and security, convenience always wins,” Liwer said.
And you lose. Because if you take the bait and log in, that evil twin posing as the airport Wi-Fi then has access to your closely held secrets.
In some cases, Liwer said, the person creating this trap may be sitting next to you, which means the signal is strong and attractive. It takes only some inexpensive equipment and know-how for a thief to succeed, and presto, you’re in the cyber-security soup.
“Most attackers … are trying to get your credentials, and if they have those, they have the keys to the kingdom,” Liwer said. “If I know your password, I own your life.”
…Here are ways to keep your data safe, with help from Liwer; Vyas Sekar, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering; Jake Lehmann, managing director of Friedman CyZen, a cyber-security consulting service; and Michael Tanenbaum, executive vice president North America cyber practice for Chubb Ltd.:
►Create a strong password. Um, duh. Who doesn’t know that? But is it practical to figure out something unique for each place you do business? No, it’s not. That’s why you may want to create the most difficult passwords you can and pay for a service that will store them for you. Check personal computing publications for recommendations.
►Make sure the website begins with https and displays a little “lock” symbol to the left of the URL, especially if you are doing a financial transaction.
►Check for misspellings or bad grammar on the website, always a clue that a site isn’t legit. Because, really, is your bank going to misspell stuff? (If it is, get a new bank.)
►Use your own hot spot. Many smartphones offer a “personal hot spot” service, which you’ll probably find under “settings.” Use that instead of the free Wi-Fi; also make sure you follow steps one and two above. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
California gears up for round 2 on controversial battle over more homes near transit – A controversial bill with the potential to add millions of apartments and condominiums near transit — which died in its first committee hearing earlier this year — was resurrected Monday, but with a number of significant changes. Already, some of the changes are raising eyebrows.
When San Francisco state Sen. Scott Wiener introduced SB 827, his proposal sparked a red-hot debate over how and where we build housing in the Golden State. The measure would have required cities to allow housing developments of four to eight stories within a half-mile radius of every BART station, Caltrain stop or other railroad station, and a quarter-mile from bus stops where buses run every 15 minutes during commute times.
The bill was dead on arrival — even before the formal debate in the legislature over its merits and flaws could begin.
…The new version, SB 50, was introduced Monday.
It’s already raising alarm bells, said Palo Alto Mayor Liz Kniss, whose City Council drafted a letter opposing the original measure. That’s because one of the key changes was including “jobs-rich” project areas in the proposal, which means cities and towns that have done a good job at attracting employers and bringing jobs to the area, but haven’t built enough housing, wouldn’t be able to reject housing projects based on certain height and density limits — even if the projects aren’t near high-frequency transit.
…The new bill lowers height requirements a little so the tallest buildings near rail stations would be five stories, not eight. For housing near bus routes, cities can keep existing height restrictions in place but can’t limit density. That means cities can’t reject a story-two apartment building if the land is zoned for single-family homes, Wiener said.
…How the “job-rich” housing provisions will play out in practice, however, still needs a lot of work, Wiener acknowledged. An outside agency likely would be brought in, he said, to help define what exactly is a “job-rich” community and how much of a city or town would be eligible for development under the measure.
Those details are incredibly important, said Jason Rhine, the assistant legislative director for the League of California Cities, which opposed the bill over concerns that is wrested too much control from cities and town though the league supports high-density housing near transit in principle. He said it’s too early to say whether the league will oppose or support the measure. Read More > in the Daily Democrat
What the Stock Selloff Tells Us About the Future of Tech – The past three months have not been kind to large public technology companies. Amid crescendos of criticism about monopolistic power, these companies saw their market value plummet. The rampant selling has leveled off, at least for the moment, so it’s an opportune time to ask: What comes next?
This was hardly the first drop in these firms’ share prices, and it won’t be the last. But there’s good reason to think that this is more than just a periodic market correction. It signals a recognition that these companies are maturing, face new challenges from within, from each other, from shifting macroeconomic winds, and from regulators. The massive run-up in share prices this summer may not have been a last hurrah, but it’s likely that it will mark the end of this latest euphoria stage.
