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.
As Prisoners, They Can Help Fight California’s Huge Wildfires. As Free People, They’re Banned From Being Firefighters – As the largest wildfire in California’s history continues to burn out of control, thousands of inmates from the California Department of Corrections are helping professional firefighters battle the flames.
Those inmates are literally risking their lives to protect people, homes, and businesses as part of the state’s volunteer inmate firefighter program—and they are paid less than $2 per day for their work, even as they toil alongside professionals who earn an average of $74,000 annually (and that’s not counting overtime).
An even crueler twist? Once they are released from prison, those same men and women will likely be denied the opportunity to put their skills to use, as California’s licensing laws prohibit individuals with criminal records from becoming firefighters.
California’s inmate firefighter program is open to prisoners who are not convicted of arson, sexual crimes, kidnapping or gang-related offenses, as long as they do not have a history of escape attempts and are not facing a life sentence. They receive two weeks of firefighting training and must pass a physical exam. The department says more than 2,000 volunteer inmate firefighters, including 58 youth offenders, have been deployed to battle the Mendocino Complex Fire, which has burned more than 300,000 acres near Redding and is now considered the largest fire in state history. Read More > at Reason
Ford creates new organization for autonomous vehicles – Ford Motor Company announced it has created Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC, a new organization charged with accelerating its AV business to capitalize on market opportunities
The company is organizing its self-driving business into Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC, which will include Ford’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy, and business development teams. The new LLC, which is structured to take on third party investment, will be primarily based at Ford’s Corktown campus in Detroit and will hold Ford’s ownership stake in Argo AI, the company’s Pittsburgh-based partner for self-driving system development. Ford expects to invest $4 billion in its AV efforts through 2023, including its $1 billion investment in Argo AI. Read More > at Autonomous Vehicle Technology
Campbell Soup At A Crossroads: What The Company Must Do Now – On May 18, 2018, Campbell’s announced its quarterly earnings. The company posted a loss of $393 million, or a loss of $1.31 per share, for the fiscal third quarter that ended April 29. CEO Denise Morrison suddenly announced her “retirement” from the company she had led for seven years.
Food companies like Campbell’s have experienced a disconnect between the products they offer and the products consumers want to buy. Consumers are moving away from processed food and instead are seeking healthier food options. Shifting consumers tastes are being blamed for four straight years of decline at Campbell’s.
The majority of analysts place the blame for the losses at Campbell Soup on Morrison and the board of directors for their poor decision making.
From the time Morrison became CEO of Campbell Soup, she chose to divert the company from the core mission of selling soup to try to create a fresh food and snack empire. Read More > in Forbes
With Democrats’ help, California DMV dodges audit of wait times – Despite complaints about escalating wait times for thousands of customers at California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, state lawmakers sided with the Brown administration Wednesday and refused to order an official audit into its management.
The audit request needed at least eight supporters from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee — four from the Assembly and four from the Senate — for approval. After two hours of debate, the request fell one vote shy. Assembly members approved the request, but three Democratic state senators did not vote, effectively killing the measure.
In a statement, a Brown spokeswoman declined to answer questions about whether the governor supports the audit. Instead, the office asked the Legislature to approve a budget request for the DMV to hire more people to deal with a surge of office visits to apply for the federal REAL ID licenses.. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
Don’t let Big Tech become Big Brother – Until now, the big tech platforms like Google, YouTube, and Facebook stayed out of censoring. They preached the benefits of an open and connected society. If they were going to delete material, it would mostly be on a very limited basis, using a scalpel, not a machete. Sometimes they even tolerated too much freedom on their platforms and were fined for accepting fake drug ads, and for failing to police their platforms of sex trafficking and other crimes. They also have not always been vigilant enough to catch bots and fake accounts. They made some mistakes that they could and should fix to the best of their abilities.
But the wholesale removal of material from widely followed, fully disclosed, and completely accountable personalities crosses a dark line that could send a chill down the spine of anyone who would want to express exactly what they think and post it on the internet. Over the last decade, we gave these online platforms the keys to our information kingdom. We let them become more powerful than any newspaper or TV station. Now their response to being thrust into the political limelight is to become potential censors of our news and even opinion information.
As the Supreme Court has ruled, we can and should ban speech that leads to “imminent lawless action” but when dealing with opinion speech, even flaky and distasteful opinions, we should be very careful not to exceed the limits set down by the highest court. Whether done by the government or companies, the belief that speech is being suppressed on the basis of political ideology can be dangerously destabilizing.
…The big tech companies will only find themselves enmeshed in a growing public crossfire if they become active arbiters of content, purveyors of speech codes, and forerunners of a “Bladerunner” future. Congress should remove the content liability exemption from companies exercising too much power over user content. Or, better yet, the industry should adopt a uniform published code with clear standards mirroring the Supreme Court and have tough cases judged by a panel that genuinely has equal numbers of liberals, moderates, and conservatives. Maybe we should have an internet freedom amendment to the Constitution. Read More > at The Hill
Lyme disease has now spread to all 50 states, report finds – The report from Quest Diagnostics is based on more than six million blood tests taken over the last seven years, CBS New York reports. The New Jersey-based clinical laboratory says cases of Lyme disease have exploded in areas like California and Florida, where it was not commonly seen in the past. The company believe ticks are finding it easier to survive in new regions and spreading diseases to unsuspecting residents.
Disease-carrying ticks are normally found in the Northeast and cases in those areas are still climbing, as well. Lyme disease cases in Pennsylvania and the six New England states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont —made up over 60 percent of all positive tests in the U.S. in 2017, Quest Diagnostics reported.
Georgia, Arizona, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia also saw disturbing increases in Lyme disease cases, according to Quest Diagnostics. Tick bites that infect victims with the bacteria that causes Lyme typically leave a bulls-eye shaped rash at the infection site. Other symptoms include joint pain, weakness in the limbs, and fatigue. Read More > at CBS News
Dianne Feinstein was an easy mark for China’s spy – As vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been investigating allegations of President Trump’s “collusion” with Russia.
But now we learn Feinstein may be the one compromised by a foreign power.
Turns out that Communist China had a spy in her office. A 20-year employee of Feinstein’s, the agent had been reporting back to China’s Ministry of State Security for well over a decade before he was caught in 2013, according to the FBI.
…After a Justice Department task force investigated widespread illegal fundraising during the 1996 Clinton re-election campaign, Feinstein returned more than $12,000 in contributions from donors associated with Huang, who was later convicted of campaign-finance fraud along with other Beijing bagmen. The DNC and the Clinton campaign had to return millions in ill-gotten cash.
Still, Beijing got its favored trade status extended — thanks in part to Feinstein. In speeches on the Senate floor and newspaper op-eds, she shamelessly spun China’s human-rights violations, as when in 1997 she compared Beijing’s 1989 massacre of hundreds of young demonstrators to the 1970 Kent State shootings, calling for the presidents of China and America to appoint a human-rights commission “charting the evolution of human rights in both countries over the last 20 to 30 years,” that “would point out the successes and failures — both Tiananmen Square and Kent State — and make recommendations for goals for the future.”
Feinstein also led efforts to bring China into the World Trade Organization in 1999, which gave Beijing permanent normal trade relations status and removed the annual congressional review of its human-rights and weapons-proliferation records. Read More > in the New York Post
Sexual Harassment Scandal Rocks Contra Costa County Assessor’s Office – A recent investigation has concluded that Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer likely sexually harassed two female subordinates, according to county records obtained by Bay Area News Group.
The incidents, outlined in detail here, occurred between 2008 and 2015. It is not clear whether Kramer has ever been disciplined.
This is not the first time the county has had to respond to charges against Kramer. In 2009, the county paid a $1 million settlement involving an employee of the assessor’s office who accused the longtime assessor of sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and retaliation.
Kramer has served as county assessor since 1994. He was re-elected to another term this June before the latest investigation could commence. Read More > at California County News
Sierra National Forest hardest hit by tree mortality, now at 129 million statewide – …The U.S.D.A. Forest Service announced that an additional 27 million trees, mostly conifers, died throughout California since Nov. 2016, bringing the total number of trees that have died due to drought and bark beetle infestation to a historic 129 million on 8.9 million acres.
According to the report The Sierra National Forest is home to the most damaged acres, recorded at just over one million acres. It also houses the largest numbers of dead trees at nearly 32 million.
Tulare, Fresno and Madera are the three hardest hit counties.
“The number of dead and dying trees has continued to rise, along with the risks to communities and firefighters if a wildfire breaks out in these areas,” said Randy Moore, Regional Forester of the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region. “It is apparent from our survey flights this year that California’s trees have not yet recovered from the drought, and remain vulnerable to beetle attacks and increased wildfire threat. The Forest Service will continue to focus on mitigating hazard trees and thinning overly dense forests so they are healthier and better able to survive stressors like this in the future.” Read More > in the Sierra Star
Mismanaged, overcrowded forests provide fuel to historic California wildfires, experts say – Fires are bigger and lasting longer in part due to hotter and drier weather that most experts say is caused by climate change. But overcrowding has also made the fires more intense: The Department of Agriculture reported in December that about 27 million trees had died statewide on federal, state, and private lands since November 2016.
“Our forests are dramatically overcrowded,” said Krystal Beckham of the Little Hoover Commission, an independent California oversight agency that has called for major changes in the state’s forest management practices.