During the summer, tech investors—especially shareholders in the leading “FAANG” companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google)—were feeling flush, as were those companies themselves. (Even Facebook, mired in a cascade of bad press over repeated missteps, reached an all-time high in July.) Netflix stock was up 140 percent from December 2017 to its summer peak. Apple was the first trillion-dollar US-listed company, and Amazon followed quickly. Behind the behemoths were a host of smaller companies (each pretty large), such as Salesforce and Nvidia, each up more than 100 percent for the year.
But in October it began to crumble, and fast. Nvidia fell 50 percent from its high, Netflix 40 percent, Facebook 35 percent, Amazon and Apple 25 percent, and Google 20 percent. In fact, the only tech giant not to fall substantially was Microsoft, which seems about to overtake Apple and Amazon as the world’s most valuable company.
…Every major tech company is now facing real questions, though not the same ones. Amazon and Google appear to be headed for some regulatory heat. Apple, 10 years-plus after the introduction of the iPhone, is morphing into a luxury brand with increasing revenue from services. Netflix, though it continues to grow at double-digit rates, will face more streaming competition and has amassed considerable debt. And of course Facebook is in a world of hurt, with eroding confidence from the public and investors.
But look at who’s not on that list: Over the past few months, Microsoft’s shares have outperformed the S&P 500 stock index, while almost all else tech collapsed. What sets Microsoft apart is that it faced its come-to-Jesus moment 20 years ago, with years of bad publicity over its aggressive business tactics and a massive US government antitrust suit, which it survived, but only after a judge at one point ordered the company broken up. Coinciding with the bursting tech bubble in 2000, Microsoft’s woes continued for years, as it struggled with vision, with the transition from Bill Gates to Steve Ballmer, and with an investor base that was perplexed about how to value the company going forward. Read More > at Wired
France’s Macron Blinks in Standoff With Yellow Vests – French President Emmanuel Macron delayed a planned tax increase on fuel, handing a victory to a grass-roots protest movement that has massed across France to challenge his agenda.
Faced with another weekend of destructive protests by the “gilets jaunes”—or yellow vests—Prime Minister Édouard Philippe told a news conference Tuesday the tax hike would be pushed back six months. The worst riots to hit Paris in decades erupted during antigovernment protests Saturday, leaving the city’s shopping and tourist center dotted with burning cars and broken storefronts. Protesters vandalized the Arc de Triomphe, rattling Mr. Macron’s administration and the nation.
“No tax is worth threatening the unity of the nation,” Mr. Philippe said.
The protests have become a test of Mr. Macron’s resolve to forge ahead with his broader agenda, particularly his pro-business overhaul of the French economy. Tuesday’s concession marked the first time the Macron government has blinked since the former investment banker took office in the spring of 2017.
The French leader has eschewed the consensus-building approach of his predecessors. Instead he wielded his executive powers and his large majority in Parliament to defy the political opposition, unions and other groups as he stripped away job protections and wealth taxes that help underpin France’s social model. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
A staffing shortage clouds the future of Napa Valley restaurants – Napa Valley restaurants are finding it increasingly difficult to hire and retain qualified personnel. The causes are partly driven by the high cost of living but also appear linked to broader trends: lack of affordable housing, higher-paying alternative careers (e.g., construction) and slowing local population growth. These trends are exacerbated when coupled with the increasing number of Napa Valley tourists, resorts, restaurants and wineries.
“Everyone is dealing with staffing issues — it’s unsustainable,” said Richard Reddington, whose popular Yountville Redd restaurant closed in October.
These local challenges appear to be part of a broader national phenomenon. In 2017 the National Restaurant Association reported that nearly 40 percent of its members listed labor recruitment as their top challenge, which was up from only 15 percent in 2015.
However, the impact is perhaps hitting independent Napa Valley restaurants the hardest: So far in 2018 five well-liked eateries have closed with each of their owners pointing, at least in part, to the difficulties of finding and retaining qualified staff.
Beyond the closings, new restaurant openings have been delayed, and some eateries are scrapping or have modified their business models toward less-labor-intensive alternatives, while some of the valley’s finest expert culinarians have packed their bags. Read More > at Napa Valley Register
Decline of canned tuna sales forces industry to shift: ‘Millennials don’t even own can openers’– Sorry, Charlie, people aren’t buying tuna anymore.
Tuna companies are trying to revamp the brand after a decline in sales over the past several years.