“There are some places where there may be four times as many trees as there should be,” Beckham said. “When you have trees that close together, they can’t get the water they need, so they are more susceptible to drought, insects, and disease. And when they start dying, they become a terrible fire threat.”
There are two major ways to prevent fires from starting, experts say. The first is for officials to intentionally set fires to take away ignitable material like brush off the forest floor and give trees more space to breathe.
The other method, called forest thinning, involves crews removing small trees to reduce the amount of fuel in dry forests.
But these activities are expensive. And the U.S. currently faces a backlog of needed forest management projects, as federal and state agencies have used more of their budgets responding to wildfires, rather than preventing them. Read More > in the Washington Examiner
Travel Agencies and 20 Other Businesses That Are Disappearing – TRAVEL AGENCIES – The travel booking industry has already shed more than 21,000 jobs after a high of 124,000 in 2000, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the decline is likely to continue to 2026, even as jobs in leisure and hospitality grow. People may still be vacationing, but telecommuting via internet has eliminated the need for many a business trip, and remaining agencies have been forced to adapt and accommodate more user-dependent online booking.
NEWSPAPERS – Newspapers are disappearing — it’s practically a cliché to say so, but one backed up by more than a decade of declining ad revenues, circulation, and public interest in print journalism. Since 2009, many major American metropolitan dailies have shuttered, filed for bankruptcy, or drastically reduced operations. The most-frequently cited culprit is the rise of the internet, but a more recent analysis suggests it may be due to publishers’ lack of advertising and brand awareness in an ever-more-crowded marketplace.
BOOKSTORES – Print media as a whole has had a rough couple decades it seems, as the number of bookstores in the U.S. fell by almost 4,000 from 2007 to 2016, a 32.7% decline exceeded by a 42.9% decline in employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most precipitous event in the industry’s decline was Borders closing its stores in 2011, and the most obvious suspect in its demise is Amazon, whose low prices and emphasis on e-commerce, e-reading, and self-publishing has led to more book sales within an entirely new model.
FORMAL WEAR AND COSTUME RENTAL – This increase in cheap imported textiles from China and other developing nations has allowed more Americans to purchase formal wear rather than renting it, which helps to explain the 46% employment drop at clothing rental companies over the past decade. It also doesn’t help that fewer Americans are getting married, and no doubt the simplicity of finding costume components through e-commerce services has played a part as well. Read More > at Cheapism
The New-McCarthyism Of Our Censorious Age – “If my thought dreams could be seen They’d probably put my head in a guillotine” — Bob Dylan, “It’s All Right Ma”, 1965
We live in a newly censorious age, where old crudities are never forgotten. To be sure, there are some clear malefactors, like Harvey Weinstein and many others, who should be punished to the extent of the law, but there’s clearly a distinct danger to free expression as the emboldened thought police steadily expand their domain.
Often when people are young, they do stupid things, and say even stupider ones. Who reading this article has never said something off base, which has led to numerous dethronings among corporate executives, writers and editors? Time seems to heal no wounds anymore. “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn was fired for “off color jokes” made a decade ago; a recently removed judicial candidate was let go for somewhat intemperate things he said in college.
In the past we forgave former Klansmen — like Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black or West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd — allowing them to repent as racial progressives. Former socialists and Marxists reinvented themselves as neo-conservatives, often explaining their youthful views reflected past immaturity. Such forgiveness is not on the current media menu. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
If It’s Not CEQA, What Is It? – If the Habitat for Humanity affordable housing project in Redwood City isn’t an illustration of CEQA abuse, what is?
In fact, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is the cause of a 2-year delay in building the project, which matches up nicely with the region’s “smart growth” standards: six stories and 20-units of lower-income, infill housing located downtown near transit lines, in the heart of Silicon Valley. The project developer, nonprofit Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco, is waiting on a vacant lot, surrounded by a row of portable toilets, a trailer and a dumpster.
Habitat is ready to go but they face a wise, local attorney, who is playing the now age-old game that neighborhood groups have been playing in California for years. He filed a CEQA challenge and that brought the project to a halt. He contends the city’s approval of the apartments violated a sweeping, decades-old environmental law, because the building could increase traffic. But, really, the Habitat building will likely block the view from his home’s rear windows.
CEQA requires that new public and private projects undergo rigorous reviews to prove they will not cause significant harm to the existing environment. If they will cause harm, developers are usually faced with downsizing and mitigation. But, while local agencies and planning departments ultimately sign off on this mitigation, under CEQA the public has another shot. Indeed, for as little as $150 anyone can file a lawsuit challenging that a project has violated the approval process. And, as the law allows, those suits are typically filed anonymously. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
CoreLogic Reports June Home Prices Increased by 6.8% – Home prices rose nationally by 6.8% year over year from June 2017 to June 2018, as reported by the CoreLogic Home Price Index and HPI Forecast for June 2018. Irvine, CA-based CoreLogic’s latest research also shows on a month-over-month basis, prices increased by 0.7% in June 2018, compared with May 2018.