Established brands like StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea amount for about 80 percent of all canned tuna sales — but have seen a drop in consumption by 42 percent since the late 1980s when reports linking tuna to mercury poisoning were widespread, the U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows.
The drop has been reportedly blamed on the canned protein’s inability to connect with millennials and younger generations who seek out less-processed or trendier snacks.
“In order to bring excitement back to the category, we have to be more creative,” said Jan Tharp, Bumble Bee’s interim chief executive officer, to The Wall Street Journal.
The parent companies of the three large canned tuna brands have tried to innovate the decades-old staple by rolling out grab-and-go pouches with trendy flavors like Sriracha, buffalo and Korean style, to market to younger demographics. Read More > at Fox News
State-Federal ‘Double Jeopardy’ Case to Be Heard by Supreme Court – The legal doctrine that allows states and the federal government to separately prosecute a person for the same alleged crime could be upended or reaffirmed depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a case before the justices on Thursday.
In Terance Martez Gamble v. United States of America, lawyers for Gamble, an Alabama man now serving a prison sentence for state and federal gun possession charges, argue that the court should abandon what’s known as the “separate sovereigns” exception.
The exception provides a pathway for states and the federal government to both prosecute someone for the same activity, without running afoul of the “double jeopardy” clause of the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits multiple prosecutions for the same offense.
Gamble’s attorneys argue that the exemption is incompatible with the double jeopardy clause and that it “survives only as a remnant of a bygone constitutional era—‘the kind of doctrinal dinosaur or legal last-man-standing,’” and should be overturned.
They characterize the doctrine as being “at war” with the original meaning of the double jeopardy clause. Read More > at Route Fifty
Experts: Shopping Centers An Attractive Contrarian Play – There might be a sense of gloom clinging to the retail real estate sector, but the fundamentals of the U.S. economy say it is unwarranted, according to retail experts who recently held a webinar for investment specialist Marcus & Millichap.
Marcus & Millichap Senior Vice President of Research Services John Chang said retail is actually in a transition period.
“A lot of stores were caught flat-footed [by e-commerce], they didn’t adapt well, and we’ve seen some of them fall by the wayside because they didn’t adapt …” Chang said. “At the same time, it’s actually a very exciting time to invest in retail product.”
That is because the perception is that things are worse than they really are, Chang said.
“Just think where we are economically,” he said. Economic fundamentals continue to support retail sales growth — online and physical stores.
…”Amazon is actually only 4% of all retail sales,” Schurgin said. “Millennials love shopping. They love going to retail stores.”
Restaurants are big drivers for retail properties as well, Schurgin said, though that trend might eventually slow down. “There’s still tremendous demand. There will be saturation in a few years, because you can only go out to eat so many times.” Read More > at Bisnow
The Bay Bridge and Other Big Mistakes – How do you learn from a really big mistake?
Walk across it.
Which is why I recently found myself putting on a windbreaker and beginning a long, slow walk across the east span of the Bay Bridge, from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island. This piece of the bridge, completed in 2013, is probably the biggest California mistake of the last generation. The east span was completed a decade late, cost seven times more than official projections, and remains dogged by serious safety concerns.
However, the bridge does have one virtue: it holds lessons for the future, as California faces massive challenges that will necessitate big projects. Indeed, after eight years of the cautious, small-bore governorship of Jerry Brown, new state leaders are preparing to take on big initiatives on infrastructure, taxation, and early childhood.
…Today’s cynical conventional wisdom is that big projects are nearly impossible to carry off, and that those that do go forward are destined to fail. But Mikesell argues otherwise. He explains that the original 1936 Bay Bridge met conditions for successful mega-projects.
First, local and state leaders built broad consensus about the purpose and need for the project: constructing a bridge from San Francisco to Oakland was clearly a game-changer for the region in that era. Second, political people made the political decisions about the bridge, and technical people made the technical decisions. While a politically appointed commission approved the bridge and its budget, the details of design and construction were left to technical experts brought in from all over the country. Third, costs were estimated accurately and the bridge came in under budget. And finally, the bridge builders used proven methods for construction and materials, emphasizing functionality rather than trying to make an artistic statement.