“The rise in home prices and interest rates over the past year have eroded affordability and are beginning to slow existing home sales in some markets,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic.
“For June, we found in CoreLogic public records data that home sales in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California were down 9 and 12 percent, respectively, from one year earlier. Further increases in home prices and mortgage rates over the next year will likely dampen sales and home-price growth.”
Looking ahead, the CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates that the national home-price index is projected to continue to increase by 5.1% on a year-over-year basis from June 2018 to June 2019. On a month-over-month basis, home prices are expected to be flat from June to July 2018. Read More > at Connect
Timeline for new California online college ‘aggressive’ but doable, says community college chancellor – California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley and Board of Governors President Cecilia V. Estolano at the Aug. 6 inaugural meeting of the California Online Community College District Board of Trustees.
California’s bold experiment in online education took steps Monday to progress beyond the idea stage, but it faces a tight timeline to be up and running by the last quarter of 2019.
The California Online College, designed to offer job-ready training to workers ages 25 and older who lack a college education, legally exists and is fully funded despite early opposition from some key lawmakers and faculty. But many aspects of the college are not yet in place.
Among the major milestones left on the to-do list: Hire a Chief Executive Officer and develop a system for evaluating the prior knowledge of students so that they’re rewarded for what they’ve learned before entering the college — a hallmark of the online college proposal.
…“The career pathways that we’ve chosen are pretty well mapped out in terms of what skill attainment needs to happen,” he said, referring to the three types of professions the college has announced for which it will prepare workers — medical coding, information technology and supervisor roles such as in retail and government.
Oakley’s point is that because employer and labor groups have offered training for these programs and are partners with the college in developing the coursework, the work needed to finalize the programs can be done by next year. And unlike associate or bachelor’s degrees, which require at least two or four years of study, each discipline at the online college is supposed to take less than two years to complete — and in some cases students can earn credentials in as little as four months.
According to a timeline the Legislature approved this year, the college is ahead of schedule. It had until July 2019 to pick three course programs. Read More > at EdSource
Christian heartland opens window into fight for China’s soul – Under President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, believers are seeing their freedoms shrink dramatically even as the country undergoes a religious revival. Experts and activists say that as he consolidates his power, Xi is waging the most severe systematic suppression of Christianity in the country since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982.
The crackdown on Christianity is part of a broader push by Xi to “Sinicize” all the nation’s religions by infusing them with “Chinese characteristics” such as loyalty to the Communist Party. Over the last several months, local governments across the country have shut down hundreds of private Christian “house churches.” A statement last week from 47 in Beijing alone said they had faced “unprecedented” harassment since February.
A dozen Chinese Protestants interviewed by the Associated Press described gatherings that were raided, interrogations and surveillance, and one pastor said hundreds of his congregants were questioned individually about their faith. Like Guo, the majority requested that their names be partly or fully withheld because they feared punishment from authorities.
“Chinese leaders have always been suspicious of the political challenge or threat that Christianity poses to the Communist regime,” said Xi Lian, a scholar of Christianity in China at Duke University. “Under Xi, this fear of Western infiltration has intensified and gained a prominence that we haven’t seen for a long time.”
Officials once largely tolerated the unregistered Protestant house churches that sprang up independent of the official Christian Council, clamping down on some while allowing others to grow. But this year they have taken a tougher approach that relies partly on “thought reform” — a phrase for political indoctrination. Last November, Christian residents of a rural township in southeast Jiangxi province were persuaded to replace posters of the cross and Jesus Christ inside their homes with portraits of Xi, a local official said. Read More > in the Miami Herald
Banning Alex Jones Isn’t About Free Speech—It’s About the Incoherence of ‘Hate Speech’ – Winter came for Alex Jones yesterday: The conspiracy theorist and proprietor of far-right fever swamp Infowars was kicked off several social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and Apple.
This isn’t a First Amendment issue. Private companies are under no obligation to provide a platform to Sandy Hook conspiracy theorizing, 9/11 trutherism, or any of the other insane ideas Jones has propagated. Even so, I can’t help but worry that the bans—which were aimed at curbing Jones’ hate speech, not his spread of fake news, according to the statements of the various companies—signal an intention to police harmful speech under a definition that is nebulous and likely to be applied selectively.
Jones is a thoroughly unsympathetic victim. The things he says on his podcast and publishes on its website are vile. He is currently being sued for libel by families of the Sandy Hook victims for airing claims that the attack was a false flag operation organized by the U.S. government. Libel is a category of speech that is not protected under the First Amendment, and if you believe there are any situations where an individual should be held legally accountable for wrong speak (I do, albeit with great reticence), there is certainly a case to be made that this is one of them.
Facebook doesn’t actually need a reason to ban people from its platform. It can take virtually any action it thinks will improve the user experience. It could ban all conservatives tomorrow if it so desired.
Facebook did give a reason for banning Jones, though, and it’s a fairly weak and ill-defined one. “As a result of reports we received, last week, we removed four videos on four Facebook Pages for violating our hate speech and bullying policies,” the company explained. The problem was not that Jones was lying, or engaged in libel, or spreading fake news. The problem was hate speech. But we don’t know which statements he made were deemed hateful, or why. We don’t know if Jones is being singled out, or if anyone who said the things he said would be banned. We don’t know if a statement has to be targeted at a particular person to count as bullying, or whether generic trutherism could fit the bill.
I’m saying this for a third time so that I’m not misunderstood: Facebook can define hate speech however it wants. I am criticizing the lack of clarity in its definition, not because I think the government should intervene, but because I am a user of Facebook who worries that a stronger anti-bullying policy will be difficult to apply evenly.
Jones has been engaged in the same shtick for years. I can’t imagine that no one had ever complained about him before. So why now? What is so hateful or bullying about his speech that wasn’t apparent last week? What prompted the clearly coordinated campaign to remove him from so many major publishing platforms? Read More > at Reason
Here are the California housing bills to watch – In the final month of the legislative session, lawmakers are busy in Sacramento mulling over proposals crafted to ease the Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis. On the docket: a Bay Area Rapid Transit zoning overhaul, housing for the homeless, and a possible solution to the Trump Administration’s $10,000 cap on local and state tax deductions.
State Legislature has until the end of August to get the proposals approved before sending them along to Gov. Jerry Brown for the final sign off.
BART to develop housing?
One proposed bill would overhaul current zoning rules and allow BART to permit housing development on property it owns — i.e. parking lots.
“Given the twin housing and congestion crises, building housing next to major transit is simply common sense,” David Chiu (D-San Francisco), leader of the Assembly’s housing committee and author of AB 2923, told the East Bay Times.
Permanent housing for homeless
Assembly Bill 2162, also spearheaded by San Francisco’s Chiu, would fast-track affordable housing projects for the homeless and disabled that offer support services.
The legislation “aims to speed construction by making proposed developments exempt from environmental reviews and other approvals as long as they comply with a city’s zoning rules,” according to the East Bay Times.
Two tax lifelines
Already, President Trump’s tax overhaul which limits the deductions for mortgage interest as well as state and local taxes paid is hitting the Bay Area’s housing market. More than 18 percent
of Bay Area homeowners are paying more than $10,000 in property taxes — the cap on state and local tax deductions.
Two proposed bills hope to throw a lifeline to those Californians through charitable contributions. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times
Protecting Newspapers at What Cost to Freedom of the Press? – Assemblyman Marc Levine plans to make proposals to help newspapers that are experiencing economic difficulties in the digital age. He should weigh his proposals carefully for while government should not interfere with the core democratic value of press freedom, neither should it sponsor the press putting a necessarily skeptical press in the hands of government funding that could lead to possible intimidation.
Let’s be very clear: Newspapers are not the enemy of the people. They are a necessary, constitutionally protected, essential piece of our American Democracy.
This does not mean to say that newspapers are beyond criticism.
…Assemblyman Levine has a similar view of a newspaper’s role in the community. However, saving newspapers by having government help fund local papers is something that should be concerning. Whatever proposals he comes up with, Levine should be aware of the dangers government funding could create.
The State of New Jersey recently allocated $5 million and created the Civic Information Consortium to dole out grants to support community newspapers. As the Wall Street Journal editorial page rightly pointed out in an editorial titled, “The Government Press Corps,” “…it’s doubtful that journalists whose grants ultimately depend on politicians will write hard-hitting stories embarrassing those politicians.”
Government should not abridge the press, neither should it pay for it. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
Show Me Your Science – You’re entitled to your own opinions, Daniel Patrick Moynihan supposedly said, but not to your own facts. Fair enough—but are you entitled to the government’s facts? The Environmental Protection Agency increasingly thinks so.
In a “proposed rule” published in the Federal Register on April 30, the EPA announced a new standard governing the agency’s reliance on scientific studies in formulating regulations for clean water and air. Specifically, the agency proposed to give the public broad access to all “pivotal regulatory science” materials related to new EPA regulations—including “studies, models, and analyses that drive the magnitude of the [agency’s] cost-benefit calculation, the level of a standard, or point-of-departure from which a reference value is calculated.” The agency would henceforth promote the disclosure of scientific studies and other data “critical to the calculation of a final regulatory standard or level, or to the quantified costs, benefits, risks, or other impacts on which a final regulation is based.”