The 2013 eastern span didn’t pass all these tests, Mikesell writes. The bridge was a divisive political issue for years. Cost estimates were way off. Technical decisions about bridge design and engineering were made through political processes. And the crucial political decision – to build an expensive new span instead of a less costly rertrofit of the old span—was made inside Caltrans. Who were these decisionmaker? Shockingly, Mikesell, a seasoned expert on bridges, writes that the process was so messy it’s impossible to identify exactly who was responsible. Read More > at Fox & Hounds
Did your doctor ask for your Social Security number? Why that may be a bad idea – Your personal data may be safer on your computer than at your doctor’s office.
Health care providers — not hackers — are responsible for the majority of data breaches regarding personal health information, a new study from Michigan State University and Johns Hopkins University found. More than half of personal health data (53%) leaked between October 2009 and December 2017 was exposed due to internal negligence — not efforts from external parties.
“Hospitals, doctors offices, insurance companies, small physician offices and even pharmacies are making these kinds of errors and putting patients at risk,” said John (Xuefeng) Jiang, lead author and associate professor of accounting and information systems at MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business.
Because sharing sensitive information with health care providers can result in more breaches, patients should be more discerning about how much information they give out, said Jessica Ortega, website security analyst at privacy firm SiteLock.
“It’s not uncommon for doctor’s offices to ask for your Social Security number to ease the billing process and easily find your health insurance information,” she said. “However, it is recommended that you opt not to provide this information because not all doctor’s offices are created equal when it comes to data storage and protection.”
In most cases a doctor does not need your Social Security number to identify you as a patient, Ortega said. Patients can list just the last four digits of their Social Security number or leave it blank. If the doctor truly needs the number, they will follow up, she noted. Read More > at Market Watch
Democrats have a mega-majority in the California Legislature. Expect them to swing for the fences – Californians can be forgiven if they’re slightly nervous about the new two-year legislative session that’s starting. Democrats haven’t wielded this much power in 136 years.
Even a devoted Democratic voter should wince at the overwhelming one-party rule. It’s not exactly what the nation’s founders had in mind and bears watching closely. Exhibit A: One-party Republican control in Washington the last two years.
In Sacramento, the Democrats’ power will be checked only by themselves. There won’t be enough Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Legislature to beat back liberals on most issues even if they wanted to team up.
Any serious legislative squabbling will be solely among Democrats. And there’ll undoubtedly be intraparty fighting over turf and goodies.
…Exactly how Democrats use their buffed-up muscle is anyone’s guess. It’s doubtful they know themselves yet.
But here are some guesses:
Newsom will target early childhood education, focusing on what he calls the “readiness gap” — kids not being adequately prepared to start school. The governor-elect says he has a “sense of urgency” for “universal access to preschool.”
That’s also the Assembly speaker’s top priority.
Rendon says he and Newsom are “definitely on the same page. Get the kids early and break the cycle of poverty.” He wants to expand access and also modernize programs.
But how poor will a family need to be to qualify for a state-funded program? That may upset many people. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
America Is Addicted to Outrage. Is There a Cure? – Outrage has become the signature emotion of American public life.
People are so used to it—the noise, the flying spittle—that they were pleasantly surprised when Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw of Texas declined to be incensed. He is the former Navy SEAL who lost an eye in Afghanistan and was mocked—more stupidly than viciously—for his eyepatch by a performer on “Saturday Night Live.” The insult called for outrage, in the usual tit-for-tat. But instead Mr. Crenshaw took it in good humor. He went on “SNL” to accept the performer’s apology. Not everything needs to be treated as an outrage, he said—a grown-up in a moment of grace.
People have been mad as hell for much of the 21st century, starting roughly with the stalemated Bush-Gore election in 2000, followed quickly by 9/11. Fundamentals have been changing fundamentally: marriage, sexual identity, racial politics, geopolitics. Outrage flourishes also because of the rise of social media—the endless electronic brawl—and because it plays so well on our screens. Cable news draws pictures in crayon, in bold primary colors that turn politics into cartoons. On the left, “stay woke” means “stay outraged.” Trumpians want to “lock her up” or “build a wall.” Outrage is reductive, easy to understand. It is an idiom of childhood—a throwback even to the terrible twos.