The EPA’s explanation was straightforward: its clean air and water regulations rely heavily on scientific data, models, and projections, and before it announces new regulations that impose significant burdens, the agency should ensure that the public has access to this information. This would allow all parties affected by a new regulation to scrutinize the studies on which the rule is based, to make sure that the numbers add up. Read More > at City Journal
Renewing Localism for the 21st Century – Abstract tribalism lies at the heart of today’s virulent identity politics and political divisiveness. Always clannish, we humans tend to seek “membership” in ideologically compatible alliances, however far removed from our daily lives they may be.
This placeless clan mentality is often accompanied by strong emotions, which the proliferation of social and digital media has served to expand and energize. But while ideological tribalism consumes so much of our energy, our daily happiness is more directly affected by mundane things much closer to home, such as family, friends, hobbies, and jobs. We may rant on Twitter about how bankers or Democrats or pro-lifers are ruining America, and yet enjoy time spent with our neighbors and coworkers who happen to be bankers or Democrats or pro-lifers. The closer something is to us, the more it defies narrow categorization.
Tacitly or explicitly, we all know that the unique particularities of our lived experience do not conform to the stereotypes that drive national controversies. It is thus unsurprising that localism appears ascendant in America.
Authors Michael Hais, Doug Ross, and Morley Winograd have argued for a “constitutional localism,” which would drive as many decisions to local communities as possible while respecting the diversity of outcomes such decisions would produce. Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak have documented a “new localism” in which policymaking takes inspiration from the successes and insights of urban areas. In his best-selling “Suicide of the West,” Jonah Goldberg argues that when we lose our tethers to the institutions that serve as a training ground for liberty and self-government, such as families, churches, and local communities, we revert to tribalism. And in “The Fractured Republic,” Yuval Levin contends that America’s future success will depend on our ability to strengthen the mediating institutions of civil society.
These and other defenses of a renewed localism in America are a welcome response to ideological tribalism’s two most pernicious expressions.
The first is the tendency of the political party in power to use federal policy as a means for imposing narrow ideological objectives on the nation as a whole. The second is tribalism’s a priori hostility to pluralism.
If we are going to address these problems, we need to embark on a national effort to renew local dynamism in America. This renewal should focus on two main objectives: solving big problems by devolving the authority for solutions to the local level; and strengthening civic ties and social capital in communities everywhere. Read More > at Real Clear Policy
Why did they call it the Carr Fire? Explaining the names behind the flames – Coming up with a name: It’s an act we usually associate with those things that are precious to us. Pets, children, significant places. But when it comes to disasters, a name happens with only the thought of practicality.
When you name a wildfire, you have at most a few minutes.
The names that have become part of California’s annals of tragedy — Tubbs, Nuns, and now Carr and Ferguson — were christened in the midst of chaos. Firefighters have to call the new one something, fast, so everyone gets coordinated as the conflagration spreads. And fires almost always spread quickly.
Hurricanes get named in alphabetical order. Cyclones are named for the small geographical area where they touch down. But wildfires, which can sprawl over hundreds of thousands of acres, are typically named after the area where they start. The moniker could be the nearest road, a local landmark or a geographical marker, like a mountain or lake.
Most often, the dispatch center that sends the first responders to a wildland fire designates the name, but the first on-scene engine or fire official can also name the incident, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
The next step in criminal justice reform is fewer laws – …The truth is, we don’t really have a criminal justice system. Mostly, what we have is a plea-bargain system. Police arrest people, prosecutors charge them with crimes, and then a deal is struck. When the police search and arrest you, you have a lot of constitutional due process rights, but they’re mostly enforceable only if you go to trial. If you go to trial, you have a lot of constitutional due process rights there. But the prosecutor’s decision to charge you with a crime (and what to charge you with), which is key to the plea bargain deal, is subject to virtually no constitutional protections at all.
Once charged with a crime, defendants are in a tough position. First, they must bear the costs of a defense, assuming they are not indigent. Second, even if they consider themselves entirely innocent, they will face strong pressure to accept a plea bargain — pressure made worse by the modern tendency of prosecutors to overcharge with extensive “kitchen sink” indictments: Prosecutors count on the fact that when a defendant faces dozens of felony charges, the prospect that a jury might go along with even one of them will be enough to make a plea deal look attractive.
Because the vast majority of cases result in plea bargains, not trials, all the constitutional due process rights make little difference. The result is something that, except in rare cases where the crime is high-profile or the defendant is rich, doesn’t look much like what’s taught in civics classes. It looks more like a conveyor belt to prison, because that’s basically what it is.
One solution is to have fewer crimes. There are — literally, as I noted in the Columbia Law Review a few years ago — so many crimes that not even the government can keep up with them all. The more crimes we create, the more criminals we create.