The various tribes have broken off negotiations with all differing points of view. They excuse themselves from self-doubt and abandon the idea of anything so weak as compromise or, God forbid, ambivalence: No other perspective could possibly be valid. Americans have lost tolerance for the 51%-to-49% judgment call, even though that’s about the margin of their disagreement on almost everything. People give themselves over to the pleasures of self-righteousness and self-importance that come with being wronged when you know you’re in the right. Among the civic emotions, outrage is a beast of the prime; to harness outrage is to discover fire. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
Hollywood Is a Sex-Grooming Gang – …“Nobody knows anything” was the Hollywood mantra popularized by the late screenwriter William Goldman. Yet in a town that does nothing more assiduously than it does gossip, we’re expected to believe nobody knew anything about what was happening in Les Moonves’s office, and in Harvey Weinstein’s, and in Bryan Singer’s? It beggars belief. They knew. They all knew. The men knew. The women knew. The potted plants certainly knew. Nobody said anything. They didn’t want to jeopardize their next gig. “Nobody says anything” is more like it. It’s show-merta. “Hollywood mafia” isn’t a joke anymore: These acts alleged by so many actresses are crimes. This was a systematic criminal enterprise in which untold numbers of people either abetted felonies or did not report them, with money clawed away from publicly traded corporations repeatedly used to buy silence.
When you see a lot of movies and TV shows, you do a lot of wondering about what happened behind the scenes. Why did that actress get so many parts? Why did this one rise so quickly? Why did that one disappear? Wasn’t that nude scene gratuitous? Put on the magical sunglasses and you see the ugliness. Salma Hayek said Weinstein came to the set of her 2002 film Frida and threatened to shut it down unless she filmed an out-of-nowhere nude lesbian sex scene to put in the picture. Dewy young things are apparently told that this sort of thing is “the price of admission” by the male producer-director-agent nexus. Judging by her subsequent choices, I’m guessing the privately educated 21-year-old Reese Witherspoon wasn’t thrilled to be told to go nude for the 1998 film Twilight. She came to Los Angeles to act, not to strip. But, hey: price of admission. Now those images are out there, forever.
Ashley Judd was all set to play a big role in The Lord of the Rings. (The Liv Tyler part.) Then declined Weinstein’s invitation to explore what was under his bathrobe. He spoke to director Peter Jackson. He didn’t say, “She rejected my advances.” He told Jackson that Judd was a nightmare to work with, in maybe 1998. He did the same with Mira Sorvino. These actresses were red-hot. Sorvino had an Oscar at 28. She never got a lead role in a major movie after 1999. Judd continued to work but not in big-budget movies. She might have been a superstar. Annabella Sciorra, who alleged that Weinstein raped her when she was at her peak in the early 1990s, said she couldn’t get a role for three years after the encounter. (Weinstein has denied all charges of rape and sexual assault.) The producer simply moved on to the next young cutie. There are busloads of them arriving all the time. Agents and managers continued to send the girls to meet with him alone. Did they ever ask themselves if they were complicit in systematic criminal sexual abuse? Did it ever occur to them that even those actresses who played along with the sex game had been thrown into a lose-lose situation no one should ever have to face? Read More > at National Review
The Ghost Ship fire two years later: Will massive lawsuit finally lead to accountability? – The thick black smoke from a savage warehouse inferno came quickly two years ago, but not quickly enough to spare 36 mostly young partygoers from the terror of knowing they were at life’s end: “I am going to die, mom,” one texted; a young couple fell into an embrace, dying of asphyxiation in each other’s arms.
Adding to the families’ pain, many questions still remain about the Dec. 2, 2016, Ghost Ship fire. Most of them focus on how an artists’ collective in a Fruitvale neighborhood warehouse thrived for years without any city inspections, despite frequent visits there by police and firefighters to deal with problems. Upwards of 20 people lived there, often renting it out for parties, and even an orgy.
But answers could soon be coming as a massive lawsuit involving more than 80 plaintiffs against Oakland, PG&E and warehouse owner Chor Ng lurches through Alameda Superior Court before Judge Brad Seligman.
…It’s a case that could end up costing the city and setting a precedent for other California public agencies who also have been protected by broad immunities in civil lawsuits. While the city and other defendants will have other chances to appeal, the possibility that at least some of the dozens of plaintiffs will take the case to a jury is now realistic, said University of San Francisco Law Professor Joshua Paul Davis. Read More > in The Mercury News