And that’s bad, because enforcing the law, as Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter points out, is inherently violent. The more laws, the more violence: When New York made it a crime to sell loose cigarettes for tax reasons, Carter notes, it set the stage for Eric Garner’s death. Read More > at USA Today
California’s Devastating Fires Are Man-Caused — But Not In The Way They Tell Us – In 2005 while a freshman California Assemblyman, I had the chance to visit Northern California and meet with the forest product industry professionals who grew, managed, and harvested trees on private and public lands. They told me of a worrisome trend started years earlier where both federal and state regulators were making it more and more difficult for them to do their jobs. As a result, timber industry employment gradually collapsed, falling in 2017 to half of what it was 20 years earlier, with imports from Canada, China, and other nations filling domestic need.
As timber harvesting permit fees went up and environmental challenges multiplied, the people who earned a living felling and planting trees looked for other lines of work. The combustible fuel load in the forest predictably soared. No longer were forest management professionals clearing brush and thinning trees.
But, fire suppression efforts continued. The result was accurately forecast by my forest management industry hosts in Siskiyou County in 2005: larger, more devastating fires—fires so hot that they sterilized the soil, making regrowth difficult and altering the landscape. More importantly, fires that increasingly threatened lives and homes as they became hotter and more difficult to bring under control. Read More > at Forbes
The ATF Explains the Law Surrounding 3D-Printed Guns – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives explained the laws that govern 3D-printed and other homemade firearms this week in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon.
In the wake of the settlement between the State Department and 3D-printed gun pioneer Cody Wilson, which would have allowed Wilson to repost his gun designs on the internet, a great deal of confusion and misinformation has spread about the legalities of Americans making their own firearms. ATF special agent and public information officer Michael Knight said the ATF is aware of the development of 3D-printed gun parts and is always monitoring and evaluating new firearms technology.
Knight said it is legal for Americans to build their own firearms without a license so long as they are not prohibited by law from possessing firearms, the firearms are legal to own, for personal use, and not for sale or transfer to others. Whether the gun parts are printed, created by other ways of manufacturing, or legally purchased from a licensed dealer has no impact on whether it is legal for an American to build a gun for personal use, though some states like California have placed additional requirements on the process.
Knight emphasized it is not legal for felons or somebody otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms to build their own guns under any circumstance.
“Title 18 of the United States Code, section 922(g) prohibits several categories of persons (i.e., persons convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than a year) from possessing firearms in or affecting interstate commerce,” Knight said. “Title 18 of the Unites States Code, section 922(d) prohibits persons from disposing of any firearm to a person the transferor has reason to believe is prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law.”
He reiterated that merely possessing a gun, no matter if they built it themselves or acquired it in some other way, would be illegal for a prohibited person. Read More > at The Washington Free Beacon
Facebook asks U.S. banks for financial info to boost user engagement: WSJ – Facebook Inc has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about their customers, as part of an effort to offer new services to users, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.
The financial information asked from the banks include card transactions and checking account balances, according to the report. (on.wsj.com/2Kvw61Y)
Facebook, which is trying to deepen user engagement, has asked JPMorgan Chase , Wells Fargo & Co, Citigroup Inc and U.S. Bancorp to discuss potential offerings it could host for bank customers on Facebook Messenger, the newspaper reported. Read More > at Reuters
Here’s the truth behind the biggest (and dumbest) battery myths – For an object that barely ever leaves our palms, the smartphone can sometimes feel like an arcane piece of wizardry. And nowhere is this more pronounced than when it comes to the fickle battery, which will drop 20 per cent charge quicker than you can toggle Bluetooth off and give up the ghost entirely after a couple of years of charging.
Even when your battery is at 100 per cent, there’s still room for some more charge
There is more juice in your smartphone battery than the percentage displayed suggests, but if you used that juice you’d end up dramatically reducing the overall lifespan of the battery. At the crux of this problem is a delicate trade-off played by manufacturers.
Having Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on in the background is a big drain on battery life
Apart from the screen, one of the biggest drains on battery life is the energy your phone wastes trying to find and connect to Wi-Fi or data networks.
Using an unofficial charger damages your phone
Not all phone chargers are created equal, and that could have a damaging effect on your phone’s battery life.
Charging your phone through your computer or laptop will damage the battery
If anything, charging a little more slowly is probably good for batteries, Griffith says.
Powering off a device occasionally helps preserve battery life
This one is a myth too, but not a completely unfounded one. Before the lithium-ion battery became ubiquitous, the nickel metal hydride battery was the rechargeable battery of choice. Read More > Wired UK
Bees are not in Danger – …Looking, for the moment, at honeybees in particular, we are seeing that far from being devastated by Colony Collapse Disorder, there has been an increase in their numbers. The pesticide most often blamed for bee death is neonicotinoids, which are applied to crops and taken up into the plants to kill pests when they eat the plant. Which bees do not, so you may be pardoned confusion over how bees are affected by this. The neonics are taken up into pollen, which bees do eat. However, “there is no scientific evidence to link neonicotinoids as the major cause of colony declines” even when the bees were fed 20 times the amount normally expected to be found in their usual foraging. Science has shown that, in direct opposition to what is being shown in media, low doses of pesticides and bacteria in combination can actually have a beneficial effect on bees. But the EU banned neonics… only that “legislation was at no time based on a direct link on bee mortality.” In fact, honeybees in Europe are overall healthier than they were in the past, as shown by overwintering hive survival.
And what about the wild bees? Well, there are not a lot of species that visit the crops, and none of the endangered species contribute to agricultural pollination. What does this mean? That we shouldn’t do anything about the poor endangered species of bees? No… but what it does tell me is that they are not endangered because of pesticides. They don’t visit the same places where pesticides are used. And the bees who are exposed? Can be encouraged greatly with simple conservations measures like leaving strips of wildflowers blooming in between fields. What doesn’t show negative effects on the wild bee populations? Stopping pesticide treatment or moving the times agricultural activities are carried out.
Here’s the takeaway from this: honeybees are doing just fine. Beekeepers who rely on them for their livelihood, and who treat for varroa mites, who move their bees from place to place following the crops to pollinate, often have healthier hives than the little guy in the backyard who doesn’t treat and neglects his hive. If he would treat for the mites, he’d not have to worry about losing his hive, and he wouldn’t be adding to the hysteria by falsely reporting that he lost his hive to CCD – he lost his hive to neglect, more often than not. Wild bees are also going to be okay. If you want to help the bees, plant wildflowers and grow your gardens. Don’t run out and pick up a random pack of wildflower seeds – that’s not going to help your local bees, who probably have specific host plants they prefer. Let some of your lawn return to nature, and enjoy the pleasant hum of the happy bees.
And don’t buy into the bee hysteria. Colony Collapse Disorder hasn’t been seen in years, it never affected the wild bees, and it’s not responsible for the collapse of biodiversity… Read More > at Cedar Writes
San Francisco Bans Everything – Here are a few things that are effectively legal in San Francisco: drugs, public defecation and shoplifting. And here are some of the things that are banned or will be banned in the City by the Bay.
Straws. Fur coats. Bottled water. Eating at work. Vaping liquids. Upholstered furniture. Plastic bags. Pet stores. Electric scooters. Coffee cups and packing peanuts. Tropical fish. The McDonald’s Happy Meal.
If you can think of something, San Francisco has already banned it. Or will be banning it soon.
…Why ban straws? Because straws, according to the San Francisco ordinance, “may threaten public health” and are bad for the environment? Piles of human waste in the street are great for public health and the environment. But a Chicago medical association disagreed and cancelled its planned conference. Read More > at Sultan Knish
In less than 7 hours, 40 shot, 4 fatally as violence rips Chicago – Starting about midnight Saturday, at least 40 people were shot citywide, four fatally, in a period of less than seven hours as gunmen targeted groups at a block party, after a funeral, on a front porch and in other gatherings, according to authorities.
The youngest person hurt was an 11-year-old boy shot in the left leg on the West Side — also in the Lawndale neighborhood. He was on the sidewalk with five other people, including a 14-year-old boy, when two men came up to them and started shooting, police said.
Although investigations were just getting underway, Waller said many of the shootings appeared to be targeted attacks.
…Resources at local hospitals were taxed as the wounded and their families poured in. Access to Stroger Hospital was tightened. At one point, more than 200 people had converged on the hospital. Mount Sinai Hospital had to stop accepting new emergency cases for a while.
Earlier Sunday, police said there were 47 people shot, five killed between 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday. Later in the day, however, police counted 34 shooting victims and five homicides in the same 24-hour period
About 15 of those shot were in their teens. Read More > in the Chicago Tribune
Legal Marijuana in Oregon Hasn’t Curbed Illegal Trafficking, Report Says – Legalization of marijuana in Oregon has done little to curb illegal cultivation and distribution of the drug, as pot grown in Oregon is flooding illegal markets in multiple states, according to a new report.
The research, released this week by the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA, found that the state’s annual marijuana yield far outpaces local demand, leading to collapsing prices, negative environmental impacts and trafficking across state lines.
Researchers found that the state’s capacity to produce pot exceeds 2 million pounds each year, much more than the 186,100 to 372,600 pounds its residents consume on an annual basis. There are about 417,000 active users in Oregon—comprising roughly 10 percent of the state’s population—and about one state-sanctioned grow site for every 19 users, many of them in economically depressed counties. Read More > at Route 55